Monday, April 11, 2011

The Spirit, Truth and St. John’s Gospel (Ch. 14-16)

Over fifty years ago, he had walked closely with the Lord. Now as the only living Apostle,  John reverently took up pen to add to the memoirs of the Messiah. 
The Spirit brought to John’s mind the evening Jesus led His eleven disciples towards Gethsemane and assured them:
"I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.”

Now, through the Holy Spirit, John had become able to bear these things--the deepest spiritual mysteries the Apostles were unable to comprehend until after the Resurrection.  With this in mind, John related all that his master had taught, probing the depths of its meaning. Toward the end of his story in chapter fourteen, John recalled the profound, heartfelt instructions of Jesus even as the the Cross was overshadowing the evening. 
At Gethsemane, as one disciple was at that very moment betraying him and the rest were about to scatter, Jesus thought not of his own spiritual battle but encouraged his Apostle’s with these words:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me....I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever--the Spirit of truth. ...But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 

Jesus continues in the following two chapters: 

When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. 
Guiding Us Into All Truth
There are two ways that believers have interpreted these words of Christ. 
  • Many assume Jesus’ promise was universal, that the Holy Spirit directly deposits truth into all true believers’ minds and hearts. 
  • The traditional view is that Jesus is speaking of the church that He was establishing. The promise was spoken to the Apostles as the leaders of this church, not to all individual Christians. John was not writing this to let everyone know they were going to personally know all truth, but He was telling the readers that the church established by Christ would be given the Holy Spirit--as an entire body--so that they could be assured that the church would not lead them astray.
This is why I believe the second interpretation is correct. 
Jesus made that statement to those Apostles who were there--specific to them because they had heard what He had said throughout His ministry. Jesus knew there would be false prophets and shepherds who had heard Him who would twist His message. He knew there would come a day when things would become chaotic with everyone claiming they knew what Jesus had said and each vying for authority on His words. The Spirit would come to those God had placed in charge of the church so that insecurities wouldn’t arise, they could be utterly confident in their memories and their authority as His representatives.
As His appointed, anointed leaders who were to go out and spread the gospel, they would need miraculous help to remember all that he had told them personally. If you notice the context, Jesus says that the Counselor will remind them of what He has said and how to testify, as they had been with Him from the beginning. (Christians today cannot be reminded of what He said for we never heard Him say it while on earth--we were not there, nor were we with Him from the beginning.)
If Jesus meant that the Holy Spirit would bring all Christians into the fullness of truth directly, why warn against false teachers and prophets? If absolute, infallible truth is implanted into the individual Christian heart and mind, then there would be no need for a church with teachers, apostles and certainly no need for Scripture.
Sola Scriptura
Without realizing it, many Christians today place into the text the idea that the Holy Spirit will come into the individual’s mind to interpret the Bible. If you will read the context of what Jesus was saying to the Apostles, nowhere is scripture mentioned nor implied. It is a promise to bring us into the fullness of truth--through the Spirit--not through scripture. If we are going to take the text at face value, then none of us will ever need the Bible. This puts those who believe in sola scriptura in a dilemma.
Perhaps the text is not meaning that God will bring us as individuals into complete truth. Perhaps what John is writing is that Christ’s Apostles, as leaders of His church, will be given the fullness of truth so that when they speak as a group--not individuals--His Spirit will be there reminding them of all Christ had taught them. Then all truth can be passed down from within the Church. The church and its appointed leaders can be trusted and we can be at peace knowing when we listen to God’s appointed leaders, they have all truth and will not deceived us.