Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Anonymous Asks (9)

“In the Trinity, we know the attributes of God and Jesus, but do we really know many about the Holy Spirit?”

No. Next question.

Kidding, of course. But the question spotlights a truth quite plain to us if we read our Bibles attentively, and that is that not every member of the Godhead gets equal time in the scriptures. This is, I think, by design, and has to do with the nature of the Spirit’s work. In fact, the Lord Jesus told his disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

The Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible, but his purpose is not to draw attention to himself, but rather to draw attention to Christ. He has a specific mission, which is to direct men and women to God through the Son, and he performs that mission to perfection; so well, in fact, that sometimes if we’re not paying attention, the Spirit himself all but disappears.

In fact, this is so much the case that some people are reluctant to use the word “trinity” at all, preferring to think of the Holy Spirit as something like a force rather than a person. Others feel more comfortable using “she” or “it” instead of “he”. This is not correct. As I wrote over a year ago in another post:
“This is not complicated, actually, and it shouldn’t be the least bit controversial for anyone who believes the Bible is God’s word: the Holy Spirit is definitely personal and is referred to in scripture by both masculine and neuter pronouns, but never feminine.

As to personhood, I would point out that the Spirit possesses all requisite characteristics: will, emotions and intellect.
Ergo, not merely a force, but a person.”
I went on to talk about the Spirit’s essential masculinity:
“The phrase ‘essential masculinity’ is a tad misleading but I’m not sure what else to call it that is less than a sentence long. I think liberals and conservatives alike would agree that since God preceded and initiated mankind (both sexes), applying words like ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ to him is a bit like trying to appreciate the color spectrum on a black and white TV screen. Our terms of reference are fragmentary and insufficient. Further, because God is spirit, we would be foolish to try to read back our own experience of living out a human sex role into our understanding of the operations of the Godhead.

But — and the ‘but’ is significant — if we believe in the inspiration of scripture, we cannot deny that, like it or not, God has deliberately chosen to reveal himself to mankind through the language and metaphors of masculinity: expressions like ‘Father’ and ‘Son’. A little reverence and humility are called for.

As to the Holy Spirit in particular, ‘spirit’ in Greek is pneuma, meaning ‘wind’ or ‘breath’. The word pneuma is neuter, so English translations that employ possessive pronouns like ‘its’ are not being irreverent, simply grammatical. However, liberal theologians who happily adopt this convention across the board or opt to use ‘she’ instead (as does the writer of the article I mentioned) are ignoring the fact that the Holy Spirit is also referred to as parakletos, or ‘comforter’, a noun which grammatically requires masculine pronouns. Further, there are several places in the NT where pronouns associated with pneuma, despite it being neuter, have been masculinized. This is surely not accidental; the same writer has used neuter pronouns elsewhere.”
Notwithstanding the Holy Spirit’s comparative silence about himself, plenty may be found in scripture about him; not anywhere near as much as is said about the Father and the Son, but certainly enough for us to form a clear picture of his attributes. He is, like Father and Son, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent (he was or is active in creation, the virgin birth, the regeneration and renewal of the believer and resurrection).

Much more has been written on the subject. If you are interested in exploring it further, Heading and Hocking’s original 1977 Treasury of Bible Doctrine has a full 33 pages devoted to the Spirit’s person and work, while the New Treasury of Bible Doctrine reprints the same material, recently reedited and supplemented, at a more affordable price.

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