Is the Holy Spirit – or His Work – Imperfect?

This is the aspect of the Holy-Spirit-in-the-word-only-today position that I find most troubling:

For those holding to such a doctrine, 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 is interpreted as saying that not only the miraculous and other gifts of the Holy Spirit have ended today, but that the Holy Spirit has done all of the work He was ever going to do; we have the perfect written, completed-canon word of God in the Bible and that is all we will ever need. That doctrine is extrapolated from these few words:

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 NKJV

And I quote the King James Version because I think most of this doctrine’s proponents would, without much variation.

What troubles me is that this interpretation – which keystones the doctrine that the days of an indwelling Holy Spirit are over and done, because the perfect word of God has come in the form of the Bible – this interpretation casts His previous work through men (at the least) and possibly even the Holy Spirit Himself (at the worst) in the role of being less than perfect.

Is that really what Paul is trying to say in these verses (which do not even mention the written word as perfect, nor does scripture ever describe itself as anything more than “useful” or “profitable” – 2 Timothy 3:16)?

Was that his purpose in writing these lines at all – and, if we believe in inspiration by the Holy Spirit – was that the Spirit’s purpose? Prophetically warning the self-minded and misbehaving believers of Corinth to shape up and stop misusing their gifts because in about three hundred years a final canon would be decided upon by ecclesiastic council and scribes would copy the manuscripts for about 1,200 more years so that a handful of people would have access to them until they would be printed giving a few more people access to them in a language that most didn’t speak until different versions in many native languages would be mass-produced and nearly everyone would have access to the perfect written word which has been the only way the Spirit would deign to bless anyone over all those centuries?

Because – put that way – the doctrine sounds a little short-sighted historically and modern-day arrogant to me. It sounds as if God is going through another four-hundred-year phase of not talking to His people again; another Egypt; another Babylon.

Exactly what impact would that prophecy have had upon the folks in Corinth of century one?

Is that really the way God operates in the Christian age … promising something to all and forever through His prophets and His Son, and then withdrawing it?

Is the work of the Holy Spirit or the Spirit Himself “imperfect,” “immature,” “incomplete,” or however you wish to translate ek merous?

I can understand that God could repent of creating mankind and then all but obliterate every trace of him from the earth. But I also believe I understand that He could not have completely done so because there was a promise involved, a promise just hinted at to Adam and Eve. (Genesis 3:15) But that hint was as good as a promise in God’s mind, and God is not a slacker concerning His promises (Psalm 145:13; 2 Corinthians 1:20) … and to believers in Christ He has made better promises than to the patriarchs (Hebrews 8:6).

Better.

Not lesser.

With the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believer, there is great power – reminding the believer of what Jesus has said; guiding him/her into all truth (truth that believer might not have previously seen in the written word, but would with the Spirit’s reminder); and instructing him/her about when, where, how and to whom that truth might be most effectively shared.

With the Holy Spirit dwelling in the community of believers, there is a bond of peace and a unity that fosters the growth of the truth and the perception of nonbelievers that good is being spoken and done by those who profess and live Christ.

Without the Holy Spirit, the word may be read … but will its meaning be unanimously understood?

Without the Holy Spirit, the word may be recited … but can it be proclaimed?

Without the Holy Spirit, a life may be changed for the good … but can it be changed into the likeness of Jesus Christ?

Without the Holy Spirit, life can be lived … but can it be lived to the fullest and forever?

My Bible says no. The power isn’t in the word alone, or the logic and cleverness and skill and will of the one who shares it, but in Christ.

Shut Him out; retire and reject and limit His Spirit to the printed words on the pages of a book … and the power is gone. Because to the unbeliever, there are lots of books out there; lots of religious books; lots of enlightenment to be had by reading. If there is no power behind it, the Bible is just another book among many.

Satan is the one who gains when the power is removed; when he can persuade us that one of God’s hands is tied behind His back; only what He said and did matters, not what you might think He is saying or doing now. He isn’t speaking or active now; that was only then. He’s retired now; it’s all up to you to do His work, and do it perfectly all on your own because He’s given you this perfect book and that’s all you ever need: just what He said and did for all those dead people back then.

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. … He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”~ Matthew 22:29; 32

If the Holy Spirit – or His work done while living in the believer – is imperfect, doesn’t it stand to reason that God would not have given those gifts even temporarily in century one; that they were not good enough for believers in his perfect Son?

Isn’t it, at the very least. on the thin edge of blasphemy to designate anything connected with God – His work; His choices; His Holy Spirit – as imperfect, immature, incomplete? That’s a serious charge to face!

“And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” ~ Matthew 12:31

Jesus pulls no punches about the sin that cannot be forgiven. I’m not going to go into the ring and challenge Him on the point. If I’m going to err about the Holy Spirit, I’m going to err on the side of generosity. I’m going to say that He is just as powerful today as He was then, if not moreso. I’m going to say that He still reflects God’s desire to live with man, transform man, and give him gifts – including eternal life. I’m going to say that He still politely waits to be asked into the hearts of those who desire His presence; that He remains the Spirit of Jesus as well as the Spirit of God, knocking at our door.

Because all of that I can find in scripture, and I cannot find a prophecy which traps Him between the covers of our Bible.

I will venture to say that the gifts over which we quibble and divide now will seem inconsequential one day.

In view of how 1 Corinthians 13:11-13 continues, I’ll even propose that the perfect which is yet to come is most likely to be Jesus Christ, and that while we await His return, prophecy and preaching in different languages and knowledge still are useful, even if in part. We should act as maturely as we can in the meantime, especially in using those gifts in love – with no misconception that we will attain His perfection/maturity/completeness on our own – because now we can only see dimly, as in a mirror with imperfect silvering – but when He comes, we will see His perfect glory face to face; our partial knowledge will be eclipsed by being fully known; our faith and our hope will be overshadowed by the brilliance of His eternal love.

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15 thoughts on “Is the Holy Spirit – or His Work – Imperfect?

  1. “This is the aspect of the Holy-Spirit-in-the-word-only-today position that I find most troubling:”

    Keith, It has come to me, what indwells you,(mistrust) that will not let you accept the bible as sufficient knowledge for salvation. Keith, what did Jesus say the purpose of the “comforter” was? Did he say it was for the salvation of those who received it, not to my knowledge, he said .
    Jhn 14:26 But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

    The Bible does the same thing for Christians today, that the comforter did for those who was with Jesus, Jesus left no written instructions as far as I know.
    Just what is it that you believe the gospel writers were holding back from us,
    that is necessary for salvation.? Jesus said he would teach them all things.

    No one that I know is trying to replace God in our lives with a book, I don’t know any Christian who said God has no influence upon their lives.
    I believe you and I have discussed the way in which we pray, I do not place a book upon a pedestal, and pray to that book, neither do I look inward and pray to an indwelling spirit. I pray to my God who is in heaven, with Jesus standing closely by.
    Until people understand God is one, and not three, they will never understand the bible.
    When you start a post with such exaggeration, how can you be expected to be taken seriously? Happy Trails.

  2. Folks, have I ever said that the Bible yields insufficient knowledge for salvation? I keep getting quoted as saying that or something like it, but no one can point me to where I’ve said that!

    Somebody point me there and I will retract it in full!

  3. Keith, I’m pretty sure that you have in fact stated (more than once in all of this) the exact OPPOSITE:  that the Holy Spirit has, in fact given us all we need for salvation.

    However, who’s to say that’s all He wants to say to us.  As you’ve pointed out, He may have specific instructions, specific things that He may desire for an individual’s life.

    In what other relationship does someone give you an indescribable gift and then never communicate with you again, after having given it???

  4. “If there is no power behind it, the Bible is just another book among many.”

    “Without the Holy Spirit, life can be lived … but can it be lived to the fullest and forever?”

    Keith, I just took for granted you were speaking of the “indwelled holy ghost”

    The power that resides in the pages of the bible, reside in the “truth” the word of God.
    Jhn 8:32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

  5. Keith, Did you know that the Holy Spirit and the word works together? The word is the sword of the Holy Spirit. Ephesian 6:17.
    The Holy Spirit has done a lot of things since the creation of the Earth and one part of his mission was to reveal the word of God. The Apostle Paul told us the origin of the written word of God 2 Timothy 3:16 and the apostle Peter connected the Holy Spirit with what holy men of God did in 2 peter 1:21. Jesus connected the Holy Spirit with apostolic teaching in Matthew 10:19-20; John 14:26 and John 16:13-15.
    God –breathed into selected scribes his word and they spoke and wrote it minus addition, subtraction,alteration,modification or substitution. In 1 Corinthians 11:23 and 1 Corinthians 15:3. Paul recived what he delivered and delivered what he recived relative to the Lord’s supper and the resurrection. This is the heart of Biblical Inspiration. God breathed it into them. They recived it and delivered it with unbounded reverence for each syllable and each word. The Bible is a Divine-human Book. The source is divine. The reception and deliverance of it fell into human hands. They spoke that message that had been breathed into them. They wrote that God-breathed message. When finished it was precisely what God wanted imparted to the human family. God use his general providence to preserve the written word of God, Jesus said:Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. Matthew 24:35 The ancient psalmist declared: “ Forever o Lord, thy word is settled in heaven” Psalms 119:89. The term canon, has its etymological Root in semitic (Arabic and Hebrew), Greek, and Sumerian languages. The ancient Hebrew word, “Kaneh” meant Reed. Reeds, which grew in abundance along ancient Near-Eastern water sources, were often used as measuring rods. Thus, the etymological evolution from reed to measure occurred from Kaneh.
    The apostle Paul, writing in Greek, used that language’s word Kanon on two occasions. Each time, the English translator used Rule to transpose the Greek.
    Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. (Phil. 3:16)
    Colossians 3:15
    And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.
    Note that Paul was aware of a pattern or consistent canon (rule) for christians. If one did not posses all of God’s word, that one would be hard-pressed to follow the same rule. From the ancient language, then, comes the idea of Canon.

  6. Guest for Truth, you asked: Keith, Did you know that the Holy Spirit and the word works together?

    Yes, they do! But that does not mean they are the same. The warrior is not the same as his sword.

    You shared an illuminating insight on the use of “kanon” in scripture.

    Of course, the Spirit’s work did not end with inspiration … there’s also confirmation … unification … transformation … intercession … and so much more.

    Any of which would be very difficult to do using the written word alone.

  7. Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,[a] for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”
    Peter further said that : as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness……” (2 Peter 1:3). We conclude from these verses that the powerful Gospel of Christ, when preached and read, is sufficient to instruct and turn the sinner to God and provide the Christian with all things necessary unto every good work!
    It seems that all the confusion result from overlooking a very simple matter. If a man cut down a tree with an axe, it could be said “ That the man cut down the tree”. Someone else might say that the axe did the job. We would understand clearly both statements. There is no contradiction. But the whole story is that the man used an axe to cut down the tree. In like manner, many verses say that both the spirit and the word do the very same thing together. In like manner, the Spirit uses the Word as his sword to defend his kingdom and prick the hearts of sinners (Eph. 6:17).
    Consider these verses:Luke 8:1 says that “ the seed of the kingdom is the word of God” 1 peter 2:2 instructs “ new born babes to desire the sincere milk of the word to grow thereby.” And Ephesian 6:17 teaches that the sword of the spirit is the word of God.” So then, it is by the word that the kingdom is stablished, that new Christian grow, and that the kingdom is defended. Since the word was reveled by the Holy Spirit, we could also say that the holy spirit does the same things.
    I conclude that the holy spirit accomplishes his work by using a mean, the word of God, instead of working directly miracleously in the conversion of the sinner.

  8. Three position are usually offered with reference to the spirit’s dwelling in the Christian Today: (1) The spirit dwell in the Christian Directly, without medium, separate and apart and over and above the written word; (2) the Spirit dwells in no one today; all passages dealing with the spirit’s indwelling have reference to the miraculous manifestation of the Spirit in the apostolic age, wich ceased with the complation of revelation; and (3) the Spirit dwell in the christian through the medium of the written word, His law (Romans 8:2) and by one’s obedience to that word. We reject position number 1 and 2 as being false, but accept as true to the teaching of Scripture position number 3, a figurative indwelling [ compare Paul’s statement to his beloved friend in Phillipi: “ I have you in my Heart” (Phil. 1:7)
    Alexander Campbell correctly stated:
    Christian are, therefore, clearly and unequivocally temples of the Holy Spirit; and they are quickened, animated, encourage, and sanctified by the power and influence of the Spirit of God, working in them through the truth.
    Please note that there are some things that the Holy Spirit is not doing at all that he once did! For example , He is not reveling truth directly to man. That has been completed (Jonh 20:31). He is not empowering men to perform miracles to confirm the word (Mark 16:20). This need no longer exist. The Holy Spirit, today, convic the sinner, teaches and sanctifies the new convert, and guides him in his Christian life by the means of the word of God. We may not know all that the father, son, and Holy Spirit are doing daily. We can only know what is revealed about their work in the Bible. And the bible teaches that spiritual miraculous gifts, bestowed by ” the apostles hand” (Acts 8:14-19; Romans 1:11) Thimothy had a gift by the laying on of Paul’s hands (II Timothy 12:4-11: miracles, prophecy,tongues, interpretation of tongues,etc. But all these gifts were to cease with the completion of God’s revealed will ( 1 Cor. 13:8-13;Eph. 4:7-13), “the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3. )since no apostle living today, and those receiving them could not pass them on, no one can receive any of these miraculous gifts. no longer exist in the church, Today we have ordinary Gifts ( Non-Miraculous) by obedience to the word To all Christian (1 Cor.3:16. Eph 5:18-19; Col 3:16) Bring “Fruit of Spirit” ( Gal. 5:22-23) .The sword of the spirit is the word of God (Ephesian 6:17). We do know that the Holy spirit helps our infirmities in our praying, that He intecedes for the saints according to God’s will. Read Romans 8:26,27. In the natural realm, Deity exerts power. God upholds all things by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).

  9. Several misstatements in this:

    John 20:31 says nothing about God’s revelation of truth to man being completed.

    Mark 16:20 does not say that God is “not empowering men to perform miracles to confirm the word.”

    1 Cor. 13:8-13 does not say that “all these gifts were to cease with the completion of God’s revealed will.” Nor does Eph. 4:7-13. Scripture makes no distinction between miraculous and non-miraculous gifts; both kinds (as we see them) will pass away when “that which is perfect comes.”

    Paul’s statement to the Philippians was not about the Holy Spirit.

    Neither Acts 8:14-19 nor Romans 1:11 say that spiritual gifts are imparted by the apostles’ touch alone; in fact, they were directly given in Cornelius’ household (Acts 10).

    A lot of words have to be added to these scriptures to make them say these things.

    And you’ve avoided answering the question, “How does the Spirit intercede for us in prayer through the word only?” If my need in prayer is now and I haven’t found an answer in scripture, how does scripture alone help? Should I refuse to pray for wisdom as Colossians 1:9 recommends, because the Spirit is no longer allowed to help me? How else would one expect God to answer that prayer, if not by the Spirit within one?

  10. Dear Keith,

    You are right about that passage of the Gospel of John does not say nothing about God’s revelation of truth to man being completed. but that passage explain that the bible is enough to belive that Jesus is the Christ. The whole truth has been revealed by the apostles in the first century until the death of the Apostle John aproximately year 96 A.D. what was in part to cease according to 1 Corintians 13:9-10 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. ( The word of God was writting at that time in the first century ) But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. The expression “which” is a word that is “neutral” it could not be “he” because he already came to save the world.

    And in reference to Mark 16:20 the NLT says: And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs. I am sorry , I misplace that passage. but that passage show the purpose of the miracles sings in the first century.

    The salmist says :The word of God is perfect Psalm 19:7
    The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul;The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; In the N.T the inspired apostle paul said: Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. I remember one time that I am interpreting the end of this passage as the writteng word of God. but the Question is this ? Where do you find today the will of God? Do you really belive that the word of God is truth? because the bible teache in Jn. 17:17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. Do you have enough faith in the word of God? The Holy Spirit and the word works together. The Holy Spirit needs to be feed by the spiritual milk (Word of God) without that meal the holy spirit quench. The Holy spirit works together with the word.

  11. Guest for Truth,

    You’re new to the conversation in this series of blog posts, but I haven’t been trying to say that further truth need be revealed by the Spirit regarding salvation … but there could still be great need for the Spirit to reveal instructions to believers – for instance, about to whom or when or where or how the gospel might be most effectively shared. My example has been Acts 16:6-10. The Spirit prevented Paul, Silas and Timothy from going to Bithynia, sending them to Macedonia (through a vision) instead. That kind of need certainly hasn’t expired, and isn’t covered by the capabilities, intent or purpose of the written word of God alone.

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