The How and Why of Illumination: 1 Corinthians 2:10-13

The How and Why of Illumination:

1 Corinthians 2:10-13


Just hours before He was betrayed by Judas, tried by the Jews religious leaders, and crucified, our Lord comforted the Apostles with these words,

I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you…I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:4-13). 

Today we continue to be comforted by the Holy Spirit in a like manner to that of the Apostles. Each and every Christian who have been genuinely born of the Holy Spirit have been given the Helper to guide them in knowing and understanding the truth. The Holy Spirit is the only means by which the believer is illuminated to the truth of God’s Word.


The Apostle Paul explained in his epistle to the Corinthian church how the Holy Spirit works to illuminate the believer’s life by His indwelling presence. Paul wrote,


[T]hese things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 


According to Paul, it is the Holy Spirit who is the only means through which God’s wisdom is transmitted and made known to man (vv. 10-11)1. The Holy Spirit searches the depths of God and revealed the hidden mysteries of God to men according to His purpose and through the mediatory communication of His Word. 


In verse 10 Paul’s use of the personal plural pronoun ἡμῖν δὲ ἀπεκάλυψεν (these things God has revealed to us) refers to the apostles and prophets in regards to reception of the Spirit’s revelation2. The Holy Spirit restricted His revelatory illumination to only those through whom God spoke during the formation of the canon of Scripture (i.e. prophetic revelation). Prophetic revelation is referred to by John Calvin as “special illumination of the Spirit” which is limited to specific individuals as chosen by God3. B.B. Warfield spoke of prophetic revelation as a function of illumination in 2 Pet. 1:21. Like Calvin, Warfield also limited prophetic revelation to only the prophets and apostles4.


Illumination as a ministry of the Holy Spirit can also be termed as the witness of the Spirit 5. In verse 10 the grammatical construction of διὰ + πνεύματος (through the Spirit) demonstrates the Holy Spirit is the intermediate agent of revelation between God and man6. The phrase “even the depths of God” refers to the essence of God’s being. The word βάθος (bathos) in regards to the revelation of God speaks about the idea of something that is difficult to perceive or assess due to its nonphysical nature7. Paul illustrated that man understands the heart of man. Likewise, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the only persons who understand the thoughts, motivations, and/or intentions of God. In Peter’s first epistle he brings out the divine unified reality of the Holy Spirit and Christ writing about the process of revelation when he said, 

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 


In addition, it was through Christ’s work of reconciliation that produced the avenue for the vehicle of God’s revelation to be accepted by all who believe via the Holy Spirit8. After all Jesus said the Holy Spirit will, “glorify me, and he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14).


Why Illumination? What’s the Point?

Paul explained the purpose of illumination is so that the believer may come to know the things God had freely given to them (vv. 12-13). In verse 12 Paul used the Greek ἵνα + subjunctive verb (εἰδῶμεν) formula to express purpose-result idea. In other words, “what God purposed is what happens.”9 The purpose for believers receiving the Holy Spirit is in order that they may know the those things freely given to them by God. Apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, not one believer can know, understand, and/or accept the riches of heaven God has lavished upon them through Christ.


God freely gave His pure and perfect revelation to the prophets and apostles who have freely communicated His truth to all people. God’s truth is transmitted by the Holy Spirit to the believer through the written text of the Word. In verse 13 Paul supports this understanding in the Greek text with the word πνεύματος (by the spirit), a genitive of agency10. The composition of the product of illumination (revelation) is spiritual thoughts fused together with spiritual words articulated in logical form and practical, understandable human speech. The Word of God is the clear, concise, communication of God’s holy transcendent, infinite wisdom. God’s wisdom was transmitted to the prophets and apostles, which was delivered in an understandable form of thought and communication without any admixture of sinful corruption. 


Paul’s formula by which he affirmed God transmitted His divine revelation in verse 13 is verbal inspiration; the same as Peter’s formula in his first and second epistle11. The spiritually illuminated man is the only person who can appreciate and agree with the divine hidden wisdom of God revealed only in Scripture. Since the time of the Apostles and prophets, the Holy Spirit uses Scripture alone as the means of instructing the saints and growing them in righteousness. Thus illumination has three purposes: 1) a means of supplying revelation given to prophets and apostles; 2) to enable sinful man to agree with and fully accept the revelation which has been handed down to him from the prophets and apostles and 3) to point to the means through which the Holy Spirit instructs the saint: exclusively through Scripture.


Illumination is the necessary work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the sinner which enables them to accept and understand the Word of God. Without the work of illumination, no one could come to know Jesus Christ as the divine eternal Son of God. Without illumination, no one would believe the Bible is the revelation of God sent from heaven to earth through the Holy Spirit. Without illumination, no one can hear, understand and obey the Word of God from a pure heart. The doctrine of illumination is a gift from heaven which comforts the believer and affirms their righteous standing before God. Apart from illumination Christians could never stand on anything as certain, even the Word of God.



      1 Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002). 431.

      2 BGAG, 112. The word ἀπεκάλυψέν comes from ἀποκαλύπτω and is an aorist, indicative, active, 3rd person, singular verb. The verb means “of divine revelation of certain transcendent secrets…The revealers are Christ and the Holy Spirit.” This type of illumination is the same as that of the prophet Daniel receiving revelation from God. 

      3 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol, 20, I Corinthians II Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 110.

      4 Benjamin B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, ed. Samuel G. Craig (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed publishing co., 1948) 163.

      5 Joseph Parker, The Paraclete: An Essay on the Personality and Ministry of the Holy Ghost (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998), 168-69.

      6 BDAG, 162.

     7 Vincent Taylor, The Person of Christ (New York: St Martin’s Press Inc, 1958), 228.

      8 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 473. Wallace has an interesting quote from Moule that might further explain the use of the ἵνα + εἰδῶμεν as being a purpose-result. Wallace quotes Moule as saying “the Semitic mind was notoriously unwilling to draw a sharp dividing-line between purpose and consequence.”

      9 Ibid., 126-27.

     10 Gordon H. Clark, The Holy Spirit (Jefferson, MD: The Jefferson Foundation, 1993), 79.

      11 Lewis Sperry Chafer, He that Is Spiritual (Grand Rapids: Dunham Publishing Co., 1966), 13.