Illumination: What Is The Role Of The Holy Spirit In Interpretation? -- By: William E. Arp

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 16:1 (Spring 2012)
Article: Illumination: What Is The Role Of The Holy Spirit In Interpretation?
Author: William E. Arp

Illumination: What Is The Role Of The Holy Spirit In Interpretation?

William E. Arp

Professor of Greek and New Testament
Baptist Bible Seminary
Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania


What is the role of the Holy Spirit in biblical interpretation today? Most evangelicals assume that the role of the interpreter in Bible study is to discover the author’s intended meaning as expressed in the biblical text.1 Consequently, the interpreter follows an interpretative procedure in order to attempt to discover the textual meaning. However, a question arises at this point: Is the utilization of a procedure sufficient to enable the interpreter to arrive at the author’s intended meaning? Can the interpreter discover this meaning on his own? Or does he need some help from the Holy Spirit (hereafter HS) to get the meaning? Does the HS have a role in the interpreter’s quest to discover the original meaning?

If the HS does have a role in the pursuit of meaning, what is that role? Does he guide the interpreter to a true meaning of a biblical text? Does he enable the believer to have special insight so that he or she can comprehend the meaning of a text? Should the interpreter pray that the HS help him or her to discover the meaning of a text? Or does the HS help the believer to accept and/or apply the meaning of the text only?

The question relating to the role of the HS in interpretation is quite important. The answer to this question will affect the way in which interpreters approach a text in at least three ways. First, the answers may affect preparation. Does the believer expect help from the HS as he or she prepares? Second, the answers may affect prayer. Does the interpreter pray before, during, and/or after preparation, and for what does he or she pray? Third, the answers will affect preaching/presentation. Does the interpreter present the interpretation with dogmatic certainty or with conditional certainty?

There are different answers to these questions among evangelicals. Many evangelical interpreters think that the role of the HS in interpretation is to help the interpreter understand the meaning of a text. These interpreters think that illumination of the HS “is needed if man is to understand the meaning of the Bible and be certain of its truth.”2 They say that the HS “brings to the Christian greater cognitive understanding of the biblical text” through illumination when he or she interprets Scripture.3

There are interpreters who think that ...

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