Theology of Joy
5/19/10 at 11:59 AM 0 Comments

The Authority of the Holy Spirit (Part 2)

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The first major debate regarding the Holy Spirit is found in the patristic period.  The question here was essentially, "Is the Spirit a divine Being (that is, 'God'), or merely a creature?"

A. Arius vs. Athanasius

Arius was a priest in Alexandria (c. 318) who taught a subordinationism within the Trinity, that the Father alone is "God" and the Son and Spirit are "creatures."10 Arius is well known for denying the deity of the Son, particularly the idea of the Son being homoousious ("of one essence") with the Father. He also said that the Spirit is really an angel, created by the Son, and one of the spirits ministering to God in heaven.  He stated, "The essences [ousia] of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are separate in nature. They are estranged, unconnected, alien, . . . and without participation in each other. . . . They are utterly dissimilar from each other with respect to both essences and glories to infinity."1

Athanasius's first reply to Arius tried to demonstrate that the Spirit is divine by pointing to such divine attributes as immutability and supremacy over all things.  He states, "Again, the Spirit of the Lord fills the universe. Thus David sings, 'Whither shall I go from your Spirit?' (Psalm 139:7) ... But if the Spirit fills all things, and if the angels, being his inferiors, are circumscribed, and where they are sent forth, there are they present; it is not to be doubted that the Spirit does not belong to things originated, nor is he an angel at all, as you say, but by nature is above the angels.2

Athanasius's also shows a contrast between the nature of creatures and the nature of the Spirit. He employed Genesis 1:1-23 to demonstrate that creatures are created from nothing and come into being at a particular time, and 1 Cor 2:10-12 to show that the Spirit is not created but emerges directly from God.3  He stated, "For if, as no one knows the thoughts of a man save the spirit who is in him (εv αυτψ) [1 Cor 2:11]: would it not be evil speech to call the Spirit who is in God (εv τψ Θεψ) a creature, him who searches even the depths of God [1 Cor 2:10]? For from this the speaker will learn to say that the spirit of man is outside himself, and that the Word of God, who is in the Father (εv τψ πατρι) is a creature."4

Even more central to Athanasius's argument, however, was his association of the Spirit with our sanctification, which is a vital part of our salvation. Therefore the Spirit must be our savior, together with the Father and the Son.

B. Scriptural Evaluation

Patristic writers were mainly concerned with defending the Spirit's divinity.  However, Scripture goes beyond this, presenting the Holy Spirit as possessing full divine authority as well -- the Spirit has the "right" to oversee creation, reveal the mind of God, etc. The Spirit possesses divine transcendence (or supremacy), dominion (or lordship, which implies both transcendence and immanence), full access to Cod, and divine personhood (which is the ultimate locus of authority). Psalm 104 portrays Yahweh as Creator and Ruler throughout all features of the "cosmos"; vv. 29-30 demonstrate the transcendence of Yahweh's divine authority in terms of his Spirit: "Thou dost hide Thy face, they are dismayed; Thou dost take away their spirit, they expire, And return to their dust. Thou dost send forth Thy Spirit, they are created; And Thou dost renew the face of the ground." The message here is clear: the spirit of every living thing depends on God's Spirit for physical sustenance. Alexander holds that, in this passage, "The absolute power of God over the life of his creatures is expressed by representing him as annihilating and creating the whole race at pleasure, by a breath."6  According to Kidner, this comparison of the divine Spirit to the human spirit, "deepens our accountability, since we handle only what is His."5 The contrast between vv. 29 and 30 indicates the supremacy of the Spirit with respect to life and the dependency of the creature upon the Spirit. The Spirit possesses rightful dominion with respect to all living things.7

Athanasius pointed out that 1 Cor 2:10-13 reveals the Spirit's divinity: "For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words."

Verse 10 emphasizes the authoritative means of revelation -the transcendent Spirit (as opposed to the recipients themselves). In this verse, "The Holy Spirit is the agent of this definitive revelation of grace ... an unveiling by the Spirit where 'human ability and research would not have sufficed.'"8 The Spirit is able to reveal God's wisdom ημιν ("to us") because the Spirit searches παντα ("all things"), including τα βαθη τον θεον ("the depths of God"). Athanasius particularly found this searching activity to be proof of the Spirit's divinity. The Spirit is portrayed as a divine Person with full access to the triune God, with eternal authority to enter into the very depths of God. Verse 11 sets up an analogy to show that, since the only person who knows what is inside one's mind is oneself, there remains a profound discontinuity between humankind (who do not know the things of God) and the transcendent Spirit (who knows the mind of God). This discontinuity, however, finds reconnection in the Holy Spirit himself, according to v. 12. The "spirit of the world," a spiritual force opposed to God, is contrasted with the Spirit that is "from God." Here Paul is making a special effort to point out the Spirit's divine origin and transcendence. "Since 'like is known by like,' the Spirit of God becomes the link on the human side for our knowing the ways of God."9 The Spirit who knows the depths of God is the same Spirit we have received, "that we might know the things freely given by God." The Spirit retains his transcendent origination in God when he is "received" and when this knowledge is "freely given." Paul sets up another contrast in v. 13. The "words" they speak come from the Spirit, not from "human" origination. The Spirit's transcendence is presented here in the context of the Spirit's teaching.

Other passages provide essential attributes for determining the Spirit's divine authority as well. Divine transcendence is also witnessed in his omnipresence (Ps 139:7), his supreme judgment (Isa 4:4), as the "Spirit of holiness" (Rom 1:4), and as the "eternal Spirit" (Heb 9:14). The Spirit's dominion or lordship is seen in creation: at the beginning of history as the one who assists in the creation of heaven and earth through the Word (Gen. 1:2); in "re-creation" after the flood (Gen 8:1); at the creation of the people of Israel (Exod 14:19-20; 15:10); in the breath of life (Job 33:4); in the creation of heavenly hosts (Ps 33:6); and in his understanding of the created order (Isa 40:13). Finally, his divine personhood is clearly portrayed in Acts 5:1-4, in that he is interchanged with "God," and in that only a person can be grieved or can understand the complexity of the sort of financial "lie" portrayed here.

C. Conclusions

As we have seen, patristic arguments for the Spirit's immutability, supremacy, emergence directly from God, equality with the other Trinitarian Persons, and involvement in certain activities (i.e., creation, sanctification) establish his divinity. From the Spirit's divinity we infer his divine authority. Scripture establishes this authority in terms of the Spirit's divine transcendence, dominion, divine "access," and divine Personhood.10

The implications for the church are enormous. First, the authority of the church (and her government, traditions, or decrees) should never be confused with the authority of the Spirit, who always retains freedom "over" the church. When the Spirit becomes "domesticated" by the church (as we sometimes find in various church traditions), he loses his freedom to confront and to reveal. second, the Spirit has authority over individual spirituality and provides an appropriate foundation for the recovery of the true "self" under God's authority.

The Spirit's "divine authority" is the first parameter within which a model for the Spirit's authority must be developed.11 As a result, any attempt to portray the Spirit as subordinate to God (in his Person), as a creature, or in purely "anthropomorphic" terms will result in a reduction of our understanding of his divine authority and will run against the evidence of Scripture and orthodox theology. As a divine Person, the Spirit possesses divine authority in keeping with our principle of authority. As stated earlier, this simply means that the Spirit possesses supreme authority, one that is expressed according to a specific pattern of authority. In the following sections we shall see how the Spirit's divine authority is revealed in the world within the context of the entire pattern.

1. Arius, as quoted by Athanasius, in Orations against the Arians 1.6.
2. Athanasius, "First Letter to Serapion," trans. C. R. B. Shapland. The Letters of Saint Athanasius Concerning the Holy Spirit (London: Epworth, 1951), 129-30.
3. Athanasius, "Third Letter to Serapion," 2.28.
4. Athanasius, "First Letter to Serapion," 22.121.
5. Derek Kidner, Psalm 100-150 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 372.
6. Joseph Addison Alexander, The Psalms: Translated and Explained (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964), 427.
7. Frame links the act of creation to covenant lordship, which is then related to divine transcendence and authority. "In a broad sense, all of God's dealings with creation are covenantal in character. . . . During the creation week, all things, plants, animals, and persons are appointed to be covenant servants, to obey God's law, and to be instruments (positively or negatively) of His gracious purpose. Thus, everything and everybody is in covenant with God (cf. Isa 24:5: all the ‘inhabitants of the earth' have broken the ‘everlasting covenant'). The Creator-creature relation is a covenant relation, a Lord-servant relation. . . . If God is covenant head, then His is exalted above His people; His is transcendent. If He is covenant head, then His is deeply involved with them; His is immanent" (John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God: A Theology of Lordship [Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987], 12-13 [italics his]). Frame also asserts that "divine transcendence in Scripture seems to center on the concepts of control and authority" (p. 15). What Frame seems to be describing here is that of a rightful dominion (or authoritative dominion), and when correlated with God-and the Spirit-as the Creator, we can then extrapolate such a dominion in relation to all living creatures.
8. Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; ed. F. F. Bruce; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 86.
9. Gordon D. Fee, God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994), 102. This stands in contrast to some who say that this passage primarily has to do with apostolic inscripturation. Kaiser, for example, asserts that "Paul is not talking about the Spirit that animates believers, but about the Holy Spirit's operation in delivering the Scriptures to the apostle (Walter C. Kaiser, "A Neglected Text in Bibliology Discussions: 1 Corinthians 2:6-16," WTJ 43 [1981]: 315). This is certainly a limited understanding of "receive . . . the Spirit," which is a common phrase in Paul's letters (i.e., 2 Cor 11:4; Gal 3:2, 14; Rom 8:15) and "refers primarily to Christian conversion" (Fee, God's Empowering Presence, 102 n. 64).
10. I would argue that Arian pneumatology not only sought to strip the Spirit of divinity, but perhaps even more so, of divine authority. This intention seems apparent in various metaphors and conciliation: the Arian analogy of the Father, Son, and Spirit to gold, silver, and brass makes the Spirit seem inferior. According to Swete, Eunomius's reference to the Spirit as a created Person implies that "Spirit" remains "destitute indeed of Deity and of creative power" (H. B. Swete, On the Early History of the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit [London: George Bell and Sons, 1873], 62).
11. As we shall see in the subsequent theological periods, such a parameter seems to provide a very specific limitation upon further discussion. The medieval church, for example, will require that subsequent investigations into the nature and work of the Spirit in relation to Christ conform to this foundational doctrine. Postmodern theology, on the other hand, will often violate this fundamental limitation

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