Pneumatic Epistemology?

➡ Average Reading Time: 4 minutesIn terms of how one knows, in this case a pneumatic epistemology, knowledge is not cognitive but a relationship with the Spirit who created the knowledge. For those who hold this view, a human being remains clueless to the meaning of the Bible until the Holy Spirit illuminates him/her.

Relying solely on pneumatic epistemology brings one into a danger zone where the human reader confuses his or her own interpretation with that of the Spirit of God. The problem is that when one invokes the Spirit as the guide for the interpretation, the interpretation is assumed to be beyond questions and demands a par with the sacred text itself. This is often but not always preceded with phrases like, “The Spirit has revealed to me.”

This idea led I. Howard Marshall, a biblical specialist, to write:

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). [I Howard Marshall. “The Holy Spirit and the Interpretation of Scripture” in Roy B. Zuck. Rightly Divided: Readings in Biblical Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional. 73.]

Thus, Pneumatic interpretation does not give the interpreter free reign to interpret the Scriptures privately without any form of accountability.

Pneumatic Experience
One might ask: “Is experience valid for interpretation?”

Pneumatic EpistomologyThere is also an experiential dimension to this form of pneumatic interpretation. The experiential dimension tends to let experience inform interpretation without being grounded in the historical significance of the text. This is not to deny a believer’s personal experience. It is to say that a process of informed interpretation should naturally lead to a personal experience of the text. Experience is not necessarily the starting point, but it does inform the process of interpretation as interpretation informs experience. God can communicate to us through personal experience as well as Scripture. Personal experience with God often unlocks previously undiscovered scriptural truth, but experience should never be the norm by which we test if our understanding of Scripture is helpful.
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The Spirit enables us to free our minds to understand the text, but does not whisper to us the correct interpretation of the text. The Spirit does illuminate Scripture for us, but he does not give us new revelation which is equal to Scripture. He does not guarantee that what we interpret is infallible. He does not give one person insights that no one else has. Depending on the Spirit alone is not a substitute for diligent study. The Spirit does help the reader gain insights into Scripture, usually for a devotional purpose for the individual. Where readers go awry is when we take that devotional “word” and share it as the true meaning for everyone.

What is often argued is: if the Spirit could inspire the first writer, why can’t he inspire the reader now? We do not need to close the door to the Spirit and his use of Scripture in our lives. We need the personalized approach to reading. In this personalized approach to reading the text, we need to add to our diet a level of reading and observing which gives attention to the context in which content of Scripture sets. One without the other is useless. To only have the personalized approach and state as certain fact that the Spirit has shared a specific meaning is how the cults are born. God can and does speak to us personally and directly through Scripture when he initiates. Those times are specifically for us, for our time and space. Let’s hold on to the times when God intervenes and speaks directly to us. At the same time let’s learn to read and study Scripture paying attention to context and content so that we can know with certainty what he is saying to us today. In the final analysis, we can live into his story.

Pneumatic interpretation is important in allowing the Spirit to share with us a word of comfort, judgment, or exhortation. But, the insights shared in those moments are not necessarily the meaning of the text.

Pneumatic and Cognitive Harmony
We must find the harmony of the pneumatic and cognitive approach to interpreting Scripture. Thus, the proper control for understanding what a text means now is the original meaning which the first hearer had. God did not speak into a vacuum. He acted and spoke into real life situations, with real live people. The message was to them. That message is still available to us today and we in the church need to discover it.

If we do not use this control, then Scripture can mean anything that any reader wants it to mean now, and usually does. Subjectivity reigns! The most often leveled criticism of the pneumatic interpreter is his or her subjective reading of Scripture.

The original meaning of the text and its discovery — to the best of our ability — is the proper control for understanding what the text means for the present reader. This control will keep us from making such mistakes as “Jesus is not God” as the Jehovah’s Witnesses have, or that “we should baptize on behalf of the dead” as the Mormons have, or that “healing” and “prophecy” are more important that “caring for the poor, the widows and the orphans” as some church groups revel in today. These are all errors in application because they did not begin with good exegesis. In other words, the meaning now is invalid because one did not start with the meaning then.

We all want to know and need to know what God has said in Scripture and what Scripture means for us today. It is imperative! But we do not have the liberty to make it mean anything we wish it to mean and then give the Holy Spirit credit for that meaning. We surely do not want to be found in the place where we are saying that the Spirit is contradicting himself. Thus, understanding what he said to the first hearers will keep us on safe ground in determining what it means for us today.


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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."

 

Happy Reading!

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.)

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.)