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Seeking Illumination in Interpretation

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

The Holy Spirit originally gave us His Word.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Therefore, we need Him to help us interpret it correctly.

But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth … (John 16:13)

We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. (1 Corinthians 2:12)

Without the Holy Spirit, while someone may be able to mentally grasp the correct meaning of the text, he will be unable to recognize its truth or significance, or to properly apply it to his own life.

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)

We also need the Holy Spirit’s help to deliver us from our own prejudices. All of us have predispositions toward certain doctrines, schools of theology, or ways of thinking and approaching the Bible. These result from our past teaching and training, as well as our various role models and life experiences. Consequently, our interpretation of the Bible is often distorted unless the Holy Spirit helps us to see the Scripture clearly with “fresh” and unprejudiced eyes.

Moreover, the Holy Spirit helps us avoid two wrong attitudes towards biblical knowledge: pride and unbelief.

Pride is the imbalance of thinking it is too easy to understand the Bible. People who fall into this trap will often rely totally on their unaided understanding.

We must not place confidence in ourselves, thinking that we can fully grasp biblical truth by our own wisdom. We must have a humble spirit, yielded to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

… We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3)

On the other hand, unbelief is the opposite imbalance of thinking it is too hard to understand the Bible. People who fall into this snare tend to rely entirely upon others to help them. They never grow in their own ability to study and understand the Word of God.

We must have confidence in the Lord to give us knowledge of His Word. He wants us to understand His Word, and He has promised to help us by His Spirit.

But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth … (John 16:13)

In view of our complete dependence on the Holy Spirit, some may ask, “If man is dependent upon the Holy Spirit to teach him the Word of God, why should we study?” The answer is:

It was God’s idea that we have brains. The human mind is not sinful in itself. Fallen men use their minds for sinful things, so our minds must be renewed. Significantly, the renewal of the mind plays a central role in the transformation of our lives:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1).

Moreover, we should not limit God to what we can grasp with our finite intellects. Neither should we trust in our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Instead, we should rely on God in genuine humility, prayerfully seek the Holy Spirit for understanding and use our minds to glorify God.

Thus, a claim of dependence on the Holy Spirit should not be used as a spiritual cover for our own laziness in the study of the Scriptures. We must have the Holy Spirit’s help but we also need to study.

Finally, a little bit of common sense often goes a long way in spiritual matters. Before cutting off your hand in literal obedience to Matthew 5:30, use the mind God gave you!

About What Does the Bible Say? by Malcolm Webber:

God’s Word transcends time as well as cultural, geographical, and language differences, but it can be difficult to overcome our prejudices and the many pitfalls that inhibit precise understanding of the original intent of Scripture. 

Citing examples from Scripture, as well as many methods that lead to common misinterpretations, Dr. Webber details nine distinct errors the Bible student should avoid, as well as principles that should guide his study. The earnest student of God’s Word will be diligent to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, apply sound principles in interpretation, and be accountable to history, to the Church, and to God when studying Scripture. 

God has revealed mysteries in His Word to genuine believers – not just to an elite few who are intelligent enough to find truth. The Word of God was never intended to be studied merely for mental assent, but for application in knowing God!

What Does the Bible Say? is available for purchase here. To purchase more of our books, visit

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