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

The Holy Spirit in Person

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

From The Giving Gift

Of all the New Testament writings it is in John that the identity and distinctness of Son and Spirit become subjects of conscious interest and reflection.  Where other New Testament approaches major either on the identity of the two or upon their distinctness, John wants to hold both together.  For John the coming of the paraklatos is the going away of Jesus, (16:7) – here he is nearest Luke – but in another sense the coming of the Spirit is the coming again of Jesus, (14:8) – where he gets nearest the Pauline tendency to identify the two.  In the upper room discourses (Chapters 14–17) there is a subtle interplay of the two themes of the identity and distinctness of Son and Spirit in a manner that goes a considerable distance in preparing the way for the fully-fledged Trinitarian understanding that was to follow.

In John also we can find the same tendency we have noted in Paul to emphasize the distinctness of Son and Spirit in contexts that have to do with confession and prayer.  In John 16:13–14, Jesus defines the ministry of the Spirit in relation to his own.  “He will guide you into all the truth.  He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to me by taking what is mine and making it known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine.  That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”

In a very real sense this whole book is an exploration and exposition of all the riches that are implicit in these verses, and we shall return to them many times.  For the moment, however, we should note, firstly, the interdependence between the work of the Son and the ministry of the Spirit that it affirms.  On the one hand, the Spirit depends upon the Son for the content that he conveys to us: without the Son the Spirit would have nothing to convey, because he brings no content of his own.  On the other hand, without the Spirit, what the Son has would be shut up in himself: it is the ministry of the Spirit to convey it to us and open us up to receive it.  Each depends on the other.  Each depends on the other.

This interdependence itself implies a duality of persons and functions.  The content (“what is mine”) that is to be conveyed belongs to Christ, whereas the work (“making it known”) of conveying it belongs to the Spirit.  For John there is no question of Spirit being just another name for Jesus at work in the experience of his disciples.  The personal pronoun that John uses for the Spirit – the masculine, autos, “he,” used in apposition to the neuter noun, pneuma, “Spirit” – makes that clear, as does the way in which Jesus refers to the Spirit as another, distinct from himself, throughout the passage.  The key phrase is, “He will bring me glory.”  In Johannine theology, glory is that which one divine person gives to another.  Neither Father nor Son glorifies himself, but each glorifies the other.  So here the Spirit brings the Son a glory that he does not have in himself, but that comes to him through the activity of the Spirit in his disciples.

Pannenberg sees the importance of this as a basis for later Trinitarian thinking when he writes: “Was not Jesus the recipient partner with regard to the glorification as it was granted to him in the exaltation of the crucified and resurrected Lord?  And is he not the recipient partner in his glorification through his believer’s confession?  Is not the glorification something that happens to Jesus from outside himself?  If this notion proves itself sound, then one can perhaps justify the step to the dogma of the Trinity in AD 381 that called the Holy Spirit the third person in God alongside the Father and the Son.” (Jesus, God, and Man)

In other words, our confession and worship are not, according to John, the self-glorification of Jesus, any more than what happened at Caesarea Philippi was, according to Matthew, the self-confession of Jesus.  He is worshiped and confessed, in Pennenberg’s phrase, “from outside himself,” but the ultimate origin of these acts is not the human worshipers and confessors, but the Spirit in his distinctness from Jesus who is at work within them.

This has enormous implications for our appreciation of the genuinely creative way in which the Spirit works in the life, thought, and worship of the church, and we shall be exploring that later.  The important thing to notice at the moment is that this creative glorification of the Spirit by the Son, that is highly significant for John, is a dimension of things for which Berkhof’s binitarian approach cannot find any room.  For him it is Jesus himself who is acting when the Spirit works, so that he must be seen not as the recipient but rather as the promoter of the glory that comes to him from his people.  “He will glorify me” has to be translater into, “I will glorify myself”!

We must, of course, remember that John is aware not only of the personal distinctness and mutual interdependence of Son and Spirit, but also of their essential oneness.  As we have already seen, in Chapter 14, the coming of “another Counselor” (the word allos, another, meaning another of the same kind) is understood two verses later as itself a coming of Jesus, “I will come to you,” (v. 18).  Such is the oneness between them that the coming of the one involves the coming of the other.  Nevertheless, that oneness is affirmed alongside the real personal distinction between the two that we have just been describing.  John, like Paul, but much more systematically, knows how to affirm both the identity and the distinction of Son and Spirit.

In all this John is quite clearly not pointing in the direction of Berkhof and his binitarian reduction, still less in that of Lampe and his unitarian reduction.  He points rather, as Pannenberg suggests, towards the later patristic formulations that uphold both the personal distinction and the identity by maintaining that Son and Spirit are two persons who share the one being of God.  That formula can be seen to be firmly based on the experience of the first disciples, as John records it, that the Kurios whom they confess and worship and the parakletos who inspires that confession and worship are personally distinct and at the same time essentially one.

Thus, to sum up, we have looked at the New Testament evidence on the Son-Spirit relationship and seen that it refuses to be reduced either to the unitarian position of Lampe or the binitarian position of Berkhof.  Neither Son nor Spirit can be reduced without remainder to the other.  If some New Testament texts emphasize the identity between Son and Spirit, others, like Luke, tend to emphasize their distinctness; whereas Paul and John, the former more systematically, the latter less so, hold both emphases together.

All this shows that, when we are probing this relationship, we are probing both something that is complex and mysterious and also something integral to the saving action of God, as the New Testament presents it.  The action of the Spirit is the action of the divine center of personal activity, distinct from both Father and Son.  He is a person who hides his face, because his work is not to draw attention to himself, but to open us up to Father and Son.  He can come from them to us and he can bring us to them, because he is eternally one with them.  This understanding of the Spirit is explicit in the creeds, but it has been the purpose of this chapter to show that it has been implicit in the New Testament gospel from the start.

2 Comments on HOLY SPIRIT: The Person Of The Spirit—The New Testament Evidence (John) by Tom Smail

  1. marian agustin // October 16, 2018 at 2:41 am // Reply

    Hi! Tom,
    Nice article…it’s my personal quest to know who is the Holy Spirit in John14:16
    As I’ve ponder on your articles and reflect deeply…this has been the direction of my inspiration the word “another Advocate” with the
    same Anointing will send by the Father.
    We know that Jesus was fully man and fully God, but as a man with rational soul for Jesus to perform His Redemptive Mission he needs to be Anointed, and His anointing came in the form of a dove, it was the Holy Spirit.
    Now, my understanding of the John14:16 is that, there will be another person a human being that will Anointed by the same Holy Spirit.
    The question who that person is, that person must be greater than John the Baptist.
    All the Apostles will testify about who Jesus is, but none of them is greater than John the Baptist.
    So, who will the perfect person that will receive the Anointing of the Holy Spirit to testify and become the Spirit of Truth and the another Advocate?
    The Holy Spirit will used again another person to be the “another Advocate”.
    As we deeply ponder John14:16 of the role of the “another Advocate”.
    1. it wil testify and give glory to Jesus
    2. he wil not speak of himself
    3. he will guide all the Apostles to the Truth
    4. he will prophesy
    Now, who is the person?
    This is where St.Alphonsus Liguori a Doctor of the Church nailed it, but mysteriously the Church have not yet magnified his reflections.
    The “another Advocate” is none other than the Theotokos.
    Mary can do all the four roles, She is greater than John the Baptist, and She was OVERSHADOWED by the Holy Spirit.
    The Theotokos entering the New Role of the Mother of the Church needs the Anointing of the Holy Spirit same like Jesus, but this the
    Holy Spirit Anointing is for the Mission of the Church for the Salvation of all the Redeemed souls.

    It may sound, way far off from your reflections but St.Liguori is not alone in this reflections.
    St.Maximillian Kolbe “quasi-incarnation” teaching fully supports St.Liguori reflections pointing the “another Advocate as the Theotokos.”
    plus St.Montfort reflection on Mary as Mediatrix of All Graces will connect all the dots, that the Holy Spirit fully & perfectly INDWELT the Theotokos as Her Anointing as Mother of the Church.



    • There’s only me here. Julia. I post other author’s writings as well as my own. (My writing can be found under the tab at the top of the page entitled, My Writing). I am so glad that you are getting so much, so much insight and inspiration, from my postings. It is what I have prayed for. Thank you.


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