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2D. A Pneumatic Interpretation Approach

I have heard something like the following said hundreds of times: “while I was reading the text this morning/evening, the Holy Spirit told me the following.” Then the person speaking goes on to present an interpretation and gives credit to the Holy Spirit for it.

That raises the question: What part does the Holy Spirit play in the interpretation of Scripture? As with the illustration above, some well-intentioned Jesus followers believe that they have the Holy Spirit who tells them what the text means, therefore, they don’t need any human interpretative help. This presupposition says something like this: “It is not necessary for me to use any outside help to interpret the Bible, because the same Spirit who inspired it explains its meaning directly to me.”

This presupposition, unfortunately, has an anti-intellectual and a pneumatic bias. I refer to this way of thinking as pneumatic interpretation, which I define as the reader/interpreter only relying on the illumination of the Holy Spirit to come to understand the fullest meaning of the text with no grammatical or historical help. Just read it (the “plain meaning”) and the Spirit will tell the reader what it means. Pneumatic interpretation then suggests that the use of any material outside the Bible pages has no value in determining the meaning of the text. The Holy Spirit just interprets the meaning directly to every believer who reads the text, ignoring its first context, the meaning of the words, and the culture in which it was first given. With all the different interpretations around, one wonders who is confused, the reader or the Spirit? Of course, the simple answer to that is “it is everyone else except me who is confused and has the wrong interpretation.”

It is sometimes argued as the basis of this presupposition that the Spirit who inspired the first writer(s) can inspire the present reader by just reading the “plain meaning” of the text. It is believed that there is a spiritual kinship between the first ancient author/believer and the present modern reader/believer. When the modern reader has an experience in the Spirit that reenacts the apostolic experience of the Spirit, the Spirit will serve as the common context between them and bridge the historical and cultural gulf between them. The key word there is inspire. That is a subject matter beyond the scope of this presentation. However, I think a better word might be illuminate, i.e., give present light on. Again, we should not think that what he illuminates to us is the meaning of the text for everyone.

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