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I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:12-13, NIV)

Am I correct that the Spirit of Truth is referring to the Holy Spirit?

If so, what does it mean for the Spirit to speak only of what he hears?

Trinitarians believe that the Holy Spirit is God, and God does whatever he wills to do. So how do they interpret these verses?

migrated from hermeneutics.stackexchange.com Sep 26 '14 at 19:30

This question came from our site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts.

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    The LDS church has a very clear and simple answer for this question, are you strict on only accepting Catholic and Protestant answers? – ShemSeger Sep 26 '14 at 16:33
  • @ShemSeger Yes I am only interested in C and P thanks. – public static Sep 26 '14 at 16:38
  • cf. I. THE JOINT MISSION OF THE SON AND THE SPIRIT | CCC. – user13992 Sep 26 '14 at 20:55
  • @publicstatic I changed the scope to Trinitarians, because there's no reason to exclude the Orthodox churches from this. – curiousdannii Sep 27 '14 at 0:20
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From John Gill's exposition of this passage:

For he shall not speak of himself: as Christ, the Son, spoke not of himself in opposition to the Father, so the Spirit speaks not of himself in opposition either to the Father, or the Son, but in perfect agreement with both; being, as of the same nature and essence, power and glory, so of the same mind, understanding, and will; and as they agreed and wrought jointly and harmoniously, in the works of nature and providence, so in the economy of grace and salvation.

But whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak; as Christ himself did, ( John 15:15 ) ; and they are such things as ear has not heard besides; what were secretly transacted in the council and covenant of peace, and agreed upon by all the three persons; things which concern the salvation of men, the Gospel church state, another world, and the glory of all the divine persons: ... (source)

This is extremely useful in two respects:

  • Recognising the Spirit when He comes: What the Spirit says will align with what the Father says and what the Son says - His voice will be familiar in that sense and a previous familiarity with words from the Father and the Son will serve as a suitable 'introduction' for a believer to therefore recognize the voice of the Spirit when He speaks.
  • A Safeguard from error - particularly Montanist style errors. There are many who claim to have received the Spirit, but are actually deceived as the words they claim as being from the Spirit are inconsistent with words that come from the Father and the Son. This passage of scripture makes it abundantly clear that the Spirit will not contradict the revelation previously given, therefore prophecies, 'words of wisdom' or 'words of knowledge' should be subjected to the test of whether they are consistent with scripture.
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As you probably know, the language of the Bible can be highly figurative at points. Sometimes the persons of the Trinity are referred to as if they were actual people such as "God (the Father) sent his only Son" or "the Father said to the Son". Similarly, "he will speak only what he hears" could refer to the Holy Spirit only transmitting the information which the Father tells him too or "what the Spirit hears".

In this case, then, the Spirit is not hearing new information, but more along the lines of hearing a command to communicate something. The phrasing used in this Bible verse is figurative in this way and is not completely literal.

--Roman Catholic

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I would say that Jesus only spoke what the Father told Him to speak. (John 12:49) In the same way the Spirit speaks only what the Father tells Him to speak. (John 16:13)

It means that He does not speak out of His own authority, but by speaking the words of the Father, gives all glory to the Father and shows us the example to do so too, in a sense.

Trinitarians believe that these verses mean that God is One person.

"Jesus replied, "If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me." - John 8:54

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    But the Spirit is believed to be God, so why is he taking commands from the Father? Each Person is a God in the doctrine, so why would the spirit be so submissive and yet be All-Powerful? That's what I need an answer for. – public static Oct 6 '14 at 13:41
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    No, He is not "a" God, He is God. God is one, yet three. Three, yet one. Why does God submit to God, except that it is godly. That the Spirit reveals only what the Father tells Him to is not a contradiction. – user16825 Nov 16 '14 at 22:54
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This is the nature of the Godhead, the Son rejoices to do the will of the Father, though He is equal with the Father (Philippians 2:6). Similarly, the Holy Spirit does not speak on His own authority but does the will of the Father (John 16:13), yet He is also equal. This unselfish love amongst the Godhead is a relationship men find difficult to comprehend.

The fact that They are one in nature and character makes Them one in purpose. Yet the Bible shows that they are three persons capable of having separate wills, and yet it is the same will.

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Truly, understanding and comprehending the Triune Godhead is an impossible task. Even our best similes, metaphors, and analogies fall short in our attempts. Complicating matters is the apparent anonymity or "behind the camera" role of the Holy Spirit (who, yes, is one and the same as the Spirit of truth).

I will say this, however: Just as the Scripture's teaching of the headship of the man over the woman does not in any way imply a relationship of a superior person to an inferior person, so also in the Godhead headship is expressed not in the superiority of one person to another, but it is expressed in differing roles, so to speak, characterized by unanimity of and conformity to the very nature, will, and word of God.

The same reasoning applies to a wife's submission to her husband and the husband's love for his wife: Her submission and his love are manifestations of requited love. Moreover, husbands are to love their wives "as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her" (Ephesians 5:25 ff.). In fact, God gave us the marriage covenant to illustrate the differing roles of equality within the Godhead which have existed forever; roles characterized by unity, variety, and mutual submission.

The love within the Godhead is expressed continuously forever. While the marriage relationship between a husband and a wife ceases upon the death of one or both spouses, the love relationship within the Godhead continues forever. The expression of that relationship can be appreciated by us mortals most clearly in what some theologians call salvation history. This history begins, so to speak, in the eternal councils of God on the one hand and culminates on the other hand in a new heavens and a new earth. In between the two ends of the continuum, as it were, is salvation history which includes, among many other things,

  • God's creation of the material universe, with man and woman as the crowning accomplishment of his handiwork, since they were created in God's very image.

  • The introduction of sin, first in heaven and then on earth, with its resultant spiritual and physical death of all living creatures.

  • The promise of salvation through the "seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15).

  • The various covenants of God with humankind, with the high points being his covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, and later with the nation of Israel, culminating in the blessing of all the nations of the world through the appearance and work of the seed of the woman, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man whose death and shedding of blood on the cross provided atonement for sin and salvation for the elect of God.

  • God's restoration of that which was spoiled, as he one day engages in a re-creative work of cosmic proportions, by which he will make all things new. Sin, suffering, and death will become things of the past, and "the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever" (Revelation 11:15b).

Regarding the outworking of God's great plan of salvation and restoration for humankind and his ultimate defeat of sin and death, there is within the Godhead a unanimity as to its purpose and its outworking. Its purpose, of course, is the ultimate glory of God, but its outworking has unfolded--and will yet unfold--in stages, each stage of which was and will be superintended by God. His decrees and his timetable are a tribute to his sovereignty in the affairs both of men and angels (fallen and not fallen).

In the interim period between Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God, the Spirit of God (or the Spirit of Christ) is birthing the kingdom of God within the hearts of people everywhere.

The Spirit's "ministry" of taking the truth of what he hears and disclosing it to believers, takes up (in a sense) where Jesus' ministry left off. Jesus told his disciples clearly,

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you (John 16:7 NASB Updated).

Since Jesus will forever be a man who inhabits a glorified body, he delegated, in a sense, the role of helper, truth revealer, abiding presence, advocate, teacher, bringer to remembrance, power provider, and more to the Holy Spirit (see John 15:16 ff.; and 16:5-15). Moreover, the Holy Spirit unifies all true believers in the church universal, and she will one day in heaven function fully as one body, worshiping, praising, and serving God for all eternity.

In conclusion, each person of the Triune God is actively engaged in the outworking of God's plan of redemption for humankind. Each person has a unique role to fulfill, but these roles are ultimately complementary and never at odds with the purposes, character, and the very being of God.

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1) The answer to your first question is; Yes!

John 16:7-15 (KJV) 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. 8 And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 Of sin, because they believe not on me; 10 Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; 11 Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. 12 I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. 13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. 14 He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. 15 All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.

2) To properly reference that question we need to correlate from within scripture! The text and context of your questions! When we read from another translation, as provided above; note that it says, “for he shall not speak of himself;” In the complete context from which this statement is made, Jesus is warning the disciples concerning the potential of deceptions by another spirit, not authorized to administer the gospel according to scripture through the Apostles and subsequent believers throughout the church age; after the Day of Pentecost, beginning in Acts 2. The following scripture references show; the instruction and a pattern of the problem from the Old Testament! As a personal example while with a street evangelism group our team came upon a particular individual that had an anointing of a familiar spirit and would quote scripture way out of context in order to justify the profane life style! If the group would attempt to share within a Biblical context; concerning his lifestyle he, would get violently angry and change the subject when confronted with scripture that the he had chosen to avoid!

Leviticus 20:27 (KJV) 27 A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.

1 Samuel 28:7-8 (KJV) 7 Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor. 8 And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee.

1 Chronicles 10:12-14 (KJV) 12 They arose, all the valiant men, and took away the body of Saul, and the bodies of his sons, and brought them to Jabesh, and buried their bones under the oak in Jabesh, and fasted seven days. 13 So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it; 14 And enquired not of the LORD: therefore he slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse.

2 Chronicles 33:5-6 (KJV) 5 And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. 6 And he (Manassa) caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.

Isaiah 19:2-3 (KJV) 2 And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom. 3 And the spirit of Egypt shall fail in the midst thereof; and I will destroy the counsel thereof: and they shall seek to the idols, and to the charmers, and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards.

Isaiah 29:3-4 (KJV) 3 And I will camp against thee round about, and will lay siege against thee with a mount, and I will raise forts against thee. 4 And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust.

3) The Trinitarians belief is based on what is taught in scripture! In the following verse Daniel uses in his prayer, and throughout the remainder of his prayer; All Three of what is called The Trinity! (bold highlight mine)

Daniel 9:4 (KJV) 4 And I prayed unto the LORD my God (Y@hovah), and made my confession, and said, O Lord (‘Adonay), the great and dreadful God (‘el), keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments.

Genesis 24:2 (KJV) 2 And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had,

What we have here is a fore type of the evangelistic work of The Holy Spirit; as Abrahams servant was sent to get a wife for his son Isaac. In parallel fashion The Holy Spirit rules over the Kingdom of God on earth, in an administrative capacity during the church age. Drawing the lost to salvation; as Rebekah was invited to follow Abrahams servant back to her unseen husband to be. She was impressed by the testimony and gifts delivered by the servant; believing his word! The servant did not spend much time speaking of himself rather spoke of his master and his son with all authority, ability and privilege according to his commission.

In a more earthly comprehension; just look at an egg; three parts different capacity and function. An egg in a nest may be a bit unsanitary, when we reach in to pick up that egg we handle it with care, clean it, break it open and prepare for food (Bible study and prayer)! The Holy Spirit delivers the gifts and produces the fruit of the Spirit within us; as we submit to his leading, He is just doing the job He was sent to do until his work is finished!

John 14:23 (KJV) 23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

What we have here is the ultimate goal of The Holy Spirit while on earth as we can comprehend it, The Holy Spirit desires for any believer to be visited by The Creator while still on earth!

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    I'm not sure how this addresses the question. The core of the question is the difficulty in understanding how the Holy Spirit can be God and yet in some sense be subservient to God, and it asks for trinitarian interpretation. I don't see any of that here. – Nathaniel Mar 30 '16 at 18:16
  • Although this claims to be from a Trinitarian perspective, it makes several egregious errors: the different names for God in the OT are not references to the different persons, and any parallels with eggs are pretty universally rejected by Trinitarian theologians throughout history as un-Biblical (it's a heresy called Modalism). These are serious problems making this an inaccurate and misleading answer, but if you want a laugh on the topic this satire video is worth the time. You're not the first to make these mistakes. – Caleb Jul 27 '18 at 4:17

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