Sunday, June 04, 2017

Holy Spirit: Scripture

Today, we’ll start doing a broad overview of how the Spirit works.  If we started where the Bible itself starts, we would begin with creation.  However, I’m not going to go there just yet: we have some deep theological work to do first.

The foundation of the Church is the Apostles and the Prophets, with our Lord Christ the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20): where do they get their authority from?  We might be tempted to say the Scriptures, and while that is true in a sense (Paul, for example, faithfully guarded and interpreted the Old Testament), it doesn’t go far enough -- the Apostles and Prophets are the writers of the Scriptures and so, in one sense, the authority of the text rests on them.  So, where does their -- and consequently the Scriptures -- authority come from?  The Holy Spirit.  We hear in the Creed “He spake by the prophets” and we read in the Scriptures that “Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth” (Jer. 1:9) and “My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and for ever” (Is. 59:21) and “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2).  Or, the classical text of inspiration: “all Scripture is ‘breathed-out by God’” (2 Tim. 3:16).

Note in these texts, which could be multiplied from the OT over and over, the close connection between the Spirit and the Word.  The Spirit of the Lord speaks through His servants the prophets and the content of that speech is always the Word of God; all of this proceeds from the Father, the living God.  This is then shown in the NT to be what the prophets were speaking about: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, for this reason that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35).  Every time we hear the prophets proclaiming that the Spirit of the Lord placed the Word of God in their mouths, they are foreshadowing the Incarnation of the Lord Christ.  They received the shadow, Mary received the substance.  All the OT Scriptures, given by the Holy Spirit through the prophets, is then looking forward to and speaking of Christ: “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Lk. 24:27) and “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning me” (Lk. 24:44).   The Spirit always testifies of Christ and, through the Scriptures interpreted in the Church, brings Christ to bear in our lives.

So, there is a close connection between the Spirit, the Word, and the Scriptures. The Scriptures find their origin in the relationship between the Spirit, the Word, and the Apostles/Prophets, which is to say, the Church of God.  Not everyone in the Church, of course, is an apostle or a prophet -- it is a notoriously exclusive group; but everyone in the Church, if they are indeed part of the House of God, is built upon the foundation of the Apostles and the Prophets, which is what constitutes the Church as the “pillar and ground of the Truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).  As the pillar and ground, the Church guards and preserves the Scriptures in their apostolic setting, which is what Paul called “the Deposit” (2 Tim. 1:14).  The Scriptures, through the means of the Apostles and Prophets, is God-breathed; the Church is God-indwelt (1 Cor. 6:19) and the focus of the teaching ministry of the Spirit, as our Lord says, “when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all Truth” (Jn. 16:13) and “you have an anointing from the Holy One and you know all things...but the anointing which you have received from HIm abides in you and you do not need anyone to teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him” (1 Jn. 2:20, 27).

Looking just as briefly as we did at these connections, what conclusions can we draw?  First, the Scriptures are true, for they have come from the Spirit of Truth acting through the Apostles and the Prophets.  Second, the Church, as she is indwelt and empowered by the Spirit, is to keep the Scriptures and their proper interpretation, as Jude says, we have “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3).  Third, the Spirit Himself is the best exegete of the Scriptures, for He is their origin.  What He tells us, through our Lord and through the “Deposit of the Apostles,” is that the Scriptures reveal Christ, who Himself reveals the Father (Jn. 1:18, 14:7-10).  We return, again, to the primacy of the Trinity as the guide and guard to all understanding of Scripture and living out of the Christian Faith.  Connecting back to last week, we might say that the most proper place to interpret the Scriptures, then, is within the worship of the Church, where we are drawn by the Spirit to participate in the life and work of Jesus Christ, so that we might be reconciled to the Father and “partake of the divine nature” (2 Pt. 1:4).  Here, I think, is probably the strongest argument for the use of the Psalms in Christian worship: the words of the Spirit elucidating the work of Christ that we are hearing about through the readings and the songs and participating in through the means of grace, the sacraments.

You might wonder, at this point, why we started with thinking through the relationship of the Spirit, the Scripture, and the Church.  Why not start with creation?  Well, how do we know about creation?  Certainly the scientific field of study does not show us “creation out of nothing and it was all very good,” nor does a more naive look around us: how could our eyes and minds, stained by sin, understand properly where a creation that is held in “bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:21) has its origins?  We can’t see creation rightly when it is in front of our senses, much less “in the beginning.”  So, how do we know about creation?  From the Scriptures, given to us by the Apostles and the Prophets, as they were “led along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:21).  In these Scriptures, we see very clearly and very early the role of the Spirit in creation: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  Then God said…” (Gen. 1:1-3).  The original “stuff” of creation, matter, was originally all mixed in together.  But the work of the hovering Spirit, who was over the watery mass, organizes the creation so that it might be declared “good” by God.  Again, in the first three verses, we see the Holy Trinity: the Spirit, the Word, and the One who speaks and breathes, the Father.  It should not surprise us, then, that when God speaks later on, He says, “Let us make humankind in our image…” (1:26).  The Psalms also speak to the Spirit’s activity in the creation: “When You [God] send Your Spirit, they are created” (Ps. 104:30).  We might say that the Spirit is animating the creation, providing the necessary conditions for life to flourish.  As we go further, we see that Adam is filled with “the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7), again giving him the ability to flourish, for he becomes “a living being.”  The Spirit is, in both instances, associated with life: the original creation was lifeless due to its confused and mixed nature, Adam was originally just mud -- once the Spirit comes, though, there is life.

However, we know that this state of “very good” does not last long enough: sin enters the world and through sin, death (Rom. 5:12).  If the Spirit is life, we may surmise that death is the absence of the Spirit in His vivifying role; that is, death is not just the cessation of biological life, but is broken communion with God.  This is why Paul can say “you were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).  However, Paul precedes this statement with “you He made alive together with Christ” (he actually says it in v.5, but the sentence is so long that many translations put a shortened version of it at the beginning).  When was Christ “made alive”?  The Resurrection!  The Resurrection that we share in by the Spirit (Rom. 8:11) is the ultimate act of recreation, both now (“reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” -- Rom. 6:11) and at the last Day (“we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan inwardly, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body”-- Rom. 8:23).  This recreation, though, had been foreshadowed itself in the Scriptures.  When God gathered a people to Himself, He led them through the wilderness where He gave His Law to organize their communal life so that it was “good”.  The way that this is poetically described in Deuteronomy 32 is instructive: “He found him [Israel] in a desert land and in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; He encircled him, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye.  As an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up, carrying them on its wings, so the Lord alone led him, and there was no foreign god with him” (32:10-11).  The words for wasteland and hovering are only used together here and in Genesis 1:2, when the Spirit “hovered” over the “formless” creation.  What God is doing, Moses is alluding to, is recreating the broken world through His people Israel.  The Prophet Isaiah also speaks in similar terms in chapter 63 [start at v. 7].

We could go much further, of course, speaking about the Spirit’s role in God’s providential ordering of creation and history.  God’s active presence is at all times operative, not just at special historical junctures.  But I think it is worth thinking again about how the Spirit’s work leads us into biblical interpretation.  If Israel’s history, especially the Exodus, the wanderings, and the entrance into Canaan, is a foreshadowing of Christ’s exodus, His temptations, and His Resurrection, doesn’t that also mean -- since the Spirit is bringing us into a participation in Christ’s life and activity -- that these Scripture passages have something to tell us that is deeper than history?  Paul gives us the answer when he says all these things are “examples” or “types” for us (1 Cor. 10:11).  Let us turn there to see how this Spirit-inspired Apostle leads us through the text, for the sake of Church, that the redemption and recreation that has been accomplished through Christ’s death and resurrection, might be brought into our lives today.

No comments: