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Week IV: The Holy Spirit

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#1 Evangelion



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Posted 02 May 2010 - 05:10 AM

The Need for Contextual Exegesis
A notable feature of this debate has been the contrast between the exegetical methodologies of both sides. Rob favours an approach that places great stress on the NT texts and interprets these in a Hellenistic way that frequently steps outside the first-century milieu, whereas I take a holistic approach which embraces the full range of data from OT and NT, and interprets them in a Hebraic way that is consistent with first-century Second Temple Judaism. This issue of context is central to our respective interpretations of Scriptural evidence and the conclusions that we derive from it.

Richard Bauckham believes that the NT writers included Jesus in the identity of God, but nevertheless emphasises the need for contextual sensitivity in the study of NT source material (Jewish World Around the New Testament: Collected Essays I, Mohr Siebeck, 2008, p.1):

Most New Testament scholars would now agree that the New Testament writings belong wholly within the Jewish world of their time. However much some may be in serious conflict with other Jewish groups, these disagreements take place within the Jewish world. Even New Testament works authored by and / or addressed to non-Torah-observant Gentile Christians still move within the Jewish world of ideas.

Their God is unequivocally the God of Israel and of the Jewish Scriptures that they treat as self-evidently their own. Jesus for them is the Messiah of Israel and the Messiah also for the nations only because he is the Messiah of Israel.

Bauckham's advice is particularly relevant to this week's topic: the Holy Spirit. The mainstream Trinitarian doctrine of the Holy Spirit bears no relation to the OT Jewish perspective which informed the NT understanding, because the mainstream doctrine is not derived from a Jewish context but a Hellenic one. First-century Christians found no need to elaborate upon their doctrine of the Spirit, and could speak of it in the same language that their forebears had used. Later Christians developed their doctrine of the Spirit via philosophical speculations predicated upon the same Hellenic ideas of essence and consubstantiality which had led so many of them to conclude that Jesus is God. Which position is more likely to be correct?

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. Precisely what this means remains unclear, since he still hasn't provided a working definition of "implicit" for the context of this debate, nor has he explained why inspired Christians with personal experience of Jesus Christ would be unable to formulate anything more substantial than a handful of "implicit" doctrines about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 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.

The Simplest Interpretation is Most Plausible
Before we continue we need to think about how to break the "proof text" deadlock, or we'll have a repeat of what happened last week. I’m going to propose a method of doing so, with reference to last week’s exchange.

This debate is now being followed by a number of bloggers. One of them (Dr Dale Tuggy, at www.trinities.org/blog) has recently raised the point that the most economical explanation of a body of evidence is the most likely to be true. In logic this principle is known as "Occam's Razor." There is a large body of evidence which Rob has still not addressed, namely the preaching of the apostles themselves, which contains the following primary elements:

  • Jesus was a man with divine approval and authorisation (as demonstrated by the miracles that God performed through him) whom God raised from the dead (Acts 2:22-24)

  • Jesus is God's servant, raised by God from the dead (Acts 3:13-15)

  • Jesus is a man appointed to judge the world by God, who raised him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31)

The apostles preached that Jesus is a man, God's unique Son and agent, the person in, by, and through whom God worked (Acts 10:42, "appointed by God", Acts 17:31, God will judge the world "by a man whom He designated"). The language of subordination is consistently used, designating Christ as an agent distinct from God Himself (Acts 3:13, "His [God's] servant", Acts 3:25, "God raised up His servant"', Acts 4:27, "your [God's] holy servant Jesus" Acts 4:30, "your [God's] holy servant Jesus"). The apostles preached this message, then baptised people with this understanding. They speak of God’s holy servant Jesus, but where do they speak of the Holy Spirit as God?

In contrast with this record, Rob presents his interpretation of certain "proof texts" which he treats as evidence that Jesus is God. I have presented my own interpretation of these texts and explained why I treat them as evidence that Jesus is a man, God's Son, appointed and foreordained as God's agent. In connection with this line of argument I have also shown the concept of divinely-appointed non-divine agents was well established in the OT, and was typical of orthodox Second Temple Judaism.

People may still choose to read the proof texts either way. But it should be acknowledged that mine is the most economical and Biblically-consistent explanation of the apostles' preaching. Rob's position does not explain why the apostles would teach a flawed Christology, applying the terms of non-divine agency to a person they described as a man and agent of God, but believed to be God (or a "God-man"), and not an agent at all. Is this really the most economical explanation of the evidence? Rob is about to face the same problem with the Holy Spirit this week. I believe it is far more economical to suggest that the apostles consistently taught that Jesus is a man, God's unique Son, anointed by Yahweh as the Jewish Messiah and God's agent because this is what they actually believed. I will make an analogous argument this week with regard to the Holy Spirit.

Last week Rob provided no explanation of the way in which the apostles taught people that Jesus is God before they were baptised. This must be addressed, because this week Rob will be presenting the proof texts he believes support the idea that the Holy Spirit is one of the three persons of the Trinity, so we're going to repeat the entire process all over again in a new context.

As a way of breaking the proof text deadlock, I offer the book of Acts and the preaching speeches delivered by apostles to those they converted and baptised. In Acts 2 alone, thousands of people were baptised on the basis of the preaching they heard at Pentecost. That preaching is described in considerable detail, and the Holy Spirit is referred to prominently, but I find no reference to the Trinity or the deity of Christ, let alone the Holy Spirit as God. I have previously asked Rob to teach me the Trinity (or at least the deity of Jesus), in the way the apostles taught those they baptised. This week I ask him to teach me the doctrine of "God the Holy Spirit", using the same arguments employed by the apostles in Acts.

The Holy Spirit: An OT Context
Rob has previously grappled with the Biblical Unitarian definition of the Holy Spirit, claiming that we offer a "moving target." He has read a few articles which he found conflicting and unclear. I believe Rob's difficulties with BU definitions of the Holy Spirit are largely the result of his theological preconceptions (and perhaps also some sloppy writing on BU websites). As a Trinitarian, Rob thinks of the Spirit in ontological terms which have no relevance in a BU context. Thus, when he reads a BU website which says "The 'Holy Spirit' is another name for God our father", he apparently finds it hard to disentangle this from the Trinitarian conception. Had he examined the wider context of this statement (e.g. the article here) I am sure he would have found it qualified to his satisfaction.

The OT provides a consistent doctrine of the Spirit as the power of God; not a divine person ("God the Holy Spirit") or the totality of God Himself. Biblical Unitarians sometimes refer to the Spirit as "impersonal" to avoid any suggestion that it is a literal person, but this does not mean that it is in some way separate from God or independent of Him. On the contrary, Scripture demonstrates that God's omnipresence is a function of His Holy Spirit power, allowing Him to extend His presence to any part of His creation:

  • Psalm 51:11, "Do not reject me! Do not take your Holy Spirit away from me!"

  • Psalm 139:7, "Where can I go to escape your spirit? Where can I flee to escape your presence?"

  • Isaiah 63:11, "His people remembered the ancient times. Where is the one who brought them up out of the sea, along with the shepherd of his flock? Where is the one who placed his holy Spirit among them"

  • Jeremiah 23:23-4, "'Do you people think that I am some local deity and not the transcendent God?' the LORD asks. 'Do you really think anyone can hide himself where I cannot see him?' the LORD asks. 'Do you not know that I am everywhere?' the LORD asks."

Throughout the OT, God's Holy Spirit is described as something that belongs to Him, like a property or a power (G. W. H. Lampe: "In the literature of Israel the Spirit of God is generally conceived of as an impersonal but divine force", "The Holy Spirit in the Writings of St. Luke" in Studies in the Gospels, ed., Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1955, p.160).

This is amplified by the many passages in which the Holy Spirit is presented as something that can be bestowed upon others, for various purposes and with varying effects:

  • Knowledge, abilities, talents and virtues: Exodus 31:3, "'and I have filled him with the Spirit of God in skill, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship.'" (Cf. I Kings 4:29).

  • Supernatural strength: Judges 14:6, "The LORD's spirit empowered him and he tore the lion in two with his bare hands as easily as one would tear a young goat." (Cf. Judges 15:14).

  • Prophecy: I Samuel 10:6, "'Then the spirit of the LORD will rush upon you and you will prophesy with them. You will be changed into a different person.'" (Cf. Joel 2:28).
  • Divine authority: Judges 11:29, "The LORD's spirit empowered Jephthah." (Cf. II Chronicles 15:1-7).

  • Divine approval: I Samuel 16:13, "So Samuel took the horn full of olive oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers. The Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day onward." (Cf. Isaiah 42:1).

  • Divine inspiration: Ezekiel 11:5, "Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon me and said to me, 'Say: This is what the LORD says: 'This is what you are thinking, O house of Israel; I know what goes through your minds.''" (Cf. II Chronicles 24:20).

This list is not exhaustive.

On very rare occasions, we receive a glimpse of possible personification:

Isaiah 63:9-10, "Through all that they suffered, he suffered too. The messenger sent from his very presence delivered them. In his love and mercy he protected them; he lifted them up and carried them throughout ancient times. But they rebelled and offended his holy Spirit, so he turned into an enemy and fought against them."

Here Isaiah appears to equate the angel of God's presence with "his holy Spirit", echoing the words of Exodus 23:20-21 ("'I am going to send an angel before you to protect you as you journey and to bring you into the place that I have prepared. Take heed because of him, and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him'"). The exact meaning of this verse is still debated. Some commentators distinguish between "the angel of his presence" and "his holy spirit", treating the former as a literal angel and the latter as God's own power or person; some conflate the two as a personification of the Holy Spirit; some conflate the two as a dual reference to the angel in the form of a Hebraic parallelism; some believe that the angel is the pre-existent Son and the spirit is the Father; some believe that the angel is actually the "divine person" of the Holy Spirit.

G. A. F. Knight (The new Israel: A commentary on the book of Isaiah 56-66, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1985, pg.76–77) views the reference to the Holy Spirit as speaking of Yahweh Himself:

10–14 ‘But as for them (wehemmah), they rebelled.’ That action by Israel ‘grieved his holy Spirit’ or, as we might say, broke God’s heart. Verse 10b thus shows a continuity with v. 6, making the whole chapter a unity. We read that when God was heartbroken at the sin of humanity (Gen. 6:6) he ‘remembered’ Noah (8:1). So too here, God ‘remembered’ how he had given Israel his Covenant and had promised to be their God no matter what might happen. God then even proceeds to ask himself questions! ‘Where is he who brought up?…’ In ‘the days of old, of Moses’, Miriam and Aaron had been ‘the shepherds of his flock’. In other words, God asks himself if he had not perhaps reneged on his responsibilities to Israel within the Covenant.

Knight's analysis demonstrates the fluidity of personification concepts within the context of OT Jewish religious tradition. Pre-Christian Jews were comfortable identifying an angel with the presence or Spirit of God, or the inspired Word of God with His Holy Spirit; multiple applications shared the same language, which could be taken much further than regular personification — and often was — because although the Holy Spirit is not a person itself, it operates as God-in-action.

Personification Par Excellence
Most Christians will be familiar with Proverbs 8, where wisdom is portrayed as a woman in a theme continued from previous chapters. No other OT example of personification uses such concrete language to describe an abstract concept as if it were a literal, personal being. Some Christians of the second and third centuries (e.g. Justin Martyr & Arius) saw Proverbs 8 as a description of the Lord Jesus Christ, portrayed as a superlative divine being whom God created before anything else.

A brief review of wisdom's attributes will show how easily this can be done:

  • 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

Not only does wisdom speak, but we also have direct quotes attributed to her:

  • Proverbs 1:22, "'How long will you simpletons love naiveté? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?'"

  • Proverbs 8:12, "'I, wisdom, live with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.'"

  • Proverbs 9:17, "'Stolen waters are sweet, and food obtained in secret is pleasant!'"

How much further can this go before it ceases to be personification? Let's find out.

Wisdom: Another "Divine Person"?
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.

Wisdom indwells 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?'"

Wisdom has prophets and apostles:

  • Luke 11:49, "For this reason also the wisdom of God said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute'"

Wisdom created the world:

  • Psalm 136:5, "to the one who used wisdom to make the heavens, for his loyal love endures"

  • Proverbs 3:19, "By wisdom the LORD laid the foundation of the earth; he established the heavens by understanding."

  • Jeremiah 51:15, "He is the one who by his power made the earth. He is the one who by his wisdom fixed the world in place, by his understanding he spread out the heavens."

Wisdom has a spirit, just as God has a spirit and Jesus has a spirit:

  • Exodus 28:3, "'You are to speak to all who are specially skilled, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom'"

  • Deuteronomy 34:9, "Now Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had placed his hands on him"

Wisdom upholds and maintains the political systems of the world:

  • Proverbs 8:15-16, "'Kings reign by means of me, and potentates decree righteousness; by me princes rule, as well as nobles and all righteous judges." (Cf. Dan 2:20-21, "''Let the name of God be praised forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to him. He changes times and seasons, deposing some kings and establishing others. He gives wisdom to the wise; he imparts knowledge to those with understanding''").

Judged purely on the basis of accumulated proof texts, it could be claimed that we have a stronger prima facie case for the literal personality and deity of wisdom than we do for the Holy Spirit. But is this a legitimate proposal?

The Holy Spirit in the New Testament (I)
Despite a number of theological developments between the OT and NT eras (including the expansion of wisdom language in apocryphal literature), Jewish pneumatology remained static. Those Jews who still retained a belief in the Holy Spirit, saw no reason to deviate from the original OT conception. Max Turner (Power from on High, Sheffield Academic Press, 2000 p.25):

Intertestamental Judaism did not use the term Spirit as an explanation of all otherwise inexplicable manifestations of supernatural power; only certain types of event were regularly attributed to the Spirit — principally those that could be classed as manifestations of the 'Spirit of prophecy'; namely revelation, wisdom and charismatic speech.

F. W. Horn (Vol. 3: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, New York: Doubleday, 1996, p.264):

A systematic itemization of the particular statements on “holy spirit” in rabbinic literature will schematize the source material. Thus, salient aspects of the rabbinic literature spanning several centuries can be listed together (Goldberg 1969; Schäfer 1972). The construction rûaḥ haqqōdeš, lit. “spirit of holiness,” implies the divine origin of the spirit. Yet this does not mean that the holy spirit was regarded as a hypostasis distinct from the divine presence (šĕkı̂nâ).

It was this doctrine of the Holy Spirit which provided a basis for the Christian understanding — and as we shall see, that basis preserved a conceptual link to OT pneumatology. But how do we know what the first-century Christians thought about the Holy Spirit? We know from the way they wrote about it, the way they spoke to people about it, and the way they interacted with it. Luke provides a classic example:

Luke 1:35," The angel replied, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.'"

Here is a foundational verse for the NT doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Note that the angel unequivocally equates "the Holy Spirit" with "the power of the Most High" in a typical Hebraic parallelism, affirming its divine origin whilst simultaneously precluding personality. Luke's view of the Spirit is particularly important to us because he wrote the book of Acts, in which the Holy Spirit features prominently.

Max Turner (Power from On High: The Spirit in Israel's Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts, p.41) lists a wide range of verbs associated with the Holy Spirit throughout Luke and Acts which seem to indicate personality and independent volition:

  • Teach: Luke 12:12
  • Give utterance: Acts 2:4
  • Be witness: Acts 5:32
  • Say: Acts 8:29 cf. 1:16, 10:19, 11:1, 13:2, 19:1, 28:25
  • Snatch away: Acts 8:39
  • Send: Acts 13:4
  • Forbid: Acts 16:6
  • Allow: Acts 16:7
  • Testify: Acts 20:3
  • Appoint as an overseer: Acts 20:28

Christians usually view these as evidence that the Holy Spirit is not only a person, but God Himself. This interpretation appears to be strengthened by other passages implying literal personality, which Turner also lists:

  • Acts 5:3 — the Holy Spirit is "lied to"
  • Acts 7:41 — the Holy Spirit is "resisted
  • Acts 10:38 — the phrase "God was with him" could be modifying the statement that Jesus was "anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power"
  • Acts 13:2 — the Holy Spirit instructs that Barnabas and Saul should be set apart "for me"
  • Acts 15:28 — certain decisions "seemed best to the Holy Spirit"
  • Acts 28:25-26 — the Holy Spirit "spoke rightly to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah"

But after examining all of these verses, Turner remains unconvinced:

The important question we must ask in each case, however, concerns the intended linguistic status of such affirmations. Is the personal language intended literally (and so to imply the Spirit is a hypostasis), or is it part of the more widespread, and typically Jewish tendency to personify divine attributes, or to represent the Spirit as the extension of Yahweh's own presence? Most treatments of the subject are too insensitive to the various possibilities. If we bear this distinction in mind, an examination of Luke's Spirit material does not suggest he thinks Christians were any more aware of the Spirit's personhood than their Jewish contemporaries were. The 'personal' traits within his Spirit traditions rarely move beyond the types of personification of the Spirit (and of the word, the Shekinah, the name, etc.) regularly found in exclusively monotheistic Judaism.

(Power from On High: The Spirit in Israel's Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts, p.42)

Even Acts 5, where the apostle Peter accuses Ananias of "lying to the Holy Spirit" (verse 3) and his wife of trying to "test the Spirit of the Lord" (verse 9) is not an open and shut case. The usual argument made from this passage is that Peter accuses Ananias of "lying to the Holy Spirit" and Sapphira of trying to "tempt the Holy Spirit"; but since an impersonal power cannot be lied to or tempted, the Holy Spirit must therefore be a person and therefore it follows that the Holy Spirit is God. The logic here is not terribly good, and the argument ends with a non sequitur.

Lying to Peter was equivalent to lying to the Holy Spirit, since it was this power which enabled him to read the minds of Ananias and Sapphira. Lying to Peter was therefore the same as lying to God, since the Holy Spirit empowered him as one of God’s authorities on Earth, possessing even the power of life and death. The word "tempt" in verse 9 is an old and redundant translation (modern versions usually have "test"; cf. James 1:13, where we are told that God cannot be tempted); thus Peter accuses Sapphira of trying to test the Holy Spirit, which neither implies nor requires that the Holy Spirit is a person. Even if it was agreed that Acts 5 teaches the Holy Spirit is a person, it does not necessarily follow that the Holy Spirit is God.

Some Christians seem to believe that the Holy Spirit can simply be "defined into personality", as it were, by the mere collation of proof texts bearing some loose aspects of personification. How can this be a valid methodology? I have shown exactly the same can be done for wisdom in the OT, but what does it ultimately prove beyond the fact that personification has tremendous scope for expression?

Verses which tell us that the Holy Spirit can "speak" (e.g. II 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; I 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?

The Holy Spirit in the New Testament (II)
Central to the apostles' experience of the Holy Spirit was Jesus' promise to them before his death on the cross:

  • John 14:16-17, "'Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.'"
  • John 15:26 "'When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father — the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father — he will testify about me.'"

Jesus' use of personal language can be read as a typological recall of Exodus 23: 20-21, signifying that he would send the Holy Spirit to act in the same capacity as the "angel of the presence." Note, however, that Jesus' language only goes so far: it presents nothing stronger than the personification language we have already seen in Proverbs, it does not ascribe any divine names or titles to the Holy Spirit, and it does not ascribe any uniquely divine properties, privileges or attributes to the Holy Spirit. Why doesn't Jesus refer to the Holy Spirit as "God", or even "Lord"? Why doesn't he prepare his disciples for the earth-shattering revelation that the power of God they have witnessed and experienced for the past three and a half years, is in fact yet another person of God Himself? Even at Pentecost this concept is still not "revealed." What could be the reason?

Max Turner recognises the theological poverty of these verses as Trinitarian proof texts:

The fact remains that the clearest presentation of the personal being of the Spirit in the New Testament comes in John 14-16, where John presents the Spirit-Paraclete as a figure set in parallel to Jesus, mediating the Father and the Son to the disciples as Jesus had mediated the Father during his ministry (Jn 14.6-11).

But even in these circumstances there is no suggestion made by John that Christians (after Jesus' glorification) will consciously receive the Spirit, and experience him, as a divine Person. Jesus as mediator of the Father revealed himself; but the Spirit precisely does not do so (16.13), revealing only Christ and the Father. Appropriately, Smail entitled his chapter on the person of the Spirit, 'The Person without a Face'.

(Power from On High: The Spirit in Israel's Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts, p.44-5).

The apostles' doctrine of the Holy Spirit was reaffirmed by their personal experience with it. Perhaps more than any other Christians', their lives were suffused by its power, authority and guidance. They received it from Jesus before his ascension; they received it again at Pentecost; they bestowed it upon others; they refused to trade it for money; they employed it as proof of divinely sanctioned authority. In all of this we see them acting as if the Holy Spirit is the power of God, not the person of God:

The fact of the Spirit’s personhood was not always perceived in church history. (A “new pneumatology” would have to begin here.) Attention first centered on God and Christ, Father and Son. The Spirit was valued for his work in the church, but he was a problematic third in the doctrine of the Trinity, within which he was “officially” recognized only at Constantinople in 381 (Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed). He had mostly been viewed only as a bridge between God and creation, between the Word and believers.

This approach could involve trivializing, for in fact the Spirit is not just a mediating something, a divine phenomenon between the Father and the Son, or a mere representation of the Father in the Son or of Jesus Christ to the church. The promises of Jesus that he would send the Paraclete after going away (John 14:16–17; 16:7–15) might suggest this kind of interpretation, which for the rest entails a reading of historical Trinitarian ideas into the “immanent Trinity,” the source of many misunderstandings.

(E. Fahlbusch & G. Bromiley, Vol. 2: The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999-2003, p.582)

I conclude with Revelation 4 & 5, in which the apostle John receives a divinely inspired vision of God. Several features of this vision require close examination:

  • There is only one throne and only one person sits upon it: the Father.

  • The Father (sitting on the throne) is the only person worshipped as "the Lord God, the All-Powerful" and the only person credited with the creation of the world.

  • Jesus is shown to be separate and distinct from the Father; not just as a different person, but also as a different being (ie. the Lamb).

  • The Holy Spirit is not shown at all. Some commentators have suggested that "he" might be represented by the seven lamps of fire, but they struggle to explain why the Holy Spirit would be divided into seven portions and depicted as an impersonal force.

The theological issues here need hardly be emphasised.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.


#2 Evangelion



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Posted 24 May 2010 - 03:31 PM


"Definition by Parallelism"

When I was at university for my BA degree (religious studies major; philosophy minor), I took a course in logic and became familiar with the standard list of informal fallacies. The "definition-by-parallelism fallacy" is not on that list, for the simple reason that you've just made it up. Accusing your opponent of committing a fallacy that you've invented for the purpose of accusing him of committing a fallacy, is counter-productive and ultimately self-refuting. All it does is to demonstrate that he has not actually committed a fallacy at all, which is why you found it necessary to create one.

Your attack on Hebraic parallelisms is novel, to say the least. You criticise Anthony Buzzard's exegesis of Luke 1:35 and claim that his reasoning leads to untenable equivocations. Yet the examples you present (Luke 22:69; I Corinthians 1:18, 24; Romans 1:16) do not prove your claim. Epexegesis is dependent upon the presence of a conjunction ("and" in the Greek), but does your list of verses meet this requirement? Let's take a look.

Luke 22:69, "But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God"

Example irrelevant; no conjunction here.

I Corinthians 1:18, "For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God"

Example irrelevant; no conjunction here.

I Corinthians 1:24, "But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God"

Example irrelevant; the conjunction is between "power" and "wisdom", not "Christ" and "power."

Luke 1:35, "The angel replied, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God'"

Perfect candidate for epexegesis; note the parallel between "Holy Spirit" and "power of the Most High" (cf. Luke 4:14 and Acts 10:38). Other possible candidates include Luke 8:2 ("evil spirits and infirmities"), Acts 5:3 ("lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back"), Acts 6:5 ("full of faith and of the Holy Spirit"), and Acts 11:24 ("full of the Holy Spirit and of faith").

Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God's power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek"

Example irrelevant; no conjunction here.

I Corinthians 1:18, "For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God"

Example irrelevant; no conjunction here. The Unitarian argument from Luke's parallelism still stands unchallenged. You have misrepresented the methodology involved (presumably as a consequence of misunderstanding it) and your examples do not prove your claim.

The Meaning of "Spirit"

You spend 645 words discussing the meaning of pneuma, which is perfectly fine with me because my arguments about the nature of the Holy Spirit are not derived from the lexical definition of this word. So this is just an irrelevant digression as far as I'm concerned.

You say:

Words do not have some sort of irreducible “root meaning” that limits or defines its sense in every usage.

I agree. We must take into account the semantic range. However, as I showed in my own Week 4 argument, the OT usage of "spirit" remains consistent and the semantic range was largely static between the OT and NT eras (despite the expansion of wisdom language in apocryphal literature). This is recognised by standard authorities, as I also demonstrated.

Max Turner (Power from on High, Sheffield Academic Press, 2000 p.25):

Intertestamental Judaism did not use the term Spirit as an explanation of all otherwise inexplicable manifestations of supernatural power; only certain types of event were regularly attributed to the Spirit — principally those that could be classed as manifestations of the 'Spirit of prophecy'; namely revelation, wisdom and charismatic speech.

F. W. Horn (Vol. 3: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, New York: Doubleday, 1996, p.264):

A systematic itemization of the particular statements on “holy spirit” in rabbinic literature will schematize the source material. Thus, salient aspects of the rabbinic literature spanning several centuries can be listed together (Goldberg 1969; Schäfer 1972). The construction rûaḥ haqqōdeš, lit. “spirit of holiness,” implies the divine origin of the spirit. Yet this does not mean that the holy spirit was regarded as a hypostasis distinct from the divine presence (šĕkı̂nâ).

Appealing to the root meaning is not "highly problematic", provided that (a) we are aware of the semantic range, and (b) we understand the role of context in determining the precise nuance. Your problem is that the respective semantic ranges of ruach and pneuma do not match your theology. Nowhere do we find the Bible using these words to denote an additional person within the Godhead, nor do we find ruach or pneuma referred to as God.

You claim that "spirit" is used metaphorically for angels in Hebrews 1:7, but this is no metaphor; "spirit" for demons or angels is common Second Temple language, reflecting a belief about the nature of these supernatural beings. John 2:8 is not a metaphor either; it's a simile drawn from an OT idiom (see the use of ruach in Genesis 8:1; Exodus 10:13, 15:10, where it is translated "wind"). This is a common usage of the Hebrew word for "spirit." II Thessalonians 2:8 (not 7) also recalls the OT usage, echoing Psalm 33:6 ("...by a mere word [Hebrew: "breath"] from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created").

Your focus on the on the NT usage is overly-restrictive and does not take into account the Second Temple context, the OT usage or the LXX evidence (Genesis 6:17, Psalm 146:4 & Isaiah 33:11 are just a few examples where pneuma is used for "breath" in the LXX). I agree that "spirit" is used as a term for a supernatural entity in the NT (this is consistent with Second Temple usage), but the metaphysics of your examples (angels, demons, departed believers, etc.) are not consistent with the way you wish to apply this word to the Holy Spirit. In every case pneuma denotes a type of being, not a person.

Since you do not believe the Holy Spirit to be a separate being from God, there is no clear parallel for your theology here. If we used your examples we could make a good case for the Holy Spirit being the Angel of the Presence, but not for the Holy Spirit as a third person within a triune being. In short: you have actually proved that the NT usage of "spirit" as an inner aspect of a human being or a supernatural being is not suitable for Trinitarian metaphysics.

Finally you say "the lexical argument does not prove that 'Holy Spirit' denotes a divine energy or force." That's fine with me because (a) I entirely agree, and (b) I do not use the lexical argument you've spent so much time criticising. Most of this section was an irrelevant digression.

No Distinct Person of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

You concede there is "no distinct person of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament." I agree. However, you attribute the following argument to Biblical Unitarians:

Anti-Trinitarians commonly argue that since the OT does not reveal the Holy Spirit to be a distinct person, he cannot be one in the NT.

This is a misrepresentation, stemming either from a misunderstanding or a flawed assumption about the way we Biblical Unitarians argue our case (I notice you did not provide any examples). Perhaps you might find some who do this, but I certainly do not claim that the Holy Spirit cannot be a distinct person just because the OT does not teach it. I argue that the absence of such teaching in the OT helps to inform our interpretation of the NT evidence. This absence does not rule out any progressive revelation of the nature of God, but it does provide an interpretive framework for NT theology.

If the personhood of the Holy Spirit is part of a foundation doctrine (ie. the Trinity) we would expect to find it taught clearly in the OT and NT. But it is not in the OT, and even Trinitarians struggle to prove it from the NT. Why is this? Is the Trinitarian God incapable of revealing Himself properly, even through divine revelation? The God of Israel successfully provided His chosen people with an exhaustive Law detailing every aspect of their lives, both practical and theological. Nothing was left unwritten; nothing was left unsaid. The children of Israel received a comprehensive revelation. Yet you expect us to believe that when He reached the NT era, God somehow failed to be equally specific about His triunity! How can you explain this? It defies all logic, contradicts Scriptural precedent, and makes an absolute mockery of God's capacity for self-revelation.

You attempt to argue Jesus' pre-existence from John 13:1, 3, claiming that these verses tell us he is "going back to the Father." I don't even need a lexicon to refute this; just pick up any half-decent Bible software, run a search on metabainō (used in verse 1) and hupagei (used in verse 3) and look at the results. You'll see that "back" (in the sense of "returning") is not an intrinsic meaning of either word and does not even fall into the semantic range. Both words intrinsically carry the sense of departure (e.g. "pass over", go", "depart", "withdraw") but not in the sense of returning to a previous location (see for example Matthew 8: 34, 11:1, 12:9, 15:29, 17:20, Luke 10:7, John 13:33, 36; 14:4, 5, 28; 15:16; 16:5, 10, 17). You claim that John 13:3 and 16:28 literally say Jesus "came out of heaven from the Father." Oh really? Let's check that:

  • John13:3, "Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going to God"
  • John 16:28, "I came from the Father and entered into the world, but in turn, I am leaving the world and going to the Father"

I don't see any reference to heaven there. Jesus doesn't claim that he "came out of heaven from the Father." He says he had come from God (the Father) and was going to Him. This is certainly plain speech (not figurative); but it is nevertheless idiomatic! John the Baptist himself was said to have come from God (John 1:6, "A man came, sent from God, whose name was John") yet I'm sure you don't believe he literally came down from heaven. So why should we believe any different when the same language is used of Jesus? "Entering into the world" doesn't prove pre-existence either; even today, parents still refer to "bringing a child into this world" without any metaphysical implications.

You say that "the Paraclete is a heavenly figure who was with the Father in heaven and will be personally coming to the disciples to be with them", but where does Jesus say this? Nowhere at all. You've simply read it into the text, just as you did with Jesus' pre-existence. Additionally, the Paraclete is described in the language of "sending", not "coming" and "going", as Jesus was. So your parallel does not succeed because it fails to demonstrate the equivalence that you claim.

You say:

Since the Son was literally someone who came into the world from the Father, the Holy Spirit is also literally someone who was going to come from the Father to be with the disciples as “another” Paraclete.

But there is no "since" about it, Rob. This is a non sequitur with a fallacy of equivocation thrown in for good luck. How does "coming into the world" make the Holy Spirit a literal person? Yes, Jesus "came into the world", but coming into the world isn't what made him a person; being born as a human being is what made him a person! We do not derive knowledge of Jesus' personhood from the fact that he came into the world, nor should we conclude that the Holy Spirit is a person simply because it "came from the Father." Function is not equivalent to ontology, as I've demonstrated in previous weeks.

You say that the term "Paraclete" confirms the Holy Spirit was someone, not just something; but what exactly is the reasoning here? I can refer to my daughter's "comfort blanket" without suggesting that the blanket itself is a literal person with the ability to encourage, comfort, support, help, defend, etc. At most, the use of the term "Paraclete" might imply that the Holy Spirit was spoken of as if it was someone. But this is not the same as literal personality.

You briefly raise some grammatical points, which as far as I can see prove nothing except that the grammatical genders of Greek pronouns are required to match their respective nouns (I am pretty sure we established this during Weeks 2 & 3). This is not evidence of literal personhood. Your "key word" parallels between Jesus and the Paraclete are exactly what I'd expect to see within a context of personification, but they don't prove literal personhood either. Most of them could be applied to non-personal concepts and entities, such as signs from God, which can be "seen" (Genesis 17:13) "received" (Romans 4:11), "given" (II Chronicles 32:24), "shown" (Deuteronomy 13:1), and even have a "voice" (Exodus 4:8; see NET footnotes for the Hebrew idiom).

In fact, your list isn't even as long as the one I presented from Max Turner in Week 4 (Power from On High: The Spirit in Israel's Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts, Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), which demonstrated an extensive array of verbs associated with the Holy Spirit throughout Luke and Acts. You will remember that despite the extensive nature of his list and the strength of the "personal" language employed, Turner concludes Luke does not conceive of the Holy Spirit as a person and remains within the scope of the usual personification language already found in the Judaism of his day ("The 'personal' traits within [Luke's] Spirit traditions rarely move beyond the types of personification of the Spirit (and of the word, the Shekinah, the name, etc.) regularly found in exclusively monotheistic Judaism", p.42). You have given us no reason to disagree with Turner, nor have you given us any reason to conclude literal personhood from the list of parallels you've presented. Ultimately you've done little more than commit the fallacy of assuming the consequent.

You conclude this section by claiming irrefutability on the basis of "personal" language combined with "other elements of what John 14-16 says about the Holy Spirit cumulatively in the context of the narrative in which one person, the Son, is leaving and before he goes promises to send someone like him, the Holy Spirit, in his stead." But as we've seen, your argument from the sending of the Holy Spirit is logically flawed and does not prove literal personhood.

You slip the term "someone else" into this paragraph, yet you haven't demonstrated that Jesus was even thinking of the Paraclete as "someone else." You refer to the "context of the narrative", and I agree that we do have a narrative in John 14. What you forget is that within a narrative we can have a personification, and in order to have that personification we need a voice and face. That is exactly what Jesus provides in his description of the Paraclete. There is nothing "irrefutable" about your argument.

The NT describes the Holy Spirit in language that is both personifying and non-personifying. These two types of language will cohere if we recognise that personification is the principle which unites them. This is the most natural way to harmonise the evidence. Note also that this extensive personification is limited to John and Acts; elsewhere in the NT the Holy Spirit is most frequently described in non-personifying terms.

The Holy Spirit as an Actor in the Narrative in the Book of Acts

You begin this section with a bait and switch:

If the Upper Room Discourse is the first direct revelation of the distinct person of the Holy Spirit, we would expect to see the Holy Spirit become far more prominent in the Bible after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The lexical statistics confirm this expectation.

No, we'd expect to see the Holy Spirit become more prominent in the Bible after Jesus’ death and resurrection regardless of whether or not it is a distinct person, for the simple reason that Jesus promised to send it! The lexical statistics certainly confirm this expectation, but they do not confirm the literal personhood of the Holy Spirit. What you need to do is distinguish texts that contain personhood from those that do not, but can be read in the same way. Thus far, you haven't established the Holy Spirit's personhood in Acts. Instead you quote several verses describing the Holy Spirit in terms which are not compatible with personhood. E.g. Acts 1:5, "baptised in the Holy Spirit" (can you be baptised in a person?) Note that this is not "into the Holy Spirit", as in with the phrase "baptised into Christ."

You reference the OT to support your exegesis of Acts 1:8; apparently you believe the Holy Spirit possesses people and either empowers or compels them to act or speak. But your examples from the OT refer to supernatural entities, not supernatural persons. You need to make an argument from entity to personhood, demonstrating that the entity has personhood, and that this personhood is of the same kind required by Trinitarian metaphysics. You claim:

This OT background assumed that the “spirit” was a supernatural entity of some kind, not merely a force or energy.

No, not at all. This is just an unsubstantiated assertion. Where is the evidence for it? You haven't presented any. In any case, Biblical Unitarians allow entity uses of "spirit", so it seems you're trying to preclude an argument I'm not actually presenting.

You provide examples of the Holy Spirit "speaking", which I already covered in my citation from Trinitarian scholar Max Turner. Unlike you, Turner does not find the evidence from Acts "especially difficult to explain away", but dismisses it with consummate ease. You move on to the issue of the Holy Spirit "filling people" without stopping to explain how it could be repeatedly divided amongst Christians whilst still being a person (can a person be divided and shared out in portions, as the Holy Spirit was?)

While you do well to show examples of people pouring themselves out, you never show any examples of a person pouring themselves into somebody else or filling up another person with themselves, as the Holy Spirit is said to do. Nor do you address the very obvious fact that this language is drawn from the properties of water (a point I raised later, in Week 5). Even the Greek vocabulary is different; the NT uses "ekcheo" for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and "spendomai" for the "pouring out" of literal persons. These are not equivalent terms.

The apostles refer to the Holy Spirit as something which can "fill up", "baptise", "fall on", "come upon", and be "given." They refer to it not as God, but as something belonging to God; an attribute and extension of His divine power and presence. None of this has anything to do with literal persons pouring themselves into other literal persons or baptising them in themselves.

Even your example from Acts 5:3 ("Why has Satan filled your heart...?") does not prove the point, since Peter refers to Satan filling Ananias; heart but he doesn't say that this was achieved by Satan filling Ananias with himself. In answer to the question of how a person can "fill" another, you simply say that God "can do these things." Well Rob, if that's a legitimate argument we can use it to justify any belief of our choosing, however illogical, irrational, unBiblical or nonsensical. I'm afraid you'll need something more substantial than "God can do it!"

Throughout the rest of this section you continue your presentation of the Holy Spirit as an "actor" in the narrative of Acts, highlighting the personifying language but offering no new evidence of literal personhood and no reason for us to believe it. Luke's depiction of the Holy Spirit (both in his Gospel and in Acts) appears to be drawn from the role of the Angel of the Presence (Exodus 23) and attributes the same characteristics:

  • "Sending" (Exodus 23:20, cf. Luke 24:49 & Acts 1:4)

  • "Keeping and leading" the church "in the Way" (Exodus 23:20, cf. Acts 10:19, 11:12, 28, 13:2, 4, 15:28, 16:6)

  • "Judging" and refusing to pardon transgression (Exodus 23:21, cf. Luke 12:10 & Acts 5:4-9)

  • "Witnessing" (Acts 5:32, 20:23; note "spirit of Jesus" as a parallel to "spirit of the Lord" in Luke 4:18, with the possessive stress of "my angel" in Exodus 23:23, and "his Holy Spirit" in Isa 63:10)

Thus we see that the relationship of Jesus to the Spirit is analogous to the relationship of the Angel of the Yahweh to God.

Bearing in mind that the personifying language applied to the Holy Spirit gives the superficial appearance of literal personhood, it is appropriate that you refer to the Holy Spirit as an "actor" in the narrative, since an actor's job is to pretend to be something he is not! How apt.

Conclusion: Person or Personification?

You have previously conceded that personal language does not necessarily denote literal personhood. I agree. Hold that thought.

You say that any argument contra the Holy Spirit's personhood which is drawn from the wisdom literature (such as Proverbs) "ignores the genre and contexts of the different passages." This is an interesting angle which bears closer examination.

Firstly, you neglect to inform our readers that many of the early church fathers read Proverbs literally, believing that it possessed a dual application to Christ despite its original, non-literal context. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Arius, Origen, Athenagorus and others saw Proverbs as a source of literal statements about Christ, and drew their ontological subordinationist Christology directly from verses such as Proverbs 8:22. Clearly they were not dissuaded by the genre of Proverbs. Were they mistaken to interpret the text in this way? Should they have denied any connection between Proverbs and the pre-existence of Christ? Wisdom Christology is still alive and well in the work of contemporary Trinitarians such as J. P. Holding. Has he erred by reading literal concepts into a poetic genre?

Secondly, while it is true that Proverbs is a "highly poetic book" full of symbolism, idiom and figurative language, this does not preclude the use of such terms in non-poetic genres. Even historical narratives (such as Acts) can be strewn with idioms or figures of speech without compromising their genre, while the OT is replete with the personification and anthropomorphism of everything from sin (Genesis 4:7, "sin is crouching at the door") to heavenly bodies (Isaiah 24:23, "The full moon will be ashamed, the bright sun will be ashamed"). Personification frequently occurs outside non-poetic literature, including historical narratives. The lack of a poetic genre does not preclude personification.

Thirdly, while you have spent a great deal of time arguing that the Holy Spirit is a person, you have done nothing to show that the Holy Spirit is actually God, let alone consubstantial with the Father and Son. This is a substantial hole in your thesis and severely undermines your brash claim that "Unitarianism is incompatible with the NT."

Finally, your examples from inter-Testamental apocryphal literature demonstrate the consistency of Jewish pneumatology throughout this period, and amply support the argument I have already made on this point.

In conclusion, I leave you with these thoughts:

  • The Holy Spirit can be divided and shared amongst people; this militates against the idea that it is a literal person
  • The Holy Spirit is frequently described as a property of God ("My Holy Spirit...")
  • Why don't we find the Holy Spirit consistently referred to as a person in the same way, and with the same consistency as the Father and Son?
  • Why is the Holy Spirit absent from any visions which reveal the Father and Son together in heaven?
  • Does the Holy Spirit have a name? Is it called "Yahweh"?
  • Why does the Holy Spirit never refer to itself by the use of personal pronouns, as real people do?
  • Where in the book of Acts do we find the apostles preaching that the Holy Spirit is a person, and where do we find the Jewish reaction to this novel theology?

'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.


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