He has Spoken through the Prophets

Part Five of The Holy Spirit in John

Writing in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, M.M.B. Turner says, “In the Fourth Gospel the Spirit is to be understood primarily as a development of the Jewish understanding of ‘Spirit of prophecy,’ redefined christologically and developed in a trinitarian direction.” (Article “Holy Spirit,” section 3, p. 347).

In John’s gospel, there is an intimate, two-way connection between the Holy Spirit and words of Jesus.

He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. (John 3:34)

It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. (John 6:63)

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. (John 15:26)

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-14)

The Holy Spirit, then, is not an independent player, doing his own thing apart from the gospel narrative about Jesus of Nazareth. It’s not as if Jesus’ death and resurrection ended one story and the coming of the Holy Spirit began another tangentially-related story. The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to speak God’s words, and Jesus’ words themselves poured out the Holy Spirit into the world. After Jesus’ resurrection, the Holy Spirit continues to empower Jesus’ words and the story of Jesus’ life.

In the second century, a Christian prophet named Montanus identified himself as the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit promised in John 14:15. Montanus believed his new revelations equaled or superseded God’s revelation in Christ. In effect, Montanus put himself instead of Christ at the center of God’s activity.

The content of Montanus’ oracles is of little significance today, but his activity does raise an important question for Christians in every age. Does the activity of the Holy Spirit mean that God’s revelation is so open and ongoing that the historical Jesus eventually fades into insignificance?

The early church recognized that the Holy Spirit was still active in the world, so claims based on spiritual experience or inspiration could not simply dismissed. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit, as John says, does not act on his own. The Holy Spirit enlivens the story of Jesus’ words and deeds so that Jesus himself lives within his community. The work of the Spirit cannot be divorced from the story of God’s revelation in history. The Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures work hand-in-hand. The church identified the Holy Scriptures as the “kanon,” a Greek word that we brought into English as “canon.” It means “measuring stick.” The canonical scriptures are the standard against which all other claims of revelation must be measured.

The First Epistle of John was written by the author of the fourth gospel or by a member of the same community. Its author says:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)

Every claim of immediate divine inspiration is subject to being evaluated in the light of God’s revelation in history, and most particularly his revelation in Jesus. The Holy Spirit does not offer his own truth independent of the story of Jesus, but its witness agrees with and confirms the story of Jesus’ life:

This is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. (1 John 5:6-8)