July 15: 1 Peter 1:2, 11-12; 2:2-5

1 Peter 1:2, 11-12; 2:2-5

In the recent daily notes this summer we have been exploring the early Christian view of the Spirit, and the way that it developed, over the course of time, from the Old Testament, Jewish, and Gospel traditions. It remains to examine the references to the Spirit in the New Testament Writings not yet studied, such as the letters of 1 Peter and Jude, which contain key passages. These will be presented in a survey format, rather than with a detailed exegesis of each passage. The evidence from the Pauline letters, in particular, will be used as a point of reference (and comparison).

1 Peter 1:2

In the opening greeting, the author of the letter (Peter) refers to believers (his audience) as “the (one)s gathered out” (i.e. elect/chosen ones), and that this choosing by God took place “in (the) holiness of (the) Spirit”. The noun a(giasmo/$ more properly signifies something being made holy (vb a(gia/zw); though less accurate syntactically, we might translate the phrase as “in the Spirit making (you) holy”. Clearly this is a reference to baptism (cf. 3:21-22), as the parallel motif of “sprinkling” (r(antismo/$) would confirm. The Spirit played a central role in the early Christian baptism ritual, as we have discussed at various points throughout these notes. The association involved the fundamental idea of cleansing (from sin/impurity), which is certainly present here, as well as the following ideas that are more uniquely Christian in orientation:

    • The presence of the Spirit marks a new Age, and a new covenant with God, for believers in Christ. While this draws upon earlier Prophetic traditions, the Christocentric focus among early believers represented a radical new development, quite apart from Messianic traditions in Judaism at the time.
    • The ritual came to symbolize the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the believer’s participation in it. This goes quite beyond the earlier association of baptism with cleansing from sin, etc, being in some ways closer to certain rituals in contemporary mystery religions. Paul was most influential in developing this idea, drawing out the deeper theological and christological meaning.

The phrase “(the) sprinkling of (the) blood of Yeshua (the) Anointed” encompasses both of the aspects highlighted above. It alludes to the covenant ritual in Exodus 24:4-8, understood as a new covenant in terms of Jesus’ sacrificial death (Mark 14:24 par; cp. 1 Pet 1:19). Baptism thus symbolizes believers’ cleansing by the Spirit of God, as well their new  covenant identity as God’s people through union with Christ (including participation in his death and resurrection). The simple way that these ideas are combined in v. 2 suggests that they were well-established and ingrained in Christian thought at the time.

1 Peter 1:11-12

The references to the Spirit in verses 11-12 merely express the widespread early Christian belief, inherited from the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, that the Prophets of old were uniquely inspired by the Spirit of God, and spoke/wrote under its influence. The wording here, however, also evinces several uniquely Christian points of emphasis. Most importantly, we note how the expression “(the) Spirit of (the) Anointed” (pneu=ma Xristou=) is used in v. 11, being essentially synonymous with “(the) holy Spirit” in v. 12. Admittedly, the expression “Spirit of Christ” is rare in the New Testament, but we have seen how, for Paul at least, it was interchangeable with “Spirit of God” —indicating that the (Holy) Spirit was both the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God.

The use of “Spirit of (the) Anointed” in verse 11 was likely influenced by the idea that the Old Testament prophecies foretold “the (thing)s (related) to (the) Anointed” —i.e., Messianic prophecies, of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Even so, the fact that “Spirit of Christ” could be used so readily as a substitute for the “Spirit (of God)”, without any need for further comment, shows how well-established the identification of the Spirit with both God the Father and Jesus Christ was among early Christians at the time. Moreover, it is likely that, in the case of 1 Peter, this also reflects a belief in the pre-existent deity of Jesus (cf. 1:20), rather than—or in addition to—the earlier exaltation Christology that associated his divine Sonship primarily with his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. Such pre-existence Christology,  even in a rudimentary form, would make it easier to envision how the Spirit of Christ could be inspiring the Old Testament Prophets. The Spirit was the active Spirit of both God the Father and Christ the Son, even prior to Jesus’ life on earth. If 1 Peter was genuinely written by the apostle Peter, then it probably dates from the early 60’s A.D., making it one of the earliest documents expressing this belief in Jesus’ pre-existence (cp. Phil 2:6ff).

1 Peter 2:5

As part of the exhortation and ethical instruction in 2:1-12, the letter makes use of the same motif we saw in Ephesians 2:18-22 (cf. the earlier note)—of believers, collectively, as a house (that is, the “house of God”, or Temple sanctuary). The Pauline character of the Ephesians passage tends to be confirmed by use of similar house/Temple metaphors elsewhere in the undisputed letters (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 5:1; 6:16), but the same sort of imagery here in 1 Peter indicates that it was even more widespread. This is rather to be expected, given the importance of the Temple, and the practical need for Christians to reinterpret (and ‘spiritualize’) its significance, turning it into a symbol of believers—individually and collectively—as the dwelling place for God. In particular, it is the place where God’s Spirit dwells.

Ephesians takes this a step further, emphasizing the Spirit as that which unites believers together, with the further implication that the ‘house’ itself is spiritual, built of/by the Spirit. Much the same is indicated in 1 Pet 2:5:

“and (also you your)selves, as living stones, are built as a house of the Spirit [i.e. spiritual house]”

This imagery is expounded through an application of several different Scripture passages (Isa 28:16; Psalm 118:26; Isa 8:4), identifying Jesus as the “foundation stone” (or cornerstone) of the Temple. This identification goes back to early Gospel tradition (Mark 12:10-11 par) and Jesus’ own teaching/sayings regarding the Temple. As Jesus Christ is the “living stone” (v. 4), so also believers, through union with him, are also made into “living stones”. As we have seen, to be “in Christ” is the same as being “in the Spirit”, a point that doubtless 1 Peter would affirm along with Paul, as indicated by the wording here in vv. 4-5.

Verses 5ff continue the spiritual reinterpretation of the Temple and its ritual (i.e. the priesthood and sacrificial offerings), identifying believers as representing the holy sacred office (priesthood), but one which now brings near to God sacrificial offerings “of the Spirit” (i.e. that are spiritual, pneumatiko/$). The old material offerings of slaughtered animals (qusi/ai), etc, have passed away completely for the people of God in the new covenant (vv. 9-10).

The remaining passages in 1 Peter and Jude will be discussed in the next daily note.

 

July 8: 1 Corinthians 6:11; Philippians 1:27, etc

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.

1 Timothy 3:16 is also thought to represent an older hymn or creed-fragment expressing the early kerygma. The opening lines parallel the thought of Rom 1:3-4:

“…(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.”

Clearly this refers specifically to the cleansing symbolized by the water-rite of baptism (cp. Eph 5:26). A similar statement is found in Titus 3:5:

“…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.

June 17: 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6; 4:8, etc

1 Thessalonians 1:5-6; 4:8, etc

By all accounts, 1 and 2 Thessalonians are the earliest of Paul’s surviving letters (though some commentators would question his authorship of 2 Thessalonians), probably written sometime around 49-50 A.D. It is thus appropriate to begin an examination of Paul’s references to the Spirit in his letters at this point. For those interested in a comparative study with the Pauline speeches and statements in the book of Acts, it is to be noted that references to the Spirit are extremely rare in those contexts. The Spirit is more frequent as a subject in the speeches in the first half of the book, whereas the references in the second half (dominated by narratives of Paul’s mission journeys) tend to focus on the Spirit’s role in guiding the missionaries. Indeed, there are just three passages in Acts where Paul speaks of the (Holy) Spirit. In the last of these, at the close of the book (28:25), Paul is simply affirming the traditional view of the inspiration of the (Prophetic) Scriptures, though, by implication, a parallel would be drawn between the Prophets of old and Christian missionaries (apostles) as Spirit-inspired spokespersons for God.

The two remaining references in Acts are more substantial:

    • 19:2-7—The encounter with some believers who had only experienced water-baptism by John the Baptist; Paul makes clear to them that true baptism, in the Christian sense, also involves being “baptized” by the Spirit (i.e. receiving the Spirit). For more on the close association between baptism and the Spirit in the book of Acts, cf. the prior note.
    • In his “farewell” speech to the elders of the Ephesian congregation(s) (chap. 20), Paul reaffirms the guiding role of the Spirit (vv. 22-23, cf. above) in his missionary travels. However, in passing, he also states that it was the Holy Spirit who “set” those elders as overseers of the congregation(s) (v. 28). Most likely this means that the selection and installation of persons in these roles was made through Spirit-inspired (i.e. prophetic) guidance among the believers as a whole. Occasionally, we find similar indications of this dynamic at work in the life of the early congregations (13:2; 15:28; 21:4).

When we turn to the Thessalonian letters, these aspects of the Spirit’s role, evident in the book of Acts, can also be found. In the introduction (exordium) and thanksgiving of 1 Thessalonians, Paul expresses, together, two sides of the Spirit’s presence and activity in the early Christian mission (cf. Acts 1:7-8, etc):

    • The proclamation by the Spirit-inspired minister (i.e. prophet):
      “…our good message did not come unto in a (spoken) account only, but in power and in (the) holy Spirit [e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w|]…” (v. 5)
    • The reception by the (new) believers, who also receive the Spirit:
      “and you came to be imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the account, in much distress, (but also) with delight of (the) holy Spirit…” (v. 6)

The remaining references in 1 and 2 Thessalonians have a rather different emphasis, and one that is not so much to be found in the book of Acts, though it clearly relates to the earliest Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s emphasis is on what we would call sanctification—that is, of believers being made holy (a%gio$). This draws upon the Old Testament line of tradition that associates God’s (holy) Spirit with the cleansing of His people.

The use of water-imagery to express the idea of cleansing obviously relates to the practice of baptism, going back to John’s ministry. Early Christians largely followed the same water-ritual, both in terms of form and essential symbolism, but giving unique emphasis to the role of the Spirit. The Qumran Community, in its own way, did the same thing, using the symbolism of a water-ritual (for entrants into the Community, along with subsequent ablutions) to express the idea of a special holiness, established and maintained by God’s own holy Spirit (cf. my earlier article on the subject). Through the work of God’s Spirit, the individual’s spirit is made completely pure and holy, allowing him to join as part of the “Community of holiness”.

Paul expresses much the same idea in 1 Thess 4:1-8, in which he exhorts believers to live in a holy and upright manner that reflects the holy Spirit of God, given to them at baptism. Though baptism is not specifically mentioned here, there is every reason to think that the sort of ethical instruction Paul gives here reflects, at least in part, the instruction given to believers at the time of their baptism (a point to be discussed further in upcoming notes). The wording in verses 7-8 is clear enough:

“For God did not call us upon uncleanness, but in holiness [a(giasmo/$]. For this (reason) then, the (one) setting (it) aside, does not set aside (the will of a) man, but God, the (One) giving His holy Spirit unto us.”

To act in an immoral manner essentially means to “set aside” (vb a)qete/w) the holiness given to believers by God, through His own Holy Spirit. Since this holiness comes through the presence of the Spirit in and among believers, to set aside the holiness is to set aside God’s own Spirit, which means setting aside God Himself. The same message of holiness and sanctification is given at the close of the letter (5:23-24), only this time in terms of an eschatological promise:

“And may the God of peace keep you complete(ly) holy to the end, and whole (in every) part—spirit and soul and body—(and) without fault may he keep you, in our Lord’s (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a] (us). Trust(worthy is) the (One) calling you, the (One) who also will do (this).”

The Greek syntax is a bit difficult to translate, with the main verbs (in v. 23) being in the optative mood, expressing a wish or desire. The principal phrase is a(gia/sai u(ma/$ o(lotelei=$—three concise words, which cannot be translated so simply. The optative form of the verb a(gia/zw (“make holy”), which would normally mean “may He make (you) holy”, is better understood in this context as “keep holy”. The adjective o(lotelh/$ has the basic meaning “completely whole”; a relatively simple translation of the phrase might then be “may He keep you holy (and) completely whole”. However, the eschatological context suggests that there is an allusion to te/lo$ as the “completion” of the Age. In other words, Paul’s wish is that God would keep the believers completely holy to the end—that is, until the return of Jesus (cf. 4:13-5:11), expected to occur very soon.

The earlier reference to the Spirit in verse 19—the exhortation “you must not extinguish the Spirit” (to\ pneu=ma mh\ sbe/nnute)—presumably reflects the same sort of general ethical-religious instruction found in 4:1-8 (cf. above). Probably there is the added dimension of preserving the inspired character of the Community, involving all aspects of the work and activity of the Spirit. This would explain the command that immediately follows in verse 20: “you must not make prophecies out as nothing”. The implication is that the Spirit-inspired teaching and instruction within the Community (i.e. “prophecy”) should not be ignored or devalued. By contrast, all things in the Community (including “prophecy”) must be given a thorough and fair consideration (vb dokima/zw), holding firm to those things which pass the test (v. 21).

Finally, we should mention Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, which, in some ways, summarize all of the earlier references to the Spirit we have looked at here. It parallels most closely the prayer in 1 Thess 5:23, and the corresponding eschatological context of 2 Thessalonians is clear enough and hardly requires comment. Here the eschatological promise blends together with a fervent exhortation to believers, in a manner that is typical of early Christian writing:

“But we owe (it) to give (thanks) to God (for His) good favor, always about you, (as) brothers having been loved under [i.e. by] the Lord, (in) that God took you (for) himself, (as fruit) from the beginning (of the harvest), unto salvation, in holiness of (the) Spirit and trust of [i.e. in] (the) truth”

The expression e)n a(giasmw| pneu/mato$ could also mean “in holiness of spirit”, which would be just as valid in context; however, the adjoining expression “trust of (the) truth” suggests a parallel Truth of God / Spirit of God.

In these Thessalonian passages we are offered a glimpse of the way that the early Christian understanding of the Spirit was being further developed through Paul’s unique (and specially inspired) manner of expression. In his subsequent letters, as we shall see, the role of the Spirit was given a profound new theological (and Christological) dimension as well. This will be discussed over the next few daily notes.