The Spirit as the Divine Author
In the last unit we noted that when we speak about the author of the Bible, we are speaking about both the human author and the divine Author. The term inspiration refers to the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of the human authors of Scripture with the result that they wrote what God wanted to communicate (i.e., the Word of God). In 2 Timothy 3:16–17 the apostle Paul says that “all Scripture is God-breathed [sometimes translated inspired] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Spirit of God has breathed the character of God into the Scriptures.
The Greek word for “inspired” (theopneustos) is even related to the Greek word for “spirit” (pneuma). The Bible has the power and authority to shape our lives because it comes from God himself. We hold to the authority of the Scriptures because they are inspired (“God-breathed”). Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy also reminds us that the Spirit and the Scriptures go together—the Word of God originated from the Spirit of God.
The Spirit’s work of inspiration is finished, but his work of bringing believers to understand and receive the truth of Scripture continues. Theologians use the term illumination to refer to this ongoing work of the Spirit. On the night before he was crucified, Jesus promised his followers that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth:
12I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. 13He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you . (John 16:12–14)
Notice how Jesus stresses that the work of the Spirit is directly related to Jesus’ teachings (i.e., the Word of God).
Because of the Spirit’s work of inspiration and illumination, we know that the Spirit and the Word work together and must never be set against one another. Since the Spirit inspired Scripture in the first place, we should not expect him to contradict himself when he illuminates it. This means, for example, that we should not allow personal experience, religious tradition, or community consensus to stand above the Spirit-inspired Word of God. The Spirit does not add new meaning to the biblical text; instead, he helps believers understand and apply the meaning that is already there.
In this regard Kevin Vanhoozer writes that the “Spirit may blow where, but not what, he wills.” Vanhoozer goes on to describe the Spirit as the “Word’s empowering presence.” This description is helpful because it reminds us that the Spirit’s role is not to author a new Bible (i.e., revealing new meaning through personal experience or community tradition), but to bring home to us the meaning of the Scripture he has already authored.