The fourth round of The Great Trinity Debate is now available at Parchment & Pen, this round specifically focusing on the Holy Spirit. As the Trinitarian, Rob Bowman sees the Holy Spirit as a divine person, distinguished from the Father and Son. David Burke, Unitarian-Christadelphian sees the Holy Spirit not as a person, but as an extension of the Father, His divine power at work in the world. Click here for Rob Bowman’s fourth article and here for David Burke’s fourth article. My previous comments are in these three posts: post 1, post 2, post 3.
Just a few paragraphs in, Burke comments:
Due to the paucity of evidence, Rob may argue that his doctrine of “God the Holy Spirit” is merely “implicit” in the NT, as he does with the Trinity as a whole…By contrast, I argue that the Bible provides us with explicit doctrines about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which in previous weeks I have shown to be firmly rooted in OT theology. Thus, if we are to understand the Holy Spirit correctly, we must begin with the OT and follow its lead into the NT.
Again, as I have have argued previously, I think such statements are somewhat lacking. I am fine to start with the Old Testament, for the Bible begins there, and even Genesis 1:1-2 gives insight into the work of the Spirit of God. But the Old Testament does not become our final and ultimate source for our theological understanding of any subject matter. Rather, we must recognise that Christ and the New Testament shed greater light on the seeds and foreshadowings of the Old Testament.
Let me give an example: Suppose you arrived to watch a movie in the cinema. The movie is scheduled to last two and a half hours. But, lo and behold, you receive a call about one a half hours into the movie. The call is from your spouse saying that your daughter has fallen and hurt herself. Your spouse is on the way to the hospital, could you please head that way as well.
Thus, you miss a good portion of the movie. Now, once the whole situation is settled with your daughter, she is shaken but will be fine with a good night’s rest. As you arrive home in the evening, you start to ponder the movie you saw, but you are only able to ponder just over half of it. You begin to make guesses as to how the story ends. By knowing the characters, a lot of the plot line, and other such things, you make an educated guess.
And you know what? Once you re-watch the movie, a major part of your hypothesis is proved right. But, you still were off on a few things. You still did not realise a few other events would take place. And, after watching the whole entire movie, including the hour you previously missed, you are now able to understand why certain things were said and done by particular characters early on in the movie. Yet, if you had not seen that last hour, again, your educated guesses were pretty decent. But they were not fully correct.
The same is true of Scripture. Of course we start in the Hebrew Scriptures. But it’s the final part, which we identify as the New Testament, that helps make sense of some of the things said and done in the Old Testament. It clarifies.
So, with the Holy Spirit, or Christ, or anthropology, or eschatology, or soteriology – let’s start in the Old Testament. It’s a good place to begin. But if we do not allow the New Testament to more readily inform our theology, we shall fall well short of the bigger picture. I say that with great certainty, knowing that many Jewish followers do just that today (as well as Christians on many a doctrinal beliefs).
Personification of Wisdom
One of the greater arguments from those who believe the Holy Spirit is merely God’s power or force active in the earth is that there are many examples certain things or entities being personified in Scripture. The major example is the personification of wisdom in Proverbs. Burke shows examples of this personification of wisdom:
- Speech: Proverbs 8:1-3, 2:2
- Riches and honour: Proverbs 3:16-18
- Emotions and authority: Proverbs 4:6-9
- Daughters, a house and servants: Proverbs 9:1-3
- Can be sinned against: Proverbs 8:36
The problem here, which Bowman also points out, is that we need to identify the genre of literature we are looking at. Proverbs is poetic wisdom literature. Hence, personification is going to be utilised regularly, as well imagery, parallelism, etc.
But, with regards to the teachings of the New Testament on the Holy Spirit, we are dealing with two completely different sets of literature: narrative prose-history and didactic-teaching material. Of course, poetic language is embedded in there at times. But as a whole, when we consider passages on the Holy Spirit from the New Testament, the ending of the story that sheds greater light on the beginning of the story, we are dealing with a lot of straight forward statements, if you will. No poetic imagery and personification.
Burke then goes on to claim:
The Bible explicitly describes wisdom in terms which mainstream Christians traditionally associate with the Holy Spirit, even going so far as to imply literal deity.
He gives four examples of wisdom indwelling the believer:
- Exodus 28:3, “‘You are to speak to all who are specially skilled, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom’”
- Exodus 31:3, “‘and I have filled him with the Spirit of God’”
- Deuteronomy 34:9, “Now Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had placed his hands on him”
- Job 38:36, “‘Who has put wisdom in the heart, or has imparted understanding to the mind?’”
But, when we turn to the New Testament, we see that the Spirit and wisdom are distinguished. Notice how the seven chosen in Acts 6:1-7 are distinctly filled with both the Spirit of God and wisdom. Specifically vs3 notes this:
Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.
Now, one might argue that being filled with the Spirit of God would lead to being filled with the wisdom of God. But I don’t think this could be utilised in arguing these two are to be equated. Just like Barnabas was filled with both the Spirit and faith (Acts 11:24).
Yes, one can be filled with wisdom, even the spirit of wisdom. But, firstly, wisdom and the Spirit of God are distinguished from one another in many a places and, secondly, to speak of a spirit of wisdom does not imply that the Spirit is impersonal just as wisdom is impersonal, especially if the Spirit of God is specifically spoken of in personal terms. And I believe He is, especially in texts like John 14-16 and the book of Acts.
I don’t need to spend too much time on John 14-16 and Acts, but they are rich with the personality of the Spirit of God. I cannot imagine a force able to do what the Spirit of God is able to do. But I’ll let you read Bowman’s thoughts.
In his first section on the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, Burke challenges the Trinitarian with these words:
Verses which tell us that the Holy Spirit can “speak” (e.g. 2 Samuel 23:2, Acts 10:19-20, Acts 13:2, Acts 20:23, Acts 21:11, Acts 28:25-27, Hebrews 3:7-11) merely employ the same literary device by which Scripture can “speak” (John 7:38, 42; John 19:37; Romans 4:3; Romans 9:17; Romans 10:11; Romans 11:2; Galatians 3:8; Galatians 4:30; 1 Timothy 5:18; James 4:5). How many Christians would claim that Scripture is a person? None that I know of; they would tell me that this is just a form of poetic license. Yet when faced with verses in which the Holy Spirit “speaks”, they insist that it must be a literal person. But why differentiate in this way? Which interpretation is more likely: that the same use of language implies a completely different conclusion in two identical cases, or that the same use of language implies the same conclusion for both?
I don’t believe this is a strong argument. Why? Well, of the ten verses stated above, eight of them are misused to support the point. What I mean is that all of them, outside of Romans 9:17 and Galatians 3:8, are utilised in a quoting manner. The New Testament writer or speaker is saying something to this affect: ‘The Scripture says this,’ and then quotes or refers to a passage from the Old Testament. This is not personification. This is quoting.
For the other two passages, it is interesting what they say:
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Romans 9:17)
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (Galatians 3:8)
In both contexts, the main purpose is, again, quoting the Old Testament. But it is fine to recognise personification here. So, we have the possibility of two New Testament passages personifying the Scripture. But, of the 379 references to pneuma, the Greek word for Spirit, how many of them personalise the Holy Spirit? I don’t know, as I haven’t counted as of today. But let’s just start in John 14-16 and the book of Acts and see how much personal attributes are assigned to the Spirit. I’m thinking over 100 at least. But two given to Scripture.
I think it’s pretty safe to conclude, 1) Scripture is, though rarely, personified, as wisdom was. 2) The Holy Spirit, noting the enormous amount of personal language attributed to Him, rather than only two references, is being more than personified in the vein of wisdom or Scripture. He is being personalised.
Three Distinguished Persons
I was surprised that this week’s posts did not bring up the passages that mention the Holy Spirit distinct from the Father, i.e., the words of Jesus with regards to baptism in Matthew 28:18-20:
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Another passage is what is known as Paul’s Trinitarian benediction:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)
Finally, we read these words of Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians:
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
Specifically, vs4 refers to the Spirit, vs5 refers to the Lord Jesus and vs6 refers to God (Theos being normally associated with the Father).
My point is to show how the Spirit is distinguished from the Father. This is important because the Unitarian, or at least the Christadelphian, will simply acknowledge that the Spirit of God is an extension of the Father, His power at work in the earth. But why distinguish the Spirit from God the Father if the Spirit is simply an extension of Him?
This is where a notable author becomes helpful. Actually Burke quoted Max Turner quite a lot, professor of New Testament Studies at London School of Theology. A few month’s back, I read one of Turner’s books, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: In the New Testament Church and Today (my thoughts on the book can be found here).
In his chapter 11, Turner looks to give biblical and theological evidence for the personal deity of the Holy Spirit. As we have noted continually, most who deny the personal deity of the Spirit (Judaism, ‘cults’) would say that the Spirit is actually an extension of the Father’s own personhood, not a distinct person Himself. For when the Spirit acts, it is the Father Himself acting, because it is His Spirit.
Turner includes some helpful discussion on this topic, of which here are a few words:
‘Indeed, the “sending” of the Spirit by the Son “from the Father” (John 15:26) itself implies some kind of differentiation of the Spirit from the Father.’ (p173)
His point is that Jesus is the actual one who gives and pours out the Spirit. This shows that the Spirit is connected to not only the Father, but also the Son. And such is true when we read Acts 16:6-7; Galatians 4:6; and Philippians 1:19.
This is important for developing a holistic pneumatology, informed by the complete revelation of Scripture. The Spirit is not only the Spirit of the Father, but also the Spirit of the Son. I believe this both speaks volumes about the nature-status of Christ and the nature-status of the Holy Spirit. It challenges us to come to terms that the Spirit is not only an extension of the Father, but shows the connection between the Son and the Spirit. Here we have three distinguishable characters, or persons, if you will. And this falls right in line with Trinitarian theology.
Thus ends my fourth post of comments. Don’t forget to check out the interaction at Trinities blog, as well as a blog I just became familiar with today known as Kingdom Ready, where there is also some live interaction going on.
But, I end out with Paul’s Trinitarian benediction:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)