In John 13 Jesus begins teaching His faithful disciples in what has come to be known as His “Upper Room Discourse.” In that great discourse, Jesus tells them that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all the truth (John 16:13). Many wonder whether this is something that applies to us as well or simply to the disciples. In the context, Jesus helps us understand the specificity of His promise that the Holy Spirit will “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13, NKJV).
First, it is worth noting that some English translations say “all truth,” while the Greek New Testament actually includes the definite article, so a more precise way to translate what Jesus said is that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all the truth. There is a specific truth to which He is referring, and the Holy Spirit would guide them into that. Specifically, the Spirit would reveal what the Son and the Father would have Him disclose (John 16:13–15)—things about Jesus (John 16:14).
Jesus had already told the disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit—the Helper—who would teach them and bring to their remembrance all that Jesus had said to them (John 14:26). Jesus’ later reference (in John 16:13) to the coming of the Holy Spirit and His work of guiding them into all the truth was fulfilled literally. Peter later said that God moved the writers of Scripture, and they spoke from God (2 Peter 1:21). When Matthew wrote his gospel, for example, Matthew didn’t need to borrow from anyone; he was in the room when Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. It seems that Mark, who served alongside Peter for some time, wrote down Peter’s account (as church historian Eusebius suggests in his History, 24:5–8). Luke researched reliable sources (presumably including the disciples) as he wrote his account of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 1:1–4). John, another eyewitness, wrote his own gospel, stating that what he had written provided sufficient information for people to believe in Jesus and have life in His name (John 20:30–31).
Before the disciples would begin their ministry, they were to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). After the Holy Spirit came, the disciples were equipped for their work, and we see them proclaiming powerfully the gospel of Jesus Christ (e.g., Peter in Acts 2—4). The Holy Spirit had indeed guided them into the truth (John 16:13) and brought to their remembrance what Jesus had said to them (John 14:26).
While we certainly benefit from that work of the Holy Spirit—as we have the writings of these men whom the Holy Spirit guided into the truth—it is clear from other contexts that this is not how the Holy Spirit works with all believers. Guiding into the truth was simply a purpose for which He was sent to empower and equip the disciples. Paul tells Timothy, for example, that Timothy should be diligent as a workman, accurately handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Timothy would have to work to understand what had been written, and he would have to be diligent to hold true and pass along the things he had heard from Paul (2 Timothy 2:2). Similarly, we are told that all Scripture is from God’s mouth and is profitable for believers’ growth and equipping (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
We are thankful for and benefit greatly from the Holy Spirit guiding the apostles into all the truth, and we recognize that, because of the Spirit’s work through the disciples, we have His record: the Bible. We should be diligent in studying the Bible to know the Lord better.