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The Holy Spirit in Acts

The Holy Spirit in Acts

This painting by El Greco in the El Prado Museum depicts the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost
This painting by El Greco in the El Prado Museum depicts the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost

How does Luke portray the gift and outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts? The gift of the Holy Spirit excites Christians in certain church traditions. Unfortunately, in some of these traditions, an understanding of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts is often limited to discussions about speaking in tongues, or miraculous manifestations. On the other hand, certain church traditions seem rather frightened about discussing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts. They want to confine it to a first century phenomenon and teach that this outpouring is no longer available today. In both of these instances an understanding of the Holy Spirit seems to be based more on a particular church tradition, and/or, reaction to the tradition of another church, rather than an investigation of the biblical text itself.

The Holy Spirit as the Origin of the Eschatological Community

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Available at Amazon USA / UK

In A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit, Matthias Wenk explores Luke’s theology of the Holy Spirit in Acts, as well as the Gospel of Luke. He is convinced, and persuasively argues, that there are two main truths that Luke seeks to communicate about the outpouring of the Spirit. First, the renewal of God’s people envisioned by the prophets, finds its origin in, and is fulfilled by, the giving of the Holy Spirit. It is the gift of the Spirit that makes this renewed community of God’s people possible. Wenk asserts that in order to grasp Luke’s understanding of the Holy Spirit in Acts, one must connect it with Luke’s understanding of the Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus (p. 117). For example, he states, “The Spirit-inspired words and deeds of Jesus (Luke 24:19; cf. Acts 2:22; 7:22), carried forward by the Church, accomplish God’s saving and restoring work and thereby transform the (social) reality of those who believe by forming a new people of women, men, old, young, male and female slaves and … Gentiles” (p. 117).

The Gift of the Spirit Breaks Down Social and Ethnic Barriers

Luke’s other emphasis on the Holy Spirit in Acts involves the Spirit’s power in breaking down social and ethnic barriers. For example, Wenk notes that the purpose of the narratives which speak of the gift of the Spirit being given is to demonstrate how the Spirit accomplishes reconciliation. In other words, a proper theology of the Holy Spirit in Acts should focus, not so much on an individual’s experience with the Spirit, but on how the Spirit is reconciling communities and people groups to God and each other. For example, Wenk notes that the first non-Jewish group reached with the gospel is the Samaritans (Acts 8). It is the preaching of the gospel followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit that ends centuries of hatred and hostitlity according to Acts. Wenk insightfully points out that the episode in Acts 8 is a purposeful contrast to Luke 9:51-56. In Luke 9 the apostle John is wanting to call fire down from heaven to destroy the Samaritans, while in Acts 8 it is a transformed apostle John (by the Spirit) who brings the gift of the Spirit to these same Samaritans! Peter’s visit to Cornelius’s house and the subsequent outpouring of the Spirit on Gentiles, is also clearly understood as the breaking down of the ethnic barrier between Jews and Gentiles.

According to Wenk's understanding, the Holy Spirit in Acts breaks down ethnic and social barriers as in the case of the Ethiopian Eunuch.
According to Wenk’s understanding, the Holy Spirit in Acts breaks down ethnic and social barriers as in the case of the Ethiopian Eunuch.

The Holy Spirit in Acts, not only breaks down ethnic barriers, He also breaks down social barriers. Wenk argues that the point of the story about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is to demonstrate how the cultically unclean (cf. Deut. 23:1-9) are accepted into the new community led and empowered by the Spirit. Wenk notes that the eunuch’s conversion is the only place in Acts where someone has to asked to be baptized. “This is unique in Acts, for normally the recipients of the good news are summoned to turn to God and to be baptized (cf. Acts 2:38; 8:12; 9:18; 10:48)” (p. 125). This potential hesitation on Philip’s part may hint at some uncertainty as to how the gospel applied to some social classes. Thus, according to Wenk’s understanding, “…the role of the Spirit is less to inspire prophetic speech than to initiate a communication process, which leads to the overcoming of prejudices and the inclusion of people into the community who would otherwise not have been included” (p. 124).

What Does a Person Full of the Spirit Look Like?

Although Wenk is persuasive in demonstrating that the focus on the Holy Spirit in Acts is not on individuals but on a renewed community, he does note that Acts puts forward two individuals “who personify the qualities of the renewed community” (p. 127). In other words, they demonstrate what the rest of the community of believers who are full of the Spirit should look like. These two individuals are Barnabas and Stephen who are both described as “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5; 11:24).  The qualities that exemplify Barnabas as a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” include, the selling of his property, “introducing the person whom everybody else mistrusted into the people of God [Paul], mediating between churches in conflict [Acts 11:22, 30], being involved in missions and giving a failure [Mark] a second chance” (p. 127). Stephen, on the other hand, demonstrates faithfulness, courage, power (both in words and deeds) and the willingness to forgive his persecutors (p. 127).

Reflections on the Holy Spirit in Acts

Wenk’s study of the Holy Spirit in Acts is very challenging to the modern church which either seeks to avoid the Spirit, or, at times, places the emphasis on the wrong aspects of the outpouring of the Spirit. If the Spirit is the one through whom the new community is constituted, and if it is the Spirit that breaks down barriers that divide people, then we dare not relegate Him to only the first century era. Likewise, to emphasize individual experience with the Spirit while neglecting the importance of the Spirit’s communal value, is to miss an extremely important function and role that the Spirit plays within the Church. Wenk believes that the message conveyed about the Holy Spirit in Acts is essential for the Church today. His chapter concludes with this poignant observation: “It seems that a world threatened by ethnic conflicts, a Church suffering from schism and individualism, and a society divided into numerous subcultures, interest groups and even generations who can hardly communicate any more with each other at all, is in desperate need of a renewed outpouring of the Spirit as at the day of Pentecost. Luke’s vision of the work of the Spirit is, in our days, as astounding and needed as it was in his days” (p. 128).

The Holy Spirit in the Book of the Twelve

The Holy Spirit in the Book of the Twelve

Chapter 7 in "A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit," concerns the Holy Spirit in the Book of the Twelve.
Chapter 7 in “A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit,” concerns the Holy Spirit in the Book of the Twelve.

The Book of the Twelve is the modern designation for the Minor Prophets. This title suggests that there is a purposeful unified message and structure to these books. In chapter 7 of “A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit,” Martin Clay examines the Holy Spirit in the Book of the Twelve, or perhaps more accurately, the meaning and usage of ruach in these books. As we have seen in previous posts in this series, ruach has other meanings besides “S/spirit.” Within the Book of the Twelve, Clay notes that this term may have other usages such as, “spirit of prostitution” (Hos. 4:12; 5:4), or “impurity” (Hos. 4:19; 8:7; Zech. 13:2). He also notes that it can be used as a technical term for the prophetic office as in “the man of the spirit” (Hos. 9:7). Besides these usages, Clay focuses on 4 specific meanings of ruach found in the Book of the Twelve. These 4 usages include the relationship of ruach with vitality, divine judgment, empowerment, and salvation or soteriology.

Ruach and Vitality

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Available at Amazon USA / UK

This usage of ruach has similarities with Ezekiel’s usage as noted in our last post (The Holy Spirit in Ezekiel). Ruach as vitality occurs within two different contexts in the Book of the Twelve. The first is its use in contexts of creation with reference to the human spirit or breath ( Zech. 12:1). Clay sees the usage in Malachi 2:15-16 as a “wordplay implying that human vitality and life is ultimately derived from the ruach of the creator” (p. 73). The second usage of this concept occurs in statements that refer to idols as being lifeless (e.g., Hab. 2:18-20). In contrast to the life-giving breath of God, idols are breathless (spiritless).

Ruach and Divine Judgment

This usage also recalls Ezekiel’s imagery of the storm wind that brings judgment. It is found in such passages as Hosea 4:19; 8:7; 12:1; Hab. 1:11. Clay concludes, “The ruach in the Twelve is linked to divine agency in punishing disobedience and realigning human actions and expectations with those of Yahweh” (p. 75).

Ruach and Empowerment

imagesThere are two ways in which ruach empowers in the Book of the Twelve. One way is to empower prophets for confronting the community with its failure to keep God’s covenant and the other is to empower for the task of rebuilding the Temple. “Both these tasks are essentially concerned with the restoration of the relationship between Yahweh and Israel” (p. 75). Once again, we saw a similar usage in Ezekiel regardomg prophetic empowerment. An example of prophetic empowerment by the Holy Spirit in the Book of the Twelve comes from Micah 3:1-8. In verse 8 Micah states, “But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord…. Clay discusses some of the difficulties with translating verse 8, but it is clear that the ruach belongs to the Lord and is the instrument that empowers Micah. The Spirit of the Lord also empowers Zerubbabel for the rebuilding of the Temple in the well-known passage from Zechariah 4:6 (see above). Clay states, “Yahweh strongly contrasts the efficacy of his own ruach to human ability….The ‘ruach of Yahweh’ is thus shown to be an empowering force which enables humans to fulfil divine purposes that would otherwise be impossible to achieve” (pp. 77-78). This last statement by Clay highlights an important biblical aspect of God’s Spirit. To my mind, it is reminiscent of Jesus’ command to his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they receive power from the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).

Ruach and Soteriology (salvation)

In Acts 2 the disciples receive the fulfilment of the prophecy in Joel 2:28-32.
In Acts 2 the disciples receive the fulfilment of the prophecy in Joel 2:28-32.

Perhaps when Christians think of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, it is a passage like Joel 2:28-32 (3:1-5 in the Hebrew text) that comes to mind. A prophetic passage which speaks of the Spirit’s activity in the “latter days” which results in dreams, visions, and the salvation of many. Joel uses the language of the Spirit being “poured out,” which, as Clay points out, only occurs in 6 passages in the prophets (Isa. 29:10; 32:15; 44:3; Joel 2:28-29; Ezek. 39:29; and Zech. 12:10). Notice that once again there is a connection with Ezekiel. In fact, Clay notes that the ruach being poured out by Yahweh is “a verbal parallel shared uniquely with Joel 3:1-5 (Joel 2:28-32 in English translations, p. 79). Clay also suggests that the language of “pouring out” the Spirit may be an intentional twist on words of judgment where God often speaks of “pouring out” his wrath or judgment. This pouring out of the Spirit takes place in relation to Israel’s restoration, but also includes Gentiles as well (“all flesh,” “whoever calls on my name”). Clay also suggests that it “may be viewed as a direct fulfilment of Moses’ desire for the Israelites that they would all have the spirit (Num. 11:29) and, by inference, would experience dreams and visions from Yahweh (Num. 12:6)” (p. 81). This observation has the effect of linking the Spirit’s activity in the Pentateuch (where we began) with the Prophets, which in turn, finds its fulfilment in the Book of Acts.

The Holy Spirit in the Book of the Twelve: Conclusion

Although ruach has other usages in the Book of the Twelve, Clay’s focus on the 4 particular usages examined above, show a marked similarity with the Book of Ezekiel. This concluding chapter on how the Old Testament uses the word ruach, re-emphasizes, and in some ways, expands upon the meaning of ruach noted in our other posts. Ruach as the life-giving breath, not only reminds us of Ezekiel but takes us all the way back to the beginning of Creation in Genesis 2:7 (even though this passage uses a different word). Ruach as a means of empowerment reminds us of the leadership demonstrated by Moses and the Judges, but extends beyond leadership as it is also related to the empowerment given by God to his prophets to proclaim his word. The purpose of this empowerment is so that God might restore his people to himself. This empowerment is also a gift of grace, as it empowers human beings to do things that they would not otherwise be able to do. For those who continue in rebellion, the ruach can also denote judgment in the imagery of a storm-wind. But God not only pours out divine judgment, he also pours out his ruach in order to bring deliverance and salvation to Israel and the nations.

The Holy Spirit in Isaiah

The Holy Spirit in Isaiah

The Book of Isaiah has a number of significant references to the Spirit. Here are 3 examples:

This passage from Isaiah 11:1-5 is one of several significant passages concerning the Holy Spirit in Isaiah.
This passage from Isaiah 11:1-5 is one of several significant passages concerning the Holy Spirit in Isaiah.

There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord (Isa. 11:1-2, NKJV).

Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles (Isa. 42:1).

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor, etc. (Isa. 61:1-3, NKJV).

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK. In this post I am looking at chapter 4 which explores the Holy Spirit in Isaiah.

This post continues a series based on the book A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit. In our last post I looked at “The Holy Spirit in the Historical Books” (click here to read this post). You may be wondering what happened to looking at the Holy Spirit in the Books of Wisdom. There is actually very little said about the Spirit in the Wisdom Books and my reading of that chapter (chapter 3 in the book), although interesting, did not, in my opinion, reveal any significant information that would contribute to our search for a better understanding of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, the same is true of chapter 5 which deals with the Holy Spirit in Jeremiah. As it turns out, Jeremiah never specifically references the Spirit of God. Therefore my next post will also omit looking at the Holy Spirit in Jeremiah. The good news is that the subject of the Holy Spirit in Isaiah, our current topic, proves to be a rich study.

Four Perspectives on the Holy Spirit in Isaiah

Wonsuk Ma (the author of this chapter) divides the treatment of the Holy Spirit in Isaiah into two main (Old Testament) traditions: “charismatic and non-charismatic Spirit traditions–of which there are two examples of each in Isaiah. The two charismatic Spirit traditions relate to leadership and prophetic Spirit traditions” (p. 35). We have noticed these traditions in my previous posts on “The Holy Spirit in the Pentateuch,” (click here) and “The Holy Spirit in the Historical Books” (see above link). “The two non-charismatic Spirit traditions in Isaiah are related to the creation and wisdom Spirit traditions” (p. 35).

The Leadership Spirit Tradition

Isaiah pictures the coming Davidic King as Spirit-empowered to serve through weakness. Painting by Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656), 'King David Playing the Harp' (1611).
Isaiah pictures the coming Davidic King as Spirit-empowered yet serving in weakness. Painting by Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656), ‘King David Playing the Harp’ (1611).

In the Book of Judges, we noticed how the Spirit confirmed God’s choice of a leader and also empowered that individual (Gideon, Samson, etc.) to accomplish acts of deliverance on behalf of God’s people. This always involved military intervention or, in the case of Samson, his physical intervention and defeat of the enemy. Two passages in Isaiah show continuity as well as discontinuity with this tradition. For example, the future Davidic king spoken of in Isaiah 11:1-5 is still designated as leader by virtue of the Spirit being upon him (continuity), but in place of an expression of military might, Isaiah identifies him as one who will render justice for and protect the weak (discontinuity, Isa. 11:4). Although there is language about slaying the wicked, the instrument spoken of is not a sword or spear but “the rod of His mouth,” and “the breath of his lips.” Ma states, “The king was expected to admister justice and righteousness by protecting the powerless in society and judging the wicked, resulting in not only the flourishing of God’s people, but also the restoration of God’s entire Creation into harmony and order (Isa. 11:6-9). This is a radically different picture from that recorded in the books of Judges and 1 and 2 Kings” (p. 37–emphasis mine). In Isaiah 42:1-4, Ma points out that while this passage once again connects leadership with the Spirit, the authority of the leader in this case is one which “is more related to ‘depowering’ than ’empowering’….There is a very strange reference to weakness, suggesting that empowerment is to minister in weakness to the weak (Isa. 42:2, 4)” (p. 38). Ma notes that while these passages continue older themes about the Spirit, they also introduce new features.

The Prophetic Spirit Tradition

Ma notes 3 major functions of the Spirit within this tradition (all of which we have seen in the previous posts): 1. The Spirit is the causal agent in prophetic behavior; 2) the Spirit is the source of the prophetic word; and 3) the Spirit is the source of prophetic empowerment (pp. 38-39). Ma begins by looking at the famous passage in Isaiah 61:1-3 and he notes two contrasts with the above prophetic Spirit tradition found in this passage. “First, there is no hint of the ‘prophetic frenzy’ that characterized the Spirit’s presence. Second, while the passage itself is a received message (or an oracle), the Spirit’s presence is more linked with the task at hand than as the source of this message” (pp. 39-40). One link with the previous pictures of the Holy Spirit in Isaiah is that the anointed one spoken of here brings God’s liberating power to the poor and suffering.

Creation Spirit Tradition

The Holy Spirit in Isaiah is said to bring fertility to the land.
The Holy Spirit in Isaiah is said to bring fertility to the land.

The last two traditions regarding the Holy Spirit in Isaiah are connected with what Ma refers to as the non-charismatic tradition. Regarding the significance of the Creation theme in Isaiah Ma writes, “The vision of God’s complete rule is a major concern of Isaianic traditions. The rule of God or lordship is universal in scope as it goes beyond Israel, God’s people, and encompasses all of Creation” (p. 41). This outlook is also eschatalogical. Ma selects two texts to illustrate this focus. Isaiah 32:15-18 speaks of the pouring out of the Spirit and the fertility that is brought to the land, along with a restoration of righteousness and justice. In Isaiah 44:3-5 the pouring out of the Spirit brings fertility to the people and to the land. Ma notes that “The imagery of water is repeatedly used to describe the coming of the Spirit in abundance here, as also in Isaiah 32” (p. 42).

The Wisdom Spirit Tradition

The connection of the Spirit with wisdom is already evident in the Joseph story when he appears before Pharaoh (Gen. 41:37-39). Isaiah 30:1-2 demonstrates the disconnect between God’s Spirit and a hard-hearted nation that seeks counsel from the world (Egypt). Although there is no direct use of the word ruach, Ma also connects Isaiah 40:13-14 with the wisdom Spirit tradition, a passage which speaks of the Lord’s wisdom in Creation.

The Holy Spirit in Isaiah: Summary and Conclusion

Just as we noted a progression in the understanding and work of the Spirit when moving from the Pentateuch to the Historical Books, similarly we can see how Isaiah utilizes the same traditions but also pushes them to new horizons. The connection of the Spirit with a Davidic leader who will rule in power, yet also through weakness, clearly anticipates the ministry of Jesus. The renewal that the Spirit brings to all of Creation in the time to come paves the way for the same recurring theme in the New Testament. The description of the function and work of the Holy Spirit in Isaiah is certainly an important development in the Scripture’s declaration of the nature of the third person of the Trinity. Ma does an excellent job in illuminating continuity with past traditions of the Spirit, while demonstrating the new features developed in Isaiah.

The Holy Spirit in the Historical Books

The Holy Spirit in the Historical Books

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Available at Amazon USA / UK

With a desire to learn more about the Holy Spirit, particularly with regard to the Old Testament, I am working my way through the book, A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit. This book, written by various scholars, begins with an investigation of “The Holy Spirit in the Pentateuch” by Walter Kaiser Jr. (click here to read my review and thoughts), This post builds on that initial article by looking at chapter two which explores the Holy Spirit in “The Historical Books.” This informative chapter is authored by David Firth, and encompasses the books of Joshua – Esther in our Old Testament. Of the 62 occurrences of ruach in the historical books, Firth notes that a majority either refer to breath, wind, or the human spirit. Firth also cautions that, “Because of the semantic breadth of ruach, we need to consider the possibility that even [when] ruach is associated with God it may refer to something other than the Spirit” (p. 14). Due to the ambiguous nature of the expression in certain texts, Firth limits his investigation to 13 passages in Judges and 1&2 Samuel (books which are part of the “Former Prophets in the Hebrew Bible), and 6 passages in Chronicles-Nehemiah.

The Holy Spirit in the Historical Books: Judges

The Holy Spirit is an important motif in the Book of Judges
The Holy Spirit is an important motif in the Book of Judges

Firth notes that, “A central motif in Judges is that the Spirit’s presence indicates Yahweh’s power to deliver his people….The Spirit is thus principally associated with military action” (pp. 14-15). The giving of the Spirit to enable leadership is reminiscent of one of the features of the Spirit in the Pentateuch (Num. 11). In Judges this leadership is raised up as a means to deliver God’s people from various oppressors. These leaders include Othniel (Judg. 3:10), Gideon (Judg. 6:34), Jephthah (Judg.  11:29), and Samson (Judg. 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14). Firth makes the important point that it “becomes clear that the Spirit’s presence does not compel the judge to comply with Yahweh’s purposes. The Spirit’s power is a resource that can be drawn upon but is not something that overcomes the judge” (p. 16). This is evident in Gideon, who still operates out of fear although he has received the Spirit (Judg. 6:34-40; 7:9-11), Jephthah who pronounces a foolish and unnecessary vow after receiving the Spirit (Judg. 11:29-31), and Samson who receives the Spirit on various occassions, but also acts in dubious ways.

The ability to draw upon the power of the Spirit but not be overcome by the Spirit, reminds me of a similar principle enunciated by the apostle Paul when writing to the Corinthian believers. Paul notes the confusion that exists in the Corinthian assembly over the expression of spiritual gifts during their corporate worship. Paul counsels them to take turns, and if there is no interpreter for a tongue to keep silent in the church (1 Cor. 14:27-28). He states that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32). Although this is not a direct reference to the Holy Spirit, it is a reference to the gifts given by the Spirit and suggests the same principle we see at work in the Book of Judges. From this observation we can learn several important principles. First, God’s Spirit is given to someone (whether a deliverer and judge, or believer in a church) to benefit the people of God. This means that the giving of the Spirit involves a certain individual but it isn’t merely about that individual. The Spirit is given to one in order to benefit many. This is overlooked by some churches where the gift of the Spirit seems to take on an “it’s all about me” attitude. Second, while a person can draw on the resources of the Spirit, they can also act out in the flesh. Gideon continued to fear, Jephthah made a foolish vow, Samson violated his vows, and the Corinthian assembly was a place of confusion rather than order (1 Cor. 14:33, 40). In other words, receiving the Holy Spirit is no guarantee that we will not react in a fleshly manner. We still need to practice discernment and humbly offer ourselves, our actions, and our decisions to God.

The Holy Spirit in the Historical Books: 1&2 Samuel

"But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him" (1 Sam. 16:14)
“But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him” (1 Sam. 16:14)

Firth states that in 1&2 Samuel, “The Spirit continues to designate those chosen by Yahweh, though without removing the flaws of those so empowered. However, the books of Samuel also include the motif of the Spirit’s association with prophecy from Numbers 11, but (especially with David) in new ways. Most originally, the books of Samuel also point to the possibility of the Spirit disempowering those who set themselves against Yahweh” (p. 18). In other words, a number of the ways in which the Spirit works and manifests himself continue to be seen in the books of Samuel with some further development. Certainly one of the intriguing aspects of 1 Samuel is how the Spirit is given, but then taken from Saul due to his disobedience (1 Sam. 10:10; 16:14). A similar idea is introduced in the story of Samson, although there it does not mention the Spirit but simply says, “But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him” (Judg. 16:20). The other major difference with Samson is that later, when he prays, God restores his strength (Judg. 16:28-30). Saul, on the other hand, not only receives no further answers from the Lord (e.g., 1 Sam. 28:6), he also is sent an “evil spirit” from the Lord (1 Sam. 16:14). Firth writes, “Previous references to the Spirit indicated a means by which Yahweh empowered someone to work for him, but here the Spirit acts independently of a human servant, disempowering those who opposed Yahweh’s purposes” (p. 20).

Firth also notes a development in the idea of Spirit-inspired prophecy. Whereas previous depictions of Spirit-inspired prophecy seem to be of the ecstatic type (e.g., Num. 11), David is said to speak a prophetic oracle by the Spirit (2 Sam. 23:2). Firth concludes, “David’s experience of the Spirit is pivotal for the whole of the Old Testament’s understanding of the Spirit, so that from this point on the emphasis is upon the Spirit and the spoken word of prophecy, though elements such as empowering for leadership do emerge occasionally. The books of Samuel have thus brought new emphases on the Spirit’s work” (p.21).

The Holy Spirit in the Historical Books: Chronicles and Nehemiah

“In contrast to the more complex theology of the Spirit in Judges and Samuel, references to the Spirit in Chronicles and Nehemiah have a simpler focus. Without fail, they are concerned with the Spirit’s involvement in the delivery of Yahweh’s word to his people” (p. 21). Although Chronicles often seems to use Samuel and Kings as a source, “it is notable that none of the references to the Spirit in Samuel occurs in Chronicles” (p. 21). Firth concludes that “This suggests that the Chronicler has conciously chosen to associate the work of the Spirit only with prophetic utterance” (p. 21), the same can be said for the Book of Nehemiah.

Conclusion and Evaluation

Firth concludes that the references of the Holy Spirit in the historical books show a “progressive development of the understanding of the Spirit.” While Judges focuses on the role of empowering leadership, especially in regards to military deliverance, the books of Samuel act as the pivot taking up motifs from Judges but moving them forward especially in the areas of the Spirit withdrawing from Saul and David speaking the prophetic word of God through the Spirit. This leads to the usage in Chronicles and Nehemiah which is wholly focused on “the Spirit’s role in enabling prophets to speak God’s message to his people” (p. 23).

Firth’s treatment of the Holy Spirit in the historical books is more nuanced and more insightful than Kaiser’s on the Pentateuch. I found his ability to show a progressive development in the understanding of the Holy Spirit in the historical books and to discuss various aspects of that development to be very helpful as I seek to better understand the role of the Spirit in the Old Testament.

The Holy Spirit in the Pentateuch

The Holy Spirit in the Pentateuch: Introduction

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Available at Amazon USA / UK

For sometime I have been interested in what the Old Testament teaches about the Holy Spirit. What are the similarities and differences between the role and activities of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and New Testament? Many believe there is a major difference in the access and indwelling of the Holy Spirit between Old Testament and New Testament believers. Some scholars maintain that this difference is overstated. So what is the biblical view? In an effort to come to a better understanding, particularly of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, I am currently reading several new studies on this topic. This article (and others in the future) is a combination book review and investigation into the work and role of the Spirit of God. In this, and future posts, I will be looking at A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit, a book which consists of articles by various biblical scholars who are experts in their field of study and seeks to trace “the role and work of the Spirit across the entire biblical canon” (p. xiv). In this post I look at Walter C. Kaiser Jr.’s treatment of the Holy Spirit in the Pentateuch from chapter 1.

The Holy Spirit in the Pentateuch

 The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruach. However, this word not only refers to God’s Spirit, it refers to the human spirit, and can also be translated “breath” or “wind.” Therefore, context is important in determining what the word ruach means. According to Kaiser the term ruach occurs 38 times in Genesis-Deuteronomy (with no occurrences in Leviticus), but only 6 passages are “key teaching passages” regarding the work of the Holy Spirit in the Pentateuch. These passages include Genesis 1:2; 2:7; 6:3; 41:38; Num. 11:4-30 especially v. 25; and Num. 24:2.

Genesis 1:2

Is Genesis 1:2 the first mention of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament?
Is Genesis 1:2 the first mention of the Holy Spirit in the Pentateuch?

Although some scholars and translations have opted for the translation that “a mighty wind” or “wind from  God” is the correct interpretation of ruach ‘elohim, Kaiser defends the traditional interpretation, “Spirit of God.” Kasier’s reasons involve a positive and a negative. Positively, Kaiser says that ‘elohim is used as a name for God and “not as an intensifying adverb such as ‘mighty'” throughout the account (p. 4). Negatively, Kaiser denies that there is any dependence on the Babylonian creation story which speaks of 8 winds being present (an argument used by his former teacher and others to suggest “wind” is the correct translation). Because the Hebrew phrase tohu wa vohu is best translated “empty and vacant” (p. 3) with tohu meaning “desert” in many passages (e.g., Deut. 32:10), Kaiser makes the interesting suggestion that the Creation may foreshadow (my terminology) God bringing his people through the desert (pp. 4-5). One of the most intriguing suggestions is that the Spirit’s hovering at creation is comparable to the cloud of glory overshadowing the tabernacle (Exod. 40:35), the Spirit’s overshadowing Mary at conception, and God’s overshadowing presence on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:5). Kaiser concludes, “Thus the same figure of speech was used for the overshadowing presence and care of the Holy Spirit, whether it was at the creation of the earth, the conception of the incarnate Christ, or the magnificent appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration” (p. 5). The problem with this conclusion is that the Greek of the LXX (Septuagint) uses the same word in Exodus 40:35 that is used on Mary’s conception and the overshadowing on the Mount of Transfiguration, but the Greek word in Genesis 1:2 of the LXX is different. I suppose one might argue it is a synonym, but this makes an interesting proposal  less convincing in my eyes.

Genesis 2:7

Kaiser’s treatment of this verse faces the same problem just encountered above. Genesis 2:7 does not use the word ruach. Kaiser argues that the Hebrew word used here (neshmah) is a synonym of ruach. This may be true, but more evidence is needed to demonstrate this. One of Kaiser’s main points is, “Since God was also spirit, the breath breathed into Adam was more than mere physical breath; it was also spiritual breath” (p. 6). While I agree with this conclusion, I don’t see how it gives us any insight into the Holy Spirit in the Pentateuch.

Genesis 6:3

This is the famous passage on the sons of God and daughters of men and the growing mountain of sin that eventually led to the Flood. In the statement, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever,” Kaiser sees the Spirit working to convict the world of sin, as elsewhere in Scripture.

Genesis 41:38

Pharaoh recognizes that Joseph possesses the Spirit of God.
Pharaoh recognizes that Joseph possesses the Spirit of God.

This verse contains Pharaoh’s declaration that Joseph is a “man in whom is the Spirit of God.” This recognition is connected with the wisdom and administrative ability that Joseph demonstrates. Some argue that because this statement is found in the mouth of a pagan, it is not a reference to the Holy Spirit. However, Kaiser argues that Joseph has already told Pharaoh that the gift of dream interpretation comes from God. I lean toward agreement with Kaiser on this interpretation, but I would also argue that in the larger context of Genesis, the reader is certainly to understand a reference to the Spirit of God even if Pharaoh meant something different. Kaiser makes the observation that “the role of the Spirit of God is frequently seen in connection with the leadership roles of major figures of the Old Testament” (p. 8).

Numbers 11:4-30

This passage relates how the Spirit that was upon Moses was distributed among 70 of the elders of Israel. Evidence that the Spirit was received came through the men prophesying. Thus this passage connects prophesying with one of the manifestations of the Spirit. The story concludes by saying that Joshua was jealous for Moses when he saw two men continuing to prophesy, but Moses  responded by saying, “Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” (Num. 11:29). Kaiser notes how this anticipates Joel’s prophecy in Joel 2:28-29. Further elaboration on this point would have been helpful. Is Moses saying that not all of God’s people have access to the Spirit?

Numbers 22:1-24:25

Although Balak wants Balaam to curse Israel, Balaam blesses Israel.
Although Balak wants Balaam to curse Israel, Balaam blesses Israel.

The last significant passage regarding the Holy Spirit in the Pentateuch, according to Kaiser, is found in the story of Balaam. Kaiser states, “Surprisingly the ruach ‘elohim was not limited to individual Israelites, but also rested on one who clearly was a Gentile and who lived outside Jewish territory” (p. 10). Even though King Balak of Moab had hired Balaam to curse Israel, Balaam was warned by God that he could not curse what God had already blessed. In spite of God’s warning in the famous passage about Balaam’s talking donkey, God allows Balaam to continue on his mission. Numbers 24:2-3 even speaks of the Spirit coming upon Balaam and records his words of prophecy. Kaiser notes that some believe Balaam sought to curse Israel through using sorcery, but he says this is uncertain. Regarding the Holy Spirit coming upon Balaam, Kaiser states, “Whether Balaam was a willing or unwilling recipient of the Holy Spirit’s work cannot be said at this distance from the event” (p. 10). I would add that the one thing that is certain is that Balaam does not have a good reputation in the rest of Scripture. Kaiser does say that this incident demonstrates “that God can bring his message occasionally through an unbelieving, or unwilling, speaker” (p. 11).

Evaluation of Kaiser’s essay on the Holy Spirit in the Pentateuch

 Although I have great respect for Walter Kaiser Jr., and have benefitted from many of his writings, I must admit to being disappointed by his treatment of the Holy Spirit in the Pentateuch. At places, Kaiser suggests interpretations that aren’t firmly anchored in the text. For example, his connection of the “overshadowing” passages with Genesis 1:2, or his treatment of Genesis 2:7 that doesn’t even use the term ruach. Furthermore, as noted above, his interpretation of Genesis 2:7 doesn’t offer any insight in understanding the role or nature of the Holy Spirit in the Pentateuch. My other criticism is that throughout his essay it seemed like Kaiser was approaching his intepretation of the text with an eye on the New Testament. This certainly has its place, but I would first suggest that the focus should be on what the text means in its present context and what that may tell us about the Holy Spirit. My suspicion seems confirmed when Kaiser takes an apologetic tone in his conclusion. Without quoting the entire conclusion, here is a sample statement: “In this regard, it is an unnecessary attenuation of the life, ministry and significance of the Holy Spirit to limit his appearance and real work until NT times, for not only does that bifurcate the higher order of the Trinitarian Godhead but it also removes credit from the Holy Spirit for the works he did during those times covered by Moses in the Pentateuch…” (p. 11).

On the positive side, the Pentateuch teaches us that the Spirit of God was present at Creation, and may convict or bring judgment (Gen. 6:3). The Holy Spirit can be given to leaders and administrators (Joseph, and the 70 elders), and prophesying can accompany the giving of the Spirit. Finally, the Pentateuch teaches us that the Holy Spirit can also be given to Gentiles, even Gentiles of dubious character, if it accomplishes God’s purposes.