In some books of hermeneutics, I have found a principle or rule or law, similar to the following:

The Principle of Spiritual Enlightenment declares that God promises to enlighten the understanding of those who are willing to do His will, so they can understand His Word.1

There is a biblical requirement for the work of enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. This condition is obedience.2

This principle is based on the following verse:

John 7:17 (KJV)
If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

In another place, I have seen the following argument:

Nothing helps to come to a right interpretation of Scripture like having a meek and submissive will to do God’s will, and nothing so quickly causes a perversion of the truth like an unwillingness to do what God has revealed as His will.3

Is this verse correctly properly interpreted to suggest a principle or law or rule of interpretation?


1 Otis Pinkston, Principios de Interpretación Biblica, (Sebring, FL: Editorial Bautista Independiente, 1989)

2 Donaldo Bond, Hermeneutica, http://www.stblima.org/recursos/bond.htm



Weak Support for A Positive Principle/Law of Hermeneutics

Let's expand the context just a bit, especially since my form of hermeneutics primarily uses the Scriptures themselves in conjunction with common language to discern meaning. So John 7:14-19 (KJV):

14 Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught. 15 And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned? 16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. 17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. 18 He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him. 19 Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me?

Some Commentary on the Passage

v.14 Jesus is teaching in the Temple.

v.15 The Jews do not understand how Jesus can know anything about the Scriptures, having never studied the OT under the Jewish Rabbis there in the Temple.

v.16 Jesus replies to them that His doctrine is not made up, but rather He is the messenger of another. This implies that His doctrine was perceived as being made up. They were suspicious when stating the question of v.15 because He had not trained under them. As v.12 notes (not quoted above), they believed He was deceiving the people.

v.17 Jesus here ties obedience to knowing whether what Christ is teaching is true (not interpreting what He is teaching). This is clarified in v.18-19.

v.18 His statement here is not a general truth (that is, if random person Sam glorifies some other person Jim, Sam is not necessarily automatically speaking truth), but a specific statement Christ is making about Himself and His teaching of God. If Christ is seeking God's glory, who is the one Who sent Him, then Christ cannot help but be speaking truth, because only God is true, and He can only be glorified by truth.

v.19 But the Jews were not even being obedient to the truth they had, the Law of Moses. So what justification did they have to seek Jesus' death (referring back to v.1 of chapter 7, and later v.25)? None. And they certainly were not going to believe anything new Jesus might be saying, when they did not even believe what Moses said.

Back to Hermeneutics

Jesus is building his argument by asserting that they already know (intellectually) the doctrine of God in the law of Moses. They know what the law says. But they are not obeying it. He later affirms they know Who He is ("Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am," v.28), but do not believe. This all hinges on that they really do not know (personally) God ("whom ye know not," v.28), else they would have been obedient.

Hermeneutics is about the intellectual understanding of what the text says, and the arguments it makes toward conclusions. That is needed before the personal understanding of the text's significance to the reader can be discerned. One must understand language before one can obey a command; likewise, one must understand Scripture before one can be obedient to it.

So v.17 is saying that they are intentionally blinding themselves to the truth of what Christ is proclaiming by their willful disobedience to the prior revelation, Mosaic law (v.19), already understood.


This shows a negative principle at work--if one rejects previous truth, later truth will be opaque to them (truth builds upon truth).

But it does not affirm a positive principle. Just because one is obedient does not mean they will necessarily gain understanding (the realm of hermeneutics) of what the Scripture says. But they will trust that what is interpreted to be stated is true and applicable to God's plan (and possibly that individual).

This is not to say the Spirit will not help one find the resources needed to have understanding, but He will not just zap one with understanding without some education behind it—learning language, history, culture, etc. The Spirit can and does help even the disobedient to understand as well (else no one would ever pass from disobedience to obedience, because they would never understand what it is they are to obey).

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    Although I agree that hermeneutics is essential for a "shared" understanding, I am hesitant in supporting "but He will not just zap one with understanding without some education behind it—learning language, history, culture, etc." It is poignantly clear that the disciples were not "men of letters" yet understood the truths of the scriptures and communicated them for all generations. "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes."(Matt. 11:25) – Tau May 18 '14 at 1:12
  • @user2479: The disciples knew their own language, their own history, their own culture, and their own religion (Jn 1:41). The Holy Spirit illumines through these processes, not apart from these processes is my point. They may not have been educated to the level of Pharisees, but they were not uneducated, and they were taught directly by Christ during His time on earth. – ScottS May 18 '14 at 18:38
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    I appreciate your view, amd in light of creating a context(canonicity) where Scripture must be identified and truth harmonized from the writings themselves, I would agree. But Jesus is clear that one, through the illumination from God, can "know" the truth that will set him free, apart from all the rigor and scholarship associated with exegesis. – Tau May 18 '14 at 20:20
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    @user2479: I believe you refer to Jn 8:32, but the prerequisite there is to "abide [remain] in My [Christ's] word," (v.31). So hermeneutics (understanding) precedes knowing the truth about it, i.e. it precedes illumination. Simply in reading the text, one is doing hermeneutics (getting understanding). The average layperson reading a translation benefits linguistically from the exegetical "rigor and scholarship" of others who went before, and much (not all) stated by Scripture does not need more than the text to understand it. So God uses His understanding of His word to illuminate. – ScottS May 19 '14 at 0:31

The wider passage helps to understand the context.

John 7:16-18 (NASB)
16 So Jesus answered them and said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. 17 If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. 18 He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

Humility is the sine qua non of teaching truth. In the context of the passage of John 7:16-17, the "key rule" of hermeneutics is to be humble and teach with love, which seeks to edify others rather than to aggrandize oneself.

1 Cor 8:1-3 (NASB)
1b . . . Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. 2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

In colloquial English, the verse makes much more sense when expressed backwards: When you love God, you know him. When you know him, you are humble. When you are humble, you edify others through love.

The Apostle Paul later restates the same principle in the following verse:

1 Cor 13:1-3 (NASB)
1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Finally, to bring the discussion full-circle, the love of Christ (objective genitive, which means our love for the savior) surpasses knowledge.

Ephesians 3:17-19 (NASB)
17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

In other words, hermeneutics must not push the learner into just learning facts about the Bible, but to magnify the savior without magnifying oneself -- thus humility. This then is the "key rule" derived from context of John 7:16-18. As John the Baptist said in John 3:30: "He (Jesus Christ) must increase, but I must decrease." John the Baptist said those words, and yet Jesus described him as the greatest among all men to include the prophets (Matt 11:11). Is there not a correlation here therefore between humility and truth?

  • While I do not disagree with what you are saying here, I am struggling in two ways: (1) seeing how your answer relates to the question posed here of whether Jn 7:17 introduces a rule of hermeneutics. Are you implying there is only "one" rule, that found in 1 Cor 8:1-3? And (2) seeing 1 Cor 8:1-3 being a rule of hermeneutics at all. How one teaches (with love to edify) is concerned with communicating God's word, whereas hermeneutics (interpretation) is concerned with one understanding God's word for oneself. Hermeneutics precedes teaching (or at least "correct" teaching). – ScottS May 18 '14 at 18:59
  • I need to clarify my 1st comment. Obviously I am disagreeing with "the 'key rule' of hermeneutics" being "to be humble and teach with love," but I am not disagreeing that we should be humble and teach with love. It is the link between these and hermeneutics that I am questioning (I've heard correct Bible interpretation from some arrogant, unfriendly people). Also, I do not suspect you are trying to imply only "one" rule of interpretation (as I asked), but that was the only connection I could surmise as to how your answer might relate to Jn 7:17, that it was not a rule, but 1 Cor 8:1-3 was. – ScottS May 18 '14 at 19:28
  • @ScottS - John 7:18 speaks of those who teach to seek their own glory. John the Baptist stated it well: "He must increase (speaking of Christ), but I must decrease." – Joseph May 18 '14 at 21:39
  • Okay, at least I'm seeing better now with your edit where you are trying to go with your answer as it relates to Jn 7:17 (or at least v.18). I'm still not certain if humility is necessary for understanding the words written (the realm of hermeneutics), but I do agree that accepting the truth of what is written requires humility. – ScottS May 19 '14 at 0:09
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    In short, knowing of a truthful fact and accepting that truthful fact are two different things. The unbeliever can know the fact of what is stated (have proper hermeneutics and interpretation), but still not accept it as true (be illuminated). The Spirit can help with the former (interpretation), but must do the work of the latter (illumination), at least respecting spiritual truths. That's my view, anyway. Good discussion. – ScottS May 19 '14 at 11:23

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