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

The Holy Spirit in Person

The Person Of The Spirit—The New Testament Evidence (Matthew) by Tom Smail

From The Giving Gift

A parallel and even more explicit contrast between the one confessed and the enabler of the confession may be found in Matthew 16:17, where Jesus, at Caesarea Philippi with his disciples, responds to the confession that Peter has just made.  The object of that confession is Jesus himself: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” (v. 16).  It is made in response of Jesus’s own question, “Who do you say I am?” (v. 15)  In the answer given Jesus discerns a divine activity that is not Peter’s own: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man but by my Father in Heaven.”

Here the work of opening Peter to the truth about Jesus is attributed not to the Spirit, but to the Father in line with the claim in Matthew 11:27 that “No one knows the Son except the Father.”  There is, in fact, a tendency in Matthew and John to attribute to the Father activities that after Pentecost will be attributed to the Holy Spirit.  In Matthew it is the Father who enables Peter to make a right confession of Jesus whereas in Paul it is the Spirit.  Our present point, as against Berkhof, is that in neither case is it Jesus himself.  In relation to Jesus the answer that Peter gives to the question that he is asked is Peter’s own.  It is not in any sense given to him by Jesus.  Jesus receives the answer, Peter gives it.  Peter answers for himself; it is his own answer that he gives.  The integrity of his discipleship as a free following of Jesus requires that it should be so.

However, although he answers for himself, he does not answer by himself; although the answer is his, its ultimate source is not in him, in his own “flesh and blood,” but is given to him by “my Father in Heaven.”  Jesus discerns in the answer he receives a divine hand at work in Peter which is not his own.  There is an action of God at Peter’s end of the confessional relationship which is not the action of Jesus.  For Matthew it is the action of the Father who is distinct from Jesus, just as for Paul it is the action of the Spirit, who is also distinct from Jesus.  But in neither case is it Jesus who enables his disciple to confess him.  Matthew might be cited in support of a claim that it is the Father rather than the Spirit who opens us up to confess Jesus, but he cannot be cited in support of Berkhof’s claim that it is Jesus.  On the contrary, he shows us that the freedom and authenticity of the confession depends on the maintenance of the distinction between the person of Jesus who is confessed and the divine person who enables Peter to make the confession.

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