Summary: A sermon on the doctrine of illumination (Material taken from Dr. Jack Cottrell's books, Power From On High, Chapter 2, and The Holy Spirit: A Biblical Study, Chapter 2)


Before we get too reactionary or begin to ask about this or that, this extreme episode is what Dr. Cottrell is teaching against. “I was teaching an adult Bible class at a local church some years ago when the subject of the need and use of the Bible was raised. A man in the class- a deacon- literally declared that Christians no longer need the Bible because we have the Holy Spirit.”

Here is another example from a portion of a letter written to Dr. John MacArthur: “You resort to Greek translations and fancy words to explain away what the Holy Spirit is doing in the church today. Let me give you a piece of advice that might just save you from the wrath of Almighty God: put away your Bible and your books and stop studying.”


True Christianity has always believed that the Holy Spirit had a unique role in the origin of Scripture. Not as widely accepted is the belief that the Spirit also has a specific role in the understanding of the Bible.

We are talking about the belief in the doctrine of illumination. This says that the Spirit works directly upon believers’ minds as we study Scripture, giving us definite, subjective help in understanding the Bible’s meaning.

Thesis: Let’s talk about the teaching of illumination tonight

For instances:

Illumination explained and defended

Those who accept this doctrine of illumination say that this is taught in Scripture.

John 14:26- But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things...

John 16:13- But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.

1 Corinthians 2:10-16

1 John 2:20, 27- Anointing is said to be the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us to teach us all things.

Crucial to this teaching is the assumption that the key texts we just look at refer not just to the apostles but to all Christians.

The doctrine of illumination is emphasized in Calvinism. Now the first two points of Calvinism are this: Total depravity and irresistible grace. A key point in all of this is that before one can come to faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit must zap a person, regenerate their hearts, make them alive and then they are able to respond to the gospel. Without the Holy Spirit coming into a person’s life, one cannot understand the gospel. Only to those who have been illumined by the Holy Spirit can understand and respond. No free will.

Illumination refuted

Must realize that the only knowledge provided for the church today is the knowledge that comes to us from the Bible, not through any kind of direct working upon an individual’s mind or intellect. 3 reasons for denying illumination:

1. People who claim to be illuminated by the Holy Spirit often have different and even opposite understandings of the same passage or teaching of Scripture.

If the Spirit is leading all Christians into a true understanding of the Bible, why do we not have unity in our understanding?

A good example is the interpretations of the end times. 4 basic views: amillennial, postmillennial, historic premillennial, premillennial dispensationalism. Don’t have time to discuss all of these views but we must acknowledge that on all these passages of Scripture there is one correct interpretation. One thing we can be assured of is that all 4 cannot be correct. The Lord knows what is the correct one. One commentator on the end times told some of his interpretations but also said, “I believe this way but I think that the Lord has some surprises for us all not matter how convinced we are of our own views.” The Lord knows.

Under this we also need to talk about the differences between interpretation and application. There is one correct interpretation of a particular passage of Scripture. It takes study and research but there is one correct interpretation. However, there are many applications.

Take for instance again the end times. Many people try to get the proper interpretation of the end times. As Christians we all acknowledge that the Lord is coming again. Because of this we should apply this to our lives in the following ways according to Scripture: We should be alert and watchful for his coming. We should be motivated to godly living because of his coming. We should eagerly await for his coming and long for it. Because of his coming, we should encourage one another. Since he is coming again, we should persevere until that time. There are many applications but one correct interpretation.

2. Those who believe in illumination recognize that individual Christians grow in their understanding and sometimes change their interpretations of Scripture.

When I change my mind about a biblical teaching, does this mean that my former belief was erroneous and that the Spirit has now shown me the truth?

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