Sunday, May 20, 2007

Knowing the Holy Spirit, Part I: Who is the Spirit?

Editor's note: A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to teach a class on Sunday's this May on the Holy Spirit. I want to share this with you, my blog readers. I hope you learn something, and maybe can teach me something as well (there are some very thoughtful people who visit here). This is Part I of a series, that I will try to update twice weekly over the next few weeks (I currently foresee six or seven installments).

What do you know about the Spirit? Honestly, what do you know? Many people, Christians included, know relatively little about the Spirit and how He acts in our lives. According to one study by George Barna, 68% of teens do not believe the Holy Spirit to be a real entity (Barna Research Group, "Third Millennium Teens", 1999, p. 51). I do not believe that adults vary greatly from this figure. When I posed this question to my Sunday morning class I got an honest answer from one man, describing the general knowledge most have of the Holy Spirit to be in terms of Star Wars and The Force. While Lucas most decidedly drew upon the Christian Spirit (among other ideas) for the force, this is not a good basis for Christians to understand what it is we have been given from God, of God.

Paul admonishes the Thessalonian church "Do not quench the Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 5:19). We must ask ourselves, though, how do we know if we are quenching the Spirit if we do not even really know the Spirit and how He works in our lives? Thus, this series seeks to open up this though process and begin to reveal some of how we are all touched by the Holy Spirit. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again" (Matthew 5:13, NASB). In the Greek, to "become tasteless" literally means to act foolishly. And what is more foolish than a so-called Christian without the Spirit of God filling their lives?

Consider a grumpy child: he may normally be a good kid, but at times he is grumpy and argumentative. You see the action, and that is easily explained, but the action is not the cause. If you were to step back and look at things, you would most likely recognize that the child is not getting enough sleep; a lack of sleep has lead to a grumpy, fussy child. For Christians, the lack of Spirit shows in the fruit of our lives. The fruit, both good and bad, is often explained away without acknowledging the source of the fruit. So I ask again, where is the Spirit in your life? The action of the Spirit, or the lack thereof, is shown in our lives; too often it is explained away in naturalistic terms, in ignorance of the supernatural action of out God.

So, just who and what is the Holy Spirit? This is not a question of what the Spirit does (we'll get to that later) but more one of taxonomy. We know that Jesus is the Son of God, and we see God the Father; but how does the Holy Spirit fit into this Trinity? Is the Spirit a ghost (as we all recite in King James English), akin to Casper's big, really powerful brother? I'm being a bit facetious, but this seems the best comparison the world - or most Christians, for that matter - can offer up. We have, I aver, come to misunderstand just who and what the Holy Spirit is. We liken the Spirit to the supernatural phenomena we pretend to understand better: ghosts. The King James use of this word is not in line with the modern connotation, due to lingual shift over the last four centuries (hey, it happens). What we think of as ghosts today is better described by the Greek word phantasma, which is what Matthew used when describing the apostles reaction to seeing Jesus walking on the water (Matthew 14:22).

But that still leaves the question of who is the Spirit of God? Most Christians today see the Holy Spirit as a portion of the Trinity, a concept not explicitly spelled out in scripture. The best direct references to the Spirit as co-equal with the Father are in Matthew 28:19 (the Great Commission) and in 2 Corinthians 13:14, where we find the Trinitarian formula of "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit". But from the earliest times, we find that God was revealing Himself as more than meets the eye. In Deuteronomy 6:4 we find Jehovah proclaiming Himself, saying "Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah." (YLT) But the word "God" here is the Hebrew word elohim, a plural word. So, in one statement, we see Jehovah declaring Himself unified, but plural (i.e. one God, more than one face). In fact, as far as I can tell, every reference of a Jew in the Old Testament to Jehovah as "God" uses the plural elohim, while non-Jews use the singular 'elowahh to refer to Jehovah. I'm no scholar on ancient Hebrew, but that strikes me as significant.

Beyond this, we do find multiple instances where the Spirit is described as having divine qualities. In Psalms 104:27-30, we read of the Spirit being involved in creation, in life and death - very much actions that are in God's hands alone. In Psalm 139:7, we read of the omniscience and omnipresence of the Spirit, another characteristic of God alone. In Hebrews 9:14 we also see that the Spirit is eternal. A more explicit scriptural basis for the Trinity, and the Spirit's place therein, is not found. Addressing this, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus wrote in the 4th century:

The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely. The New manifested the Son, and suggested the deity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of himself. For it was not safe, when the Godhead of the Father was not yet acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor when that of the Son was not yet received to burden us further.
I can offer no better reason than this. And I am compelled by all evidence to accept the deity of the Spirit of God.

So, maybe I've been able to answer the question here of just who the Spirit is, but the question of what remains. Remember that I mentioned above the King James' use of the word "ghost" being different from our modern definition? Well, the Bible uses two words in speaking of the Spirit: in Hebrew, ruach and in Greek, pneuma. The Latin word is spiritus, from where we derive our modern word "spirit" But all three of these - ruach, pneuma, and spiritus - mean the same exact thing: breath, air, or wind. So, to speak literally, the Spirit of God is the Breath of God. Read John 20:21-22
21So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." 22And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (NASB)
Jesus bestows the Spirit upon His closest followers by breathing on them. How intimate and poignant this image of Jesus giving the promised gift of the Spirit of God by breathing on his disciples! Or, consider the vision in Ezekiel 37 of the valley of dry bones. Ezekiel is told that God will put His breath, His Spirit, in these dry bones of people and will give them life. Life, and demonstration of Jehovah's sovereignty and faithfulness.

Who is the Spirit? The Spirit is a part of God, is co-equal with God, is God. What is the Spirit? The Spirit is the Breath of Life which Jehovah places in each of us.

Next: Part II, What does the Spirit do?

, , , , ,


Tressa said...

I really enjoy talking and studying the topic of the Holy Spirit. Recently, my church did a series on this subject. You can download the sermons here:

My interest was sparked in this subject during a study of the Doctrine Of The Holy Spirit when I was in a mission training school. The most amazing thing I took away from this study was the deep understanding that the Holy Spirit is God.
The attributes of God are the attributes of the Holy Spirit, and the character and nature of God are the character and nature of the Holy Spirit.

I think one of my favorite passages on this subject is 2 Corinthians 3:17 "For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."

Because the Holy Spirit is God, He longs to speak to us. He loves us and accepts us completely. He provides for us and comforts us, He rejoices over us, and is faithful, He also counsels, guides, disclipines, and teaches us.
He is our helper (John 14:16) and I find power (Acts 1:8) and freedom in that!

Thanks for opening up this topic to the world of bloggers!

euphrony said...

That whole section of 2 Corinthians 3 is great. I'll be talking about that later. I hope you keep reading.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty well with you here, Euph, so I hate to mention this, but in Deuteronomy 6:4 the name for God is Yahweh in the Hebrew. Yahweh and Elohim are used fairly interchangeably in the OT and more properly represent different authors and editorial streams from different times being spliced together.

Also, you're right about elohim being a plural noun, but rather than being reflexive, or divine self-commentary, it is more likely a powerful monotheistic descriptor in a heavily polytheistic world. It is the Hebrews saying, "You have a god of fire, a god of wind, a god of fertility, etc. Our God is all those gods.

Again, love what you're saying and where you're going, but the Hebrew was just a little off. Keep it up!

euphrony said...

Thanks for the comment, Cach. Like I said, I'm no Hebrew scholar, so I take no offense when someone points out where my rough interpretation may be sloppy. I can do a basic this word in Hebrew translates as that in English, but without a lot more schooling in the society of the time I miss out on the idioms.

I think the basic point still stands, though. When Yahweh is spoken of by the Hebrews, they are recognizing that He is multifaceted and not one-dimensional, limited, or in any way simple to understand and classify. This point also stands in contrast and, in part, a rebuttal of the arguments I have seen some pagans make (I use pagans very generally here, to include all the non-standard religions). They will pull out the use of elohim, all the way back to Genesis 1, and use this as an argument for the bible's promotion of a pantheon of gods. They will respond to Christians that it is just fine to serve Yahwey or Jesus, but I serve this other god who was also part of the pantheon which created man. They will say that your god created you, and my god created me, so leave me and my god alone.

The thing is, when we as Christians talk to such well-thought pagans (and I find that pagans, in general, have given a great deal of thought to their decision, and so most tend to be well-thought), they will bring up such arguments. If we do not have at least a rudimentary understanding that Yahwey presented Himself in multiple ways, they will make mincemeat of our attempt to present Christ, and possibly tear up faith with doubt in the bargain.

Just a few thoughts on why I wanted to talk about the Trinity in this discussion of the Spirit. More to come tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Right on, Euph. Totally agree.

Unknown said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 2004, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages . God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Rodney!.!.!.!.! said...

Yahweh and Elohim God the Father's name is Elohim and God the Son's name is Yahweh. I read God the Holy Spirit's name jus the other day, but can't remember it. It seemed like it started with an 's' tho. hope this helps.

Post a Comment

Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment. Be nice, and it'll stay. Be mean, and it'll go.