Sola spiritu

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Sola spiritu (Latin: "by Spirit alone") is the Protestant doctrine that the Christian is guided by the Holy Spirit alone through the Bible alone (Sola scriptura), and that Sacred Scripture, the Holy Bible, is properly understood and interpreted by the individual Christian believer guided solely by the infallible inward witness of the illumination of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, apart from any external church doctrine.

See Sola fide.


I. Roman Catholic and Orthodox apologists make this assertion about the Protestant "inward witness of the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible":

Protestants all claim to interpret the Scripture by the light of the Holy Spirit, and yet they manage to come up with a multitude of different interpretations of the same passage. Now either the Spirit is playing games with these people or there is something wrong with their theological method. After all, Calvinists and Arminians cannot both be right; all the dialectic in the world cannot reconcile two completely irreconcilable doctrines.[1][2]

II. Protestant/Reformed: Inward Witness Creedalists:

Falsely believe the Holy Spirit guides or "illuminates" them to understand the Bible:
"Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word"[3]
If the Scriptures be a plain book, and the Spirit performs the functions of a teacher to all the children of God, it follows inevitably that they must agree in all essential matters in their interpretation of the Bible. And from that fact it follows that for an individual Christian to dissent from the faith of the universal Church (i.e., the body of true believers), is tantamount to dissenting from the Scriptures themselves.[4]
"By asserting the principle that Scripture is its own simplest, most certain, and direct interpreter, Luther sought to reverse this process and extract Scripture from the wrappings of commentaries and interpreters. The scriptures can be understood only through the Holy Spirit by whom they were written and this Spirit is nowhere to be found more living and present than in His own sacred writings."[5]
"If we desire to provide in the best way for our consciences-that they may not be perpetually beset by the instability of doubt or vacillation, and that they may not also boggle at the smallest quibbles-we ought to seek our conviction in a higher place than human reasons, judgments, or conjectures, that is, in the secret testimony of the Spirit.... If we turn pure eyes and upright senses toward it, the majesty of God will immediately come to view, subdue our bold rejection, and compel us to obey."[6]
"Let this point therefore stand: that those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and that Scripture indeed is self-authenticated; hence, it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning. And the certainty it deserves with us, it attains by the testimony of the Spirit.... We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to it as a thing far beyond any guesswork.... God, therefore, very rightly proclaims through Isaiah that the prophets, together with the whole people are witnesses to him; for they, instructed by prophecies, unhesitatingly held that God has spoken without deceit or ambiguity [Isa. 43]. Such then is a conviction that requires no reasons; such, a knowledge with which the best reason agrees-in which the mind truly reposes more securely and constantly than in any reasons; such, finally, a feeling that can be born only of heavenly revelation. I speak of nothing other than what each believer experiences within himself-though my words fall far beneath a just explanation of the matter."[7]
"In order for the Holy Spirit to speak through Scripture, some human agency must be involved, even if that human agent is simply one individual reading the text of Scripture.[8]
"It [the church] owes its whole authority to the fact that it is a common understanding of the written word, attained and preserved under that teaching of the Spirit, which secures to believers a competent knowledge of the plan of salvation therein revealed."[9]
"They who strive to build up firm faith in Scripture through disputation are doing things backwards.... [because] even if anyone clears God's Sacred Word from man's evil speaking, he will not at once imprint upon their hearts that certainty which piety requires. Since for unbelieving men religion seems to stand by opinion alone, they, in order not to believe anything foolishly or lightly, both wish and demand rational proof that Moses and the prophets spoke divinely. But I reply: the testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men's hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded."[10]

Martin Luther taught that the Spirit accomplishes His work in the Church. The Spirit-inspired Word of God and the Spirit-indwelt people of God must be distinguished, but they cannot be artificially separated.[11]

The Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:4, says, "4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost." On the basis of this text, and the feeling of the "inner witness" they experienced, many persons have rejected mainstream Christianity and converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They testify that he manifested the truth of it by the power of the Holy Spirit. Others have interpreted the feeling of the "inner witness" they experienced as saying, "Yes, these things are not true." They testify that God indeed manifested the truth to them by the power of the Holy Spirit that Mormonism is not true, but beyond any doubt is utterly false. See Subjectivism.

Both agnostics, and Liberal and moderate Christians commonly maintain that the Holy Spirit may or may not have given us the Bible—but together they assert that the ordinary reader can understand it as well as any other book. They ask, "Why can we understand newspapers, but not the Bible without the Holy Spirit? This false doctrine makes God incapable of writing to be understood, while men can be understood in the newspaper. It also makes all books on earth understandable without the Holy Spirit, except for the Bible, which we, according to this false doctrine, are prevented from understanding until the Holy Spirit illuminates the meaning for us!"

See also


Biblical Canon



Historical-critical method (Higher criticism)

Cafeteria Christian

Eternal security (salvation)



  1. THE WAY: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church, Clark Carlton, 1997, p 81
  2. See Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) Part One, Section One, Chapter Two, Article 3: Sacred Scripture - 101 through 141
  3. Westminster Confession of faith, 6:6
  4. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Presbyterian Calvinist, 1873, 1:184
  5. John M. Headley, Luther's view of Church History, 1963, p 82
  6. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I. vii. 4
  7. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I. vii. 4
  8. The Shape Of Sola Scriptura, Keith A. Mathison, Reformed Protestant, 2001, p 246
  9. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Presbyterian Calvinist, 1873, 1:116
  10. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I. vii. 4
  11. The Shape Of Sola Scriptura, Keith A. Mathison, Reformed Protestant, 2001, p 100

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