“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” John 14:26 NASB
Teach – In academic circles, a “degree mill” is a company that offers you pieces of paper that claim you have a university degree, from a B.A. to a Ph.D. For a price, these pseudo-institutions send you credentials without requiring any of the hard work of accredited centers of learning. You just pay your money and hang the bogus degree on your wall. While I do not believe that all real education must come through accredited institutions, I certainly know what it takes to produce true scholarship. It takes real work. Real time commitment. Real struggle. Real study.
Except, of course, if you are guided by the Holy Spirit.
Today I received an email in response to my correspondence with a reader who suggested that the Song of Solomon was an allegory about the Church and Christ. This is a very old Christian interpretation that conveniently ignores the erotic elements of the ancient poetry. It is also an interpretation that requires the reader to suppose that no one who read the poem prior to the death of Yeshua really understood it. The one who proposed this allegorical interpretation claimed that “God showed me to interprete [sic] the Bible several ways: 1) literally at face value, 2) as compared to other scriptures 3) as an allegory when apropriate [sic], as Jesus and the writers sometimes did, 4) as the Holy Spirit would interprete [sic] it, sometimes that is literally, allegorically, however He would choose. I try not to limit the Holy Spirit.” In other words, since the Holy Spirit tuaght this reader that Song of Solomon is an allegory, we don’t need to investigate any further. We can by-pass all the contextual, linguistic, cultural and historical research and simply meditate and pray. The Holy Spirit becomes a private, personal instructor. And, presto-chango, I receive my official interpreter’s degree from the Holy Spirit degree mill (best of all, I don’t have to pay for it because Jesus already did).
Let’s see how this works out historically. Based on the idea that men can receive private instruction from the Holy Spirit, we must conclude that The Holy Spirit guided the early Church fathers to reject Messianic Judaism. The Holy Spirit inspired Augustine and Aquinas to propose the philosophical God of the via negativa. The Holy Spirit led the Church to persecute the Jews for 1500 years. The Holy Spirit enabled Martin Luther to see that Jews needed to be exterminated. The Holy Spirit taught ante-bellum theologians that Negroid people were cursed by God. The Holy Spirit instructed the Catholic popes to change the day of Sabbath. The Holy Spirit guided David Koresh to establish the Branch Davidian ministry. The Holy Spirit leads some current television preachers to teach that God wants to make you rich (if you just send your tithe to me). You get the idea. My reader might object to all of these as “not really being from the Holy Spirit.” But I would ask, “How do you know?” What is the difference between your claim for private instruction and any of these other claims? What grounds do you offer for me to trust your Holy Spirit insight? And as soon as you offer reasons, then I would point out that you are no longer relying on the Holy Spirit as the basis of your claim.
The Greek word didasko in its widest sense means to impart instruction and practical knowledge. Its Hebrew parallel is lamad. From an Hebraic perspective, the object of such teaching is to do the will of God. By the first century, this Hebrew word most often meant instruction in the Torah for the purpose of living according to the commandments. This implies context, not private spiritual inspiration. Instruction in godly living is a public, communal process. Even Yeshua’s statement is addressed to the disciples (plural), not to individuals. In the Hebraic community, learning and teaching demand correspondence with Torah and plenty of debate and discussion. Yeshua would never have suggested that the Holy Spirit is the personal and private revealer of uncontestable truth. It takes a Greek orientation and a lazy mind to pretend that all I have to do is let the Holy Spirit inform me.
But it’s oh-so-tempting to choose this Holy Spirit escape path. Then I don’t have to really study. Then I can claim “divine” authority for my interpretation. Then I will always be right.
But no one should listen to you.
Wherever I travel, I encounter this penchant for lazy exegesis. The alternative often seems overwhelming. Language study, history, culture, theology – all that stuff takes time and effort. “Why can’t God just reveal it to me?” is the easy way out. God could, of course, but then you would have to defend your views in the public arena and that would put you right back to square one. Learning (lamad) is hard work. It requires many opinions and considerable debate. Avoid the “Holy Spirit told me” claims like the plague. They are probably closer to Pharaoh than to Yeshua.
Topical Index: teach, didasko, lamad, Holy Spirit, John 14:26