2D. A Pneumatic Interpretation Approach

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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.

What part does the Holy Spirit play in the interpretation of Scripture?

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?

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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Read Me First


Throughout these sessions, I have used the word ecclesia (singular) for the usual word church and ecclesiae (plural) to indicate a church in a particular geographic place, i.e., the ecclesiae at Corinth, meaning the whole of the many smaller ecclesia that met in homes in Corinth. This is to distinguish between the Institutional Church model (IC) and ecclesia that meet in cities and towns around the world. The ecclesiae written about by the authors of the Second Testament were not the same as what the “church” has become over the years of its existence. Usually, but not always, folks think of a church as a place where they go to a building and set in rows of pews and listen to music and sometimes sing and listen to sermons by a pastor or senior pastor. The ecclesiae of the Second Testament time did not invoke this model.


I have discovered over the years that if you want to try and change minds about something special, you have to venture out and reword it in order to grasp a foothold for a new refreshed understanding of the idea presented by the word. Such is the case between "church" and "ecclesia."


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Read Me Second


Referenced verses in the text of this study are not used to prove some point of view. They are merely markers where the subject matter is referenced by other books and authors. To gain a larger view of each quote, a serious student of the Holy Writ would take the time to view the reference and see what the background is. The background provides tracks on which the meaning of a text rides. So knowing the context of a referenced passage would help the reader to gain a more thorough understanding of an author than just the words quoted and marked by a verse number that was not a part of the original author's text, which as you might remember was performed on the text in a random fashion many years later.


Happy Reading!

Read Me Third


The verses that are referenced in these sessions are not meant to prove a point. They are simply pointers to where the idea being written about may have a correlation. In order to see if they accomplish the thesis presented by the original author, a student should read, at a minimum, the chapter in which the verse is found as well as trying to ascertain what the original author may have meant to say to the original audience.


Of course, this is a lot of work but it is beneficial work. If one does not understand what the author meant when it was written and the audience could not have understood by what was written, then the words on the page can mean anything that a present reader may assign as a meaning, thus distorting what God was inspiring for the original writer to write to the original audience to hear.

A great and recent book by N.T. Wright and Michael F. Bird entitled The New Testament in Its World would be a wonderful addition to your reading helps.


Happy Reading!

Jesus Followers


There are many synonyms to use for the word believer, which is the most common word for a person who has "converted" to follow Jesus. I have chosen "Jesus follower(s) or follower(s) of Jesus instead of the word believer in these presentations to allow the reader an opportunity to move away from the idea of believer which conjures up the possible thought of "ascent" to a set of doctrines that have been assembled by different groups over the centuries and show up in this day and age as a set of statements posted on web sites and other written material. These sets of beliefs are suggested by many as the ones that one should ascent to so that upon death the one who assents can go to heaven, i.e., just believe and you are good to go. Jesus followers/followers of Jesus suggest an action that one should take. Remember, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. Yes, belief is important, but one must move beyond belief to action.


(See "Discipleship" Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 182-188.)