Saturday, May 31, 2014

Illumination of the Scripture

             The illumination of Scripture is a theological phrase that is used to describe how the Holy Spirit helps someone reading the Bible.  This theological usage of the terminology is not always common to the average Christian in the pew.  Clark H. Pinnock says theological works usually mention the phrase but do not give an extensive development of the theology.[1]  This paper will attempt to develop the concepts of the doctrine by discussing various views of the illumination of Scripture, followed by exegesis of a key Scripture passage, 1 Cor 2:14.  Then three specific theologians' views on illumination will be examined: Augustine of Hippo, John Calvin and John Owen.  The position taken in this paper is that the illumination of Scripture is the Holy Spirit empowering the church to embrace and apply the Bible.  

            Communication theory says that there are four parts to communication: the sender, the receiver, the message and the medium.  There are relationships between each of the four part.  The doctrine of inspiration says that God (sender) revealed the gospel (message) to the prophets and apostles who wrote it down in the Bible (medium).  Illumination can be understood by some to be a second sending of the message of Scripture via the Holy Spirit as esoteric knowledge.[2]  The view that the Holy Spirit is sending special knowledge regarding the Bible is sometimes called noetic illumination.  The noetic view of illumination says that the meaning of Scripture is understood by those who have been regenerated.  Richard Muller says that the Brandenburg Confessions take the view that Scripture cannot be understood without the help of the Holy Spirit.[3]  Martin Luther's view of illumination is that his opponents could not understand Scripture due to the effects of sin.  While he affirmed the clarity of Scripture, he also asserted that sin in mankind made the message of Scripture unclear.[4]  If the Holy Spirit is bringing knowledge, how is this different than the doctrine of inspiration?  The idea that the Holy Spirit is helping the Christian to understand the text can imply that knowledge contained in Scripture is incomplete but becomes complete by noetic illumination.  Inspiration is a finished work in the classical Protestant view which holds that the Canon of Scripture is closed and complete.[5]  If noetic illumination means new information is available, then there is at least a small sense of continued revelation because God would be sending his message via the direct action of the Holy Spirit.  Rather than saying that illumination is new knowledge imparted, it is better to understand that illumination is God's work in the receiver of the divine message. 

            One reason that the noetic view of illumination is assumed is that modern ideas of knowledge are founded on the thoughts of empiricists such as Immanuel Kant. The thought undergirded by the ideas of Kant would propose that factual information is certain.  Factual information is knowing.  Value judgments that come from the heart are opinions and affections.  According to Charles MacKenzie, the valuing of head over heart as advocated by Kant has produced a challenge to true biblical theology since the Bible sees knowledge as wisdom.  True knowledge biblically is integration of heart and head to produce wisdom.[6]  Applied knowledge embraced by the heart is wisdom.  Walking on the path of wisdom is knowing.  While modernity would push one to know by knowing factually, pragmatism would at least recognize a difference between factual knowledge and experiential knowledge.    There is a difference between knowing the rules, teams and players in baseball and being one of the players of the game who has experiential knowledge.  The applied knowledge of a baseball player is qualitatively different from the knowledge of a spectator.  The one who biblically walks the path of wisdom has a qualitatively different type of knowledge from the one who reads the Bible to derive factual data. 

            Some would advocate that making the interpretation of the Scripture Christocentric will keep it from being just a factual interpretation of the text.  Michael Horton advocates that illumination is being united to Christ himself, the central message of the Scripture.[7]  This means that illumination is experiential knowledge rather than in the area of facts.  It is true that we are united to Christ by faith, but it is not entirely clear how our union with Christ affects our understanding of Scripture.  The Holy Spirit indwelling the believer is union with Christ. (Rom 8:9-11) It is not clear that union with Christ brings any specific knowledge of the Bible.  Luther has a similar view that the illumination of the Holy Spirit means one will view the text Christocentriclly.  The Christocentric view of the text is the true spiritual meaning of the text.[8]  Certainly the Christian must use the hermeneutic of seeing all of Scripture as pointing to Christ, it is not clear how this would be illumination and not simply a solid tool of hermeneutics.

            A better view of illumination is that the Holy Spirit acts upon the receivers of Scripture to embrace and apply the message to their context.  This maintains that the Scripture is complete and clear but that those who receive the message are empowered by the Holy Spirit to apply it to their lives.  There is no need for continuance of revelation nor a need for an open Canon of Scripture.  Also as Thomas A. Thomas mentions, there is no need to count the non-Christian as somehow intellectually deficient or that the Christians are somehow intellectually superior.[9] This clarifies inspiration as addressing issues of the sender, message and medium and delimits illumination as addressing the receiver. 

            If the Holy Spirit is guiding the Christian to embrace and apply Scripture, what is the means of doing that?  Certainly some could still seek a mystical knowledge that is devoid of true connection with the content of the Bible.  James M. Boice points out that illumination takes place in the midst of diligent study.[10] The word illumination may imply to some not only heightened understanding but also heightened emotional state, but embracing of a biblical truth may bring sorrow as well as joy.  Douglas Kennard also points out that the meaning of the Scriptures may be discerned by applying sound hermeneutical tools but the profundity of the text is known through illumination.  Some of those hermeneutical tools are knowledge of grammar, language vocabulary, language usage, historical contexts, archeological data,  literary genre, and semantic analysis.  This included viewing all Scripture from a Christocentric point of view.  Saint and sinner alike have the intellectual tools available to them for discerning the meaning of the words at least in a factual sense.[11]  William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. point out that we do not use a secret or hidden language to understand the meaning of Scripture.  While people use codes and many ways to obscure communications, the language of Scripture is publically available for everyone.  Therefore the meaning of Scripture is public also.[12]  Muller points out that King Agrippa understood the facts of Paul's message without embracing them.[13] (Acts 26:1-32)  He accurately understood the Gospel message.  Pinnock describes this process of accurately understanding the meaning of the text as the first horizon in interpretation.  The first horizon of interpretation is concerned with discerning how the text of Scripture was meant to be understood by the original receiver by the original sender.  The first horizon is discerned through the hermeneutical tools and is corrected by scholarly dialog on the text.  The second horizon of interpretation of the Scripture involves applying the text to the present context of those interpreting the text, but the Spirit leads the church in embracing and applying the Scripture.[14] This second horizon of interpretation is the Holy Spirit's work in illuminating the Scripture.  Agrippa lacked this second horizon of embracing and applying the gospel message to himself.       

            Our post-modern context assumes that we have a printed copy of the Bible in our homes to  read.  The printing press moved the Scriptures from a community owned book read and exposited from the pulpit to each individual dedicated Christian reading it at home as a part of a devotional life.  Community dialog is a part of the process for both first horizon engagement of the text and second horizon living out the text.  However, the Reformers originally taught the doctrine of illumination as a response to Roman Catholic teaching that only the church can rightly interpret the Scripture.  Horton says that John Calvin thought that the authority of the text rested on God alone and not on the Roman Catholic church.  Calvin taught that the common Christian could understand the Scripture, but also that the Holy Spirit brings understanding.  Calvin's position was meant to solidify the teaching of sola scriptura.   Horton sees that Liberal Protestantism has returned to errors of the Roman Catholic church by saying that the authority of Scripture rests in the community.[15]  This return to the error of misplaced recognition of authority for Liberal Protestantism is based on a deficient view of the inspiration of Scripture.  Liberal scholar Schleiermacher, Neo-Orthodox scholar Karl Barth, and Roman Catholic theologians collapse the categories of inspiration and illumination.[16]  Community consensus or lack thereof does not constitute the illuminating work of the Spirit, but illumination works in community as well as in individuals.  Illumination of Scripture takes place during theological dialog.  (Acts 15:1-21) Illumination also takes place during authoritative declaration of the Word of God as preaching. (Acts 2:14-40)  Though modern predisposition of individualism may lead the heirs of the enlightenment to regard illumination as being received by the individual, Scripture shows a corporate embracing and applying of the Bible also.  Kevin Vanhoozer says that the church is the best place to hear the Word because it is the place that the Spirit cultivates righteousness and a willingness to hear the Word.[17] 

            Illumination as the Holy Spirit empowering the believer to embrace and apply is coherent, but does it fit with key Scripture passages?  A key passage for discussing illumination is 1 Cor 2:14.[18]  Time does not permit a full examination of all passages, but 1 Cor 2:14  is certainly one of the most important to understand illumination. 

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1Co 2:14 ESV)

            This is among the key passages used on illumination of Scripture but the passage actually does not discuss how one reads the Bible but rather how those who are mature receive the teaching of Paul. This is not a disconnect with the Bible since Paul's teaching is Biblical in its content.  Richard Gaffin notes that the message of Paul is imparting the wisdom of God as opposed to the wisdom of the world.  Gaffin proposes that the wisdom of God is not cognitive "though a body of doctrinal knowledge is certainly integral to that wisdom."  Gaffin says the difference between the wisdom of God and the world's wisdom is eschatological.  It is not that the rulers of this world are not able to comprehend the words, but rather the worldview that accounts for the eschatological triumph of Christ on the Cross lays a different foundation that is not earthly.[19]  Gaffin specifically says that 1 Cor 2:14 points us to the fact that the natural man has no aptitude for spiritual things.[20]  David K. Lowery refines this point by saying it is not the intellectual abilities to receive the message that prevents the natural man from accepting, but the lack of the Spirit.[21]  The first verb in the verse is accept (δέχεται) which BDAG says means "to indicate approval or conviction by accepting, be receptive of, be open to, approve, accept, of things."[22]  This points the reader to see that the acceptance of the truth is key, not the cognitive understanding of the words.  Adam Clarke says that the reason for the natural man not accepting the gospel message is that he is living for this world.[23] The phrase that says "they are folly" supports the idea that there is a rubric through which the gospel is evaluated by the world.  Robert H. Stein points out that God counts the world's wisdom also as folly.  (1 Cor 3:19) God understands the meaning of the world's wisdom but evaluates it as folly.[24]  While the word understand (γνῶναι) is used, BDAG says this is "to grasp the significance or meaning of something, understand, comprehend," when in the context of 1 Cor 2:14.[25]  This is further clarified as experiential knowledge by the phrase, "they are spiritually discerned."  A cursory exegesis of 1 Cor 2:14 supports the idea that illumination should be best understood as the help of the Holy Spirit to embrace and apply Scripture. 
            Three theologians who have discussed illumination are Augustine of Hippo, John Calvin, and John Owen.  Each of these have had an influence on how the church understood and understands the doctrine of illumination. 

            The 4th century pastor of North Africa, Augustine, is said to be the first one to write an autobiography as we would expect in modern times.  Erickson summarizes Augustine's view of knowledge that it has its source in the object known, the knower and the ideal of the thing known.  God brings to the knower the knowledge of the ideal of the thing known.  Erickson points out that there are two problems with Augustine's view.   1.)  All human beings are sinful.  2.) The Bible teaches that there are special operations of the Holy Spirit.  Augustine does not account for the fact that knowledge comes any differently for the believer than for the non-believer.[26] In Augustine's book Confessions he records in detail his own intellectual and personal struggles during his education and conversion to Christianity.  Often Confessions appears to be written to God, who is imminent in the human growth and development process.[27] Augustine's view of human growth and development lines up with words of Proverbs: "For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; "  (Pro 2:6 ESV)  Augustine's ideas probably fit better with views of common grace in normal human growth and development.  This growth and development has its source in God as common grace but does not fit with sufficient clarity in the doctrine of illumination. 

            John Calvin was a 16th century pastor who wrote extensively commentaries, sermons and a theological treatise.  Erickson explains John Calvin's view that the total depravity of man affects his mind.  The Holy Spirit's illumination is necessary in order to understand the Scripture.  Calvin uses the analogy that the "spectacles of faith" allow one to more clearly see the truth of the Scripture.  This gift of faith is not a onetime event, but God continues to work with the believer in sanctification to continue to grow in knowledge.[28]  It is not clear that Erickson has done justice to Calvin's doctrine of illumination of Scripture though his summary does accurately describe illumination in terms of Calvin's soteriology.  In Calvin's Institutes he explains that one's trust in Scripture is not based on the testimony of the church or men, but the testimony of the Holy Spirit.  He says that if one's trust is based upon what the church says then the foundation of Scripture is the church.  Calvin takes that when Eph 2:20 say that the church is built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles, that foundation is the Scriptures that they wrote.  Since according to Calvin's interpretation  of Eph 2:20 shows Scripture is the foundation of the church then it can be the other way around.  For Calvin, there must be another source for one's embracing and believing of Scripture.  Calvin points to the Holy Spirit as testifying of the truth of Scripture.[29]  While Calvin certainly has soteriology based upon the depravity of man who cannot receive the gospel, his doctrine of the illumination of Scripture is better viewed as in line with the idea that the Holy Spirit empowers one to embrace and apply the Bible. 

            John Owen was a 17th century theologian and academic.  In his work on the Holy Spirit he proposes that there are those who are illuminated by the Holy Spirit to understand the gospel message however they are not regenerated.  Owen appeals to Hebrews 6: 4-6 as his evidence.

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Heb 6:4-6 ESV)

            Owen also points to the parable of the seed and the sower where Jesus explains there is a type of person who receives the Word of God with joy and yet when persecution comes he abandons the faith. (Mt 13:21)  The unregenerate person clearly hears the gospel message but remains in his sin.[30]  The passages that Owen interprets are correct as they apply to those who appear to make a profession of faith but lack the transformation of the heart.  These individuals are not regenerated, though they have heard the outward call of the gospel and have understood it.  Hebrew 6:4 even uses the word "enlightened" which Owen associates with illumination.  This points to the idea that the outward call of the gospel is not merely human words.  This challenge to the thesis that illumination is the Holy Spirit empowering the believer to embrace and apply Scripture actually shows the range of spiritual experience of both those who are regenerated and those who are not.  This is in agreement with Horton's position that illuminations are both inward and outward.[31]  The inward illumination is the Holy Spirit empowering one to embrace and apply Scripture but the outward illumination is the Holy Spirit bringing a clear call of the gospel to one who is unregenerate and sometimes also unresponsive.  The unbeliever may experience the outward illumination but not the inward illumination.

            Understanding more fully the doctrine of illumination of Scripture may help the church focus not only on the first horizon (engagement with the text) but also the second horizon (living out the text in modern context).  Illumination is God's work on the receiver of the message in the communication.  Evangelicals have at times been cautious that teaching about illumination may encourage esoteric interpretations, but the Holy Spirit does His work of illumination through normal means.  Pastors who preach the Bible must not only declare correct doctrine but also show how the particular congregation in their particular context should carryout living according to the Word.  A fuller understanding of illumination can help the church to more fully embrace and apply the Word. 

                [1] Clark H. Pinnock , "The Role of The Spirit in Interpretation," JETS 36 (September 1993)  489.

                [2] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998) 943.

                [3] Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003) 2:85.  

                [4] James Callahan, The Clarity of Scripture (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2001) 137.

                [5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994) 54.

                      [6] Charles MacKenzie, Lecture "The Old Liberalisms" Special Seminar on Karl Barth at Reformed Theological Seminary on iTunesU, Cited 6 December 2013.   Charles MacKenzie, Lecture "The Trinity and Scripture" Special Seminar on Karl Barth at Reformed Theological Seminary on iTunesU, Cited 6 December 2013.

                [7] Michael S. Horton, Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011) 168.

                [8] Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan: 1998) Kindle edition with no page numbers.

                [9] Thomas A. Thomas, The Doctrine of The Word of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1972) 1.

                [10] James M. Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity: 1986) 96.

                [11] Douglas Welker Kennard, "Evangelical Views On Illumination Of Scripture And Critique." Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 49.4 (2006): 797-806. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. Web. 14 Oct. 2013.

                [12] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004) 4.

                [13] Muller, Post-Reformation, 335.

                [14] Pinnock, "Role of The Spirit," 489.

                [15] Horton, Christian Faith, 167.

                [16] Ibid., 168, 183, 189.

                [17] Kevin Vanhoozer, Meaning, Kindle edition with no page numbers.

                [18] Kennard, "Evangelical Views," 799.  Kennard cites John 14:26; 16:12-15; 1 Cor 2:6-16; and 1 John 2:27 as key passages.  The two passages from the Gospel of John he says only applies to the Apostles. 

                [19] Gaffin, Richard B. "Some Epistemological Reflections On 1 Cor 2:6-16." WTJ 57.1 (1995): 109-111. 

                [20] Ibid., 114.

                [21] David K. Lowery, "1 Corinthians" The Bible Knowledge Commentary (ed. John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck; 2vols.; Cook: Colorado Springs, CO, 1983) 2:510.

                [22] BDAG, "δέχεται", 221.

                [23] Adam Clarke Clarke's Commentary (6 vols. Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1940) 6:200.

                [24] Robert H. Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994) 61.

                [25] BDAG, "γινώσκω" , 200.

                [26] Erickson, Christian Theology, 280.

                [27] Augustine, Confessions (Trans. R.S Pine-Coffin; London: Penguin, 1961) 23, 27, 35. etc.

                [28] Erickson, Christian Theology, 282.

                [29]  John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Trans. Henry Beveridge; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008) 30-34.

                [30] John Owen Pneumatologia: A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit (London: 1674. Kindle Edition) 157.

                [31] Horton, Christian Faith, 167.
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