Christians believe that they have an indwelling of the Holy Spirit who acts as a counselor and guide, enabling them to rightly understand God's word. How does the role of the Holy Spirit in understanding the Scriptures interact with hermeneutics as an academic field? How do different approaches to hermeneutics balance the importance of being "spirit led" with the study of fixed texts?
From one Christian perspective:
The Holy Ghost is capable of doing his job without any knowledge you have of hermeneutics. However he does not often do it if you do not have knowledge of his Word.
Who better than the Holy Ghost to guide us in remembering and correlating Scripture?
If you wish to hear God propositionally, then you fill your head with Scripture.
Why should he give personal revelation if you haven't listen to the stuff he gave you in the word of truth?
As you have need, God speaks in the still, small voice bringing applicable Scripture to remembrance, and correlating Scripture with scripture until you have a testimony of Christ.
Your ability to remember and to correlate are the channels of propositional communication with God. If you have no scripture in your head you can't hear the words of God when you need them.
Hermeneutics can certainly provide context toward understanding a particular passage, but only in an objective way. Some of the context required for understanding the truth is not accessible without obedience, a transformation of the subject (the disciple).
As I explained here, there are two phases to the interpretation of Scripture:
1) Knowing the text
This is where you learn the literal interpretation via a study of the language, cultural references, etc.
In this phase, you pretty much just need a working brain, good education in history and languages, diligence in your studies, and no weird spiritual stuff hindering you.
I suppose it could be argued that the Holy Spirit plays a role in this phase, providing you with discernment, helping your brain work properly despite your sin, helping you wake up for class when your alarm doesn't go off, etc... but really, if you are born-again and willing to put in the time and effort, I don't think this is a very "spiritual" endeavor; people learn Latin every day without supernatural miraculous revelation.
2) Understanding the purpose behind God's decision to include a particular passage in Scripture
This is where you "get it" and finally understand what God is "trying to tell mankind" through a particular passage.
I would argue that this phase is 100% Holy Spirit-driven.
According to Scripture:
2 Timothy 3:16
and 2 Peter 1:20-21
When one wants to know the intended meaning of something in a book and the author is available, one first inquires of the author.
If we want to interpret Scripture correctly we must know Him.
Jesus the Holy Spirit would guide his followers into all truth and that He is the Spirit of truth. He then prayed that the Father would sanctify them/ set them apart by His truth:
As the author of Scripture, The Holy Spirit's role in hermeneutics is:
I can only answer this question under a Christian perspective.
The bible does not treat itself as literature which can be understood properly through human means. David prayed 'Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law (Psalm 118:19, ESV). Paul also prayed the same thing for the Ephesians that they would have 'the eyes of their hearts enlightened (Ephesians 1:18). It is here that we have a means of knowing God and the scriptures which rise high above all and every form of hermeneutics or exegetical discipline. The Holy Spirit alone brings an illuminating power to the mind, 'opening our eyes' through the preaching of the gospel:
In performing this ministry Paul did not use wise and persuasive words but "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power", so that their faith "might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." (2 Cor 2:3-5)
What these and many other references suggest is that our natural minds are as blind eyes when reading and studying the scriptures, no matter our hermeneutic or exegetical training. No matter our knowledge, no matter our title, this is our natural state as men 'born in sin' and 'blind to God.' We literally do not have power to see and even the most renown bible scholar can see no more than a child, without a special illumination of the mind by the Spirit.
As we pause to appreciate how central this makes the Holy Spirit to understanding the Bible, the Holy Spirit must take a very important role in our hermeneutic. Without him we have no hermeneutic which might enable us to understand scripture.
But what does this mean in terms of hermeneutics? It means most of our misunderstanding is due to a hardness of heart, not a literary technical fault. Yes, an adult can understand the Bible in some ways more than a child from a natural standpoint, but the Spirit can reveal to a child things hidden from adults. Therefore, we must pray for knowledge and be obedient to the gospel, if we ever expect to have both a natural hermeneutic and its spiritual counterpart -- a strong annointing of the Holy Spirit. For who alone knows the mind if God and who alone can reveal his thoughts to us:
While we use a natural hermeneutic common to all men to understand words, we use repentance, faith and reliance on the Spirit in prayer, to understand the real thoughts which the letter expresses the mere form of in scripture. The two realms are distinct but not separate. Just as the mind and emotions are different but never without an influence one upon one another, so a spiritual and natural hermeneutic work together to understand God. A sinner uses a wicked heart to misunderstand him. To imagine that truth can objectively be collected, synthesized and communicated -- without emotional, moral and spiritual dependent laws determining the results -- is the fiction of modern day scientific philosophy and has little bearing to the truth as evidenced by our own conscience.
A hermeneutic is essentially nothing more than a bias. Even if that bias be a desire for objectivity, it is a bias at what we believe to be objective. The human heart is also under a bent bias, overruling all technical skill. By defining what our hermeneutic is, it will help enable us to more consistently apply our bias as we feel we should but this only helps us drive into further understanding or further blindness depending on the state of our heart. Everyone has a hermeneutic that will protect and guide our heart's desire. This 'bias' may, or may not, help us understand the scripture depending on how valid the hermeneutic is to begin with. For me, the only objective truthful hermeneutic is to know that all scripture has meaning only in terms of how it relates to Christ.
The scripture recognizes two types of doctrine: carnal thinking and spiritual thinking. Carnal thinking is thinking according to human nature and spiritual thinking is with the new eyes we have by a new birth through faith in Christ - eyes resulting from the work of the Spirit. In this new life we also obtain a body of knowledge. Christ and the doctrine concerning him is the head of this knowledge. Paul explicitly describes carnal thoughts as 'not holding fast to the Head' (Col 2:19). As this Head and the righteousness imputed to us by faith in him pertains to our acceptance before God, it must central to having correct thoughts. If our thoughts break away from this central truth found in the gospel then our hermeneutic is helping our thoughts break away from the head, rather than hold fast to it. Paul, therefore puts a proper hermeneutic in place by insisting all true thoughts lead to Christ. He makes his hermeneutic clear by refusing to boast in anything except Christ and forbids any boasting in anything else, including our own knowledge, hermeneutics, exegetical skills, titles, etc.
But how is it that we are able to see Christ as the only thing worth boasting in and the head of all true thoughts, or biblical understanding of God? Only by the Holy Spirit can we have this knowledge and although every believer has the Spirit to illuminate their mind, and that this 'anointing is true' and 'will guide us into all truth' (John 16:13, 1 John 2:26-27) yet we must actively rely upon the Spirit to illuminate our minds also. If our own participation in the Spirit was not required, then Paul would not pray that the Ephesians would have their 'eyes enlightened' and our knowledge would not be so interconnected with our own obedience, keeping in step with the Spirit and not gratifying the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16). For true knowledge and wisdom comes from submitting to God's word as a person, not as mere literature.
Therefore as our moral and spiritual state is linearly dependent on our knowledge, if we live a life of sin we do not know scripture. Our eyes can lose the sight we have once obtained and like Samson we can become blinded through sin.
In summary, the Holy Spirit and obedience to Christ, is central to a hermeneutic that is true. All other hermeneutics only drive a wedge deeper between a sinner and God, making the sinner more ignorant and blind then if they had never learned to read at all.