The Holy Spirit: An Apostolic Perspective on Pneumatology, Lesson 3

Lesson 3: The Deity of the Holy Spirit

December 16, 2018 | The Sanctuary UPC

Daniel L. Segraves

The Holy Spirit is God 

[1] At several places in Scripture the Holy Spirit is spoken of in such a way as to identify the Spirit with God. For instance, the dramatic event of the death of Ananias because of his lie about the price of the land he sold reveals that Peter viewed the Holy Spirit as God.

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God (Acts 5:3-4).

When Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit, he lied to God. This indicates not only that the Holy Spirit is God, but also that the Spirit is not a mere force or power. The Spirit is a conscious, thinking being with whom one can communicate.

      [2] Paul also understand the Holy Spirit to be God. He wrote,

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (I Corinthians 3:16).

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? (I Corinthians 6:19).

For believers to be the temple of God is to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. To say one thing is to say the other.

      [3] There are many claims in Scripture that it is inspired by the Spirit. Some of these claims are made by Jesus, David, Paul, and Peter. For example:

Now these are the last words of David. Thus says David the son of Jesse; thus says the man raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel: “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (II Samuel 23:1-2).

Then Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Spirit: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool’ ” (Mark 12:35-36).

And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus” (Acts 1:15-16).

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (II Timothy 3:16).

For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (II Peter 1:21).

The topic is the same in all cases: the origin of Scripture. The terms used include “the Spirit of the Lord” and “the Holy Spirit,” but these words refer to God Himself.

[4] It is quite interesting to note that Peter, who twice credited the giving of Scripture to the Holy Spirit, also saw “the Spirit of Christ” as its source.

Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things which angels desire to look into (I Peter 1:10-12).

How could the Spirit of Christ have been in the prophets when Christ, the Messiah, had not yet come? One possible answer is to note that the term “Spirit of Christ” is a genitive of description, referring perhaps not to the Spirit possessed by Christ but the proclamation of the Holy Spirit about Christ.[1] Another suggestion is that this is a reference to Christ following His resurrection and thus first century prophets, but that does not seem likely in view of the context provided by the three verses.[2]

[5] In the interest of developing a biblical pneumatology, we should note that the only other time the term “Spirit of Christ” appears in Scripture is in Romans 8:9: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” It seems certain here that Paul used the terms “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” as synonyms. This would mean these terms were understood to be equivalents in the first century. In that case, the deity of the Spirit and of Christ is further underscored, and clarity is brought to Galatians 4:6: “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”

[6] After the incarnation it was possible to refer to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of His Son because the same Spirit, the same God, who gave the Scriptures by inspiration was now manifest in Christ, the Son of God. A statement of the essential oneness of God, the oneness of the church, and the oneness of saving faith is found in Ephesians 4:4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

[7] In this text informed by Paul’s interest in the Shema – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!”[3] – we see that there is but one church, one salvation experience, one Spirit, one Lord and God, the Father. We cannot separate the Lord from God. To do so would be to fly in the face of the Shema. God is the Lord, and the Lord is God. At the same time, there is one Spirit, identified elsewhere in Scripture as the Spirit of God and the Spirit of the Lord. It is because the Lord God is a Spirit being that He can be “above all, through all, and in you all.”

[8] The oneness of the Spirit is also seen in Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:13). As in Ephesians 4:4, there is one body and one Spirit.

Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all (I Corinthians 12:3-7).

We notice first in this text that the Holy Spirit testifies to the deity of Jesus: He is Lord. Then, it is the same Spirit that grants diverse gifts. These gifts are the manifestation of the Spirit.

[9] But why the references to the same Spirit, the same Lord, and the same God? Some read this as evidence of three “persons” in the Godhead.[4] But to do so is to forget Paul’s commitment to the Shema. Earlier in this same letter, Paul appropriated the Shema to remind his readers of the nothingness of idols and of the existence of only one God.[5] Then, in language obviously informed by the Shema, he wrote: “[Y]et for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live” (I Corinthians 8:6). Perhaps this could be described as a revision or reshaping of the Shema, but it would be more appropriate to see it as an explanation of the Shema in view of the Incarnation. In the words of Richard Bauckham, “Paul offers a Christian formulation of the Shema.”[6]

[10] In view of the radical monotheism of the Hebrew Scriptures, this is a dramatic, inspired move on Paul’s part. If the Lord (Yahweh) our God (Elohim) is one Lord (Yahweh), how can God be the Father and Jesus the Lord? New Testament faith is deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures. First century Jewish believers saw their faith as having been anticipated by and as having fulfilled the Old Testament. This is seen by the fact that the New Testament quotes from, paraphrases, and alludes to the Old Testament in at least 800 places, although some scholars estimate a much greater frequency of those references.

[11] Because of these deep Old Testament roots, and because Jesus identified the Shema as the first of all the commandments,[7] it is not surprising to see so many references to the Shema in the New Testament. These references need not specifically quote the Shema word for word. The essence of this first commandment was so engrained in Jewish believers that it would not be too much to say that all New Testament affirmations of one God or one Lord or Lord God hearken back to the Shema. There are twenty of these.[8] But when we recognize that even the words “Lord Jesus” reflect the influence of the Shema, the number increases significantly. There are at least 225 such references.

[12] We can appreciate Bauckham’s analysis of I Corinthians 8:6 which demonstrates Paul’s commitment to the Shema. Our difference with Bauckham’s perspective is that the Shema identifies the Lord (Yahweh) our God (Elohim) as one Lord (Yahweh).[9] Bauckham’s conclusion seems to leave open the possibility that God, the Father, is not the Lord but that the Lord is exclusively the Messiah, the Son of the Father. The Shema declares that Yahweh, who is one, is both Lord and God. Bauckham’s “Christian formulation” of the Shema certainly includes the Messiah, but Paul’s use of the Shema points in the direction of the Incarnation.

[13] In a careful examination of the uses of the words “Lord, Lord” as applied by Jesus to Himself in Matthew and Luke, Jason A. Staples demonstrates that “the distinctive double form of ku,rie . . . serves to represent the name YHWH in Greek texts.”[10] Steven J. Beardsley has explored the significance of the word kurios as it is used to refer to Jesus.[11]

[14] What has all of this to do with the Holy Spirit? The reason for this exploration of the use of kurios[12] as it relates to Jesus in the New Testament is to obtain a grasp of the significance of New Testament references to the Shema. What do these references tell us about God? What do they say about Jesus? To what extent, if any, do they inform us about the Holy Spirit? If they do influence our understanding of the Holy Spirit, our belief in the inspiration of both testaments by the Spirit demands that there be no discrepancy of the Spirit’s identity between the two.

[15] The Shema appears first in the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 6:4). In the interest of establishing context, we should note that “the Pentateuch was originally composed as a single book.”[13] The only apparent reference to the Spirit of the Lord in Deuteronomy is near the end of the book: “Now Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; so the children of Israel heeded him, and did as the Lord had commanded Moses” (Deuteronomy 34:9). The event this refers to reaches back to Numbers 27:18: “And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him.”

[16] The Spirit with which Joshua was full was not merely the human spirit. The “Spirit of wisdom” describes “the Spirit of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2). It is significant for biblical pneumatology that this reference to Joshua’s fullness of the Spirit appears at the conclusion of the Pentateuch while the first mention of the Spirit of God is found in the Pentateuch’s second verse. The same Spirit that hovered over the face of the waters at creation filled Joshua to equip him for his mission of leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land.

[17] If John Sailhamer is right that the first chapter of Genesis, beginning with verse 2, is about the preparation of the land later promised to Abraham and his descendants, the references to the Spirit at the opening and closing of the Pentateuch are even more significant.[14] The Spirit is involved at the beginning of the preparation of the Promised Land and on the cusp of entry into that land under Joshua’s leadership. This literary device, referred to by scholars as an inclusio, heightens the profile of the Spirit throughout the Pentateuch.

[18] The Shema declares, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The New Testament proclaims by its references to the Shema that Jesus is Lord. Finally, as Paul wrote, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:3).[15] The word “Spirit” may be absent from the Shema, but the Spirit is certainly present in the Shema, for only the Spirit of the Lord can identify the Lord.

[1] Daniel L. Segraves, First Peter: Standing Fast in the Grace of God (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1999), 55-56.

[2] See Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 62, n. 26.

[3] Deuteronomy 6:4.

[4] Surely this text does not mean that the Spirit is responsible for gifts, the Lord for ministries, and God for activities! Notions like this fragment God into some kind of divine committee. When we see references to “Lord” and “God,” we must keep in mind that the faith of the writers of the New Testament was deeply influenced by the Hebrew Scriptures’ first commandment (according to Jesus [Mark 12:29-30]), the Shema.

[5] I Corinthians 8:4.

[6] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 2008), 97. Bauckham points out the careful structure of I Corinthians 8:6: “but for us [there is] one God, the Father / from whom [are] all things and we for him / and one Lord, Jesus Christ / through whom [are] all things and we through him. ¶In stating that there is one God and one Lord, Paul is unmistakably echoing the monotheistic statement of the Shema` (‘YHWH our God, YHWH is one’), whose Greek version in the Septuagint reads: ‘The Lord our God, the Lord, is one’ (kurios ho theos hēmōn kurios heis estin). Paul has taken over all of the words of this Greek version of the Shema, but rearranged them in such a way as to produce an affirmation of both one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ. ¶If Paul were understood as adding the one Lord to the one God of whom the Shema` speaks, then, from the perspective of Jewish monotheism, he would certainly be producing, not christological monotheism, but outright ditheism. . . . [T]he Shema` demands exclusive allegiance to the unique God alone. . . . [T]he addition of a unique Lord to the unique God of the Shema` would flatly contradict the uniqueness of the latter. Paul would not be reasserting Jewish monotheism in a Christian way nor modifying or expanding the Shema`, but repudiating Judaism and radically subverting the Shema`. The only possible way to understand Paul as maintaining monotheism is to understand him to be including Jesus in the unique identity of the one God affirmed in the Shema`. But this is, in any case, clear from the fact that the term ‘Lord’, applied here to Jesus as the ‘one Lord’, is taken from the Shema` itself. Paul is not adding to the one God of the Shema` a ‘Lord’ the Shema` does not mention. He is identifying Jesus as the ‘Lord’ whom the Shema` affirms to be one. In this unprecedented reformulation of the Shema`, the unique identity of the one God consists of the one God, the Father, and the one Lord, his Messiah . . . .” (Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, 101).

[7] Mark 12:29.

[8] One God: Mark 12:32; Romans 3:30; Ephesians 4:6; I Timothy 2:5; James 2:19; One Lord: Mark 12:29; I Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:5; Lord God: Luke 1:32, 68; I Peter 3:15; Revelation 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7; 18:8; 19:6; 21:22; 22:5, 6.

[9] ‎יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה׀ אֶחָֽד

[10] Jason A. Staples, “ ‘Lord, Lord’: Jesus as YHWH in Matthew and Luke,” New Testament Studies (2018), 64, p. 19. Referring to Matthew 7:21-22; 25:11; and Luke 6:46, Staples says, “[T]hese verses thereby place a self-referential use of the divine name on Jesus’ lips, an echo any first-century reader familiar with the Greek Bible would be unlikely to miss. Such applications of the name to the exalted Jesus amount to calling him God . . . . In this respect, the presentation of Jesus in these passages appears comparable to that of Philippians 2 and the creedal statement of 1 Cor 8:6, in which Paul expands upon the Shema to talk of ‘One God, the father . . . and one ku,rioj, Jesus Christ’.” Further, it is Staples’ view that the use of the “double ku,rioj” in Matthew and Luke “seems to confirm that the frequent application of the single ku,rioj to Jesus elsewhere should be understood as echoing the divine name.” In some manuscripts, another “double ku,rioj” is found in Luke 13:25.

[11] “Luke reached back into the common religious cultural context of the early Christians where he obtained his understanding of ku,rioj as Yahweh from the Greek Jewish Scriptures . . . .  When Luke and his Jewish audience heard ku,rioj, they first understood it to mean Yahweh. . . . For Luke, the identity of Jesus was profoundly clear.  Jesus was Yahweh, the Lord God of Israel, born a human being and as such he explicitly replaced Caesar as Lord of all” (Steven J. Beardsley, “Luke’s Narrative Agenda: The Use of ku,rioj within Luke-Acts to Proclaim the Identity of Jesus” [Ph.D. diss., Temple University, 2012], iii).

[12] Some translations, like the KJV, translate kurios as “Lord,” even when the New Testament reference is to an Old Testament text using the Hebrew Yahweh. More recent English translations tend to translate kurios as Lord when the Old Testament text uses Yahweh. This is helpful for English readers because it immediately indicates the deity of Jesus. See, for example, Hebrews 1:10 (NKJV). In nearly every case where Yahweh appears in the Old Testament, the KJV renders it as Lord. The Greek Septuagint, commonly referred to as LXX, renders Yahweh as kurios. Most of the quotations from the Old Testament, as well as paraphrases of and allusions to the Old Testament in the New Testament, are from the Septuagint. Since the Septuagint translates Yahweh into Greek as kurios, so does the New Testament.

[13] Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, xix.

[14] Sailhamer maintains “that the narratives of Genesis 1 and 2 are to be understood as both literal and historical. They recount two great acts of God. In the first act, God created the universe we see around us today, consisting of the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the plants and animals that now inhabit (or formerly inhabited) the earth. The biblical record of that act of creation is recounted in Genesis 1:1 . . . . ¶The second act of God recounted in Genesis 1 and 2 deals with a much more limited scope and period of time. Beginning with Genesis 1:2, the biblical narrative recounts God’s preparation of a land for the man and woman He was to create. That ‘land’ was the same land later promised to Abraham and his descendants. It was the land which God gave to Israel after their exodus from Egypt. It was that land to which Joshua led the Israelites after their time of wandering in the wilderness. According to Genesis 1, God prepared that land within a period of a six-day work week. On the sixth day of that week, God created human beings. God then rested on the seventh day” (John H. Sailhamer, Genesis Unbound: A Provocative New Look at the Creation Account [Colorado Springs, CO: Dawson Media, 2011], iBook edition, “Introduction.”

[15] In I Corinthians 12:3 there is no specific quotation from the Old Testament, but the association of the word kurios (Lord) with Jesus throughout the New Testament provides strong contextual evidence that any use of “Lord” with “Jesus” recalls the Shema’s assertion that there is one Lord who is God.

Copyright © 2018 by Daniel L. Segraves