Should We Question Someone Who Claims to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit and Shares a New Interpretation of Scripture?

Question from a reader:

I read your article on how the Holy Spirit relates to the Word of God. You state: “The bottom line is that the validity of an interpretation should not be judged by the interpreter’s spirituality (or eloquence), but by the interpreter’s fidelity to sound interpretive principles.” So, just to make sure I am reading this correctly, you are saying that if a person is filled with the Holy Spirit and that specific, previously unknown information that is contained in the Bible is revealed by the Holy Spirit, that the first thing I'm supposed to do is verify that the manner in which the Holy Spirit revealed that information needs to match up with commonly accepted interpretive methods? And, if it doesn’t, then I’m supposed to ignore it. Is that correct? I believe that is what the article is saying. All I have to say is, “Really? I’m supposed to ignore what the Holy Spirit has revealed?”

Answer from Stephanie Anderson, EPM staff:

Thanks for sending your thoughts. This phrase in your email stood out to me: “previously unknown information that is contained in the Bible.” To me this would be a red flag to hear someone say they are sharing “previously unknown information,” especially if their interpretation is not represented anywhere in the last 2,000 years of church history and writings. I’m reminded of how the Bereans tested even the Apostle Paul’s words against what had been revealed in the Old Testament, and were commended for it: “Now the Bereans were more noble-minded than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if these teachings were true” (Acts 17:11).

We are also told in 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

God calls us, as believers, to use our minds and to be wise, to use discernment, especially because of the subjectivity involved in the example you shared. How are we to be confident that what this person says truly is revealed by the Holy Spirit? Is someone saying, “the Holy Spirit revealed this to me,” wielding it as the ultimate trump card? History is filled with examples of people saying, “God told this to me” or “God showed this to me” and then being shown to be completely wrong as time goes on. (See this blog post from Randy for some examples.)

Randy writes,

Consider the people who are always saying “God gave me this song” and “God gave me this poem” or “God gave me this book” or “God gave me the words of this message.” Well, I think God actually does all these things sometimes, but not always and certainly not just because we think so or want others to think so! As a result, the Holy Spirit has gotten credit—the better word is blame—for many things He would not want credit for, including countless lousy songs, bad poems, poorly written books, and misguided messages.

In fact, the assumption that these things have come from God perpetuates their poor quality and our undiscerning nature. Why? Because the belief is propagated that God speaks to us easily and automatically, without study, meditation, counsel, long periods of contemplation, and interaction. The person who believes God “gave me a message” on a Saturday night or as he preaches Sunday has no motivation to study Scripture and prepare his message next time. In fact, study and preparation and dialogue with others about a text and a message can now be seen as working against the Holy Spirit rather than cooperating with Him. I’ve seen this, and the results are scary. Lack of discipline, poor planning and poor stewardship of time suddenly become virtues as we “trust the Lord to give us the words.”

Certainly, God does many things by Himself, without the need for our cooperation (e.g. the sun rises without our help). But in many cases, He does His work while requiring that we do ours (e.g. He makes flowers grow, but we plant, weed, water and fertilize them, and make sure God’s sun shines on them). So when we think we are hearing a word from the Lord, for instance, He may well be speaking to us or leading us, but then He expects us to test it by Scripture and wise counsel, and plumb the depths of it and understand it better and more accurately, before proclaiming from the housetops “God told me an earthquake is going to destroy Portland next year.”

Scripture also tells us that “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). So someone who is truly speaking or explaining what comes from the Holy Spirit or sharing an interpretation would not be offended by other Christians desiring to test what they are saying against Scripture and through interpretative methods. In fact, they would welcome it because they would have nothing to fear or hide.

I hope these thoughts are helpful. God bless you.

Photo: Unsplash

Stephanie Anderson is the communications and graphics specialist at Eternal Perspective Ministries.