All kinds of professing Christians believe Christ’s
promise to reveal “all the truth” was
not fulfilled in the apostles.
Here I want to claim something unusual, that such faith is no different in kind than the belief of modern tongues and prophecy. Like those who believe in apostolic succession, those who believe in ongoing tongues and prophecy claim Jesus is still revealing what Jesus called “all the truth” to the churches of Christendom – especially to their own.
Now, this is not a peripheral doctrine to the Christian faith, but the very core, as we shall see. The vast majority of persons and churches of Christendom get critical doctrine from other than the apostolic writings in the New Testament, risking being known as schismatics or even heretics.
For instance, the city I live in features a church with a rainbow banner claiming, “God is still speaking.” From their perspective God recently spoke to them approving homosexuality, and so this church features a gay men’s choir from New York City as part of their “outreach” to our community.
“God is still speaking.” The vast majority of professing Christian churches believe it, but in different ways. It could be through synod votes, select bishops, or ecstatic experiences. But it’s the same claim. God is still speaking. They just differ on who and what is being revealed.
My purpose here is to show that these beliefs are contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ and His apostles. Therefore, I split this post into four sections, each working through the text in John 16:13, “all the truth.” Here I attempt to make the case that churches and people who claim they are still receiving “all the truth” not only exercise unbelief in John 16:12-15, but by their practice, deny the Trinity Jesus taught in that text.
These sections are:
But before we get into that, let’s get specific on the key point in this article – exactly who did Jesus say would receive “all the truth?”
In John 16:13 Jesus says:
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes,
He will guide you into all the truth”
Who is the “you” whom Jesus will guide into all the truth?
According to the website of the charismatic 700 Club, you are the intended recipient of that promise,
“Prophecy, messages in tongues and the interpretation of tongues are
ways in which the Holy Spirit speaks to a group…. If what is said
in a message is not true, it is not from the Holy Spirit for He
is the Spirit of truth…. But when the Spirit of truth
comes, he will lead you into all the truth.”
Similarly the web site of the Charismatic Kenneth Copeland says that promise is for you, especially as an aid to speak in tongues,
“Lord Jesus, I come to You in faith to receive the Baptism in the Holy Ghost. I ask You to fill me to overflowing with the Holy Spirit – the same enduement of power that happened on the Day of Pentecost. Cause rivers of living water to flow out of me as I give utterance to my spiritual language. I receive now in Your Name. (Now begin to speak in tongues in praise and adoration as the Spirit gives you words.)…Jesus said the Holy Spirit is given to teach you, not just some things, but ALL the truth.”
The Upper Room
And yet those words were spoken almost 2,000 years ago, when the Lord brought His apostles to a specially chosen room for a final Passover feast on the night before His crucifixion. With the meal completed and Judas dismissed, Jesus delivered a discourse to a few men (John 13-17). In it, He referred to these men as “you” over 200 times, either in direct address or in prayer to the Father. He did not address anyone else as “you” in this lengthy segment of Scripture.
Our focus is on His words in chapter 16. There, Jesus explained the future these men would face after His resurrection. Specifically, He forewarned them of three problems: future martyrdom (John 16:2-4a), future spiritual warfare (John 16:4b-11), and future ignorance (John 16:12-15).
Jesus promised some would be killed because “the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). Next, He promised the Spirit of God would lead them into conflict with “the world,” but would also protect them by convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).cf. D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 534-39.
Third, and this is where we focus this article, was the overwhelming problem of their ignorance. They were, that night, utterly unable to comprehend the event and meaning of Jesus’ coming crucifixion on the next day. It would change everything by its saving power and in God’s plan for the coming age of the churches. These men simply had no concept of how the Lord’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension would connect to the establishment of churches all around the world made up of both Jew and Gentiles.
How would this crippling ignorance be resolved? Through the ministry of the Spirit of truth:
“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot
bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth,
comes, He will guide you into all the truth.”
Enter in Apostolic Succession
There are ancient claims that Jesus’ promise to reveal “all the truth” was a promise to be fulfilled in special men through the centuries. Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown writes,
“Roman Catholic theologians have seen in John 16:13 a reference
to continued unfolding dogma during the
period of the Church’s existence.”Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, 2:714.
One Roman Catholic web site claims John 16:13 teaches,
“the Holy Spirit will guide the Roman
Catholic Church into all truth”
The same claim is made in Eastern Orthodoxy,
“We believe that the Church as a whole is indefectible … that is,
the Holy Spirit will lead her into all truth,”http://orthodoxfaith.co.uk/qanda.html, accessed May, 2014.
It is also apparent within Anglicanism:
“Tradition is the life of the Church… for the Holy Spirit leads the
Church ‘into all truth’ and enables her to preserve the
truth taught by Christ to His Apostles.”John Crocker, The Apostolic Succession In The Light Of The History Of The Primitive Church, Anglican Theological Review, Jan. 1936, p. 2
All these ecclesiastical groups, and many beside, claim they are the people to whom God reveals ‘all the truth’ through the mechanism of apostolic succession, which itself depends on a charism. Their bishops (but no other groups’ bishops) receive a spiritual power from God in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in John 16:13: “He shall guide you into all the truth.”One scholar writes, “Where in practice was this apostolic testimony or tradition to be found?… First, the identity of oral tradition with the original revelation is guaranteed by the unbroken succession of bishops in the great sees going back lineally to the apostles. Secondly, an additional safeguard is supplied by the Holy Spirit, for the message was committed to the Church, and the Church is the home of the Spirit. Indeed, the Church’s bishops are on his view [i.e., Irenaeus] Spirit-endowed men who have been vouchsafed ‘an infallible charism of truth.’” J.N.D. Kelley, Early Christian Doctrine, 37.
All powers like charism, and like tongues and prophecy, claim to be from God, and the means by which He is completing His revelation of the truth for our present day and the future. The seed of truth planted in the apostles is flowering today through special bishops. But the claim is self-refuting, of course. If one church’s bishops are receiving ‘all the truth’ and part of that truth is that another church’s bishops are not receiving ‘all the truth,’ who can mediate or dispute between them based on apostolic revelation? None can, and thus they are all cut off from the waters they claim feed the tree. The seed has no living connection to the flower.
But there is a far better reason to reject apostolic succession than logic. It’s this. At some level, all bishops are able to comprehend the spiritual truth of the death and resurrection of the Messiah, because it has been interpreted and taught for them by others who came before them. But in the Upper Room, the disciples couldn’t interpret it, nor teach it. And that inability is what made them – the night before Christ’s death, and for the rest of their lives – so very, very, different from every bishop who ever lived after them.
Part 1 – Upper Room Weakness
In the Upper Room the apostles were clueless. They could not handle what was about to happen to their Lord. In fact, He said they couldn’t have understood what was was about to happen to Him – even if He told them.
Let’s allow early church father Tertullian to explain it from John 16:12:
“He had once said, ‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but you
cannot hear them now;’ but even then He added, ‘When He, the
Spirit of truth, shall come, He will lead you into all truth.’
He shows that there was nothing of which the apostles were ignorant
to whom He had promised the future attainment of all truth by
help of the Spirit of truth. And assuredly He fulfilled His
promise, since it is proved in the Acts of the Apostles
that the Holy Ghost did come down.”Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, 22
Tertullian claimed the apostles were the recipients of Christ’s promise in the Upper Room and that “there was nothing of which the apostles were ignorant.” To support that assertion he appealed to the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost: “assuredly He fulfilled His promise, since it is proved in the Acts of the Apostles that the Holy Ghost did come down.”
Tertullian was correct. Pentecost fulfilled a promise from Jesus specific to the apostles regarding the Holy Spirit:
“you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit
not many days from now.”
As assuredly as the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, is as assuredly the Holy Spirit would guide them into “all the truth.” That’s Tertullian’s point.
To see that in action, reflect on Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Peter’s sermon connects the three vital aspects of Christ’s first coming. It’s a series of links. First, Christ’s incarnation:
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene,”
a man attested to you by God with miracles and
wonders and signs which God performed
through Him in your midst, just
as you yourselves know.”
Next, Peter preached Christ’s resurrection, via the apostolic witness:
“this Jesus God raised up again,
to which we are all witnesses.”
Third, he proclaimed Christ’s ascension ministry:
“Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God,
and having received from the Father the promise of
the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this
which you both see and hear.”
Tertullian is pointing out for his readers that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and the resultant salvation at Pentecost confirmed Jesus’ “all the truth” promise to the apostles in John 16:12-15.
His sermon showed a three-linked theological chain that authoritatively connected Christ’s incarnation, resurrection, and exaltation. Apart from those three doctrines, and those truths derived from them, there is no theology worth knowing. Furthermore, those who did not have the benefit of witnessing the three-fold chain could take the apostles at their word believe on this Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.
That was Pentecost. But in the Upper Room seven weeks earlier the apostles couldn’t give any witness to the meaning of Christ’s incarnation-resurrection-ascension, and in no wise could they interpret it for other people as Christ’s witnesses. Theologically, they were abysmally weak in the Upper Room. Unlike all Christians who have ever lived after them, the apostles couldn’t handle the truth of the gospel message in the Upper Room:
“I have many more things to say to you,
but you cannot bear them now.”
So when Jesus made His promise to reveal “all the truth” in the next verse He specifically made it to men who couldn’t bear the truth at that time.
Make sense yet? It’s the ultimate theological reason why apostolic succession, tongues, and prophecy are dead wrong.
Scholar’s Break #1: Why the Apostles… Couldn’t
Let’s go deeper here. Why couldn’t the apostles bear the truth of Christ’s upcoming crucifixion and resurrection in the upper room?
Some say that Jesus was referring to their spiritual immaturity. They simply were too young in the faith to handle the truth. But that is problematic when it is remembered that the truth was related to Jesus’ impending crucifixion and resurrection, i.e., the gospel.Two who cite the disciple’s lack of maturity as the reason why Jesus did not teach them further truths at that moment include Merrill C. Tenney, John, 9:158; and Marcus Dods, The Gospel of St. John, 1:835.
It is better to see the apostle’s problem as one of inability. Jesus’ words “you cannot” in 16:12 is found frequently in John’s gospel (more than any other NT book (22x). It consistently implies impossibility and inability.οὐ δύνασθε, O. Betz, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, s.v. δύναμις, 2:604. For example, Jesus asserts that one “cannot see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again” (3:3). He also claims “I can do nothing on My own” (5:30). Every instance of this phrase in John’s gospel appears to be a strong statement of either an inability of men or unwillingness in Jesus.
Jesus explains the apostles’ inability to handle the truth with the verb, “to bear.”βαστάζειν, (bastazein, “bear, carry“) is “an unusual verb in this connection.”Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, 699. Used frequently in the NT of sustaining or carrying a burden, this verb probably carries the Hebrew sense of the prophet’s burden of carrying a message from God to men.cf. “nasa,” C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 2nd ed., (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1996), 2:489; cf. Walter Bauer, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and William F. Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, s.v. βαστάζω, 137; G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. βαστάζω, 78. The apostles could not “now,” i.e., that evening, have carried the burden of such prophetic truth as the cross. Their Lord had yet to be crucified and thus their ignorance was justified by God’s timetable in redemptive history. “Such teaching as that of the cross would have been a crushing burden.”B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, 230.
Therefore, Jesus was showing mercy to the apostles in the upper room. He had many things to teach them connected to His upcoming cross and resurrection, things they would in turn deliver to the churches through their apostolic writings (cf., Rev. 22:16). But not having seen the cross nor the resurrection yet they were unable to understand what it could mean. That’s why the upper room was not the right place or time for further instruction on this matter. But after His resurrection, and in connection to His own glorification at the Father’s right hand, Jesus would send the Spirit to guide them into “all the truth.”“Because the apostles were not able to comprehend the significance of Christ’s death at that time, here Christ promises by implication that the Holy Spirit will oversee the production of the New Testament…” Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 61. “The promise of the Paraclete’s teaching ministry is made in specific to them.” Carson, The Gospel According to John, 541.
Protestants and Free Churches… You too?
Yes, them too. Not to be left behind, Protestants and Free Church Christians (i.e. Baptists, etc.) adopt the same thinking by believing they too are the intended recipients of Jesus’ promise. One evangelical speaks for many when he takes Jesus’ words in John 16:13 to mean the Holy Spirit “who is continuously experienced in the church.” According to him, “the revelation of Jesus will continue in the community.”Gary M. Burge, John, The NIV Application Commentary, 439.
Yet Jesus mentions no community here. One Protestant commentator even took these words to mean that Jesus would give new revelation in church history that would correct errors in the Old Testament.William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol. 2. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960, 2:227.
Another Protestant claimed Jesus’ promise “is to the Church at large that He finally leads into all truth through centuries of error.”Marcus Dods, The Gospel of St. John, 1:835 (Church of Scotland). Another asserted that the resurrected Jesus, speaking through an early church committee, would add new information to the apostle’s teachings.J. Becker, Das Evangelium des Johannes (Gütersloh: G. Mohn, 1979-1981), 2.498, cited in Gerald L. Borchert, John, 2:169 and D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 539, as well as George R. Beasley-Murray, The Gospel According to John, 283. In spite of all the jokes about committees and truth being mutually incompatible, why would a committee add new information to the apostle’s teaching unless the committee believed the apostle’s teaching lacked enough truth?
Who are “You?”
By now in this article you’ve seen that the “you” of verse 12 can only refer to the apostles in the upper room. Only they fit the category of persons who couldn’t bear the truth of Christ’s upcoming cross and rising from the dead, for as Jesus said, “you cannot bear it now.”
In the next verse Jesus told these men (and these men only) that the Spirit of truth “will guide you into all the truth” and “declare to you the things that are to come.” To the apostles the truths were future truths to be made known to them after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension. Therefore, verse 13 can’t refer to anyone but those men for whom those events were yet future. That’s why all the verbs in verse 13 are future tense – they were future for the apostles. They weren’t future for the Christians to come after the apostles, but past tense. For all other Christians and churches the gospel is a past event of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, not the promise of future revelation.
This helps us identify exactly whom Jesus made this promise to in the upper room. Six times in four verses Jesus said, “you” (John 16:12-15). The “you” in each instance can only refer to the apostles.
The problem is unbelief, an inability to listen to Christ through Holy Scripture. By inserting themselves into John 16:12-13 the advocates of tongues, prophecy, and apostolic successionism replace Christ’s chosen apostles with themselves.
In the year 1844, Roman Catholic Cardinal John Newman explained why he left Anglicanism for Rome in a letter:
“Granting that the Roman (special) doctrines are not found drawn out in the early Church, yet I think there is sufficient trace of them in it, to recommend and prove them, on the hypothesis of the Church having a divine guidance, though not sufficient to prove them by itself. So that the question simply turns on the nature of the promise of the Spirit, made to the Church.” (emphasis mine)
Yet Christ’s words in John 16:12-13 limit all religious authority to the writings of the apostles and the rest of sacred Scripture. Church Tradition is to be rejected as a source of alternative source of the truth for the churches and results in a Christianity that is, in practice, anti-Trinitarian.
Part 2 – Connecting The Trinity
to the Apostles (vv. 13-15)
The heart of John 16:12-15 is a promise from Jesus to the apostles that the Holy Spirit will announce to them, and them alone, “all the truth” (v. 13). But without hesitation He next claimed “all the truth” the apostles would receive already resided in the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Himself.
This connection of truth and Trinity makes this a Trinitarian passage of definitional importance. Without hesitation, Jesus connected the future sufficiency of the apostolic writings for the churches (“all the truth”) would rest upon the sufficiency of the Trinity. These three eternally blessed Persons, according to Jesus’s words, would communicate “all the truth” with each other, and would, out of their infinite knowledge, reveal it to the apostles.
By divine design these two astounding realities are intertwined. In this passage we learn the work of the Trinity vis-à-vis the transmission of Scripture, and also the relationships within the Trinity of each member to each other member.
“When the Spirit of truth comes He will guide you into all the truth;
for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He
hears, He will speak; and He will disclose
to you what is to come.
He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.
All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said
that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.”
Thus Jesus connects the Trinity to the apostles. All three members will be fully involved in enabling the Spirit revelatory ministry of “all the truth.” Jesus even closes off the passage by saying, “He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” Such words do not refer to ongoing ministry of the church such as prophecy, tongues, or apostolic succession. Instead, “in this promise lies the germinal authority of the apostolic writings.”Tenney, John, 9:158.
Scholar’s Break #2: Textual Details in v. 13
The verb ὁδηγήσει “shall guide” in verse 13 has sparked significant debate. The ancient texts in the parchments and papyri are evenly divided between two readings: ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ πάσῃ “in all the truth” and είς τῇ ἀληθείᾳ πάσῃ “into all the truth”.Westcott even chose a third option, είς τῇν ἀληθείᾳν πάσαν, The Gospel According to St. John, 230. At first reading the second phrase appears to offer more precision and agreement with this article since “into” (as opposed to “in”) implies arriving at a final destination, and would appear to support the sufficiency of Scripture. That is, “into all the truth” would appear to support the idea that the Spirit’s revelation of truth to the apostles had a terminus, and thus the NT documents were a final revelation and no more are forthcoming. On the other hand the reading “in all the truth” has the word “all” (πάσῃ) emphatically positioned, suggesting that truth, in all its parts, will be taught by the Spirit.Westcott, The Gospel According to John, 230.
Which reading is correct?
While arriving at a solution is not easy, Metzger et. al. decided that the first phrase is less idiomatic than the second due to copyist harmonization with the verb ὁδηγήσει “shall lead”.Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 210. Thus it is less stylistic to say “shall lead in the way” than “shall lead into the way.” The first phrase is the harder reading, and hence the preferred reading.
Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown points out that ἐν (“in”) is “in the sphere” of the Paraclete’s action, but also can refer to a terminus and better describes movement into something, which better aligns with the meaning of ὁδηγήσει (“shall guide”).Brown, The Gospel According to John, 2:707. So it appears the phrase that most pointedly asserts the sufficiency of the Scripture is ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ πάσῃ (“in all the truth”). Or to be wooden, “The Spirit will guide them in the truth, all of it.” “The emphasis is on the term ‘all.’”Beasley-Murray, The Gospel According to John, 283. The Spirit of Truth shall guide the apostles in the truth, all of it (for the churches).
There is another study point here. Presbyterian pastor James Boice pointed out that several English translations leave out the article (“the”) before the word “truth” (NIV, KJV, NKJV), yielding a sense of indefiniteness about which truth Jesus will give, as in the aphorism, “all truth is God’s truth.” But he noted,
“It is not just some general idea of truth that the Holy Spirit is said to be coming to guide the apostles, but rather into all ‘the truth,’ that is, into a definite body of material centering on Christ. This, we recognize, is nothing other than the New Testament.”James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John, 5:1216.
While at some level “all truth is God’s truth,” not all truth is equally important for salvation of Christian churches, or even individuals. Commentators note that the verb ὁδηγήσει “he shall lead” is used in the Psalms (LXX) of the worshiper being led into truth, not simply truthful experience. In distinction from those who call upon the Holy Spirit to lead them in personal decision making through ongoing revelation, Carson warned that the verb “shall guide” (ὁδηγήσει),
“has nothing to do with privileged information pertaining to one’s
vocation or mate, but with understanding God as he has
revealed himself, and with obeying that revelation –
as the occurrence of this verb in the
Psalms makes clear.”(Pss. 25:4-5 [LXX 24:4-5; 143:10 [142:10]), Carson, The Gospel According to John, 540.
Therefore, the Spirit likewise will lead the apostles into obedience to the truth in the days ahead, removing the idea of detached truth, that is, merely propositional statements (such as canon law, or spurious tongues and prophecies that do not help explain or apply the work of Christ on the cross and His redemptive mission. These close observations of John 16:13 imply that revelation from the Spirit will lead men to glory in Christ, not only by esteeming truth, but also by their experience of obedience to that revealed truth.
The Spirit: He Submits
By now we’ve learned the Holy Spirit has been promised to reveal “all the truth” to the apostles, truth that connects Christ’s three-year incarnate ministry to Israel to Christ’s on-going ministry to the churches in the present age. What the apostles lacked in understanding about His impending crucifixion, resurrection and ascension will be supplied by the “Spirit of truth.”
We now explore the text a bit further to learn that the Holy Spirit is not Himself the source of that truth that He will speak to the apostles. Instead, what He will speak will be an exact dictation to the apostles of what He Himself will hear from the ascended Christ.
To show this to you, let’s pick apart the remaining phrases of v. 13 one by one. First, Jesus says of the Holy Spirit, “He will not speak from himself” (John 16:13).The Greek is less defined than English translations, οὐ γὰρ λαλήσει ἀφ᾽ ἑαυτοῦ “he will not speak on His own.” The preposition ἀφ᾽ (“from”) refers to the Spirit as not regarding Himself as the ultimate source. This is why our English translations fill out the meaning with words such as “authority” (ESV), “initiative” (NAU), “on his own” (NIV). Our English translations emphasize the Spirit’s submission:
“He will not speak on his own authority”
(John 16:13, ESV)
“He will not speak on His own initiative”
(John 16:13, NASB)
“He will not speak on his own”
(John 16:13, NIV)
What a remarkable statement this is, that God the Spirit will not speak on His own. Is He not God almighty? Did He not speak the universe into creation? Just what is going on here?
He Shoots, He Scores!
Jesus is teaching the Spirit’s submission to Himself after His ascension is itself a statement of His trinitarian self-awareness. In the Greek language Jesus’ words rhyme and come off the tongue in staccato. You can hear it for yourself if you say, “akousay, lalaysay!” In English, it’s “he hears, he speaks!”ἀλλ᾽ ὅσα ἀκούσει λαλήσει, “but whatsoever He will hear He will speak”
Have you ever watched a hockey game and heard the announcer say, “he shoots, he scores!?” In the same way, if you say “he hears, he speaks” out loud, you get the gist of Jesus’ words. Exactly what the Spirit hears is exactly what He will speak, and nothing else. Or to put it negatively, the Spirit will not speak a single syllable that the He doesn’t hear from the ascended Christ. Then, to complete the transmission, what the Spirit hears from His teacher is verbatim what He will reveal to the apostles: what He hears, He speaks!
If there were ever a verse to snuggle up alongside a mechanical dictation theory of the transmission of Scripture, it’s right here. However, the theory warrants a modification. Jesus is not speaking here of the manual dictation of Scripture from God to men (which is problematic), but a mechanical dictation from God to God!”The dictation theory states that God “dictated” His Word to the writers of Scripture, who were nothing more than human stenographers for the Holy Spirit. The dictation theory says that the Spirit wrote through the agency of human writers who were fully under God’s control. With the authors in a state of relative passivity, God dictated every word written with pinpoint accuracy. In this way, human personality and human error could not interfere with God’s intended message. The human writers did not personally contribute anything to the content of Scripture since they were passive instruments of God’s will.” Taken from http://www.gotquestions.org/dictation-theory.html Within God, the transmission of the truth that becomes Scripture for men is indeed mechanical. For if the Spirit changed the words He receives from His Teacher to better suit the apostles, it would necessitate that the member of the Trinity who gave it to Him had something imperfect in His teaching that needed correction, emendation, or improving.
Who then is the Spirit’s dictating teacher but Jesus, the man speaking to the apostles at that very moment? By placing the 2 verbs “hear” and “see” next to each other Jesus fastened together the Spirit’s ministry to His own, and fully revealed Himself as the source of the Spirit’s hearing in v. 14. In return the Spirit will offer to the Son the same level of obedience that Jesus offered to the Father, only now it will be in the transmission of “all the truth” for His apostles, and by them to the churches. Every little nuance of all truth that Jesus speaks to the Spirit will be precisely communicated to the apostles by the Spirit in the exact same manner in which He heard it.contra Herman Ridderbos, “This does not mean that the Spirit merely repeats Jesus’ words” but “redistributes it in his own way.” The Gospel of John, 536. But are not the seven letters to the churches of Christ and the Spirit, equal in content and all else (cf. Rev. 2:1, 8)?
As Jesus continues, He teaches the manner in which the Spirit will guide the apostles. It will not be through councils, creeds, confession, or votes. Rather, the Spirit will “announce” the truth about what is coming in the future to the apostles.ἀναγγελεῖ, “he shall announce”. The verb intones an authoritative pronouncement. The Spirit will communicate to the apostles “all the truth” with the same authority Jesus had among them in His incarnation. Thus, no authority is lost. “All the truth” will come from Jesus to the Spirit to the apostles for the churches, but rather the Spirit will declare it exactingly, for it comes from His Lord, Jesus.
Significantly, the Spirit will announce “what will come,” a reference to the theological meaning of the cross, resurrection, and ascension for the future churches until the 2nd coming. Unlike the claims of modern tongues, prophecy, and Apostolic Succession, this is revelation in continuity with the revelation the apostles have received in the past three years of Jesus incarnational ministry to Israel. What has been, and “what will come,” are one in theological meaning only when given to the apostles by the Spirit. And only they, having experienced both as a result of Christ’s call, have been authorized to connect the two for the churches.
Such ministry of the Spirit “will glorify Me” claims Jesus in v. 14, “for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” In this the Spirit is no passive secretary merely passing along truth claims but One who actively searches out the Person of Christ for exactly what Jesus will desire to be communicated to these men.
Therefore the Spirit’s leadership in the apostle’s lives will explore the Person of the resurrected Jesus and communicate to them all that will display Jesus to them as intrinsically glorious. For Jesus to be glorified in this way means that His work in the incarnation, cross, resurrection, and ascension will be so taught to these men that He will be regarded by them as worthy as God is. All other claims to on-going revelation steal this glory from the Lord since they claim to be from Him, but are actually disconnected to the entire theology of Christ’s first coming into the world and ascension out of it.
Jesus had already linked His glory to God’s own earlier in the discourse, claiming “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once” (John 13:31-32). So, as Jesus glorified the Father by complete obedience to Him, so shall the Spirit glorify Jesus by His complete obedience to Him. Had the Spirit failed to reveal “all the truth” to the apostles for the churches and continued to reveal truth to guide churches after their deaths, the entire Trinity would have failed.
The Son: He Takes from the Father
And just where does Jesus get “all the truth” to give to the Spirit? The answer is “all whatsoever that the Father has is mine” (v. 15). Jesus clearly asserts that everything God the Father has belongs to Him. By any reckoning it is a staggering statement. To say it while still in the days of His incarnation is thoroughly glorious.
The obvious implication is that Jesus presently possessed that evening all that the Father possesses and that He freely and without restraint could take all He wanted from the Father at any time, even at that present moment. Thus the Father, who Himself is full of grace and truth, begets eternally a Son who likewise is full of grace and truth, a Son who always possesses open access to the Father (cf., John 1:18).
Drawing a circle back to v. 12, it now becomes obvious that the night before His crucifixion Jesus already knew all things – everything about the cross, the resurrection, the ascension, and how it all would relate to the churches yet to be formed. He shows this by the use of the present tense: “all whatsoever that the Father has is mine.” Indeed, “the Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (John 3:35).
Based on Jesus’ full access to all that the Father possesses and the Spirit’s full access to Jesus in turn, the truth the apostles will write for the churches will be “all the truth” for them the Trinity intends. There will be no need for on-going charismatic giftings for alleged apostolic successors, or to tongues and prophecy speakers in perpetuity.
The Father: He Gives to the Son
While no activity is ascribed to the Father in John 16:12-15 He is nonetheless active, for He allows the Son to search “all the truth” that He possesses. He “is identified as the ultimate source of both the Son’s and the Spirit’s revelatory ministry to believers.”Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, 474.
God the Father architected the plan to crucify the Lord of glory and it was His plan to also reveal its meaning to apostles through His Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:8-12). The Father did this in order to reveal unknowable truth to the recipients of His grace, the churches of the saints. For as only God possesses truth (Titus 1:2), He begets children of truth through the word of truth (John 18:37, James 1:17-18). Thus, the Father’s work in revelation is foundational.
Apostolic Succession, Tongues, and Prophecy
Disconnect the Incarnation from the Churches
When Jesus says of the Spirit, “He will take of Mine and will declare it to you” in verse 14 He completes the theological connection for the apostles. What the Spirit has already been revealing to them of Jesus’ own earthly ministry will in the future be connected by the Spirit to the upcoming cross, resurrection, and ascension. In this way the Spirit-enabled apostles will bear witness to all of Messiah’s first coming to the churches yet to come of “all the truth.”
Thus the Spirit won’t give to the apostles an all new revelation but instead a revelation that builds on the revelation they had been receiving from Jesus the past three years. This is a further reason why speakers of modern tongues and prophecy, and priests of Apostolic Successionism, are a disaster for the churches of Christianity. They claim to represent Christ’s present ascension ministry to the churches, but unlike the apostles, bear a witness that is disconnected from His incarnational ministry. Thus they misrepresent His fullness of which John the apostle said, “of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17).
The apostles alone provide theological continuity between the earthly ministry of Christ and his risen ministry, something advocates of modern tongues, prophecy, and Apostolic Succession can’t claim. No alleged successor to the apostles ever knew a whit of Jesus’ earthly ministry personally, nor do any tongues or prophecy speakers today. All they can rightly know about the earthly ministry of Christ is from the apostles, alone. They are like everybody else in history – dependent on their knowledge of Christ and His ministry of redemption from their writings. So why are they not content with that truthful witness granted to them by the Spirit in Scripture? Worse, they believe they add to it.
But only the apostles had firsthand knowledge of Jesus’ incarnational ministry and the establishment of the churches of Christianity, and thus they alone could make a valid connection between Jesus incarnate ministry to Israel and ascended ministry to the churches. Unlike the rest of humanity, the apostles did not need someone else’s writings to know Jesus’ earthly ministry.
For some reason advocates of Apostolic Succession, modern tongues, and prophesy all claim to be able to develop doctrine for the churches without relying on the connected witness of Christ’s incarnate life to Israel. Some are so arrogant so as to assume the title “apostle.” But they all presume that men who have lived long after Christ’s days of humiliation can develop post-resurrection doctrine for the churches without being His first hand witnesses.
Thus Apostolic Succession and modern tongues and prophesy claim that God is still, even now, revealing truth in continuity with Christ’s incarnation and resurrection. But if this were true there would be a further promise made to the churches that they too, like the apostles, would be led into all the truth. But not only is there no such promise, such on-going revelation, granted to men who lived after the apostles, would necessarily be disconnected from Christ’s earthly incarnate ministry.
In reality these adherents separate themselves off from the foundation of Christ and His apostles and prophets. That which makes the apostles and prophets to fit alongside Christ in the Universal Church’s one foundation (Eph. 2:20) is the revelation they received from the Holy Spirit in continuity with Christ’s incarnate ministry among them and then in His resurrection glory. But to claim equality with the true foundation stones in the matter of ongoing revelation from the Spirit is to reject being built on top of them. It is such a brazen ecclesiastical heresy that it contains in it the high likelihood of also being disconnected from Christ savingly, for it disowns the glorious Trinity revealed by Christ. This is the subject to which we next turn.
Part 3 – Connecting The Persons
of the Trinity to Each Other (vv. 13-15)
As great and glorious as the work of the Trinity is in the transmission of “all the truth” to the apostles, John 16:13-15 teaches a yet deeper truth for the Christian. The work of transmission of “all the truth” from the Trinity to the apostles is superseded by the glory of their inter-Trinitarian relationships with each other, showing that the transmission of “all the truth” isn’t an end in itself but has occurred so that God may reveal His own transcendent excellence, so that He might be adored and rightly worshiped as Trinity.As we’ll see, “…the Trinity in economic operations reveals the ontological Trinity.” Vern S. Poythress, “Reforming Ontology and Logic in the Light of the Trinity: An Application of Van Til’s Idea of Analogy,” Westminster Theological Journal 57/1 (1995) 187-219.
Jesus claimed that “as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). As “life in Himself” the Father is essential being and has granted to Jesus the same. Within the framework of that “life-granting” relationship the Father’s life is entirely possessed by the Son, for “all that the Father has is mine” (John 16:15). Not that the Son possesses the essence of the Father but instead possesses all that is caught up with the essence of the Father. The Father remains distinctly the Father even as the Son possesses πάντα ὅσα “all things whatsoever” is in the Father (John 16:15).
These are hard words to comprehend! It would be one thing for Jesus to claim that He alone had access to dark secrets hidden from eternity past, but this would only place Him in a position of unique access to the Father, and even sub-Trinitarian churches have claimed that for millennia. They still do today. They will even teach a created Jesus who spoke truth when he said He has seen the Father (John 8:23-24). But their teachings deny what Jesus actually asserts in John 16:15. Jesus, the Son of God, possesses “all whatsoever” is in the Father.
How vast is this claim? No one can plumb the depths of the Father’s own vastness except a Being as “large” as the Father. And this is exactly what Jesus claims about Himself. He has unfettered access to all that is “in” God the Father. He has open claim to lay hold of “all whatsoever” the Father possessesπάντα ὅσα. The adjective πάντα (“all”) ties back to v. 13, “all the truth,” but while in v. 13 it is qualified by “the truth, in v. 15 it is expanded by the relative pronoun ὅσα, “whatsoever.”
The Father holds more than “all the truth” in His infinite vastness. He holds that which is beyond the realm of angelic and glorified humanity’s comprehension. Indeed, the Father quite simply possesses the Triune God, and all that God the Trinity is, in Himself. The Father has determined what is true by decree and shares it all with both the Son and Spirit so they may be in the full possession of it. All of this is open to the Son, who, for His own glory’s sake, makes it open to the Spirit.
The Trinitarian Relationships of the Son
The Son maintains distinction in essence from the Father by identifying Himself twice in John 16:15 with the possessive adjective ἐμά “mine.” It is precisely as a separate Person that the Son can claim an entire perichoresis, or mutual containingSome prefer to speak of mutual indwelling, reflecting upon Athanasius’ own terms. Perichoresis came to be used later as a technical term in Trinitarian discussions. with the Father in which there is nothing hidden or held back from the Son. In order to enjoy such open access, the Son has the same “God-size” as the Father.
Therefore from the realms of the unfathomable deeps in God which are beyond the capacity of glorified saint or archangel are resources of knowledge and truth. Only God Himself could know the thoughts of God (1 Cor. 2:11). Were the entire body of all redeemed elect to search out the wisdom and knowledge of the Father for ten times ten billion years they could never exhaust His incomprehensibility. But the Son has done it and even at the time of His incarnation held all that vastness in present knowledge, for He claimed that “all whatsoever the Father has is mine” (present tense).This is true of the Son except for those items of knowledge He intentionally chose not to know in His incarnation (Mark 5:30, 13:32).
Therefore when the Son opens Himself to the Spirit the same perichoretic dynamic occurs. Since the Spirit “takes of mine” (John 16:14) He too is differentiated from the Son while the Son simultaneously offers the vastness of His own realms of incomprehensible deeps to the full indwelling of the Spirit. The mutual indwelling is again described as “takes of mine” (John 16:14 and John 16:15). In the first instance Jesus relates the Spirit’s future taking from Jesus as that which will bring unqualified glory to Jesus.λήμψεται, “He will take.” In this future taking, which only came from the Spirit’s relationship with the resurrected Christ, the Spirit “shall glorify Me.”
This not only means that the Spirit made known to the apostles the glories of Christ as the 2nd member of the Godhead who came to earth and took on a full humanity in His incarnation, and who died an atoning death, rose from the dead, and ascended back to where He came from, but more specifically, to a dynamic relationship enjoyed between the Spirit and the Son. Jesus explains that dynamic in but three words: ἐκεῖνος ἐμὲ δοξάσει “He-Me shall glorify.” It is personal and it is glory between these two Trinitarian Persons. Long before the churches shall comprehend the glory of the Son through the ministry of the Spirit to the apostles, the Son shall be comprehended in full in His own glory through the perichoresis of the Spirit.
Before the Spirit will communicate all the truth to the apostles He must first take that truth out of Jesus, ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ λήμψεται “for out of Me He shall take” (John 16:14). The glory the churches shall have in Jesus is then derivative of the glory Jesus Himself enjoys from the Spirit. The Spirit has full access to all the “God-space” Jesus fills and because of this Jesus is glorified.
The second instance of this phrase, “He takes of mine,” in John 16:15 fleshes out the glory of the Trinity’s indwelling of each other. As Jesus speaks of the “taking” from Himself by the Spirit in present tense in v. 15, He relates it causallyc.f., ὅτι “for” to the same activity that He, the Son, likewise performs in the Father. Jesus avers that all that He has, which is derived from the Father without limit, is precisely that which the Spirit takes from the Son.Notice the plural πάντα ὅσα (“all things whatsoever”) that the Father possesses (v. 15) while Jesus possesses the singular. The Father knows all things, and these Jesus knows all these in singular comprehension.
Jesus teaches a full and unreserved perichoresis, and it helps define for us the inter-Trinitarian relationships. For the Spirit to take from Jesus depends on Jesus possessing all that the Father has. As a result, the Spirit has all that Jesus has becauseδιὰ τοῦτο, “for this reason” (v. 15). Jesus possesses all that the Father has.
The Trinitarian Relationships of the Spirit
While the Holy Spirit’s work is described in more detail than the Father’s or the Son’s in John 16:13-15, the Spirit’s own delivering to the apostles “all the truth” is but a segue into the ultimate confidence the apostles are to have in the Trinity. The Spirit will speak to them “all the truth” precisely because of the Spirit’s relationships within the Trinity. This promise is their confidence, and their confidence becomes the faith of the churches: the sufficiency of the Scriptures is the sufficiency of the Trinity. To doubt the sufficiency of Scripture is to doubt the Trinity.
It is because of the infinite and limitless greatness of the eternal and omniscient God that “all the truth” will be revealed to these men for the churches. Therefore, it is indeed to their advantage that Jesus goes away and sends the Helper to them (John 16:7). Apart from this crucifixion-resurrection-ascension event their knowledge of God in the ministry of the 1st coming ministry of the Christ to Israel would be too limited to bear their future apostolic task of writing Holy Scripture to the churches.
While nothing is said directly about the Spirit’s relationship to the Father, their relationship is nonetheless necessitated by the causal relationships in John 16:14-15 described above: the Spirit searches the Son who searches the Father. Further, the Son’s glory that He will receive from the Spirit (John 16:14) necessitates that Jesus’ glory ultimately comes from the Father, the original Sender of the Spirit. Since Jesus possesses “all things whatsoever” from the Father, and this possession primarily refers to His own glory as the Son eternally begotten of the Father, it is this glory that is revealed by the Spirit of the Father.
Indeed, the Spirit can’t glorify Jesus as anything other than what He is as the Son of the Father. Therefore the Spirit’s glorification of Jesus is His own participation in the fullness of the Son as the Son of the Father. And as the Son cannot be outside of the Father, the Spirit’s glorification of the Son therefore glorifies the eternally begetting Father. It is “the Spirit, by this utter dependence, [who] ensures the unity of God and of the revelation God graciously grants.”Carson, The Gospel According to John, 540.
With regard to the Son, the Spirit’s relationship to Him is of the closest imaginable. The “announcing” ministry of the Spirit to the apostles (John 16:14-15) comes only after the Spirit enjoys the deepest communion with the Son as defined by the two verbs placed next to each other ὅσα ἀκούσει λαλήσει “whatsoever He shall hear He shall speak.”
In human terms we can picture the apostle John leaning on Jesus’ breast at the last supper as the two speak with each other in the most intimate and trusting setting. For Jesus to allow the Spirit to glorify Him by taking what is His implies that Jesus entrusts His own essential glory as the Son entirely to the Spirit. Out of that closeness the Spirit will speak to the apostles “whatsoever” Jesus speaks to Him.
The books of the New Testament are the product of this intimacy within the Persons of the Trinity. It is the revelation of their Trinity to the churches. There was no qualification, no emendation, no redaction, and no “could you go over that once more” when the Spirit took from the Son, or as the Spirit gave to the apostles, for only His perfect announcement of all that Jesus told Him brought glory to Jesus. This was primary, and only secondarily is Jesus glorified as the churches read what the Spirit first announced to the apostles. Yet, as the churches are confident that the Spirit gave to the New Testament writers “all the truth,” they glorify the entire Trinity. Conversely, to the extent the churches deny the sufficiency of Scripture through tongues, prophecy, and Apostolic Succession they disobey and dishonor the Trinity.
The sufficiency of the Scripture is the fruit that the churches presently enjoy of the Trinity’s perichoresis. That mutual indwelling provides them every Sunday with nothing less than “all the truth.” Written for us by Christ’s chosen apostles and prophets, that truth alone brings the ascended Jesus to us since it perfectly connects the incarnational ministry of Christ to Israel and His ascension ministry to the churches (Rev. 22:16). The present practices of tongues, prophecy, and Apostolic Succession cannot since those who practice them have no witness to either.
Scholar’s Break #3: Is this a Promise of Genre?
It has been suggested that the teaching role of the Holy Spirit in these verses relates to three literary genres evident in the NT, historic, doctrinal, and prophetic.Boice, The Gospel of John, 5:1218-20. Ironically perhaps, Boice quotes approvingly from the Scofield Study Bible at this point. The statement, “He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13) refers to the gospels as history, “He will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14) is doctrinal, represented by the epistolary documents, while, “He will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13) refers to the future and thus the book of Revelation.
But this appears to be unwarranted for the simple reason that none of the genre types quite fit the case, for the gospels also declare prophecy while the Revelation contains history in the first chapter, and epistolary material in the second and third chapters, and at again at the end. Further, from the time reference of when Jesus spoke the apostles (the Upper Room), all that the Holy Spirit would speak to them referred to the future, not simply the end times.Köstenberger goes further to even say that the Spirit’s “object of revelation… cannot be the passion but must be events following Pentecost” because the Spirit doesn’t come until that time, John, 473. However, Jesus is speaking of the time from “now” (v. 12), not from Pentecost. The Spirit will indeed reveal the passion to the apostles.
Instead of applying Jesus’ words to distinct genre types it’s better to understand each statement in John 16:13-15 as explaining the method Jesus used to create the New Testament. Specifically, He promised to cover the apostles’ inadequacy in the Upper Room by a method of speaking sometimes referred to as “announcement speech.” Jesus emphasized a specific form of communication by repeating the same verb three times (ἀναγγελεῖ, “I announce, declare”). The Holy Spirit announced “all the truth,” Scholars claim its primary meaning is “to report, of persons returning from a place.”Walter Bauer, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and William F. Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 51, emphasis original. That place would be heaven, and hence Jesus implies that nothing less than inter-Trinitarian truth will be declared to them. And if, as one scholar points out, this verb’s prefix (ἀνα) means ‘re’ as in “re-announce, re-proclaim,” then the point is made all the plainer.Brown, The Gospel According to John, 708. This certainly fits all the conditions of the text well. The New Testament is the out-breathed declaration of the Triune God.
This explains why the phrasing of John 16:14 and John 16:15 are so close to each other as to be purely repetitious:
“he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14)
“he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:15).
Why the repetition?P66 omits all of v. 15 by homoioteleuton. Because while in John 16:14 the emphasis is on the inner relationships of the Trinity, “all the truth” will arise out of those relationships (v. 15) resulting in Scripture. Jesus promises the Holy Spirit will “re-announce” to them what He hears in the counsels of the Trinity. Such a grand and glorious truth is given by the Son of God. But as we will see in a minute, it does not connect with those who believe in Apostolic Succession. Even one as accomplished as the Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown dismissed this repetition as “meaningless.”Brown, The Gospel According to John, 707.
Only it has great meaning for Christians because the repetition serves a great purpose. If Jesus had only wanted to teach that the Holy Spirit would teach the apostles “all the truth” then He could have ended that discussion at John 16:13. However, the repetition of John 16:14 and John 16:15 further reveal the glory of the Trinity in their own Triune relationships (ontology), and in their participation in the transmission of “all the truth” (economy). This “repetition” makes a vital connection: the sufficiency of the Scripture is the sufficiency of the Trinity.It is “the Spirit, by this utter dependence, [who] ensures the unity of God and of the revelation God graciously grants.” Carson, The Gospel According to John, 540.
This double glory assures the churches of the value of Scripture even as it teaches them to reject sub-Trinitarianism, such as the denial of the double procession in Eastern Orthodox Trinitarianism. The words of Jesus teach that the Spirit has access to all that belongs to Jesus, who in turn has access to all that belongs to the Father. The Spirit at a particular time in human history used His open access within the Son to guide the apostles into all the truth that comes from the fullness of the Father. This points to the great truth of the filioque (Double Procession) since the Spirit has an essential relationship with the Son that mirrors but is yet distinct from the Spirit’s essential relationship with the Father.c.f. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1:310. Even as He proceeds from both, so also He “takes” from the infinite fullness of both. Yet He takes from the Son only inasmuch as the Son has previously taken from the Father.
Each church’s one foundation is the sufficiency of the Trinity who has revealed all the truth and recorded it for them in the New Testament. Hence trust in God is trust in Scripture, for the sufficiency of Scripture is the sufficiency of the Trinity. By human reckoning it is a circular faith.
When Jesus taught the sufficiency of future revelation to His apostles He rested it upon the sufficiency of the omniscient Trinity with Whom He shares all truth and glory. Thus the sufficiency of Scripture is circular in that it rests on Jesus’ claims and submits itself to no church or council for verification or authentication. There is no process by which it is verified except its own testimony to bind men by both precept and example to grateful faith and obedience. It is unbelief in Christ to view the New Testament as insufficient in itself to communicate “all the truth” for the churches as do the practices of modern tongues, prophecy, and Apostolic Succession.
Those churches which reject the sufficiency of Scripture are also circular in that they believe in themselves, and as we shall see in the next section, exhibit unbelief in the Trinity. In Roman Catholicism, Apostolic Succession leads to “The Magisterium,” the belief that the Holy Spirit has deposited alongside Scripture a series of beliefs and practices far more extensive and more mature than those revealed in the New Testament. In Roman Catholicism these teachings, which they believe are on-going, are equal in authority to Scripture. Many non-Catholics would say they actually supplant Scripture.
In Orthodoxy, Apostolic Succession is an “apostolic deposit” given in infallible ecumenical councils centuries after the apostles died. In Orthodoxy this leads to Conciliarism, a faith in an on-going revelatory ministry of the Holy Spirit through the councils of men. Pentecostalism and Charismaticism prominently feature a faith in an on-going revelatory ministry of the Spirit that leads to immense confusion and heresy as on-going tongues and prophecy supplant the authority of Scripture.
These churches all suffer from a constant evolution of terms since hey are all adrift from the unchangeable Scriptures. Apostolic Succession changes the New Testament presbyter into a priest, even as an overseer became an arch-bishop who later became an arch-bishop, who might in time become a Pope. But if “all the truth” were revealed by the Spirit to the apostles for the churches, why are such critical offices not found in the New Testament in both precept and example? If the Scripture is “all the truth,” why do biblical tongues and prophecy get redefined to accommodate human babble and error?
The result is ecclesiastical tragedy of biblical proportions. In the NT we read of the “whole church” which in pre-Nicene ecclesiology was equivalent to the lower case “c” catholic church, a local church in a single city or town comprised of all Christians in that city. After Constantine and Nicaea a ‘whole church” changed to a grouping of churches under a hierarchy of bishops. These bishops soon took it upon themselves to redefine the very word “church.”
Yet in the New Testament there are but two fixed meanings of “church” given by the Lord of the Church: “universal” in Mat. 16:18 and “local” in Mat. 18:17. These two definitions have not been rescinded by Him, but have been often been resisted by many churches, even though every use of “church” in the New Testament is conformed to these two meanings.Except Acts 7:38, Acts 19:32, 39, 40. We Christians are called back to already revealed truth, not pushed forward into as-of-yet unknown truth we define for ourselves. This is taught to us by our faith in the past accomplishments of Christ’s death and resurrection. We are called to resist churchly circularity.
Scripture shows off its sufficiency to anyone willing to cross-check it by precept and example. If it teaches anything at all, John 16:12-15 teaches that the revelation given to the apostles for the churches is a systematic revelation: “all the truth.” And since the NT is a system, or body of truth out of the Trinity who eternally possesses all the truth, it perfectly complements itself without any internal contradictions. Anyone may read it and check his or her interpretations by seeing if that which is commanded is also taught in example, and vice-versa.
Part 4 – The Disobedient Churches of Modalism
As we’ve seen, the doctrines of tongues and prophecy speakings, along with apostolic successionism, reflect a Christianity untethered from the Spirit-guided apostolic witness that connects Christ’s coming in this world and His leaving of it, i.e., His ascension ministry. Such detachment requires a modal god who continually reveals truth to the churches of Christendom.
This god is not the triune God of Christianity, but a god who shifts modes through time. He was the Father, became the Son, and today is the Spirit. Therefore he does not search inside any other Person, for none other exists. Today he is searching Christianly men (and women) to give more truth as time goes along, men who are disconnected from the incarnation by millennia and who make revelatory pronouncements based on personal and ecclesiastical experience. No longer does this god connect “all the truth” for the churches to the incarnation of the Christ, as did the apostles. He simply doesn’t require those who (allegedly) reveal ongoing truth for the churches today to have personal witness of it.
To be clear, the god of modern tongues, prophecy, and apostolic succession is the heretical god of that ancient heresy, modalism. The modalistic view of the Trinity teaches a god who reveals himself in three successive forms according to particular times and developments in history. Instead of tying revelation to the incarnation of the Christ and His once-for-all death, resurrection, and ascension, the god of modalism accommodates himself to times and people, not vice-versa.
Thus, on-going revelation of “all the truth” is given not by the Spirit who has searched the fullness of the Son or the Son who has searched the Father’s fullness, but by the Spirit searching the experiences of men (and women) and giving back to them what their churches need at their time in history. By departing from John 16:13-15 such churches have departed from the Trinity and are functionally heretical.
Using the words of the Nicene Creed (381 AD version), such churches fail to be “One, Holy, and Catholic” because they are not “Apostolic.” They have untethered their source of doctrine from the apostolic witness that connects the incarnation and ascension into one truth.
For example, apostolic successionism claims a revelation beyond the Christ in a continuity of bishops:
“If one wishes to know the true Faith, then it suffices to ascertain the
teachings of this one Church, as it is handed down through
the succession of her bishops”Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 283-284.
Allegedly the Spirit, detached from the incarnation but attached to the bishops, passes along the necessary charism to assure that the bishops (and priests in measure) have the power to do their ministry of teaching, governing, and sanctifying, not because of the Christ’s death and resurrection and ascension, but because of men’s needs in time and history. The charism that makes apostolic successionism visible by the laying on of hands is modal in both theory and practice since the spirit, detached from the incarnation, is all the god they need to give their ecclesiology cohesion and authority. But why would the Holy Spirit do for men that which comes without any specific New Testament promise and example from Christ, namely, give them an ongoing charism?
As explained at the beginning, charism is a belief that links tongues, prophecy, and apostolic succession to an unbelief in the completeness of Scripture as “all the truth.” Charism rests upon a belief that the Spirit gives an empowerment above and beyond the apostolic witness in Scripture. Such unbelief detaches the Spirit from the Christ by making Him, the Spirit, Christ’s next incarnation. This is the heart of modalism.
True, we do see examples of hands being laid on men in the New Testament, similar in practice to the consecration of priests and bishops today. And true, we do see tongues and prophecy in Scripture, even as we see churches today which claim they have these charisms. But no command in Scripture is given to the churches to expect such a charism, nor to establish the office of a singular bishop in any one church or group of churches, nor to guide churches by ongoing tongues and prophecy.Advocates point to several examples of the laying on of hands in the writings of the NT (1 Tim. 4:14, 5:22, 2 Tim. 1:6) for biblical attestation. But NT examples without NT precepts leaves us without an understanding of what does the laying on of hands actually meant to them. For an understanding on the role of precept and example and the sufficiency of Scripture, please see my article on this web site, Precept and Example. It is all unbelief in the sufficiency of Scripture, which is unbelief in the connected witness of the apostles to the incarnate and ascended Christ.
Eastern Orthodoxy suffers the same modalism. EO churches center their identity in a rightly ordained bishop, something foreign to apostolic witness in the New Testament and not developed until centuries later.
“The validity of the Eucharist depends on the following conditions:
- The presidence (direct or indirect) of the Bishop.
- Communion with the other Churches in the world (both in terms of space and time, ie Apostolic succession and conciliarity).
- The presence of the community with all its members and order, including the (lay) people.”John Zizioulas, The Ecclesiological Presuppositions of the Holy Eucharist.
In simple distinction, the apostolic deposit never identifies the need for a single overseeing administrator in the faithful observance of the Lord’s Table (1 Cor. 10:16-17, 11:17-34).
All professing Christians must make a decision: which is the more mature version of church, Paul’s, or that which developed centuries later? Trusting in a self-asserted charism rooted in a false modalistic trinity, Eastern Orthodoxy, even as Roman Catholicism, has come to deny that a local church, with full apostolic approval, could exist apart from their own properly appointed bishop. But their claim to greater ecclesiastical maturity than the 1st century churches is the result of rejecting the Trinity Jesus revealed to the 1st century apostles in the Upper Room.
In the same way, present day advocates for tongues and prophecy are convinced their rapidly multiplied churches are the proof of the Spirit’s charism upon their practices. For them “Spirit baptism” in its’ visible manifestations are evidence of the Spirit among them in a special way.
But like the ancient churches within the Roman Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiastical institutions, they have replaced the “all the truth” sufficiency of Scripture with their own belief in a Spirit who reveals ever more truth according to the needs of men and their churches, not the glory of the Son.
They are, therefore, as churches, untethered from the Trinity’s self-revelation granted through the apostles. They are, as a result, untethered from the Son of the Father, the Savior of the body, even the Lord of the Church.
In John 16:12-15 Jesus taught that “all the truth” would come to every future generation of churches through the apostles out of the full Trinitarian mutual indwelling, His perichoresis. Therefore, the sufficiency of Scripture is the omniscient sufficiency of the Trinity. Jesus was a sufficient witness to “all the truth” in the Father and the Spirit was a sufficient witness to “all the truth” in the Son. Together they revealed to the apostles “all the truth” for the churches. That “all the truth” is the 27 books of the New Testament.
But modern tongues and prophecy, along with Apostolic Successionism, are founded on a belief in the insufficiency of Scripture. In light of Christ’s promise in John 16:12-15 such can only be regarded as rank unbelief. Tongues, prophecy, and Apostolic Successionism deny Christ’s claims that resulted in the New Testament Scripture and have replaced its holy authority over the churches with their own words and teachings. They obey a modalistic deity and are to be understood as heretical churches, walking in disobedience to the Trinity.
But as a result of the perfect sufficiency of the New Testament, every church can confidently bind the consciences of all men by preaching and teaching the sacred writings. Only with the Scripture’s fullness can the churches be obedient to worship the Trinity as the Trinity and visibly reflect the Trinity in submission to Christ’s words: “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21).
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||cf. D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 534-39.|
|2.||↑||Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, 2:714.|
|3.||↑||http://orthodoxfaith.co.uk/qanda.html, accessed May, 2014.|
|4.||↑||John Crocker, The Apostolic Succession In The Light Of The History Of The Primitive Church, Anglican Theological Review, Jan. 1936, p. 2|
|5.||↑||One scholar writes, “Where in practice was this apostolic testimony or tradition to be found?… First, the identity of oral tradition with the original revelation is guaranteed by the unbroken succession of bishops in the great sees going back lineally to the apostles. Secondly, an additional safeguard is supplied by the Holy Spirit, for the message was committed to the Church, and the Church is the home of the Spirit. Indeed, the Church’s bishops are on his view [i.e., Irenaeus] Spirit-endowed men who have been vouchsafed ‘an infallible charism of truth.’” J.N.D. Kelley, Early Christian Doctrine, 37.|
|6.||↑||Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, 22|
|7.||↑||Two who cite the disciple’s lack of maturity as the reason why Jesus did not teach them further truths at that moment include Merrill C. Tenney, John, 9:158; and Marcus Dods, The Gospel of St. John, 1:835.|
|8.||↑||οὐ δύνασθε, O. Betz, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, s.v. δύναμις, 2:604.|
|9.||↑||βαστάζειν, (bastazein, “bear, carry“) is “an unusual verb in this connection.”Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, 699.|
|10.||↑||cf. “nasa,” C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 2nd ed., (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1996), 2:489; cf. Walter Bauer, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and William F. Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, s.v. βαστάζω, 137; G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. βαστάζω, 78.|
|11.||↑||B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, 230.|
|12.||↑||“Because the apostles were not able to comprehend the significance of Christ’s death at that time, here Christ promises by implication that the Holy Spirit will oversee the production of the New Testament…” Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 61. “The promise of the Paraclete’s teaching ministry is made in specific to them.” Carson, The Gospel According to John, 541.|
|13.||↑||Gary M. Burge, John, The NIV Application Commentary, 439.|
|14.||↑||William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol. 2. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960, 2:227.|
|15.||↑||Marcus Dods, The Gospel of St. John, 1:835 (Church of Scotland).|
|16.||↑||J. Becker, Das Evangelium des Johannes (Gütersloh: G. Mohn, 1979-1981), 2.498, cited in Gerald L. Borchert, John, 2:169 and D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 539, as well as George R. Beasley-Murray, The Gospel According to John, 283.|
|17.||↑||Tenney, John, 9:158.|
|18.||↑||Westcott even chose a third option, είς τῇν ἀληθείᾳν πάσαν, The Gospel According to St. John, 230.|
|19.||↑||Westcott, The Gospel According to John, 230.|
|20.||↑||Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 210.|
|21.||↑||Brown, The Gospel According to John, 2:707.|
|22.||↑||Beasley-Murray, The Gospel According to John, 283.|
|23.||↑||James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John, 5:1216.|
|24.||↑||(Pss. 25:4-5 [LXX 24:4-5; 143:10 [142:10]), Carson, The Gospel According to John, 540.|
|25.||↑||The Greek is less defined than English translations, οὐ γὰρ λαλήσει ἀφ᾽ ἑαυτοῦ “he will not speak on His own.” The preposition ἀφ᾽ (“from”) refers to the Spirit as not regarding Himself as the ultimate source. This is why our English translations fill out the meaning with words such as “authority” (ESV), “initiative” (NAU), “on his own” (NIV).|
|26.||↑||ἀλλ᾽ ὅσα ἀκούσει λαλήσει, “but whatsoever He will hear He will speak”|
|27.||↑||”The dictation theory states that God “dictated” His Word to the writers of Scripture, who were nothing more than human stenographers for the Holy Spirit. The dictation theory says that the Spirit wrote through the agency of human writers who were fully under God’s control. With the authors in a state of relative passivity, God dictated every word written with pinpoint accuracy. In this way, human personality and human error could not interfere with God’s intended message. The human writers did not personally contribute anything to the content of Scripture since they were passive instruments of God’s will.” Taken from http://www.gotquestions.org/dictation-theory.html|
|28.||↑||contra Herman Ridderbos, “This does not mean that the Spirit merely repeats Jesus’ words” but “redistributes it in his own way.” The Gospel of John, 536. But are not the seven letters to the churches of Christ and the Spirit, equal in content and all else (cf. Rev. 2:1, 8)?|
|29.||↑||ἀναγγελεῖ, “he shall announce”|
|30.||↑||Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, 474.|
|31.||↑||As we’ll see, “…the Trinity in economic operations reveals the ontological Trinity.” Vern S. Poythress, “Reforming Ontology and Logic in the Light of the Trinity: An Application of Van Til’s Idea of Analogy,” Westminster Theological Journal 57/1 (1995) 187-219.|
|32.||↑||πάντα ὅσα. The adjective πάντα (“all”) ties back to v. 13, “all the truth,” but while in v. 13 it is qualified by “the truth, in v. 15 it is expanded by the relative pronoun ὅσα, “whatsoever.”|
|33.||↑||Some prefer to speak of mutual indwelling, reflecting upon Athanasius’ own terms. Perichoresis came to be used later as a technical term in Trinitarian discussions.|
|34.||↑||This is true of the Son except for those items of knowledge He intentionally chose not to know in His incarnation (Mark 5:30, 13:32).|
|35.||↑||λήμψεται, “He will take.”|
|36.||↑||c.f., ὅτι “for”|
|37.||↑||Notice the plural πάντα ὅσα (“all things whatsoever”) that the Father possesses (v. 15) while Jesus possesses the singular. The Father knows all things, and these Jesus knows all these in singular comprehension.|
|38.||↑||διὰ τοῦτο, “for this reason” (v. 15).|
|39.||↑||Carson, The Gospel According to John, 540.|
|40.||↑||Boice, The Gospel of John, 5:1218-20. Ironically perhaps, Boice quotes approvingly from the Scofield Study Bible at this point.|
|41.||↑||Köstenberger goes further to even say that the Spirit’s “object of revelation… cannot be the passion but must be events following Pentecost” because the Spirit doesn’t come until that time, John, 473. However, Jesus is speaking of the time from “now” (v. 12), not from Pentecost. The Spirit will indeed reveal the passion to the apostles.|
|42.||↑||Walter Bauer, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and William F. Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 51, emphasis original.|
|43.||↑||Brown, The Gospel According to John, 708. This certainly fits all the conditions of the text well.|
|44.||↑||P66 omits all of v. 15 by homoioteleuton.|
|45.||↑||Brown, The Gospel According to John, 707.|
|46.||↑||It is “the Spirit, by this utter dependence, [who] ensures the unity of God and of the revelation God graciously grants.” Carson, The Gospel According to John, 540.|
|47.||↑||c.f. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1:310.|
|48.||↑||Except Acts 7:38, Acts 19:32, 39, 40.|
|49.||↑||Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 283-284.|
|50.||↑||Advocates point to several examples of the laying on of hands in the writings of the NT (1 Tim. 4:14, 5:22, 2 Tim. 1:6) for biblical attestation. But NT examples without NT precepts leaves us without an understanding of what does the laying on of hands actually meant to them. For an understanding on the role of precept and example and the sufficiency of Scripture, please see my article on this web site, Precept and Example.|
|51.||↑||John Zizioulas, The Ecclesiological Presuppositions of the Holy Eucharist.|