July 20: Hebrews 9:8, 14; 10:15, 29

Hebrews 9:8, 14; 10:15, 29

When we turn to the letter to the Hebrews, we find a number of references to the Spirit. For the most part, however, these are traditional in nature (cf. the notice in 3:7 on the Spirit-inspired character of the Scriptures), and not nearly as prominent or significant as one might expect in a theological writing of this sort. The lack of emphasis on the Spirit may simply be a reflection of the overwhelmingly Christological thrust of the letter; even so, if Paul (for example) had authored a similar work, the Spirit surely would have featured much more prominently. In particular, there is little or no mention of the idea, so frequent elsewhere in the New Testament, of believers being “in the Spirit” —that is, united with Christ (and God the Father) through the presence of the Spirit. The closest such reference in Hebrews is in 6:4, where believers are described as those

“…(hav)ing been (en)lightened, (hav)ing (both) tasted the heavenly gift and (hav)ing coming to be holders with (one another) of (the) holy Spirit”

The idiom of believers holding the Spirit together with one another certainly captures the essential idea of being united in the Spirit. The emphasis is on the initial experience of salvation (conversion), which entails acceptance of the Gospel, trust in Jesus, confirmation in the baptism ritual, and the presence of the Spirit. The author does not develop the idea any further. However, earlier in the letter (2:4), mention is made of the activity of the Spirit among believers, through miraculous and powerful “signs and wonders”, referring to the work of the Holy Spirit in terms of things (i.e. ‘gifts’) distributed (merismoi/) among individual believers and congregations (cp. Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor 12-14).

The four remaining references to the Spirit are contained within the “New Covenant” exposition in chapters 9-10. The bulk of Hebrews (3:1-10:25) expounds the central theme that believers in Christ are living under a new covenant, and that all the forms of the old covenant are replaced (and fulfilled) in the person of Christ. The author of Hebrews declares, even more forcefully than Paul does in his letters, that the old covenant has completely passed away, and is no longer in effect for believers. This is very much part of the early Christian eschatological worldview—that this “New Covenant” marks the end of the current Age, and the beginning of the new. For more on this aspect, cf. the article on Hebrews in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

In particular, Hebrews focus on the ritual dimension of the old covenant, as embodied in the Temple cultus—that is, the sacrificial offerings, and the priesthood that administered them. Interestingly, Hebrews never refers directly to the Temple itself (referring instead to the older tent [skhnh/] shrine or ‘Tabernacle’), nor does it make use of the early Christian tendency to interpret the Temple in terms of Jesus’ own person/body. Instead, the author utilizes the simpler contrast between the physical Temple on earth and the (spiritual) dwelling of God in heaven. Christ is identified, not with the Temple, but with the priesthood (spec. the High Priest) that offers sacrifice in the Temple sanctuary. The two main sections which describe Jesus as a (High) Priest are Hebrews 4:14-5:10 and 6:20/7:1-10:18; cf. the earlier article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Hebrews follows a well-established line of tradition in understanding the death of Jesus as a sacrificial offering. The author draws upon two principal types of sacrifice: (1) the offering which took place at the ratification of the covenant (Exodus 24:3-8), and (2) the sin offering at the ‘day of atonement’, when the High Priest would also enter the innermost part of the shrine (Leviticus 16). According to the Last Supper account, Jesus himself alluded to these same two sacrificial traditions, associating them with his own death (his “blood”). Thus, the idea of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice that marks the beginning of a “new covenant” is rooted in the Gospel tradition (Mark 14:22-25 par). The author of Hebrews does not contribute anything new in this regard; rather, he develops and expounds a set of ideas and associations that were already well-established in early Christian belief.

The references to the Spirit in chapters 9-10 are interesting in the way that they punctuate the exposition, following two parallel lines of thought; this may be summarized as follows:

    • The Spirit’s declaration of the new covenant (9:8; 10:15)
      • The role of the Spirit in establishing the new covenant (9:14; 10:29)

The first line of thought draws upon the traditional association of the Spirit with prophetic inspiration. This association came to be applied, in Jewish thought, specifically to the inspiration of the Scriptures—the Torah (Pentateuch), Prophets, and Psalms (cf. the earlier note on Nehemiah 9:20, 30, etc). The New Testament authors generally assume the Spirit-inspired character of the Old Testament Scriptures, referring to it a number of times, in passing, without any real need to comment on the matter further or to develop the theological basis for the idea. There is a clear example of this in Heb 3:7 (cf. above), and another allusion here at 9:8:

“…the holy Spirit making clear by this (that) the way (into) the (holy) of holies had not yet been made to shine forth, (while) the first tent was yet holding (its) standing [i.e. while it still was standing]”

The “this” (tou=to, in italics above) refers to the Torah regulations related to the sanctuary of the earthly Tent (Tabernacle) and Temple, summarized in vv. 1-7 as part of the “first (covenant)”. This idea expressed in v. 8 is that, through the inspired account of the Tabernacle/Temple ritual in the Scriptures—including the inspired source/nature of the building plan itself (Exod 25-31)—the Spirit has revealed the limitations of the old covenant, which are to be fulfilled in the new. This is part of the wider exposition in the section, whereby Christ’s sacrifice both completes, and takes the place of, the sacrificial offerings made in the Tabernacle/Temple complex.

More than this, the wording of verse 8 implies that the Spirit also reveals, at the same time, the perfection of the new covenant. The Spirit makes known to believers the truth that Jesus’ sacrificial death opens the way (o(do/$) for us into the holiest place—the innermost shrine where God himself dwells. This is but a step removed from the idea expressed in Ephesians 2:18 (discussed in a prior note), that in the Spirit we, as believers, hold the way leading toward God the Father (cp. John 14:6).

Moving ahead to 9:14, the author refers to the role the Spirit played in the sacrifice of Christ, which both brought cleansing from sin (for believers) and established the new covenant. Acting as High Priest, Jesus made the sacrifice (in his own blood) “through (the) Spirit of (the) Age(s)” (dia\ pneu/mato$ ai)wni/ou). The expression “Spirit of the Age(s)” was unusual enough that it prompted scribes to alter it to the more familiar “holy Spirit” (with a(gi/ou instead of ai)wni/ou); however, the reading with ai)wni/ou is almost certainly original. The adjective, difficult to translate literally in English, is often rendered as “eternal”, which tends to capture the general idea, if not especially accurate as a translation. The ai)wn– concept in the New Testament relates fundamentally to the Jewish and early Christian eschatological worldview, with the distinction between the current Age and the new Age to come. It also corresponds to the term <l*ou in Hebrew, which typically signifies either the distant past or the distant future, with the presence and power of God encompassing both (i.e. ‘eternal, eternity’). In the context of the exposition here in Hebrews, the distinction is between the earthly sanctuary, which is temporal in nature, and the heavenly sanctuary, which is eternal. The Spirit, of course, belongs to the heavenly sanctuary, where God himself has his dwelling.

The further associations of the Spirit with cleansing (vb kaqari/zw) and life for the dead, are well-established in Christian thought and tradition, as we have seen these notes.

At 10:15, the Spirit again declares the New Covenant (cf. above on 9:8), this time citing the famous prophecy of Jeremiah 31:33-34 (vv. 16-17). The declaration effectively brings the long exposition (of chaps. 3-10) to a close, concluding with a blunt restatement of the fundamental argument—namely, that the old covenant (with its sacrificial ritual) has come to an end for believers in Christ (v. 18). The sacrifice of Christ did away with the need for any further sacrificial ritual.

The reference to the Spirit in 10:29 properly belongs to the exhortation section that follows (10:26-12:13), but one which builds upon the New Covenant exposition of chaps. 9-10. After all, if there had been serious consequences for transgressing or rejecting the old covenant, how much more so is it now in the case of the new. This is the thrust of the warning in vv. 26-31, stated clearly enough in verse 29. In the old covenant, the person who sinned willfully and deliberately was “cut off”, and could not be restored to God (as part of his holy Community) through sin offering. So it is also in the new covenant, according to the author of Hebrews. A person who continues in blatantly sinful behavior, after coming to faith in Christ, will face the same Judgment as the wicked. They are said to be “trampling the Son of God under (foot)” and “bringing (it about)” that the “blood of the covenant” is treated as something “common” (i.e. profane), and not holy.

Moreover, the person who so violates the New Covenant is said to “bring injury (up)on the Spirit of (God’s) favor”. It is a rejection, not only of Jesus Christ (the Son of God), but one which brings insult and injury (vb e)nubri/zw) to God’s own Spirit. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ famous (and much-debated) saying on the “sin against the Holy Spirit” (Mk 3:28-29 par); on which, cf. my most recent discussion. The expression “the Spirit of favor” (to\ pneu=ma th=$ xa/rito$) is unusual (and unique in the New Testament), but clearly the term xa/ri$ (“favor”) refers to God’s favor—that is, the favor he shows to his people (believers). This means, primarily, the favor he shows in bestowing his Spirit upon us. The gift of God’s Spirit, of course, cannot be separated from the work of Jesus Christ and our trust in him, as is apparent from the strong Christological context of these references in Hebrews. Even though the author never develops this sense of the role of the Spirit in and among believers, he clearly accepts (and assumes) it as part of the early Christian worldview.

 

 

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 7: Romans 8:26-27; 9:1; Colossians 1:9, etc

Today I wish to survey the remaining references to the Spirit in the Pauline letters—passages which have not yet been addressed in these notes. For the most part, this will be done in summary fashion, giving more attention to references which represent, in some way, a distinct development of the early Christian tradition.

Romans 8:26-27; Phil 1:19; Eph 6:18

Let us begin with a further discussion of Romans 8 (cf. the two previous notes), which contains Paul’s most extensive treatment of the Spirit, emphasizing the freedom and new life that exists for the believer in the Spirit. In verse 16, Paul mentions how the Spirit “gives witness together with our spirit”, indicating the sort of active, dynamic presence that the Spirit has in and among believers. This co-operation is emphasized again in verse 26f, using the verb sunantilamba/nomai, which literally means something like “take up together” —i.e. the Spirit works together with us, in our weakness (a)sqe/neia, “lack of strength”). This is framed in terms of “speaking out toward (God)” (vb proseu/xomai), i.e. prayer—since, in our human weakness, we do not always know how to communicate with God, the Spirit aids us in this process. The verb e)ntugxa/nw essentially means “have an effect on” someone or something, and the added prepositional prefix u(per– can specifically connote doing this on behalf of another—i.e., the Spirit communicates with God on our behalf, since God understands (“sees, knows”) the mind of the Spirit (it being His own Spirit).

This idea of the help or assistance provided by the Spirit is also expressed by Paul in Philippians 1:19, where the rare expression “the Spirit of Yeshua (the) Anointed” is used:

“For I have seen [i.e. known] that this [i.e. my imprisonment] will step forth into my salvation through your request (to God) and (through) the (contribution) of the Spirit of Yeshua (the) Anointed brought upon (it).”

In other words, the action of the Spirit (which is also the Spirit of Christ) in helping Paul comes in response to the believers’ prayer to God; the context of prayer here is similar to that in Rom 8:26-27. On Eph 6:18, cf. the discussion in the next daily note. The term para/klhto$ in the Johannine tradition (Jn 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; 1 Jn 2:1) captures this idea of help and assistance given by the Spirit—the Spirit of God (and Christ) being “called alongside” (vb parakale/w) to help.

Witness of the Spirit—development of prophetic and Wisdom tradition

Along these same lines, the Spirit speaks to the believer, giving wisdom and insight, as well as special revelation (i.e. inspiration, cf. below). Paul does not often refer to the Spirit as a witness, but it is an important point of emphasis in Rom 8:16 (cf. above), and one which continues in the beginning of the next major section of the letter (9:1), as he begins his famous treatise on the place of Israel in the New Covenant, punctuated as it is with such poignant personal remarks:

“(In) truth I say (this) in (the) Anointed (One)—I do not lie—my sunei/dhsi$ giving witness together with me in the holy Spirit…”

This statement replicates the idea in 8:16, of the Spirit giving witness together with the believer’s spirit (using the same verb summarture/w); only here it is sunei/dhsi$, rather than the “spirit” of the person—a slightly different aspect being emphasized. That particular compound noun is difficult to translate in English; literally, it means “seeing (things) together”, or the ability to see (and put) things together. In English, we might say “perception”, both in terms of the intellect, but also touching on a deeper sense of insight and understanding. The word can also carry the same ethical/moral connotation as our “conscience”. Paul’s witness in chapters 9ff is thus both truthful and inspired, since it is given “in Christ” and “in the holy Spirit” —a correspondence which illustrates again how the Spirit is understood as both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ.

While this sort of revelatory insight and “inspiration” is common to all true believers in Christ, since they/we all possess the Spirit, Paul recognizes that certain individuals are specially gifted by the Spirit in specific areas of activity and leadership within the Christian Community (on the subject of “spiritual gifts”, cf. the recent note on 1 Corinthians 12:1-3ff). This special giftedness of individuals represents an early Christian development of the older tradition of prophetic inspiration by God’s Spirit. It would seem to contradict the egalitarian principle expressed in Acts 2:1-4ff, 17-18 (citing Joel 2:28-29, cf. also Num 11:29) and elsewhere in the New Testament. At the same time, however, the organization of functioning congregations required the designation of at least a loose leadership structure (of elders, ministers, active prophets, etc); Paul both admits and affirms this fact in his letters, while maintaining the ideal (and hope) that all believers might, in their own way, obtain the higher giftings of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:6ff; 3:1ff; 12:31; 14:1ff).

Paul certainly acknowledged that he, himself, was a uniquely inspired minister, appointed by God to proclaim the Gospel and establish congregations throughout the Roman world. This meant that he possessed the Spirit, and interacted with it, in a special way; interestingly, he does not often state this directly—1 Cor 7:40 being one of the few examples. The comparison of inspired ministers and apostles with the Old Testament prophets (and thus the older tradition of prophetic inspiration) is part of the wider Christian tradition regarding the Spirit. The idea is expressed most clearly in the Pauline letters at Ephesians 3:5 (cf. also 1 Tim 4:1).

The association of the Spirit with wisdom is equally ancient, as discussed frequently in these notes (cf. on 1 Cor 2:9-16). In Colossians 1:9, Paul (assuming he is the author) expresses the traditional idea that believers will be “filled” with wisdom through the Spirit:

“…that you would be filled (with) the knowledge of [lit. about] His will, in all spiritual wisdom and su/nesi$.”

The adjective pneumatiko/$ is usually translated “spiritual”, which is accurate enough; however, in such a Christian context, it properly denotes “belonging to the Spirit”, i.e., possessing the nature and character of the Spirit. The noun su/nesi$ is comparable to sunei/dhsi$ (cf. above on Rom 9:1), and likewise means the ability to “put (things) together” in the mind (i.e., intelligence, understanding, knowledge). A comparable prayer is expressed in Eph 1:17, though with the idea of revelation joined to that of wisdom and understanding:

“…that He would give you the Spirit of wisdom and uncovering [i.e. revelation], in (the) knowledge of [lit. about] Him”

Power of the Spirit—development of the ecstatic (prophetic) tradition

In the ancient tradition of ecstatic inspiration, the Spirit of God would come (or “rush”) upon a person, resulting at times in strange or violent action. Typically, this inspiration had a positive effect—such as giving a king or military leader strength and ability in battle. For the prophet this could also be manifest in unusual or supernatural ability, of various kinds. In early Christianity, the activity of the Spirit in and among believers produced comparable effect, in line with the older prophetic tradition. This involved not only the miraculous speaking in “tongues”, but the performance of healing miracles, and so forth. It also represented the fulfillment of an idea expressed earlier in the Gospel tradition, whereby the close disciples of Jesus (i.e. the Twelve) were able to share in his Spirit-inspired power to work miracles, etc (similar to the ancient tradition in Num 11:16-30, discussed in an earlier note).

When speaking of the power (du/nami$) provided by the Spirit, Paul is not only referring to the sorts of miracles recorded in the book of Acts (some of which he himself performed), but has in mind a more comprehensive sense of all that the Spirit accomplishes for believers, and to the Christian ministry in all its aspects (cf. Rom 15:19-20, etc). One of the most notable of these summary statements is in 1 Cor 2:4, in which Paul contrasts earthly wisdom with the “power of God”, manifest in the Spirit; he uses the pairing “Spirit and power” (for more on this passage, cf. the earlier note). He has in mind principally the effect of the proclamation of the Gospel—its transforming power—upon the hearts and lives of believers. Other verses associating the Spirit with power are:

    • 2 Cor 6:6-7—note the parallel between “in the holy Spirit” and “in the power of God”; the emphasis here is on “power” in terms of truth, love, righteousness, and God’s very word (cf. Eph 6:17)
    • Rom 15:13—Paul’s wish is that believers would be filled with hope, the same hope that comes with trust in Christ—this is realized “in the power of (the) holy Spirit”; note also the association of the Spirit with “peace and joy” (cp. 14:17)
    • 2 Tim 1:7— “For God did not give to us a spirit of timidity, but of power and of love and of a sound mind”
    • Eph 3:16—the prayer is that the “inner man” of the believer will be strengthened, through God’s Spirit, “in power” (duna/mei)

The remainder of this survey will continue in the next daily note.

June 20: 1 Corinthians 12:1-3ff

1 Corinthians 12:1-3ff

Chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians open an entirely new window upon the early Christian understanding of the Spirit of God, compared with the Pauline passages we have examined thus far in these notes. Paul begins this section with the following words:

“And, about the (thing)s of the Spirit, brothers, I do not wish you to be without knowledge.” (12:1)

The precise meaning of the substantive plural adjective oi( pneumatikoi/ is a bit uncertain. It could refer to persons—i.e., “the spiritual (one)s”, or “the (one)s of the Spirit”, masculine in gender; however, a neuter plural seems more appropriate in context: “the (thing)s of the Spirit”, “the spiritual (thing)s”. Possibly the neuter usage anticipates the plural noun xari/smata in vv. 4, 9, but it is better not to read this word (i.e. “gifts”) into the translation of v. 1.

The phrasing in verse 1 suggests that Paul is responding to something written to him by the believers in Corinth—here certain issues dealing with “matters involving the Spirit”, i.e. the presence and activity of the Spirit among believers in the community/congregational setting. The first issue, mentioned briefly in vv. 2-3, is somewhat obscure and poorly understood by Christians today. Here is how the instruction reads:

“You have seen that when, (as people of the) nations, you were (led) toward the voiceless images, being led [i.e. carried] away, even as you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking in (the) Spirit of God says ‘Yeshua (be) set up (under a curse)!’, and (similarly) no one is able to say ‘Yeshua (is) Lord!’, if not in (the) holy Spirit.”

This advice has seemed rather peculiar to many readers; after all, what Christian would ever curse Jesus? (the noun a)na/qema literally refers to something being “set up” under God’s curse). One has to keep in mind the context of charismatic prophetic experience in the ancient world, by which a person, under the influence of a divine spirit, would be caught up in an inspired ecstasy, often manifest in unusual behavior and the utterance of strange words. This was well attested as prophetic phenomena in the early periods of Israel’s history (cf. the earlier notes on Num 11:16-30; 1 Sam 10:6ff; 16:13-15, etc), though there is rather little evidence for it in the later writings (including the Prophets of the 7th-5th centuries). The charismatic/ecstatic manifestation of the Spirit in the book of Acts (i.e. the Pentecost narrative, 2:1-13ff) would seem to indicate a special reappearance of the phenomenon, associated with the “outpouring” of the Spirit in the New Age. The prophetic experience in the early chapters of Acts is manifested specifically by the miraculous speaking “in other tongues”; however, Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, has in mind a much wider set of spiritual phenomena (vv. 4ff, cf. below).

Believers, under the influence of the Spirit, would speak “in tongues” or otherwise “prophesy” in ways that might seem strange or difficult to understand (thus the need for designated interpreters, etc). Some at Corinth may have been concerned about certain things that might be said in such a state; could people be “carried away” so as to utter something scandalous, false, or even blasphemous to God? Paul addresses their concern (such as it may have been) by contrasting the Christian state of Spirit-inspired prophecy (v. 3) with similar sorts of oracular phenomena among the pagan Greeks (v. 2). As people are led (vb a&gw) toward the false gods (“voiceless images”), they are sometimes “led away” (a)pa/gw, i.e. “carried away”) so as to utter strange and false things (under the influence of false or evil spirits). However, the Spirit-inspired believer cannot utter anything false or contrary to God. Paul states this in the starkest terms by contrasting someone uttering a curse against Jesus with making a declaration of faith. No one under the influence of the holy Spirit could say anything against Jesus; similarly, no one under the influence of a false/evil spirit could declare the truth of Jesus as Lord.

Among the spiritual phenomena listed by Paul in verses 7-11 is diakri/sew$ pneuma/twn, the ability to judge/discern between spirits—that is, between the holy Spirit of God and other (false/evil) spirits. The fundamental meaning of kri/si$ has to with separating out, i.e. making distinction, such as between the true and false. The author of 1 John deals with a similar question of discerning between true Spirit-inspired teaching regarding Christ and that which is “antichrist” (against the Anointed), deriving from false/evil spirits (2:18ff; 4:1-6). In such a charismatic setting, where Christians relied on Spirit-inspired utterance for authoritative teaching and guidance, determining what speech was genuinely from the Spirit was a definite challenge for believers at the time.

The manifestation of the Spirit in the book of Acts, as crystalized in the Pentecost narrative (2:1-13) and the citation of Joel 2:28-32 in the speech of Peter that follows (vv. 17-21), would suggest that all believers were to function as Spirit-inspired prophets. Yet, here in 1 Cor 12, Paul lists prophecy as just one of the spiritual “gifts”, though certainly among the greatest of these gifts (12:28; 14:1ff). It would seem Paul has in mind that only certain individuals would possess the gift of prophecy, though his exhortation in 14:1 (and the instruction that follows) implies that all believers can (and perhaps should) possess this gift; it may only be the immaturity of believers  that limits or hinders possession and use of the gift (2:6ff, 14-16; 3:1-4ff). The egalitarian principle expressed in Joel 2:28-29 / Acts 2:17-18, and realized, to some extent at least, in the early Jerusalem Community, would seem to be maintained by Paul (and others) in the Corinthian congregations. In the congregational setting, different persons could prophesy in turn, including both men and women, though with certain restrictions (cf. 11:2-16; 14:13-40, and my earlier articles in the series “Women in the Church”). Practical considerations meant that not all believers in the congregation would actively perform as prophets, even if that were the ideal.

There may also be a valid distinction between the settings of Acts and 1 Corinthians—that of Acts is the early Christian mission (proclamation of the Gospel among the nations), while 1 Corinthians 12-14 has in view the interaction of believers with each other, in community. One may rightly say that all believers are called to be prophets, in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel, while, perhaps, this role is reserved for certain (gifted) individuals within the Community setting. We may compare, for example, the situation in Acts 6, where select individuals were called upon to serve at the table, while the apostles (i.e. the Twelve) focused more exclusively on preaching and teaching. Yet, certainly, men such as Stephen were perfectly able (and gifted by the Spirit) to preach the Gospel with skill and power, and scarcely limited to role of diako/no$ (servant) at table.

The rich assortment of spiritual “gifts” (xari/smata) outlined by Paul in 1 Cor 12:4-11, 27ff (cp. Rom 12:3-8) certainly marks a profound development of the prophetic tradition regarding the Spirit which we see in the book of Acts. From the single, overriding idea of believers functioning as inspired prophets (i.e. spokespersons for God), with the special manifestation of speaking in the tongues (languages) of the nations (i.e., for the mission to the Gentiles), in 1 Cor 12-14, the Spirit is described as manifest in a wide range of “gifts”. Even so, Paul’s discussion does focus essentially on the same two phenomena central to the Acts narrative—prophecy and speaking in tongues. Here “tongues” appears to have a rather different meaning than in the book of Acts, where it clearly (at least in the Pentecost narrative) refers to the miraculous ability to speak/preach in the languages of the nations. In 1 Corinthians, by contrast, Paul seems to have in mind a special sort of ‘heavenly’ language with which one may communicate with God. He devalues it use and importance within the public, congregational setting, since there were significant challenges regarding interpretation, which made it better suited for private worship. Also, as one reads between the lines, it is likely that some at Corinth were particularly enamored with the phenomenon of “speaking in tongues”, and it may have been used among them as a status sign. Paul gives much greater weight to prophecy, since it represents the long-standing tradition of inspired communication of the word and will of God for His people. The close association between the Spirit of God and prophecy, in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, has been well documented in the earlier notes on “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament”.

 

 

June 16: Acts 2:4, 17-18ff (continued)

Acts 2:4, 17-18ff, continued

The central aspect of the Spirit’s role in the book of Acts is expressed by the citation of Joel 2:28-32 [Hebrew 3:1-5] in the Pentecost speech by Peter (Acts 2:14-40). This sermon-speech, discussed at length in an earlier two-part article, follows the Pentecost narrative of vv. 1-13 (on which, cf. my earlier set of notes). This use of the Joel oracle demonstrates how the coming of the Spirit upon the Jerusalem believers is seen as a fulfillment of the Prophetic tradition regarding the role of the Spirit in the restoration of Israel. I have discussed the association of the Spirit with this restoration-theme in earlier notes (see esp. the note on Joel 2:28-32); it is a theme which is prominent in the early chapters of Acts, as I have also discussed in previous notes.

While the Greek citation of Joel 2:28-32 differs somewhat from both the Hebrew and LXX versions (for the details, cf. my earlier article), it preserves the fundamental message. This message entails a promise that, in the New Age of Israel’s restoration, the Spirit will no longer come only upon specific chosen/gifted individuals, but instead will be “poured out” upon all the people. This point is driven home emphatically by the inclusive references to male and female (“sons and daughters”), young and old, slave/servant and free person alike. It is essentially a fulfillment of the ideal expressed in the episode of Numbers 11:10-30 (see esp. Moses’ words in v. 29)—that is to say, all the people would function as prophets (<ya!yb!n+).

As I have previously discussed, the ayb!n` is best understood as a spokesperson for God—one who communicates the word and will of God to the people. In the ancient Israelite (and Near Eastern) tradition, this meant a divinely-inspired position of leadership and prominence in society, reserved only for select chosen or gifted individuals. Moses was the supreme ayb!n` in the early period, but eventually, as the tradition in Num 11:16-30 suggests, the role came to be filled by many others over time. It was based on the principle of charismatic leadership—of the Spirit’s presence manifest by unusual (and ecstatic) phenomena. The early Israelite kings (Saul and David) shared in this form of Spirit-inspired leadership (cf. my earlier notes on 1 Sam 16:13-15, etc). Eventually, however, this aspect of the Prophetic experience waned, and was given less emphasis, as indicated by the disappearance of the use of the denominative verb ab^n` (in the passive-reflexive stem) to denote this charismatic/ecstatic form of prophecy.

Such Spirit-inspired activity, in the ancient mode, was manifest by unusual behavior and strange speech—an indication that the person was under the powerful influence of a divine spirit. The narratives in the book of Acts show that the reappearance  of this basic phenomenon marks the “pouring out” of the Spirit in the New Age. The disciples of Jesus, who represent and symbolize the restored Israel (cf. my note on Acts 1:15-26), are the firstfruits of this harvest of blessing from the Spirit. The men and women in Jerusalem, who are believers in Christ, mark the first instance of the Spirit being poured out on “all flesh”. This coming of the Spirit will be repeated for others, as the Gospel is proclaimed and more people come to trust in Jesus. As Jesus’ words in 1:7-8 make clear, this dual dynamic of (a) the presence/work of the Spirit, and (b) the proclamation of the Gospel, is the essential means by which God’s Kingdom will be established in the New Age. The narratives in the book of Acts document this process in the earliest stages. The Spirit-filled believers serve as prophets/spokespersons for God (and Christ) and the proclamation of the Gospel, the message of Christ, is their “prophecy”.

This brings us to the phenomenon of “speaking in tongues”, which I regard as part of the same religious phenomenon as the ancient mode of ecstatic prophetic utterance (cf. above). What is thoroughly unique about this phenomenon among the early believers in Acts is the way that it is so closely tied to the specific (prophetic) mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to all the surrounding nations. As these nations speak many different languages (“tongues”), it would be necessary for the Christian missionaries to preach the message in these languages as well. This is the essence of what is described initially in 2:4:

“and they were all filled (with the) holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, even as the Spirit gave (it) to them to sound forth.”

These “other tongues” (e(te/rai glw/ssai) here unquestionably refer to ordinary foreign languages, as what follows in vv. 5-13 makes clear. As the disciples begin to speak out publicly, under this prophetic inspiration, the various Jews, who had come to Jerusalem (for the festival) from the surrounding nations, could understand the message in their own language (vv. 5-6). The experience was unusual and dramatic enough to cause surprise that local Galileans would be speaking in these other languages (vv. 7-8). Moreover, the claim that the believers were intoxicated (v. 13) suggests that there was an ecstatic quality to their speech and behavior, which, according to the ancient principle of inspiration (cf. above), was a striking sign of being in a prophetic state under the influence of a divine spirit. Some of the people mistake this for drunkenness (i.e. the influence of wine)—a misunderstanding that Peter addresses in the speech that follows. There is a bit of thematic wordplay here, as the claim that the believers are filled (“soaked full”, vb mesto/w) with sweet wine serves as an ironic contrast to the reality that they have been filled (vb plh/qw) with the Spirit.

In the next daily note, I will be turning from the Gospels and Acts to the remainder of the New Testament, focusing on how the traditions regarding God’s Spirit were developed by Paul in his letters.

June 5: Mark 13:11 par

Mark 13:11; Matt 10:19-20; Luke 12:11-12

One of the clearest indications of a development of the Old Testament and Jewish traditions regarding the Spirit of God, within the earliest layers of the Gospel tradition, is the idea that the coming of the Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration will occur through Jesus, as God’s Anointed representative. As a Spirit-inspired Prophet, uniquely empowered by the holy Spirit of God, Jesus will communicate that same Spirit to others. This is reflected in the saying of the Baptist (Mark 1:7-8 par), discussed in a prior note, and it is also implied in the way that the relationship between Jesus and his disciples is depicted in the Gospels.

The references to the Spirit in the Synoptic account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (esp. in the Lukan version, cf. the prior note on Lk 4:1, 14ff) make clear that his teaching/preaching and his ability to work healing miracles are the result of his being ‘anointed’ by the Spirit (see esp. the use of Isa 61:1ff in Luke 4:17-19ff, also 7:18-23 par). Having gathered around him a group of close disciples, to share in his ministry (Mk 3:13-19 par), Jesus gives to them a share of the same power to preach and work miracles (Mk 6:7-13 par). His disciples thus function as anointed prophets in a manner similar to Jesus himself. We must assume that this activity is likewise Spirit-inspired, even though there is no specific reference to the Spirit in these passages. The situation is comparable to the episode in Numbers 11:16-30 (discussed in an earlier note), where God allows a group of seventy Israelite elders to share in the same divine Spirit that is “upon” Moses. The Spirit comes upon them, and they each function as a ayb!n` (inspired spokesperson/representative for God, i.e. “prophet”), in a manner similar to Moses. The emphasis in that narrative is on leadership, but it is also clear that the activity of the inspired men includes proclamation and certain kinds of ministry performed throughout the camp (vv. 17, 26ff).

Though no direct mention is made of the Spirit in the Gospel passages dealing with the disciples’ activity during Jesus’ ministry, it is fair to assume that their preaching and miracles, like those of Jesus, were done with the “Spirit/finger of God” (Matt 12:28; Lk 11:20). The only instance where this ministry activity of the disciples is explicitly said to be inspired by the Spirit is the saying in Mark 13:11, for which there is a corresponding version in Matt 10:19-20 / Lk 12:11-12.

The Markan saying is part of the Eschatological Discourse (chap. 13 = Matthew 24 / Luke 21:5-36), the literary setting of which, in the Synoptic narrative, is in Jerusalem, not long before Jesus’ death. The Discourse thus foretells things that will occur after Jesus’ own death and departure. There will be a time of great distress (qli/yi$) for humankind (especially those in Jerusalem and Judea), and this will mean suffering and persecution for Jesus’ disciples as well (vv. 9-13). Jesus announces that his disciples will arrested and interrogated before government tribunals (both Jewish and non-Jewish), but his exhortation to them is that, when this occurs, they should not be anxious about how they are to respond or what they are to say; instead, he assures them:

“…whatever should be given to you in that hour (to say), so you must speak; for you are not the (one)s speaking, rather (it is) the holy Spirit.” (v. 11)

The corresponding saying in Matthew/Luke occurs at a different location in the narrative, but the context would seem to be the same—it relates to things that will take place in the near future, following Jesus’ departure. This fact is obscured by Matthew’s location of it in the setting of the mission of the Twelve (10:5-15). In one sense that location is anachronistic, but it reflects a different organizing principle for the traditional (sayings) material—as with the Eschatological Discourse, it is a literary, rather than a historical/chronological, arrangement. In any case, the Matthean version reads as follows:

“And when they give you along [i.e. over to the authorities], you must not be concerned (about) how or what you should speak; for it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak—for you are not the (one)s speaking, but (rather) the Spirit of your Father is the (one) speaking in you.” (10:19-20)

Luke has this saying in yet a different location, at 12:11-12, joined by way of “catchword-bonding” with the saying on the Spirit in 12:10 (discussed in the previous note). The Lukan wording is clearer and cast in a form that would better relate to early Christians in the author’s own time; the relevant portion reads:

“…you must not be concerned (about) how or what you should give forth as an account (of yourself), or what you should say; for the holy Spirit will teach you in that hour the (thing)s it is necessary (for you) to say.”

The distinctly Lukan elements (glosses) are given in italics—these include the use of the verb a)pologe/omai (“give forth an account”), the emphasis on teaching (vb dida/skw), and the verb form dei= (“it is necessary…”). This must be understood as a Christianized form of the saying, made to apply more directly to the life situation and experience of early Christians. Jesus’ prediction, of course, was admirably fulfilled during the period prior to 70 A.D., as documented by the experience of the apostles and other missionaries in the book of Acts. At several points in the Acts narratives, it is specifically stated that the early Christians respond as inspired spokespersons (i.e. prophets), being moved or “filled” with the Spirit—4:8, 31; 6:3, 5ff; 7:55; 13:9, etc. It goes without saying that this represents a distinctly Christian development of the Old Testament tradition(s) regarding prophetic inspiration. The juxtaposition of the Spirit-inspired prophecy of David (in the Psalms, 4:25, cp. Mk 12:36), with that of the early Christians (4:8, 31), demonstrates that they are parallel concepts of inspiration.

What is especially noteworthy about these references in the book of Acts is how they are specifically tied to the early Christian mission and the proclamation of the Gospel. The “good message”, which had already been proclaimed during the period of Jesus’ ministry (Mk 1:14-15; 6:12; 13:10 par, etc), is now framed in terms of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The primary purpose for the holy Spirit coming upon the early Christians in Jerusalem was their mission to the surrounding nations and the proclamation of the Gospel (1:8; 2:1-4ff), a point that will be discussed further in the upcoming notes. As this proclamation is centered on a basic narration of the events of Jesus’ life (and death), it may be seen as providing a seminal basis for the idea of the inspiration of the Gospels, and even of the New Testament as a whole.

June 4: Mark 3:28-29; Matt 12:31-32; Luke 12:10

Mark 3:28-29; Matt 12:31-32; Luke 12:10

These June notes continue those of the earlier series on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament, examining how the Old Testament concepts and traditions were developed by early Christians in the New Testament. When we turn to consider what Jesus said about the Spirit during his ministry, the evidence is surprisingly slight, especially within the Synoptic tradition. Indeed, there are just three instances in the Gospel of Mark:

    • The saying on the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (3:28-29)
    • A notice within the Messianic question/debate of 12:35-37 (v. 36)
    • A saying on the coming persecution of his disciples during the time of distress, part of the Eschatological Discourse of chap. 13—13:9-13 (v. 11)

The second of these simply affirms the Spirit-inspired character of the Prophetic Scriptures (which includes the Psalms, and David as a prophet). In the post-exilic period, there came to be an increasing emphasis on the role of God’s Spirit in both the composition of the Scriptures and their interpretation—cf. the earlier note on Neh 9:20, 30, etc, and the article on the Holy Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This emphasis is less prominent among early Christians than it was, for example, in the Qumran Community, but it is still present in the New Testament—a point to be discussed in the upcoming notes.

The references to the Spirit in Mk 3:29 and 13:11 are more substantial and distinctly Christian in character. The situation, however, is complicated by the fact that, for each of these sayings, there appear to be two distinct forms—one Markan (i.e. occurring in Mark), and the other part of the so-called “Q” material (found in Matthew and Luke, but not Mark). Let us begin with the saying in Mark 3:28-29, which has both Markan and “Q” forms. In such instances, there is a question of whether we are dealing with two distinct historical traditions, or variant forms a single historical tradition. Traditional-conservative commentators tend to opt for the former, while critical commentators typically assume the latter. The situation is further complicated by additional differences between versions of the Markan and “Q” sayings, the possibility of variation as a result of translation from an Aramaic original, and other factors.

Matthew contains both the Markan and “Q” forms, joined together at 12:31-32, while Luke has only the “Q” saying (12:10). Let us compare the Markan saying as it is found in Mk 3:28-29 and Matt 12:31, respectively:

“Amen, I relate to you that all (thing)s will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men—the sins and the insults, as many (thing)s as they may give insult—but whoever would give insult unto the holy Spirit, he does not hold release [i.e. forgiveness] into the Age, but is holding on (himself) a sin of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal sin].” (Mk 3:28-29)
“Through this I relate to you (that) all (kind)s of sin and insult will be released [i.e. forgiven] for men, but an insult of [i.e. against] the Spirit will not be released.” (Matt 12:31)

Matthew clearly has a simpler version, but this may be a result of the combination with the second (“Q”) form/saying in 12:32. The point of the contrast is that all sins and insults will be forgiven, except for an insult directed against the Spirit of God (Mk uses the expression “holy Spirit”). The term “insult” (blasfhmi/a, vb blasfhme/w) is often used in a religious sense—i.e., something which is an insult or offense to God (thus our English word “blasphemy”). Jesus is speaking of a person insulting God’s Spirit directly. The Markan context for this saying (with the explanation in verse 30) is likely original. Certain religious leaders were attributing Jesus’ power over the evil spirits (or daimons, “demons”) to a certain kind of special demonic power (holding [i.e. possessing] Baal-zebul, the “prince of daimons”). Since Jesus’ ministry, including his healing miracles, was actually empowered and specially inspired by the Spirit of God (cf. the previous note), to claim that it was the result of demonic power was a direct insult to God’s own Spirit.

The Spirit-inspired character of Jesus’ healing miracles is implied throughout the Gospel narratives, but it is given specific expression in at least one saying, found in Matthew and Luke (i.e. “Q” material), with a slight but significant variation. In Matthew, it is part of the same narrative block as 12:31-32, dealing with the same dispute over the origins of Jesus’ miracle-working power. In verse 28, he states most dramatically:

“But if (it is) in [i.e. with] the Spirit of God (that) I cast out the daimons, then the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you!”

In Luke 11:20, this saying reads:

“But if (it is) in [i.e. with] the finger of God (that) I cast out the daimons, then the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you!”

Almost certainly, Luke has the more original form, using the expression “finger of God” instead of “Spirit of God”. However, the point is the same: it refers to the Divine source of Jesus’ power to work miracles over the spirits of disease, etc (cf. Exod 8:19). The Matthean form is likely a gloss to make this point clear. The connection of this manifestation of God’s Spirit with the coming of His Kingdom suggests a continuation of the Prophetic tradition regarding the role of the Spirit in the restoration of Israel and the New Age for God’s people (cf. the recent notes on the key passages from Joel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and [Deutero-]Isaiah).

What of the “Q” form of the ‘blasphemy against the Spirit’ saying? Here are the Matthean and Lukan versions:

“And whoever would speak a word against the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but whoever would speak against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him—not in this Age, and not in the coming Age.” (Matt 12:32)
“And every (one) who shall utter a word unto [i.e. against] the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but for the (one) giving insult unto the holy Spirit, it will not be released.” (Luke 12:10)

Luke’s version occurs in an entirely different context, a clear indication that the saying was preserved separately, and it was the Matthean Gospel writer who included it as part of the ‘Beelzebul Controversy’ pericope, alongside the parallel (Markan) saying of 12:31. The fact that the Markan saying has the expression “sons of men”, and the “Q” saying “Son of Man”, can hardly be coincidental. It raises the possibility that an original (Aramaic) saying of Jesus came to be understood two different ways, as it was preserved and translated (into Greek), where the meaning of the underlying Semitic idiom “son of man” would have been lost, in favor of its familiar use as a title by Jesus (for more, cf. my earlier note on this saying).

In any event, in the “Q” saying, “Son of Man” clearly is a self-reference by Jesus. Such use by Jesus in the Gospels is complex and requires a separate detailed study (cf. my earlier series on the “Son of Man Sayings of Jesus”). It occurs extensively throughout the Synoptic tradition, with several different categories of “Son of Man” sayings. Most frequently, it is a self-reference, whereby Jesus especially identifies himself with the suffering of the human condition. Remember that Matt 12:32 occurs in the context of Jesus’ public ministry, in which he worked to heal people of their suffering and affliction from illness and disease, which, according to the ancient understanding, were caused by evil/harmful spirits. This was an important part of his work as “Son of Man”, especially during the Galilean period of his ministry (in the Synoptic narrative).

The point Jesus is making in the “Q” saying is: to slander his miracle-working power is to insult (directly) the Spirit of God. It is one thing to speak against him personally, as he ministers among the people, but quite another to insult the source of his miracle working power, which is God’s own holy Spirit.

There is yet another version of this saying, preserved in the “Gospel of Thomas” (saying §44), which clearly represents a still later development (and a more Christianized version). It appears to be a superficial expansion of the “Q” saying, given in a trinitarian form:

“Whoever blasphemes against the Father will be forgiven, and whoever blasphemes against the Son will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either on earth or in heaven.”

This version grossly distorts the sense and thrust of the original saying, as though a direct insult against God the Father (or against Jesus as the Son of God) will be forgiven. Neither the Markan nor “Q” sayings suggest anything of the sort; in any case, taken thus out of context, the saying is far removed from the point Jesus himself was making at the time. As a miracle working Anointed Prophet—God’s own representative (ayb!n`), who was also His Son—Jesus was specially empowered by the holy Spirit of God. To slander or insult that power is to insult God Himself. This reflects a development of the Prophetic tradition(s) regarding the Spirit, focused uniquely on the inspired person of Jesus himself, as Messiah, Prophet, and Son of God.

 

May 21: Wisdom 9:17, etc

Wisdom 9:17, etc

The this final note of the series, I felt it worth exploring the references to the spirit of God—and, in particular, the expression “holy spirit” —in the Deutero-canonical and extra-biblical writings of the intertestamental period. A survey of the evidence will show that the primary context of these references is rooted in Wisdom tradition—with a close association (even identification) of Wisdom with the holy Spirit of God.

This goes back to an ancient way of thinking, whereby a person possessing wisdom and discernment is seen as touched/inspired by a divine spirit (the word genius in English preserves something of this idea). We see this stated, for example, with regard to the leadership of Joshua (Deut 34:9, also Num 27:18), as also of Joseph, in his special ability to interpret the meaning of dreams, etc (Gen 41:38). To be sure, wisdom and understanding, such as is present in all human beings, reflects the role and presence of God’s spirit in creation (Job 32:8); even so, certain individuals are specially gifted with wisdom from God’s spirit.

The book known as the Wisdom of Solomon (or “Book of Wisdom”) is a Greek work from the first centuries B.C., which came to be immensely popular in Hellenistic Jewish circles and among early Christians, to the point of being regarded as authoritative Scripture by many. It is firmly rooted in Wisdom literature and tradition—both Israelite/Jewish and Greek philosophical. In such writings, Wisdom was frequently personified, either as a special manifestation of God Himself, or as a semi-independent Divine being. The famous hymn of Wisdom in Proverbs 8 is perhaps the most notable Old Testament example in this regard. The role of Wisdom in the Creation, with its life-giving creative power, is evocative of what is typically attributed to the Spirit of God (Gen 1:2, and cf. my earlier note). Thus, there is close association, at a fundamental level, between Wisdom and the Spirit, and this is certainly expressed in the Book of Wisdom as well—cf. the opening lines in 1:5-7; note also 7:22-24. The specific connection with the life-breath (spirit) given to humankind by God at creation, is mentioned in 12:1; 15:11, 16.

The expression “holy spirit” (a%gion pneu=ma) occurs in 1:5, where it is clearly synonymous with wisdom (sofi/a, v. 4). The passage seems to allude to the idea that the holy spirit (i.e. the spirit of God’s holiness, cf. the previous note) must depart when any wickedness or deceit (do/lo$) is present (cf. the earlier discussion on Ps 51:10-13). Wisdom is also characterized as a holy spirit in 7:22b-24, where its divine nature is very much in view. The other occurrence of the expression “holy spirit” is at 9:17, in the specific context of wisdom as a gift from God that touches certain individuals in unique ways. Persons (such as Solomon) who possessed wisdom and understanding to a high degree, were seen as having been specially inspired by God’s spirit (cf. above). The divine source of this wisdom is stated clearly:

“And who can know your will/counsel [boulh/], if not (that) you have given (him) wisdom, and sent your holy spirit [a%gion pneu=ma] from (the) highest (place)s?” (9:17)

The expression “from (the) highest places” (a)po\ u(yi/stwn) is reminiscent of Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would come upon his disciples as power “out of (the) height(s) [e)c u%you$]” (Lk 24:49). Indeed, there can be no doubt that the coming of the Spirit, narrated in Acts 2:1-4ff, etc, represents a wider, more universal application of the tradition expressed in Wis 9:17, which there relates primarily to the special inspiration of certain gifted individuals.

We have already discussed the ancient principle of spirit-inspired leadership (of kings and prophets), as well as those individuals with special understanding, skill, and ability in certain areas—such as artistic production (Bezalel) or the interpretation of dreams (Joseph). In the latter case, we may note that what Pharaoh says of Joseph (in Gen 41:38) is essentially repeated, on several occasions, in the case of Daniel (4:8-9, 18; 5:11-12, 14; cf. also 6:3, and Susanna 45). The specific Aramaic wording in these references is worth noting:

“…(the) spirit of (the) holy Mighty (One)s [i.e. Gods] (is) in him”
HB@ /yv!yD!q^ /yh!l*a$-j^Wr

Aramaic /yh!l*a$ = Hebrew <yh!ýa$ (“Mighty [One]s”), a plural form which, when used of El-Yahweh, is best understood as an intensive or comprehensive plural (i.e., “Mightiest [One]”). However, on the lips of a Persian king, probably a normal (numeric) plural is intended (“Mighty [One]s”, i.e. Gods). At the historical level, the equivalent statement, coming from Pharaoh (rendered in Hebrew) in Gen 41:38, would also suggest a true plural:

“…(the) spirit of (the) Mighty (One)s [i.e. Gods] (is) in him”
oB <yh!ýa$ j^Wr

A different sort of inspiration is indicated in Sirach 39:6, where the faithful scribe—one who studies the Torah (and all the Scriptures)—will be granted a special “spirit of understanding” from God, which is equivalent to a divinely-inspired wisdom. Much the same is associated with the scribe Ezra, in 2/4 Esdras 14:22, when he asks God to “send the holy spirit” into him, so that he will be able to expound the Torah and Scriptures accurately for the people. On the association of the Torah with the spirit of God, cf. the earlier note in this series.

Finally, in terms of the association between the Spirit and Wisdom, it is perhaps worth mentioning Philo of Alexandria’s philosophical development of wisdom (and to some extent, the prophetic) traditions. This centers around the image of the divine spirit speaking (directly) to the mind, giving wisdom and understanding to the virtuous person—cf. On Dreams 2.252; 1.164-5; Special Laws 3.1-6; On the Cherubim 27-29; On Flight and Finding 53-58.

Conclusion

A brief survey of the remainder of the evidence from the first centuries B.C./A.D. may be summarized as follows:

The surviving Jewish writings of this period, many of which are pseudepigraphic in nature, rely heavily on the Old Testament Scriptures for their literary setting and context. Many Old Testament historical and prophetic traditions are continued, with little development, and this is certainly true with regard to the existing references to the Spirit of God or “holy Spirit”. In most instances, the earlier Scriptural traditions and passages are simply cited or integrated without much evidence of original treatment or development of thought. Indeed, some writings simply re-work the Old Testament narratives and Prophetic sections, and references to the Spirit in the Biblical Antiquities of Pseudo-Philo, or the Antiquities of Josephus, for example, do not go much further than this. The same may be said of the references in the various Scripture commentaries of Philo of Alexandria.

All of the main lines of Old Testament tradition, regarding the Spirit of God, that we have encountered in these studies, are found in the Jewish writings of this period. There is, for example, the idea of the Spirit’s role in Creation (e.g., Judith 16:14; 2 Baruch 21:4; 23:5; 2/4 Esdras 6:39), as well as the special inspiration given to the Patriarchs, Moses and the Prophets (1 Enoch 91:1; Testament of Abraham 4A; 1QS 8:15-16; Philo Life of Moses 1.277, 2.191, etc). If one were to isolate two tendencies that took on greater prominence in the intertestamental period, these might be defined as:

    • An increasing association on the Spirit with important figures from the past, rather than on the occurrence of dynamic, spirit-inspired leadership in the present. In this regard, it may be worth noting here the Rabbinic tradition in the Tosephta (So‰a 13:2-4) that, after the last of the Old Testament Prophets, the Holy Spirit ‘ceased’ operating in Israel.
    • Greater emphasis on the inspiration of Scripture, and the role of the Spirit in expounding/interpreting the Torah and Prophets—this was especially prominent in the Qumran Community (e.g., 1QS 5:9; 1QH 12:11-13), on which see further below.

One also finds a continuation of the post-Exilic emphasis on the spirit-inspired Community—that is, Spirit of God comes upon the people (community) as a whole, cleansing and purifying them (Jubilees 1:21, 23; Testament of Benjamin 8:3; Testament of Levi 18:10-12). There is often a strong Messianic association to this role of the “holy Spirit”, whereby the inspiration of the people reflects the special spirit-inspired status of the Anointed/Elect one (cf. 1 Enoch 49:2-3; Psalms of Solomon 17:37; Testament of Levi 18:7). Prophetic passages such as Isaiah 11:2ff, interpreted in a Messianic sense, were highly influential in shaping this tradition.

It is in the Qumran texts that we find the most significant references to the (holy) Spirit. As in many areas of thought and practice, there are numerous similarities between the Qumran Community and the earliest Christians with regard to their understanding of the Spirit. It is easy to imagine an early Jewish Christian of the 1st century, prior to accepting Jesus, holding a view of the Spirit much like that expressed in the Qumran texts.

The so-called Damascus Document (CD/QD), central to the religious history and identity of the Qumran Community, expresses the important idea of preserving the holiness of the Community. In this regard, the Community (which represents the righteous, faithful ones), already has a “holy spirit”, and there are stern warnings against defiling it—that is, of the need to maintain the purity of the Community and its members (5:11-13; 7:3-5; cf. also 12:11). Purity and holiness is restored through the cleansing that comes from God’s own holy Spirit, as stated in the Community Rule document (1QS 4:21). Even so, this spiritual cleansing is understood as taking place entirely within the context of the Community—that is, God’s spirit is manifest (and mediated) by the “holy spirit” that is upon the Community itself (1QS 3:6-8; 9:3-4). In the Qumran Hymns (1QH), this same idea of purification is given a more personal expression, in which the author/protagonist (representing the Community) recognizes the need for cleansing, etc, from God’s holy Spirit (e.g., VI [XIV].13-14; VIII [XVI].15, 20).

 

May 18: Nehemiah 9:20, 30

Nehemiah 9:20, 30

In the previous note, we examined the emphasis on the spirit (j^Wr) of God in passages of the exilic Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, dealing with the future restoration of Israel/Judah. This restoration was defined in terms of a return from exile, and a re-establishment of the covenant bond between YHWH and His people. Faithfulness to the covenant would now be ensured by the action of God Himself, giving the people a “new heart” and a “new spirit” through the presence of His own Spirit (“my spirit” [yj!Wr]). As the Torah (hr*oT, the instruction of YHWH) represented the terms of the covenant, it would be of central importance to any faithful Community of God’s people in this ideal/future time of restoration. And, indeed, we can see the ideal acted out in the Judean Community of the early post-exilic period, as recorded in the books of Ezra-Nehemiah.

Ezra and Nehemiah were important leaders of the post-exilic Community in Jerusalem, each, in his own way, working toward the restoration-ideal of the Prophets. The customary chronology dates Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem to 458 B.C., with Nehemiah arriving some 13 years later (445 B.C.). As governor of Judah, Nehemiah had greater authority, and appears to have sought to carry through the religious and cultural reforms introduced by Ezra (cf. the references to Ezra in Neh 8-10).

The hr*oT (tôrâ, Instruction, or “Law”) of God features prominently in Ezra-Nehemiah, central to the re-establishment of the Israelite/Jewish religious identity (see esp. Ezra 10:3). In Ezr 3:2; 7:6 and Neh 8:1 it is specifically called the “hr*oT of Moses” (i.e. ‘Law of Moses’), and clearly refers to a written work, since Ezra is said to be a literary expert (scribe) regarding this Torah (7:6, 21, etc); cf. also Neh 10:34, 36. Moreover, in Neh 8:1 we read of a “book of the Torah” (lit. “account of the Instruction”, hr*oT rp#s@), also occurring in vv. 3, 18, and 9:3 (cf. below). This expression is relatively rare in the Old Testament, occurring not once in the Psalms, Prophets, or Wisdom literature, etc, but only in Deuteronomy, and the historical books of Joshua, Kings, Chronicles, and Nehemiah. It is difficult to know for certain was is being referred to by the expression. Many commentators feel that it refers to some version of the book of Deuteronomy itself. However the Pentateuch contains other “law codes”, in written form—most notably those in Exodus 20:23-23:19, the “Holiness code” of Lev 17-26, as well as the other collection of laws and priestly regulations in Exod 25-31, 35-40, Numbers 1-10, and throughout the remainder of Leviticus.

In Neh 8:1ff, Ezra is asked to bring out this “account of the Torah”, so that it can be read before all the people. The words in v. 3 indicate a glimmer of fulfillment to the prophecies of restoration in Jer 31:31-34, etc: “…and the ears of all the people (were) to the account of the Instruction” (i.e., they were paying attention to it). Religious life was re-established through celebration of the festival of Sukkot (Booths/Tabernacles), and Ezra read from the Torah every day during the festival (vv. 13-18). Again, this written account of the Torah was read publicly, for several hours, on a day later in the same month, during a time of fasting and repentance (9:1-3ff). In this context, a great prayer is recorded (vv. 6-37), and through which is woven a history of Israel, from the call of Abraham to the present. The emphasis is on the repeated sins and failure of the people to live up to their covenant-bond with YHWH. As we have seen, this was very much part of the Prophetic message, related to the Exile and also the future restoration of Israel.

In this penitential survey of history, the Torah is alluded to in verse 20, in terms of the presence and activity of God’s spirit (j^Wr):

“And you gave your good spirit [j^Wr] to give them understanding [i.e. to instruct them]”

This arguably is the earliest reference to what we might call the inspiration of Scripture—that is, the spirit-inspired character of the written account of the Torah. To be sure, from the standpoint of the historical survey, it more properly refers to the inspiration of Moses as ayb!n`, or spokesperson of YHWH for the people. Just as God gave the people food to eat from heaven (the manna), so He gave them the Instruction (Torah) through Moses as a divinely-inspired intermediary (cf. the prior note on Numbers 11:10-30). Now, centuries after Moses, it is the written record of this Torah that serves to give guidance for the people.

Equally important, however, is the people’s response to that Instruction, during their history, after the settlement in their land. It is characterized ultimately as one of failure and disobedience (vv. 26-28). In verses 29-30, we can see how the role of the Prophets (<ya!yb!n+) is understood primarily in terms of exhorting Israel to restore them to faithfulness to the Torah. Just as Moses was a spirit-inspired spokesperson (ayb!n`), so too were the other chosen Prophets throughout Israel’s history:

“and you drew (out) upon them [i.e. remained patient with them] many years, and repeatedly gave (witness) among them by your spirit [j^Wr], by the hand of your <ya!yb!n+ [i.e. Prophets], and they [i.e. the people] would not give ear [i.e. listen] (to it)” (v. 30)

There are thus here allusions to the spirit-inspired character of both the Torah and the Prophets—representing the beginnings of the traditional pairing of “the Law and the Prophets”, as authoritative Scripture. The centrality of the Torah, however, is clear; the Prophets main role is to bring people back to the Torah when they have turned away from it (v. 29). It is an emphasis that is distinctly Jewish, and remains absolutely fundamental to the Jewish religious (and cultural) identity to the present day. Christians, of course, have always maintained the unique divine inspiration of the Torah as well, according to varying definitions. However, the place of the Torah in Christianity is not at all the same as it is in Judaism, and, sadly, many Christians have a poor understanding of the New Testament teaching (by Jesus, Paul, and others) in this regard. I discuss the matter at great length in the series “The Law and the New Testament”.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the book of Zechariah, for a different post-exilic treatment of the restoration-theme of God’s spirit at work among His people.

 

May 14: Joel 2:28-29 (continued)

Joel 2:28-29 [Heb 3:1-2]

(continued from the previous day’s note)

The book of Joel has been rather difficult to date, with estimates ranging from the 8th century to the post-exilic period. This is largely due to the brevity of the book, and the general lack of clear historical indicators within the oracles. The (military) invasion by a foreign power (1:6ff), compared to a locust-attack (v. 4, cf. Judg 6:5; 7:12; Prov 30:27; Nah 3:15-16; Jer 46:23), would naturally focus the context on the campaigns and conquests of either the Assyrian or Babylonian forces. In the case of an invasion threatening Judah/Jerusalem, this would mean a time-frame corresponding to either 701 or 598/588 B.C., respectively. The apocalyptic and eschatological elements in the oracles of chapters 2 and 3 make a 6th century setting much more likely.

The work is comprised of four distinct oracles—1:2-20, 2:1-17, 2:18-32[3:5], and 3:1-21 [4:1-21]. The first two oracles focus on the coming invasion, with a call to repentance, and mourning in light of the destruction that this judgment will bring (as devastating to the people as a massive locust-attack on the crops). In the last two oracles, the focus shifts to the promise of restoration/renewal—the onset of a period of peace and prosperity—along with the ultimate judgment on the nations.

These oracles in 2:18-3:21 demonstrate a strong apocalyptic and eschatological emphasis, typical of a tendency that developed in the Prophetic writings of the exilic and post-exilic period. The trauma of the Exile (both for the northern and southern Kingdoms) led to this emphasis on a future hope—when Israel would be restored, and there would be a reversal of fortune, whereby the people of Israel would flourish in a ‘golden age’ of peace and prosperity, while the nations (collectively) would face judgment. Joel 3 is one of the few passages in the Old Testament—and perhaps the earliest of these—where the “day of YHWH” motif, and the nation-oracle message of judgment (against individual nations), was broadened to apply to all the nations together. The “day of YHWH” now represents the moment when the nations, collectively, would be judged, in one great “valley of Judgment”. The great oracle of Ezekiel 38-39, and those in Zechariah 12 and 14, are the other key examples of this (eschatological) theme in the Old Testament.

When we turn to the oracle of 2:18-32 [Heb 2:18-3:5], it can be divided into three parts:

    • Vv. 18-20—A promise of salvation, in terms of the defeat/removal of the invading forces (from the north)
    • Vv. 21-27—A time of peace and prosperity—especially in terms of the fertility and (agricultural) fruitfulness of the land
    • Vv. 28-32 [3:1-5]—The manifestation of YHWH’s presence among His people, as part of a powerful theophany that anticipates the judgment of the nations (chap. 3)

We saw the same sort of dual-aspect of Land/People in Isa 44:3 (cf. the earlier note):

    • Blessing on the landwater poured out on it, irrigating the fields and making them fertile again
    • Blessing on the people—the spirit poured out on them, stimulating the people and making them fertile (in a religious, ethical, and spiritual sense)

The second aspect—the pouring out of the spirit [j^Wr] of God—is expressed in vv. 28-29. What is especially notable, however, is the way that the idea of the spirit coming upon all the people is defined in such precise detail:

“And it will be, following this, (that)
I will pour out my spirit [j^Wr] upon all flesh,
and your sons and daughters will act as ayb!n`,
and your older (one)s will dream dreams,
and your choice (young one)s will see visions;
and even upon the servants and upon the (serv)ing maids,
will I pour out my spirit in those days.”

Note the following points emphasizing a total, comprehensive inclusivity:

    • that it comes on every person is specified (“all flesh”)
    • male and female (“your sons and your daughters”)
    • old and young (“your elders…your choice ones [i.e. children]”)
    • even the male and female servants

As previously noted, this seems to fulfill the wish expressed by Moses in Numbers 11:29, as well as the ancient ideal regarding the identity of Israel as a holy nation, made up entirely of priests, prophets, and kings (Exod 19:6, etc). While this had not been realized in Israel’s history up to that point—during the periods of the migration (exodus), settlement, Judges, and the monarchy—the oracle here indicates that it will be fulfilled in the ‘golden age’ to come. Admittedly, it is not specified exactly when this will occur. The oracle utilizes a general expression “following this” (/k@-yr@j&a^), comparable to the oracular expression “in the days following, in the days after [this]” (<ym!Y`h^ tyr!j&a^B=, Gen 49:1 etc), which came to be used in a distinct eschatological sense (cf. also “in those days”, here in Joel 3:1 [4:1]; also Jer 31:29, 33; 33:15-16; Zech 8:23, etc). As a message of hope to the people of the time, we may assume an imminent expectation, even if the specific details of the future ideal expressed in the oracle were not always meant to be understood in a concrete, literalistic sense.

This is all the more so for the supernatural cosmic phenomena mentioned in vv. 30-31 [3:3-4]. The true significance of this imagery is that of theophany—i.e. a manifestation of God’s presence, according to the ancient manner of expression (cp. the scene in Exodus 19-20, as well as many examples of the storm-theophany applied to El-Yahweh [e.g., Psalm 18 A]). This theophany-language and imagery came to be used by the Prophets as part of the “day of YHWH” theme, in the nation- and judgment-oracles; it became more clearly defined and pronounced in the later Prophets, and from there passed on into Jewish tradition to form a staple of apocalyptic and eschatology in Judaism (and early Christianity) during the first centuries B.C./A.D.

How does the reference to the Spirit in vv. 28-29 fit into this framework? We may gain a better sense of this by considering the thematic structure of the oracle chiastically, as follows:

    • Promise of salvation for the land and its people (vv. 18-20)
      • God’s presence brings life and blessing to the land of Israel (vv. 21-26)
        • He dwells in the midst of His people (v. 27)
        • He pours His Spirit on all the people (vv. 28-29)
      • God’s presence brings judgment to the earth and its nations (vv. 30-31)
    • Promise of salvation for Jerusalem (Zion) and its people (v. 32)

The spirit (j^Wr) of YHWH essentially refers to His presence, reflecting a manner of expression well-established in Old Testament tradition, going back to the Creation narratives (and cf. the earlier note in this series on the Psalms references). Thus the “pouring out” of His Spirit is a symbolic expression related to the presence of YHWH among His people. The era of the restored Israel essentially marks a return to the initial moment of the Sinai theophany, when the people collectively stood in God’s presence, prior to the designation of Moses as the spokesperson (ayb!n`) who would stand in their place (Exod 20:18-21). Now all the people are such spokespersons or ‘prophets’ (<ya!yb!n+), no longer requiring any select individual to serve as intermediary. As I discussed in the previous note, this is part of a tendency, seen especially in the later Prophets (of the 6th/5th centuries), toward what we might call a “democratization” of the ancient principle of spirit-inspired leadership. Now the entire Community is inspired, with the Spirit coming upon them even as it once did the king (at his anointing), or upon the person gifted to function as a ayb!n`.

In the next daily note, we will consider this tendency as it is expressed in the book of Ezekiel, along with a brief comparison with several key passages in the book of Jeremiah.