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Doctrinal Matters: Difficult Passages

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Who was Guided into all Truth?

by  Kyle Butt, M.A.

Just before Jesus was betrayed and killed by the hands of lawless men, He informed His apostles that there were many things that He did not have the opportunity to teach them before His death. Because the apostles could not “bear” those teachings at that time, Jesus promised them that the Spirit of truth would come after His departure. Concerning the Spirit, Jesus said: “…when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.” Some have read this verse, and assumed that all people who become Christians, and who have the Holy Spirit living in them (1 John 3:24), will be guided into all truth. A closer look at the situation, however, shows that the promise to be “guided into all truth” was given only to the apostles, and not to all Christians in general.

Consider, first, that in the context of John 16, the Lord was addressing the apostles exclusively. In John 16:32, Jesus informed them, saying, “Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone”—an exact prediction of what the apostles did in Gethsemane the night of the betrayal. This verse can be closely connected to Mark 13:11, where Jesus spoke to the apostles, saying, “But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” Here, Jesus detailed the process by which the apostles would be inspired to preach God’s Word without having prepared a sermon or researched their topic.

In the New Testament books following the gospel accounts, we read about how Jesus’ promise to the apostles came true. Acts 2 informs us that the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and gave them miraculous powers, thereby inspiring them to preach the Word. Acts 2:42 explains that the converts continued in the “apostle’s doctrine,” which would be the case because that doctrine was given to them by the Holy Spirit. Paul, in writing to the brethren at Ephesus, described the Gospel of Christ, “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men,” as having “now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:5). And just a few verses prior to this statement, he told the Ephesian brethren that they were members of the “household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20). The apostle Peter wrote to remind his readers of “the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:2). In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul rejoiced that the brethren received his words “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). He also reminded the Christians in Corinth: “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).

After the ascension of Christ, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, and brought to their minds all the things that Jesus had said (John 14:26), in addition to further revelations that entailed “all truth.” When the apostles was brought before rulers or councils, they did not have to premeditate their speech, because the Holy Spirit provided the substance of it for them. The inspired apostles and prophets recorded those inspired thoughts in the various books of the Bible. The revelation recorded in the Bible was so complete that the apostle Peter wrote to his readers that God “has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Jude recorded that the faith (meaning the body of teaching) was “once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). And the apostle Paul wrote that even if an angel of heaven preached another Gospel than that which was delivered by the apostles, that angel was to be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).

The apostles were led into all truth, which was recorded in the Bible and faithfully passed down to us. The promise of being guided into “all truth” was never intended for every Christian, and it is clear that it does not apply to Christians today. If any Christian wants to speak the Word of God, he or she cannot refuse to study God’s Word, and simply assume that the Holy Spirit will directly put God’s Word on his or her heart. In fact, Christians today, instead of being promised a miraculous knowledge endowed by the Holy Spirit without thought on their part, are commanded “to study” or “be diligent” to know God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15), and to “give attention to reading” the Word of God (1 Timothy 4:13). There is no truth pertinent to the salvation of the lost that the apostles did not receive. We, therefore, can conclude that Jesus’ promise that the apostles would be guided into all truth was fulfilled. We further can conclude that no one living today has been given that promise, and that God’s Word has been definitively delivered to the saints once and for all.




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