Person of Holy Spirit in Triune God
Dr. John Alex
The early converts of Christians were from Jewish background and the church has its beginning in a Jewish environment. Until the emergence of the Christian cannon the Holy Writings of Judaism was considered as the Scripture for Christians. The Christians believed that they worship the God which is narrated in the Holy Scripture of Judaism.
The Christians inherit the strict monotheistic belief of God from the Jewish affirmation of God. In the later years a prominent question in the church was who is God? The reality of God in Jesus as well as the work of the Spirit became vital in the reflection of the Church. The Church was in need to affirm that the person of God is not one but three. Thus the Church developed the Trinitarian affirmation of God. The focus of the first four centuries of the Church was more Christological than Pneumatological. However, this article highlights the biblical portrayal of the Holy Spirit which paved the way for the development of the person of Holy Spirit in Triune God.
The Old Testament references to the Spirit of God do not easily form a single pattern. The term Holy Spirit appears only in two places (Ps 51:11; Isa 63:10-11). Two things can be noted of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament (i) activity of Spirit in creation and its life giving power. (ii) The Holy Spirit as the powerful mediator of the divine Word.
While referring to the Spirit as creator two words are used interchangeably in the Old Testament – ruach and neshamah “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of Almighty gives me life”(Job 33.4 cf: 34:14). Similar uses of ruach and neshamah as life can be seen in Gen 2:7; Ezek 37:9. In Genesis 1, ruach is much more coupled with word than life. Word and Spirit appear as complementary powers in the OT, one creating and other nurturing the cosmic order. By the power of the word the world came into being. The divine breath or the Holy Spirit brought chaos into order. The Spirit of God was active in creation. Schweizer points out, “The Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters [Genesis 1:2], which would express what the narrator doubtless intends, namely, that God is at work here.” It is the wind or the Spirit of God which stands behind the act of creation and operates in the separation of darkness and light, day and night, continents and seas. The creation narrative intended to explain that all life is a gift and not the works of our hands.
The narratives of creation in the Old Testament signify that the Spirit of God is the life-giving power. Schweizer further observes, “The Spirit of God is pictured in very vivid terms. God exhales and his breath put life into his creatures. God inhales and his breath is withdrawn from them and they die. Wherever life is awakened, it is the work of God’s breath or Spirit.” In other words, God constantly protects, sustains and perfects the creation through the Holy Spirit. The Work of God’s Spirit is a continuing one and is not like a clockmaker who started everything in the beginning and went into retirement.
The judges or the charismatic leaders stirred up in critical circumstances were filled with the Holy Spirit (Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:19). In all these incidences the Spirit of God had come mightily upon the warriors. However, when monarchy was instituted, this type of unusual and sudden experience of the breath-spirit had seized. For example, the Spirit of the Lord rested upon David (cf. Isa 11: 1-2).
The eschatological aspect and the life giving aspect of Holy Spirit were developed in the prophetical books. In the midst of dangers and storm the prophet Isaiah announces deliverance of the people of God and a future hope by the power of ruah (Isa 31:3; 28:5-6; 37: 21-35). Scholars vary in their opinion of identifying the ‘servant of God’ in the Servant songs in Deutro Isaiah. However, later Judaism identifies it with the messiah and early Christianity considered it as a Christological passage. The Servant is empowered by the Spirit to reveal and realize God’s judgment and justice for the nations (Isaiah 42:1-4). The missionary work of the Messiah, including the salvation of the Gentiles, will be accomplished through the Spirit. The Old Testament often emphasizes the role of the Spirit in establishing righteousness and justice (Isaiah. 42: 1-4; 49:1-6). In the Intertestament literature, the expressions “Spirit of God,” “divine spirit,” and “Holy Spirit” sometimes mean the God-given spirit of humans. In some cases, these terms also refer to that spiritual reality that performed God’s work on earth (Sir. 48:12).
New Testament builds on the foundational principle of Holy Spirit in the Old Testament as the source of life. In the New Testament we see that the Holy Spirit really enters the central stage as the Spirit of the Father (Matt 10:20) and the Spirit of His Son (Gal 4:6), the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7), the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9) the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2), the Spirit of sonship (Rom 8:15), the Spirit of Grace (Heb 10:29), and the Spirit of truth (John 14:17). The New Testament reflects in variety of ways the Holy Spirit and we shall look through the main strands from Synoptic Gospels to the rest of the NT writings.
All four Gospels in the New Testament agree that the disciples did not receive the Holy Spirit during Jesus' earthly life. They also agree that the Holy Spirit was present in Jesus in a unique way. Only a few sayings of Jesus mention the Spirit. This should not be interpreted as a rejection of the Spirit but rather as evidence that Jesus concentrated on the task of proclaiming and exacting the will of God, the saving and judging rule of God as King. According to Schweizer, “all Jesus' works are nothing else but the life of the Spirit of God.” Therefore, he spoke more about the kingdom of God than about the Holy Spirit.
As a result of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus the early church experienced the miracle of the coming of the Spirit. Therefore, in the Synoptic tradition, the Spirit is connected with the person and mission of Jesus. In Mark, it begins with Jesus' baptism. In Matthew and Luke, with his conception. The conception, Jesus’ baptism, temptation, victory over demons and the promise to the disciples are the important passages which Mark and Matthew connect with the Spirit. On the other hand, Luke emphasizes that the whole ministry is empowered by Holy Spirit.
Jesus is the promised Messiah in whom the power of the Kingdom of God has been broken into the world. J. D. G. Dunn, explores further and seeks to explain Jesus consciousness of the Spirit and finds in it the essential complement to his sonship. The central focus of Luke’s pneumatology is in Acts 2. The Spirit is seen in terms of the OT promise, the receiving and giving of it by Jesus Christ and its continuing activity in the church which has replaced the old Israel.
E. Schweizer points out the significance of virgin birth in the Lukan narrative, “it is the Spirit of God’s creative power as in Genesis 1:2 once more at work at the beginning of new creation.” Jesus believed that Isaiah 61:1ff was fulfilled in his own ministry as Luke 4:18-19 clearly shows “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Thus, Jesus saw his ministry in terms of eschatological blessing, good news, freedom and healing. The Synoptic narrative portrays the resurrection as the work of the creative Spirit of God. Moltmann writes, True Easter faith is the work of the Spirit, for believing in Christ’s resurrection doesn’t mean affirming a historical fact, and saying ‘Oh really?’ it means being seized by the life-giving Spirit and experiencing ‘the powers of the world to come (Heb. 6.5) in our own dying and living…. There is no Easter theology without a theology of Pentecost, and no Pentecost theology without Easter theology.
Holy Spirit in Johannine Thought
In the Fourth Gospel, the Spirit is not an independent unity, but is closely related to the words and works of Jesus. The Spirit descends on Jesus and remains on him. The Spirit does not act independently of Jesus during his ministry. Jesus has the full Spirit and only after Jesus is glorified does the Spirit exist in and for the disciples.
One of the striking features of Johannine pneumatology is the introduction of the Spirit as the Paraclete (John 14:16). Jesus had to leave before the paraclete (the comforter) could come. R. E. Brown observes that no single translation captures the complexity of the functions assigned to the paraclete in John. It becomes evident as we look at the various roles assigned to the Holy Spirit - witness, revealer, interpreter, and leader into the truth.
It is the exalted Jesus who gives the Holy Spirit to the disciples. TheSpirit, according to John, is the immediate and direct continuity between believers and Jesus. The Spirit witnesses to Jesus, forms and teaches the disciple community. The Spirit also convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. The world's accuser is the Spirit. Thereby, the world is shown to be from below and condemned because it does not believe on the name of the Son of God. The Spirit alone carries out the cosmic function by the Word. Jesus' death is interpreted as exaltation. His glorification is the release of the Spirit into the church and through the church into the world.
The Acts of the Apostles
The Book of Acts teaches that in consequence of Christ's ministry, death, resurrection and exaltation, God bestows the Holy Spirit through Christ upon all believers and inaugurates the last period of salvation history. No longer do only specially elected persons receive the Holy Spirit. Since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon every believer; Pentecost marks the fulfillment of the promise made in the Old Testament and by Jesus. Schweizer mentions that Luke seeks to overcome the concept of Spirit as a power that leaps on a human being and then leaves again. Dunn summarizes the role of the Spirit in the earliest Christian community as follows, “Holy Spirit denotes supernatural power, altering, working through, directing the believer…this is nowhere more clearly evident than in Acts where the Spirit is presented as an almost tangible force, visible if not in itself, certainly in its effects.”
Pauline Understanding of the Holy Spirit
The Pneumatology of Paul is Christologically founded. Congar rightly mentions that to be “in Christ” and “in Spirit” are virtually synonymous. However, it is to be noted that St. Paul makes a very clear difference between Spirit of God and human Spirit. In his theology, Paul affirms that the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God and we cry out in deep direct personal address, Abba, Father (Romans 8:14-16). Karl Barth also makes it plain that “He is not man's own spirit and He never will be. He is God, attesting Himself to the spirit of man as his God, as the God who acts for him and to him.” The spirit of man clearly implies only man's inward capacity and power which constitute his very being and personality.
For Apostle Paul, the Spirit of God is a dynamic power and the presence of Christ in the post-resurrection church and in every Christian. The Spirit calls, empowers, shapes and forms the confession, life, and hope of the individual Christian and the community. The presence of the Spirit is evidence for Paul that the old age is gone. The Spirit as the eschatological presence of Christ produces in Christians the mark of the eschatological life and points to the future consummation of the work of Christ. For Paul, the Spirit has both an individual and communal character. The unity of the church is inferred by Paul both from the unity of Christ and from the one Spirit. The one Spirit leads to the confession of the one Lord. Schisms and divisions contradict this essential unity.
The effects of the Spirit's work are both eschatological and social.The Spirit transfers persons to a community of those who are heirs of the promises, called to holiness and the praise of God. The Spirit is the one prerequisite for worship in the New Testament, the source of all charismatic, spiritual gifts. The Spirit's presence by Gospel and baptism is the indispensable prerequisite for the existence of the church which he mightily endows with his gifts.
After a meticulous study Gordon Fee summarizes the Pauline pneumatology as follows:
1. The Spirit plays an absolutely crucial role in Paul’s Christian experience and in his understanding of the gospel.
2. Fundamental to the Spirit’s central role is thoroughly eschatological framework within which Paul both experienced and understood the Spirit.
3. Equally decisive to the Pauline perspective is the dynamically experienced nature of the coming of the Spirit in the life of the individual and community.
4. The coming of the eschatological Spirit meant the return of God’s own personal presence to dwell in and among God’s people.
5. Trinitarian presuppositions are absolutely fundamental to Pauline pneumatology
6. Paul’s Trinitarian pneumatology is foundational to the heart of his theological enterprise namely salvation in Christ.
7. The Spirit is the essential component of the whole of Christian life, from beginning to end.
8. The Spirit is the key to all truly Christian spirituality, including prayer in the Spirit.
Other New Testament Writings
Karkkainen observes, “The Pastoral Letters show far less consciousness of the Spirit as a present reality; the Spirit’s manifestations have become more formalized and institutionalized in that they are associated with ordination for ministry and laying on of hands (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6)” The pastoral epistles narrate the role of Spirit in the inspiration of prophecy and Scriptures (2Tim. 1:7; 3:16). Titus 3:5 connects the Holy Spirit with regeneration.
The epistle of Hebrews speaks about God who confirmed the gospel with signs and wonders and the gift of the Holy Spirit (2:4). Hebrews also connects Spirit with the inspiration of Scripture (3:7; 9:8; 10:15) and with Christology (9:14). The Epistle of James has almost nothing to say of the Spirit. Peter portrays Spirit as the source of prophecy and the inspirer of mission and the power of Gospel (1 Pet. 1:12). The Spirit is also the blessing and source of strength in the midst of suffering (4:14). Jude has only one reference (19-20) which emphasizes that believers are those who have the Spirit.
In the book of Revelation, Spirit plays a crucial role in inspiration and vision (1:10; 4:2; 22:17). The book of Revelation mentions that “the testimony of Jesus” is “spirit of prophecy” (19:10). In addition, the Apocalypse mentions of seven spirits (1:4; 4:5) or the spirits of Jesus (3:1; 5:6), phrases those which are typical of apocalyptic literature.
In the Old Testament we see a close relationship between the word and spirit as the creative power of God. The Spirit of God works in the creation and empowers the leaders of Israel; In later Judaism we see the Spirit moving creatively in the direction of eschatological hope. The New Testament pneumatology depends on the Old Testament for its theological development. The roots of certain Christian perspectives on pneumatology lies in the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures which see the Spirit of God as a creative power and the principle in human life as well as the agent in salvation history who effects prophetic inspiration, revelation, miracles, moral renewal and a new creation.
The Synoptic writers, especially Luke sees the Spirit’s role in Christ’s life, and describes, how throughout his incarnate career he operated as a man filled with and empowered by the Spirit. This point to the fact that the early Christians saw Christology and Pneumatology in mutually constitutive terms in the light of a mutually constitutive relationship. Pauline pneumatology also is Christological founded. The experience of the Holy Spirit plays an important role in the individual and community life of the church. Thus Bible has a rich resource in constructing the person of Holy Spirit in the Triune God.