Throughout His discourse Jesus kept coming back to the role that the Holy Spirit would play after Jesus’ departure. Having just described the role that the Spirit would play in the conviction of sinners (John 16:7-11), He now goes on to describe the Holy Spirit’s work of revealing truth to the apostles. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will tell you things to come” (vv. 12,13; NKJV).
One might begin by asking why the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit is necessary at all. What could possibly be added to what Jesus had already said? And yet Jesus Himself said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” What remained to be taught were the far-reaching implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But it would have been difficult to explain those implications before the events had actually taken place, and then Jesus would have been here on earth only a short while afterwards. Some other means, then, had to be found to convey that information to the apostles, and that is where the Holy Spirit enters the picture.
“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak . . .” (the word “authority” has been supplied by the translators). Here there are several things that are noteworthy. First of all, the Holy Spirit is a Person – the pronoun “He,” in the Greek, is masculine, even though the Greek word translated “Spirit” is neuter. The Holy Spirit is not a vague, impersonal life force, but a living, conscious Being.
And then the text says that “whatever He hears He will speak”; and then goes on to say, no less than twice in the next two verses, “He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.” What Jesus is saying here is that His own teaching ministry will continue, but through the agency of the Holy Spirit.
But how did this work in actual practice? “. . .whatever He hears He will speak . . .” The word translated “whatever” is neuter plural in form, suggesting that what is being transferred here through the process of inspiration are pieces of information – facts, concepts and ideas. And the Spirit is said to “hear” these things and to “speak” them to the apostles, implying that these revelations can be communicated in verbal propositions.
The apostle Paul would eventually describe the process of inspiration this way: “Now we have received, not the Spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which men’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” [or, as it might better be translated, “combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words’ – NASV]. The “words” which the Holy Spirit teaches are logois – words as embodying conceptions or ideas (Abbott-Smith). Jesus had also said that the Holy Spirit would “bring to you remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26) and “will tell you things to come” (16:13). The apostles and evangelists, then, would take all of this information that they had received from the Holy Spirit and write it down, making the writings of the New Testament, from the gospel records of the life of Christ to the prophecies of the Book of Revelation, the inspired Word of God.
The fact of divine revelation is of critical importance. Apart from it we have no certain knowledge about God’s dealings with the human race in the past, our standing with Christ in the present, or what lies in store for us in the future. And yet, tragically, the mainline Protestant denominations have largely abandoned faith in the Bible as the definitive Word of God.
The problem arose through the advent of the “Higher Criticism” of the Bible. The Higher Critics professed to be studying the origins of the Bible from an inductive, scientific standpoint, and claimed to have discovered a variety of underlying sources and later redactions. But they were highly selective in their use of evidence, usually discounting any explicit references contained within the Bible itself about its own origins.
Since the late 20th Century liberal scholarship has moved on to a wide variety of hermeneutical approaches, but practically none of them treats the Bible as a direct revelation from God Himself, and in some cases have even questioned whether objective truth is knowable at all. Jesus, however, took a far different view of things, and as the eternal Son of God He was in a unique position to tell us what the true state of things is, certainly more so than the modern critics.
Apart from divine revelation we are in utter darkness. We have no clear sense of the meaning and purpose of life, or of right and wrong, let alone the promise of forgiveness or the possibility of life after death. We would be trapped by our temporal circumstances; we could never rise above the here and now, and the Christian life would be unlivable. That the major Protestant have lost their faith in Scripture is one of the greatest tragedies of modern history. And yet the promise that Jesus gave to His disciples still holds true. The teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit continued beyond Christ’s ascension into heaven, and we have the final product of that divine inspiration in the New Testament. Let us rededicate ourselves to studying it, to applying it to our lives.