Sunday, March 28, 2010

'Holy Spirit' understood through ancient Judaism

This is my log on Max Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, Chapter 1: The Background to New Testament Pneumatology; Chapter 2: Jesus and the Spirit in the Synoptic Tradition; and Chapter 3: The Gift of the Spirit in Acts. What I did here is just summarizing Turner's main points.

In Chapter 1
, Turner shows that the Spirit of God as developed in Judaism from the Old Testament can be represented in two brief ways: (1) as the invisible activity of God in power, and (2) as God’s presence in revelation and wisdom. Passages such as Ps. 33.6, 104.29-30, Job 27.3, 33.4, 34.14-15, Gen. 2.7 and Isa 63.10 seem to suggest the former, while passages such as Isa 30.1-2, 40.12-14, Wisdom of Solomon 7-9, Philo’s Creation 135, 144, On Noah’s Work as Planter 18, Allegorical Laws 1.142 seem to propose the latter. Both characteristics were seen “typically related to God’s covenantal activities in and on behalf of Israel, so the locus of the Spirit’s work was restricted almost exclusively to the holy nation.” (p.5, italics original)

Turner highlights the function of the Spirit of God in Israel’s memorial past and her future experience.

In Israel's past, God’s Spirit interacted with some appointed individuals by revealing certain messages to them or by empowering them for certain tasks, or both, to govern Israel from within. These insider individuals like Othniel (Jdg 3.10), Gideon (Jdg 6.34), Jephthah (Jdg 11.29), Samson (Jdg 14.6, 19, 15.14-15), Moses (Num 11.17, 29, Neh 9.20), Joshua (Num 27.18), the seventy elders (Num 11.25-29), the craftsmen who worked on ritual tools (Exod 28.3, 31.3, 35.31), Saul (1 Sam 10.1-11) and David (1 Sam 16.13, Zech 4.6) are instances. There are biblical authors who identify a ‘prophet’ as ‘man of the Spirit’ (Micah 3.8, Hos 9.7, Eze 11.5-25, Isa 48.16, 61.1-3, Zech 7.12). Turner remarks that, “In perhaps the majority of these various Old Testament incidents the Spirit of God acted as the channel of communication between God and a human person. This was ‘the Spirit of prophecy’ as Judaism came to understand it.” (p.6) However, the characteristics of this divine Spirit encompass several activities and not confined only to the giving of prophecies. Therefore the technical term ‘Spirit of prophecy’ is distinctively Judaic and hence can be misleading to outsiders (p.8). Here are the Spirit’s activities (p.8-14):
1) Affords charismatic revelation and guidance to event or knowledge that are otherwise unknown in certain situation (Tosefta Pesa im 2.15, Sirach 48.24, 4 Ezra 14.22, see Turner’s record of various Rabbinical and Targumic examples on page 9-18).

2) Affords charismatic wisdom that assists the person’s cognitive function when he or she carries out certain tasks (p.11-12, see Philo’s Life of Moses 2.265, 4 Ezra 14.22, Sirach 39.6 which is similar with Ephesians 1.17-20, 3.16-21, 5.18-20.)

3) Sometimes affords invasively inspired prophetic speech that prompts the agent to speak. (Num 23-24, Josephus’ Antiquities 4.119)

4) Sometimes but rarely affords invasively inspired charismatic praise or worship. (Tongues in Acts 10.46, 19.6, 1 Sam 10, 19, 1 Enoch 71.11, Mekilta Beshalla 7, Exo 14.31, 15.1, Exodus Rabbah 23.2).

However, there was a misconstrued belief among the ancients that the Spirit were inactive among the people after the time of the last few prophets (Tosefta So ah 13.3-4) until the arrival of the new aeon. There are evidences that the Spirit was thought to,

5) Performs miracles like transporting prophet to places (1 Kgs 18.12, 2 Kgs 2.16, Ezek 2.2, 3.12, 14, 8.1, 11.1, 24), empowering prophet with special ability (targum’s 2 Kgs 2.9-15 identifying Elisha’s dividing the waters as one), participating in creational and renewal activities (2 Baruch 21.4, 23.5, Ezra 6.39-41), and the various examples among the Qumran community (p.17-18).
For Israel’s future, a new aeon will come where the interaction of this Spirit of prophecy would be widely distributed not only to certain appointees, as how it was in the past, but to all Israel (Joel 2.28, Num 11.29, Isa 32.15, 44.3, Ezek 39.29). This Spirit will pervade every individual Israelites and so bringing each one to a new level of encountering and interacting with the ultimate reality, that is God (Jer 31.34). This intense experience of the Spirit of prophecy among the people would in turn generate an unprecedented determination to live deservedly according to the overpowering experience (Jer 31.31-40, Ezek 36.24-29, Ps 51.10-14). Turner alludes to Ezekiel’s vision of mass resurrection found in Ezekiel 37 as a glimpse to this new aeon. (p.6-7) An appointed agent whose life embodies the distinctive of such future will play a key role in this transition (Deut. 18.15, Isa 11.1-9, Isa 61. See page 19-20).

In other words, Turner’s thesis in Chapter 1 was to show that there exists a perception throughout the Jewish tradition that the Spirit of God (that is the Spirit of prophecy) is constantly interacting with and regulating agents from within the creation to administer God’s governance over it (Turner’s terms like “transformative” and “soteriological” on page 20 can be translated as the process of divine interaction and regulation). Such interaction and regulation were relegated only to certain individuals in the past and will be widely distributed among the people in the coming aeon.

In Chapter 2, Turner expounds that the activities of the Spirit of God found in the New Testament gospels are inline with Judaism’s Spirit of prophecy through Israel’s expectation (p.23-24, Lk 1.41-42, 67, 2.26-27, 29-35, 38). He explores several key agents’ encounter and experience with the Spirit and their contemporary’s general perception of the Spirit’s relation to the Messianic ‘Son of God’. Those agents are John the Baptist, the Messianic concept, and Jesus.

Turner argued from Luke’s gospel that John the Baptist is the greatest for his role as the anticipated ‘Elijah’ whose role is to initiate the inauguration of the new aeon (Lk 1.17, 7.26-28, Mal 3.1, 4.5). John’s experience of the Spirit throughout his life, from his conception to his ministry, was unprecedented. His life is one that is ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Lk 1.15, 1.41, 44, 80, p. 24-25). John’s foretelling of the Messiah as one who will come to baptize all Israel with Holy Spirit and fire refers to the judgement and salvation brought about by the Spirit through the Messiah. (p.27-29) Turner also attempt to make the case that the metaphor of ‘wilderness’ in passages like Mark 1.3 is based on an “Isaianic New Exodus theology” (Isa 40.3) that points to Messiah’s role in shepherding Israel “along ‘the way’ through a transformed wilderness to a restored Zion where he would rule.” (p.29, 34-35)

Jesus’ vision and his reception of the Holy Spirit during his baptism can be understood as a “messianic empowering” (p.30-31). Him being led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tested, him entirely empowered by the Holy Spirit to confront the tests (Lk 4.1), his return from the test “in the power of the Spirit” (Lk 4.14) and the miracles that he carried out in the power of the Spirit (Lk 13.10-15, Mt 11.2, Lk 9.2, 10.9, 11, Mt 10.7-8) point to the constant relation Jesus has with the Spirit (p.31). Turner ended this chapter with a caution that we should not be “too quickly assuming Luke presents Jesus as a pattern for all other Christians’ experience of the Spirit,” as his unique experience with the Spirit corresponds to his unique mission. (p.36)

In Chapter 3, Turner argues that Luke intends to secure a theological identity for the church in relation to Israel and Judaism in Acts. He sees Luke as building the thesis for the early church by analysing the phenomena of the Spirit through various incidents that took place among the early believers.

First, Turner introduces the consensus and disagreement among Lucan scholars over Luke’s pneumatology (p.38-43).

The consensus: (1) Luke’s idea of the Holy Spirit is situated within the context of the Old Testament as understood among the early Jewish Christians as opposed to some who claim that it is influenced by Greek mysticism or Mantic prophetism (p.38); (2) The phenomena of the Spirit in Luke-Acts functioned to serve the Jewish motif of the restoration of Israel, the Elijianic forerunner, and the empowerment of the Messiah that parallels the empowerment of the church (p.39); (3) The Spirit to all Christians is the gift of the ‘Spirit of prophecy’ promised through Joel (Acts 2.17, 18, 33, 38-39) and has to do with bearing witness to the Messiah as understood by Luke (p.39-40); The Spirit is the one that empowers the disciples’ witness to Christ, the church’s mission, involved in the religious renewal of individuals, and regulates salvation-history (p.40-41); and (5) Luke’s pneumatology went beyond Judaism by construing it through the Christ (p.41-42).

The disagreements are (1) whether is the Spirit in Acts refers exclusively to Joel’s ‘Spirit of prophecy’ or the broader Old Testament context, and so what are the characteristics attributed to this gift; (2) “How did Luke relate the Spirit to conversion-initiation? (3) Was the Spirit for Luke merely a donum superadditum of charismatic empowering, or did the Spirit also have soteriological functions?” (p.42-43).

Second, Turner points out that Luke identifies the phenomena of the Spirit among the early believers as that which corresponds with the ‘Spirit of prophecy’ in the promises of Joel (p.43-45).

Third, Turner discusses the most common feature of the Holy Spirit in relation to conversion experience (p.45-46). “The norm is a conversion-initiation pattern in which conversional repentance/faith is crystallized in baptism, and the Spirit is received in connection with the whole process.” Turner argues that it is not regular to have cases like that of Acts 8.16, therefore “the paradigm of 2.38-39 must be assumed for the numerous occasions (before Acts 8 and beyond it; cf. especially 2.41, 8.36-38, 16.15, 33, 18.8, etc) where people are explicitly said to come to faith, or to be baptized, but where reception of the Spirit is not mentioned (i.e. the reader is to assume such conversional faith and baptism is met with the gift of the Spirit unless (as in 8.16) it is stated otherwise).” (p.46) Here Turner makes it clear that the phenomenon, which is commonly known as 'second baptism' carried out by the Holy Spirit or 'Holy Spirit baptism', is not universal to all believers. The implication is that we should not expect this to be a norm or require such event as the confirmation of the Holy Spirit's presence in the life of the believers or the sign that signifies the believers' reception of the Spirit.

Fourth, Turner considers the studies of the Spirit’s empowerment for mission and the church, and how the Spirit as the charismatic power for Israel’s restoration (p.47-56). “It is certainly much more than an ‘empowering to witness’; the same gifts of the Spirit that fuel the mission (charismatic revelation, wisdom, prophecy, preaching and doxology) also nurture, shape and purify the community, making it a messianic community of ‘peace’ conforming to the hopes for Israel’s restoration… for Luke the charismatic ‘Spirit of prophecy’ is very much the power and life of the church, and so probably of the individual too (hence the close association of the gift of the Spirit to conversion-initiation). It is the means by which the heavenly Lord exercises his cleansing and transforming rule over Israel as much as the means by which he uses her as the Isaianic servant to witness his salvation to the end(s) of the earth (1.8, 13.47).” (p.55)

Finally, the conclusion that “Luke is attempting to explain and so to legitimate the church in the light of her founding moments” seen through the phenomena of the Holy Spirit is drawn (p.56). Luke’s theological point that the Spirit was still at present actively interacting with and regulating the agents within the creation to bring about the eschatological reality as promised through the ancient prophets is shown through the historical account he has dedicatedly recorded down.

Overall, Turner’s thesis is breathtaking. This is the first time I read a robust study on pneumatology that is historically engaging and theologically sophisticated. Turner manages to discern the Jewish motif from the Old Testament through his firm grasp of those references found in the New Testament. Yet his employed hermeneutic does not seem to be forcing the Old Testament passages to say what they were not meant to say, but rather bring to light the broad but definite theme on the Spirit from the Jewish context. Perhaps I am naïve but I am convinced by the case he made.

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