What I Believe: Work of the Holy Spirit

The work of the Holy Spirit moves in two directions. It proceeds from the Father and Son towards creation and humanity and from Christians to the Father and the Son as he acts as an advocate for our needs. I do not believe that the work of the Holy Spirit is under our control. God, in each of the persons, does what it is that is his intention. It is better that we align ourselves with that intention rather than try to persuade the Holy Spirit, or any of the other two, to do what we would like happen.

The Bible is a work of the Holy Spirit. Our redemption is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, I believe, also shapes human culture and history by influencing the thoughts and actions of different people, believers and nonbelievers, at various times and places to fulfill the purposes of the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit is active now and can be seen by faith as he works in our persons, faithful churches and our world. I believe that the present works of the Holy Spirit can be experienced by Christians though an internal assurance of his presence in our beings and recognition of  his work in shaping events around us.

What I Believe: The Trinity

The triune God of Christianity is absolutely unique. Except for offshoots of Christianity, other religions have no god, one god, many gods or everything as god. The Trinity is one God existing in the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Bible adequately shows the truth of God in three persons and in one being. This mystery was revealed most fully in the person of Jesus and the writings of the New Testament. Jesus had authority to teach us about this because he was one of the persons. Thus, he was able to tell his disciples what they could understand about the Trinity and promised them another person, the Holy Spirit, would help them by providing further knowledge.

This knowledge of the Trinity has not given us the answer to “How can this be?” I believe it is meant to be this way so that we who believe can stand in awe and unbelievers will simply sound foolish when they claim the Trinity is a human invention. As written above, the only person once on earth who might lay claim to the invention of the reality of the Trinity was one of them.

What I Believe: Sufficiency

Even verses, even short passages, even chapters, even individual books are sufficient to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ, as was the Ethiopian. (I once met a man who said he came to faith in Jesus Christ by reading the book of Job.) I am sure some people have come to faith through less than perfect translations into indigenous languages. The inspired Word and the work of the Holy Spirit make whatever we may have of the written revelation of God sufficient for our needs.

You might ask why if a little bit of Scripture is sufficient for redemption there is so much of it in the Bible. Here I think we need to go back to the idea of Scripture being a creation of the Holy Spirit. Like physical creation the Bible has depth beyond the understanding of any single human mind and in its total richness is deeper than the collective mind of humanity is able to understand.

This is the other side of sufficiency. You may have noticed that serious Bible commentaries take up a good part of a bookshelf or even more. This is because the immense content of the Bible is sufficient to provide material for endless study for even the most diligent Bible scholar. The Scriptures are, I believe, a well of wisdom that never goes dry.

What I Believe: Inerrancy

A typical statement concerning the inerrancy of the Bible reads “The Scriptures are without error in the original autographs.” The problem with this statement arises in Scripture itself. We read about what happened to one original autograph in Jeremiah 36:23 (ESV) “As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot.” (The complete story of this event is contained in Jeremiah 36:15-30). Fortunately for us and others, that manuscript was rewritten and we have many other prophecies and stories from the life of Jeremiah.

We do not know what happened to the other original autographs but we do know that none of them are now available to scholars. We do know that Jesus and the apostles had confidence in the reliability of the copies of Scriptures they knew, whether in Hebrew or in the Greek translation known as the Septuagint.

What would we do if we had an inerrant Bible? I think we might concentrate too much on the content of the Bible and too little on developing the proper relationships we should have with each Person of the Trinity. My own tendency would be to (figuratively) beat up my fellow Christians with the certainty of my own interpretations. An inerrant Bible would be no easier to understand in all its passages than the one we have.

We need to be helped in our spiritual growth and I am not sure an inerrant Bible would not just make our love of physical religion, all the things we do, even stronger and make meditation and contemplation even less a part of our lives. I believe God knew what he was doing when he made even the tablets of the Ten Commandments unavailable for our worship.

I believe that it is not the content and form of the original manuscripts that should be of major concern to us but that we have the living word of God in the documents we do have. Thus, we can celebrate the revelation that has been preserved for us.

What I Believe: Inspiration

When we use the word “inspiration” we are using the English form of the verb inspiro which comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. The form of the word might make us think that God did something to words that already existed. However, the Greek word theopneustos used in the New Testament means “God-breathed.” This should remind us of the work of the Holy Spirit in physical creation. In other words, Scripture is a creation of God and can be compared to physical creation as a mystery of God’s intentions.

The common source, the Holy Spirit, of both the Old and New Testaments is shown by the linkages between them. Jesus and the writers of the New Testament cited the Old Testament as foundational to an understanding of the new covenant that Jesus had brought into existence.

I regard “The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Luke 16:29, 31; Ephesians 2:20).” If this is true, then inspiration is how they got that way.

Inspiration is inextricably intertwined with special revelation and providence. Let me illustrate. Paul’s letters were written to various people and groups of people at different places and times. The circumstances that prompted his writing resulted from the working of God’s providence. The teaching of Christianity, particularly when Paul used the word mystery, was him transmitting the special revelations he received from Jesus Christ. However, when Paul wrote letters he did not intend to create Scripture. That part of it is the Holy Spirit shaping Paul’s writings to Christ’s purposes.

Inspiration is the work of the Holy Spirit in the creation of each of the books. Each book has a unique history of its formation. Jeremiah received God’s special revelation and Baruch wrote it down to give us the book of Jeremiah. The Psalms are an anthology of Jewish music presumably assembled by one of the leaders of the Temple singers. Inspiration guided the selection of songs to be included—special revelation and providence provided the songs.

There are other people who contributed to the coming into existence of the books of the canon in addition to the people whose names are on the books or who are credited with their writing. These are the scribes, collators, copyists, editors, redactors, and all others who contributed to providing us the Holy Bible. These also were inspired by the Holy Spirit. “As inspired, the Scriptures were not produced by human will (2 Peter 1:21).”

I believe grace provides us with the faith we need to understand the inspired words of the Bible. For instance, as new Christians we may have found a favorite verse that had a special meaning for us at that stage of our Christian walk. Perhaps, after a long walk of faith we will find in the begats (those listings of ancient lineages) a richness that eluded us when we first encountered them in our Bible reading. I believe God energizes his Word through the faith and needs of its readers. Where there is much faith there is much finding of inspiration. Where there is no faith we get things such as courses like “The Bible As Literature.”

What I believe is that without faith no one can discover the inspiration of Scripture just as no one can know creation without faith (Hebrews 11:3). This does not excuse anyone for not seeking to find the truth of God’s word in the Bible any more than there is any exemption for people who do not seek God in creation from their responsibility to worship him.

 

What I Believe: The Canon

The canon, the list of books that are regarded as inspired and authoritative, places a “hedge” around God’s special written revelation to separate it from other Jewish and Christian writings. The canons of the Old Testament and New Testament are separate developments. The coming into existence of the Old Testament canon is lost in the mists of time. In contrast, the finalization of the New Testament canon is well documented and was a complex process. It took until AD 367 for it to be finalized.

Anytime a previously unknown early Christian or Jewish writing is discovered there are people who think the document will reshape our understanding of Christianity. This has, fortunately, not turned out to have happened.  Our canons are sufficient. it is us that is to be shaped by them.

The Old Testament canon accepted by Protestants consists of thirty-nine books that originated over a period of about 1,000 years. Jews and Roman Catholics accept fifteen additional books known as the Apocrypha as a secondary addition to the Old Testament and include them in their Bibles as lesser writings.

The Old Testament was adopted by Christians as essential to our beliefs because of its intimate connection with Jesus and the New Testament. Jesus and the writers of the New Testament extensively quote passages from the Old Testament and Jesus’ life was framed in the context of Old Testament prophecies.

The closing of the New Testament canon means that for over 1,600 years Christians have been hearing and then both hearing and reading the same New Testament. Or perhaps I should say almost the same New Testament. Variants in the copies and the need of most of us for translations mean we do not all have exactly the same book. However, when we read the Fathers, for instance, we can see that they have read and are quoting essentially the same New Testament we have. I believe this is one way God shows us our unity with the Christians who have come before us.

What I Believe: The Story

The Bible tells, in sixty-six books, the story of God’s relationship to humanity. The story begins before the creation of the earth and ends in eternal blessedness for those people whom he has redeemed. There are three major themes that continue throughout the story. These are God’s creation of all that exists, the disobedience of the first humans and the consequences of that for all of physical reality, and God’s work to make right (redeem) according to his purposes all that has gone wrong. Redemption is a long and complex project and, I believe, cannot be finished in the framework of our present reality.