Why Can the Bible Only Be Understood Through the Spirit?

If unbelievers read the Bible and use valid interpretive modes of study, they can comprehend much of the Bible. However, understanding the meaning of a biblical passage involves the whole person — spirit, mind, and soul.

Heather Riggleman
Bible open at sunrise

She would be sitting at the table with stacks of notebooks and her tattered Bible no matter how early I awoke, it seemed. As a nine-year-old, my curiosity got the best of me one day and I pulled grandma’s Bible out.

As I jumped from one page to the next, none of it made sense. In fact, it seemed like a very boring book. There was no adventure or even pictures.

Years later at the age of 23, I said yes to Jesus and then suddenly felt this supernatural power like lightning course through my body. I was, finally, fully awake.

When I heard Scripture or opened my Bible, I had this insatiable desire to read it from page to page. Scripture jumped off the page, illuminated with meaning and deep truths.

What was the difference between my nine-year-old self and twenty-three? The Holy Spirit. The Bible is one of a kind. It is the only manual for life that is supernaturally infused with God’s spirit. It is living and breathing. The Bible contains the writings taught not by human wisdom but by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:13).

Only the Bible reveals “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). It is a “lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Yet without the power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot understand it.

In 2 Timothy 3:16–17, the Apostle Paul says that “all Scripture is God-breathed [sometimes translated “inspired”] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The Spirit of God has breathed the character of God into the scriptures. The Greek word for “inspired” (theopneustos) is even related to the Greek word for “spirit” (pneuma). On the night before he was crucified, Jesus promised his followers that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth:

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you” (John 16:12–14).

This means we know that the Spirit and the Word work together to open our eyes and our hearts to the things of Christ. Picture a flashlight with a bright bulb, a reflecting mirror, and all the wiring. You push the button to turn it on, but it won’t light up the dark? Why? It’s missing something vital — a battery.

Without that essential ingredient, the flashlight can’t help me. There is no way it can light up the darkness. This is why we need the Holy Spirit.

Can the Bible Be Understood Without the Holy Spirit?

Yes, to a degree. If unbelievers read the Bible and use valid interpretive modes of study, they can comprehend much of the Bible. At the cognitive level, anyone can read and understand it to a degree because of sin.

Sin affects the whole person, including their minds and how they reason. Sin has dulled their ability to discern the truth because understanding involves more information.

Understanding the meaning of a biblical passage involves the whole person — spirit, mind, and soul. Unbelievers, by definition, do not accept the things of the Spirit of God.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).

Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him (Ephesians 4:18).

In 1 Corinthians 2:14, the Apostle Paul says that “the person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”

In other words, Paul is saying an unbeliever will understand its basic message but reject it. People without the Spirit do not know the things of God because they have not experienced them.

Those who are filled with the Holy Spirit are led by the Spirit. While the “Spirit” isn’t explicitly explained, Galatians 5:25 gives us a hint of what that leading looks like: If we are living by the Spirit, then we should be walking in him.

There is a connection between his leading and our walking in him. Simply put, if we are being led by him, we are walking with him. But still, nothing in these immediate contexts is indicative of a connection to illumination.

Three Ways the Holy Spirit Helps Us Grow

1. He opens our spiritual eyes. Jesus told the Laodicean church to “anoint your eyes with eyesalve, that you may see” (Revelation 3:18). Sin has blinded our hearts to the truth. We need a miracle to open our eyes. The Holy Spirit is given to do that.

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words (1 Corinthians 2:13).

2. He gives understanding. Jesus’ teachings gave new insight to the Old Testament. We too can have a deep understanding of God’s Word through the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:1-3).

3. He reveals the things of God. The Holy Spirit infuses God’s Word and opens our hearts, minds, and spirits to the things of God whether it’s how to live, how to pray, and what God wants us to do.

However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him — these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us (1 Corinthians 2:9-12).

How to Invite the Holy Spirit into Your Life

The Holy Spirit can be invited at the same time when you’re asking for Christ to be in your life and it can also be a separate prayer after becoming a follower of Jesus. When we want a relationship with God, we must receive salvation first.

Salvation gives us a chance to be saved and given eternal life and allows the Holy Spirit to enter our lives as guidance. We can only get to God through his Son, Jesus Christ (who is God in the flesh).

The Bible says that Jesus is the door to eternal life, in John 10:7-9. There are many other biblical references that reinforce these points:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved (Romans 10:9).

But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name (John 20:31).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

A Closing Prayer

Come Holy Spirit and baptize me with the fire of your love. I have surrendered my life to Jesus to the best of my ability and now I want to be filled with Your Spirit. I need your guidance and power in my life. Please come and fill me now. 

Father God, You are the vine and I am the branch. My life abides in you. Only in Your power, guided by Your Spirit, can my life be fruitful. Come, Holy Spirit come. I want every purpose God has for my life to be fulfilled, and I need you, mighty Spirit of God, to bring that purpose to fulfillment. 

Thank You for flooding the deep places of my life with Your love. Thank you for washing and cleansing any wounds and scars from the past. Thank You for bringing light into the shadows. Come Holy Spirit. Come. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

For further reading:

What Does it Mean That the Word of God Is Alive?

What Does it Mean That the Holy Spirit is our Paraclete?

Does the Holy Spirit Speak Through the Bible?

Does it Matter to God What I Think?

How Are Believers Empowered by the Holy Spirit?

How Can I Recognize the Guidance of the Holy Spirit?

Should We Worship the Holy Spirit?

Photo Credit: ©SparrowStock


Heather Riggleman is an award-winning journalist and a regular contributor for Crosswalk. She calls Nebraska home with her three kids and a husband of 22 years. She believes Jazzercise, Jesus, and tacos can fix anything and not necessarily in that order! She is author of I Call Him By Name Bible Study, the Bold Truths Prayer Journal,  Mama Needs a Time Out, and a contributor to several books. You can find her at www.heatherriggleman.com or on Facebook.  


Originally published January 20, 2021.