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Theological Notebook--Holy Spirit from Second Temple Judaism to Augustine Readings

Barnes' research here began with one key insight three years ago while reading the Dialogue with Trypho. This text is a debate with an educated Jew named Trypho written by a Samaritan-born, Christian philosopher named Justin Martyr in the early-middle second century. Barnes noticed that as the two debate over the divinity and pre-existence of Jesus (thus destroying, by the way, most of the distortions of The Da Vinci Code right there), while Trypho objects constantly to Justin's beliefs about Jesus, he never protests at all when Justin mentions the Holy Spirit. In fact, he will even talk about the Holy Spirit in the same way as Justin. In other words, they are working out of a common understanding of the Holy Spirit: both the Christian and the Jew. What Justin is saying is not an innovation, as far as the Jew is concerned. No one seems to have ever picked up on this, and Barnes' work began. Now we're working through the material with him in seminar format as he moves to conclude his now two-volume work on the early, Jewish-rooted understanding of the Holy Spirit.

Our own reading of selections of the Dialogue allowed us to notice this, too, although it's of course much easier once the original insight is made and it is simply pointed-out to you. A survey of texts from Genesis, Exodus and Joshua on the "Angel of the Lord" was also revealing. This figure featured prominently in early Christian theology, as we see in Justin's debate with Trypho. This figure seems both to be identified with God and is also often distinguished from God. This lands us in the midst of the "Two Powers in God" debate we looked at a few days ago. Christians took the "Angel of the Lord" who appeared and spoke for God in the Old Testament to be a pre-Incarnation appearance of the Second Person of the Trinity, the "Word" or "Logos" or "Son," who when He became human would be known as Jesus of Nazareth. Obviously, non-Christian Jews objected to this reading, but the language regarding the Angel and the "Two Powers" problem it raises was a major problem for the rabbis to explain in their own scriptures. And then there is the language of the Holy Spirit, who "testifies" to things in the Scriptures, and is the Spirit who inspires the prophets, words and thoughts entirely acceptable to Trypho. Who is the Holy Spirit, then? We are clearly not yet at the full-fledged trinitarian understanding of the Spirit, yet the Spirit as a "character" is doing exactly those things Christians will say in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed that we say in Church to this day.

Another interesting point touched on was the common accusation made by people nowadays that the early Christians like Justin are playing fast and loose with their readings of the Old Testament to make their exegetical arguments against Jewish opponents. But as we were reading second and third century Rabbinic interpretations (specifically in this case, Genesis Parashah II:IV: A-G) where we saw much more figurative interpretations than the Christians were typically engaged in. In this case, the Creation story of Genesis chapter one was being figuratively read (rather in the manner of Daniel) to be predicting or discussing the successive rule of various regimes in the Near East, from Persians to Romans.

Another fascinating reading was a selection from Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence by Charles A. Gieschen, a book I've seen having an impact around here the last few years. "Angelomorphic Christology" seems to be a phenomenon in early Christianity where Christ is talked and theorized about by being treated in the form of an angel, specifically that "Angel of the Lord" we noted earlier. The Angel of the Lord seems at times to be identified with YHWH, but at times not: the Christians, with their "Father/Son" or "God/Logos" language can account for how the infinite, invisible God could somehow manifest a specific presence in the world. Or as our selection sums it up in three key conclusions (p.68-69) for these texts for early Christology:

1) These texts present indisputable evidence of the understanding that God can manifest himself in visible form ranging from a fire, to a cloud, to a man.
2) One of two primary understandings of the Angel of the Lord is found in each of these texts: the angel is either indistinguishable from God as his visible manifestation or the angel is figure somewhat distinct from God, yet who shares God's authority. The pivotal text of Exodus 23:20-21 where this angel was seen as distinct from God but who shared in God's power by virtue of possession of the Divine Name, cause other Angel of the Lord traditions to be read n this same manner by later interpreters.
3) The significance of the Angel of the Lord traditions as developed in this exegetical direction centers on the angel's possession of the Divine Name. To use language familiar from later Trinitarian discussion, this promoted an understanding that this angel was a "person" distinct from God who, in a significant way, shared in God's "substance" through the possession of the Divine Name.
Tags: barnes, holy spirit course, jewish mysticism, patristics
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