On Being Guided in All Truth

Over the last week or so, I’ve been watching the massive thread on “the Doctrine of the Church” over at Greenbaggins. It started as a simple comment by Lane Keister to the effect that “Confessions of the church carry much more weight than an individual person’s opinion, even if they are not on the same level as Scripture.” That comment in turn has been used as a wedge issue by Bryan Cross, and the whole thread has been turned into a circus by various Catholics.

Over the next few posts, I hope to be able to comment on a couple of different aspects of that thread. But following up on a posting about the misuse of 1 Tim 3:15, here’s another common Catholic “proof-text” that is also badly misused:

The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple. In them He prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons. The Church, which the Spirit guides in way of all truth (Cf. Jn. 16:13) and which He unified in communion and in works of ministry, He both equips and directs with hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorns with His fruits. (from Lumen Gentium, paragraph 4).

Note a couple of things here: First, see that “the Church” is separate from “the hearts of the faithful.” Even at Vatican II, “The Church” is significantly “the hierarchy.”

But note also that little reference, “cf” which is used with respect to the reference to John 16:13. It’s an abbreviation for the Latin word confer, meaning “compare” or “consult”. The Roman hierarchy will throw that little reference out there — it’s not given as a firm exegesis for “infallibility,” but possibly with the intention that through the process of “mental reservation,” some of “the faithful” will begin to use this verse, incorrectly, as a proof-text. And in this thread, that’s exactly what happened: John 16:13 was thrown out there as a kind of proof for infallibility of the Magisterium. See this statement from the Catholic Catechism:

The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. [Emphasis supplied, JB; see the comment from “Tori” below.] Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms…

One form that’s not explicitly given in the Catechism, but is nevertheless “out there” (cf) is that this verse is a support for “the Magisterium”. See comment #400 by an individual named “Toli”:

See Jn. 16:13. What does Christ say the Spirit will do? That text,among others, through good and necessary inference, opens the gate to an infallible magisterium. The continuity that exists is the same, but better.

This is one key reason why I think that Catholic apologetics, from the top level on down, is fundamentally a dishonest exercise.

What we’ve seen here is a clear, outright example of the Catholic Hermeneutic, as I’ve discussed, in which a Catholic does not rely on an exegetical process to understand what a verse means, but instead will start with an existing Catholic teaching, and then read that teaching back into the verse. This “method” has notably been defined by, among others, Pope Pius XII in his encyclical, Humani Generis:

“theologians must always return to the sources of divine revelation: for it belongs to them to point out how the doctrine of the living Teaching Authority is to be found either explicitly or implicitly in the Scriptures and in Tradition.”

But what does this verse really say? What does it promise? I’ve consulted two commentaries on John, both D.A. Carson (1991) and Andreas Kostenberger (2004) for clarification:

The Paraclete will guide you in (Gk. en is the best reading; eis, ‘into’, as in NIV, is secondary) all truth. If there is a distinction between ‘in all truth’ and ‘into all truth’, it is that the latter hints at truth the disciples have not yet in an sense penetrated, while ‘in all truth’ suggests an exploration of truth already principally disclosed. Jesus himself is the truth (14:6); now the Spirit of truth leads the disciples into all the implications of the truth, the revelation, intrinsically bound up with Jesus Christ. There is no other locus of truth this is all truth. The notion of ‘guidance’ (the Gk. verb hodegeo) in all truth has nothing to do with privileged information pertaining to one’s choice of vocation or mate, but with understanding God as he has revealed himself, and with obeying that revelation — as the occurence of this verb in the Psalms makes clear (e.g. Pss 25:4-5; 143:10).

… it makes sense to suppose that the Holy Spirit is unpacking [the significance of Jesus’ death/exaltation]. The verb used here and repeated in vv. 14. 15 (anangello, NIV ‘tell’ in v.13 and ‘make known’ in vv. 14, 15) suggests an announcement, indeed in this context a revelatory declaration (as its use in 4:25 suggests), but it is a reiterative announcement. These features square best with the view that what is yet to come refers to all that transpires in consequence of the pivotal revelation bound up with Jesus’ person, ministry, death, resurrection and exaltation. This includes the Paraclete’s own witness to Jesus, his ministry to the world (16:8-11) primarily through the church (15:26, 27), the pattern of life and obedience under the inbreaking kingdom, up to and including the consummation. All of this the Spirit of truth ‘announces’, yet in making it known he is doing little more than fleshing out the implications of God’s triumphant self-disclosure in the person and work of his Son. (Carson, pgs 539-541, emphasis in original.)

Also Kostenberger:

Yet when the “Spirit of truth” comes (see 14:17; 15:26), he will guide (hodego) them in all truth. “Guidance in all truth” (better than “into all truth”) entails providing entrance to the revelatory sphere of God’s character and ways. In one very important sense, Jesus is the eschatological Word who has explained [“exegeomai”, from which we get the word “exegesis”] the Father (1:18). In another sense, however, by salvation-historical necessity is the Spirit who guides his followers in “all” truth. Such divine guidance was already the Psalmist’s longing (Ps. 25:4-5; 43:3; 86:11; 143:10). The prphet recounts how God led his people Israel in the wilderness by his Holy Spirit (Isa. 63:14) and predicts God’s renewed guidance in the future (Isa. 43:19). Yet as he guides Jesus’ followers in all truth, the Spirit will speak only what he hears–his dependence on Jesus enacting the pattern set by Jesus in relation to the Father–and also tell Jesus’ followers what is yet to come. The object of revelation is “what is yet to come” subsequent to the giving of the Spirit, which cannot be the passion, but must be events following Pentecost. The emphasis may lie not so much on predictive prophecy but on helping the believing community understand their present situation in light of Jesus’ by-then-past revelation of God. This entails both “a more profound penetration into the content of revelation” and “the application of that revelation to the behaviour of the community within the world.”

I just wanted to suggest one more thing here. Note the verb “exegeomai,” which Kostenberger refers to, John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known…” This process of “making known” is “exegesis,” which, used in the Gospel of Luke means “to give a full account” in the sense of “telling the whole story,” which is the most probable meaning here, too.

Jesus is very clear, especially in the Gospel of John, that he only speaks what he hears from the Father (See John 3:34-35, 5:19-20, 7:16-18, 8:26-29, 42-43, 12:47-50, 14:10.) The Spirit repeats this pattern (John 16:14-15). If there is a pattern of “succession,” it is this “succession in the truth,” demonstrated within the Trinity, that is to be followed. This flies in the face of the “Catholic Hermeneutic,” which superimposes its own meaning onto Scripture.

Published by John Bugay

"We are His workmanship," His poiema, His "poetry." If you've ever studied poetry, or struggled to write a poem, you understand the care God takes to "work all things together for good" in our lives. For this reason, and many others, I believe in the Sovereignty of God. I have seen His hand working in my life, and I submit myself to His merciful will, with all my being.

6 replies on “On Being Guided in All Truth”

  1. I don’t think it’s as simple as you make it out to be, i.e. that the Catholic Church is just superimposing meaning. The “meaning” of any given verse or passage is not always readily apparent. The Catholic Church believes that the “context” of any given verse is not limited to the text that comes before and after it, as Biblegateway.com would have us believe by showing us three verses instead of one as the “context.” Scripture as a whole does not even exhaust the context which must be understood to find meaning. I don’t think this is something that Protestants disagree with, since they often look to historical/cultural/linguistic context to help shed light on the meaning of passages. They just don’t (in my experience at least) consider the practice of the ancient Church, what Catholics might refer in some particular cases as apostolic/oral tradition, to be part of the context. I think the obvious possibility not alluded to in your post, then, is that this bare-bones approach to exegesis can provide everything we need to know to understand the “meaning” of a verse. I’m not even trying to cast aspersions on the grammatico-historical method. I’m just saying that the grammatical part is not exhaustive, and the historical part may be where the Catholic Church is filling out its understanding of a verse’s meaning (consulting more historical aids than Protestants normally do). Jesus himself told the apostles that he had many more things to tell them than are recorded in the gospels, and John says his doings and sayings could fill all the libraries in the world, so the Church has not historically expected to find everything explicitly in 27 books, most of which were only written by a handful of the apostles, and some of which were not written by apostles to begin with.


  2. Hi Andrew — I’m sorry that I’ve left this site somewhat unattended for the time being. I’ve been posting at James Swan’s blog, Beggars All:


    And given that his site is a blogger site and this one is a wordpress site, it doesn’t make it easy just to post the same thing on both sites. (Sometimes you can do that, but the formatting codes are a bit different). Like many people, I have some very stringent time constraints, and so this has just sort of fallen by the wayside.

    So I’ve been debating in my own mind what to do here, and haven’t quite come up with any answers. I’m certainly open to suggestions.

    One thing I’ve thought to do is just to make it more personal, more of a discussion-related site, but the name cries out for something bigger than just me.

    As well, I have reserved “www.reformation500.com” and one might imagine that’s going to be a site worth having in the years ahead. I’m looking for someone who can really do something special with it, both from a programming and design perspective, and from a content perspective. Again, I’m open to suggestions.



    If Sacred Tradition (what all generations of the Church have taught) is ignored, then the alternative is that heretical popular doctrines of the day, like homosexual marriage, cloning, abortion on demand, embryonic stem cell research, etc., will start to be accepted by pastors and churches who want to be called modernistic, and who don’t want to offend the popular culture.

    This can currently be seen in the Anglican and Episcopalean Churches, as well as some other protestant churches.

    These formerly evil things become part of their church doctrine by a simple majority vote of the delegates to their conventions.

    Vice should never become virtue by popular vote. Isaiah 5:20 says “woe to them who call evil good and good evil.”

    When Tradition is not present in a church, this is exactly what happens, and is happening now before our very eyes.


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