What does Holy Spirit (2) mean in the Bible?


Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Holy Spirit (2)
HOLY SPIRIT.—With the exception of the 2nd and 3rd Epistles of John, every book in the NT mentions the Spirit. On a comprehensive view, indeed, it may be said that to understand what is meant by the Spirit is to understand these two things—the NT and the Christian Church. Not that the two can be precisely co-ordinated; yet in them and in their mutual relations we have the only adequate witness to what the Spirit means for Christians. To the men who wrote the NT and to those for whom they wrote, the Spirit was not a doctrine but an experience: they did not speak of believing in the Holy Spirit, but of receiving the Holy Spirit when they believed (Acts 19:2). In some sense this covered everything that they included in Christianity. The work of the Christ was summed up in the words: ‘He shall baptize with holy spirit’ (Mark 1:8). The acceptance of the gospel is the subject of the question: ‘Was it by works of law or by the hearing of faith that you received the Spirit?’ (Galatians 3:2). The entire equality of Jews and Gentiles in the Christian community is asserted in the words: ‘God who knows the heart bore them witness in that he gave the Holy Spirit to them even as he did to us’ (Acts 15:8). After this, there was no more to be said. Yet the very fact that all who speak to us in the NT are familiar with experiences of the Holy Spirit does not always make it easier for us to understand them. It is clear that, very various experiences are described in this way, and sometimes we cannot refrain from asking whether experiences which one writer recounts without any reference to the Spirit would not have been explained as ‘pneumatic’ by another; or vice versa, whether experiences ascribed to the Spirit by one writer would not in another have found a different interpretation. Further, there is the difficulty raised by the fact that while the experiences thus explained are represented, broadly speaking, as the work of the Risen Saviour, and as dependent somehow on His death and resurrection, the Spirit appears also in His life on earth. Was this the same thing? When we read that Jesus was baptized with the Holy Spirit, are we to suppose that He had experiences in consequence which were analogous to those of Christians in the Apostolic age? The purpose of this article is to bring out the facts as they are presented in the oldest Gospel to begin with, and to show from later stages in the history the relation between the Spirit and Jesus the Christ.
1. The earliest reference to the Spirit is in the preaching of the Baptist. To the end John was conscious of the impotence and inadequacy of all his efforts: the true Helper of Israel, whatever else he might be, must be ‘One mightier than I.’ ‘I baptize you with water, he shall baptize you with holy spirit’ (Mark 1:8). A Christian Evangelist, like the author of the Gospel, might interpret such words in the light of his own post-Pentecostal experiences; and when we find the later Evangelists (Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16) add to ‘holy spirit’ the words ‘and lire,’ it is nearly certain that they have done so.* [1] But it is not clear that for the Baptist the Holy Spirit of which he spoke was so clearly defined. He had not the Christian experience to put meaning into his words, and he can only have intended something which could be understood through its OT antecedents, or through experiences with which he had been in contact at an earlier period. The earliest form of the Gospel says nothing of such experiences, and when we look backward we cannot but be struck by the almost total disappearance of the Spirit from the apocalyptical literature of Judaism. ‘First and Second Maccabees and Daniel are each in a different way witnesses for a very profound religious feeling of exactly the sort that in other ages, either earlier or later, would have been ascribed to the Spirit’ (Wood, The Spirit of God in Biblical Literature, p. 71; cf. Gunkel, Die Wirkungen des heiligen Geistes, p. 50 f.). Yet the Spirit is not appealed to in explanation. When we come to the Hebrew OT, however, the one idea which is dominant in connexion with the Spirit is the one which is wanted here to explain the prophecy of the Baptist—the idea of power as opposed to impotence. The inability of Egypt to help Israel is expressed by Isaiah in the words: ‘The Egyptians are men and not God, and their horses flesh and not spirit’ (Isaiah 31:3). Men and flesh are the impotent things, in contrast with the omnipotent, God and spirit. As A. B. Davidson puts it (Theology of the OT, 126), ‘the Spirit of God ab intra is God active, showing life and power … the Spirit of God ab extra is God in efficient operation, whether in the cosmos or as giving life, reinforcing life, exerting efficiency in any sphere.’ John the Baptist was a worker for God, but he never claims for himself either to have the Spirit or to be able to give it; he has the sense, however, that when the Mightier than himself comes, He will lie distinguished in precisely these ways. He will baptize with ‘holy spirit’ in virtue of being full of the Spirit himself.
2. When Jesus comes to be baptized in Jordan, the remarkable phenomenon is that what for others is a baptism with water coincides for Him with a baptism in the Holy Spirit. According to Mark 1:10, as Jesus ascends from the water, He sees the heavens cleaving and the Spirit as a dove descending upon Him. In the earliest Evangelist this is the experience of Jesus only: it is He who sees the Spirit descending, He to whom the heavenly voice is addressed. The later Evangelists may have conceived it otherwise, and extended the vision and the hearing of the voice to John the Baptist or even to the bystanders: it is indifferent here. All agree that on this occasion Jesus received the Holy Spirit, and in it the attestation of His Sonship, the call to His unique task, and the endowments needed to discharge it.
Critics have suggested that the curiously indirect way in which the baptism of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit are mentioned in Luke 3:21 f. is due to the writer’s desire to slur over something which is really inconsistent with his account of Jesus’ birth; but even if Luke had difficulty in adjusting these two things, as the Fourth Evangelist may have had difficulty in adjusting the incarnation of the Eternal Logos in Jesus with the descent of the Spirit upon Him in manhood, it is clear that for both the baptism was so securely fixed in the Gospel testimony that they had no alternative but to set it unambiguously down (cf. John 1:31-34).
Have we any means of saying what is meant by such words as the Evangelists employ in this connexion? Can we interpret Jesus’ experience by what we read of spiritual gifts or states in the Primitive Church? Is it right to look in His life for such phenomena as we find, e.g., in Acts or in 1 Cor. ascribed to the Spirit? May we look for such sudden accesses of feeling as we connect with scenes like Acts 2:4; Acts 4:31; Acts 13:9? Can there be such a thing as the rapture or ecstasy which seems to be meant by being ‘in the Spirit’ in Revelation 1:10; Revelation 4:2; Revelation 17:3; Revelation 21:10? These are not questions to be answered a priori. There must have been something in the life of Jesus as determined by the great experience of His baptism akin to the experiences which Christians subsequently ascribed to the Spirit, or they would hardly have traced both to the same source; and the more closely we look into the Gospels, the less does the emotionally colourless Saviour of popular art seem to correspond to the historical reality. The experiences of Jesus at the Baptism and the Transfiguration were not those of everyday life; they belong to ‘pneumatic’ as contrasted with normal conditions. So again it might be said that if the cleansing of the temple (Mark 11:15 ff.), the cursing of the fig-tree (Mark 11:14), the excitement (apparently) with which, on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus took the lead of His disciples, to their bewilderment and fear (Mark 10:32), had been told of anybody else, that other would have been described, on each occasion, as ‘filled with the Holy Spirit.’ However this may be (see J. Weiss, Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes, p. 54 n. [2] ; O. Holtzmann, War Jesus Ekstatiker?), the Evangelist makes no reference to the Spirit in this connexion. He leaves us to infer from the life which Jesus lived in the Spirit what the Spirit itself was. But it may fairly be said that some of the ideas which Christians subsequently connected with their own baptism were not without relation to the baptism of Jesus and to the interpretation which they put upon it. It was the facts of His baptism which led them to believe (a) in a normal coincidence of baptism with the Spirit and water baptism, instead of in the displacement of the latter by the former; (b) in the Spirit received in baptism as specifically the spirit of sonship; and (c) in that same Spirit as one consecrating them to God and to service in His kingdom.
3. The first light is thrown on the nature of the Spirit as received by Jesus in the narrative of the Temptations. It is the Spirit which sends Him out to the wilderness, there to engage in conflict with the power of evil. The word ἐκβάλλει (Mark 1:12), though it must not be forced, suggests a Divine impulse which could not be resisted. Jesus was Divinely constrained—for the Spirit is always Divine—to face the ultimate issues of His work from the very beginning, to contemplate all the plausible but morally unsound ways of aiming at ascendency over men for God, and to turn from them; to face the Prince of this world, and to demonstrate that that Prince had nothing in Him. The most elementary notion of the Spirit may be that of Divine power, but where we see it first at work in Jesus it is Divine power which is at the same time holy; it is at war, in principle, with everything which is unworthy of God; the kingdom which the Son of God is to found in the power of the Spirit is one which can make no kind of compromise with evil. It must be spiritual (in the complete Christian sense) in its nature—not based on bread; spiritual in its methods—not appealing to miracles which only dazzle the senses or confound the mind; and spiritual in its resources—not deriving any of its strength from alliance with Satan, from borrowing the help of the evil which wields such vast power among men, or from recognizing that it has a relative or temporary right to exist. ‘The spirit,’ as Mk. calls it (Mark 1:10; Mark 1:12), while Mt. has ‘God’s spirit’ (Matthew 3:16), and Lk. ‘the holy spirit’ (Luke 3:22) or ‘holy spirit’ (Luke 4:1), is the Divine power with which Jesus was endowed at His baptism, and which committed Him to an irreconcilable conflict with evil. It is the conscious and victorious antagonist of another spirit, of which all that need be said is that it is not of God.
4. St. Luke tells us that Jesus returned from the Jordan ‘in the power of the Spirit’ into Galilee (Luke 4:14), and St. Peter in Ac (Acts 10:38 f.) tells how God anointed Him (in the Baptism) ‘with holy spirit and power’; and it is under these conditions that the Evangelists conceive His whole ministry to he fulfilled. If they do not mention the Spirit at every step, it is because they think of Him as in full possession of it continually. It probably agrees, e.g., with the Evangelist’s own idea, to say that the passage in Mk. which immediately succeeds the Temptations illustrates first by Jesus’ power over men (Mark 1:16-20), next by His power or authority in teaching (Mark 1:21 f.), and, finally, by His power over demons (Mark 1:23 ff.), what is involved in His possession of the Spirit. A Divine power accompanied all His words and deeds, and made them effective for God and for His kingdom. The allusion in Mark 1:35 to His rising early and going away to a desert place to pray suggests that, Divine as this power was, it wrought in, and in accordance with the laws of, a human nature which was capable of spiritual exhaustion, and had to recruit its strength with God. We do not find till we come to Mark 3:21 (‘they said, He is beside himself,’ ἐξέστη) any further indication of how His work in the Spirit affected Jesus. It is clear from this impatient word, in which the same charge is brought against the Lord as was afterwards brought against Paul (see 2 Corinthians 5:13, where ἐξέστημεν is opposed to σωφρονοῦμεν), that the tension of His spirit seemed at times abnormal: He was ‘rapt’ or ‘carried away’ by His earnestness, and became for the time unconscious of bodily needs or indifferent to them (cf. the fast in the wilderness, and John 4:31 ff.). Possibly even the charge brought against Him by the scribes, that He cast out devils by Beelzebub, in other words, that He was possessed Himself by a demon,—a charge mentioned in this connexion by Mk.,—appealed for support to this tension or rapture. If the character of Jesus’ teaching and healing had been that of emotionless placidity, it would not have been even plausible to say δαιμόνιον ἔχει καὶ μαίνεται (John 8:48; John 8:52; John 10:20 : these passages from the Fourth Gospel are guaranteed by their agreement with Mark 3:21 f.). There is no trace in the Gospel of any want of self-control,—no such frenzy as is ascribed to the Spirit in 1 Samuel 19:23 f., or in the description of the glossolalists in 1 Corinthians 14,—but there is a superhuman intensity implied which was felt throughout the life in word and deed.
5. The main interest of the passage Mark 3:20-35 lies in the word of Jesus Himself about the Holy Spirit: ‘Verily I say unto you, All things shall be forgiven to the sons of men, the sins and the blasphemies, all that they have blasphemed: but whoso shall have blasphemed the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of eternal sin: because they said, He hath an unclean spirit’ (Mark 3:28 f.). It is hardly doubtful that this is the true form of this much discussed saying of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is not here set in any contrast with Jesus, as though to blaspheme Jesus were a venial fault, but to blaspheme the Spirit an unpardonable one; on the contrary, the Holy Spirit is blasphemed when malignant hearts harden themselves to say of Jesus, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’ The Divine power which works through Jesus with such intensity, healing all who are under the tyranny of the devil, is in point of fact God’s supreme and final appeal to men. It is such an exercise of power as is possible only for one who has already vanquished Satan, and is engaged in liberating his captives (Mark 3:27). No person with any sense for God in him can help being attracted by it to begin with. But if the other manifestations of this power should happen to provoke resentment,—if its ethical demands (as in the teaching of Jesus) should threaten seriously the reputation or the self-complacency of the insincere,—it is fearfully possible that they may set themselves against it, and so resist the Holy Spirit. Such resistance, once begun, may go to any length, even to the length of defiantly misinterpreting the life of Jesus, and affirming it to be from beneath, not from above. This is the sin against the Holy Spirit. In principle, it is the everyday sin of finding bad motives for good actions; carried to its unpardonable height, it is the sin of confronting the Divine holy power which wrought so irresistibly and so intensely in Jesus, and saying anything—the maddest, most wanton, most malignant thing—rather than acknowledge it for what it is. The people who said, ‘He has Beelzebul’ (Mark 3:22), ‘He has an unclean spirit’ (Mark 3:30), were not giving expression to their first, but to their last thoughts of Christ. This was the depth which malignity in them had reached. The Holy Spirit receives here a certain interpretation from being contrasted with an ‘unclean’ spirit. ‘Unclean’ is a religious rather than an ethical word; the unclean spirit is one which has not and cannot have relations with God: it can only be excluded from His presence, as it excludes those who are possessed by it. The Holy Spirit is specifically God’s; it brings Him in His power to men, it is the very token and reality of His presence with them. But it is interpreted more precisely—and this is the point of Jesus’ argument as it is brought out in the parallel passage in Mt. and Lk.—by the works which it does. ‘If I in the spirit of God am casting out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you’ (Matthew 12:28, cf. Luke 11:20, where for ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ we have ἐν δακτύλῳ θεοῦ, the Divine power being the essential idea; cf. Exodus 8:10 (15)). When the superhuman power which displays itself with such intensity is manifested in works of this sort, it is clear that it is not merely superhuman, but specifically Divine. To withstand what is so unambiguously the redeeming power of God, and to do so deliberately and malignantly, in the spirit which will kill Jesus rather than acknowledge Him as what He is, is the unpardonable sin.
The form of this saying which appears in Matthew 12:31 f. and Luke 12:10 has almost certainly been deflected in tradition. Mt. really has it in two forms, Matthew 12:31 by itself corresponding to what we have in Mk., and Matthew 12:32 to what we have in Luke. That is, Matthew 12:31 f. is a doublet, in which the same saying is found, first as it appeared in the Gospel of Mk., and then as it appeared in the collection of discourses generally allowed to have been used by Mt. and Luke. What is meant in the second form, where a word spoken against the Son of Man is contrasted with blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, is not very clear. Mk., who puts the odious charge, ‘He has an unclean spirit,’ into connexion with the word of Jesus’ friends, ‘He is beside himself,’ might be regarded is giving a key to the meaning, were it not for the fact that ‘the Son of Man’ does not occur in his text at all. An impatient, petulant word, like ‘He is crazy,’ bursting in a moment of aoxiety or irritation or misunderstanding from hearts that at bottom loved Him, was no doubt a sin; His friends ought to have been more capable of doing Him justice. But it was not a sin which committed the whole nature blindly and finally against God; it could be repented of, and when it was, then, like other sins, it would be forgiven. This would be the word spoken against the Son of Man. In contrast with such a momentary petulance on the part of His friends stands the hideous expression in which hatred of God’s present saving power reveals its utter antagonism: ‘He has an unclean spirit.’ Here the nature is finally committed against God; such a word blasphemes His Spirit—that is, it blasphemes God as He is actually here, working in Christ for man’s salvation; as such it is sin absolutely, αίὡνιον ἀμάρτημα, i.e. sin which has the character, of finality, and can never be anything but what it is—sin past which one cannot see so as to infer the possibility of forgiveness either in this world or in the next.
6. The expulsion of evil spirits from the possessed is regarded in the Gospel as a chief manifestation of the possession by Jesus of the Holy Spirit. But all His miracles are to be understood in this connexion. Without going so far as to say that in the Temptation narratives He is represented as tempted to put to selfish uses the power just conferred through the Spirit in baptism for the ends of God’s kingdom, it is a mark of historicity in the canonical Gospels that until He is baptized with the Spirit, Jesus works no miracle. It is the Spirit in which the power is given for all His mighty works (δυνάμεις). It is not likely, however, that when we read of power as having gone forth from Him (which in Mark 5:30 and Luke 6:19 may be only the Evangelist’s reading of the facts, but in Luke 8:46 is distinctly ascribed to Jesus Himself), any reference to the Spirit is intended. The wisdom and the mighty works which astonished the Nazarenes (Mark 6:2) would no doubt be referred to this source by the Evangelist; and when in Mark 6:7 Jesus sends out the Twelve, giving them authority over the unclean spirits, it can only have been conceived as due to the transference to them of a part in that Divine power which had been so wonderfully operative in Him (cf. Numbers 11:17). The idea, however, that it was the Risen Saviour by whom the Spirit was given to the Apostles so dominated the Evangelists, that none of them refers to the Spirit in connexion with this mission of the Twelve during Jesus’ lifetime. The Spirit of Jesus in Mark 8:12 is no doubt, as in Mark 2:8, His human spirit; but if we admit that it is to this that the Spirit of God is most akin, or most immediately attached, it is perhaps not fanciful to suppose that the sigh (ἀναστενάξας, cf. in a similar situation Mark 7:34) represents the grieving of the Spirit of God by the unbelief and hard-heartedness of man (cf. Ephesians 4:30, Isaiah 63:10). It is more hazardous to argue that only in ‘pneumatic’ and abnormal conditions—only in a psychological state extraordinarily and violently elevated above the level of common experience-did Jesus identify Himself with the Son of Man, who after a tragic career on earth was to rise again on the third day, or to come on the clouds of heaven (Mark 8:31; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:32 ff; Mark 14:62). Abnormal conditions such as are here supposed do not persist in sane minds, and to call Jesus an ‘ecstatic’ or a ‘pneumatic’ in this sense is only to avoid calling Him a fanatic by using a natural instead of a moral term to describe Him. Certainly the Gospel suggests in this period of His life accesses of intense emotion (Mark 8:33) and phenomena both in His aspect (Mark 9:15) and in His conduct (Mark 10:32) which must have struck people as unusual, and due to something overpowering within, which it would have been natural to call the Spirit; but in point of fact there is no reference to the Spirit in this period. Perhaps the nearest approach to it is in Mark 10:38, where Jesus asks James and John, ‘Are ye able to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ There is no doubt that Jesus speaks throughout this scene with unusual elevation of tone; and the figure of baptism, which He could hardly use without recalling the experience at the Jordan and all that His consecration there involved, lifts us into the region where the thought of the Spirit is near. Still, it is not expressed. The Triumphal Entry, the Cleansing of the Temple, and the Blighting of the Fig-tree are all acts implying intensity and elevation of feeling transcending common human limits: often other persons, visited by such impulses with startling suddenness, are said to be ‘filled with holy spirit,’ but in Jesus they do not seem to have made the same impression on bystanders. They did not apparently stand in relief in His life as they would have done in the life of others; little in it is specifically assigned to the Spirit, because the spiritual baptism at the beginning impelled and controlled it throughout. It does not really cast any light on Jesus’ experience of the Spirit, when in Mark 12:36 He quotes Psalms 110 by ‘David himself said in the Holy Spirit’: this merely represents the Jewish belief in the Divine inspiration of Scripture, a belief most distinctly preserved in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where OT quotations are introduced by ‘as saith the Holy Spirit,’ etc. (Hebrews 3:7; Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 10:15; cf. 2 Peter 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:16, Acts 1:16). More important is Mark 13:11, which contains the only promise of the Holy Spirit in the earliest Evangelist. Referring to the persecutions which will come upon the Apostles after His death, Jesus says: ‘When they lead you to judgment and deliver yon up, be not anxious beforehand what ye shall speak, but whatever is given to you in that hour, that speak; for it is not you that speak, but the Holy Spirit.’ The Spirit is here conceived as a Divine reinforcement in the very crisis of need. If fidelity to the gospel brings men to extremity, they will not be left there, but will have experience of superhuman help. It is important to notice that the precise character in which the Spirit which comes to the help of the disciples is here conceived as acting is that of a παράκλητος or advocatus—an idea of which ampler use is made in the Gospel and 1st Epistle of John. The term παράκλητος may be due to the Evangelist, but the conception of the Spirit’s function goes back to the Lord. It is not the Holy Spirit which is referred to in Mark 14:38; and in Mark 16:16-20, although mention is made, as is natural in a late passage based on other NT writings, of most of what are usually called spiritual gifts, the Spirit itself is not expressly named.
If, then, we try to sum up the oldest Evangelic representation, we can hardly say more than that the Holy Spirit is the Divine power which from His baptism onward wrought in Jesus, making Him mighty in word and deed—a power the character of which is shown by the teaching and by the saving miracles of Jesus—a power to which the sanctity of God attached, so that it is Divine also in the ethical sense, and to blaspheme it is the last degree of sin—a power in which Jesus enabled His disciples to some extent to sha

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