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Illumination and the Study of Scripture


This lesson is part of Mel Lawrenz’ “How to Study the Bible” series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.

Most believers are familiar with belief in the inspiration of the Scriptures. This is the conviction that the authors of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit to put down words that had the full truth and authority of the word of God.

But there is a corresponding and equally important principle: illumination. This is a core belief that spans the centuries of Christian faith.

To put it succinctly: in inspiration God the Holy Spirit used the writers of Scripture in order to reveal God’s truth; in illumination God the Holy Spirit enlivens the minds of the readers of Scripture today to understand what God has put there.

This is what Paul prayed for when he said:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people. (Eph. 1:17-18).

Most of Psalm 119 (the longest of the Psalms) is a prayer seeking understanding of God’s will, ways, and word. For instance, verse 34: “Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart.”

So when we study the Bible we use all the normal methods we use to understand any text: the history, the grammar, the words, etc. But believers do not stop there. They know that the truth of God which exceeds human understanding requires a work of the Holy Spirit in order for us to comprehend and understand it.

This is why it is always a good idea to pray before and after we read Scripture. Here, for instance, are two prayers as examples:

Before Reading the Bible: Open my eyes, gracious Lord, as I turn to your word. I long to know you, to understand life, and to be changed. Examine me, Lord, by the floodlight of your truth. Amen.

After Reading the Bible: May the word I have read, Lord, be planted deeply in my mind and heart. Help me not to walk away and forget it, but to meditate on it and obey it and so build my life on the rock of your truth. Amen.

Mel Lawrenz trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a Ph.D. in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, the latest, How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.

Filed under How to Study the Bible