Related Verses: 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21
Leading Question: What would we be missing if we spoke only of God the Father and God the Son, but not of God the Spirit?
From a practical point of view, “Trinity” allows us to focus on three important aspects of our relationship with God. The Father assures us that someone is always on the throne; the Son assures us that God identifies with us as earthly beings; the Spirit assures us that God is everywhere present.
Our challenge in understanding that “division of labor” is that we have no way of comprehending a personal being who is everywhere present and capable of ministering to the entire human family as individuals. Whenever we speak of the Trinity it is well to remember this somewhat humorous quote from Robert South, a well-known English minister bridging the 1600s and the 1700s: “Just as denying this fundamental Christian belief could cost you your soul, so trying too hard to understand it could cost you your wits.”
I can imagine a majestic being on a heavenly throne; I can grasp the idea of a God/man who came among us, someone we could hear, see, and touch (cf. 1 John 1:1-4). But a spirit, a breath, and wind – the same word is used with all three meanings in both Testaments – is simply beyond my ability to fathom, especially when this spirit/wind/breath is said to be a person.
So looming over us all quarter will be this amorphous being we can scarcely comprehend, yet, according to Scripture, still plays an important part in our spiritual lives. But perhaps that phrase “according to Scripture” is a good place to start. Indeed that points us to the theme of our lesson for this first week of the quarter.
Comment on leading question: Would it be safe to say that we would be missing the idea of omnipresence if we did not have the Spirit?
2 Tim. 3:16-17: All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (NRSV)
2 Peter 1:19-21: So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (NRSV)
Note: These oft-cited passages actually tell us nothing about how inspiration works. They 2 both simply affirm that God inspired the Scriptures. The only way to affirm what that means is for Spirit-guided believers to draw on the Bible inductively, seeking to illustrate what inspiration means.
2. Question: Of the three ways in which Scripture has come down to us – revelation, research, and experience – which has the priority?
Note: If we look Scripture to illustrate these three modes, we don’t have to look far. For “revelation”: Daniel and Revelation; for “research,” Luke 1:1-4; for “experience,” Proverbs is probably the clearest biblical example. Which of these is likely to be most powerful, most effective? Should we privilege one mode over the other two?
3. Question: What is the difference between “inspiration” and “revelation”?
Note: It might be helpful to say that all of Scripture is “inspired,” but not all of it is “revelation.” But such a way of relating the two terms can be problematic, for when one refers to the history of interpretation, Scripture has always been seen as part of “special revelation,” not “natural” or “general” revelation. Thus the impression arises that all of Scripture was given by way of vision.
Regardless of how one defines or uses the terms, however, one thing should be clear, namely, that neither revelation nor inspiration can be proven. They are claims for the text that Christians have made, guided by the Spirit. But even though these claims cannot be proven, we accept by faith the truths that have been handed down by the Christian community.
4. Question: Does inspiration guarantee the “truth” and the correct “application” of Scripture?
Note: As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 affirms, Scripture is profitable. Yet that “profitable” application requires the on-going guidance of the Spirit. Scripture does not automatically apply itself. The application is always made by human beings under the guidance of the Spirit. And the safest mode for making applications generally involves a Spirit-guided community. But that too, cannot be “proven.” We always live by faith.