The Trinity (IVb)
Pushbacks: Problems in the NT Witness to The Holy Spirit
In this section, I intend to examine a difficulty or two in the NT data relative to the deity of Holy Spirit. Most of the pushbacks relate to the personality/individuality of the Spirit, as opposed to His deity (as indicated earlier), so our pushback section will simply extend the issues in those areas in more intensive ways.
"Glenn, if (and I'm not saying I agree or disagree with you) the Holy Spirit is a person, then WHY is He described in such non-personal ways--'filled with', 'drinking of', 'poured out', 'given'? Seems AWFULLY MISLEADING to me!"
This is a surprisingly 'easy' objection. Just look at the following verses:
- Eph 1.22: the church, 23 which is his (i.e. Christ's) body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. . NOTICE: Christ 'fills things'.
- Eph 4.10: He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)--NOTICE: Jesus 'fills' the universe.
- Eph 3.19: that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.--NOTICE: there is a filling of the 'fullness of God'
- Eph 4.13: until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.--NOTICE: there is a 'fullness of Christ'
- Col 1.19: For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,--NOTICE: 'fullness' has something to do with 'character/nature'--NOT necessarily 'liquid volume'!
- Gal 3.27: for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.--NOTICE: Christ is pictured as a liquid.
- I Cor 12.13: For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free -- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. NOTICE: We should no more be disturbed by 'drinking from the Spirit' than we should be of 'eating the flesh and blood of Jesus' (cf. John 6.50 etc: 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."
- John 3.16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,--NOTICE: God 'gave' His Son also...
The point should be clear by now. The 'substance-oriented' images are ALSO applied to Christ, who is obviously "personal." The impersonal data cannot, accordingly, overturn the already-examined mass of data on the personality of the Spirit.
(It is a SEPARATE issue--an exegetical one--as to WHY God used impersonal images for both Christ and the Spirit, but these are simply literary device questions and easily determined in context. I personally think the 'substantial/localized' images of the Spirit are to communicate to us BOTH the 'reality' of His presence in our lives, AND the individuality of our separate relationships with God.)
"I think your data for the personality of the Spirit is misleading. We DO have extended personifications in Holy Writ (e.g. Wisdom in Proverbs) and sin itself is said to reign (Rom 5.2), be a slave master (Rom 6.17), seize opportunities (Rom 7.8), be alive (Rom 7.9, 17), give birth (Jas 1.15)--surely you are not going to argue that SIN is a 'person' are you, Glenn?!"
No, not at all. The issue is NOT whether personifications ever occur in Scripture(!), but whether they can be IDENTIFIED as such in the text. We are normally given textual 'clues' that a personification is being intended (e.g. sin gives birth to DEATH), and, in the case of widely used personifications (e.g. sin as a slave master), it becomes the dominant non-literal use of the word. In other words, we don't have a WIDE range of different personal characteristics applied to 'sin', in a WIDE number of usages. ONLY ONE major theme (i.e. sin as an evil slave master) takes 'hold' and even then it is used only sparingly.
To put this a bit in perspective, let us remember that figurative uses of a term are DEPENDENT on the literal usages of the term. To see WHICH is the basis for the other (i.e. the personal as a personification of the impersonal, OR the impersonal as an 'effect from the cause' from the personal) we need to review the relative frequency of each usage. For example, in the case of "sin" the number of impersonal passages in the NT are around 200--the verses that portray sin as personal are numbered below 10. This would (barring other special factors) indicate that the IMPERSONAL was more primary (and hence, the basis for) the PERSONAL usages.
In the case of the Holy Spirit, the OPPOSITE is the case. Of the cases in which the Spirit is definitely either described impersonally (e.g. 'pour out' , 'on me', a 'seal', a 'deposit'), or personally (e.g. thinking, teaching, speaking, warning, being grieved, etc.)--the PERSONAL references (in Acts-Jude) outnumber the IMPERSONAL ones by a factor of 5! And the 'personal action' verses also outnumber the 'not-sure' usages (e.g. 'filled with', 'given') by approximately 2 to 1. From normal canons of literary criticism, this would indicate that the PERSONAL characteristics of the Spirit are used as the basis for the other--i.e., the Spirit is considered a personal agent by the writers.
"I don't know, Glenn...when I read those passages that talk about 'pouring out' or God giving the Spirit 'without measure' to Jesus or 'where the Spirit is...', I get the distinct notion of some tangible, localized 'extension' of God."
Fantastic! Then you DO sorta understand! That seems to be God's point--subject to a bit of metaphysical bafflement. The Holy Spirit does represent a localized presence of God--a 'place' where one is confronted with the One, as in the Temple or the Shekinah Glory. He is not just a MANIFESTATION of God, but a MEDIATION of God. Where the Spirit of God is, there is a very center of God's activity.
Whereas a MANIFESTATION of God might be a simple message (e.g. a vision or a dream), a MEDIATION of God's presence creates 'holy ground' (cf. Ex 3.2ff: There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight -- why the bush does not burn up."
4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!"
And Moses said, "Here I am."
5 "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." and Joshua 5.15).
Without getting too far into the theology, let us note a few characteristics of such a 'place':
- It is a place where revelation/insight occurs. (cf. Psalm 73.16: When I tried to understand all this,
it was oppressive to me
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny... with I Cor 2.12: We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.)
- It is a place, even though the power of God is present there against evil (cf. Exodus 19.12), that God will NOT allow to be exploited or manipulated too long(cf. I Sam 4 and I Cor 3.16-17).
- It is a place that exudes freedom from insensitivity to God's presence (cf. 2 Cor 3.17: where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.) and that increases the power of the will (Gal 5.23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace... and self-control. and 2 Tim 1.7: For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.).
- It is a place that exudes life! (cf. 2 Cor 3.6: the Spirit gives life. and John 6.63)
- It is a place that exudes power (cf. 2 Tim 1.7: For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.)
- It is a place that exudes love (cf Rom 5.4: because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit,)
One of the main arguments of Jesus, on the night before He died, that it was to the disciples' benefit that He leave, was SPECIFICALLY that they would receive the Holy Spirit somehow 'inside' their personalities (or bodies). In I Cor, the believer is called the Temple of the Holy Spirit. God has a center of activity inside the believers conscious and unconscious mind!
Over the years of thinking about the Spirit's ministry (as delineated above), I have tried to understand exactly 'WHAT' the above things mean! (or perhaps 'how' they work inside my mind--no doubt due to a questionable curiosity!) At the BAREST minimum, the above points can be rephrased as (remember, at a minimum-only paraphrase level--I do not pretend to exhaust the richness of the above, nor do I pretend that my list is even remotely complete!):
- Insight--the Spirit somehow affects background heuristic mechanisms, so that relevant patterns are suggested for the insight 'match'. In the case of theological areas of knowledge, this may be through the use of centrally-organizing paradigms, such as the Cross or love or revelation.
- activity of God against evil--the Spirit somehow 'brings' moral issues up for judgment 'faster over time'. Judgment (or at least visibility) of my own ethical aberrations occurs much more rapidly now than it did 15 years ago. This is perhaps due to an increased conscience, but it must be noted that my conscience is also much more free than it was 15 years ago--my legalism is way below quota for my upbringing! This increased sensitivity to moral issues is probably due to epistemic improvements as well.
- freedom from insensitivity to God's presence is probably also epistemic (relative to the pattern recognition issue used in non-verbal communication--I recognize God's 'handiwork' in my life now because of a mix of hermeneutical keys from scripture and previous analogous personal interactions); and the power of the will I understand (vaguely at this point) as a growing transcendence of personal will over the normal semi-causal mechanisms in our decision-making complexes. [In terms of paleo-Thomism, this is an ability to modify the habitus deliberately!] To put it pictorially, just as Moses face 'glowed' after He spent time in a locus of God's activity (Ex 33!), so our will 'glows' with a derivative version of God's mastery over nature. We have more 'rule' over the nature that is called 'us'! (Although it also fades, and requires frequent re-exposure to God!! read "quiet times with God") [I realize this is VERY fuzzy, but I will have to develop this LATER--outside of a course on the Trinity.]
- life--I have generally considered life to be the only "entropy-reducing" impulse in the universe. At a conceptual level, a body without life decays linearly--in accordance with 2nd-thermo--but a LIVE body (through eating, exercise, regeneration, growth, etc.) actually 'seems' to reverse the entropy in the system (by actually 'outrunning it'). That the Spirit produces this in the life of believers is experienced by the vast majority of authentic/active Christians. They use the phrases like 'He changed my life' or 'He created a new heart in me' or 'He gives me strength each day'. The scripture, of course, documents this in a number of ways/under a number of images. Consider just two:
An additional element of this is higher levels of self-organization. Just as higher life forms can be seen as having higher 'levels' of self-organization, so the spiritual dimension MIGHT be understood as consisting of 'pure organization'. For example, when some define God as a 'disembodied mind' (e.g. W.L. Craig, in Reasonable Faith), is that not close to 'a solely conscious organization' or 'an ultimate personality'? Higher levels of organization in the believer's life DOES NOT MEAN my filing system is less confusing or that my memory is any better than it used to be (!!!!!), but it MIGHT mean that my consciousness is somehow better integrated with ALL 'dimensions' of reality--INCLUDING those of 'insubstantial patterns.'
- Romans 12.2: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
- 2 Cor 4.16: Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
- power--I have generally related this to the freedom of the will (above), with a special note on the increasing ability to 'stay transcendent' or to 'stay above the causals'. The ability to resist temptation or to resist distraction while in pursuit of an objective might be an example. The biblical value of 'perseverance' is the basic model--the ability to 'weather the storms' and to direct conscious attention (avoiding distraction) over a longer period of time and/or in a more 'noisy' context.
- love--this seems to be a goal of much of the above (cf. I Tim 1.5: The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. ). When one can truly exert powerful will (through freedom from insensitivity and increased ability to focus personal resources) in the direction of the higher/highest-organization of good (i.e. focusing on God and people--cf. the Two Great Commandments), being sensitive to higher-level patterns in reality (i.e. being obedient to the in-time direction of the Father), and overcome the 'noise' of life (i.e. overcoming both the distractions of sin/evil AS WELL AS the temptations to 'settle for less')...one approximates the life of Christ. He resolutely 'set his face to go to Jerusalem' (Luke 9.51: As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.), and struggled with 'noise' the intensity of which we cannot even image, in the Garden of Gethsemane...He didn't come "to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10.45)...teeth gritting, jaw-clenching love...love that would stop to kiss babies and hug children...but love that gave its life for its friends (John 15.13--Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends., but compare how wide His understanding of 'friend' was--in Mt 26.50 He said to Judas as he betrayed Him with a kiss: "Friend, do what you came for."!)...
Well, I did it again--I explained the obscure by the MORE obscure! Sorry, but you get the idea--where God is, great things happen--life, love, freedom, insight, learning, feedback--from the 'inside out'!
MEDIATION is accordingly different from MANIFESTATION (although the two CAN occur together--cf. Gen 28.10-11). And if you get the idea that the Spirit IS a 'localized extension' (i.e. presence, center of activity) of God, then you have realized the awesome resources that grace has given those of us who live on this side of the Cross.
Summary: our examination of these pushbacks only leads us farther into the wonder of God's Spirit--His personal character, His intimacy with us, His awesome activity within our lives.
The Christian ThinkTank...[https://www.Christianthinktank.com]