Thesis: Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

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¶ … Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

an overview of theological perspectives.

In some of the pneumatological literature a distinction is made between the Holy Spirit in the New Testament and the Sprit of God in the Old Testament. The New Testament associates the Holy Spirit with the religious structure and the meaning of the Holy Trinity. The also refers to the new covenant with God in the New Testament and the fulfillment of this covenant through Jesus Christ, "The old covenant made clear proclamation of the Father, a less definite one of the Son. The new [covenant] made the Son manifest and gave us a glimpse of the Spirit's Godhead.

The question of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is a matter than has raised a considerable amount of controversy. On the one hand there is the view that there are very few references to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, at least in the sense that it is referred to in the New Testament. However, on the other hand many scholars and theologians refer to a much broader and more inclusive and continuous understanding of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. This point is clearly summarized by Mcdonnell (1998) in a discussion of the terms 'ruach' and 'pneuma'.

Though the Old Testament ruach is not completely identical with the New Testament pneuma, from a Christian perspective there are not two Spirits. And spirit/Spirit plays an identical function in both testaments. Spirit (charism) is constitutive of the identity of Israel. And the Holy Spirit is constitutive of the identity of Jesus Christ ("The Holy Spirit will come upon you" [Luke 1:35]) as well as of the Church and Christian life.

The above is a crucial aspect in the understanding not only of the theological continuity between the connection between the Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments, but also points to the critical view that, in essence, they are not different. This point is discussed as well by Ralph Del Colle (2001).

Indeed "God as Spirit" or the "Holy Spirit" may be posed as alternative pneumatological models. The former adverts to the modality and nature of God's being both within God's very self and toward the world in immanent action. The latter highlights the trinitarian identity of the Spirit, immanent and economic, as third Person related to Father and Son, and as gift sent into the world to sanctify and empower the community of believers in mission.

Del Colle states that, "The two models may be conceived as opposed to each other" which is the more traditional approach. However, like many other scholars, Del Colle prefers to examine these two views of the Holy Spirit ".... As complementary aspects of a Christian pneumatology in which we proceed from "Spirit" to "Holy Spirit."

This point is reiterated by many commentators and theologians. "Though the Old Testament spirit is not completely identical with the Trinitarian Spirit, from a Christian perspective there is not one spirit in the Old Testament prophets and another Spirit in Christ and Christians.

Taking these views into account, the Holy Spirit can be defined to some degree as follows: It is, "... The one who indwells the church and is given through the church's means of grace. Since Schleiermacher it has been common to think of the Holy Spirit simply as the communal spirit of the Christian church."

On the other hand the Spirit "....has always been a mysterious and free presence that blows where it wills, transcending church structures and even the boundaries of human society to renew the whole creation."

Discussing the views of Sarah Coakley, Walther Eichrodt (1967) refers to the importance of an "incorporative" view of the Holy Spirit. In this view, "...the Holy Spirit is a personal manifestation of divine presence, whose distinctive role is to incorporate the creation into the life of God. Reflection about the Spirit's presence should not center on either private religious experience or expectacular outward gifts" and "The incorporative view manages to affirm both the communal and cosmic dimensions of the Spirit's work."

This suggests that the reality of the Holy Sprit can be equated with and related to the Spirit of God that is manifest it the Old Testament and is not separate in essence from the Trinitarian view. However, it should be borne in mind in the following discussion that there are many theological objections to the Holy Spirit with the Spirit of God.

The Hebrew word translated "spirit" is the same word that can be translated "breath" or "wind." It is, therefore, somewhat tenuous to establish clear doctrinal positions on these verses. While people in the Old Testament era could not understand the person and the work of the Holy Spirit as we do, that does not mean that the Spirit was not present and at work (cf. Acts 7:51; 2 Peter 1:21). But the emphasis in the Old Testament was on the role of God the Father, rather than on the Son Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, in the following analysis and discussion of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament the term Holy Spirit will follow these theological views that the Holy Spirit and Spirit of God are, to a certain extent, variations and developments of the same phenomenon.

Examples of the Holy Spirit in the Old testament

As discussed above, establishing the relationship and meaning of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and the New Testament is an essential aspect in understanding its significance in the Bible as a whole. As one study notes; "The Spirit is the most enduring epithet of God. We can find it from the first verses of Genesis to the last pages of the Book of Revelation..."

The Sprit of God is presented in the Old Testament in the first instance as a "...vitalizing force behind God's activity."

The Hebrew term for the Spirit used in the Old Testament is ruah. This term which is translated as breath, wind, or spirit occurs 394 times in the Bible and about twenty-five percent of these refer to the Spirit of God, which is fundamental to the teachings of the Old Testament.

The Latin meaning of this word is 'breath'. This interpretation can be understood in the Old Testament as follows.

A breath is the most immaterial reality we perceive. It cannot be seen; it is intangible; it cannot be grasped by the hand; it seems to be nothing, and yet it is vitally important. The person who does not breathe cannot live. The difference between a living person and a dead one is that the former has breath and the latter no longer does. Life comes from God. Hence breath, too, comes from him, and he can take it away."

The metaphorical link between the meaning of the term described in the above quotation and the essence of all life is obvious. This is further extended to the idea of the Sprit as moving air or wind. This view can be related to Psalms; "....he rides on the wings of the wind..." (Ps 104:3-4).

In the Book of Exodus we read that "Yahweh drove back the sea with a strong easterly wind all night, and he made dry land of the sea. The waters parted and the sons of Israel went on dry ground right into the sea..." (Ex 14:21-22).

The spirit is also described as "a blast from the nostrils" of God. (2 Samuel 22:16)

These descriptions in the Old Testament tend to link the concepts of wind, breath and the Spirit of God. This expresses in a very suggestive way the conviction that the wind was God's instrument in these circumstances. As one commentator notes; "...Seeing breath in this way, they came to understand that life depends on a spiritual principle, which was called by the same Hebrew word, ruah. Man's breath bears a relationship to a much more powerful external breath, the wind."

The central concept of God's creative and vital life force that resides in the Spirit is first encountered in the Old Testament in the Book of Genesis, with the creation of Adam. This refers to the fact that God "breathes" his spirit into matter in order to create life. This suggests, the physical act of inhaling and exhaling the wind. It also depicts the inner and outer omnipresent reality of the "Spirit of God" in nature. As such, the life giving Spirit alludes to the unfathomable mystery of the origin of life.

Therefore, from the above source, the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit is also connected with the mystery and ineffable quality of life and the spiritual world. This mystery is infused into our world of matter through the breath or wind of the spirit.

Genesis also provides an understanding of the non-human nature of God's Spirit. This refers especialty to references of the part that the Spirit of God plays in relation to its movement on the waters. "Now the earth… [END OF PREVIEW]

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