12 Oct 2021

Separate and Apart: A Perspective on the Work of God’s Holy Spirit and the Bible

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Holy Spirit, James A. Harding, Prayer, Psalms, Spiritual Disciplines

A Quotable Quote

“So far as I know, the Bible nowhere teaches, either expressly or by necessary implication, that the Holy Spirit dwells in the word. If it does not, no man is under any obligation to say it or believe it, but he is expressly represented as dwelling in Christians … This we must believe and affirm.” (James A. Harding, “The Holy Spirit – A Bible Reading,” The Way 1.8 [1 August 1899], 116).

Experiencing God

Is experiencing God merely a reading exercise? I have a few questions that seem like common sense to me but apparently are controversial.

1) Did Noah experience God only in and thru the Bible?

2) Did Abraham experience God only in and thru the Bible?

3) Did Moses experience God only in and thru the Bible?

4) Did David experience God only in and thru the Bible?

5) Did the various Psalmists (Heman, Korah, Asaph, etc) experience God only in and thru the Bible?

6) Did Mary experience God only in and thru the Bible?

7) Did Peter, Paul or John experience God only in and thru the Bible?

8 ) Did the church/Israel of the Bible experience the God of the Bible only in and thru the Bible?

9) Did Jesus experience the God of the Bible only in and thru the Bible?

The answer to all of these questions is exactly the same … No.

So why would anyone, that believes in the Bible, make the claim that the only way one can experience the God of the Bible is in and thru only the Bible? This is exactly what is affirmed in the old saw “the Spirit indwells only through the word and does not work separate and apart from the Word.”

Does this not come dangerously close to saying that God and the Bible are the same “thing?”

None of the names listed questions above could experience the God of the Bible only in and thru the Bible because there was no such thing as the BIBLE … historical context can settle this notion.

Psalms

The Psalmist praises God for the Torah, for the Word, for the Promises and Precepts. But the Psalmist did not confuse the Word with the active and ever present God whom fellowship with was a precious gift of grace. Note carefully these texts from Psalm 119 that are a prayer to Yahweh:

open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things in your torah” (Ps 119.18)

I treasure your word in my heart … teach me your statutes” (Ps 119.11, 12)

teach me your statutes, make me understand the way of your precepts” (119.26)

Put false ways far from me; and graciously teach me your law” (Ps 119.29)

Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart” (Ps 119.34)

Direct me in the paths of your commands, for there I find delight” (Ps 119.35)

Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain” (Ps 119.36)

The earth, O LORD, is full of your hesed (steadfast love/grace), teach me your statutes” (Ps 119.64, see v.65, 73, etc)

Your statutes are forever right: give me understanding that I may live” (Ps 119. 144)

I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me” (Ps 119.102)

Read them again. Even in the Hebrew Bible the Psalmist prays for God to come personally alongside the Israelite to teach, guide, instruct, to be with the person. Prayer is not directed to the Torah but Yahweh. Yahweh can and will act upon the one praying. But it is God’s personal Presence that the psalm bears witness to.

YOU are all I want, O LORD” (119.57)

Bless me with your PRESENCE” (119.135)

but YOU are near to me, O LORD” (119.151)

The Psalmist has a connection to God outside the Torah. God is not the Bible and the Bible is not God.

Psalm 119 is hardly alone. Psalm 51 voices the craving of all God seeking Israelites,

Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy Spirit from me.


Give me the joy of your saving help again
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit

(Ps 51.11-12, The First Testament: A New Translation).

I am thankful for God’s holy and inspired word but I know I do not experience the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit only thru that word. The Bible itself declares such to be a false conception, indeed a false doctrine.

I have a relationship with God thru the Spirit that transcends the sacred page. I experience God in prayer, in worship, in fellowship, and even in daily life. Indeed, we have access to the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit In fact, if the Scriptures themselves are to be believed, I need God to help me see what God wants me to see in the Word. “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things …” That prayer is for God to unleash the Spirit upon us … this by the way is exactly what Paul prayed in Ephesians 1. The “Ephesians,” like the Psalmist of 119 already had the Torah, Paul’s teaching and even the Epistle itself. But the apostle prayed,

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better” (Ephesians 1.17f).

The Real Biblical Question

The question in the Bible itself is not

“Does the Holy Spirit work separate and apart from the Word.”

Rather the question in the Bible itself is,

“Does the Word work separate and apart from the Holy Spirit?”

The word is the sword of the Spirit, it is not the other way around. A soldier wields his/her sword. If a soldier does not grasp, raise, swing that sword then it does nothing though sharp as a razor and made out of the best steel on the planet. On the other hand that soldier can walk, talk, raise hands, use other weapons, in fact do anything he or she wants to do. The soldier and the sword are not equivalent.

This is, in fact, what the Bible itself teaches. Just a thought.

Thank you Father for the gift of your Spirit living in us, among us, that bears witness with our spirit that we belong to you and your Dear Son Jesus. This, I thank you, is not simply comprehending the words on a printed page. But actually communing with you, basking in your glory and love and presence. Amen.

Of Related Interest

The Messianic Age is the Age of the Holy Spirit: Fourteen Themes

The Holy Spirit and the Disciple in Ephesians, Pt 1

One Response to “Separate and Apart: A Perspective on the Work of God’s Holy Spirit and the Bible”

  1. Michael Arena Says:

    Excellent article.

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