The Spirit's Witness: A Historical and Theological Examination of the Testimonium Spiritus Sancti Internum

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Historical Theology

First Advisor

Stephen Spencer


An adequate account of the epistemology of theology must take into consideration the work of the Holy Spirit in the self-communicative action of the triune God. This dissertation will consider the noetic work of the Spirit by examining the testimonium spiritus sancti internum, the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. In several places throughout the New Testament the Holy Spirit is depicted as one who "testifies" or "bears witness." Much has been said in the history of Protestant theology about this important persuasive work of the Spirit. The testimonium played a significant role in the theology of the Reformers in their cont1ict with Rome, but over time the emphasis on this work of the Holy Spirit was largely displaced by other considerations. While the topic has received relatively little attention in much contemporary theology, it has recently been revisited in the work of those philosophers engaged in what has come to be referred to as Reformed Epistemology. The aim of this study is to give a more robust historical and theological account of the testimony of the Holy Spirit than is currently available.

The account of the testimonium spiritus sancti developed in this dissertation begins with an important presupposition, namely, the pervasiveness of human sin. This presupposition involves the recognition that the effects of sin are not only volitional and affective, but that human sinfulness also has devastating noetic effects, which render this special work of the Spirit necessary if genuine knowledge of God is to be attained. After an examination of this presupposition in Chapter 2, Chapter 3 will consider the object of the Spirit's witness, Christ and his gospel. This chapter focuses upon the implications of the testimony of the Holy Spirit for the problems raised by the historical distance between the Christ-event and contemporary believers. Chapter 4 will focus upon the product of the testimony of the Spirit, viz., the believer's assurance of divine benevolence that comes from his or her personal participation in the promise of the gospel. In treating this aspect of the doctrine this study will trace the continuities and discontinuities that arise within the discussion of assurance of salvation between the time of the writings of John Calvin and John Wesley. Chapter 5 will consider the means of the Spirit's witness-bearing work, namely, the Spirit's use of Holy Scripture. This chapter will explore the implications of the doctrine of the testimony of the Spirit for consideration of the Bible as both a means of grace and an epistemic norm. Finally, Chapter 6 will discuss the important, though historically underdeveloped, role of the church as the context of the testimonium spiritus sancti internum. In the conclusion of this chapter, the implications of this ecclesial dimension of the Spirit's witness for each of the preceding themes will be considered.


If you are not a patron of the Concordia Seminary Library this dissertation is available from the "Theological Research Exchange Network" at