HOLY SPIRIT: The Person Of The Spirit—The New Testament Evidence (Paul) by Tom Smail

The Holy Spirit in Person

The Person Of The Spirit—The New Testament Evidence (Paul) by Stanley Hauerwas

From The Giving Gift

To answer that question we must turn to the New Testament to see if it will really allow such an abbreviation in our doctrine of God.  Will we be able to say what the revelation of God, to which the New Testament bears witness, requires us to say about Christ and the Spirit, if we regard the Spirit simply as a mode of activity of Jesus?

At the outset we need to recognize that these are not questions that the New Testament authors were themselves concerned about, so that the material that they provide for answering them is implicit and indirect, coming to expression as a by-product of their dealing with the quite different questions that occupied their attention.

Furthermore, we have to recognize that there are different emphases in the different New Testament writers on this matter, and sometimes, indeed, within the work of one author.  Sometimes we can detect a tendency to identify Christ and Spirit in a way that is consonant with Berkhof’s position, and sometimes a contrary tendency at least to imply a personal differentiation between them.  That of course still leaves open the possibility that the traditional Trinitarian understanding will be able to hold together the unity and the differentiation between the two better than the binitarian position, in which the identity is maximized and the differentiation minimized or even eliminated altogether.  However, before we reach any verdict we must consider in more detail the evidence of some of the main witnesses.


It is not hard to find Pauline passages that seem prima facie to point to precisely that total identification of Christ and Spirit which Berkhof requires.  For example, in Romans 8:9-11 Paul speaks of being in Christ and being in the Spirit in a way that suggests that the two phrases are entirely interchangeable and identical in meaning.  Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 15:45 the last Adam (eschatos Adam) is said to have become life-giving Spirit (pneuma zoopoium).  Spirit, in other words, is the mode in which he communicates his new risen life to others.

Commenting on this passage James Dunn writes: “Immanent Christology is for Paul pneumatology: in the believer’s experience there is no distinction between Christ and Spirit.  This does not mean of course that Paul makes no distinction between Christ and Spirit.  But it does mean that later Trinitarian dogma cannot really look to Paul for support at this point.  A theology that reckons seriously with the egeneto [became] of John 1:14 must reckon just as seriously with the egeneto of 1 Corinthians 15:45b.”

On this showing Dunn would have to be reckoned with Berkhof and Moule.  To hold that the Spirit is the mode of action of the post-Easter Christ is, in the light of the test that he is expounding, a highly credible conclusion.

However, more recently, Dunn has reached a conclusion much more sympathetic to traditional Trinitarianism: “As far as Paul is concerned, there is what might be called a ‘Trinitarian’ element in the believer’s experience [italics mine].  It is evident from Paul that the first Christians soon became aware that they stood in a dual relationship to God as Father and to Jesus as Lord.  This relationship and awareness of it was attributed by them to the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:15ff, 1 Corinthians 12:3).  That is to say, Christians became aware that they stood at the base of a triangular relationship – in the Spirit, in sonship to the Father, in service to the Lord.”  Thus alongside texts in Paul that do not distinguish between Jesus and the Spirit Dunn draws our attention to texts that do, and as we examine the latter we shall see that they occur in confessional and doxological contexts, that is, where Christians are confessing their faith and praising their God.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 12:3, which Dunn cites, the distinction between Jesus and the Spirit becomes clear because in the confession Iésous kurios, [Jesus is Lord], it is Jesus who is confessed whereas the Spirit stands with the believers and enables them to make the confession.  We do not confess the Spirit, but the Spirit empowers us to confess the Christ who is distinct both from us and from the Spirit.  It would of course be going too far to suggest that Paul was thinking explicitly about anything like a distinction between two divine persons here.  Nevertheless, what he says implies a distinction between Christ who is at one end of the confessional relationship and the Spirit who is at the other.  The Spirit, of course, remains in the closest possible relationship to Christ but here distinguishes himself from him in an action that has Christ as its object and the Spirit as its enabling subject.

The Spirit performs the same function in relation to the confession, Abba, Father, in Romans 8:15ff and Galatians 4:6, where it is the Father who is confessed and the Spirit who is source and activator of that confession.  In both cases we do not confess the Spirit, but the Spirit works within us so that we can confess Kurios and Abba.  There is here a real distinction between the Father and the Son as the objects of the confession and the Spirit as the ultimate subject of the confession that points in a Trinitarian rather than a merely binitarian direction.

In line with this in 1 Corinthians 12:5-6 the Spirit is seen as the one who works within the body of Christ sovereignly distributing his gifts to its members, whereas Christ is Lord over the body who is to be served by the right use of these gifts.  So, in the familiar words of 2 Corinthians 13:14, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God are the things that are to be imparted, but the Holy Spirit is the one who effects the koinonia, the actual participation in that grace and love.  The Spirit comes from the Father and the Son to our side of the relationship to enable us to receive them and the grace and love they are giving us.

It is significant that it is in his teaching about prayer in Romans 8 that Paul most clearly differentiates between the action of Christ and the action of the Spirit.  He there describes two offerings of intercession that are made on behalf of the church.  The first takes place in Heaven where the ascended Christ intercedes for his people at the right hand of God, (8:34).  The second takes place in the hearts of God’s people where the Spirit comes to their aid in their inability to pray rightly for themselves and intercedes for them in perfect accord with God’s will and in inarticulate groans that words cannot express, (8:26-27).  Christ prays for us from a highly exalted position above us, the Spirit prays the same prayer from a position deep within us.  The fact that this contrast is probably quite undeliberate as far as Paul is concerned, serves only to show that he is giving expression to distinctions that were inherent in his experience of Christian worship rather than imposed upon it.

We may note in passing that Lampe can fit Romans 8:26-27 into his Unitarian framework only by denying that it is the Spirit who prays to God for us.  All Paul means, he says, is that the Spirit inspires us ourselves to pray.  This serves to eliminate the incipiently Trinitarian thought of the Spirit praying to God from within us.  It does so however at the expense of sacrificing the central point that the passage is making, that when we cannot pray for ourselves, we need to rely on one, distinct from ourselves, who, at the depths of our being, is doing on our behalf what we ourselves cannot do.  We shall explore the practical implications of this passage for our own life of prayer later.  For the moment it is sufficient to note the clear distinction it makes between the intercession of Christ and the intercession of the Spirit.

To sum up, it is far from accurate to claim Paul in support of a merging of Son and Spirit into each other.  On the contrary, there are many Pauline passages that point to a real distinction between them and that also resist the binitarian reduction that Berkhof proposes.  Furthermore, there is a distinct tendency to see Christ as the one from whom we receive and whom, in turn, we confess and the Spirit as the one who works at our side of the relationship to open us up to the reception and the confession of Christ.  In 2 Corinthians 3:18, a central verse for Paul’s understanding of the Spirit, we are described as being changed into the likeness of Christ by the Lord who is the Spirit.

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