Pneumatic epistemology is a belief that there is a non-cognitive knowing of the text where the Holy Spirit who created the knowledge shares that meaning directly. Those, who lean heavily into this view, believe that a human reader of Scripture is clueless about the meaning of a text until the Holy Spirit illuminates the reader. When a reader relies solely on pneumatic epistemology, they live in a danger zone of subjectivity where it is believed that his or her interpretation is the Spirit’s interpretation. And when the Spirit is invoked as the source of the interpretation, it makes that interpretation beyond questions and demands that it be placed on a par with the sacred text.
I. Howard Marshall, a biblical specialist, spoke to this issue when he wrote:
There are people who have claimed to be led by the Spirit who have promulgated shocking heresies … such people depended purely on what they conceived to be the Spirit’s help and so landed themselves in a subjective approach … they failed to listen to the voice of the Spirit as he spoke to other interpreters of Scripture within the fellowship of the Christian church over the centuries. In scriptural interpretation, as in any other area, it is essential that we “test the spirits” (1 John 4). 1
What is important to remember is that a pneumatic interpretation does not give the interpreter free reign to interpret the Scriptures privately without any form of accountability, which is common in the “cult of the individual.”
- Roy B. Zuck, Rightly Divided: Readings in Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 1996), 73. From Chapter 5, “The Holy Spirit and the Interpretation of Scripture,” by I Howard Marshall. ↩