The Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John Essay
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This paper will analyze the elements of the Gospel of John. Specifically, it will deal with the specific primary texts in the Gospel that deal with the Holy Spirit, and afterwards, will deal with the secondary literature on this topic. The basic argument here is that the purpose of the Sprit is to head the church and to guide the faithful to truth, avoiding heresy and schism. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity: while the father is the uncreated hypostasis, he, outside of time, begets the Son, and the Holy Sprit proceeds from the father and rests in the Son.
The Father is the principle of creation, the Son its Logos, its reason and interconnectedness, and it is sacralized through the church by the action of the Spirit. These are three persons to be found in a single God, a God with one nature. I. “And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. ” This is the first mention of the Spirit in John’s Gospel. He seems to ratify the baptism of Christ, showing very quickly in the first chapter that Christ is indeed God, and the Tripartite nature of the Godhead is being revealed to the world for the first time.
The Spirit here acts as an autonomous entity (i. e. it is not a “part of” either the Father or the Son). Christ is to be bathed in the Spirit so as to show that He is the New Covenant: as the spirit (as yet unknown) descended upon the Ark in the Old Covenant, and rested upon Mary at the Annunciation, the Spirit again shows the divinity of the New Covenant, Christ, by descending at his baptism. In Christ’s conversation with Nikodemus, Christ speak of being born again.
Making reference to the sacrament of baptism, Christ says that “unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. ” Just as Christ revealed Himself as the Son of God through the descent of the Spirit, so too Christians must show themselves to the world as adopted sons of God through baptism. The spirit is present in both, with Christ as the prototypical baptism. “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, [they] are spirit, and [they] are life.
” So says Christ in John 6: 63. Christ is speaking here both of the Holy Spirit, and the spiritual life of man. The Spirit is contrasted with the flesh, itself having two meanings: first, the life of the world, the world of power, of ego of sin, and hence, death. But it also refers to the passions and drives of individuals, the passions for lust greed and hatred that are the symptoms of living in a diseased world. Hence, the “Spirit,” when it is used in Scriptre, can mean one of two things: the soul of man, or the Spirit of God.
These two are related in that the Spirit could not rest in something that did not have the ontological structure to receive it. In other words, man, in some fashion, has to be created in such a way so as to receive the Spirit of the father, and this is the soul, the immaterial principle of man, the form of the body, to use Aristotelian language. In John 7, Christ says: In the last day, that great [day] of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.
He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet [given]; because that Jesus was not yet glorified. ) This is a complex passage dealing with the Holy Spirit. First, Christ is identifying himself with the God of the Old Testament, for he says “as the scripture has said” in reference to Himself. Of course, he’s talking about the Old Covenant.
But, as is so common in the Gospel of John, Christ is making a distinction between the life of the world and the life of the Spirit. The life of the world can never provide satisfaction: actual water, or food, or any natural desire of man is only of a temporary satisfaction. Only the spirit of God can give eternal satisfaction. The fact that Christ is referring top “water” here is important. First, water is a primary component of man’s physiology. Second, water can give life, it can cleanse, it can help things grow, but it can also drown if not used properly.
“Water,” while not only a natural component of man, but an important desire, is only a figure. The figure is important, but it is only the “matter. ” The “form” is the Holy Spirit itself. In other words, the only proper use of water, ritualistically speaking, is when it is used for baptism, but a baptism is not such unless the water be saturated with the Holy Spirit. When a man is baptized, he is now a stream of living water: he becomes an image, an icon, of the Son, in turn the image of the father.
The man becomes a Christian through baptism, this is done through faith in the Spirit under the figure of water. He becomes an icon of he Son, and he becomes a preacher of the Spirit, hence, a flowing river that cleanses all it touches. Now the comment that the Spirit was not yet given refers to Pentecost. The Spirit works in the world, He worked in the Old Testament, but He has not been given in order to create the vessel of the final revelation: the church. This was to come only after Christ is “glorified,” that is, Transfigured, Murdered and then resurrected.
As Christ goes to the father, Christ will pray to the Father than the Holy Spirit be sent to the infant church at Pentecost, institutionalizing (so to speak) the final revelation in spirit and truth. “[Even] the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. ” This is one of the most powerful statements about the Spirit in all of Scripture. It needs to be treated in detail. First, the Spirit of Truth: the Spirit proceeds from the father and rests upon the Son, glorifying him on Tabor, and raising Him up at his Resurrection.
He is the truth for no other reason than he is the love that unites the father and the son in the embrace of love and truth. The Father is the principle of creation, the Being beyond being, the ultimate unity in all things, while Christ is the Logos, the principle of reason that identifies all things as they are and interconnects them with the father and with each other. The spirit is the image of this connection: of singularity and multiplicity, image and prototype. The Spirit is the sanctifier, he shows the connection between the Father and the Son for all who believe.
But just as important, the Spirit here is both the truth of nature and its relation to God as creator, but he will come to speak the truth to the church. He will guide the church in all its actions, providing a means to tell the true church from the false, the true preacher from the hireling. But that’s just the problem: the world’s authorities, the people who they worship, are in fact hirelings in their actions. The “world” here refers to the system of power, of empire and the state, the economic elitism of Israel that has rejected the prophetic equalitarian economics so important to Amos and Hosea.
The world cares about passion, greed and gain, it cares about the lower passions of self-importance and the Pharaseeism of “correctness. ” It cares not for truth, but only for power. Hence, when the Spirit will show Himself, only a few will be able to recognize Him. The Spirit, animating the Apostles, will preach pain and suffering: the narrow path of self-denial and martyrdom. The false preachers, the wolves among the sheep, will preach the broad path: easy and full of physical satisfaction.
This passage holds that the true Church of Christ will always be small, it will not recognize the world (and vice versa) and that this Spirit, when it takes possession of a man, will re-create the remnant, the true Israelites without guile. This passage is nothing more than the preaching of the Church, its future and the means whereby it can be known. For added emphasis, Christ says this a few verses later: “But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
” The passage above was the general idea: this is the specific application. The Spirit, here again shown as coming from the Father and not the Son (though it speaks of the Son), acts as the relation between the two: the Spirit is the relation of universal and particular: the unity of God and the incarnated Logos, the principle of logic and reason in nature, its ordered existence, including that of mankind and their relation to the creator. The father will send the “Spirit in my name,” that is, it will preach the doctrine of the Son.
One mark of the true spirit is that it will never deviate from the teachings of Christ as found in the Scriptures. As the Trinity contains three persons, it has a single essence. As far as we are concerned, there is a single teaching, a single doctrine, a single nature, and hence, there can be only one Truth, only one true Church. Because of the single essence of the Trinity that is expressed in three persons, there can only be one teaching. The Spirit cannot go where the Son is not.
The Sprit cannot preach any doctrine that the Son has not made manifest. And again: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. ” Here, the idea that the Son is not the ontological source of the Spirit is reiterated. The Spirit, like the Son, derives from the same source, the Being of Being, the Father.
The truths above are reiterated for extra emphasis: first, that the comforter is from the Father, the Principle, that He will teach only truth, and hence, sects that do not preach Christ in the Scriptures are not grace filled, they do not have the Spirit in them. The Spirit, as far as men are concerned, is the very “content” of the Truth, or true doctrine. But as Christ has said in the last chapter, the demons are already working within the infant church, and we can interpret this with ease as that they are spreading falsehood under the name of “christ.
” But in this passage, the actions of the apostles (the first bishops and leaders of the church) are given a role. The Spirit will animate them to preach and travel throughout the globe bringing Christ to the gentiles who are unspoiled by the Pharisees and their “legalism. ” The Truth is an animating Sprit, it is at the root of the proper teaching of the gospel, and importantly, eliminating any heresies that are bound to develop. This passage in many ways is also a commission for the apostles to being writing down what they have witnessed.
The Truth of the Spirit will be verified by the apostolic teaching in that the apostles have witnessed the preaching and actions of Jesus. Hence the witness of the apostles is central to verifying the truth as preached by their successors. Many will come claiming to have Christ or the spirit or the apostolic mandate, but it is only the witness of the apostles that serves as the benchmark for having the Spirit. This is of immense importance. In Chapter 16, Christ says: Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.
And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. . . .Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, [that] shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew [it] unto you. There is a curious connection between Christ’s leaving (so to speak), and the Spirit’s coming. Christ will leave the world bodily, but the Spirit will be sent from the father to maintain His teaching.
But the spirit is seen as a successor to Christ in the flesh doing through spirit what Christ was able to do in his sinless flesh. This may be interpreted as a means of Christ saying to the apostles that what was preached in the flesh now must be acted out in spirit. Christ laid the groundwork for salvation, giving his blood and death on the cross, but now, the spirit will act as a means to assist the new covenant to preach the word as the apostles see fit under the circumstances. The Spirit is seen as having a function.
First, to bring Truth to the church (and nowhere else), and, equally as important, to condemn the world. Christ will not do that, but the Spirit will. The Spirit has no room for the flesh except the life of the church, which is a spiritualized flesh, the self-denial of the narrow path. Christ’s mission will be sanctified and glorified by the action of the spirit: the spirit is not a new revelation, but will assist the church in important ways: iin doctrine, in apologetics, in spiritual approach and the very construction of the Scriptures, which are spirit filled.
The spirit will not offer new doctrine, but will complete what Christ has started by bringing his teaching to the world and to generations to come. The fulfillment of this promise will occur at Pentecost, but a foretaste of this occurrence can be found in John 20, where Christ imparts the Spirit to the apostles in the upper room: “And when he had said this, he breathed on [them], and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; [and] whose soever [sins] ye retain, they are retained. ” This is the final mention of the Spirit in John’s gospel.
It is important because it includes the apostolic mandate to forgive sins. The Spirit will be the action that forgive sins, so to speak “applying” the blood of Christ to those who seek forgiveness. The apostles will receive the spirit, and the first thing that is said once this is done is that they are to forgive sins with this new power. But, as hinted above, the judgement is up to the church, the church founded on the scriptures by the apostles: the apostles can withhold the spirit if the person in question does not seem properly disposed to receive it.
The church is given a mandate that it can forgive sins through the imparting of the spirit, but that the church is able to give the judgement as to how, when and where this is to be used. This is the issue: Christ will not be among them any more, they will no longer be pupils, but masters of the spirit. They are now called upon to make a judgement as to the use of this gift, and this is the role of the church in the day to day life of the community of Christ.