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The Great Trinity Debate, Part 4: Dave Burke on the Holy Spirit

The Need for Contextual Exegesis
A notable feature of this debate has been the contrast between the exegetical methodologies of both sides. Rob favours an approach that places great stress on the NT texts and interprets these in a Hellenistic way that frequently steps outside the first-century milieu, whereas I take a holistic approach which embraces the full range of data from OT and NT, and interprets them in a Hebraic way that is consistent with first-century Second Temple Judaism. This issue of context is central to our respective interpretations of Scriptural evidence and the conclusions that we derive from it.

Richard Bauckham believes that the NT writers included Jesus in the identity of God, but nevertheless emphasises the need for contextual sensitivity in the study of NT source material (Jewish World Around the New Testament: Collected Essays I, Mohr Siebeck, 2008, p.1):

Most New Testament scholars would now agree that the New Testament writings belong wholly within the Jewish world of their time. However much some may be in serious conflict with other Jewish groups, these disagreements take place within the Jewish world. Even New Testament works authored by and / or addressed to non-Torah-observant Gentile Christians still move within the Jewish world of ideas.

Their God is unequivocally the God of Israel and of the Jewish Scriptures that they treat as self-evidently their own. Jesus for them is the Messiah of Israel and the Messiah also for the nations only because he is the Messiah of Israel.

Bauckham’s advice is particularly relevant to this week’s topic: the Holy Spirit. The mainstream Trinitarian doctrine of the Holy Spirit bears no relation to the OT Jewish perspective which informed the NT understanding, because the mainstream doctrine is not derived from a Jewish context but a Hellenic one. First-century Christians found no need to elaborate upon their doctrine of the Spirit, and could speak of it in the same language that their forebears had used. Later Christians developed their doctrine of the Spirit via philosophical speculations predicated upon the same Hellenic ideas of essence and consubstantiality which had led so many of them to conclude that Jesus is God. Which position is more likely to be correct?

Due to the paucity of evidence, Rob may argue that his doctrine of “God the Holy Spirit” is merely “implicit” in the NT, as he does with the Trinity as a whole. Precisely what this means remains unclear, since he still hasn’t provided a working definition of “implicit” for the context of this debate, nor has he explained why inspired Christians with personal experience of Jesus Christ would be unable to formulate anything more substantial than a handful of “implicit” doctrines about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By contrast, I argue that the Bible provides us with explicit doctrines about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which in previous weeks I have shown to be firmly rooted in OT theology. Thus, if we are to understand the Holy Spirit correctly, we must begin with the OT and follow its lead into the NT.

The Simplest Interpretation is Most Plausible
Before we continue we need to think about how to break the “proof text” deadlock, or we’ll have a repeat of what happened last week. I’m going to propose a method of doing so, with reference to last week’s exchange.

This debate is now being followed by a number of bloggers. One of them (Dr Dale Tuggy, at www.trinities.org/blog) has recently raised the point that the most economical explanation of a body of evidence is the most likely to be true. In logic this principle is known as “Occam’s Razor.” There is a large body of evidence which Rob has still not addressed, namely the preaching of the apostles themselves, which contains the following primary elements:

  • Jesus was a man with divine approval and authorisation (as demonstrated by the miracles that God performed through him) whom God raised from the dead (Acts 2:22-24)
  • Jesus is God’s servant, raised by God from the dead (Acts 3:13-15)
  • Jesus is a man appointed to judge the world by God, who raised him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31)

The apostles preached that Jesus is a man, God’s unique Son and agent, the person in, by, and through whom God worked (Acts 10:42, “appointed by God”, Acts 17:31, God will judge the world “by a man whom He designated”). The language of subordination is consistently used, designating Christ as an agent distinct from God Himself (Acts 3:13, “His [God’s] servant”, Acts 3:25, “God raised up His servant”‘, Acts 4:27, “your [God’s] holy servant Jesus” Acts 4:30, “your [God’s] holy servant Jesus”). The apostles preached this message, then baptised people with this understanding. They speak of God’s holy servant Jesus, but where do they speak of the Holy Spirit as God?

In contrast with this record, Rob presents his interpretation of certain “proof texts” which he treats as evidence that Jesus is God. I have presented my own interpretation of these texts and explained why I treat them as evidence that Jesus is a man, God’s Son, appointed and foreordained as God’s agent. In connection with this line of argument I have also shown the concept of divinely-appointed non-divine agents was well established in the OT, and was typical of orthodox Second Temple Judaism.

People may still choose to read the proof texts either way. But it should be acknowledged that mine is the most economical and Biblically-consistent explanation of the apostles’ preaching. Rob’s position does not explain why the apostles would teach a flawed Christology, applying the terms of non-divine agency to a person they described as a man and agent of God, but believed to be God (or a “God-man”), and not an agent at all. Is this really the most economical explanation of the evidence? Rob is about to face the same problem with the Holy Spirit this week. I believe it is far more economical to suggest that the apostles consistently taught that Jesus is a man, God’s unique Son, anointed by Yahweh as the Jewish Messiah and God’s agent because this is what they actually believed. I will make an analogous argument this week with regard to the Holy Spirit.

Last week Rob provided no explanation of the way in which the apostles taught people that Jesus is God before they were baptised. This must be addressed, because this week Rob will be presenting the proof texts he believes support the idea that the Holy Spirit is one of the three persons of the Trinity, so we’re going to repeat the entire process all over again in a new context.

As a way of breaking the proof text deadlock, I offer the book of Acts and the preaching speeches delivered by apostles to those they converted and baptised. In Acts 2 alone, thousands of people were baptised on the basis of the preaching they heard at Pentecost. That preaching is described in considerable detail, and the Holy Spirit is referred to prominently, but I find no reference to the Trinity or the deity of Christ, let alone the Holy Spirit as God. I have previously asked Rob to teach me the Trinity (or at least the deity of Jesus), in the way the apostles taught those they baptised. This week I ask him to teach me the doctrine of “God the Holy Spirit”, using the same arguments employed by the apostles in Acts.

The Holy Spirit: An OT Context
Rob has previously grappled with the Biblical Unitarian definition of the Holy Spirit, claiming that we offer a “moving target.” He has read a few articles which he found conflicting and unclear. I believe Rob’s difficulties with BU definitions of the Holy Spirit are largely the result of his theological preconceptions (and perhaps also some sloppy writing on BU websites). As a Trinitarian, Rob thinks of the Spirit in ontological terms which have no relevance in a BU context. Thus, when he reads a BU website which says “The ‘Holy Spirit’ is another name for God our father”, he apparently finds it hard to disentangle this from the Trinitarian conception. Had he examined the wider context of this statement (e.g. the article here) I am sure he would have found it qualified to his satisfaction.

The OT provides a consistent doctrine of the Spirit as the power of God; not a divine person (“God the Holy Spirit”) or the totality of God Himself. Biblical Unitarians sometimes refer to the Spirit as “impersonal” to avoid any suggestion that it is a literal person, but this does not mean that it is in some way separate from God or independent of Him. On the contrary, Scripture demonstrates that God’s omnipresence is a function of His Holy Spirit power, allowing Him to extend His presence to any part of His creation:

  • Psalm 51:11, “Do not reject me! Do not take your Holy Spirit away from me!”
  • Psalm 139:7, “Where can I go to escape your spirit? Where can I flee to escape your presence?”
  • Isaiah 63:11, “His people remembered the ancient times. Where is the one who brought them up out of the sea, along with the shepherd of his flock? Where is the one who placed his holy Spirit among them”
  • Jeremiah 23:23-4, “‘Do you people think that I am some local deity and not the transcendent God?’ the LORD asks. ‘Do you really think anyone can hide himself where I cannot see him?’ the LORD asks. ‘Do you not know that I am everywhere?’ the LORD asks.”

Throughout the OT, God’s Holy Spirit is described as something that belongs to Him, like a property or a power (G. W. H. Lampe: “In the literature of Israel the Spirit of God is generally conceived of as an impersonal but divine force”, “The Holy Spirit in the Writings of St. Luke” in Studies in the Gospels, ed., Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1955, p.160).

This is amplified by the many passages in which the Holy Spirit is presented as something that can be bestowed upon others, for various purposes and with varying effects:

  • Knowledge, abilities, talents and virtues: Exodus 31:3, “‘and I have filled him with the Spirit of God in skill, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship.'” (Cf. I Kings 4:29).
  • Supernatural strength: Judges 14:6, “The LORD’s spirit empowered him and he tore the lion in two with his bare hands as easily as one would tear a young goat.” (Cf. Judges 15:14).
  • Prophecy: I Samuel 10:6, “‘Then the spirit of the LORD will rush upon you and you will prophesy with them. You will be changed into a different person.'” (Cf. Joel 2:28).
  • Divine authority: Judges 11:29, “The LORD’s spirit empowered Jephthah.” (Cf. II Chronicles 15:1-7).
  • Divine approval: I Samuel 16:13, “So Samuel took the horn full of olive oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers. The Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day onward.” (Cf. Isaiah 42:1).
  • Divine inspiration: Ezekiel 11:5, “Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon me and said to me, ‘Say: This is what the LORD says: ‘This is what you are thinking, O house of Israel; I know what goes through your minds.”” (Cf. II Chronicles 24:20).

This list is not exhaustive.

On very rare occasions, we receive a glimpse of possible personification:

Isaiah 63:9-10, “Through all that they suffered, he suffered too. The messenger sent from his very presence delivered them. In his love and mercy he protected them; he lifted them up and carried them throughout ancient times. But they rebelled and offended his holy Spirit, so he turned into an enemy and fought against them.”

Here Isaiah appears to equate the angel of God’s presence with “his holy Spirit”, echoing the words of Exodus 23:20-21 (“‘I am going to send an angel before you to protect you as you journey and to bring you into the place that I have prepared. Take heed because of him, and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him'”). The exact meaning of this verse is still debated. Some commentators distinguish between “the angel of his presence” and “his holy spirit”, treating the former as a literal angel and the latter as God’s own power or person; some conflate the two as a personification of the Holy Spirit; some conflate the two as a dual reference to the angel in the form of a Hebraic parallelism; some believe that the angel is the pre-existent Son and the spirit is the Father; some believe that the angel is actually the “divine person” of the Holy Spirit.

G. A. F. Knight (The new Israel: A commentary on the book of Isaiah 56-66, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1985, pg.76–77) views the reference to the Holy Spirit as speaking of Yahweh Himself:

10–14 ‘But as for them (wehemmah), they rebelled.’ That action by Israel ‘grieved his holy Spirit’ or, as we might say, broke God’s heart. Verse 10b thus shows a continuity with v. 6, making the whole chapter a unity. We read that when God was heartbroken at the sin of humanity (Gen. 6:6) he ‘remembered’ Noah (8:1). So too here, God ‘remembered’ how he had given Israel his Covenant and had promised to be their God no matter what might happen. God then even proceeds to ask himself questions! ‘Where is he who brought up?…’ In ‘the days of old, of Moses’, Miriam and Aaron had been ‘the shepherds of his flock’. In other words, God asks himself if he had not perhaps reneged on his responsibilities to Israel within the Covenant.

Knight’s analysis demonstrates the fluidity of personification concepts within the context of OT Jewish religious tradition. Pre-Christian Jews were comfortable identifying an angel with the presence or Spirit of God, or the inspired Word of God with His Holy Spirit; multiple applications shared the same language, which could be taken much further than regular personification — and often was — because although the Holy Spirit is not a person itself, it operates as God-in-action.

Personification Par Excellence
Most Christians will be familiar with Proverbs 8, where wisdom is portrayed as a woman in a theme continued from previous chapters. No other OT example of personification uses such concrete language to describe an abstract concept as if it were a literal, personal being. Some Christians of the second and third centuries (e.g. Justin Martyr & Arius) saw Proverbs 8 as a description of the Lord Jesus Christ, portrayed as a superlative divine being whom God created before anything else.

A brief review of wisdom’s attributes will show how easily this can be done:

  • Speech: Proverbs 8:1-3, 2:2
  • Riches and honour: Proverbs 3:16-18
  • Emotions and authority: Proverbs 4:6-9
  • Daughters, a house and servants: Proverbs 9:1-3
  • Can be sinned against: Proverbs 8:36

Not only does wisdom speak, but we also have direct quotes attributed to her:

  • Proverbs 1:22, “‘How long will you simpletons love naiveté? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?'”
  • Proverbs 8:12, “‘I, wisdom, live with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.'”
  • Proverbs 9:17, “‘Stolen waters are sweet, and food obtained in secret is pleasant!'”

How much further can this go before it ceases to be personification? Let’s find out.

Wisdom: Another “Divine Person”?
The Bible explicitly describes wisdom in terms which mainstream Christians traditionally associate with the Holy Spirit, even going so far as to imply literal deity.

Wisdom indwells the believer:

  • Exodus 28:3, “‘You are to speak to all who are specially skilled, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom'”
  • Exodus 31:3, “‘and I have filled him with the Spirit of God'”
  • Deuteronomy 34:9, “Now Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had placed his hands on him”
  • Job 38:36, “‘Who has put wisdom in the heart, or has imparted understanding to the mind?'”

Wisdom has prophets and apostles:

  • Luke 11:49, “For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute'”

Wisdom created the world:

  • Psalm 136:5, “to the one who used wisdom to make the heavens, for his loyal love endures”
  • Proverbs 3:19, “By wisdom the LORD laid the foundation of the earth; he established the heavens by understanding.”
  • Jeremiah 51:15, “He is the one who by his power made the earth. He is the one who by his wisdom fixed the world in place, by his understanding he spread out the heavens.”

Wisdom has a spirit, just as God has a spirit and Jesus has a spirit:

  • Exodus 28:3, “‘You are to speak to all who are specially skilled, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom'”
  • Deuteronomy 34:9, “Now Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had placed his hands on him”

Wisdom upholds and maintains the political systems of the world:

  • Proverbs 8:15-16, “‘Kings reign by means of me, and potentates decree righteousness; by me princes rule, as well as nobles and all righteous judges.” (Cf. Dan 2:20-21, “”Let the name of God be praised forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to him. He changes times and seasons, deposing some kings and establishing others. He gives wisdom to the wise; he imparts knowledge to those with understanding””).

Judged purely on the basis of accumulated proof texts, it could be claimed that we have a stronger prima facie case for the literal personality and deity of wisdom than we do for the Holy Spirit. But is this a legitimate proposal?

The Holy Spirit in the New Testament (I)
Despite a number of theological developments between the OT and NT eras (including the expansion of wisdom language in apocryphal literature), Jewish pneumatology remained static. Those Jews who still retained a belief in the Holy Spirit, saw no reason to deviate from the original OT conception. Max Turner (Power from on High, Sheffield Academic Press, 2000 p.25):

Intertestamental Judaism did not use the term Spirit as an explanation of all otherwise inexplicable manifestations of supernatural power; only certain types of event were regularly attributed to the Spirit — principally those that could be classed as manifestations of the ‘Spirit of prophecy’; namely revelation, wisdom and charismatic speech.

F. W. Horn (Vol. 3: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, New York: Doubleday, 1996, p.264):

A systematic itemization of the particular statements on “holy spirit” in rabbinic literature will schematize the source material. Thus, salient aspects of the rabbinic literature spanning several centuries can be listed together (Goldberg 1969; Schäfer 1972). The construction rûaḥ haqqōdeš, lit. “spirit of holiness,” implies the divine origin of the spirit. Yet this does not mean that the holy spirit was regarded as a hypostasis distinct from the divine presence (šĕkı̂nâ).

It was this doctrine of the Holy Spirit which provided a basis for the Christian understanding — and as we shall see, that basis preserved a conceptual link to OT pneumatology. But how do we know what the first-century Christians thought about the Holy Spirit? We know from the way they wrote about it, the way they spoke to people about it, and the way they interacted with it. Luke provides a classic example:

Luke 1:35,” The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.'”

Here is a foundational verse for the NT doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Note that the angel unequivocally equates “the Holy Spirit” with “the power of the Most High” in a typical Hebraic parallelism, affirming its divine origin whilst simultaneously precluding personality. Luke’s view of the Spirit is particularly important to us because he wrote the book of Acts, in which the Holy Spirit features prominently.

Max Turner (Power from On High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts, p.41) lists a wide range of verbs associated with the Holy Spirit throughout Luke and Acts which seem to indicate personality and independent volition:

  • Teach: Luke 12:12
  • Give utterance: Acts 2:4
  • Be witness: Acts 5:32
  • Say: Acts 8:29 cf. 1:16, 10:19, 11:1, 13:2, 19:1, 28:25
  • Snatch away: Acts 8:39
  • Send: Acts 13:4
  • Forbid: Acts 16:6
  • Allow: Acts 16:7
  • Testify: Acts 20:3
  • Appoint as an overseer: Acts 20:28

Christians usually view these as evidence that the Holy Spirit is not only a person, but God Himself. This interpretation appears to be strengthened by other passages implying literal personality, which Turner also lists:

  • Acts 5:3 — the Holy Spirit is “lied to”
  • Acts 7:41 — the Holy Spirit is “resisted
  • Acts 10:38 — the phrase “God was with him” could be modifying the statement that Jesus was “anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power”
  • Acts 13:2 — the Holy Spirit instructs that Barnabas and Saul should be set apart “for me”
  • Acts 15:28 — certain decisions “seemed best to the Holy Spirit”
  • Acts 28:25-26 — the Holy Spirit “spoke rightly to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah”

But after examining all of these verses, Turner remains unconvinced:

The important question we must ask in each case, however, concerns the intended linguistic status of such affirmations. Is the personal language intended literally (and so to imply the Spirit is a hypostasis), or is it part of the more widespread, and typically Jewish tendency to personify divine attributes, or to represent the Spirit as the extension of Yahweh’s own presence? Most treatments of the subject are too insensitive to the various possibilities. If we bear this distinction in mind, an examination of Luke’s Spirit material does not suggest he thinks Christians were any more aware of the Spirit’s personhood than their Jewish contemporaries were. The ‘personal’ traits within his Spirit traditions rarely move beyond the types of personification of the Spirit (and of the word, the Shekinah, the name, etc.) regularly found in exclusively monotheistic Judaism.

(Power from On High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts, p.42)

Even Acts 5, where the apostle Peter accuses Ananias of “lying to the Holy Spirit” (verse 3) and his wife of trying to “test the Spirit of the Lord” (verse 9) is not an open and shut case. The usual argument made from this passage is that Peter accuses Ananias of “lying to the Holy Spirit” and Sapphira of trying to “tempt the Holy Spirit”; but since an impersonal power cannot be lied to or tempted, the Holy Spirit must therefore be a person and therefore it follows that the Holy Spirit is God. The logic here is not terribly good, and the argument ends with a non sequitur.

Lying to Peter was equivalent to lying to the Holy Spirit, since it was this power which enabled him to read the minds of Ananias and Sapphira. Lying to Peter was therefore the same as lying to God, since the Holy Spirit empowered him as one of God’s authorities on Earth, possessing even the power of life and death. The word “tempt” in verse 9 is an old and redundant translation (modern versions usually have “test”; cf. James 1:13, where we are told that God cannot be tempted); thus Peter accuses Sapphira of trying to test the Holy Spirit, which neither implies nor requires that the Holy Spirit is a person. Even if it was agreed that Acts 5 teaches the Holy Spirit is a person, it does not necessarily follow that the Holy Spirit is God.

Some Christians seem to believe that the Holy Spirit can simply be “defined into personality”, as it were, by the mere collation of proof texts bearing some loose aspects of personification. How can this be a valid methodology? I have shown exactly the same can be done for wisdom in the OT, but what does it ultimately prove beyond the fact that personification has tremendous scope for expression?

Verses which tell us that the Holy Spirit can “speak” (e.g. II Samuel 23:2, Acts 10:19-20, Acts 13:2, Acts 20:23, Acts 21:11, Acts 28:25-27, Hebrews 3:7-11) merely employ the same literary device by which Scripture can “speak” (John 7:38, 42; John 19:37; Romans 4:3; Romans 9:17; Romans 10:11; Romans 11:2; Galatians 3:8; Galatians 4:30; I Timothy 5:18; James 4:5). How many Christians would claim that Scripture is a person? None that I know of; they would tell me that this is just a form of poetic license. Yet when faced with verses in which the Holy Spirit “speaks”, they insist that it must be a literal person. But why differentiate in this way? Which interpretation is more likely: that the same use of language implies a completely different conclusion in two identical cases, or that the same use of language implies the same conclusion for both?

The Holy Spirit in the New Testament (II)
Central to the apostles’ experience of the Holy Spirit was Jesus’ promise to them before his death on the cross:

  • John 14:16-17, “‘Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.'”
  • John 15:26 “‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father — the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father — he will testify about me.'”

Jesus’ use of personal language can be read as a typological recall of Exodus 23:20-21, signifying that he would send the Holy Spirit to act in the same capacity as the “angel of the presence.” Note, however, that Jesus’ language only goes so far: it presents nothing stronger than the personification language we have already seen in Proverbs, it does not ascribe any divine names or titles to the Holy Spirit, and it does not ascribe any uniquely divine properties, privileges or attributes to the Holy Spirit. Why doesn’t Jesus refer to the Holy Spirit as “God”, or even “Lord”? Why doesn’t he prepare his disciples for the earth-shattering revelation that the power of God they have witnessed and experienced for the past three and a half years, is in fact yet another person of God Himself? Even at Pentecost this concept is still not “revealed.” What could be the reason?

Max Turner recognises the theological poverty of these verses as Trinitarian proof texts:

The fact remains that the clearest presentation of the personal being of the Spirit in the New Testament comes in John 14-16, where John presents the Spirit-Paraclete as a figure set in parallel to Jesus, mediating the Father and the Son to the disciples as Jesus had mediated the Father during his ministry (Jn 14.6-11).

But even in these circumstances there is no suggestion made by John that Christians (after Jesus’ glorification) will consciously receive the Spirit, and experience him, as a divine Person. Jesus as mediator of the Father revealed himself; but the Spirit precisely does not do so (16.13), revealing only Christ and the Father. Appropriately, Smail entitled his chapter on the person of the Spirit, ‘The Person without a Face’.

(Power from On High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts, p.44-5).

The apostles’ doctrine of the Holy Spirit was reaffirmed by their personal experience with it. Perhaps more than any other Christians’, their lives were suffused by its power, authority and guidance. They received it from Jesus before his ascension; they received it again at Pentecost; they bestowed it upon others; they refused to trade it for money; they employed it as proof of divinely sanctioned authority. In all of this we see them acting as if the Holy Spirit is the power of God, not the person of God:

The fact of the Spirit’s personhood was not always perceived in church history. (A “new pneumatology” would have to begin here.) Attention first centered on God and Christ, Father and Son. The Spirit was valued for his work in the church, but he was a problematic third in the doctrine of the Trinity, within which he was “officially” recognized only at Constantinople in 381 (Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed). He had mostly been viewed only as a bridge between God and creation, between the Word and believers.

This approach could involve trivializing, for in fact the Spirit is not just a mediating something, a divine phenomenon between the Father and the Son, or a mere representation of the Father in the Son or of Jesus Christ to the church. The promises of Jesus that he would send the Paraclete after going away (John 14:16–17; 16:7–15) might suggest this kind of interpretation, which for the rest entails a reading of historical Trinitarian ideas into the “immanent Trinity,” the source of many misunderstandings.

(E. Fahlbusch & G. Bromiley, Vol. 2: The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999-2003, p.582)

I conclude with Revelation 4 & 5, in which the apostle John receives a divinely inspired vision of God. Several features of this vision require close examination:

  • There is only one throne and only one person sits upon it: the Father.
  • The Father (sitting on the throne) is the only person worshipped as “the Lord God, the All-Powerful” and the only person credited with the creation of the world.
  • Jesus is shown to be separate and distinct from the Father; not just as a different person, but also as a different being (ie. the Lamb).
  • The Holy Spirit is not shown at all. Some commentators have suggested that “he” might be represented by the seven lamps of fire, but they struggle to explain why the Holy Spirit would be divided into seven portions and depicted as an impersonal force.

The theological issues here need hardly be emphasised.

13 Responses to “The Great Trinity Debate, Part 4: Dave Burke on the Holy Spirit”

  1. Some thoughts on round 4 both here and here.

  2. CUTTING CHRIST DOWN TO SIZE WITH OCCAM’S RAZOR

    Dave,

    You appealed to “Occam’s razor” as an epistemological rationale for your approach to the subject of the identity of Jesus Christ:

    “People may still choose to read the proof texts either way. But it should be acknowledged that mine is the most economical and Biblically-consistent explanation of the apostles’ preaching. Rob’s position does not explain why the apostles would teach a flawed Christology, applying the terms of non-divine agency to a person they described as a man and agent of God, but believed to be God (or a ‘God-man’), and not an agent at all. Is this really the most economical explanation of the evidence? Rob is about to face the same problem with the Holy Spirit this week. I believe it is far more economical to suggest that the apostles consistently taught that Jesus is a man, God’s unique Son, anointed by Yahweh as the Jewish Messiah and God’s agent because this is what they actually believed.

    This argument is similar to the one you made in week 3. It presupposes that your description of what the apostles taught is complete as well as accurate. It is not. Yes, the apostles taught that Jesus was a man; yes, they taught that Jesus was an agent of God the Father. No, this is not the totality of what the apostles taught about the identity of Jesus Christ. They also taught that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son, was the “agent,” if you will, of creation (1 Cor. 8:6; Heb. 1:2; cf. John 1:3, 10), the one who made heaven and earth (Heb. 1:10), the one in, through, and for whom all things were created (Col. 1:16). They taught that he sustains the universe, bearing it along providentially toward its consummation (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). They taught that he was God in the beginning, before creation (John 1:1), and therefore was “God” before anyone existed to whom he might represent God as a mere “agent.” The proper use of Occam’s razor requires that all of the available evidence be given a full and fair place. Otherwise, Occam’s razor becomes a meat cleaver by which rationalists chop off whatever does not fit their system. That is what you are doing with the biblical evidence pertaining to the identity of Jesus Christ.

  3. PROVE THE TRINITY FROM THE BIBLE—USE THIS CHAPTER ONLY

    Dave,

    Once again, you challenge me to show from the book of Acts, and specifically Acts 2, “the way in which the apostles taught people that Jesus is God before they were baptized.” You ask me to “teach [you] the Trinity…in the way the apostles taught those they baptized.”

    I have already explained why this challenge is unreasonable. The focus of Peter’s speech in Acts 2 is the resurrection of Christ. It is not a primer on Christian doctrine.

    However, in my fifth-week post (on the Trinity), I do discuss Acts 2 and show that we have good evidence in that chapter that the apostles taught people to “call upon” Jesus Christ as “Lord” (= Yahweh) for salvation (Joel 2:32).

  4. THE JEWISH DOCTRINE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT: CONSISTENTLY STATIC AND FLUID

    Dave,

    You wrote:

    “The mainstream Trinitarian doctrine of the Holy Spirit bears no relation to the OT Jewish perspective which informed the NT understanding, because the mainstream doctrine is not derived from a Jewish context but a Hellenic one….”

    This statement presupposes that there is one simple, straightforward, and unchanging doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the OT and Judaism. On this point, your statements regarding the Jewish view of the Holy Spirit exhibit an interesting variation—what looks, at any rate, like a contradiction. On the one hand, you maintain that the Jewish view of the Holy Spirit was consistent, even “static,” throughout the OT and Second Temple Judaism:

    “The OT provides a consistent doctrine of the Spirit as the power of God…. Throughout the OT, God’s Holy Spirit is described as something that belongs to Him, like a property or a power…. Despite a number of theological developments between the OT and NT eras (including the expansion of wisdom language in apocryphal literature), Jewish pneumatology remained static.”

    This seems clear enough: the OT and Judaism through the end of the NT era taught one, “consistent,” “static” doctrine of the Holy Spirit. But then you also write:

    “On very rare occasions, we receive a glimpse of possible personification…. Knight’s analysis demonstrates the fluidity of personification concepts within the context of OT Jewish religious tradition. Pre-Christian Jews were comfortable identifying an angel with the presence or Spirit of God, or the inspired Word of God with His Holy Spirit; multiple applications shared the same language, which could be taken much further than regular personification — and often was — because although the Holy Spirit is not a person itself, it operates as God-in-action.”

    These statements appear to contradict the other ones quoted above. If there are glimpses of possible personification, even on rare occasions, then the doctrine may not be “consistent” in viewing the Holy Spirit simply as God’s power. More telling is your description of the Jewish doctrine of the Holy Spirit as characterized by a “fluidity of personification concepts,” which would seem inconsistent with your claim that the doctrine was “static” or unchanging. Evidently there was no single, unchanging, uniform doctrine of the Holy Spirit that was the Jewish view.

    The truth is that the mainstream Christian view of the Holy Spirit is derived, not from “Judaism,” and not from a “Hellenic” perspective, but from the New Testament. The NT revelation is rooted in Jewish soil but is not limited to the theology of the OT or to the theology of Second Temple Judaism.

  5. WISDOM IS PERSONIFIED; THEREFORE, THE HOLY SPIRIT IS NOT A PERSON

    Dave,

    You characterize the case for the Trinitarian view of the Holy Spirit as based on a “mere collation of proof texts bearing some loose aspects of personification.” On this basis, you judge the case for the distinct personhood of the Holy Spirit to be weaker than the case for the distinct personhood of Wisdom in Proverbs (although to buttress the argument you appeal to other OT texts outside of Proverbs). Let me quote your methodological comments at some length:

    “Judged purely on the basis of accumulated proof texts, it could be claimed that we have a stronger prima facie case for the literal personality and deity of wisdom than we do for the Holy Spirit. But is this a legitimate proposal?… Some Christians seem to believe that the Holy Spirit can simply be ‘defined into personality’, as it were, by the mere collation of proof texts bearing some loose aspects of personification. How can this be a valid methodology? I have shown exactly the same can be done for wisdom in the OT, but what does it ultimately prove beyond the fact that personification has tremendous scope for expression? … Jesus’ language [in John 14-16] only goes so far: it presents nothing stronger than the personification language we have already seen in Proverbs…. Why doesn’t he prepare his disciples for the earth-shattering revelation that the power of God they have witnessed and experienced for the past three and a half years, is in fact yet another person of God Himself?”

    Happily, I have already refuted this line of criticism thoroughly in my fourth-week contribution on the Holy Spirit. There I presented a case for the personhood of the Holy Spirit from John 13-16 in its narrative setting in the Gospel of John and from the entire Book of Acts in which Luke presents the Holy Spirit as the divine Witness who participated in the events reported in the book and whose testimony therefore stands behind the entire narrative. I explained why this approach is not a “mere collation of proof texts” and why the language in these two books cannot be explained away as a literary artifice of personification. I specifically addressed the very argument that you presented from Proverbs, explaining why the genre and context of Proverbs in contrast to John and Acts refutes the comparison between the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs and what John and Acts say about the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, I showed that in John 14-16 Jesus does exactly what you claim he should have done but didn’t; that is, I showed that Jesus did prepare his disciples for the revelation of the Holy Spirit as a divine person who is distinct from both the Father and the Son.

    Dave, I think it would help readers of this debate to know that as a Christadelphian, you also view Satan (the devil) as a personification and not as a real existing spiritual or supernatural being. On your forum, you explicitly argue against the view that the devil is “a real, personal being,” and in support of your view that the devil is sin “personified.” You characterize the belief that the devil is a literal being as an “unjustified preconception,” in much the same way that you characterize belief in the eternal deity of Christ or the personhood of the Holy Spirit.

  6. HOLY SPIRIT = POWER OF GOD (LUKE 1:35)

    Dave,

    Regarding Luke 1:35, you wrote:

    “Here is a foundational verse for the NT doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Note that the angel unequivocally equates ‘the Holy Spirit’ with ‘the power of the Most High’ in a typical Hebraic parallelism, affirming its divine origin whilst simultaneously precluding personality.”

    Once again, I am happy to see that I anticipated this particular argument and responded to it in my fourth-round post. As I pointed out there, by your reasoning we would have to conclude that the Bible “unequivocally equates” the Father with the power of God (Luke 22:69), the Son with the power of God (1 Cor. 1:24), and the gospel of Christ’s death on the cross with the power of God (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18). Since these “equations” cannot all be “unequivocally” accepted as definitions of the terms given, we must conclude that your argument is exegetically or hermeneutically invalid.

    If “Holy Spirit” is another way of saying “power of God,” or if “spirit” and “power” are interchangeable terms, some biblical texts turn out to be quite awkward in their wording. For example, when Peter said that God anointed Jesus “with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38), did this mean that God anointed Jesus with the power of God and power? When Paul prays that the Roman believers “may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13), did he mean by the power of the power of God? And what could Paul possibly mean by saying that “God has not given us a spirit of timidity but of power” (1 Tim. 1:7)?

  7. MAX TURNER ON THE HOLY SPIRIT

    Dave,

    In your discussion on the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, you replied heavily on British new Testament scholar Max Turner’s book Power from on High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts (Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), quoting it with regard to the material on the Holy Spirit in both Luke-Acts and John. This book is highly regarded as one of the best studies on the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, so it is especially worth consulting on that subject.

    Unfortunately, you have not understood Turner correctly, as I shall try to explain. The misunderstanding is sufficiently subtle that I will need to review Turner’s argument for you in some detail in order to back up my assessment.

    You listed a number of texts from Acts that Turner cited, and then commented:

    “But after examining all of these verses, Turner remains unconvinced.”

    You are correct, but the question is, of what exactly was Turner unconvinced? The issue that Turner is addressing here is not whether there is a third divine person known as the Holy Spirit. The issue that Turner is addressing in this chapter, “Diverging Explanations of the Essential Character of the Gift of the Spirit” (38-79), is what Luke means by “the gift of the Spirit.” Some scholars (e.g., James Dunn in his earlier work) had argued that “the gift of the Spirit” was the gift of new life in Christ as sons of God—in effect, that what the gift does is to make people Christians. This idea correlates generally with the Reformed doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit (although Dunn was not developing his thesis in that systematic theological context). Other scholars (e.g., Roger Stronstad, Robert Menzies) argued for a more “Pentecostal” view that the gift of the Spirit referred to the special enabling or empowerment that the Spirit imparted (to people who were already Christians) for mission. A third view (represented by Nikolaus Adler), which Turner actually engages first, was that “the gift of the Spirit” refers to “the Spirit himself” rather than to a specific gift associated with the Spirit (whether sonship or power for mission). This is the issue that Turner is engaging in the section (#2.1) from which you quoted (39-48). Turner summarizes the basic assertion of this view as “that men and women had received a variety of gifts of the Spirit before Pentecost, but at Pentecost Christians began receiving the Giver of these gifts himself, the Third Person of the Trinity” (40).

    Turner develops three criticisms of Adler’s view:

    1. It cannot explain “why Old Testament endowments with the Spirit should not be regarded as occasions of receiving the Holy Spirit ‘himself’ too” (40, see 40-45).
    2. Luke portrays the gift of the Spirit as a fulfillment of promise, but there is nothing in the OT or the Gospels promising the “Spirit himself” in contrast to past manifestations of the Spirit (45-46).
    3. Luke describes the gift as “poured out,” imparted by the laying on of hands, etc., which does not seem to be language intended to convey that the gift is a person (46-47).

    Your two quotes from Turner both come from his elaboration of the first objection to Adler’s view. Again, Turner is not objecting to the idea that the Spirit is a person, but to the idea that “the gift of the Holy Spirit” denotes that the Holy Spirit himself is the gift. When he introduces the texts in Luke-Acts that seem to describe the Spirit as personal, Turner states, “There are undoubtedly occasions where Luke presents the Spirit as the agent of an action, and to that extent as ‘personal.’ Thus the Spirit is made the subject (or semantic agent) of the following verbs…” (41). He then makes the statement that you quoted:

    “The important question we must ask in each case, however, concerns the intended linguistic status of such affirmations. Is the personal language intended literally (and so to imply the Spirit is a hypostasis), or is it part of the more widespread and typically Jewish tendency to personify divine attributes, or to represent the Spirit as the extension of Yahweh’s own presence? Most treatments of the subject are too insensitive to the various possibilities. If we bear this distinction in mind, an examination of Luke’s Spirit material does not suggest he thinks Christians were any more aware of the Spirit’s personhood than their Jewish contemporaries were. The ‘personal’ traits within his Spirit traditions rarely move beyond the types of personification of the Spirit (and of the word, the Shekinah, the name, etc.) regularly found in exclusively monotheistic Judaism” (42, your emphasis).

    Please notice that his point, which you set in bold type, was not that the Spirit was not a person or that Luke did not view the Spirit as a person. Rather, Turner’s point is that Luke was not trying to suggest that Christians were more aware of the Spirit’s personhood that Jews were as a result of the Christian reception of “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Again, the issue is whether “the gift of the Holy Spirit” was the Spirit himself rather than a gift of some blessing or power that came from the Spirit.

    Turner goes on to emphasize the continuity of Luke’s presentation of the personal activity of the Spirit with OT language about the Spirit (42-43). He then explains his point: “There is not immediately to hand, as it were, clear evidence that Luke’s presentation of the Spirit marks the sort of shift in perception of the gift of the Spirit (from gifts to Giver) that Adler requires” (43).

    Turner concludes his comments about the evidence from Luke for Adler’s view by saying:

    “Luke may indeed have thought of the Spirit as sharing fully in divine being—as John and Paul probably do—and, as we shall see, the very fact that Luke understands the Spirit to mediate the presence or activity of Jesus as well as that of the Father (Acts 2.33; 16.6-7 etc.) may have encouraged such an understanding. But at the same time it cannot be said that Luke stresses the personality of the Spirit much beyond what can be found in the Old Testament and in the literature of Judaism; and this must throw considerable doubt on any assertion to the effect that Luke had come to think of the gift of the Spirit as the experience of ‘the Spirit himself’ as such” (44).

    Notice that twice Turner qualifies his comments about Luke’s portrayal of the Spirit as personal so as to allow that Luke does, at least somewhat, go beyond what one finds in the OT and Judaism. “The ‘personal’ traits within his Spirit traditions rarely move beyond the types of personification of the Spirit (and of the word, the Shekinah, the name, etc.) regularly found in exclusively monotheistic Judaism” (42, my emphasis). If they “rarely” do so, then apparently they do so, however rarely. “But at the same time it cannot be said that Luke stresses the personality of the Spirit much beyond what can be found in the Old Testament and in the literature of Judaism” (44, my emphasis). If he does not do so “much,” evidently he does so a little. So even Turner, who is being very cautious here, allows some discontinuity between Judaism and Luke on the personhood of the Holy Spirit.

    He then makes the second statement that you quote:

    “The fact remains that the clearest presentation of the personal being of the Spirit in the New Testament comes in John 14-16, where John presents the Spirit-Paraclete as a figure set in parallel to Jesus, mediating the Father and the Son to the disciples as Jesus had mediated the Father during his ministry (Jn 14.6-11). But even in these circumstances there is no suggestion made by John that Christians (after Jesus’ glorification) will consciously receive the Spirit, and experience him, as a divine Person. Jesus as mediator of the Father revealed himself; but the Spirit precisely does not do so (16.13), revealing only Christ and the Father. Appropriately, Smail entitled his chapter on the person of the Spirit, ‘The Person without a Face’” (44-45).

    Turner’s topic at hand has not changed. He is still discussing, not whether the Holy Spirit is a person, but whether the NT teaches that “the gift of the Spirit” is the Holy Spirit “himself” as a departure from the way the Spirit gifted people in the OT. In the material you quote here, Turner is agreeing that John presents the Holy Spirit as a divine person distinct from the Father and the Son. What Turner disagrees with is Adler’s hypothesis that Christians, in receiving the “gift of the Spirit,” experience the Spirit as a distinct divine person. According to Turner, in John’s understanding the person of the Holy Spirit does not reveal himself; instead, the Spirit reveals the Son. He concludes his comments on his first point of criticism of Adler’s view by saying that Christians “may have stronger reasons” than OT believers “to believe the Spirit is a person, but Christian believers do not more consciously experience the Spirit as Person” (45).

    At the end of his third point of criticism, Turner concludes: “We may believe the Holy Spirit to be personal, we may accept that it is a valid way of speaking to say that Christians are brought into union with him at conversion—indeed, Luke himself may have thought so—but nevertheless, Luke quite clearly is not using the language of ‘giving’ and ‘receiving’ the Spirit primarily to express such thoughts” (46).

    In sum: the issue that Turner is addressing in these pages from which you quoted is not whether the Holy Spirit is a person or whether Luke or John thought of the Holy Spirit as a person. Turner, in typical British academic fashion, couches his arguments and conclusions with varying degrees of tentativeness and cautiously avoids overstating the evidence even possibly to a fault. Nevertheless, he agrees that Luke presents the Holy Spirit as a person somewhat more clearly than traditional Judaism, that John clearly presents Jesus as a person distinct from the Father and the Son, and that we may with justification say that Christians have stronger reasons to believe that the Holy Spirit is a person than Jews did.

    The same year as he published Power from on High, Turner published the first edition of The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: In the New Testament and Today (3rd rev. ed., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005). Chapter 11 is entitled “Towards Trinitarian Pneumatology—Perspectives from Pentecost.” In this chapter, Turner argues that the New Testament, while not explicitly Trinitarian, is implicitly Trinitarian because what it says about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit leads to Trinitarian conclusions. I do not agree with several aspects of Turner’s argument, but it is an insightful chapter and one that presents an especially potent argument for the deity of Christ.

    According to Turner, the theological reflection of the earliest Christians on the revelation of Christ “initially took a largely binitarian rather than strictly trinitarian shape…. Such reflection led to the explicit christological confession of Jesus’ unity with God as the ‘one Lord’ of creation and redemption (cf. Acts 2:33-38; 1 Cor. 8:6; Phil. 2:6, 9, 10; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:2-3; Jn. 1:1-18, etc.)” (166). After elaborating on this point, Turner summarizes the argument he will present:

    “The argument may crudely be stated thus: (i) for Judaism, the expression ‘the Spirit of the LORD’ is a way of speaking of Yahweh himself (in action); (ii) in the light of this, the claim that Jesus ‘sends’ the Spirit must be seen as an exclusively divine function (unlike, e.g., participation in creation, or pronouncing forgiveness of sins, which could readily be thought of as delegated to a divine agent), and (iii) the divine Spirit was necessarily now differentiated to some extent from Yahweh (or the previous claim would amount to a blasphemous assertion that the exalted Jesus in some sense became ‘Lord’ over the Father himself)” (167).

    Again, I do not agree with some aspects of Turner’s argument. In my view biblical theology precludes God delegating the work of creation to anyone else, and forgiving sins can be “delegated” only in a very limited sense. Furthermore, the revelation that Christ sends the Holy Spirit does not differentiate the Spirit from Yahweh but rather more specifically from the Father. But Turner is right that the Son’s sending of the Spirit, and particularly the NT characterization of the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ, is a powerful evidence for his deity.

  8. WORTHY IS THE LAMB

    Dave,

    You concluded your argument against the distinct personhood of the Holy Spirit by arguing that the Holy Spirit is missing from the vision of God in Revelation 4-5. The Father alone is sitting on the throne, you say, and Jesus is shown as a different being, the Lamb, while “the Holy Spirit is not shown at all.” You comment, “Some commentators have suggested that “he” might be represented by the seven lamps of fire, but they struggle to explain why the Holy Spirit would be divided into seven portions and depicted as an impersonal force.”

    Dave, the Book of Revelation is written in apocalyptic symbolism. Christ is pictured as a Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes; the prayers of the saints are pictured as golden bowls of incense; Death and Hades are pictured as a couple of bad guys, one of them riding on an ashen-colored horse, and in the end both of them get tossed in the lake of fire. You’re reading Revelation like tomorrow’s newspaper when you should be looking at it like a weird dream in which almost nothing is what it seems.

    Revelation 4-5 mentions the Holy Spirit three times, once as “the Spirit” (4:2) and twice as “the seven Spirits of God” (4:5; 5:6). In 4:2 “the Spirit” is the one who shows John the vision; it is a “dream sequence” that the Spirit shows John of the heavenly throne. In 4:5 “the seven Spirits of God” are pictured as “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne.” In 5:6 they are pictured as the “seven eyes” of the Lamb, “sent out into all the earth.” In case this is too subtle, the point is that the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of Christ. The description of the Holy Spirit as “the seven Spirits of God” is almost certainly another way of describing the Spirit’s relation to Christ, alluding to the sevenfold description of the Messiah in Isaiah 11:1-2:

    “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
    And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
    The Spirit of (1) the LORD will rest on him,
    The spirit of (2) wisdom and (3) understanding,
    The spirit of (4) counsel and (5) strength,
    The spirit of (6) knowledge and (7) the fear of the LORD.”

    Confirming this interpretation is the fact that Revelation 5:5 refers to Christ as “the Root of David,” an obvious allusion to Isaiah 11:1. Thus, in typical NT fashion, the focus and emphasis of what Revelation says about the Holy Spirit is on his relation to Christ.

    That the “seven Spirits of God” represent the Holy Spirit is further confirmed from the salutation at the beginning of the book:

    “Grace to you and peace,
    from the one who is and who was and who is to come,
    and from the seven Spirits who are before his throne,
    and from Jesus Christ…” (Rev. 1:4-5).

    In this salutation, “the one who is and who was and who is to come” is clearly a reference to God the Father. The third member of the triad is named for us: Jesus Christ. The middle member of the triad, introduced here as “the seven Spirits who are before his throne,” is thus a reference to the Holy Spirit. The pervasiveness of the triad of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (in any order) in the NT makes it as clear as one could ask that this is the correct interpretation.

    That the Spirit is a divine person is not so much taught in the Book of Revelation (which again is an apocalyptic book consisting mainly of a series of highly symbolic visions) as it is presupposed. An example of where it is presupposed is in Revelation 2-3, where Christ dictates letters to the seven churches, concluding each one, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). No, this isn’t a “proof,” but it shows some evidence of consistency with what John and Acts do prove.

    In any case, the claim that the Holy Spirit is missing from the throne scene in Revelation 4-5 is simply incorrect.

    Finally, Revelation 4-5 pictures Christ as the object of divine worship in the most startling and explicit way possible. True, in the vision the Father is called “the one who sits on the throne,” and superficially this may seem to imply that Christ does not have this most exalted position. But that is simply wrong. Later in the book, John refers twice to “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (22:1, 3). It is the Lamb’s throne, too. (Please, remember that the issue here is the substance of what is being said, not merely the words. Do not make the mistake of reasoning that the words “God and the Lamb” mean that the person whom the symbolic picture of the Lamb represents is a different deity than the one called “God.” That idea leads to two deities, which is a complete misreading of the Bible.) But in the throne room scene in Revelation 4-5, the Lamb is pictured as standing (v. 6) for a reason: he is the one who opens the book and its seven seals. The response of all creatures surrounding the throne to the Lamb in 5:9-14 is absolute divine worship.

    At least five aspects to the scene depicting universal worship of Christ in Revelation 5 demonstrate that Jesus occupies the highest possible position (this is taken from Putting Jesus in His Place, 259-61).

    (1) The worship offered to the Son is the same kind of worship offered to the Father. Revelation 4-5 presents three cycles of worship that culminate in chapter 5 with the worship of God and the Lamb together. First God is worshiped (4:9-11), then the Lamb (5:8-12), and finally God and the Lamb together (5:13-14). The noted commentator on Revelation, Henry Barclay Swete, with some justice concluded: “This chapter is the most powerful statement of the divinity of Christ in the New Testament, and it receives its power from the praise of God the Creator which precedes it” (Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St John, 2d ed. [London: Macmillan, 1907], 127).

    (2) Revelation forbids angel worship even while it encourages Christ worship. It is striking that this same book that so powerfully exalts Jesus Christ as “worthy” of such praise, adoration, and worship (5:11-14), also contains strong prohibitions against angel worship (19:19; 22:8-9). Richard Bauckham commented, “This combination of motifs had the effect, probably more clearly than any other Christological theme available in their world of ideas, of placing Jesus on the divine side of the line which monotheism must draw between God and creatures” (“The Worship of Jesus in Apocalyptic Christianity,” New testament Studies 27 [1981]: 335).

    (3) Christ is worshipped in the very throne room of God. If there’s any place that false worship won’t be tolerated, it’s in the heavenly Holy of Holies. Yet Jesus is worshipped there in the same manner as the Father. Jesus doesn’t reject it and the Father doesn’t correct it. The theory that even though Jesus is not really God, earth-bound humans might legitimately “worship” Jesus merely as God’s visible representative, crumbles in the light of Revelation 5.

    (4) Jesus is at God’s right hand when he receives worship. Not only is “the Lamb” in the throne room of God in heaven, but he appears to be located right at God’s side at the throne when he receives worship. John says that the Lamb “went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne” (5:7). As soon as he took the scroll, “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb” (v. 8). The rest of creation then joins in the adulation (5:11-14).

    (5) All creation worships Jesus. John says that he saw everyone in creation declaring the worthiness of the Lamb: “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them” (5:13a). This statement echoes the language of the Second Commandment, which forbids the worship of idols fashioned after anything “in heaven above or on the earth beneath” (Exod 20:4; Deut 5:8-9). If Jesus were not “worthy” of the same honors as the Father, then we should expect to see him worshipping the Father along with the rest of creation, not being accorded the same worship as the Father. Yet there he is, in the brilliant light of the very throne room of God, receiving the same accolades of his worthiness to “blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Rev. 5:13b).

    So, in this highly symbolic vision, we see:
    • God (the Father) seated on the throne in the heavenly throne room
    • Jesus Christ at his right hand, surrounded by all creation, receiving universal worship in the same context, of the same kind, and at the same time as God, described in terms that echo the Second Commandment
    • The Holy Spirit pictured as the Spirit of Christ, revealing not himself but Christ

    Sounds like the Trinity to me!

  9. Rob, I’m interested in the fact that a vision displaying God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit as separate beings sounds like the Trinity to you. That’s a new version of the Trinity, by the looks.

    You wrote a lot about Turner, but the fact is Turner wasn’t simply discussing whether or not the Spirit was given as a gift or as a greater experience of the Spirit. Turner states explicitly that the Jewish view of the Spirit was non-personal, and that Luke hardly takes this language any further. That is precisely the point Burke was making.

    Here’s the question which Turner believes he’s addressing:

    The important question we must ask in each case, however, concerns the intended linguistic status of such affirmations. Is the personal language intended literally (and so to imply the Spirit is a hypostasis), or is it part of the more widespread and typically Jewish tendency to personify divine attributes, or to represent the Spirit as the extension of Yahweh’s own presence?

    Right there, he explains that this is the issue he’s addressing in the passage Burke quoted, whether the ‘personal language’ is to be taken literally or not. That’s precisely how Burke understood him.

    The fact that Turner also believes early Christianity took a Binitarian rather than a Trinitarian shape confirms this. He just doesn’t see the Holy Spirit represented as a divine person by the New Testament writers.

  10. Fortigurn,

    Revelation is apocalyptic literature. It uses apocalyptic symbolism. I’ve already explained this.

    Have you read the two books by Turner that I discussed in my response to Dave?

  11. Yeah that’s fine Rob, it’s apocalyptic literature using apocalyptic symbolism. That doesn’t change the fact that it represents the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as totally distinct from each other. That’s theology, not apocalyptic.

    There’s nothing uniquely apocalyptic about the throne room visions in Revelation, they show us the same scenes we see in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Acts, namely God and Christ as separate beings, and the Holy Spirit either nowhere in sight or also represented separately. Remember how Stephen saw God in heaven, and Christ standing at the right hand of God? That’s what we expect to see if God and Christ are two separate beings. That’s what Stephen saw. He didn’t see the Holy Spirit represented as a person (or even at all), and that’s what we’d expect from a Unitarian point of view.

    If I drew three separate people and asked the average Trinitarian if that was an accurate representation of the Trinity, I think we both know what they’d say. They’d say no.

    I haven’t read the two books by Turner, no. But I can see that Dave didn’t quote Turner out of context.

  12. My response to Rob’s rebuttal in this thread starts here.

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  1. trinities - SCORING THE BURKE – BOWMAN DEBATE – ROUND 4 PART 3 – BURKE (DALE) - May 11, 2010

    […] round 4, Burke urges that his views about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit provide a simpler explanation of the […]