In these notes on Paul’s view of the Spirit, we have seen how he draws upon early Christian tradition regarding the nature and role of the Spirit. Often he simply maintains the existing line of tradition, though at times he also develops it in interesting and profound ways. In continuing our survey of references in the Pauline letters (cf. the previous note), we may note the following areas of early Christian thought and belief regarding the Spirit:
The role of the Spirit in the resurrection (of Jesus). Paul deals with this extensively in 1 Corinthians 15 (especially verses 44-46, cf. the earlier note), and also in Romans 8 (vv. 9-11, 23ff). In his resurrection (and exaltation), the life-giving Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead, transforming his entire person so that he “became a life-giving Spirit”, wholly united with God’s own Spirit. This is expressed less clearly in Romans 1:3-4, which many commentators believe represents an earlier credal formula that Paul has adapted. In verse 4, this statement declares that Jesus was “marked out” (vb o(ri/zw) as the Son of God through the resurrection, which took place “according to (the) spirit of holiness”. The Greek pneu=ma a(giwsu/nh$ (“spirit of holiness”) is a literal rendering of the Hebrew vd#q) j^Wr, which typically refers to the Spirit of God’s holiness; however, it can also refer to the holiness of a righteous person’s spirit, as we saw in several of the Qumran texts (cf. the earlier study). There is thus some ambiguity in the use of the expression here.
“…(he) was made to shine forth [i.e. was manifest] in (the) flesh,
(and he) was made just/right in (the) Spirit…”
The second line alludes to the resurrection of Jesus, though the use of the verb dikaio/w (“make right/just”) creates certain difficulties in light of Paul’s frequent use of the same verb (in Romans, Galatians, etc) to express the idea of believers (human beings) being made right/just in God’s eyes. Such a sense of the verb, applied to Jesus, would be highly problematic in terms of a developed (orthodox) Christology. This atypical use of dikaio/w is a strong indicator that the verse may be pre-Pauline in origin.
Again, it is not entirely clear whether pneu=ma refers to the Spirit of God or Jesus’ own spirit, or both. The fundamental idea, in terms of the earliest Christological thought, has to do with the injustice that was done to Jesus by his death. Not only was he innocent of any crime, but as God’s own Anointed One (Messiah), he certainly was not deserving of such treatment. This situation was “made right” by God through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, which took place through the work of God’s own Spirit, but also involved the glorification/transformation of Jesus’ spirit (1 Cor 15:44-46). Admittedly, this exaltation-Christology is problematic in the context of subsequent belief (and revelation) regarding the pre-existent deity of Jesus, but it very much reflects the early Christian view in the New Testament (at least prior to c. 60 A.D.).
Washing/Cleansing by the Spirit. This is perhaps the earliest aspect of the Spirit emphasized by Christians, being inherited as it was from the Old Testament and Gospel tradition (beginning with the historical tradition of John the Baptist’s ministry). It was a core component of the baptism ritual from the beginning, and was so basic that it scarcely needed to be explained or expounded further. Paul makes relatively few direct references to believers being cleansed by the Spirit, the most obvious being in 1 Cor 6:11:
“…but you were washed from (sin), but you were made holy, but you were made right—(all) in the name of the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed and in the Spirit of our God.”
“…but according to His mercy He saved us, through (the) washing of coming to be (born) again [paliggenesi/a] and being made new again [a)nakai/nwsi$] (through the) holy Spirit.”
The process of sanctification—of believers being “made holy” (vb a(gia/zw)—begins with baptism, but continues throughout the course of one’s life. This sanctification is a fundamental goal and purpose of the Spirit’s work, and of the Gospel ministry (cf. Paul’s statement in Rom 15:16). It underlies the ethical instruction associated with the baptism ritual proper, and likewise informs much of the instruction and exhortation given by Paul to believers throughout his letters. Such ethical instruction is central to the “flesh vs. Spirit” juxtaposition, for example, in Galatians 5-6. The references to the Spirit in Gal 5:16-25 were discussed in an earlier note, but mention should be made of the agricultural illustration in 6:7-9 as well; note verse 8 in particular:
“…the (one) scattering (seed) into his flesh will harvest decay out of the flesh, but the (one) scattering (seed) into the Spirit will harvest life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life] out of the Spirit.”
This Flesh/Spirit dualism is most prominent in Galatians, but we have also seen it in Romans (esp. 8:4-9ff). Elsewhere, it is relatively rare, but I would note Philippians 3:3, where circumcision (and worship of God) in the flesh is contrasted with that for believers in the Spirit (cf. also Rom 2:25-29; Col 2:11; Eph 5:18-19).
Love and the Spirit. Paul is scarcely alone in emphasizing the association between the Spirit and love—the divinely-inspired love that binds and unites believers together. It has even greater prominence in the Johannine Gospel and Letters, for example, and is rooted in a core Christian tradition (i.e., the love command or principle) that goes back to Jesus’ own teachings. Paul is the only New Testament author, however, who develops this tradition in terms of the “New Covenant”, stressing how, in this New Age for believers in Christ, the Spirit takes the place of the old Law (Torah), even as the “love command” represents the fulfillment of the entire Law. This point has been discussed in prior notes, and there is no need to cite again the most relevant passages in Corinthians, Galatians and Romans. However, several specific references should be mentioned here, connecting love with the Spirit:
- Rom 5:5—the famous image of God’s love being “poured into our hearts” through the holy Spirit
- Rom 15:30— “I call you alonside[, brothers], through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, and through the love of the Spirit, to struggle together with me…”
- 2 Cor 13:14— “…the love of God and the common-bond [koinwni/a] of the holy Spirit (be) with you all”
- Phil 2:1— “…if (there is) any calling alongside [para/klhsi$] in (the) Anointed, if (there is) any speaking alongside [paramu/qion] of love, if (there is) any common-bond [koinwni/a] of (the) Spirit…”
—the nouns para/klhsi$ and paramu/qion are similar in meaning, i.e. giving help or comfort alongside (para/) someone
- Col 1:8— “…your love in the Spirit”
- See also the immediate juxtaposition of the Spirit and love in the ‘virtue lists’ of 2 Cor 6:6 and Gal 5:22 (fruit of the Spirit).
Unity of believers in the Spirit. An especially important point of emphasis for Paul in his letters is on the unity of believers in Christ. This applied not only to the question (in Galatians and Romans) of the relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers, but to anything that might cause separation or disunity (cf. the central issue of divisions among the congregations in 1 Corinthians). For Paul, there were two primary guiding forces for unity—(a) the love principle (cf. above), and (b) the presence of the Spirit. We noted the expression “the common-bond [koinwni/a] of the Spirit” in 2 Cor 13:14 and Phil 2:1 above, and how it was closely connected with the divinely-inspired love which believers share in Christ. Mention should also be made of Paul’s instruction in Phil 1:27, were he urges believers
“…that you would stand (firm) in one Spirit, and (with) a single soul, contending together in the trust of the good message [i.e. faith of the Gospel]”
Regarding the rather unusual expression “(with) a single a soul”, one is reminded of the repeated use of the term o(moqumado/n in the early chapters of the book of Acts (1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; 8:6; also 15:25), used to express the unity of the first believers. Literally, that word means something like “(with) one impulse”; in English, we might say “of one mind” or “with one heart” —sharing a common bond and with a single guiding purpose. Paul clarifies what this “single soul” entails: that believers stand together “in the Spirit”, here specified as “in one Spirit”. In a non-Christian context, the expression e)n e(ni\ pneu/mati could mean in a single (human) spirit, i.e. acting and living and thinking in a common way. Certainly Paul does expect cooperative unity at that level, but such is only realized truly through the far deeper bond of our union with the Spirit of God (and Christ). As history has proven repeatedly, it is almost impossible for human beings to achieve lasting, positive unity, without the presence and work of God’s Spirit; efforts at unity, even with the best of intentions, often devolve into destructive and oppressive patterns of behavior.
No writing in the New Testament addresses the theme and goal of Christian unity so powerfully as does the Pauline letter to the Ephesians. In the next daily note, we will examine several of the key references to the Spirit in Ephesians.