Third person of the Trinity.
Old Testament. Some have argued that Old Testament believers were saved and sanctified by the Spirit just as New Testament believers. But such teaching appears nowhere in the Old Testament. However people were made right with God, the focus of the Old Testament roles of the Spirit lies elsewhere.
In the earliest Scriptures, the Spirit does not clearly emerge as a distinct personality. The Hebrew word for "spirit" (ruah [; Wr]) can also mean wind, breath, or life-force. Most commonly designated as "of God" or "of the Lord, " the Spirit appears as God's agent of creation ( Gen 1:2 ; Job 33:4 ; 34:14-15 ), a mode of his interacting with humans ( Gen 6:3 ), his agent of revelation ( Gen 41:38 ; Num 24:2 ), and a mode of empowering select leaders of God's people (Moses and the Seventy Num 11:17-29 ; possibly Joshua Num 27:18 ; Deut 34:9 ). All of these uses recur throughout the Old Testament, but one other remains unique to these earliest days equipping Bezalel and Oholiab with the skills of craftsmanship for constructing the tabernacle ( Exod 31:3 ; 35:31 ), although the provision of gifts of the Spirit in the New Testament will become a close analogue.
In the books of Judges, Samuel, and Kings, certain characteristic activities of the Spirit begin to emerge. He comes upon significant individuals, almost as an energizing power, temporarily equipping leaders for physical prowess and military victory. Four judges are so characterized (Othniel Judges 3:10 ; Gideon 6:34 ; Jephthah 11:29 ; Samson 14:19 ; cf. Amasai 1 Chron 12:18 ). This supernatural power combines with inspiration for verbal utterances in the earliest form of prophecy, usually assumed to have been somewhat uncontrollable or "ecstatic" (cf. Saul's "ravings" in 1 Sam 19:20-23 ; with 10:6 with 10:10 ; 11:6 ; for David, see 2 Sam 23:2 ). With the advent of the monarchy, the presence of the Spirit functions as divine authentication of the legitimate king. When Saul no longer remains God's choice for the throne, the Spirit leaves him and comes upon David instead ( 1 Sam 16:13-14 ). First Samuel 16:13 further suggests that David retained the Spirit as a permanent possession, apparently unlike others in the Old Testament. In 1 Chronicles 28:12, the Spirit reveals to David the blueprint for the temple. By the time of the divided kingdom, the Spirit is beginning to inspire and empower prophets, guiding individuals to specific places where they proclaim messages of salvation or judgment from God to appointed audiences (Elijah 1 Kings 18:12 ; 2 Kings 2:16 ; Micaiah 1 Kings 22:24 ; Azariah 2 Chron 15:1 ; Jahaziel 2 Chron 20:14 ; Zechariah son of Jehoiada 2 Chron 24:20 ).
Of all the canonical Wisdom literature, the Spirit appears unambiguously only in the psalms. In addition to uses already noted, the Spirit is now for the first time called "Holy" ( Psalm 51:11 ) and "good" ( 143:10 ). The first of these texts demonstrates a characteristic fear in Old Testament times; even David in his unique situation did not have the assurance of God's abiding presence that would later characterize the New Testament age. The second text reflects the development of a belief in the Spirit's role in personal and moral guidance. Psalm 139:7 ("Where can I go from your Spirit?") is embedded in a key passage on the omnipresence of God.
The writing prophets preserve many of the older insights about the Spirit but for the first time begin to disclose the coming of a new era in the Spirit's ministry. God's people can look forward to restoration from exile and to a new covenant in which the Spirit will empower all his followers in the creation of a new spiritual community.
Isaiah develops this theme in several texts. God will bring a new spirit of judgment and of fire ( 4:4 )perhaps the inspiration for John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11. The Spirit will rest on the messianic "branch" with wisdom, power, knowledge, and holiness ( 11:2 ; cf. 42:1 and 61:1 , in which the Spirit similarly anoints the Suffering Servant). He will be poured out corporately on all of God's people to bring about justice, righteousness, and peace ( 32:15 ; 34:16 ), including their descendants forever ( 44:3 ; 59:21 ). Isaiah 63:10-11 contains the only other Old Testament use of "Holy Spirit, " harking back to God's guidance of Moses and the wilderness wanderers. Isaiah also recognizes the Spirit as the inspiration for his own prophecy ( 48:16 ; 59:21 ).
For Ezekiel, the most characteristic activity of the Spirit is "lifting" him up, sometimes literally from prostration ( 2:2 ; 3:24 ), many times transporting him to new locations ( 3:12-14 ; 11:1 ; 37:1 ; 43:5 ), including those seen only in visions ( 8:3 ; 11:24 ). In 11:5, he is explicitly said to be the source of Ezekiel's prophecy. In 36:27, the future eschatological restoration again appears. God will give Israel a new spirit: He will put his spirit in them and move them to obey the law and receive the fulfillment of all of his promises. Again we see a corporate presence of the Spirit not previously encountered (cf. also Eze 37:14 ; Eze 39:29 ).
Perhaps the most important prophetic text on the Spirit is Joel 2:28-32, which Peter quotes at Pentecost ( Acts 2:17-21 ). Here the prophet envisages a day in which God will pour out his Spirit on individuals irrespective of gender, age, social status, or ethnicity, particularly bestowing the gift of prophecy on many of his choice. Other themes recur too. Micah 3:8 affirms the prophecy's origination in the Spirit. Haggai 2:5 and Zechariah 4:6 connect the Spirit's presence with the empowerment for rebuilding the temple. In Zechariah 6:8 the execution of God's will brings his Spirit rest.
The Old Testament thus concludes self-consciously open-ended, anticipating a new era in which the Spirit will work among a greater number of individuals and different kinds of people to create a more faithful community of men and women serving God. Apparently they will also be more mightily empowered. The fulfillment of these promises in the New Testament conforms to the prophecy of the Old Testament.
New Testament. Although relatively infrequent in his Old Testament appearances, the Spirit now emerges to dominate the theology and experience of the major New Testament witnesses. The term "Holy Spirit" (pneuma [pneu'ma] hagion [a&gion]) becomes common, although the absolute use remains frequent and "Spirit of God/the Lord" and even "Spirit of Christ" appear too. A distinct personality emerges and, ultimately, explicit trinitarian teaching.
The Spirit is the agent of Mary's virginal conception of Jesus ( Matthew 1:18 Matthew 1:20 ; Luke 1:35 ). Christian theology has frequently perceived here God's chosen manner of enabling his Son to be fully divine as well as fully human. John the Baptist, the prophet who will herald Jesus as Messiah, "will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth" ( Luke 1:15 ). This prophecy alerts his parents to his unique nature; no one in Old Testament times was filled so early. John announces Jesus as the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire ( Matt 3:11 ), purifying and judging his people, to be classically fulfilled at Pentecost and finally consummated at the final judgment. The Spirit himself descends and anoints Jesus at his baptism to prepare him for ministry. All four evangelists use simile in describing the descent like a dove ( Matt 3:16 ; Mark 1:10 ; Luke 3:22 ; John 1:32 ); what was literally seen remains unknown. Symbolically, the dove may represent peace, re-creation, or love. The Spirit's arrival should not be taken to imply that Jesus had no previous experience of the Spirit but, in characteristically Lucan fashion, reflects empowerment for bold proclamation of the gospel.
First, however, the Spirit must lead Jesus to the place of temptation by the devil ( Luke 4:1 ). Will Christ succumb to the lure to use his power for self-aggrandizement or will he follow the road to the cross? The Spirit's role here teaches two important truths: God remains sovereign over the devil but God himself tempts no one (cf. James 1:13 ). When Jesus resists the tempter's wiles, the Spirit again empowers him for service ( Luke 4:14 ), which John makes clear is a gift without its previously characteristic limits ( John 3:34 ). Jesus' whole ministry is therefore Spirit-led, but particularly significant manifestations include the fulfillment of prophecy ( Matt 12:18, ; citing Isa 42:1 ; Luke 4:18, ; citing Isa 61:1 ), exorcisms ( Matt 12:28 ), and miracles more generally ( Acts 10:38 ; Rom 15:19 ). Because Jesus' signs and wonders most directly reveal God's spirit at work, attribution of them to Satan puts one in jeopardy of committing an unforgivable sin (the "blasphemy against the Spirit" [ Matt 12:31 ] probably equivalent to persistent and unrepentant rejection of Christ ).
Jesus agrees with the Old Testament prophets that Scripture is Spirit-inspired ( Matt 22:43, ; citing Psalm 110:1 ). The Holy Spirit gives him joy ( Luke 10:21 ). Christ gives as part of the Great Commission a trinitarian baptismal formula ( Matt 28:19 ), which even if it reflects the liturgical language of the later church (contrast Acts 2:38 ), gathers together Jesus' authentic self-understanding as uniquely one with God and the Spirit (cf. Matt 11:26-27 ; 12:28-32 ).
As the Spirit has empowered Jesus, so Jesus promises that he will similarly empower the disciples. John 7:39 and 14:17 make plain that the full future outpouring of the Spirit is not yet present even with Jesus but awaits his glorification. Then his followers will be emboldened to testify even under hostile circumstances ( Matt 10:19-20 ). The Spirit will be the preeminent good gift for which they can pray ( Luke 11:13 ; cf. Matt 7:11 ). He will make possible the new birth, over which Nicodemus so marvels ( John 3:5-8 ), and will create new spiritual lives ( 6:63 ).
Jesus' most extensive and distinctive teaching about the Spirit emerges in the five "Paraclete" passages found only in John's Gospel. Parakletos [paravklhto"] can be translated variously as "advocate, " "exhorter, " "encourager, " or "counselor." He is Jesus' personal representative and substitute, enabling the disciples to carry on ministry without Christ's physical presence on earth ( John 14:16 ). Five distinct functions can be discerned in these passages: The Spirit will help Jesus' followers, remaining with them forever ( 14:15-21 ); he will enable them to interpret Jesus' words ( 14:15-17 ); he will testify to the world who Jesus is (15:26-16:4); he will prosecute sinners, convicting them of their offenses ( 16:5-11 ); and he will reveal further truth ( 16:12-15 ), doubtless including though not explicitly specified as the New Testament canon. A week after his resurrection, Jesus begins to fulfill these promises as he breathes the Spirit on the eleven ( 20:22 ); fuller fulfillment will come a month and a half later at Pentecost.
Luke develops several distinctive themes of the Spirit's work. Most characteristic are his references to people whom the Spirit "fills." Consistently such individuals quickly proceed to speak inspired words or otherwise boldly proclaim God's Word. With Elizabeth ( Luke 1:41 ), Zechariah ( 1:67 ), and Simeon ( 2:25-27 ), the Spirit comes with temporary power as in the Old Testament. From Pentecost on, however, the Spirit becomes a permanent possession of God's people, yet believers may still be repeatedly "filled" in order to speak courageously for Christ (the 120 Acts 2:4 ; Peter 4:8 ; all Jerusalem believers 4:31 ; Saul Acts 9:17 Acts 13:9 ; 13:9 ). On the other hand, Luke reserves the expression "full of the Spirit" to refer to a mature, godly character (the first "deacons" Acts 6:3 Acts 6:5 ; Barnabas 11:24 ).
The testimony of Acts agrees with the Gospels that the Old Testament writers were inspired by the Spirit ( Acts 1:16 ; 4:25 ; 28:25 ), as was Jesus himself ( 1:2 ). The Spirit and God in certain contexts are interchangeable ( 5:3-4 ). The Spirit is clearly a person who can be resisted ( 7:51 ) and lied to ( 5:3 ). He supplies personal guidance and instruction (for obliterating social taboos 10:19 ; 11:12 for choosing church leaders 13:1-4 ; 20:28 for making difficult theological decisions 15:28 for making travel/ ministry plans 16:6-7 ). He inspires predictive prophecy ( 11:28 ; 21:11 ), even if it remains subject to potential misinterpretation by the prophets in ways not found in the Old Testament.
Three passages in Acts are particularly controversial. At Pentecost ( 2:1-41 ) the Holy Spirit "comes on" the disciples ( 1:8 ), but also fills them ( 2:4 ), leading them to speak in foreign languages that they did not previously know. But this phenomenon (vv. 5-13) was not required to facilitate communication because Peter subsequently explains what has happened in normal speech (vv. 14-36). Rather, it must be a sign to authenticate the message and ministry of the disciples. Here is the fulfillment and end of the old covenant and the beginning of the new. The Spirit who has spoken in past prophecy ( 2:17-18 ), including through Jesus ( 2:33 ), now makes himself available as a "gift" along with the forgiveness of sins to all who repent ( 2:38 ) and obey ( 5:32 ). Although baptism is closely linked as a testimony to this repentance, Peter does not likely see it as essential for reception of forgiveness or the Holy Spirit, since his next closely parallel sermon concludes only with the call for repentance ( 3:19 ). The four elements of this "Pentecostal package" (repentance, baptism, the coming of the Spirit, and forgiveness) nevertheless provide a paradigm for much subsequent New Testament theology (cf. Peter's own repeated references back to this event in passages that mention the Spirit 10:44 ; 11:15-16 ; 15:8 ).
In two places in Acts, however, the "package" seems to be broken up. In 19:1-7 Paul encounters in Ephesus followers of John the Baptist whom Luke calls "disciples" (v. 1). But upon subsequent conversation, he discovers they have never heard of the Holy Spirit (v. 2). This suggests that they were not Jews and that they had a very truncated understanding even of John's message. So it is inconceivable that Paul could have viewed them as truly regenerate believers in Christ. They do respond to his preaching about faith in Jesus, though, and are thereafter baptized, upon which they receive the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues and prophesy. The Pentecostal package, in fact, remains intact.
Acts 8:1-7 proves more complex. Samaritans "believed Philip as he preached" (v. 12a) and are baptized (v. 12b); yet they do not receive the Holy Spirit until Peter and John come from Jerusalem to see what has happened (vv. 14-17). At least three interpretations are defensible and it is impossible to choose definitively among them. First, the belief of verse 12 may have been more intellectual than volitional and hence not salvific. The baptism then, though well-intentioned, would have been premature. Second, because of the unusual hostility between Jews and Samaritans, God may have chosen to act differently on this occasion at the beginning of the church's mission outside Jewish boundaries. The Jewish apostles' arrival then enables them to confirm the salvation of the Samaritans and to begin to dissipate the previous hatred that had divided them. Third, the Spirit may not have come in a consistently predictable fashion among the first believers; he has the sovereign freedom to act however he wants ( John 3:8 )! Whichever explanation is given, however, the passage remains an anomaly, even in Acts, and therefore cannot be made paradigmatic for subsequent Christian experience.
Paul's theology of the Spirit is the richest of all of the biblical witnesses and least amenable to short summary. He echoes previous themes, seeing his own writing as Spirit-inspired ( 1 Cor 7:40 ), as with the ministry of apostles and prophets more generally ( Eph 3:5 ). Incipient trinitarianism emerges in the benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14 (cf. also Eph 2:18 ). The word of God contains dynamic, Spirit-induced power to overwhelm the forces of evil ( Eph 6:17 ), and the Spirit may bring physical deliverance ( Php 1:19 ).
Paul develops several relatively new themes as well. The constituting characteristic of a Christian is the presence of the Spirit ( Rom 8:9 ). Paul commands all believers to be continually or repeatedly "filled" with the Spirit ( Eph 5:18 ), defined as including musical praise of God, thanksgiving, and mutual submission (vv. 19-21). The Spirit is the person who raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to heaven, thereby vindicating his message and ministry ( 1 Tim 3:16 ), and powerfully confirming his Sonship ( Rom 1:4 ). Christ's resurrection guarantees that all believers will be raised by the Spirit as well ( Rom 8:11 ). One of Paul's most distinctive contributions is his concept of the Spirit as "deposit" ( 2 Cor 1:22 ) and "seal" ( Eph 1:13-14 ). The Spirit's presence in a believer's life is a promise of more to come, a partial installment of future blessings, and a divine guarantee of preservation by God.
The Spirit is God's agent for bringing people to himself and helping them to mature spiritually. Only through his power can individuals first receive God's Word as divine ( 1 Thess 1:5-6 ). Those who convert are "saved through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" ( Titus 3:5 ). The Spirit "justifies" them, acquitting them of sin ( 1 Cor 6:11 ). He then initiates the lifelong process of sanctification ( Rom 15:16 ; 2 Thess 2:13 ), producing attributes such as love, righteousness, peace, joy, and hope. These are well-epitomized as the "fruit of the Spirit" ( Gal 5:22-23 ).
In sharp contrast stand the works of the flesh (vv. 19-21), reflecting a characteristic Pauline opposition between a Spirit-controlled life and attempts to live under one's own power, variously attributed to the flesh, body, sin, or law ( Rom 2:29 ; 7:6 ; 8:1-14 ; 2 Col 3:1-18 ; Gal 3:1-5 ; 5:16-26 ). In short, Paul is closing the door on a past reliance on one's own accomplishments (and, arguably, for Jews, on their national identity) which is incompatible with the new covenant and the endowment of the Spirit. But believers should want to "walk by the Spirit" ( Gal 5:25 ), in this new sphere of existence, because he alone provides true freedom, glory ( 2 Cor 3:17-18 ), and mastery over sin ( Rom 6:1-14 ). The distinctive and characteristic form of ministry for each believer is then described in terms of the diverse "gifts" of the Spirit ( Rom 12:1-8 ; 1 Cor 12-14; Eph 4:7-14 ).
The Spirit also makes unique spiritual insight available to believers ( 1 Cor 2:10-16 ). In light of the consistent scriptural use, this likely involves more volition (obedience to God) than cognition (the mere ability to state truths about God accurately, which many unbelievers can in fact do!). Corporately, the Spirit indwells his church to make her holy, like the temple of old ( 1 Cor 3:16 ; 6:19 ), and to build her up like a dwelling ( Eph 5:23 ), creating unity and fellowship out of former enemies ( Eph 2:18 ; 4:3-4 ; Php 2:1 ). Individually, he aids in believers' prayers, bringing a newfound intimacy with God ( Rom 8:15-16 ; Gal 4:6 ).
No other New Testament writer gives the Spirit nearly so prominent a role. He is the author of Scripture ( Heb 3:7 ; 10:15 ), the one who empowers Christ ( 9:14 ) and believers ( 6:4 ), sovereignly bestows gifts ( 2:4 ), and can be insulted through apostasy ( 10:29 ). He sanctifies ( 1 Peter 1:2 ), inspires prophets ( 1 Peter 1:11-12 ; 2 Peter 1:21 ), vindicates Christ ( 1 Peter 3:18 ), and brings blessing to believers ( 1 Peter 4:14 ). He provides assurance of salvation ( 1 John 3:24 ; 4:13 ), testifies to who Jesus is ( 5:6-8 ), and produces orthodox Christology ( 4:1-3 ). He is the characteristic mark of Christians ( Jude 19 ) who pray in him (v. 20). The Spirit creates the states in which John receives his visions ( Rev 1:10 ; 4:2 ; 17:3 ; 21:10 ), is the source for the messages to the seven churches (chaps. 2-3), and one of the heavenly speakers John overhears ( 14:13 ; 22:17 ).
A biblical theology of the Spirit is difficult to epitomize. He sovereignly Acts as he chooses! Most Christian traditions stress the data of certain portions of Scripture (most notably Acts or Paul) at the expense of others. But an essential summary ought to include at least that the Spirit is the transcendent, omnipresent spiritual and localizable presence of God's personality and power, living in and divinely empowering all of God's true people in diverse and incomplete ways that foreshadow their complete, future renewal at the end of the age. Craig L. Blomberg
Bibliography. D. I. Block, JETS32 (1989): 27-49; G. W. Bromiley, ISBE, 2:730-46; G. M. Burge, The Anointed Community; J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit; D. Ewert, The Holy Spirit in the New Testament; M. Green, Believe in the Holy Spirit; D. Guthrie, New Testament Theology; G. F. Hawthorne, The Presence and the Power; W. E. Mills, The Holy Spirit: A Bibliography; G. T. Montague, The Holy Spirit; C. F. D. Moule, The Holy Spirit; H. Mller, NIDNTT, 3:689-709; L. Neve, The Spirit of God in the Old Testament; J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit; W. Russell, Trinity J7 (1986): 47-63; E. Schweizer, The Holy Spirit; idem, TDNT, 6:332-455; R. J. Sklba, CBQ46 (1984): 1-17; R. Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke; L. J. Wood, The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[J] indicates this entry was also found in Jack Van Impe's Prophecy Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Holy Spirit'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".