The Sevenfold Spirit of God: Seven Truths About the Doctrine of Illumination


menorahIn the book of Revelation John speaks of the “seven spirits of God” (1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). While enigmatic, the symbolic use of the number seven in Revelation gives credible explanation: The seven spirits are God is a reference to the Holy Spirit, who is the perfect and complete Spirit of God. In no way does the number represent something contradictory to the triune nature of God (three-in-one), nor does it crassly suggest there are seven spirits who represent God. Rather, as with so many images in Revelation, the numeral seven represents the fullness of the Spirit abiding in God’s throne room and dwelling with the churches. Wonderfully, the same Holy Spirit who dwells in God’s heavenly temple (1:4) has been sent to dwell in local churches (5:6).

At the same time, the sevenfold spirit of God may also refer to Isaiah 11, where the Spirit of the LORD is said to “rest upon” the shoot of Jesse (i.e., the forthcoming king from David’s tribe). Greg Beale affirms the plausibility of Isaiah 11 (and Zechariah) being in the “background of the ‘seven spirits.’”[1] In that passage, which “shows that God’s sevenfold Spirit is what equips the Messiah to establish his end-time reign,” the prophet writes,

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.  And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (11:1 –5)

Verse 2 is where the seven descriptors of the Spirit are found, in that the Spirit is

  1. Of the Lord
  2. Of wisdom
  3. . . . and understanding
  4. Of counsel
  5. . . . and might
  6. Of knowledge
  7. . . . and the fear of the Lord.

This sevenfold description locates the work of the Spirit in the realm of wisdom and knowledge. While Lordship and might (גְּבוּרָה) are mentioned, the primary emphasis is cognitive. Significantly, this stands behind much of what Jesus says in John’s Gospel (see 14:26; 15:26; 16:13–14). As mentioned in a previous essay, the working of the Spirit is not seen primarily in visible acts of supernatural power, but in granting spiritual life and mental receptivity of God’s work of salvation. While the Spirit has power to restore creation (Isaiah 32:15) and raise the dead (Romans 8:11), the primary way he works today is in the granting spiritual understanding, what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 2:10–16. Continue reading

Made Alive By the Spirit: The Pneumatology of Galatians (pt. 1)

windIn Galatians Paul spends a great amount of time explaining justification. That is to say, he argues that people are declared “right with God” as they place their faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. In this way, Paul lays the ground work for the Reformation doctrine of Sola Fide: By Faith Alone are we saved.

In Galatians 2:16, he writes,

A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and no by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

And again in Galatians 3:10–14,

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse…but the law is not of faith, rather…’Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’–so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

However, this leads to the question, for those justified by faith, what does Paul say about sanctification? If salvation (in this case, righteousness) has nothing to do with personal holiness or obedience, how does Paul’s gospel restrain anyone from gross immorality or ethical indifference? His answer is the Holy Spirit. And in systematic fashion he unfolds in Galatians a powerful description of what the Spirit does in the life of the believer. While Paul does not undertake the task of providing a comprehensive pneumatology, he does provide a rough outline of the Spirit’s work from conversion to consummation, with the absence of the gifts of the Spirit.

In what follows, I will outline a brief pneumatology from the book of Galatians. Here is the outline. I will tackle three of these today and three in the next week or so.

  1. Born of the Spirit (4:29)
  2. Received the Spirit (3:2–3, 14)
  3. Alive in the Spirit (5:5, 25)
  4. Walk in the Spirit (5:16)
  5. Desires of… Led by… Fruit of the Spirit (5:17, 18, 22–23)
  6. Walk in the Spirit (5:25)

Continue reading

Spirit-Filled Worship is Christ-Centered Worship

spirit2How do you know if your church is Spirit-filled?

One answer, the charismatic one, is to equate passion with presence. The presence of the Spirit is displayed in a congregation’s passionate expression and rockin’ music—to use technical language. As an example, the other night I spoke to a local minister who raved about a church that was “simply on fire.” How so? According to him, God’s work was evident because of their large attendance, loud singing, and expressive worship. For his sake and theirs, I hope he is right. But if numbers and noise are all it takes to qualify as “Spirit-filled,” the prophets of Baal would be headlining Christian conferences (see 1 Kings 18).

Another answer moves in the opposite direction. Since the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of truth (not falsehood), order (not confusion), and holiness (not irreverence), a Spirit-filled church is properly organized, doctrinally-sound, and dedicated the service of the Lord. Certainly, holiness does mark the presence of the Spirit. Truth and testimony will be present in a Spirit-filled church, but we can all imagine (and many of us have experienced) churches where truth is present, but love and zeal are not.

Our charismatic friends rightly react against this kind of “spiritual lethargy.” Still, activity in the church is no more a proof of life than putting a corpse in an elevator. Neither vigorous activity, musical expression, or doctrinal precision guarantee a real sense of the Spirit.

So what does?

Three Marks of Christ’s Real, Spiritual Presence

In John’s Gospel, the beloved disciple three times indicates the kind of work the Holy Spirit will do when Jesus sends him from the Father. From John 14:26; 15:26; and 16:13 we get a real sense of what Spirit-filled looks like. Continue reading

Acts: On Mission with the Triune God

[This is the most recent “Feeding on the Word” article for our church newsletter].

In most Bibles, Luke’s second book is entitled, “The Acts of the Apostles.”  However, as many commentators have noted, a more accurate title would be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” because it is the Spirit who is responsible for convicting, converting, and creating the church. Yet, even this title is insufficient, because it tempts us to think that the Father and Son are absent. Thus, a better title might be, “The Acts of the Triune God Through the Church of Jesus Christ.”  While lengthy, such a title rightly emphasizes God’s work in and through the early church.

With this trinitarian framework in mind, lets consider how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together in Acts to convert sinners and create the church.

Continue reading

Spirit-Empowered Service is a Mark of True Obedience

For the first thirty-four chapters in Exodus, the people of Israel are consistently stiff-necked.  Their speech is marked by grumbling; anxiety, fear, and accusations characterize the disposition of their hearts; and more than once Moses has to intervene on their behalf to protect them from God’s wrath.  However, after Moses returns from Mt Sinai, something surprising happens.  Instead of being disobedient, breaking God’s word, as they do with the Golden Calf, they are now remarkably obedient.  In fact, chapters 35-40 repeat again and again, how Israel has fulfilled all of God’s words.  Instead of having hard-hearts, their hearts are ostensibly willing (cf. 35:20-29).

It is striking to see how this people has changed.  Which makes me ask: How?  How did they become obedient?  And how should their change–I don’t want to say conversion because Psalm 95 tells us that most of these Israelites died in their unbelief in the wilderness–impact the way we understand God’s work in our lives today?

Today and tomorrow, I will point out two things in the text of Exodus that show us what impacted their hearts to make a change.

The Power of the Spirit

One of the main reasons why Israel expresses obedience is the work of the Holy Spirit, equipping and enabling Israel to make the tabernacle.  Now, the work of the Spirit in Exodus is not quite the same as the gift of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.  The Spirit is not regenerating and dwelling in these saints, so much as he is empowering them to work.  Nevertheless, with that caveat in place, the Spirit effects obedience as he equips these Israelites to carry out the functions of building the tabernacle.

This Spirit-caused change is seen when we compare Israel’s idolatry in Exodus 32 to their God-directed service in Exodus 35-40.  In Exodus 32, idleness at Sinai led to idolary, but with the Spirit (and just as important, as spirit-filled mediator in Moses), God moves Israel to heed God’s word and build God’s place. Thus, we see that obedience–if only external and temporary–is accomplished by the Spirit.  We see this in Exodus 35:30-35.

Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver–by any sort of workman or skilled designer.

Clearly, the tabernacle of God could not be completed by men, as men.  They needed God’s help.  Thus, the skill, intelligence, knowledge, and craftsmanship in all sorts of design-work was necessarily given by the Holy Spirit.  I think, by extension, we can say that everything God commanded required the work of the Spirit.  Just the same, for God to be pleased with our works, it requires faith (Rom 14:23; Heb 11:6), and what does Galatians 5:22-23 say?  Faith is a fruit of the Spirit.

So here is the point: All Israel’s skilled hands were gifted by the Spirit.  Thus, every inch of the tabernacle and all its component parts were made by men, but not without the Spirit.  God’s dwelling was a Spiritual creation.  In trying to understand the relationship between God and man in this setting, I would propose that its construction must be analogous to inspiration. Just as the Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, so that the minds and hands of free men could write exactly what God wanted—without error; in the same way, God’s spirit guided men to make his dwelling place.

To say it another way, in one sense, Moses, Bezalel, and the skilled workers built the tabernacle; but in another more ultimate sense, God himself built the tabernacle.  Since everything was done according to his word and by his Spirit, the obedient Israelites worked exactly as God intended.  In true Spiritual freedom they built God’s dwelling place.

So now lets go back to the original question: What caused Israel’s obedience?  My answer is that it was the Spirit.  Though, there are other factors, without the Spirit there would not be the ability or the willingness to fulfill God’s word.  But with the Spirit, stiff-necked Israel is able to obey God’s word “perfectly.”  That is, God is totally pleased with the tabernacle to the point that his Spirit descends upon the man-made tent as soon as it was completed.

Traversing the Covenantal Divide

So how might Christians apply this reality today?

Fast-forwarding these realities to the New Covenant, we need to realize that the scope and locus of the Spirit is wider and closer, respectively.  As to the former, the Spirit now works in all nations and in all peoples.  He is no longer restricted to Israel.  Rather, He  is given to everyone for whom Christ died.  Likewise, his work is more interior.  He no longer works externally on those people whom God has chosen for service (think of Saul); rather, he circumcises the heart, indwells the believer, and saves all those in whom he dwells.  He does not simply gives gifts; he is the down payment for salvation.

In this way, Exodus shows how the Spirit effects obedience, but in the whole canon of Scripture, we find that the testimony of God is that the Spirit works in greater ways today.  For in Israel, the same hands that built the tabernacle were attached to bodies that died in the wilderness because of unbelief.  Not so today, the Spirit saves eternally.  While David feared losing the Holy Spirit in Psalm 51, that is not a fear New Testament believers should ever have (Eph 1:13-14). In all, while there is continuity between the people of Israel and the church, there is greater discontinuity.

With all that said, as we return to the question of obedience, it is clear that the Spirit is the responsible party for our faithful service. With the tabernacle, the people were moved, led, guided, directed by the Spirit of God, and thus they were able to obey fully because God enabled them to obey and do the work.  Today, it is still the Spirit who causes us to walk in the statutes of the Lord (Ezek 36:26-27), and indeed if there is or will be a change in our lives, it is because of the power and influence of the Spirit.

Let us pray unto the Father to pour out his Spirit in our lives and in our world, so that Christ would be reflected in the lives who have been purchased by his blood.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

What is the Law of Christ?

In Galatians, a letter that denounces the works of the law (see 2:16), Paul argues that Christians ought to fulfill the law by love (Gal 5:13-14) and to fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6:2).  However, a good investigative question in Galatians 6:2 is “What is the law of Christ?” and “What is it doing in Paul’s letter?”  In other words, Why would Paul advocate the “law of Christ” when he has been fighting against the Judaizers and their radical use of the law?

Richard Longenecker in his Word Biblical Commentary on Galatians offers a helpful definition and sets on a good course to answer those questions.

He writes that the law of Christ are those “prescriptive principles stemming from the heart of the gospel (usually embodied in the example and teachings of Jesus), which are meant to be applied to specific situations by the direction and enablement of the Holy Spirit, begin always motivated and conditioned by love” (275-76).

Therefore, we see that Paul steers a third course that is different than nomism (Christ + law) and lawlessness (no law at all).  It is not just a middle road, or a Hegelian synthesis, but a third way.  On the one hand, he contests nomism with its advocacy that the covenant keepers must continue to do the works of the law.  He does this by asserting a view of the law of Christ that is not based on law-keeping but on Christ’s fulfillment of the law for Christians.  Accordingly, the law of Christ is a finished work, and one that requires faith not works. Moreover, the deciding factor between the two is the presence and  power of the Holy Spirit.  Fulfilling the law of Christ is not a human work, but the Spirit’s work in the life of the believer, because after all, the first fruit of the Spirit is love (cf. Gal 5:22-23).

At the same time, Paul avoids lawlessness, because in fulfilling the law of Christ he shows that the gospel has ethical implications and entailments.  The law of Christ is accompanied by the life-giving and life-changing Holy Spirit and it is the love of the Spirit which fulfills the OT law.  Therefore, the difference between the law and the gospel is that the gospel tells you what has been done and it gives you the Spirit to live a holy and loving life.  The law had no such power.

So why does Paul use the term “law of Christ”?  He is turning the Judaizers on their head, saying “You want to talk about law?  Let’s talk about law!  The law of the born again believer is the law of Christ! What Christ has done, what he is doing, and what he will one day complete.  It is from him, through him, and to him.  He is the one who fulfilled the law and who by his death destroyed the law.  He has now put in place a greater law and it is the one written on human hearts by His Spirit.  Walking by the power and direction of the Spirit is a far greater “law” than anything Moses ever recorded; it is an inside job and one that has a power that the Old Covenant never did.”

May we walk in the power of the Spirit and fulfill the law of Christ as we love, serve, and minister to others in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Spiritual Fruit Inventory

Most church-going Christians have participated in a Spiritual Gifts Inventory (SGI).  You know, the one where you sit down to fill out a paper-and-pencil test of things you like, don’t like, are good at, bad at, and don’t know.

Personally, I am not a fan.  It is a fleshly way of discerning the Spirit’s work in your life.  I believe these forms are well-intended and have catapulted many vibrant Christians into active church ministry, but they may have also wrongly directed people away from genuine gifts of the Spirit.   Rather, I have found that the best SGI is found in the honest and loving people of God who are called to judge fellow believers with grace and truth.  Serving in the church is the best Spiritual Gift Inventory.

With that caution in mind, what I offer below, may be just as fleshly and unhelpful…but I hope not.

In preparing for Sunday’s message, I found a Spiritual Fruit Inventory (SFI), that I tweaked and will hand out on Sunday.  Unlike its cousin, the SGI, the SFI, is designed not to lead us down a path to ministry, but down a path to the cross, because it will either show the absolute deficiency of fruit in the life of the believer, in which a true believer has but one response: repentance and gratitude for Christ’s atoning blood.  Or second, it will prompt overwhelming gratitude that the Spirit is at work.  I suspect, as I see in my own life that it is both.  (One other note: it could lead a “believer” to realize that by the conspicuous absence of the Spirit’s fruit that he is not in fact saved; see Matthew 13:1-23).

When I look at Galatians 5:22-23, I see 9 qualities that are present in my life, but oh how anemic is the fruit.  Yet, I take heart that this is the Spirit’s work, not mine.  The only imperative in Galatians regarding the Spirit is to “Walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16, 25).  As we do that, fruit will come.  It has to; born again believers bear fruit!  So, as I contemplate the questions below, I go to the cross with sorrow and gladness, and I return to keep walking with the Spirit, praying to the Father to grow in me the life characteristics of Christ–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Here is the Spiritual Fruit Inventory.  Feel free to use it for your personal devotion or for your corporate ministry.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


On a scale of 1-5 (bad-good), rate your spiritual fruit.  Then after you have done that, ask a friend, spouse, or family member to do the same.  Compare notes.  Go to God and thank him for the Cross, the Power of the Spirit, and the Promise of Progressive Sanctificaiton.  Continue to walk in the Spirit, by Faith in Christ’s atoning work on Calvary and his sanctifying work in you.

Love: Are you obedient to God’s word?  Do you delight in spending time with God? Does your love for God reflect in love for others?  Would others describe you as loving?  Do you love the unlovable? Or just the likeable?  

Joy: Is your joy based on circumstances?  Have you found joy in the midst of trials?  When you are discouraged, is Scripture your source of joy?  If not, why not?

Peace: Do you know the peace that passes understanding? When alone, are you at peace? When anxious, do you set your mind on God in Christ?  If not, why not?

Patience: Do you accept interruptions and delays with grace and peace? Do you see God’s larger plan at work in your life? How do you view people: as hindrances to be avoided or hurting people to be loved?

Kindness: Would your family call you “kind”?  Are your words refreshing & life-giving? Or sarcastic & mean? Do you seek ways to encourage others?

Goodness: Do you invent ways to help others?  Or do you relish putting others down?  Is your goodness forced or free?  Are you ‘good’ to please others or God?

Faithfulness: Do you keep your word? Do you finish what you start?  Are you a hard worker? Does your church attendance reflect faithfulness?

Gentleness: Are you quick to listen? Slow to speak? Slow to anger? Do your moods swing?  Is your language abrasive or harsh?  Do others confide in you?

Self-control: Are you free from addictions—illegal or legal? Do you have mastery over your thoughts, speech, actions? Do you think before you act?  Are your decisions governed by Scripture? Is your discipline lawful or loving?

Image-Bearers Make Peace

Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9) 

The Bible says that those trusting in Jesus Christ are being conformed into his image on daily basis.  Consider:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29)

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. (2 Cor 3:18)

Seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Col 3:9-10)

Biblically speaking, Christians are those who have been born again (John 3:1-8) and are now being conformed, transformed, and renewed as image-bearers of our Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ.  But make no mistake, this is not a passive work.  While God forms us, He simultaneously fills us with His Spirit, so that we might have power and desire to live as his children.

And one of the ways we do that is to be peace-makers (Matt 5:9).  In our marriages, schools, workplaces, friendships, and especially in the church, God’s children do not break peace, fake peace, or take peace.  They make peace!  This month, may we together ask God to fill us with us his Spirit so that we might be peace-makers. According to his Word, lets fight to make peace.  In so doing, we show ourselves to be the children of God, children who are day-by-day growing in Christ-likeness.

For His Renown, dss

The Ways of Our God: God’s Order (1)

In The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology, Charles Scobie subdivides his multithematic approach into main four categories: God’s Order; God’s Servant, God’s People, and God’s Way.  Under each banner, he writes five chapters, and today we will consider his first section in his “sketch of biblical theology.”  For sake of space, let me list the headings and provide a few reflections.

  1. The Living God.  Scobie begins with God and His revelation in creation and history.  According to the Scriptures, Scobie argues that God is King, and taking his cue from the Decalogue and the Shema, he outlines his chapter with three concepts that establish “the very core of the OT understanding of God” (107).  These are the self-revelation of God’s Name(s), the unitive oneness of God, and the personal nature of God.  He examines each of these as they are initially proclaimed in the OT and more fully developed in the latter prophets and in the NT.  One of the highlights from this chapter is the way that each section (i.e. Proclamation, Promise, Fulfillment, and Future Consummation–also the framework of every other chapter) concludes with an explanation and affirmation of the Scripture’s canonical development at each stage of revelation.  In a chapter focusing on Theology Proper, he argues for Scripture’s essential role in revealing the one, true, and living God.  Additionally, Scobie emphasizes God’s relationship to both the created order and the historical order–this is expanded in chapters 2-3.
  2. The Lord of Creation.  Scobie writes this chapter out of a concern that biblical theology and recent biblical studies have devalued God’s relationship to creation, and have focused only on God’s role in the historical order.  He illustrates this by referring to those who begin their BT with Exodus and not Genesis; however, as he points out, this misses the way in which the canon is itself telling the story of God as Creator and Redeemer.  Scobie shows convincingly that God loves creation and has made creation for our enjoyment and his glory (cf. John Piper, “The Pleasure of God in His Creation” in The Pleasures of God).  He shows where creation is emphasized in the OT (Gen. 1-11; Pss. 8, 95, 104, 148; Isaiah; and the wisdom literature–Job 38-39; Proverbs 8), and argues that the NT maintains the same view of creation as the OT, only adding Jesus’ instrumental role in its creation and maintenance (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:1-3).  He introduces the distinction between apocalyptic eschatology which is alligned with God’s created order and prophetic eschatology which corresponds with redemptive history.  Just as the Bible begins with creation (Gen. 1-2), it ends with new creation (Rev. 20-22), and thus all the Bible is looking forward to the renewal of this fallen world. 

    His concluding application section would make the editors of the “Green Letter Bible” happy; it shows how the Bible does address many environmental concerns, but in a Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz, sort of way, Scobies goes too far concerning the ways in which consumerist evangelicals have neglected the environment and are in need of confessing our “guilt for the ecological crisis” (186-87).  The ‘guilt’ rests not with Western evangelicals, but with the whole Adamic race. In the end, this chapter is a helpful commentary on what the Bible says about creation and its place in biblical theology.

  3. The Lord of History.  Scobie begins with a cursory review of the books of the Bible, and then proceeds to walk through the stages of redemptive history, before highlighting six ways in which God has worked in history.  These six characteristics of salvation history are (1) divine intervention, (2) [appointing] divinely inspired leadership, (3) salvation & judgment, (4) providence, (5) blessing, (6) and suffering love (198-202).  Scobie does not retain God’s work in history to veiled acts of redemption, though, he also posits that God has worked in history through revealing himself by speaking to his people (202-04).  Thus, redemptive acts of God are only recognized and understood when God also inspires a biblical author to interpret the meaning of the event (i.e. the exodus, the Babylonian exile, or the crucifixion).  The chapter is a helpful summary of salvation history, though he is theologically imprecise when speaking of God’s “suffering love,” a term most often associated with Jurgen Moltmann, and more recently Richard Bauckham, that ascribes suffering to the divinity of the Godhead, instead of assigning suffering to Christ’s humanity.  (For more on this see my post, Can God Suffer?).
  4. The Adversary.  Scobie presents a very balanced survey from the biblical text that walks through the Scriptures highlighting the passages of Scripture that concern the enemies of God, reprobate angels, and Satan himself.  He avoids the two extremes of spiritual warfare fanaticism and the modern mindset that makes the devil a cartoonish fable.  He chastens those who like Greg Boyd attempt to say too much about Satan and are required to import ideas from other Ancient Near Eastern contemporaries.  However, he shows the reality of the demonic realm and of the antichrist.  Like all of his chapters I have read thus far, his biblical content presents a helpful catalog of all the applicable texts on the subject.
  5. The Spirit.  Scobie is open to the continuous presence of miraculous gifts today because there is no hermeneutical reason, he says, to deny their continuation (296).  However, in his explication of this subject, Scobie is unfortunately imprecise and inconsistent.  In one place he states that “Christian baptism confers the gift of the Spirit” (283), yet later as he makes his summary he says “all believers receive the gift of the Spirit when they become Christians” (296).  I guess you could ask, “What makes someone a Christian,” but it seems that he inconsistently attributes the giving of the Spirit to baptism, and blurs the transitional period of Acts with what is now normative in the church today.  Like in chapter 2, Scobie emphasizes the Spirit’s role in and with creation, appealing to the Eastern Ortohodox tradition which includes Psalm 104 in its daily liturgy (295).  He spends little time on the revelation of the Spirit and its inclusion in the Trinity, because as he believes, the Bible gives triadic data but not trinitarian doctrine (297).  On the whole, this chapter shows a developing continuity throughout the Bible for the doctrine of the Spirit, but its synthesis leaves a lot of questions unanswered because of such short statements on things like tongues, the gifts, and the relationship of baptism to the Spirit.

More than a quarter of the way through this massive volume, I am pleased to report that the reading has been edifying and that any serious student of the Bible would be rewarded by reading it.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Trinity in Biblical Theological Perspective: A Mystery without mysterion

(This is an excerpt from a recent paper I wrote, “The Trinity in the Old Testament: A Present But Elusive Mystery.” It suggests that the development of the Trinity in the Bible follows a mystery-revelation pattern.)

Mystery without mysterion

In his essay entitled “Mystery and Fulfillment” in Justification and Variegated Nomism, vol. 2, D. A. Carson includes a section called “Mystery without mysterion,” where he asserts that the idea of mystery—something hidden now revealed (cf. Matt. 13:10-17, 34-35)—can occur in NT literature in places where the word, mysterion, is not used explicitly.  He suggests this to be the case in fourth gospel where “although John never uses the term mysterion he sometimes provides fresh revelation that has clearly been hidden in time past, but which is some how said to be connected to the very Scriptures in which it has been hidden (e.g. John 2:19-22).”[1]  From this general description, Carson references Philip Kramer’s 2004 dissertation on the subject,[2] and produces four criteria to evaluate mystery-language:  “(1) [the] referent mysterion is the gospel or some part of it; (2) the disclosure of this mystery may be traced, at least in part, to the Christophany Paul experienced on the Damascus Road; (3) the text makes it clear that this mysterion was once hidden but is now revealed; (4) the Old Testament Scriptures constitute the medium in which the mysterion was hidden and by which it is revealed.”[3]  This taxonomy fits very well when applied to the Trinity’s development from the Old Testament into the New Testament. 

First, as John Piper has proclaimed, “God is the Gospel!”[4]  There is no part of the gospel that is not Trinitarian, and each member of the Trinity functions in their unique role to call, atone, and regenerate (cf. Eph. 1:3-14).  Moreover, in the Old Testament, the characteristics ascribed to the Father, the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the coming Messiah are consistent with the Incarnation and Pentecost.  In other words, what was foretold through types, shadows, and veiled allusions, is now manifest in Jesus and the Spirit.

Second, the Trinity is defined and explained by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and the arrival of his Spirit.  In fact, without these, the verbal expressions of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are incomplete, at best.  For instance, the union of three persons is most clear in passages like John 14:16-17 where Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another [of the same kind] Helper…the Spirit of Truth” (cf. John 15:26).  Though Kramer’s criterion delimits the disclosure of the mystery to Paul’s Damascus road experience, this restriction is too narrow.  While it fits his specific subject in Galatians, it should be broadened across the New Testament.  It should be remembered, Paul had a Damascus road experience because he was lacking the necessary apostolic ‘credentials’ that all the other disciples received (cf. Mark 3: 13-14; Acts 1:21-22).[5]  Consequently, the corroborating NT evidence is not isolated to one man’s encounter with Jesus, it is the composite person and work of Jesus Christ that makes sense of the Old Testament in general, and the Trinity, in particular.  In this Augustine was right, “[God’s] grace hid itself under a veil in the Old Testament, but it has been revealed in the New Testament according to the most perfectly ordered dispensation of the ages.”[6]  Therefore, recognizing the Trinity in the OT depends upon NT Christology.[7]

Third, the doctrine of the Trinity was hidden in the OT and revealed in the NT.  While the component parts were scattered throughout the OT, the necessary historical events (i.e. Incarnation and Pentecost) were lacking to make sense of the mysterious pluralities, theophanies, and eschatological promises.  Even into the church age, it took over three centuries to sort out the biblical doctrine of the Trinity and its ontological entailments.  Yet, this should not be surprising.  It is the natural state of affairs with biblical mysteries.  Proverbs 25:2 enlightens us, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”  Likewise, 1 Corinthians 2:7 says, “We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”  It is the wisdom and glory of God to hide his Triune nature from those without the Spirit, and to reveal himself to those united to Christ—it should not be forgotten that these are NT realities.[8]

Fourth, New Testament authors consistently appeal to the Old Testament to explain the rise of Trinitarian thought, thus proving the mysterious nature of God’s hiddenness and revelation in the OT.  Moreover, traces of the Trinity in the OT are not scant.  Rather, the most illustrious Trinitarian passages in the NT are often dependent upon or giving explanation to OT passages (cf. Matt. 28:18-20 –> Dan. 7:13-14; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Num. 6:22-26; John 1:1-18 –> Gen. 1:1; Ex. 19-20; 1 Cor. 8:1-6 –> Deut. 6:4).  Thus it seems that in God’s wise providence he has revealed his Triune nature perfectly and progressively, and as we study his Scripture we have the blessed privilege of seeing his mystery and revelation, ultimately revealed in and through Jesus Christ (John 1:18; Heb. 1:1-2).

Tomorrow, I will post a reflection on these intertextual considerations.    Until then, may we take this Lord’s Day to worship the God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

[1] D.A. Carson, “Mystery and Fulfillment” in Justification and Varigated Nominianism: The Paradoxes of Paul, vol. 2, ed. D.A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien, and Mark A. Seifrid (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 424. 


[2] Philip Kramer, “Mystery without mystery in Galatians: An examination of the relationship between revelatory language in Galatians 1:11–17 and scriptural references in Galatians 3:6–18, 4:21–31” Ph.D. diss., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2004


[3] Carson, “Mystery and Fulfillment,” 425, footnote 91.


[4] John Piper, God is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005).  


[5] The requirements outlined by Peter in Acts 1 make more sense in light of this mysterion discussion, that the mysteries of the OT, which foretold the gospel (Gal. 3:8), could only be understood through a comprehensive knowledge of Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 24:25-27, 44-49).  This is complicit with Paul’s apostolic ministry which faithfully expounded the OT Scriptures (cf. Acts 17:2).


[6] Augustine, “A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter” in Anti-Pelagian Writing, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, American ed., vol. 5 (United States: Christian Literature, 1887; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004),  95.


[7] Alec Motyer puts it this way, “It was Jesus who came from the outside as the incarnate Son of God, Jesus who was raised from the dead as the Son of God with power, who chose to validate the Old Testament in retrospect and the New Testament in prospect, and who is himself the grand theme of the ‘story-line’ of both Testaments, the focal-point giving coherence to the total ‘picture’ in all its complexities” (Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996], 22).


[8] For more on the condition of the believer in the OT, see Jim Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence.