It is quite common for people to make observations about the role or meaning of the Holy Spirit based on aspects of the language Scripture uses—including comments about the ‘gender’ role of the Spirit. But careful reading of the scriptural narrative shows a surprising diversity in the language that is used.
The Spirit as hovering
You don’t have to read very far in the Bible before you come across the Spirit of God. In Gen 1.2, the earth is formless and void, and ‘darkness was over the face of the deep’—and we encounter the ‘Spirit of God’ who is hovering, fluttering or trembling over these chaotic, formless waters, waiting in anticipation to bring God’s light, order and peace as God speaks the creation into being. The image hints at what we will find in the New Testament, when the Spirit comes bodily on Jesus in the form of a dove at his baptism.
The Spirit ‘comes on…’
Despite this promising beginning, throughout the Old Testament the Spirit appears to come occasionally and sporadically, usually for a specific purpose. So in Exodus 31.2 and 35.30, the Spirit fills a metalsmith, Bezalel son of Uri, to equip him for the task of making artefacts of gold, silver and bronze for the tabernacle where the God of Israel will make his home. The Spirit is here associated with creativity, discipline, skill, wisdom and holiness.
The Spirit is particularly associated with prophets and prophecy, though not always in the way we might expect. The Spirit comes on Balaam and enables him to speak a prophetic blessing over Israel, against his inclination, in Num 24. In the Book of Judges, ‘the Spirit of the Lord’ came on God’s leaders, often ‘in power’, to enable them to deliver the people from their enemies (Judges 3.10, 6.34, 11.29, 13.25, 14.6 and so on)—even empowering the rather wayward Samson. At several points, the Spirit comes on king Saul, and he unexpectedly joins in with bands of prophets (1 Sam 10.9, 19.19). On one occasion the Spirit makes him burn with anger and this terrifies the people (1 Sam 11.6), and on another the Spirit causes him to lie naked all day and night (1 Sam 19.24)—not perhaps spiritual gifts we will be looking for in the local church!
The Spirit puts into David’s heart his plans to build a temple (1 Chron 28.12) which he then passes to his son Solomon; the Spirit enables David to utter inspired speech (2 Sam 23.2); and the Spirit sustains him in repentance and grief (Ps 51.11). After the split of Israel into northern and southern kingdoms, the Spirit equips and transports the northern prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18.12, 2 Kings 2.16). And at the time of the exile, it is the Spirit that ‘lifts up’ Ezekiel and enables him to see and report his visions (Ezek 3.12, 8.3, 11.1), language that John repeats a key points in Revelation (such as Rev 4.1).
And the Spirit comes on Jesus at his baptism, as well as on the disciples at Pentecost. Luke is particularly clear that Jesus ministers in the ‘power of the Spirit’ after he returns from testing in the wilderness, and that the Spirit enables the apostles to do ‘signs and wonders’. Using slightly different language, Paul expects that all believers are continuously ‘filled’ with the Spirit (Eph 5.18).
The Spirit of future hope
Alongside this ‘occasional’ activity of the Spirit, there develops early on a hope and expectation that the Spirit of God will have a more extensive ministry. In an intriguing episode in the wilderness, God takes ‘the power of the Spirit that was on’ Moses and ‘put it on’ the seventy elders, and as the Spirit rests on them (both near the tabernacle and away from it) they prophesy. When Joshua objects, Moses replies: ‘I wish that all Yahweh’s people were prophets and that Yahweh would put his Spirit on them!’ (Num 11.29).
The prophet Isaiah looks forward, beyond the time when the ‘tree’ of Israel has been cut down in judgement and exile, to the coming of a new ‘branch’ who will be anointed with the Spirit of God (Is 11.1–4), an expectation that Matthew believes is fulfilled in Jesus. The Spirit here endows this anointed one with six qualities, listed in three pairs, and added to the mention of the ‘Spirit of the Lord’ this gave rise to the tradition of the ‘seven spirits’ in Rev 1.5 and the idea of the ‘sevenfold Spirit’ in Christian theology.
This ‘anointed one’ is later able to proclaim ‘good news to the poor’ and ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’ alongside judgement in Is 61, a text Jesus reads out in the synagogue at Nazareth, about himself, in Luke 4. Others see a still broader future for the people of God and the Spirit. Ezekiel repeatedly announces God’s promise that he will give the people ‘a new heart and a new spirit’ (Ezek 11.19, 18.31, 36.26).
The clearest statement of this hope comes in Joel 2, a description of the coming ‘day of the Lord’. This will be a time of judgement and disaster that calls for repentance, but also of blessing and restoration for those who are faithful. And the Spirit will no longer come on just a few, but be poured out ‘on all flesh’ or all people—male and female, young and old. At Pentecost, Peter explains to the crowd that these ‘last days’ have arrived, and they are witnessing the fulfilment of this promise (Acts 2.17).
The sense of hopeful expectation continues in the New Testament, since the longed-for age has not yet been fully realised. Paul therefore talks of the Spirit as the ‘first fruits’ or foretaste of the future (Rom 8.23), a downpayment guaranteeing what is to come (Eph 1.14).
The Spirit of the Lord
Throughout the Old Testament, the Spirit is described as ‘the Spirit of Yahweh’, rendered in most English translations as ‘the Spirit of the Lord’, following Jewish avoidance of speaking the name of Israel’s God. We should be careful not to read back later understanding into these texts; the central conviction of the Old Testament is that ‘God is one’ (Deut 6.4), and there is never any sense in which ‘the Spirit of God’ is understood as anything other than the power and presence of God himself, at work amongst his people. (Note that the plural ‘Let us make…’ in Gen 1.27 is not a secret hint at plurality in the godhead or an anticipation of the doctrine of the Trinity, but a simple plural of majesty.)
In the New, the Spirit is always associated both with God and with Jesus, and with the close relationship between them. The Spirit is the ‘promise of the Father’ but is poured out by Jesus after his ascension. In Revelation 22, the river of the water of life, a symbol of the Spirit, flows from the single throne of God and the lamb. The Spirit is the one who make real for us the relationship of Jesus with his Father as ‘Abba’ (Rom 8.15), and the Spirit alone enables us to say ‘Jesus is Lord’ (1 Cor 12.1). He is the ‘Spirit of Jesus’ (Acts 16.7) and is himself ‘the Lord’ (2 Cor 3.17). What Jesus says to his people is what the Spirit says (Rev 2,7, 11, 17 and so on).
The Spirit as wind, water, birth
In Ezekiel’s remarkable vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezek 37), the people in exile seem like lifeless skeletons, yet the Spirit (or wind) of God will clothe them once more with flesh, and give them life. In context, this is a powerful metaphor of their return to the land from exile, but it soon came to be read as a description of the hope of resurrection life in the promised age to come. The image depends on the range of meanings of the Hebrew ruach, which can mean ‘spirit’ or ‘breath’ or ‘wind’. A person’s spirit is alive if they have breath in their body.
The Greek equivalent pneuma (from which we have ‘pneumatic’ tyres that have air in them) has the same double meaning. So in John 3.8, Jesus says ‘The pneuma blows where it wills…so it is with everyone who is born of the pneuma’. We have to decide which of these should be translated ‘wind’, and which ‘Spirit.’ The breath/wind/Spirit brings life, and so Jesus associates the Spirit with the waters of birth—and thus water baptism signifies both new birth to new life in Christ and immersion (baptism) in the Spirit.
The Spirit as fire
John the Baptist predicts that the ‘one who comes after me’ will baptise ‘with the Holy Spirit and fire’. Fire is an image of judgement, purification and destruction in the Old Testament, and is not linked with the Spirit (except perhaps in Joel 2). Fire is the central image of the Spirit at Pentecost, and must there signify purification and holiness, hence its description as the Holy Spirit, and Paul’s contrast of the fruit of the Spirit with the works of sinful human nature (‘the flesh’) in Gal 5.
And the Spirit is closely associated with judgement. In Acts 5.3, Ananias and Sapphira ‘lie to the Holy Spirit’ which is the same as ‘lying to God’ (Acts 5.3, 4) and face immediate judgement. And judgement, or discernment, is one of the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Cor 12.10.
Understanding the Spirit
From this variety of language, two things become clear. First, there is no differentiated role for the Spirit separate from God (the Father) and Jesus; it is not possible to say that there are some things that the Spirit does, and different things that the Father and Jesus do. Orthodox Christian belief has always believed that the three ‘persons’ of the godhead will with one will and act with one action. So the Spirit is involved in creation, in forming the people of God in holiness, in empowering them, healing them, judging them and filling them with hope. The Spirit speaks the words of God and of Jesus to his people, and enables them to speak words of life to one another.
Secondly, the language of the Spirit tells us nothing about God and gender. The Hebrew term ruach is grammatically feminine, but grammar does not determine sex. The equivalent Greek term, pneuma, is grammatically neuter—but that doesn’t mean that the Spirit is a ‘thing’! The Bible is insistent that God is beyond sex and gender, even though some of the things God does at times seem more typical of what men do, and at others what women do. At times the Spirit might be described in terms we would think of as more feminine (hovering, brooding, bringing birth) but at other times in terms we might think of as more masculine (bringing power and judgement). And some of the language of the Spirit (filling, water, fire) are impersonal or inanimate. We need to take all these images together for the whole picture.
A shorter form of this article can be found in the current edition of Preach Magazine, reproduced here:
64 thoughts on “What language does scripture use about the Holy Spirit?”
Thanks for this Ian. Can you elaborate on this sentence?
“First, there is no differentiated role for the Spirit separate from God (the Father) and Jesus; it is not possible to say that there are some things that the Spirit does, and different things that the Father and Jesus do.”
I assume you mean theologically speaking, but how does that relate to narrative differentiation – particularly Jesus’ ascension and the Spirit’s specific work in Acts?
Thanks Christopher. Funnily enough, just re-reading this, I wondered whether to elaborate in the article!
I think I am pushing back at any idea that God does certain things, Jesus does certain things, and the Spirit does different things. The poorest example of this is the idea that God and/or Jesus are more ‘masculine’ in their actions, and the Spirit more ‘feminine’.
It seems to me that Scripture is really consistent in depicting the Spirit as the presence and power of God in action, and not God at work in *different* ways. Part of this is programmatic; I agree with those who observe that the verb in Acts 1.1 is an inceptive imperfect, so we should read this as ‘all that Jesus *began* to do’ in the gospel, which implies that this second volume is what Jesus is *continuing* to do by the Spirit and through the apostles.
Sunday’s upcoming lectionary reading also reinforces this; I think it is the only time where the Spirit is described as the ‘Spirit of Jesus’. And in Rev 2–3 it is very striking indeed that the words of Jesus to each of the assemblies is ‘what the Spirit is saying’.
So the ministry of the Spirit seems to be what it is that the Father and Jesus want to see done, and the Spirit enacts this. The Spirit might distinctively make things happen, but I think it is misleading to suggest that the Spirit has a distinct ministry, as though the Spirit wills and acts separately from Father and Son.
Does that help?
Thanks. It does help, but I think it’s possible to agree that the HS is part of the one God and thus not doing ‘different’ things, but also recognise the problem within the contemporary church that we too often overlook the specific role of the Spirit (and therefore the need to continue to pray, Come Holy Spirit – after all that ancient prayer isn’t Come Triune God!). And don’t get me started on whether it’s possible to say ‘my walk with Jesus’ post-Ascension…!
One of the most helpful, and edifying books I’ve read on the inseperablity of our Triune God, but from a different aspect is, “Communion with God”, by John Owen.
But it may not satisfy those of a purely academic persuasion.
And, All scripture is God breathed…
Or, we wouldn’t be able to have Ian write such a composite article, based on scripture.
Neither is it a dead letter of the law, but is, “living and active, sharper than a two edge sword, piercing even to the division of joint and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
God revealing God.
And yet the same God breathed scripture, tells us that eternal life is not found there, but in Christ Jesus.
Who knew? And how?
Who knew that the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead dwells within believers: Romans 8:10-11
Who knew? God’s Holy gift of God, himself, from Godward repentance.
Christopher, googling “inseparable operations” might find some helpful reading. It’s a key aspect of classical trinitarian theology.
Thank you. See my further comment to Ian…!
Thank you, Ian.
Good to reflect on multiple expressions of the Holy Spirit. I’ve never thought of listing some of these.
I guess that a focal aspect of the Holy Spirit is that (s)he has the power to open our hearts to awareness of Jesus. The Spirit leads and guides us towards Jesus.
Another image that always sticks in my mind (we will all have certain expressions which particularly have impact on us) is the way Jesus describes the Spirit as ‘streams of living water’ that will flow from within us. I understand that to mean that if we open our hearts to the power and flow of the Love of God, that love will flow through us to others. Given the primacy of Love, that seems to me to be a major aspect of the ministry of the Spirit.
That also connects with renewal, and how the Spirit can renew our minds, opening us up to God. That renewal, of course, is for one thing epitomised in being born again. But I am also mindful that renewal is not just individual. As the psalmist says, “You send your Spirit to renew the face of the Earth.” The Spirit is operative in new creation.
The Holy Spirit is also integral to baptism: our death to self and devotion to God, our burial into the protection of God, and our new life in the Spirit, which will ultimately be resurrection from the dead.
In my own life, I have sometimes (uncomfortably) found that the Spirit convicts. We are introduced through the action of the Spirit to the judgment of God.
Finally (but not finally, just my own last thing that I particularly think of with regard to the Spirit): the ruach… the wind… the gentleness… and the power. Just, wow!
A few years ago I sat down to write a specifically Trinitarian hymn. This was subsequently published by the Methodist Church and is here: https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-faith/worship/singing-the-faith-plus/posts/god-eternal-timeless-moment-website-only/
The verse for the Holy Spirit is:
Holy Spirit, word of wisdom,
dove descending, wind and fire:
sighing deep beyond our knowledge
search our minds, our lives inspire.
Tongues of flame and tongues of language
blaze the Word of God abroad;
may we here translate your wisdom,
guide your world to Christ her Lord.
(It was written for, and dedicated to, my aunt and uncle who had been missionaries and Bible translators in Borneo in the 1960s.)
An aim was to try to express different roles (that’s probably not the right word) for the three persons of the one Godhead; trying to walk that tightrope of separate identity yet unity.
And it also so happens that the hymn’s opening line specifically reflected your point “‘the Spirit of Yahweh’, rendered in most English translations as ‘the Spirit of the Lord’, following Jewish avoidance of speaking the name of Israel’s God.”
These struggles with language and understanding, with grasp and with mystery, also seem to illustrate why the language of imagination and poetry can be an important component to counter-balance our sometimes over-analytical (I’m a scientist during the day!) tendencies.
Wow, what a fabulous hymn! Here are all the verses for others to enjoy.
1. God eternal, timeless moment,
un-named Name of majesty,
morning star and evening glory,
source of life — its destiny:
you yet chose to shape and name us,
wove us in the deepest earth;
you ordained our days before us,
gave us freedom, gave us worth.
2. Jesus, helper in our sorrow,
Christ, who helpless chose to be:
is it sacrifice to follow
you to Calvary’s cruel tree?
Grant us courage, grant us grace to
die to self and love you still;
counting all things loss to know you,
walk your way and live your will.
3. Holy Spirit, word of wisdom,
dove descending, wind and fire:
sighing deep beyond our knowledge
search our minds, our lives inspire.
Tongues of flame and tongues of language
blaze the Word of God abroad;
may we here translate your wisdom,
guide your world to Christ her Lord.
4. God beyond us, God among us,
ever three, yet ever one:
re-create us, re-confirm us,
re-inspire us, lead us on.
God eternal, go before us;
Christ companion, come beside;
Spirit, be the life within, through
whom our God is glorified.
It is indeed a good hymn. My only reservation is that I would want a robustly trinitarian hymn to have a verse on atonement. Arguably it is in the atonement that trinitarian relationships are most fully revealed.
Possibly the weakest two lines rhythmically are
is it sacrifice to follow
you to Calvary’s cruel tree?
Perhaps an atonement verse would improve this. However, I would greatly love to have your writing skills David.
Hi Ian, I know you have a charismatic background, so I wondered how you understand the ‘baptism’ of the Spirit which charismatics typically view as a second, necessary experience post conversion? I have never had such an experience and I tend to agree with the late Michael Green’s understanding as expressed in his little book ‘Baptism’.
Some charismatics understand it this way under the influence of the (black) Pentecostal churches, who often teach of the difference between the sign of tongues with the initial receipt of the Spirit demonstrating conversion, and the gift of tongues given with the fulness of the Spirit.
I don’t think there is any justification for this two-stage understanding; baptism is (by definition) both initial and immersive. The trouble is (as Michael Green memorably said) ‘I leak, so I need constant refilling’.
And tongues, by definition, is not given to all believers otherwise it would be a very odd gift indeed, quite different from any other.
Thank you. It’s something I have reflected on, having come through a route of baptism as a child > then confirmation > then a fairly classic conversion and ‘born again’ experience as an adult > then a few months later, a few days after laying on of hands, the first experience of speaking in tongues.
Over the years my theological thinking – influenced by Dick Lucas’s mentoring – has been that there is ONE baptism, which for many is infant baptism. However, it is possible to experience that baptism in deepening ways, including what people a bit confusingly call ‘baptism in or with the Holy Spirit’.
I think that experience is real, but I see it as a continuation of the work of God through our lives (which can take many forms and expressions). An opening up to God, through devotion in a deepening way.
I don’t see it as a second baptism, but as a deepening of the initial baptism. The appeal of infant baptism is that it well expresses the fact that God takes the first step in salvation, not only in sending Jesus, but in our own faith journeys. Baptism is very much rooted in God’s first initiative.
I’m assuming as an Anglican that you endorse infant baptism. Personally I do not favour a person being baptised in water again after coming to more personal faith. But people’s views may differ.
Anyway, God being sovereign can work through various ways that people believe in. As far as I’m concerned I was baptised into the life of the Church as a baby – in a service more about God’s faithfulness than my own. God’s prior faithfulness. Then the time came (again God intervening) when I came to encounter Jesus personally and was able to claim and live out my baptism more deeply. But I didn’t need to be baptised again.
You have the conversion story, language and biblical knowledge of a believer. You have even been mentored by Dick Lucas. It seems to me you have successfully achieved for yourself in the spiritual realm what you have achieved in the physical… you have created an identity that looks like the real thing but falls tragically short of reality. I’d urge you to reach out for the reality you once seemed to know.
Thanks John – I trust your goodwill, and your decency.
Great words . A real hymn. Thanks Ian.
And I love this one too
Come down oh love Devine to this poor soul of mine.
I first spoke in tongues age 15. At church on Sunday I asked someone if they still spoke or prayed in tongues. He said he did. So do, I replied. The sin that dare not speak its name. !!!
Praise God, because it is a sweet and helpful gift – providing we don’t elevate it above the greatest which is love, that many Christians possess who don’t speak in tongues. Tongues, as I’m sure you’d agree, is not a sign of ‘better’ spirituality, and I sometimes think the gift is given to some Christians (I’d include myself) who are week or vulnerable, and God sees that we need that kind of encouragement.
My own thoughts on the gift of tongues here: https://speakingintongues.uk
I’d be interested to read Ian’s views if he responds to Peter.
Speaking in tongues used to be a condition for joining Women Aglow. A friend who could, came away from leadership in a local group, as she didn’t agree it wasn’t an identifier of a Christian.
In the last few years played a part in a young atheist, illiterate become a Christian through Christianity Explored course, which is not charismatic. The young man has a marvellous testimony, a got married, last Saturday.
As Peter suggests (above) I think, like all spiritual gifts, it is distributed. It is not proof of being a Christian, without which someone ‘isn’t a proper Christian.’ It’s one spiritual gift, and there are many others. I am not a preacher, some people are. The Body is not all made up of hands etc!
God bless the young man who came to faith, and bless his marriage too.
It seems that with the other members of the trinity the Holy Spirit is referred to with masculine pronouns. There seems to me to be a tie to patriarchy in gender in God (1 Cor 11). I wonder how far the demise of a biblical patriarchy (responsible leadership) explains the ‘lostness’ of many young men today. Ironically it is having a resurgence under Jordan Peterson.
My background is non-charismatic and although I believe I have been open to tongues and any special experience the Spirit neither has happened. I seek to live dependent on God and so on the Spirit.
Packer used to describe the Holy Spirit as the shy member of the trinity. The Spirit he said had a ‘floodlight’ ministry putting all the focus on Christ. With reservations this is surely the case.
I tend to agree with Packer, but as you say with reservations. I wouldnt use ‘shy’ but rather self-effacing, pointing people towards Jesus rather than to Himself. But we shouldnt forget that the early church was quite happy to describe what the Holy Spirit was doing. I think there’s little doubt Packer’s description reflects his own theology and experience, which was that the Spirit was rarely obvious, except through preaching etc. Tell that to John Wimber or John White!
In my preaching and writing I have been particularly interested in Christ in the Old Testament. More recently I have come to realise that this can only be pursued in a Trinitarian framework. We cannot, of course, praise the Lord Jesus Christ too much, but often we effectively ignore the work of the Father and the Spirit.
This is a topic that interests me too. Christ in the Psalms has been a pursuit.
I am interested too in the continuities and discontinuities between OT and NT (Pentecost onwards) believers. One or two books have come out on this in recent years.
The Revelation alludes to the trinity in chapter one as Abraham, Isaac and 5he Chief Steward. In Chapters 2&3 the allusion points to Esther’s year long preparations. Here the 7 maids helping her allude to the work of the Spirit. Also Lady Wisdom seems to reflect the voice of 5he Spirit. So far to me the Spirit is neuter or feminine. However the Angel of the Lord seems very masculine.
God transcends male or female, while fully feeling and understanding what it means to be both. To the extent that female metaphors resonate in some references to the Holy Spirit, that invites us to open doors to the idea that God is not (in our limited terms) just masculine and only masculine.
I commend ‘She Who Is’ by the feminist Catholic theologian, Elizabeth Johnson – some summaries here to save time: http://www.godde.com/shewhois.htm
I suspect that God is as much mother as father, notwithstanding Jesus’s encouragement to pray ‘Our Father’ addressed to a largely Jewish audience who understood God in masculine terms, and worried about the negative aspects of neighbouring goddess religions. The point is, God is parental and we are God’s children, and can turn to God as such.
When you think of our own arrival (birth) after billions of years of waiting, and what will be our resurrection life in the eternal household… all our eventual becoming… just think… from eternity, God knew each one of us. We mattered. God bore the knowledge of our coming to life, perhaps quite like a mother bears her imminent child, and treasures her child, dreaming of everything she may become.
I think there is maternal as well as paternal in God, and why wouldn’t there be: both male and female we are created in the image of who God is. Not that God is physically reproductive like us, but I do think there is such a thing (with a wide spectrum) of male and of female psychology. And both those kind of natures reflect God and are made in the image of who God is. So I feel, yes, it is often quite easy to sense the female in the person of the Holy Spirit.
One things for certain: the Spirit is not an ‘it’. (S)he is personal… more personal than any of us can be, and shares consciousness and awareness with the Holy Trinity. But as someone said above, (S)he is also in some ways self-effacing, which is a valuable model for power and the idea of power as a calling to serve.
That, at least, is a lesson for politicians who act out a toxic masculinity. There is certainly too much of that in the world, and it seeps into some expressions of masculine Christian leadership as well. We are called to serve, not to dominate. And I think the Holy Spirit often models that for us.
You’ll find that Angel of the Lord is recognised as a Christophany (appearance of Christ) see Alec Motyer and others. Also see your copy of Jesus on Every Page by David Murray
Yes , aware of that but recently I have been inclined to see manifestations in the O.T. as the Holy Spirit. Or the Spirit of Jesus. We see the Chief Steward representing Abraham and Isaac to Rebecca. This seems to be the model. The Spirit appears to John in Revelation as The Angel in the same way. Then throughout Revelation John travels with and in The Spirit. Each sighting is The Spirit. Even though The Angel refuses worship this is only because, as he explains, it’s Jesus who we should worship. Likewise The Chief Steward brings Rebecca the pledge of three rings The IS, the Was and Is to Come, representing the trinity. He is not the Groom but represents the Family until he should discharge his responsibility. Likewise the Spirit is with us, to bring us safely to Sarah’s vacant tent. Sarah’s Tent, the first symbolic representation of home , the New Jerusalem being the last. All the Stars come from Sarah’s Tent.
Hegai is another neuter representation of the Spirit’s care for us during our year of preparation. The seven maids are alluded to in Revelation as the seven stars/lamp stands. I have no problem by the way in a multiplex. The maids are Hegai’s .
Inanimate Stone with seven eyes or facets is another. Jesus is the Stone but the Spirit is the faces of the Stone. Same as the Lamb has seven horns/eyes. They are on the Lamb. Closely associated. The One on the cloud wears a crown. Same again. Cloud=Father God. Jesus is the One seated. The Spirit is His Crown.
I’m enjoying this… I could go on!
Get on one of the ten camels provided and follow the Chief Steward. I think all theological discussion should be conducted within the Bible. No ref. Or quotes from outside sources allowed. Refrain from saying Bauckham says this, polycarp says the other. Etc. We could have a grand time. Use parables. Allusions. Metaphors. Use more poetry. Less philosophy/logic. Poetry is underrepresented here. Sometimes you wax lyrical Geoff, I love that. Me? I’m always on the cusp of giving up. Every time I comment I kick myself like as if I’m a recidivist alcoholic. What am I saying!?
Leaving aside the wider issues of patriarchy and deity I agree toxic masculinity is a problem but I don’t think the answer lies in denying a patriarchal masculinity rather I think it is to show that true patriarchal leadership is one of loving service.
Patriarchy was never intended to dominate though such domination is a judgement of the fall; males abuse their privilege. I’m not at all sure that the brave new world of egalitarianism will a) manage to gain real traction b) create healthy male/female relationships. Already toxic masculinity has given place to an absent masculinity and a dislocated masculinity. I rarely meet a woman who does not want a strong leading husband.
My daddy was my role model. He was wonderful and I adored him. He was faithful and he was gentle. He didn’t follow the crowd to be accepted. So I do agree about how amazing a father can be.
He died of cancer at the age of 55. I miss him terribly.
I also admire strong men – morally strong. Providing they also have the gentleness that comes from strength.
I’m not anti-man. And I’m happy to call God my Father.
I always thrill a bit when Pentecost comes round. It is nearly here.
Don’t know if any of you read that book by Colin Urquhart: ‘When the Spirit Comes.’
There was also ‘Nine O’Clock in the Morning’ by Dennis Bennett.
And personally, I loved the way Mel Tari wrote about the work of God’s Spirit in ‘The Gentle Breeze of Jesus’.
I’m sure many of you could add your own favourite books about the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit shows us that there is a supernatural dimension to God’s sovereign rule, and that if God wills, then the supernatural can break into our lives, like a revealing to us of a deeper dimension of reality… a revealing of God’s life and power.
This was long-prophesied. As Joel wrote:
“Afterwards I will pour put my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams. Your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (2:28)
And this from Ezekiel: “I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the House of Israel.” (39:29)
And of course the words of Jesus as reported in John: “Whoever believes in Me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him – by this He meant the Spirit.”
So on the day of Pentecost, as we recall the Sunday after next: “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house… they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire… all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues… then Peter stood up: ‘This was what was spoken by the prophet Joel.’ ”
It is so obvious that God is supernatural, and the witness of many is the Holy Spirit still operates supernaturally, with wind, with fire, with prophecy, with dreams, with visions, with tongues. Why would we expect God NOT to be supernatural.
There is – of course – a need for discernment, for perspective, for the focus on God not the signs. And the Spirit blows where (S)he wills… God’s activity is God’s own sovereign will. Yet nevertheless, we should eagerly look ahead to the supernatural reality of God when we rise eventually from the dead, and we should live each day in the knowledge of God’s supernatural and a degree of expectation that, yes, God chooses to work supernaturally among us, opening our hearts to the flow of God’s Love, and any signs, dreams, visions God chooses to bestow.
The supernatural reality of the Kingdom of God can break into our world and our lives, and I don’t think there’s a hierarchy of holiness involved – ‘Oh, he speaks in tongues, he must be holier than me’ – not at all. Signs may be given sometimes to help people’s weakness. Only God chooses and decides.
But if we believe in a supernatural God, why should we expect God NOT to act supernaturally? It’s not really that surprising, once you believe in God. In fact, it may be lovely, sweet, inspiring, tender – or else you may experience the power, the dunamis, of the Spirit. All these actions are about opening to love, in different ways.
It’s always about love, one way or another, even when judgment is part of it all.
‘Come, Holy Spirit. Help us to worship. Come, Lord Jesus.’
Yes and yes to the first two books, Susannah,
There is a but, and it is that the cross of Christ precedes Pentecost. It is conditioned on the atonement, on first being redeemed, rescued in exodus.
And it is a continuity of the longitudinal Biblical them of the presence of God with his people.
God came down not leaving us as orphans, as Christ ascended. And Pentecost is an inversion of Babel now with a common Good News language.
And it harks back to the Jewish Festival, Shavuot, Feast of Weeks, first fruits of the whole (wheat) harvest. In the NT it represents a sending out of labourers into the harvest, by the Lord of the harvest.
In sequence, it follows the substitute blood covering of (Agnus Dei) Passover.
And in it there is a continuity of God with, in the midst of his people in the Exodus, after his rescue of them.
Thanks Geoff – that point about God’s continuing presence after the Exodus out of Egypt makes a lot of sense when seen in parallel with the continuing presence after Jesus’s own Exodus for us, leading the way for us to follow, but not left abandoned, because of the Holy Spirit.
You might enjoy, “Echoes of the Exodus – Tracing Themes of Redemption Through Scripture”, by Roberts and Wilson.
I should add, “Jesus on Every Page -10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Jesus in the Old Testament” by David Murray
Thanks Geoff, I looked at reviews of both these books, and I’ve ordered the Roberts and Wilson. Apparently the section on Ruth is very good, and that’s a book I have a particular interest in, though the whole topic has always interested me because there is so much going on in the scriptures at the thematic level, and exodus and baptism are absolute key themes. Thanks for the heads up!
Does everyone else find they have to come to the site to see if further comments have been made? I have an iPad Pro but seem unable to get alerts to added comments or posts. Is this normal with an iPad?
PS. Saving my name, email and website doesn’t seem to work.
I have had a busy day and find it almost impossible to follow threads. I’m on an iPad too, most of the time. It would be nice to be able to toggle between date and thread.
If you press Ctrl + F a dialogue box should pop up (it does with Chrome) and then type in May 17 (or whatever day it is) and you’ll be able to skip through all the posts for that day, or fine- tune it further if you just new posts in the last hour by typing: May 17, 2022 at 8 and all the posts between 8 and 9 will pop up (though you may get posts at 8 in the morning as well as 8 in the evening!).
I tend to just type May 17
That helps a little. Thank you. I’m hoping there are ways to find newer comments.
Ditto that, thanks Susannah
There is no differentiated role for the Spirit separate from God (the Father) and Jesus; it is not possible to say that there are some things that the Spirit does, and different things that the Father and Jesus do. Orthodox Christian belief has always believed that the three ‘persons’ of the godhead will with one will and act with one action.
Christian belief is only orthodox to the extent that it is in harmony with Scripture. That God is three is not orthodox, and the inverted commas round ‘persons’ is perhaps a half-acknowledgement of the disconnect between the first sentence above and the second.
As you say, the Spirit in the OT is the Spirit of God/Yahweh. He has a spirit, just as I can say that you have a spirit: you are not two persons. And as you again rightly say, the Spirit is the ‘spirit of Jesus’ (Acts 16.7). Jesus too was not two persons. Again, what Jesus says to his people is what the Spirit says (Rev 2:7, 11, 17 and so on). It is as the Spirit that Jesus speaks.
It is correct that the Spirit is himself ‘the Lord’ only if you mean that the two are one and the same. Paul puts it the other way round: the Lord – meaning Jesus Christ – is the Spirit (also 2 Cor 3:18). The veil is removed when a man turns to him (2 Cor 3:16, also 2 Cor 1:2).
The Spirit (a common noun used as a personal noun) has no name because he is not a person distinct from God and his son. He is never worshipped or glorified in Scripture. It is orthodox to baptise in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, but there is only one name. The Son came from the Father by definition, and the Holy Spirit is the Father and the Son come to dwell in the believer. It is on that basis that one is baptised.
Having acknowledged there is no differentiated role for the Spirit separate from God and Jesus you might as well go the whole hog and acknowledge that the Spirit is the Father and the Son. Because the Spirit acts and communicates specifically within the believer, I think he does have a differentiated role, but presumably you were being overly absolute in order to make the point that in reality there are only two persons. In which case I agree.
The Holy Trinity comprises three persons in community.
In all eternity they are household and community, sharing consciousness and awareness, just as God sometimes allows a person in contemplative state to share consciousness and awareness.
However, our destiny is not personality deletion in eternity, but communion.
Likewise, when we talk about the Spirit of Jesus, or the Spirit of God, that does not delete the person of the Holy Spirit.
Our difficulty is that we cannot adequately understand the extent of what ‘community’ means in eternity.
However, the Holy Trinity is a wonderful example of how we should ourselves (in our limited ways) seek community too. In all eternity, God is a household, a community, and the reality of the Holy Trinity – held as real through the ages by the Church – is an example to us all.
Being convent orientated, I think we can learn a lot about community from our religious houses. In the tradition of Teresa de Avila, and later Therese de Liseux, and in the writings of Francesco de Osuna, practised and emulated in many Carmelite houses, one learns through contemplation that sometimes God longs to share even consciousness and awareness.
And that is a foretaste of the eternal communion to come, but it is also here on Earth right now a lesson about how – though we are individuals – actually we are called to live in community, both with one another in the Church, and with the wider community around us.
Someone else’s problem becomes our problem. Through compassion we share in someone else’s suffering or emotions.
Yet, like the Holy Spirit in the Trinity, our individual personality is not deleted. It is precious… eternally…
Of course, words trail off, whether in contemplative practice or in the Bible. That’s because so much of God is beyond us, and so deep, reclusive, and unfathomable. I love that about God.
Yet this we know: that God’s desire to share in fellowship and compassion was so great that God came – in the person of Jesus – to even share flesh and live like that among us. And in prayer, are we not drawn into the consciousness and presence of God? And in contemplation, in the tradition I belong to, though we wait on God and gaze into a ‘cloud of unknowing’… yet sometimes God tears open the veil, and we are there… with God… and God is sharing consciousness with us, and awareness.
And I believe that is what awaits us, and part of what it means to be One in Christ, and in communion with God: but right now, words are very hard to express it all, because we are mortal and limited.
But from everlasting to everlasting, God has been a household, of three persons, sharing, loving, aware together, aware in themselves.
I believe in the Holy Trinity, which is a fundamental credal statement in the Church of England and the Catholic Church. The Trinity is a very great felicity.
The Spirit (a common noun used as a personal noun) has no name because he is not a person distinct from God and his son.
I don’t understand this, as ‘god’, ‘son’ and ‘father’ are also common nouns.
God in the OT has the personal name Yahweh. ‘God’ itself functions somewhat like a name, in English as in other languages, especially where the culture is monotheistic, but it is not a personal name in the way Yahweh or David is a personal name. In the NT God chooses to be known through his son, whose personal name is Yeshua. The name signifies his knowability. Through him it becomes possible to know God too more personally, but as ‘Father’ rather than Yahweh or any other name.
By contrast, the supposed third person of the godhead has no personal name. He is transparent: the person one gets to know through him is not the Spirit but Jesus and the Father. Because the Spirit is Jesus, is the Father.
The NT refers simply to ‘the Holy Spirit’, or ‘the Spirit’. As often as not, it does not use the definite article at all, so that the term functions as a generic noun. E.g. Luke 1:15. ‘He will be filled with holy spirit.’ There is no ‘the’ in the Greek and to add it (because of a trinitarian perspective) is to alter the sense.
‘Having acknowledged there is no differentiated role for the Spirit separate from God and Jesus you might as well go the whole hog and acknowledge that the Spirit is the Father and the Son.’
I have to say that that is a very odd comment to make, in light of you claimed approach to actually read what the text says.
Jesus in the gospels, Paul, and all other NT writers describe the Spirit as an entity distinct from the Father and the Son. How can Jesus talk of the Spirit given by the Father and teaching the disciples about him, if they are to be identified?
In Revelation, how can the Spirit be the same as the one on the throne and the lamb?
The one thing we can be really certain of about the Spirit is that the Spirit is distinct from both Father and Son.
Jesus in the gospels, Paul, and all other NT writers describe the Spirit as an entity distinct from the Father and the Son. How can Jesus talk of the Spirit given by the Father and teaching the disciples about him, if they are to be identified?
The Spirit is not an entity, a thing. Therefore God can give of his Spirit (and the notion of his Spirit is now, thankfully, common ground) without being diminished himself. The Holy Spirit is distinct from God and from the Son inasmuch as he is given, he is sent, and he makes his home in the believer, who of course is distinct from God.
If you find this difficult to understand, consider the analogy of light. Light emanates from a source, e.g. a star. Once it has left the star, it is no longer part of the star. But although it is distinct, having been ‘sent’, this does not make it co-equal with the star, or imply that the star and the light always each had distinct, independent existences.
The Godhead is imagined by me to be like a three sided prism. When viewed through one face two faces are visible. So if you look through the Spirit one sees the Father and the Son. Through the Son one sees the Father and the Spirit. We are in Spirit so we are always more objective about the Father and the Son. But , say, one feels the Fathers love, His provision, His care, One might see more objectively the witness of the Word and the Testimony, ie the Spirit and Jesus.
Perhaps, only in my imagination, when we see Him face to face it will be because we have been taken into the trinity. Hand in hand with the Father and the Spirit we are opposite and facing Jesus in a Quadrinity.
I allow myself this indulgence because I’m not completely sure. The doctrine of Trinity seems to have been polished up beyond what St. Paul allowed himself. We should not talk about our Host at the dinner table when He is present. Bad manners at best.
Thanks, as always Paul, for your writing. The one issue I’d like to challenge is the idea of the Spirit as fire. I’m not sure I’ll win this, as I’ve discovered that the idea of the Spirit being connected to fire is so hardwired in us that we simply take it for granted, but I increasingly think it’s an unhelpful, and unbilical image.
Fire, in life, and in scripture, is generally a negative image. Fire gives heat and is used for heating and cooking, but other than that, it is a negative, destructive force. That’s why we have a fire service, and why we run when someone shouts ‘FIRE!’
This is echoed in scripture, right from the start and right to the end, as fire always destroys what it consumes.
The basis, it seems to me, for us associating the Spirit with fire, rests primarily on the account of Pentecost in Acts 2 with reference to the ‘tongues of fire’.
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (NIV)
As others, better qualified than me will tell, the word ‘of’ in this phrase is a questionable translation. Some versions translate it as ‘like’, or ‘as of’, or ‘like as of’.
The literal translation of the Greek in v3, according to Bible hub is, ‘and there appeared to them dividing tongues as of-fire and sat upon one each of-them’.
The confusion, it seems to me, is the way everyone translates the word for tongues in two very different ways in the space of a couple of verses and therefore miss the basic point, which is that the Spirit filled the apostles and then gave them the gift of languages. If we simply translate ‘glossai’ consistently as language, (which is clearly the meaning of the word thoughout the rest of the passage) them all becomes clear and what ‘appears’ or is ‘seen’ is not little flames hovering above the apostles heads, but the different languages that the begin to use immediately.
In other words. There is no fire in this story at all. Just as there was no wind. The Spirit filled the room ‘like’ a wind, and the Spirit fell on each one giving them each a different language, ‘like a fire’ spreads through a forest… (See the Message and NET)
Once we have stopped seeing little flames in the Pentecost story we are also helpfully able to cut the Spirit free from fire imagery elsewhere. The baptism of the Spirit (which gives life) the John predicts, is distinct from the baptism of fire (which brings judgment), both of which Jesus will bring according to Matthew 3:10-12 as a whole.
Fire is an important biblical image for many things but even though all our tradition and liturgical imagery reinforces a link with the Spirit, this is one area which I think we’ve got wrong.
What do others think?
I believe very much that the ruach can manifest as powerful wind and the ruach can manifest as fire.
My description of one way that fire manifests is that (S)he wraps and envelopes in a kind of embrace, but S(he) does not destroy. That’s one example, but at Pentecost it is described in a slightly different way.
This may happen in association with the rushing wind.
You seem to be unsure about the report of the wind, and all I can say is that though the Spirit may manifest in many amazingly gentle ways, (S)he may also manifest in a wind so powerful that I can only liken it to one of those Saturn rockets in its power/dunamis.
In scripture, to respond to your question, I don’t think that fire is only associated with negative and destructive things. The burning bush burnt without consuming. And there is the passage in Isaiah that says that even passing through the fire, they will not be burnt. And there is also the account of the firy furnace.
The wind and the fire did not consume the upper room, but there was a mighty rushing wind, and I absolutely don’t take that as merely figurative, because in many ways it may be experienced as more tangible, and more physical, than the elements we experience in our ordinary everyday lives.
I have absolutely no doubt about the manifestation of wind and fire, and that the Spirit came with rushing wind and fire on the day of Pentecost.
Romans 12:11. ‘…τῷ πνεύματι ζέοντες…’ ablaze in/by the Spirit
I think the NIV & several other translations are appalling – “keep your spiritual fervour” – not only abusing the greek text but removing the fire of the Spirit and replacing it with human effort – but its what the Church have done for centuries
The great commentator on Romans, Prof C.E.B. Cranfield understood: “The Christian is to allow themself to be set on fire by the Holy Spirit”
The burning bush was not consumed. The disciples were not consumed. The metaphor of fire is apt for the presence of God. The New Jerusalem has walls of gold transparent as glass. Like, in fact, solid FIRE. He is a wall of fire. It depends on which side of the hedge you are. I imagine many present near the apostles that day bolted at the sight of fire. The curious would have noticed that heads were not burning and then, by sticking close by caught the breeze too.
Who guarded rentry to Eden?
And how about “refiners fire.”…my heart’s desire is to be holy.
RT Kendall’s book, Holy Fire, might be worth a look.
And where today is Booth’s song, “Send the Fire”, sung?
And how does one, blaspheme a none person? The only inforgiveable sin? Only Holy God can be blasphemed.
Thanks for commenting back.
Couple of reflections:
I’m not sure that the burning bush is a manifestation of the Spirit even though YHWH meets Moses there.
The text about Eden says that it was cherubim, not the Spirit, who breathed life, who kept them out.
The fire in Daniel was intended to be destructive. They were protected from the fire.
The ‘refiners fire’ is a powerful image, and is somewhat positive. But it’s not really an image for the Spirit and it’s an image for purification through fire, which happens because the impurities are burned away. A judgement of sorts.
My point isn’t that God doesn’t use fire. But just that is not the right image for the Spirit / Wind / Breath / Ruach / Pnuema of God
And then there’s Matthew 3.10-11
And then the fact that glossai always means languages, because language comes from our mouths, and is activated by our tongues.
And then the fact that the main sign of the presence of the Spirit is speech, prophesy, proclaimation, tongues, words, all of which relate to breath.
As for the many centuries of reflections, songs, and images, using fire as a metaphor for the Spirit, I understand where they come from but that doesn’t make them consistent with scripture. The Spirit as fire maybe ingrained in our intuitions and icons, but I’m not sure it’s helpful.
I’ve been to many a service when we have prayed for God to ‘send his fire’, thinking that we are praying a good prayer, but the vast majority of times in scripture when God (or anyone else) does send his fire, it is all negative. And this is primarily because the metaphor of fire works simply because fires burn things up. When God sends his fire, things get sorted but it’s not without cost.
Somebody made the observation that when the Spirit alighted upon Jesus it was as a dove but on the disciples it was as fire because there was still things needed to be burned… I think it’s pushing it a bit but I throw it in to the mix.
Personally I like the two edged sword combined with eyes of fire as a symbolic image better than a wimpy dove
I understand your reasoning, Richard. The burning bush example is maybe questionable as an action of the Holy Spirit, though it does provide a message about fire: namely that in the divine scenario, it may envelop but does not necessarily consume. As someone else said, it could also be seen as something that purges and refines from sin. In any case, I think it contributes to and pre-figures later pictures of divine fire.
Clearly, in some Bible passages, the fire – which might be expected to be destructive – is not destructive: Isaiah 43:2 for example. That verse is in a section which is basically baptismal in image. It’s about devotion to God, where fire, far from destroying, purifies and is part of the devotion (in the sense of sacrificial giving of a person to God).
God protects through the water and the fire “because you are precious and honoured in my sight”.
See also Isaiah 33: 14-15:
“Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with the everlasting burning? He who walks righteously…”
and the outcome for that person:
“Your eyes will see the King in His beauty, and view a land that stretches afar.”
My point being, that for the one called and given to God, the fire that surrounds the Holy is no longer something that destroys, but is rather a sign of holiness and communion with God. God surrounds and enfolds his beloved ones with a fire of protection and purifying.
Daniel 3, of course, also portrays God’s chosen ones as protected in fire. Fire and holiness of God seem associated, but fire purifies as well as destroying the impure.
We are to baptised, not only in water, but with fire, as Matthew 3: 11-12 makes clear through John the Baptist’s reported words:
“I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me will come One more powerful than I… He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
Once again, fire is portrayed as baptismal – associated with the devotion of the faithful in their givenness to God, and God’s purification and protection of them.
Then, as Joel prophesied, the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, with signs and actions of the Holy Spirit, both wind and fire. That is so recognisably the characteristics of the Spirit, and accompanied by other signs, that I don’t think there need be any doubt.
However, everyone may explore the scriptures to understand what is really being said, so I just mean, no need for doubt as far as I’m concerned.
One thing I don’t think can be overestimated is the *power* … the dunamis… of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost the Spirit came in power, like a mighty rushing wind. The Ruach really does rush, and contains, and envelops, and may do that without destroying… and the people of God were opened up to the great flow and outpouring of the Love of God. They were held. They were taken. And that’s the thing really: being given and devoted to God.
In the Old Testament, burnt offerings were sacrificed to God… ‘devoted’ to God. Fire again.
But in the last days, we ourselves are called to be the offering, the devotion (and the sacrifice if we follow the Cross of Jesus). Only we are not burnt and destroyed, “because you are precious and honoured in my sight”.
Thanks for replying again.
The away I read the texts seems consistent. The metaphors for the Spirit, related to the very essence if the original word for spirit, are breath and wind. Water, which also gives life, in which you can be immersed and baptised, and which can fill you, is added to this list. But where are the references to the Spirit that use the image of fire? I don’t see them. Have I missed them?
Instead, we start with the breath of God at creation. We then get the Spirit breathing through those he has anointed, and alighted on, and filled, who speak out and prophesy. We then get the Messiah, who is annointed by the Spirit in a image of a dove, and who announces that he’s come to fulfil the prophesies of Isaiah by preaching and proclaiming good news to the poor. And then we are the Spirit equipping the apostles with different languages and proclaiming the word of God fearlessly, in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy about the Spirit enabling all flesh to proclaim the deeds of God.
Here is the message version
When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. – Acts 2:1 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts2:1&version=MSG
The Spirit was fire like but there was no fire.
Hi Richard, Hmmmm, just one more obscure ref…
Sampson’s parents witness the Angel rising in the fire. I believe, it’s said, the three different names of God are used in this short narrative. It speaks of the trinity, an altar and fire. Geoff, back me up here!
Have spent a good while on my phone with a comment, but have lost it with a misplaced thumb!
But one point I’d make relates to the Jewish festival of Pentecost, Shavouot. The reference to fire is redolent of the burnt offering of complete devotion to God, ” holy unto the Lord.”