Spirit vs. Scripture

Spirit vs. Scripture September 20, 2018

In a recent blog post, Keith Giles wrote, “The fact is that the Holy Spirit almost always contradicts what has been written in the scriptures.”

While I appreciate the desire to offer a much-needed response and corrective to biblicism, I am not persuaded that this is the best way to do it.

Personally, I think it is better to recognize that the texts that eventually became scripture were the result of people who believed they were moved and guided by the spirit to push boundaries and challenge assumptions.

It is thus ironic that the texts produced by them or in response to their activities are then used to hedge in and put roadblocks in the way of those who seek to push boundaries and challenge authority in a subsequent era.

Positing a simple dichotomy of spirit vs. scripture risks encouraging a replacement of text-focused dogmatism with an experience-focused dogmatism.

I think it is more advisable to acknowledge clearly that the text is just a concretization of what people believed God to be inspiring in their time, and thus that whether we focus on text, tradition, logic, experience, or some combination of the above, and whether we push existing boundaries or seek to delineate and defend them, if our words and influence are remembered in a future age, we are liable to seem antiquated from that later perspective, just as voices from our past seem to us.

Nevertheless, Giles does make an important point, namely that the key figures that are looked back to as authorities by religious people today were figures who didn’t merely assert or defend but also challenged and departed from things that their contemporaries would have considered the “plain teaching” of the scriptures that existed in their time.

Jesus or Paul, Micah or Jeremiah, Muhammad or Moses – none simply affirms the authority of a text without also at least interpreting it in creative ways that stretch and transform its meaning. And sometimes they simply disagreed with those scriptures, whether they explicitly put it that way or not.

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  • Matthew

    Some have said that a mystical or charismatic experience with God is more important than empirical evidence, rationalization, and proof-texting.

    If this is, in part at least, true, then how can we be sure such experiences are from God?

    • Inner experience doesn’t give us certainty any more than the experience of reading does. Nothing will eliminate the appropriateness of humbly recognizing our limited perspective – even though some have tried to use both claims to an inerrant text and claims to inspiration in an effort to do just that.

      • Matthew

        Thanks so much. In the post-modern, secular west I suppose an experience with God is worth more than an apologetic argument, but then again will a rational, scientific, secular-minded person even begin to believe my experiential testimony?

        • I think in our post modern society traditional apologetics and attempts to build rational systems based on a priori presuppositions are pretty much doomed for failure. It’s a new era of spiritualism and searching for connections with God, not so-called proofs of God’s existence or doctrinal statements defining Christianity.

        • Neil Brown

          Surely the only credible testimony that any of us have is our lifestyle and behaviour, together with the results in our life of these choices. The words of Jesus only really carry weight because of the life that he lived (and the death that he died).
          The value of an apologetic argument is only that is gives the hearer reference points that they can look for in you, metrics by which you can be measured.
          Your experience is only relevant to me if I can copy it in some way. I don’t think post-modern secularism has changed this in any way except maybe to make these core truths more visible.

    • Terrell D Lewis

      That is why King Hezekiah asked for a sign from Isaiah. When it is God, you will know. At first, you can ask him to send confirmation, but eventually you will learn to recognize his voice. One thing, even when he is speaking a correction, you can feel the love. One time I was praying while standing and love so filled the room it was like a fluid and my legs felt like they melted beneath my and I sank to the floor. Another time I was supposed to say something be I didn’t and I woke up to see an angry face in front of me that leaned forward and but my tongue, I thought I was going to need stitches, hurt for several hours.

      I can’t say that He will always contradict scripture, he may contradict your understanding of it, unless He is teaching you something, an early lesson for me was, “You will not be tested on your knowledge of doctrine at the Judgment Seat but rather on how you treated others. It was a hard lesson for me since I was raised Fundamentalist Baptist.

    • If it walks like Jesus, talks like Jesus an acts like Jesus…it’s Jesus. Anything else and its the anchovy pizza talking.

      • Terrell D Lewis

        Well, after all, the fish is a symbol for Jesus.

  • Terrell D Lewis

    An excellent example is in the scriptures when the Spirit tells Ezekiel to eat dung and Ezekiel reminds the Spirit that Mosiac law (the scriptures) forbid it. Another is the modifications Jesus made to Mosiac law (divorce only for adultery, for example).

    And Paul who told us the Old Testament provided “types and examples” for us. In other words, don’t take it to literally but it is worth learning from.

    As an Intercessor, I’ve argued with the Spirit many times, sometimes he relents, as with Ezekiel, and sometimes he insists, as when I reminded the Spirit that Jesus said we are to bless and not curse and he continued to insist I pray Psalm 109 against Trump.

    • Neil Brown

      “In other words, don’t take it to literally but it is worth learning from.” yes, Yes, YES. So much “yes” !!!

  • Timothy Weston

    Too often, I see “spirit” being used as a way of spiritually justifying someone’s views. I used to have a semi-literal view of Scripture now I view it as more of an anachronism meant for another time and another people. Did you ever find yourself in or near that state?

    • Which state? Of trying to be literalistic, and/or thinking I was accomplishing it (even though I wasn’t)? Most definitely!

      • Timothy Weston

        Have you been to the point where you gave up on scripture even for a while?

        • What do you mean by “gave up on scripture”? I certainly haven’t lost interest in it…

          • Timothy Weston

            “Gave up on scripture” – Quit reading and meditating on it

  • John MacDonald

    Personally, I think it is better to recognize that the texts that eventually became scripture were the result of people who believed they were moved and guided by the spirit to push boundaries and challenge assumptions.

    It’s interesting that we also find this receptivity to the divine in Greek poetry with the muses, and specifically to push boundaries and challenge assumptions, for instance, in Parmenides didactic poem.

    I wonder if we lose/miss something in modern times where people are so proud of their works and scarcely acknowledge how much of it is dependent on inspiration – even though we have all stayed up all night trying fruitlessly to solve a problem, when suddenly it comes to us (eureka!).

  • Iain Lovejoy

    1 John 4:1: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
    The real problem with saying that the holy spirit contradicts the scriptures is identifying what is and is not the holy spirit in the first place. The NT was written and compiled by people who wanted to set down the teaching passed down to them from Jesus and what the holy spirit was still teaching them. The OT was endorsed by Jesus himself as in its entirety teaching about him, and by his followers who had received his teaching as being in every part useful for instruction. God is unchanging and the holy spirit surely cannot contradict itself, which is what saying the holy spirit contradicts the Bible really means. What Jesus said, and the prophets before him was not that the scriptures were wrong, but that those leading the people had lost the ability to discern the holy spirit in the scriptures, and thus no longer understood them or abided by them.

    • Terrell D Lewis

      Not just the Old Testament, but the he quoted from the Septuagint which included books not in the Protestant Bible and Jude quoted from Enoch 1.

  • Tom

    You have beautifully, and clearly expressed a concept I have been trying to understand. Thank you.