Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Particle or Wave, Part 2

Nowhere is the particle or wave dichotomy more evident than in the different stories that John in his gospel and Luke in the book of Acts give for the reception of the Spirit. All throughout the gospel of John the Holy Spirit is given prominence. Jesus promised the Apostles (and through them us) another Advocate or Comforter just like him. By this name Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit. John 7:39 even makes mention of the Spirit not being given yet because Jesus is not yet glorified. Thus John builds an expectation of a reception of the Holy Spirit to continue Jesus’ work in the world with and through the disciples.

This expectation reaches a climax when Jesus, after his resurrection but before the ascension, breathes on the disciples in a prophetic act and commands them to receive the Holy Spirit. If they did receive it then, then the disciples received the Spirit again after Jesus’ ascension as recorded by Luke. Putting John and Luke side by side produces two receptions of the Spirit by the disciples. Many modern commentators try to harmonize these two stories by making what John wrote a metaphor for what happened in Luke/Acts. By my way of thinking this is very unlikely because it runs uncaringly over the plain meaning of John’s words.

Yet this leaves us in the uncomfortable position of having the disciples receive the Holy Spirit two times, the second of which was called the baptism in the Holy Spirit by Jesus as written by Luke. So far every resolution that tries to harmonize these two stories is based on speculation. I do not mean by this that these two stories cannot be harmonized. I just mean that without interviewing both Luke and John personally the harmonization may be beyond our grasp. So I am not saying that different authors of books in the Bible have conflicting theologies. I am just saying that from our view of 2000 years later we do not have enough evidence to produce a full harmonization.

But we can still draw insight from this. We have two different stories regarding the reception of the Holy Spirit that are treated as harmonious. I find evidence for this kind of two and three part harmony all throughout the gospels. Jesus Himself was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit mediated the presence of the Father and the Son to Mary. Christians too are born of the Spirit when they receive Jesus. One cannot say that a person born of the Spirit does not have the Spirit. Remember how tricky it is that Jesus could be both in heaven and in our heart at the same time. If Jesus is in our hearts through the Spirit, then the Spirit must be there too. Yet receiving the Spirit, personally, is different than receiving Jesus. Yet by receiving Jesus we also get the Father and the Spirit.

In John 14:23 (NIV) Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” So when we get the Son we get the Father too. But it is the Spirit who mediates both the Son and the Father to us, making them present within.

Whew, this is a puzzle. One for all and all for one!


Anonymous said...

I remember some quote from CS Lewis about how his peers didn't understand his writings and wrote papers and comments that were a misunderstanding of his thoughts and intents. His response was, if my peers can't understand me, how will we understand those separated by years, culture and language?

Another role of the Holy Spirit: to lead us into all truth and help us to translate the Bible into a life of faith.

Steven Ganz said...

Sometimes the Bible is used for things other than walking with God. It doesn't lend itself to those other uses very well.