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.

Pushback: "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!"

Response: This is a surprisingly 'easy' objection. Just look at the following verses:

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.)
Pushback: "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?!"

Response: 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.
Pushback: "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."

Response: 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':

  1. 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.)

  2. 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).

  3. 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.).

  4. It is a place that exudes life! (cf. 2 Cor 3.6: the Spirit gives life. and John 6.63)

  5. 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.)

  6. 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!):

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.

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