When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
John 16:13 – Scripture of the Day (February 20, 2014)
This passage is commonly cited by many as proof that the Holy Spirit miraculously guides and speaks to them. However, as with just about everything in the Bible, both immediate and overall context must be considered to properly understand and interpret what Jesus is saying here.
Contextually, he is talking to his apostles on the night before he died. Today’s scripture is part of the fourth and final time in this conversation that Jesus mentions sending the Holy Spirit to them at some later point (John 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15). After his resurrection and right before his ascension, he would allude to the Spirit coming upon them again (Acts 1:6-8), something which occurred on the day of Pentecost ten days later (Acts 2:1ff).
Thus, the immediate context of today’s passage of Scripture about the Holy Spirit guiding into all truth applies solely to the apostles of Christ, and not to us today. That is not to say that the Spirit gives us no direction or guidance at all today. In fact, the verse indirectly alludes to the fact that he does, when you take into account the overall context:
- The Spirit would guide the apostles into all the truth (John 16:13a). God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).
- The apostles and prophets who authored the books of the New Testament were inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:19-21; Eph. 3:3-5).
- The Scriptures are said to be inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16). The Spirit, who inspired the authors of the New Testament, did not speak on his own authority, but spoke whatever he hears (John 16:13b). That would be what he heard from Jesus, who in turn heard it from God the Father (John 16:14-15).
- Thus, when we read God’s Word, we are reading a message from the Holy Spirit. When we heed God’s Word, that’s how the Spirit guides us (cf. Gal. 5:16-25).