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An Unitarian View of the Holy Spirit - Pg 2

Each of these listed functions of the spirit refers to the one God, Yahweh, in action.  The spirit of God is one of the primary ways of talking about God’s involvement in His creation.  Most scholars agree, as James Dunn has already noted, the OT does not teach a literal distinction between God and His spirit.  Oftentimes the writers of the Hebrew Bible employed literary metaphors when speaking of Yahweh’s deeds.  For example, one may say “the word of Yahweh came to me” or “the spirit of God came upon him” or “the world was established by His wisdom.”  These are ways of referring to the almighty, transcendent God in His mode of acting within creation.  In actuality, it was God who spoke to the prophets, God who empowered the heroes of old, and God who created the world.  However, these literary devices were used to preserve the “otherness” or transcendence of the greatest conceivable being and yet make plenty of room for His immanence and interaction within our world without raising any complicated questions.  Anthony Buzzard is helpful when he writes:

Anthony Buzzard on the Holy Spirit
If one combs through standard Bible dictionaries, it is obvious that ninety-eight percent of the biblical data is satisfied if we define the Spirit as God in effective action, God in communication, His power and personality extending their influence to touch the creation in a variety of ways…Is the Spirit really anything other than God’s energy, inspiring human beings to perform extraordinary feats of valor, endowing them with special artistic skill or miraculous powers, and especially communicating divine truth?[8]

Can we conclude the spirit is merely an impersonal power, a kind of empowerment given to the creatures He favors like a battery pack?  Certainly not.  Is it merely a communication device, like a radio transceiver which can send and receive messages from God?  Certainly not.  The spirit of God is a way of referring to Yahweh in action.  Consequently, criticizing His spirit is the same as criticizing God Himself.  To say God’s spirit is impersonal is like calling someone’s written communication impersonal.  A letter carries an author’s message, including his or her intentions and emotions.  Of course, a piece of mail is not a person, but it is the very expression of a person.  One experiences the distant person as near through the letter.  God is so holy that even the holiest among us cannot see His face and live (Exodus 33:20).  Until the resurrection, we are simply incapable of enjoying His immediate presence.  Even so, He longs to communicate with us and have a relationship with us.  He interacts with us through His spirit, His word, His empowerment, His wisdom, etc.  Although God’s spirit is intensely personal, Dunn is right to state, “But of the Spirit as an entity in any sense independent of God, of Spirit as a divine hypostasis, there is nothing.”[9]   Thus, we conclude (regarding OT pneumatology) that God’s spirit is not a person, though it is very personal—it is the very self-expression of Yahweh, the one God (Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 6:4).

The Spirit in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)

When one flips the page entitled “The New Testament” and enters the territory of Matthew chapter one, the definitions gained from the OT do not suddenly disappear.  In fact, in the first three Gospels, references to the spirit of God are very much in tune with what we have already discovered.  The holy spirit caused the generation of life in the virgin Mary (Matthew 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35); Jesus baptizes with it (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16); it descended upon Christ at his baptism (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22); it drove Jesus to go into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1); it gave the disciples words to speak when on trial (Matthew 10:20; Mark 13:11; Luke 12:12); it enabled Christ to proclaim justice (Matthew 12:18); it empowered the Messiah to cast out demons (Matthew 12:28); it inspired David to write psalms (Matthew 22:43; Mark 12:36); it caused prophetic utterances (Luke 1:41, 67), it was upon Simeon (Luke 2:25), it reveals truth about the future (Luke 2:26), it empowered Jesus (Luke 4:14), and it is given by the Father to those who ask (Luke 11:13).

God’s spirit is His influence, presence, and power at work accomplishing His will in the universe in general and in among His people in particular.  This empowerment made possible the miracles recorded throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as well as in the Gospels.  For example, Jesus himself plainly stated God’s spirit empowered him to drive out demons:

Matthew 12:28
But if I cast out demons by the spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Luke 11:20
But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

This simple equation, “the spirit of God = the finger of God,” marvelously supports what we have already found—the spirit is the means by which God acts, much like a body.  I interact with the world through my body.  God interacts with the world through His spirit—like a finger.  All of what Christ was able to do was a result of the anointing of God’s spirit.  Peter put it this way, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the holy spirit and with power, and how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).  Jesus’ ability to heal was made possible by the empowering spirit of God—God with him.

In conclusion, the synoptic Gospels do not contain significant changes from what we have already seen in the OT.[10]   Jesus saw himself as a man inspired and empowered by the God’s spirit.  This enabled him to speak on God’s behalf and perform miracles just like some of the prophets of old.

The Spirit in John

In the first portion of the Gospel of John, the holy spirit is spoken of as something descending from heaven to remain upon Jesus (John 1:32-33), as the means by which one is born again (John 3:5), as an enablement for Christ to speak the words of God (John 3:34), as a way in which one worships the Father (John 4:23), as the essential nature of God (John 4:24), as a life giver (John 6:63), and as something to be received by the disciples (John 7:39).

It is clear from these examples that the essential character and functionality of God’s spirit has not changed.  However, the claim that is made by John 7:39 seems to contradict everything we have discovered.  “But this he spoke of the spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for the spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).  Obviously, the spirit had been given in OT times as well as in Jesus’ own ministry as evidenced by his miracles and healings.  Nonetheless, there must be some significant difference between the spirit hitherto available and what Jesus said in John 7:39.

The answers are found in the chapters of John that make up the last supper discourse (John 13-17).  During this dinner conversation, our Lord explains the coming presence of the parakletos (translated paraklete, comforter, helper, or advocate).[11]   Jesus outlines the following chain of events: (1) the disciple demonstrates love for Jesus by keeping his commandments (John 14:15); (2) Jesus asks the Father to send the paraklete (John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7); and (3) he sends it in Jesus’ name to abide in the believer forever (John 14:16, 26). 

The paraklete is “the spirit of truth” (John 14:17), which will teach the disciples all things and bring to their remembrance all that Jesus had said (John 14:26), testify about Jesus  (John 15:26), be more advantageous to the saint than the presence of Christ on earth (John 16:7), convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11), guide them into all truth by speaking only what “he” hears (John 16:13), and disclose Christ to the disciple (John 16:14-15).  Jesus revealed to his disciples that these new functions of the spirit would become available after he ascended to the Father.  Some interesting language switches occur in this section of John’s Gospel that deserve our attention.  In some instances, Jesus tells them he will send the paraklete; in others, he says, “I will come to you.” Note below:

The Helper (Paraklete) Will Come

He will give you another helper, that he may be with you forever 14:16
the helper, the holy spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you 14:26
when the helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father… 15:26
if I do not go away the helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you 16:7
when he, the spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth 16:13

 

Jesus Will Come

I will come again and receive you to myself 14:3
I will come to you 14:18
you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you 14:17
he who loves me…I will love him and will disclose myself to him 14:21
if anyone loves me, he will keep my word…and we will come to him and make our abode with him 14:23
I go away, and I will come to you 14:28
‘a little while, and you will see me;’ and, ‘because I go to the Father’ 16:17

 

 

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[8] Anthony Buzzard, The Doctrine of the Trinity ©1998, International Scholars Publications, page 226.

[9] James  DG Dunn, Christology in the Making (second edition) ©1989, Eerdmans Publishing Co., page 136 (emphasis mine).

[10] A possible exception could be the foreshadowing demonstrated by interchanging the spirit (Mark 13:11) for Jesus himself (Luke 21:14-15).

[11] Parakletos occurs 5 times in the NT (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; 1 John 2:1).  The word literally means someone or something called alongside, i.e. a helper, advocate, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





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