The Theology of Paul the Apostle | James D. G. Dunn (§16)

Ah, we’ve made it to the chapter that torments Pentecostals: The gift of the Spirit. Why doesn’t Paul’s discussion of this theme follow the pattern established in Acts? It will be good for this Pentecostal-trained boy to hear what Paul has to say on this topic without Lukan interference!

. . .

Chapter 5: The Beginning of Salvation

§ 16: the gift of the Spirit

The gift of the Spirit is the third way Paul described the start of Christian’s life. Here’s a good way to look at the three ways:

  1. Justification – restored status – intellectual appeal – stressed in Protestant Christianity
  2. In Christ – participation – embracing experience – stressed in Catholic Christianity
  3. the Spirit – divine enabling – motivated ethic – stressed in Charismatic Christianity

The rise of Pentecostalism and Charismatic Christianity in the last century ensured that this theme didn’t fall into disuse like “in Christ” did.

There is one chief difference between Paul’s use of “Spirit” in contrast to “justification” and “in Christ”. “Spirit” isn’t an exclusively Pauline thing. The gift of the Spirit is a mark of the Nazarene sect of Judaism from the beginning. Two eschatological elements are worth considering here:

  1. There was widespread belief in Second Temple Judaism that the Spirit was withdrawn from Israel. The claim of the first Christians was that the drought was over.
  2. The Spirit was freely given to the Gentiles! This was fulfillment of the “all flesh” prophecy (Joel 2:28).

This third way of describing the critical moment of salvation (Spirit reception) is more prominent than either “justification” or “in Christ”. In fact, it’s remarkably consistent across all his letters. Justification might get more press, but that’s because Paul had something he needed to defend. The gift of the Spirit was beyond dispute. Let’s survey Paul’s use of the Spirit:

  • 1 Thessalonians: They received the Spirit with joy from God. Despite their eschatological expectation, they were warned not to quench the Spirit.
  • Galatians: Paul’s main argument begins with the fact of their Spirit-reception. This Spirit-reception made even Gentiles Abraham’s offspring who, like Isaac, were born “in accordance with the Spirit” (4:29).
  • 1 Corinthians: The Spirit dwelt in the Corinthians, washing, sanctifying, justifying, and unifying them. Indeed, the Spirit was even at the centre of their worship.
  • 2 Corinthians: The Spirit was the down-payment of the salvation process. In a midrash on Exodus 34:34, Paul explained how they were even converted to the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:7-18).
  • Romans: The true believer was circumcised in the heart, according to the Spirit. Although Paul might hold back on Spirit-mentions in the first 7 chapters of Romans, the eighth explodes with Spirit-activity. The closest thing Paul gives to a definition of Christian is someone who has the Spirit in them (8:9). This life-giving Spirit indwells the believer and begins the process which will end in bodily resurrection.
  • Philippians: Believers were united by their shared Spirit experience.
  • Colossians: Mentions of the Spirit are slighter here, but follow distinctively Pauline themes.
  • Ephesians: The Spirit seals the believer and assures his or her inheritance.

Scholars have tried to conceptualize the Spirit in various ways, but there’s always the danger than the conceptualization will undermine the metaphor. For Paul, the gift of the Spirit was first an experience. The first believers used old concepts such as “outpoured” to describe this gift, but they also coined new terms. The gift of the Spirit was an experience the early believers had no adequate language to explain. This experiential nature of the Spirit is clear from the term itself. In both Hebrew and Greek, it conveys the idea of breath and wind alongside spirit. Our temptation today is to make the gift of the Spirit the logical consequence of believing the right things. It was far more for Paul. Paul described the Spirit’s reception along a spectrum of experience:

  1. Ecstatic phenomena: The Corinthians lacked no charism (1 Corinthians 1:5, 7).
  2. Emotional experiences: God’s love is poured out into our hearts (Romans 5:5).
  3. Deep conviction: The Gospel came to the Thessalonians in the power of the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
  4. Intellectual illumination: The Spirit lets us know what is from God (1 Corinthians 2:12).
  5. Moral impact: The Spirit of God helps us align our lives to Christ’s (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

There are dangers to religious experience. Experiences can be idolized and used as a divisive tool. Perhaps this is why Paul insisted that the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Christ. To claim something comes from the Spirit of God is to say that it aligns with the life and teaching of Jesus.

Let’s turn our attention to the features of Christian life Paul specifically attributes to the Spirit:

  1. Liberty: The Spirit brings freedom (Romans 7:7-25).
  2. Christian Conduct: Daily life is lived by the Spirit (Romans 8:4).
  3. Sonship/adoption: The Spirit is the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15). That is, the Spirit makes us sons of God along with Jesus, as well as according to the pattern of Jesus. This metaphor was chosen from Greco-Roman law since the Jewish people rarely practiced adoption
  4. Spiritual longing and hope: We groan in anticipation for the future (Romans 8:23).
  5. Prayer: The spirit aids us in effective prayer (Romans 8:26-27).
  6. Spiritual insight and charisms: The spirit gives gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14).
  7. Fruit of the Spirit: The Spirit bears fruit (Galatians 5:22-23).

To sum up, the last three chapters of Dunn’s book describe the beginning of God’s work in a person: Justified with God, Bonded in Christ, Gifted with the Spirit. These three metaphors are complementary, as are the blessings attributed to them.

. . .

I suppose I’m still left with my introductory question since it’s really outside the bounds of this book. I’m curious to figure out how to integrate Lukan Spirit-baptism with Pauline theology. In the end, this chapter provided a rich overview of Paul’s pneumatology. The work of integration will have to be done elsewhere.

< § 15: Participation in Christ

§ 17: Baptism >

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