The Gift of the Holy Spirit (Part 2)
The Gift of the Holy Spirit or the Holy Spirit as a Gift
Another area of great controversy on this topic is essentially a grammatical one. For many it is a critical discussion. The desire is to create a duality in the Spirit’s work with man. It seeks to establish a grammatical separation (and so a textual basis) between the Spirit’s prophetic work and His non-prophetic work with man. This allows commentators to find needed expositional space later in the New Testament. In short, it allows for there to be verses which apply to the prophetic gifts of the Holy Spirit which are viewed as limited and temporary and other verses which apply to the non-prophetic works of the Holy Spirit which are viewed as universal and enduring.
Inside churches of Christ two main views have developed from this construction:
- “Word Only” Indwelling.
This approach usually views the gift of the Holy Spirit as a gift that the Holy Spirit provides. Broadly stated, this view admits that the Spirit gifted the early saints with prophecy but after the age of prophecy ended He only continued to dwell within man by faith from the word He revealed.
- “Literal, Personal” Indwelling.
On the other side of the discussion is the view that the Holy Spirit Himself is the gift that is given to each Christian. This view then creates the belief that each Christian has a literal and personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It then takes Acts 2:38 as inclusive of all the blessings of the Holy Spirit throughout the entire Christian era.
Does the Greek Help?
The answer to understanding the work of the Holy Spirit is not found in specialized Greek knowledge. That is also true in this instance. The controversy about the gift of the Holy Spirit or the Holy Spirit as a gift centers on the use of the genitive case in the Greek language. The genitive case in Greek roughly equates to the English possessive case.
The problem is that it can be translated in either of two ways in this instance. It can mean the Spirit’s gift or the Spirit as a gift. Both camps can make extensive arguments in support of their position. Those arguments are available in many works and students of this topic should be familiar with them. However, if either side truly had a conclusive argument it would likely have been made already. A resolution to the controversy is not going to be found in arguments from the Greek.
A Distinction Without a Difference
Arguing over whether the Spirit GIVES the gift or IS the gift implies that if one side is true then the Spirit’s work with man has one effect and if the other side is true then the Spirit’s work with man has another effect. The question is not about the meaning of the phrase “gift of the Holy Spirit.” The question must be answered:
Can it be established that the Holy Spirit provides man with any benefit beyond prophetic blessings?
The argument that has been put forth in other writings from this author that whenever the Spirit works with man, His work is always prophetic in its nature. There are over 100 verses in the Bible prior to Acts 2, that discuss the Spirit’s work with humanity. All of them point to the Spirit’s prophetic/miraculous among the saints.
Even in the context of Acts 1-2 in which the gift of the Spirit is introduced, the Spirit’s work is referenced 10 times. Acts 2:38 is the tenth of those references. Without question from most every commentator, the first nine of those references are prophetic. So where is this non-prophetic work of the Holy Spirit introduced into Peter’s narrative?
If one cannot insert a non-prophetic conception of the Spirit’s work into the text, in practical terms, to state the gift of the Spirit is the Spirit and the gift of the Spirit is given by the Spirit is the same statement. If the Spirit’s work is always prophetic, when one receives Him as a gift, that one becomes a prophet. If the Spirit’s work is always prophetic and He gives man His gift, the effect is that man would become a prophet. In the end, this discussion becomes a distinction without a difference.
Before passing from this thought an important point needs to be highlighted. It is from Acts 2:38-39 that many seek to establish the non-prophetic blessing of the Holy Spirit. However, as it relates to the gift of the Holy Spirit two observations can be made:
- Every argument made against the prophetic nature of the gift of the Holy Spirit comes from after Acts 2:38.
Proponents of a non-prophetic indwelling will appeal to those having the Spirit in Romans 8 and other New Testament texts. However, they cannot appeal to any Old Testament text to establish it. They cannot because in so doing they would then deny the exclusive possession of this blessing by the Christian that their doctrine demands. If the indwelling is a new blessing brought in by the exaltation of Christ, then it cannot exist prior to His exaltation. No appeal to an Old Testament text or to any New Testament text based on Old Testament teachings can be made. It is only after Acts 2 that the work of the Spirit can be non-prophetic.
- Every argument made against the prophetic nature of the gift of the Holy Spirit comes from a “non-gift” passage.
After Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is connected to the gift (both in the singular and plural) several times. We will examine those texts in Part #3 of this article. One telling truth in this area is that none of those texts can be used to establish a “non-prophetic gift” from the Holy Spirit. One would think that the best places in the biblical text to establish the meaning of a phrase is in the actual texts that use the phrase. That is so obvious that it should not have to be stated. Unfortunately, it does.
- Where in the display of tongue-speaking and the flames like fire on Pentecost does one find argumentation for a non-prophetic Spirit?
- What specific language in Acts 8 can describe God’s gift as non-prophetic while Peter and John are busy laying hands on the Samaritans?
- Amidst the noise of the tongue-speaking in the house of Cornelius, what textual feature indicates that the gift of the Spirit in his house was non-prophetic?
It cannot be done. Each of those passages must be explained away. They cannot be used as the basis for this non-prophetic work.
The work of establishing that non-prophetic function is claimed in other texts and then applied backwards into Acts 2. The only way to place a non-prophetic work in Acts 2 is to read the Bible back-to-front.
The Spirit’s Gift or the Spirit as a Gift?
What is the answer then? Is the Holy Spirit the gift or does He give the gift? Acts 2:38 describes the “gift of the Holy Spirit” as a gift that is received. The Bible speaks of people “receiving” the Holy Spirit in at least 15 places (John 7:39, 14:17, 20:22, Acts 1:8, 2:33, 8:15, 8:17, 8:19, 10:47, 19:2, Romans 8:15, 1 Corinthians 2:12, 2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:14). Beyond that, if a man receives not only a gift from the Spirit, but also the Spirit Himself, that one would then be in possession of the Holy Spirit. He would “have” the Spirit. There are dozens of verses which speak of men having the Spirit clothing, resting, being placed or put on, filling, and coming upon them. The Bible’s testimony is clear in both testaments that God’s people receive a communion with the person of the Holy Spirit, not just a dispensation of a gift that He provides.
The issue is not really whether man receives that communion with the Holy Spirit. It is what that communion does for man. As we have seen, the Holy Spirit’s coming upon man provides prophecy, visions, and dreams.
(2 Additional Articles to Come)