Homer C. Hoeksema is professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament at the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
All God’s people are prophets.
The Spirit Who was poured out on the church on the day of Pentecost is the Spirit of prophecy, Who makes God’s people participants in the prophetic anointing of Christ. “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy!” Hence, under the new covenant, according to Hebrews 8:11, “they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.” In fact, God’s people know all things: “But ye have an unction (anointing) from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.” And again: “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.”
This does not mean, and cannot mean, that believers can, so to speak, strike out on their own and prophesy, apart from the Word of the Scriptures. It does not mean, as false mysticism has it, and as neo-Pentecostalism has it, that believers can know and speak the Word of God apart from the Scriptures and can utter new words and new revelations. For remember: the Spirit is the Spirit ofChrist. The Spirit says nothing of Himself. Revelation, as far as its content is concerned, is not the work of the Spirit independently of Christ. The Spirit says nothing of Himself. All that the Spirit speaks and teaches He takes out of Christ, John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:13, 14. And Christ we possess in the Word of the Scriptures. Hence, the Spirit of Christ always leads us to the Word; He never speaks without it. He enlightens the church’s understanding of that Word, so that God’s people know all things through that Word. In that sense they all know the Lord, from the least to the greatest; and in that sense they can and do know all things.
What we have written above already implies and presupposes the truth of the perspicuity of Scripture. In fact, the two truths of the perspicuity of Scripture and the prophetic anointing of all believers belong together and are inseparable. They are related as the two sides of the same coin. The perspicuity of Scripture is the objective side; the anointing of believers as prophets is the subjective side. .And thus believers, who have the anointing of Christ, can and do know all things, and need not that anyone should teach them. They can go directly to the Scriptures and know the Lord from these Scriptures. And they are able to discern the truth, and that, too, in distinction from the lie.
What is the perspicuity of Scripture?
The term itself is not a Scriptural one; neither do you find the term in our creeds. It is derived from a Latin word which means to “see through” something. If I may coin an expression, it means the see-through-able-ness of Scripture. It is that attribute of Holy Scripture according to which the Bible is clear, lucid, intelligible, able to be understood. As far as our creeds are concerned, this truth is clearly implied in the articles on the authority and on the sufficiency of Holy Scripture in our Belgic Confession. And as far as Scripture is concerned, it is taught directly or by implication in many, many passages. Let me cite a few passages. In II Peter 1:19, the word of prophecy is compared with “a light that shineth in a dark place.” InII Timothy 3:15 that the Scriptures are so lucid that a child can understand them: for Paul writes to Timothy that “from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation . . . .” And, by the way, is that not our experience also, that our children at an early age can and do know the Scriptures? And in Psalm 119:105 we read: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
Let me briefly point out some of the chief implications of this truth, without expanding on them:
1) The Bible is a plain book. It is understandable by the people of God, so that they may read it and interpret it for themselves.
2) This implies, of course, the idea of the sufficiency of Scripture, and that, too, all by itself. The Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein. Its doctrine is most perfect and complete in all respects.
3) This does not mean that the Bible does not contain many elements which are difficult to understand and explain. Nor does it mean that diligent searching and study of the Scriptures is not necessary. Nor, as we shall see, does it mean that the believer can understand the Scriptures without the guidance of the Spirit. But it does mean that “whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation” is so clearly taught that any child of God, though he be quite ordinary and even unlearned, can understand Holy Scripture.
4) This also implies that the Word of God is to be taken in its obvious meaning and in its historical sense. The divine author of the Scriptures is the Faithful and True One, and He intended to be understood when He addressed His Word to His church. This rule of interpretation is of the utmost importance. If it is not followed, you can make the Scriptures mean almost anything at all; and you can effectively take the Scriptures away from and out of reach of the ordinary child of God.
The implications of this truth are immense, and believers must never allow this truth of the perspicuity of Scripture to be forgotten and buried. This is important to our day especially. When I read the wild theories and alleged interpretations of higher criticism of various kinds—higher criticism which has flooded the seminaries and churches of our land with its outlandish and outrageous “interpretations”—then there is one conclusion which strikes me. It is this: if this is the way we must interpret Scripture, then no one, except the learned intelligentsia, who are thoroughly versed in all the intricacies of the various methods of criticism, can understand and interpret the Word of God or have any certainty that when he has interpreted it, he has the correct understanding. To me, this is from a practical, spiritual point of view, the great danger and the fatal flaw of higher criticism.
Now the power and ability to read and to understand the perspicuous Scriptures lies in the prophetic anointing of all believers. This, we must remember, is not a matter of mere intellectual understanding; but it is a spiritual gift. We need not elaborate here on the anointing as such: we have already discussed this. But let me briefly call attention to the characteristics of this anointing in connection with the passage quoted from I John 2:
1) This anointing is the anointing of the Holy One, i.e., Christ. He is here called the Holy One to emphasize the thought that the believers’ anointing is a holyanointing. It comes from the Holy One, and it is therefore such that believers partake of His holiness. By this anointing believers become separate from the effects of sin, and especially in this connection from the darkness of the lie.
2) This anointing is abiding (it “abideth in you”) and constant. It can never be lost. Once anointed is always anointed. One who is anointed cannot turn away from the truth and deny Christ, cannot first beof Christ and of the church and later go out from the church and be of Antichrist. Besides, this anointing is constant. It is not thus, that the Spirit comes now and then. He constantly dwells in believers. He never leaves them. They always partake of Christ’s anointing. .Otherwise there would be no guarantee for God’s people against the deception and temptation of the lie.
3) This anointing is true. How could it be otherwise? For it is the anointing of Him Who is the Truth, John 14:6. It always leads the anointed into the truth, therefore. And it “is no lie,” John adds. Hence, it never deceives and causes one to walk in error and in the lie.
4) Hence, this anointing is trustworthy. It never fails. For what is true, and is not a lie, is to be trusted and depended upon. God’s people must not depend on self, on learned men, on so-called experts, nor on the wisdom of synods and councils, but on the anointing of the Holy One.
5) The fruit of this anointing is that believers: a) know all things; b) know the truth, and that no lie is of the truth; c) need not that any man teach you, because this anointing teacheth you of all things.
All of this does not mean that believers despise the pastors and teachers which God gives His church. These are indeed gifts of God for the upbuilding of the saints and for the edifying of the body of Christ. But it does mean that believers are not wholly dependent upon an institution of men for the knowledge of the Lord, and for the proper functioning of their spiritual life. They have the unction of the Holy One, and they need not that anyone teach them. And if pastors and teachers become corrupt and heretical and a certain institution of the church becomes deformed due to the corruption of the truth, believers are in a position to know and to discern this and to judge. And they are even in a position in their office of believers to separate themselves from the false church and to institute the true church anew. This is the sacred right of reformation which believers must never give up!