The only way one can come to believe what the Scriptures say is through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not give extra revelation, but works through the Word. This is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Bible, which the article explains.

Source: Una Sancta, 2015. 4 pages.

Knowing God from His Word and through the Holy Spirit

Anyone can read Scripture and understand what it says. Generally speaking, it is not a very difficult book to understand. Parents can read the first chapters of Genesis to their children and they can understand how the Lord speaks there of bringing things into existence. It becomes a different matter of understanding how God can do that, simply bring things into existence. Adults cannot understand how God can do that either. There is a difference between understanding what is written in Scripture and accepting that the content of the message is true. When speaking about understanding the content of the message, it is not so much a question of understanding it, but much more a question of believing what we read there.

Those who believe the Scripture also come to the conclusion that it was only through the work of the Holy Spirit that they have come to this faith. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 we are told that the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. Similarly in chapter 12:3 we are told that no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. We therefore confess that it is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that we come to believe what the Lord teaches in His Word. When confessing that we only come to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit, we must be careful to keep that this knowledge remains within this context. It is not as if through the Holy Spirit more knowledge is given besides what we are told in Scriptures. Histori­cally, this inclination to suggest additional knowledge besides what the Lord has given Scripture has crept in among the churches in various veiled ways. Let me explain;

Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church:🔗

Till today we recognize that at various times the Lord granted faithful men who refuted dangerous heresies. For example, in the early church Arius brought what the Lord teaches in Scripture about being One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit into question. Athanasius rightly and bolded refuted this heresy. Today we may still reflect on Athanasius' writing and speak with thankful how the Lord had filled this man with the Holy Spirit. Some years later the churches were plagued by the heresies of Pelagius. Again, we may look back with thankfulness for how Augustine exposed and refuted this threat to the true doctrine of God's Word. Again, with thankfulness we may speak about a man filled with the Holy Spirit.

In itself there is nothing wrong with speaking about these defenders of the faith as filled with the Holy Spirit. However, while the churches were becoming more and centralize around Rome and there in Rome leading men were busy analysing what took place and how the Lord had preserved His churches from false doctrine, things started to go off-track. Recognising that these men must have been filled with the Holy Spirit to defend the faith in such a bold way, how could they possible say something wrong? After all, they were filled with the Holy Spirit! Not only men like Athanasius and Augustine were considered to be filled with the Holy Spirit but also many others. The church, by way of its leaders, would make public declarations concerning the faithfulness of these men or their teachings. With time this became the tradition within the Roman Catholic Church. Along with the claim that that men writings were filled with the Holy Spirit and the knowledge that Scripture is given by inspiration; these two were set side by side. It is in this context that till today the Roman Catholic Church gives similar authority to this tradition as it does to Scripture.[1] 1

No real distinction is made here how the Lord inspired men to write Scripture in the past and how He works in the hearts of men today to understand and explain the meaning of Scripture. The Roman Church does show some care by not simply allowing just anyone to add their own personal meaning to Scripture. They speak about the church through its leadership, the so-called Church's Magisterium, to make this determination. During the Reformation of the 1500's The Reformed Churches have rightly object to this addition of tradition to God's Word. There are not only obvious irreconcilable contradictions in the tradition maintained in the Roman Catholic Church, but inspired Scripture itself forbids us to add anything to what we have been given in Scripture. When addressing this matter Article of the Belgic Confession refers to how in Galatians 1:8 we are instructed not to accept anything besides what is taught in Scripture even if it be an angel from heaven.

Nevertheless this whole idea of human interpretation and additional information concerning matters of faith brought through faithful men filled with the Holy Spirit appears to come back again and again in various forms even among the churches that have come out of the Reformation.

Testimonies among the churches that came through the Reformation🔗

In the late 1800's to early 1900's German sceptic and rationalistic philosophy had quite some impact on theology. It was somewhat in this context that there was a general search for the so-called historical Jesus. It was recognized that the knowledge we receive from Scripture is not sufficient to write a bibliography of the Lord Jesus. The knowledge received from Scripture is only sufficient for religion and faith. Men were looking for extra-biblical information as confirmation and further explanation who this Lord Jesus really was. Besides concluding that Scriptural knowledge is only focused on giving faith, it was emphasised from Scripture that it is only through the working of the Holy Spirit that men come to faith. Thus, there was a recognition that somehow the source of faith is a combination of both knowledge of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit.

In an effort to explain how this works, a leading theologian of the day, Karl Barth, made a distinction between a) God's Word and b) Scripture, which is the Bible. He says that God's Word is when the message of salvation strikes a person in a very direct way. He says that when this happens it is very powerful so that a person does not really know what happened. It is like an explosion. He compared it to how a bomb explodes. Karl Barth was Lutheran and thus what happened to Martin Luther when nearly struck down by lightening is a good example of what God's Word is. He also refers to how the Lord had stopped the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. For him, this one moment explosion in a person's life is the real "Word of God". The Bible (or Scripture) he says, is a record of this kind of thing happening to people in the past. Thus from the Bible we can learn much about God and how He had come to men in various circumstances of this life, but we really have God's Word when we are hit by it. This can happen at anytime anywhere, in church, on the road, by way of near escape from accident and so forth.

It is difficult to prove a direct co-relation. However, while Karl Barth was the studied theologian a man like Billy Graham in America was the much more flamboyant and popular evangelist in America. Billy Graham introduced the idea of those who attended his crusade to come to the fore to give their testimonials concerning how they had come to the faith. These testimonials become like a story or explanation how a person has been struck by the Holy Spirit to become a believer. These stories or explanation are all about what a person has experienced. Once a person gives such a testimonial or explanation of how the Holy Spirit has brought him to faith, no one can really question or refute what was said. Who would dare question the Holy Spirit's work? This practice of testimonials has become very common among various kinds of evangelicals in a whole raft of various denomination including Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, United. Of course, they still maintain that Scripture has the authority but much like in the reasoning of Karl Barth the suggestion remains that God's Word can strike and over-power you anywhere anytime. You do not necessarily have to go to church for that. When reflecting on this practice, it does not appear to be so different from what took place among some Reformed Churches and members in the Netherlands regarding their insistence on experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit in one's own life along with the ability to explain just when it happened to you.2

When reading the New Catechism of the (Roman) Catholic Church today one receives the clear message that many have become too careless concerning accepting almost anything as God's Word or acceptable tradition without, according to Roman, the scrutiny and confirmation of the church that this is really the work of the Holy Spirit. When conveying this message the Roman church shows that it remains entrenched in it error of added tradition to Scripture, at the same time one also realizes that what is happening among these churches that came forth from the Reformation may even be worse. It is easy and can be tempting to make all kinds of suggestions about the Holy Spirit working in men's hearts, but in the end it all becomes very subjective and arbitrary.

Closer to home, a number of years ago a deputies report was submitted the Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia3known as the Word and Spirit report. Suggestions were made in this report that at times the Holy Spirit works in very direct ways. An example was given of how in the Netherlands during the last war someone received a notion that the German enemies would search the house, so quick precautions were taken to avoid being murdered. It was suggested that this must have been the Holy Spirit.

While recognizing that the Lord can/may, or might even say, does, give protection, that is fine. A problem only arises when suggesting that the work which we perceive the Holy Spirit to doing is made normative or becomes as a new additional message besides what the Lord has already revealed in His Word. We must keep in mind how the Lord teaches us, 1 John 4:1ff to test the spirit.

Testing the Spirits🔗

That the Lord instructs us to test the spirits is already a very clear indication that not every spirit is the Holy Spirit. In fact, we are told that very directly, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. Similarly, in the letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6 where we are directed to put on the whole armour of God because we wrestle, among other, spiritual hosts of wickedness. This does not mean that we must assume every spirit to be wicked; but we are given a task to distinguish the Holy Spirit from these wicked spirits. We may therefore not just simply accept any claim of the Spirit's work. The further instruction to testing the spirits includes; Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God. Understand well what it says here. To confess in this context is to acknowledge that Jesus is really the Christ, that is to say, the Prophet, Priest and King. To confess Him to be our Chief Prophet as we do in Lord's Day 12 includes that we embrace His Prophetic word and message which we receive in the Bible. In conclusion we must therefore remain very careful with any claims regarding the work of the Holy Spirit and always test to see if they are in harmony with what the Lord teaches us there.

Much more can be said about all this. However, by way of conclusion for now it is important to keep in mind that Scripture, the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit so that it we are looking for His work, it is there that we turn. It is not without good reason that in Reformed Confessions we insist of always keeping these two closely connected; the Word and the Spirit. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God which is the Scriptures.


  1. ^ The New Catechism of the Catholic Church says in its article 2, section 82 that; Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence. Second edition,1997.
  2. ^ Think here of de Oude Gereformeerden as well as this kind of practice among some of the so-called Bonders
  3. ^  Previously known as the Reformed Churches of Australia.

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