“Paul’s” Pneumatology?

Flesh Versus Spirit: A Brief Study

A very brief and superficial reading of the New Testament by otherwise brilliant men in the past has led some to conclude that Paul the apostle constructed certain doctrines fundamental to the Christian faith out of thin air. In particular, these critics claim that Paul’s pneumatology (i.e. “his” theology of the Holy Spirit) is not derived from the Old Testament but is an admixture of Hellenistic Judaism, Greek philosophy, and whatever else they want to throw into the mix.[1] “The Pentateuch,” one may argue, “has not even the slightest indication of a doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Paul is simply mimicking Greco-Roman religio-philosophical speculations about such matters. He is, in short, forming a hybrid of Jewish and Greco-Roman thought.” Such was the idea of Bultmann, and which, unfortunately, persists today among those whose chief task is to say as much as possible as they about the Bible without ever having opened it up.

In truth, Paul’s doctrines are clear expositions of what is already contained in the Old Testament. This is exactly the case with “his” pneumatology. For when we pay attention to what the text actually presents us, we see that Moses’ writings present us with a doctrine of the Holy Spirit that, although not as clearly articulated as our Lord’s in John 14-16, or Paul’s in Romans 8, and elsewhere, still gives us much the same information about the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.

This is the case when one compares the following: (i.)the giving of the Law by the “finger” of God (which is the Spirit of God, cf. Ex 31:18 with Matthew 12:28 and Luke 11:20), (ii.)the construction of the golden calf by the people, and (iii.)the giving of goods to the construction of the Tabernacle. Events (ii.) and (iii.) stand in antithetical parallel to one another in a variety of ways. They both consist of the Israelites freely giving their own goods to the construction of the means of worship (the former being false, and the latter being true). They both involved all of Israel being under the leadership of one individual who commands them to do so. Etc. The primary difference, and this is essential to understanding where Paul’s pneumatology derives its origin (which is not in Greek and Roman philosophy!), is that event (ii.) was done without the Spirit, indeed by those who had not the Spirit at all. Did the Israelites have the law? Yes, they did. But could they obey? No. Could they properly worship the One True God? Not at all. Rather, when left to their own devices, they fall into gross sin, giving their belongings, their all, their lives and their goods to an idol.

By utter contrast, when the people have their hearts stirred by the Lord’s Spirit, when the Holy Spirit puts wisdom into their hearts, when HE enables them to will and to do His commandment, then the people worship YHWH. They willingly give their goods not because they are autonomously motivated-pelagian worshipers of Yahweh, but because the LORD made them willing. Here we see that the natural man cannot believe, worship, and obey the Lord, but the man who has been given the Spirit can and will! The natural man hates the commandments of God, but the Spiritual man regards them as his delight, as that in which he finds pleasure. He is willing, yes, more than willing to do what God has required of him so that HIS temple and HIS means of worship might be properly established.

One may attempt to argue that I am reading into Moses’ writing, but this again evidences that they are speaking out of ignorance, for the same theme is found in Ezra’s recollection of the rebuilding of the Temple during the Jewish exile, under King Cyrus. The same language that Moses uses when he speaks of the those whom the Lord had stirred up, and those whom the Lord had given wisdom, specifically for the purpose of building the place of worship in which God would dwell, this same language is used by Ezra in 1:1, 5. Furthermore, the language of freewill offerings is used in Ezra 3:1-7, as it is used in Ex 3:20-29. The picture is very similar, so similar, in fact, that I’m sure the liberal will sidestep the fact of progressive revelational consistency, and attempt to avoid the question of Paul’s derivation of “his” pneumatology by trying to make the book of Exodus a post-exilic work. Unfortunately, at least for the liberals, this speculative and inaccurate dating of the book of Exodus, if true (and it isn’t) would still make Paul right in his understanding of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. So the liberal is caught in a dilemma: Either the Exodus narrative is pre-exilic and Paul is correct in his understanding of the Holy Spirit, or the Exodus narrative is post-exilic and Paul is correct in his understanding of the Holy Spirit. In either case, Paul is not deriving his theology from Greco-Roman philosophy/paganism, etc…

So, then, we must ask: What does Moses have to say about the Holy Spirit? Very much of the same that the New Testament says of Him, viz. (i.)He is the source of written, that is to say propositional, revelation (cf. Ex 31:18 with Matt 12:28 & Luke 11:20, also 2 Tim 3:16); (ii.)He is the source of wisdom and understanding in relation to the means and commands regarding how the people of God are to worship (cf. Ex 31:1-11 with 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, Ephesians 3:3); He is the One who, by regeneration, makes men willing to believe (for He opens their eyes to see, cf. John 3:1-8); He is the one who makes men fit for their place in the worship of God by giving them gifts whereby to serve God (cf. Ex 31:1-11 & Ex 35:20-35 with 1 Corinthians 12 & Ephesians 4).

“Paul’s theology of the Spirit,” therefore, is no mere invention of a Hellenizing ex-Pharisee, but the very exposition of the Old Testament Scriptures given by the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit made the Israelites willing to give and offer their property and time and energy to the building of God’s tabernacle, He did the same with the Israelites during the time of their exile under king Cyrus, and now He moves the hearts of the children of God to do the same. Note the progression from tabernacle to temple to Body of Christ, and see that it is ONE Spirit who is working the same way, albeit under different circumstances: (i.)to move God’s people to fulfill His purposes leading up to Christ, and (ii.)to empower God’s people to fulfill His purposes and point to Christ and Him crucified and raised, as well as look forward to His return (cf. Ephesians 4:1-16).

What we see in Paul’s pneumatology, therefore, is not all that much different from what we find in the Old Testament. Ultimately, the pneumatology of Paul is not derivative of Mosaic pneumatology but finds its origin in the Holy Spirit Himself who is revealing His Person and Work to us in the course of redemptive history. The liberals have no sound footing upon which to stand when they claim that Paul derived “his” pneumatology from anywhere else besides the Scripture.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] One should note that their methodology pretty much leaves the question completely open to an innumerable, if not infinite, variety of interpretations. Popular versions of Bultmann’s ridiculous conspiracy theory method of textual criticism can be found in the spiritualistic/occultic productions/publications of people like Helena Blavatsky, Jordan Maxwell, and the creators of Zeitgeist. We may, however, also point the reader to the general silliness of postmodern “theologians” (e.g. Doug Pagitt, Rob Bell, and George Elerick to name a few) who still promote this nonsense in order to promote their agendas.

About Hiram Diaz

Hiram Diaz has written 18 post in this blog.

Hiram Diaz is a New York native currently residing in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and children. His interests are philosophy and presuppositional & exegetical apologetics. He maintains Involuted Speculations, a blog about pretty much anything that pops into his head and can't find its way out until it's written down.

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