Friday, June 22, 2012

Spirit vs. Word?

There is a thought among some believers that concerns me. I'm referring to the idea that the Holy Spirit might lead us to do something significantly different than what we see in scripture. It is a pitting of Spirit vs. word.

I've seen this idea written about in blog posts and in comments on this blog. Many times the concept of Spirit vs. word is brought up to say that certain NT passages (usually in the epistles) do not apply to us today. Especially in the area of women's roles in the church, passages such as I Corinthians 12-14 and I Timothy 2 are discounted as not being directed at us because we are in the Spirit.

One passage that is often abused by those who espouse a Spirit vs. word approach is II Corinthians 3:5-6. Paul writes, "Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

These folks point to the final sentence in particular. They say that it is the Holy Spirit who gives life (I agree with this). They then make the leap to saying that parts of the NT are the letter which kills (with this I disagree). Interestingly, they seem to pick and choose which parts of the NT are the letter that kills, for they never reject all of the NT.

The big problem with their use of II Corinthians 3 in this way is that they are ignoring context. In 3:3 Paul writes, "And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." In 3:7-8 we read, "Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?" Please note that in both 3:3 and 3:7-8 Paul mentions writing on stone.  This refers to the Ten Commandments specifically and the OT law in general. Therefore, when Paul talks about the letter that kills he is discussing the OT law, not the letters of the NT.

Additionally, it is absurd to think that the God who inspired the writings of the NT would have his Spirit contradict them and encourage us to disobey them. II Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If we think that God inspired the NT but that the Spirit contradicts the NT, then we don't have a biblical understanding of the Trinity.

The truth is that no contradiction exists between Spirit and word. They always agree. The Spirit can certainly tell us to do things not addressed in scripture. However, he will never lead us to do anything that flies in the face of scripture.

Spirit vs. word does not exist in the mind of God. It should not exist in the mind of his church either.


Aussie John said...


Your last sentence is summarizes the whole matter very well.

This antithesis is often a handy smoke screen to cover several issues, including ignorance.

Marshall said...

Typical English translation of the New Testament writings has helped fuel a pseudo-conflict between Word & Spirit. as example, much of Paul's writings rendered to be commands, are actually written in an apologetic form. Understandably, a person may understand commands or instructions as "law", even if presented in the "law of love". Apologetic is not "letter of the law", but rather an account of what is occurring and why (or, why not).

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Eric said...


I agree. When scripture sets parameters, some like to ignore them by using the Spirit as a means to an end. Sad it is.

Eric said...


Thanks for the information. Can you provide an example or two of what you are talking about? I'd like to think more about what you are saying.

Eric said...


Thanks for reading. I'll enjoy hearing more from you.

Marshall said...

Eric, just yesterday seeing here your inquiry. Please forgive the delay of this note.
Would I Corinthians 14:27 as a sometimes "hot button" example? The English word "let" means: to allow, permit. "Let" [being derived here from koine prefix, dia-, with the idea of passing through] is not the verb framework of delineated commands; let makes for allowance. an interlinear for 14:27 shows: "whether to language anyone is talking according to two or the most three & between each part & letting one be translating." verse 27 alone is too short for its context, but from verse 26, "How is it then, brethren? When ye come together..." So then, Paul is about telling us 'how it is', rather than commanding change.

One objection voiced relates to Greek imperative verb forms which offer a "mood" of intention before certainty. ["let it be"] Imperative verb forms are of use to build commands in koine, while the grammar itself also need support a genuine command or instruction. [II Timothy 4:1-2; I Timothy 6:17-19...]

As the Spirit has been further adjusting me regarding these things, I am reminded how the problem does not entirely lie at the doors of English translators, but also in the general pulpit where philosophy & hyperbole/embellishments gain license, and with hearers who have yet to examine all things. These 3 have combined error toward the Adversaries scheme to commandize New Testament writings.

A 2nd example also from I Corinthians 14, and one that should collapse every attempt to fume over the silence of women in the ekklesia: "Letting/allowing your women on the ekklesias to be hushing -- it has not been permitted for them to be talking/speaking as they/these are being subject and according as the Law of Moses is saying." The force of "let": allowing these women to do this. The forcing women into silence a la verse 34 is not of faith, while it is among the teachings of daemons. But then, also by daemons is the doctrine that insists women be "teaching men". [Thanks be to God, in my travels among the house churches, I have yet to come upon one that compels by command women to be silent, though I have visited several where their women are silent in the ekklesia.]

Eric said...


Thanks for sharing. I'll have to give that some thought.