From: Rod Decker (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Sat Oct 14 1995 - 20:40:31 EDT
Spencer, Stephen R., "The New Testament Doctrine of Enlightenment: A
Proposal for Reinterpretation," Mid-Western Section, Evangelical
Theological Society, 4/12/86 (held at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary where
Steve taught at the time; he is presently teaching at Dallas Theol. Sem.).
The purpose of the paper is to examine the meaning of the light imagery in
the NT and propose an interpretation of enlightenment. Two positions are
summarized and then a third is defended.
1. Universal epistemic enlightenment
This position appeals to John 1:9 and defines enlightenment as a
work of Christ/the Logos that enables rationality on an epistemic level.
This is related to man's nature as God's image bearer.
* Patristic advocates: Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen
* Recent advocates: Ronald Nash, _The Word of God and the Mind of
Man_ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 9, 12, 59-69; Bruce Demarest,
_General Revelation_ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 228-29; and Carl F.
H. Henry, _God, Revelation, and Authority_ (Waco, TX: Word, 1976-), 1:228,
3:184, 205, 209, 271, 344, 401.
2. Christian hermeneutical enlightenment
This is a more recent view and may be seen, e.g., in the
_Evangelical Dictionary of Theology_ (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), s.v.
"illumination" by C. C. Ryrie. This views enlightenment/illumination as a
work of the Holy Spirit that enables believers to understand the truth of
3. Redemptive-Revelational enlightenment
In defending this view, the writer first summarizes three basic
uses of the 'PhWS' word group: a. literal, the presence of light bearers or
their effects (ca. 12x, e.g., Mk. 14:54); b. disclosure of something hidden
(2 or 3x, e.g., Mt. 10:27); c. figurative use: moral or religious (over
40x). This third "applies supremely to God (1 John 1:5) and to Christ (John
8:12) but it also applies derivatively to those who are 'sons of light'
because of God's saving work (1 Thes 5:5; Matt 5:14; Eph 5:8)." A
"revelational dimension" is also involved: what is revealed is "the
salvation of God or perhaps more particularly the Incarnate God as Savior.
This is true salvation-historically, denoting the coming of the Messiah
into the world (Matt 4:16; Luke 2:32; John 3:19; 12:46), but it is also
true in the life-history of each individual believer (2 Cor 4:6; Eph 5:8;
Col 1:12, 13; 1 Peter 2:9)." This individual enlightenment is both
epistemic (the individual now knows God) and also moral (their condition is
changed). "There are thus legal, epistemic, and personal aspects to the
shining of the light into our hearts (2 Cor 4:6), all of which constitute
the redemptive work of God."
Against this background the 11 uses of PhWTIZW are considered. Four
are category a (Lk. 11:36; Rev. 18:1; 21:23; 22:5) and three fit b (1 Cor.
4:5; Eph. 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:10). This leaves John 1:9; Eph. 1:18; Heb. 6:4;
10:32 (and the uses of PhWTISMOS in 2 Cor. 4:4, 6).
1. The verb must be understood as part of the "light cluster of terms.
There seems no good reason _prima facie_ to bracket _photizo_ from" [other
2. "None of the use of the nouns 'light' and 'darkness' seemed to fit
either of the two views of enlightenment summarized at the beginning of the
After considering the textual issues, Spencer concludes that the
context "is the conclusive evidence for the meaning of 'enlighten' in verse
9." The Johannine prologue is to be interpreted as the introduction of a
Messianic-redemptive theme that emphasizes the coming of Jesus (9, 11, 14,
15), describing various aspects of that coming with light terminology (4,
5, 7, 8, 9), etc. "None of this seems to refer to the establishment of
human beings' fundamental rationality." Instead, "'Enlighten' in this
passage describes the transforming effect of Christ upon His people,
bringing life and grace and truth to them."
"What Paul seems to have in mind is a growth in understanding on
the part of the Ephesians as a result of God's graciousness to them. This
growth in knowledge...is possible because the precondition of their
enlightenment has been met already. That is, the darkness of their
minds...and of their foolish hearts...already having been dispelled, they
may now continually progress in the understanding of God.... Paul speaks
here of continuing effects of the salvific enlightenment, not of 'a
continuous process' of illumination."
Heb. 6:4; 10:32
"It is the clearly redemptive overtones of 'enlighten' which has
caused the many disputes over Heb 6:1-8. These occurrences of the term
clearly fit the general New Testament pattern of usage." Spencer
understands the reference of PhWTIZW in both these verses as essentially
synonymous with "being converted/becoming a Christian."
2 Cor. 4:4, 6 (the only NT use of the noun form, 'enlightenment')
The context is "clearly redemptive," describing the "ministry of
the gospel by which God brings men and women 'the light of the knowledge of
the glory of God..." This contrasts with the darkness: Satan's reverse
work. "Blindness and darkness are never used of believers in their
relationship to the Scriptures. Rather [they describe] the awful condition
of those outside of Christ."
"On the grounds both of the general usage of 'light' and 'darkness'
terms and of individual consideration of relevant passages, it seems that
we should use 'enlighten' to designate the profound transformation of an
individual in salvation.... Consequently, we must reject the two
conceptions of enlightenment noted at the beginning of the paper. Neither
the fundamental human rationality nor the Spirit's hermeneutical assistance
to the believer should be termed, 'enlightenment.' I do not deny at all the
reality of a fundamental human rationality nor the Spirit's hermeneutical
assistance for Christians. Both are clearly Biblical conceptions. Neither
of them should be described as 'enlightenment,' however. That term is not
available to describe those realities. It is already claimed by Scripture
and given a specific meaning.... Enlightenment...is appropriate only for
...the redemptive-revelational transformation of an individual by the
Spirit and the Word."
[Summary by Rod Decker]
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