The Table Podcast

The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed

In this episode, Drs. Darrell L. Bock and Fred Sanders discuss the Nicene Creed, focusing key beliefs about the Holy Spirit.

The Nicene Creed
  1. The Doctrine of God in the Nicene Creed
  2. The Person of Jesus in the Nicene Creed
  3. The Work of Jesus in The Nicene Creed
  4. The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed
  5. The Church in the Nicene Creed
Resources

Nicene Creed Translation © 1988, Faith Alive Christian Resources, Christian Reformed Church in North America

Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. Our topic today is the Nicene Creed as we continue our discussion of various parts of the creed, and we are focused today on the section that deals with the Holy Spirit.

And our guest via Skype – we love technology – is Fred Sanders, who is Professor of Theology at the Torrey Honors Institute. I was said to go slow when I pronounced that. From Biola, and author of Deep Things From God, Crossway. Fred, we really are glad to have you with us again. Thanks for coming back and talking to us one more time about theology.

Fred Sanders
It’s good to be here.
Darrell Bock
Well, let’s talk a little bit about your take on the significance of the Nicene Creed. This is a creed, obviously, that is widely used in the church. And what’s your take on the importance of the creed as a whole?
Fred Sanders
Well, the Nicene Creed, one of the great things about it – in addition to it being an early short summary of the key points of scripture – is that we know where it came from, you know? The Apostles Creed is kinda home base for me – the first one I memorized and the one I kinda grew up with – but we don’t really know where that came from. It kinda bubbled up out of the old Roman symbol or something like that.

With the Nicene Creed, we know exactly where the fight was – the Creed of Nicaea in 325 – and then as it was developed over the intervening decades before 381, the Council of Constantinople. So we can not only look at the controversies that caused some of the phrasing to take the shape it did, we can read the literature in the other writings of the people involved in drafting that creed. That’s one of the things I really appreciate about it.

Darrell Bock
In that sense I can make the analogy, just like we kind of know where the constitution came from as a result of The Federalist Papers, we can trace the background of the Nicene Creed through the writings of the fathers in the midst of these controversies.
Fred Sanders
That’s right, yeah.
Darrell Bock
So and we’ve talked with others about the way this is structured because of the Trinitarian emphasis that leads from the Father to the Son and to the Spirit. And then we talk about the church, and we close with a touch of eschatology at the end. Talk a little bit about the setting of the creed as a whole in the way you see it. I mean, obviously Christology was an important part of this controversy, but the Trinity in particular is also a focus of what’s going on with this creed.
Fred Sanders
Yeah. And one of the things you really get with the structure of the Nicene Creed is it emphasizes the relations of origin, that the Son is from the Father, and that the Spirit is from the Father and from the Son. That really kind of links together the relations of the Trinity. Again, with something like the Apostles Creed, you could get just a list of these three persons and have their relations to each other and not specify it. But the Nicene Creed really goes out of its way to say that the Son is from the Father.
Darrell Bock
So in a sense, this is a step in specificity as we move from the Apostles Creed to the Nicene Creed.
Fred Sanders
I think so. To my surprise I sometimes find non-Trinitarians who can nod their heads and affirm the Apostles Creed, which is baffling to me personally ’cause it’s pretty obvious to me what’s implicit in that creed. But the Nicene Creed goes a step further towards explication.
Darrell Bock
And your point would be that in the explication the distinguishing of what’s really involved when the doctrine of the Trinity becomes clear.
Fred Sanders
That’s right.
Darrell Bock
Well, we have sessions that deal with the doctrine of God the Father, and the picture of Jesus Christ his son, but we come now in the creed to the portion that deals with the Holy Spirit. It’s actually relatively short, but it is important nonetheless. There’s something implicit in here that I’m gonna start with that I think is important and sometimes missed. Let me read it as a whole, and then we’ll talk about the pieces.

I’m gonna start at the end interestingly enough. It says, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.” That last part I wanna start on. Sometimes the implication is left in discussing bibliology that the doctrine of the Bible is a recent creation, if you will, of theological discourse.

And yet here we get a very direct statement about the role of inspiration and the involvement of the idea of the scripture being Spirit-breathed, if you will, God-breathed, but Spirit-breathed, in particular, the Spirit’s role in it. Seems to me that has important implications that we shouldn’t ignore as we think about the role of the Spirit in activity of God.

Fred Sanders
Yeah, I think that’s right. So there’s the doctrine of Scripture there. There’s an Old Testament theology of how God spoke through the prophets. Here the Nicene Creed allows us to specify that with a Trinitarian appropriation so that we can use a word like inspiration, which has Spirit hidden there in it.

It also, in a sort of a developmental theology where you emphasize that the Father sent the Son and the Holy Spirit, and where you emphasize the Holy Spirit as a eschatological gift in times reality and fulfillment, it’s great to have the last line about the Spirit link back to the very beginning of all God’s words, that is that Scripture itself – the prophets – were moved to speak by the Spirit. In other words, he may be late to be specified as a person to be worshipped along with the Father and the Son, but he was there all along. And it’s nice to have that addition at the end.

Darrell Bock
Now when you talk about he has spoken through the prophets, you alluded to Old Testament prophets. Do you see that term, and what that term intended to be limited to Old Testament prophets? Or are we thinking about the whole of Scripture when we get the creed in this situation, or do we know?
Fred Sanders
I don’t know the fourth century situation that would’ve been behind that usage. I do think that it says prophets, but I would take it to be an allusion to the written Word of God in any form. So that you wouldn’t exclude Moses just because Moses’ status as a prophet is kind of ambiguous, ’cause it’s –
Darrell Bock
Right, he’s in the Torah rather than the prophet section of the Old Testament. Yeah, I have more in mind the idea of are the New Testament writers being seen as prophets in this regard? And is this an allusion to the whole of the canon as opposed to simply the Hebrew scriptures?
Fred Sanders
That’s a good question. I haven’t thought about that. I don’t know.
Darrell Bock
Interesting. Well, we’ll leave that for everyone to ponder and think about. I do have the passage in mind in Ephesians where we talk about the new building that God has built – being built on the foundation of the prophets with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. And of course the apostles are alluded in there. So there’s background for what we’re talking about here, I think, in terms of what the possibilities might be. I’m not as familiar with this creed, so the question just popped up as a natural one for me to think about.

Okay, well let’s go back to the beginning. I’m strange; I started at the end, and we’ll go back to the beginning. “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.” And I think the first question is thinking through what it means for the Spirit to be viewed as a person next to the Father and the Son – start there – the title Lord and then the emphasis on the giver of life. So it’s kinda three different themes we kinda wanna work through. Let’s start first with the idea of personhood and how that works into this picture.

Fred Sanders
Yeah. The Holy Spirit as a distinct person of the Trinity, not reducible to merely being the Father or the Son, but being a third that we have to – a third one that we have to take account of, I think that’s crucial. It’s important to state clearly. You can track the Holy Spirit’s actions, especially in the New Testament, and to identify the Spirit as somebody. And yeah, I always wanna go one step further and affirm that the Spirit is the person of the Trinity who is most frequently spoken of in impersonal terms in Scripture.

And all I mean by that is that we don’t talk about the Son being poured out, but we talk about the Spirit being poured out. Well, I’m glad to admit that that’s an impersonal metaphor, that you pour out a liquid, or substance, or something. It does not follow from that that the Spirit is merely a liquid, or a spiritual substance, or something like that. And that’s why I use the long phrase, He is the person most frequently spoken of in impersonal terms.

Darrell Bock
Interesting. And you’re getting at that to suggest what in particular? I mean, what grows out of that?
Fred Sanders
Well, I just don’t wanna get in a fight with somebody who believes that the Holy Spirit is impersonal and have them steal all my favorite verses so that I’m in the position of saying, “Oh, no. They found the poured out verse, and I have to come up with a way to explain that.” I wanna be able to say, “No, no. I have the more comprehensive position. This is a distinct person.” And under that heading, I can include He is the person whose description – even self-description – is most frequently impersonal.
Darrell Bock
And then as we think about this particular aspect of things, let’s talk a little bit about how in some ways this is – I don’t wanna leave the wrong impression – but a harder conversation to have. I mean, we can certainly – I mean, God the Father is transparent. He’s clearly divine. The Son, we work through Christology to talk about His divinity and the aspects. He does things that God does, that kind of thing.

So we see His divinity ultimately pretty clearly. The idea that he can sit with God in heaven is an image that points to that kind of authority, that kind of thing. When it comes to the Spirit, we work a little harder I guess to make the point. The passages that leap to mind are passages like in Proverbs 8, where wisdom is personified and is pictured in a way that is associated with the Spirit of God.

Or we get to the picture of Paraclete whom Jesus has seen, who certainly has a personal dimension coming from the Father. That pushes us in the direction of divinity. What do you think is the – are kind of the more effective discussions and arguments for pointing to the divinity of the Spirit as a part of the personhood of God?

Fred Sanders
Well, to me the divinity is fairly clear. It’s the distinct personhood of the Spirit that’s a little harder to demonstrate. Here’s where I think there’s an advantage – here’s something that you could take to be a disadvantage of the way Scripture chooses to speak that I think is actually an advantage. It’s the fact that the Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity with the least definite name assignment.

So even for the Nicene Creed to make the decision, “We’re gonna refer to this person as The Holy Spirit,” with that functioning as the official name, that’s a decision to sort of prioritize certain biblical statements, especially Mathew 28:19. The Father, the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Darrell Bock
Right, the three in one.
Fred Sanders
But if you actually go through scripture to do your pneumatology, you have to account for all sorts of other names for the third person. John 14, Jesus introduces the other helper. You know, the “I will ask the Father, and He will send another helper.” And then He calls Him the spirit of truth. Well, mentally I immediately norm that to who I know he’s talking about, the Holy Spirit. But I have to look at the text and say, “But He calls Him the Spirit of truth.”

And then as you read around in Scripture, Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Father, the Spirit of the Son, the Spirit of Adoption, the Spirit of Truth. You end up with a whole host of name-like formulas to refer to the third person. That’s simply not true of the way the Bible talks about the Father and the Son. There are other descriptions available for the Father and Son, but Father and Son just really stick to them in a name-like way.

Darrell Bock
Yeah, and another thing that sort of, I guess, leaps out at me is text like 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, where you get a very – for lack of a better description – a very binitarian emphasis. You get a clear confession of the Father. You get a clear confession of the Son. And the Spirit’s kind of the – and maybe this is a variation of your impersonal – is almost the hidden member of the Trinity in the midst of the declaration.
Fred Sanders
Yeah. So certainly we need to get to some explicit attention on the Holy Spirit and do proper honor to him. He’s the Lord and giver of life, worshipped with the Father and the Son. However, I don’t think we should get in such a hurry to get equal rights for the Holy Spirit that we try to be more spiritual than the Bible.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. And in fact, one of the functions of the Spirit talked about, again, in the upper room discourse in John 14-16 passages, the idea that the role of the Spirit is to point to what it is that the rest of the Godhead has done.
Fred Sanders
Yeah, that’s right. I think scripture – if binitarian’s a decent word at all to use – I think the New Testament itself is frequently more or less binitarian in where it’s putting its attention. We’re quoting John 14, where there’s a lot of teaching from Jesus about the Spirit. But John’s Gospel begins with “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.”

And a lot of attention on this two person, a lot of focus on getting the relation between the Father and the Son straight. And then the Spirit’s sort of a late arrival in the Gospel of John. He’s only mentioned a few times. They’re important times, but only a handful of them before John 14 where he kind of takes over.

Darrell Bock
Yes, exactly. And I think this is, for a lot of people, this is a tricky exercise to some degree in thinking through the Trinity. I mean, the Trinity is probably one of the challenges of expression for the Christian faith. It’s precious to the faith on the one hand, and yet it’s a doctrine that sometimes befuddles people at the same time.
Fred Sanders
Yeah, that’s right. And I think it’s important to learn to speak of it biblically, to both have a positive attitude toward the church’s traditional handling of it and also to constantly norm ourselves by biblical patterns of speech about God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Darrell Bock
Now another passage that shows the difficulty of this – it seems to me – turns up in 2 Corinthians 3, where we get the almost – I’m gonna use a picture to describe it, ’cause it’s almost Venn diagram-ish between the relationship of Christ and the Spirit. They almost so overlap that you almost have a hard time distinguishing them, and yet it’s clear that there’s a distinguishing going on.
Fred Sanders
Yeah. You’re thinking of “The Lord is the Spirit”?
Darrell Bock
Exactly.
Fred Sanders
Yeah, which is interesting ’cause there’s sort of – that sentence runs opposite of what we’re looking at here in the Nicene Creed. “The Spirit is the Lord.”
Darrell Bock
Exactly, yeah. And that’s exactly the tension that I have in mind, because it looks like you’re talking about – I mean, obviously the Spirit’s important and the Spirit is freedom and – but Lord becomes a title that you would normally tie to the Christ, and yet here it is very clearly associated with the Spirit of God.
Fred Sanders
Yeah, that’s right. And Paul is usually gonna save the word Lord as one of his ways of talking about Jesus Christ. Yeah, I don’t have II Corinthians 3 on the tip on the tongue right now, so I’d wanna look in more detail and the exegesis there. But I do know that if we say, “God showed up in church when gathered to worship him,” you can get into a dispute about, well was that the risen Lord among his congregation? Or was that the Spirit being given to us? I’m willing to have that conversation.

I grew up Pentecostal and charismatic, and so I’m fluent in that way of talking. But I always wanna emphasize I don’t have sort of a Trinity sensor built into my chest that can determine which person of the Trinity I’m encountering. If I make a clear distinction between the second person, spiritually made present to us, or the third person who is poured out on all flesh, I’m making biblical theological distinctions. I’m not sort of reading a transcript of my experience.

Darrell Bock
Right. And the way I think of this, of course, is it’s one thing for Christ to be present in our midst. It’s another thing for our ability to recognize that, because the Spirit indwells us and makes us sensitive to and connects to that presences in some way.
Fred Sanders
Yeah. And of course, functionally, you can’t have one without the other because if Christ is present to you, Christ is present to you by the Spirit.
Darrell Bock
Right. It’s just an interesting challenge to think of it in that way. Well, I think we’ve talked about the Spirit as person and this idea of – and we’ve begun to discuss the idea of Lord, suggesting perhaps that the 2 Corinthians passages is one of the places where we see this. I’m actually in the back of my mind when I read this, I have to be honest. I looked at it and I went, “Ooh, I wonder where else the idea of the Spirit as Lord appears. It’s an interesting title. Out of all the things you could’ve connected to the Spirit of God, to connect this idea of Lord to the Spirit is an interesting move by the creed.
Fred Sanders
It is. And of course, this is, I think, where it’s important to consider the gap between the Creed of Nicaea from 325 and then what we call the Nicene Creed, or the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.
Darrell Bock
Yes, I love that long name.
Fred Sanders
Yeah, no one wants to ever say that.
Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Fred Sanders
But the original creed from 325 only added on to sort of round things out, “And I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Period, that’s it. So in intervening decades, they thought, well that’s not really enough to say about the Holy Spirit, is it? So what else do we wanna say? And of course, there were some specific controversies with people denying the deity of the personhood of the Spirit.

So they went fairly big with it. And to just start by saying “I believe in the Spirit who was the Lord,” and then go through kind of a miniature biblical theology of the identity and works of the Spirit, I kinda feel like reaching straight for the big word, Lord, is a way of compensating for the fact that they had left the Spirit sort of as an afterthought in the original creed.

Darrell Bock
Okay, so this is more than a footnote when we come to the revision. This is a very consciously thought out – what are some of the controversies that we’re thinking about that led to this elaboration?
Fred Sanders
Well, there’s an interesting indirectness to how the Spirit is talked about. Among the fathers at the Council of Constantinople 381, there were two schools of thought sort of on the – even on the conservative side, you’d say on the traditionalist side. One group, I think led by Gregory Nazianzus, really wanted to say listen, we said that the Son was of one substance with the Father. That was our key winning word back in 325.

For people who were denying the deity of the Son, we said he’s of one substance. In Greek, Homoousios. And that school of thought said well, now we wanna add the Spirit more explicitly. Let’s apply that same word – Homoousios – to the Spirit. And this made a lot of people nervous, ’cause you’re dealing with a word that’s not in scripture that was used sort of as a tool to solve one particular problem. There was just a lot of confusion and ambiguity about whether it should be extended to the third person or whether it was a special Father/Son word to be Homoousios.

And I think it was Basil of Caesarea who sort of championed almost a compromised view of saying, “We won’t use the word Homoousios, but we’ll pile up so many statements about the Holy Spirit that anyone who doesn’t think the Spirit is the same substance as the Father and the Son is gonna be freaked out and won’t be able to sign this creed anyway. That’s where you get the pile up of worship together with the Father and the Son.

Darrell Bock
And the glorification and all that. ‘Cause to make the point that in the context of a belief in a singular God, worship is something you only do to and with and for God.
Fred Sanders
Yeah, that’s right. So that the people in the council who thought, I really wish we would say Homoousios. I wish we would say of one substance. They would hear worshipped together with – worshipped and glorified together with the Father and Son and say, “Yeah, that gets it done.” And the people who are offended by it wouldn’t be run off.
Darrell Bock
With all the discussion that kind of – how can I say this? – rotates around the Spirit and his activity today, how crisp and short this text is. And yet, if I can say it this way, it keeps the major thing the major thing in many ways. I don’t know how – you talked about your background, Fred, and where you came from. It strikes me that a lot of the time that we spend talking about the Spirit, and particularly sometimes the way in which the Spirit becomes a controversial figure in the church today, often misses and loses sight of this most basic character of what the Spirit of God is and what the Spirit of God does.
Fred Sanders
Yeah, I think that’s right. One of the disadvantages of really focusing attention on the sort of second work of grace kind of approach to the Spirit as an extra module that’s added onto really take the Christian life to another level is you can lose your grip on the way the Holy Spirit is crucial and central to everything that’s going on in biblical theology.
Darrell Bock
We’re gonna turn our attention to that, because I think that is very, very important. The Book of Colossians is dedicated to the idea that in Jesus Christ you’ve been given everything that you need for salvation from the very moment of your act of faith. Opening of Ephesians does the same thing. We’ve been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places simply in our position as believers.

And so this becomes an important element in thinking about what the work of the Spirit is and what we get through Jesus Christ. And no act or responsibility to the Spirit is probably more important than thinking about him as the giver of life, or as we alluded to in the first section, the idea of the Spirit being poured out on our behalf. This is allusion to what in your mind when we think about this kind of a phrase?

Fred Sanders
Well, it’s a great Old Testament phrase. As I recall, it’s used of God in a couple places, Psalm 36, I wanna say. “God is called the Giver of Life.” I’d be interested to check the Septuagint on that and see what that looks like in Old Testament Greek. But the big standout is, of course, the Ezekiel 37 scene, where the Valley of Dry Bones is reanimated by the Spirit that comes from God to breathe life into them.
Darrell Bock
And so what we’re really talking about is the category of the Giver of Life. We can think about the picture of being born again, of being brought back to life, of being resurrected. There are all kinds of associations that we’re dealing with as we think through this imagery of being the Giver of Life.

I think of the new covenant as well as being an important part of what’s going on. So let’s talk a little bit about that. And I guess the best way in for this portion is to think seriously about the importance Jesus places on the Spirit in the upper room discourse. In fact, so important that he basically says, “Look, if I don’t die and depart, then I can’t send the other part of the package.”

Fred Sanders
Yeah, that’s right. And of course in John’s way of organizing the story, it’s the risen Lord on the far side of the death and resurrection who breathes on the disciples and says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Darrell Bock
And in Luke and Acts, of course, this is a very important line of thinking. I tell people they don’t realize how early and how deep into Luke this goes. In Luke 3:16, John the Baptist is baptizing, and people are speculating about whether he might be the Christ. Only Luke gives us that detail about this response. And he turns around and he says, ‘Look, guys. It’s not me. I only baptize with water.’ This is a Bock paraphrase that you’re getting.

‘But rather the one who baptizes with the Spirit and fire, that’s the one that you’ll know is the Messiah. And that’s the way you’ll know that the Christ is coming. That’s the way you’ll know that the new era has arrived.’ And then on the other end of that, we get the driving of the narrative to Acts 2, where we get the pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost, and then we get Peter’s very detailed explanation for what’s going on in that event.

Fred Sanders
Yeah, that’s right. And that’s where Mark said as an eschatological thing going back to Joel 2.
Darrell Bock
Exactly right.
Fred Sanders
“I’ll pour my Spirit out on all flesh.”
Darrell Bock
That’s right. And on all ages, all genders, all social stati. I mean, it’s the whole [laughs] – that’s the whole shooting match, basically there. And we get this relationship, this Trinitarian relationship also expounded in some detail in that passage. As the Son – as he sits at the right hand of the Father, receives from the Father, the Spirit, which is now poured out – and which Peter says to this audience, “You’re now seeing and hearing the results of that.” Which interestingly, canonically connects very neatly and tightly with John 14-16.
Fred Sanders
Yeah, that’s right. They’ve got different frameworks for how to teach it, but the same point, I think, that the Spirit is in the church because of the finished work of Christ.
Darrell Bock
And so we’re seeing here a declaration of several things, including the beginning of the eschaton , the realization of promise, the distribution of the benefits, if you will, the payoff for forgiveness of sins. I mean, there’s a huge list of things that are associated with what’s going on here.
Fred Sanders
Yeah. On the list of things that were supposed to happen eschatologically – the coming of the Messiah, the pouring out of the Spirit, the resurrection of the dead, and Judgment Day – you know, the day of the Lord in the sense of judgment – these are all on the eschatological timeline. And of course, the leading edge of all of them happens right there in the events at the end of the life of Christ. You’ve got the Messiah, the Spirit, the resurrection of one of the dead. [Laughs]
Darrell Bock
Yeah, exactly. The first born from the dead, to use the language of Colossians.
Fred Sanders
That’s right. And God dealing with sin in a final judgment kind of a way. So that’s the accomplished eschatology side that then kind of sets the stage for the future eschatology still to come.
Darrell Bock
And the interesting things is that with that new life, there is a born again. There is a second life. There is a new creation. Again, there are just multitudes of things going on with this – that can be looked at in imagery from a variety of ways. I often tell people that the idea of being a new creature and being born again are very much associated with one another in the New Testament. And they show the idea that we aren’t who we were.
Fred Sanders
Yeah, and in this context to go ahead and make explicit that those are associated with the work of the Spirit.
Darrell Bock
Exactly right. And then there’s the whole idea of – I’m gonna beat this to a dead horse. There is the idea of becoming the temple of God because we’ve been cleansed. I tell people when they think about the gospel, they need to think like an Old Testament person. So you gotta put your yarmulke right here on the top of my head, and mine fits very nicely given the profile that I have.

And in the midst of that, thinking through when you were unclean in the Old Testament, you couldn’t go to the temple. You couldn’t participate in the sacrifices. So you engaged in a washing or in a cleansing that then rendered you clean. And the point of being clean wasn’t to say, “Okay, I’m clean now.” The point of the cleanliness was now you could re-engage with God. And so now we’ve got this picture of the cross, which has canceled out our sin.

We’ve been cleansed – that’s the language of Acts 10 and 11 talks about the picture of washing. We’ve been washed, and now because we’re cleansed the Spirit can indwell us, and we can become holy before God. And whether we think about the assembly of believers as being holy – the whole group of them – or we think of ourselves individually as believers, we are cleansed. And this is a permanent kind of cleansing that God is supplying for us.

Fred Sanders
Yeah. And if you think about the Spirit dwelling in a prepared temple, that explains why the Spirit doesn’t come for that new covenant in dwelling ministry until the work of Christ has been completed.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Fred Sanders
The cleansing of the temple of humanity has been accomplished by the death and resurrection of Christ. Sometimes, especially in Luke, but in a lot of the gospels you get the image that Jesus has the Spirit – or has the Spirit without measure, or the Spirit descends on him and remains on him –
Darrell Bock
Yep, that’s Luke 3 and 4.
Fred Sanders
Yeah, and the Jesus is sort of hogging the Holy Spirit throughout his earthly ministry.
Fred Sanders
The Spirit is here and is in human flesh in one person. But until that person carries out his complete work, the Spirit won’t be given to be poured out on all flesh in fulfillment of Joel 2.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, and you’re emphasizing something else that’s worth highlighting here, and that is the idea that this was something the disciples had to wait to receive. This wasn’t something that came with their immediate positive response to Jesus and his ministry. There had to be the death in order to clear the way for this indwelling, so this isn’t something that existed – at least in this form – in anything that was going on in the Old Testament.
Fred Sanders
Yeah, there’s that line I think in John 14, “He’s with you and will be in you.” Yeah, so that even there in the upper room where Jesus is already sort of speaking in some verses from almost in the future, from the future looking backwards. Like “Now is the Father glorified.” But even there he’s careful to Mark that the Spirit is with the disciples before the death and resurrection, but will after the death and resurrection be in the disciples in this new covenant way.
Darrell Bock
And of course, Luke 24:49 says this by saying that we are – the disciples were to wait to be clothed with power from on high to receive the promise, if you will, of the Father. That gets repeated in Acts 1, 4, and 5 as well. Where the emphasis is on awaiting the arrival of this promise, which now they’re told is gonna come very soon. And of course in the next chapter we get everything that we’ve already talked about in relationship to Act 2 so that this giver of life phrase – my point here is [laughs] this giver of life phrase is pretty loaded.
Fred Sanders
Yeah. I think it’s right to see it as an introduction to a very large scope of biblical theology with regard to the work of the Spirit.
Darrell Bock
And we think about all the variety of benefits that come as a result of this, and I think that should engender a sense of appreciation for the many ways in which grace touches the life of a believer. Now let’s press on. Now we go to another phrase that certainly has a rich history and certainly has generated some discussion in theology of the church, the issue of procession. So it says, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Now the gonna give way to the theologian.
Darrell Bock
Help me with what’s going on here.
Fred Sanders
Well, kinda depends on how much time you’ve got. The original language of the Creed of 381 only said, “Who proceeds from the Father.” At some point, a couple centuries later in the West – sort of in what we would now call France or Germany, that region – an additional phrase was interpolated, the phrase “Ut filioque,” who proceeds from the Father and from the Son. Filioque, and from the son. The idea seems to be that Christians who had been saying this creed had two different thoughts in mind as they were saying it.

And broadly Western theology thought, proceeds from the Father. And mentally, they sort of auto-completed, well and of course, from the Son. We’re just not saying so. Whereas the East had all this time been saying it and more or less been thinking, who proceeds from the Father. Well, and only from the Father, of course. We’re just not saying it. You know how relationships go. At some point they grow apart, [laughs] and there’s an envoy from the east to the west.

They go to church, and it’s sort of like being in one of those congregations that does the Lord’s Prayer with trespasses instead of sins. You’re reciting with them and everyone else keeps going trespasses. You’re just trying to say the Nicene Creed in a nice, Christian way. And you realize the people you’re worshipping with have added this entire phrase.

Well, the tricky part is what has to do with the eternal relations of origin. Not with regard to the missions of salvation history, because there I think ecumenically, there’s great agreement that the Bible’s clear. The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and by the Son. You got good biblical text for that. At the very least, you’d have to say that the son asks the Father to send the Spirit from John 14.

Darrell Bock
And you’re not getting the Spirit unless the Son has something to do with it.
Fred Sanders
That’s right. So for the West, it has just seemed obvious that well, since the Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son, obviously in the eternal life of God, the Spirit eternally precedes from both the Father and from the Son as from one single source, as the West will eventually go on to say. The East on the other hand has sensed that as being some sort of abridgment of the distinctness of the Holy Spirit. They diagram they would draw would be more the Father with the Son coming from him one way and the Spirit from him the other way.
Darrell Bock
Well, that’s interesting. ‘Cause thinking of Acts 2, and I’m thinking about that triangle. Someone’s gotta draw a line going this way. [Laughs]
Fred Sanders
To my mind that’s the great advantage of the Western view is it specifies some eternal relation between the son and the Holy Spirit, which is a good thing to be able to discern in scripture and confess for theology proper.
Darrell Bock
And so the concern on the other end of the East has been that this somehow diminishes the unique role of the Father as father in some sense? Or what’s the concern from the East?
Fred Sanders
The concern from the East is that diminishes the distinctness of the Holy Spirit. If the origin of the third person of the Trinity is the first and second person’s as one common source, then it doesn’t set the Spirit off as distinct enough. Now there’s a whole lush growth of East versus West polemics, where each side claims that every problem the other side has can be traced to this disagreement. I’ve very skeptical of that whole metanarrative. You know, the East could say, “Everything that’s wrong with the Western church – its legalism, or authoritarianism, or all that kind of stuff – it all comes from some kind of subordinating the Spirit to the Father and Son.

And the West can counter-charge, “Everything that’s weird about the East – all your Russian mystics and strange Byzantine stuff – comes from thinking you have independent access to the Father through the Spirit rather than through the Son. I think that’s unfair fighting on both sides. I’m very interested in Trinitarian theology. And even I think this is not the key that unlocks all the differences between two major Christian traditions.

Darrell Bock
But in your mind, this addition is something that one can understand in biblical terms – I mean, the passage that just keeps ringing in my ears is this passage in Acts 2. That the Son receives the Spirit from the Father and is the one who’s responsible for actually executing this connection between the believer and the godhead with the gift of the Spirit coming from both of them.
Fred Sanders
Yeah, my instincts are all Western on this, and so when I see biblical information like that, it easily folds into the Western view of the Nicene Creed, the third article.
Darrell Bock
Well, hopefully we –
Fred Sanders
My contrast to me, the Eastern view seems to require a kind of a restraint that feels almost stingy to me.
Darrell Bock
Interesting, yeah. Well, happening we’ve explained that with enough detail that people won’t lose any sleep over it, and we can press on. Let’s talk about this next line, which says, “With the Father and the Son, he is worshiped and glorified.” And I think we’ve already alluded to this, but it might be worth the developing, and that is with this line, we’re really trying to nail down we absolutely mean the Spirit is as equal in things as the Father and the Son.
Fred Sanders
Yeah, that’s right. And this seemed to be the most consensus-building, clear and uncontroversial way to make a definite statement. In 381, all the people that you kind of wanted to run off – who were the supposed fighters against the Spirit, or who weren’t willing to admit the full deity of the Spirit – when they hit a phrase like this, they’re just gonna be offended and say, “No, you know we can’t sign that kind of a statement.” And I think someone like the Cappadocian fathers Basil and Gregory would say, “That’s right. That’s the whole point of us putting it there is we knew you couldn’t affirm that. That’s what we’re arguing about.”
Darrell Bock
And so this is the line in which all the first line also certainly goes there, that guarantees the idea that when we think about the worship of the one God, that one God includes the Spirit. And he is the object of worship and glorification just as the Father and the Son are.
Fred Sanders
That’s right, yeah. And it’s not as if we’re looking around the Bible looking at other candidates for inclusion into this list of who else has worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son? I think on any honest and straightforward reading of scripture, there’s exactly one other candidate, and this is just a way of making that explicit.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, and of course in the context of an ultimate belief in monotheism in the midst of a Trinitarian confession, this is another element that guarantees the importance of the Spirit. I think the other place where we see this in the New Testament is a formula you alluded to earlier tied to baptism in Matthew, where we get a religious rite of identification – baptism – associated with the name of the Father, Son, an Spirit so that the three are treated equally in that phraseology as well.
Fred Sanders
Yeah, and even when we use language like first person, second person, third person, I’m pretty convinced that what we’re really describing is the order in which the names occur in Matthew 28.
Darrell Bock
Interesting.
Fred Sanders
You’ve got these three terms, and they could occur therefore in six possible combinations . And as Rick Durst has point out in a recent book, Reordering the Trinity, all six possible combinations do occur in the New Testament. Father, Son, Holy Spirit order has some strategic importance, because it occurs right there at the end of Matthew on the lips of the risen Jesus. But also it has the edge numerically. It has a slight lead in how frequently the three are named in that order.
Darrell Bock
And plus it follows the story in many ways, which is you have the Father, then you have the appearing of the Son, who takes on flesh. Then it’s through the Son’s reception of what the Father is passing on as a reflection of his commitment to us. He’s the one who receives and passes on and pours out the Spirit.
Fred Sanders
Yeah, I think that’s right. And Gregory Nazianzus, who was the first chairman of the Council of Constantinople in 381 that produced this creed, has a great little saying in his theological orations where he says, “The Old Testament is the time of the promising Father. The New Testament is where the Son was visibly sent and was among us in the flesh.” And then the church age is the age of the Spirit. So that’s kind of a fast and loose, quick thumbnail sketch of salvation history, but it’s pretty nice fourth century summary.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, and so we get the sense of how the Spirit, and Son, and Father related to one another as we reflect on this. Well, this is an interesting journey. It was an interesting journey for the church historically to sort this out. It’s an interesting journey, I think, for any believer to contemplate the depth, and the complexity, and the relationality – how’s that for a word – of the way God works.

One of the things that strikes me – this is probably the last thing we’ll have time to discuss – is, is this relational element in the godhead that is kind of the presupposition for everything else that happens in the creation in many ways. Which sometimes – or at least until – perhaps until recently – maybe I’m wrong, but my sense is until recently has perhaps been a little underappreciated as each of the characters within this are specified. The relationship between them becomes very, very important to be sensitive to.

Fred Sanders
Yeah, and I think there’s a lot more that could be said about that. It’s certainly important to note that when God creates a world and enters into a redemptive relationship with it, that’s a major event, obviously. But it’s not the first time God has the chance to have a relationship. Climbing up to this level of the doctrine of the teaching of the Trinity is to recognize that God already has a completely fulfilled life in himself before entering into relations with that which is outside of him.
Darrell Bock
And of course the flip side of that then is that to have a God who moves – and in some ways condescends to create a creation in which he makes beings in his image and relates to them – shows the special nature, and the dignity of life of the human beings that he creates, that he puts back into connection with this Trinity.
Fred Sanders
I think that’s right.
Darrell Bock
Well, Fred, I really thank you for taking the time to go through this part of the confession about the Holy Spirit with us, [laughs] word by word almost, and to give us some historical context. We just thank you for helping us to see the depth of what the Trinity is about.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Fred Sanders
Fred Sanders is a systematic theologian who studies and teaches across the entire range of classic Christian doctrine, but with a special focus on the doctrine of the Trinity. He teaches in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University.
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