The Humanity of Jesus and the Spirit of God

Every time we open the pages of the gospels we are confronted with Jesus. In fact, since 1st century gnosticism to the ecumenical councils to present day, there is no shortage of debate regarding his person. As I studied the first few chapters of the Gospel of Luke, I was blind-sided by something: Jesus’s humanity.

I have often heard it said that the miracles that Jesus performed evidenced his deity. For instance, in Grudem’s Systematic Theology he attributes stilling the storm (Mt. 8.26-27) and multiplying the loaves and fish (Mt. 14.19)  to Jesus’s omnipotence, knowing others’ thoughts (Mk. 2.8) and seeing Nathaniel under the fig tree (Jn. 1.48) to his omniscience, and so on (pp. 547-548). This seems typical, though, of topically surveying the Bible, instead of taking a biblical theological approach. It wasn’t, I believe, Jesus demonstrating his divinity, but Jesus acting out his spirit-filled humanity as God’s anointed prophet. Grudem argues against this by saying:

…the contextual explanations of these events often point not to what they demonstrate about the power of the Holy Spirit but to what they demonstrate about Jesus himself. For instance, after Jesus turned water into wine, John tells us, ‘This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him’ (Jn 2.11). It was not the glory of the Holy Spirit that was manifested but the glory of Jesus himself, as his divine power worked to change water into wine. Similarly, after Jesus stills the storm on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples did not say, ‘How great is the power of the Holy Spirit working through this prophet,’ but rather, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him (Mt. 8.27). It was the authority of Jesus himself to which the winds and the waves were subject, and this could only be the authority of God who rules over the seas and has power to still the waves (cf. Ps. 65.7; 89.9; 107.29). (pp. 547-548 his emphasis).

There are a few things to be said about Grudem’s quote: (1) Would these passages look differently if Jesus was doing these deeds in the Power of the Spirit? Certainly the spirit would work to exalt Jesus in John 2.11 and certainly the disciples would still have said, ‘What sort of man is this…’ (2) Grudem says ‘this could only be the authority of God who rules over the seas…’ However, isn’t the Holy Spirit God? So, even if Jesus was acting in the Power of the Spirit, God is the one doing it. Therefore, I think that this position isn’t a result of reading and obtaining something from the text, but from reading something into the text. Was Jesus divine? According to the testimony of the scriptures, yes. Was he relying on his divine nature to produce miracles? According to the testimony of the scriptures, no.

Let’s look at Luke. According to this Gospel account (and the others), the man Jesus started his ministry after his baptism. This means, that Jesus was not performing miracles until post baptism. This is the series of events. It was in Jesus’s baptism that the Father anointed his ‘beloved Son’ with the Holy Spirit (Lk 3.21). Chapter 4 begins with “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness…” Jesus is tempted and a the new section begins (4.14) with “And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…” Then Luke gives us a specific instance of teaching in Galilee: Jesus claims to be the servant of Isaiah 61 by reading “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel…” So, all of the things Jesus is about to do, preach the gospel to the poor, release the captive, set free the oppressed, give sight to the blind, etc., is the result of being anointed by the Holy Spirit. It is after Jesus claims this that Luke records for us Jesus carrying out such acts of power: casting out demons, preaching in synagogues, and healing the sick. Jesus continues to perform miraculous signs and in 5.17 Luke says, “On one of those days, he was teaching Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem. And” -here it is- “the power of the Lord was with him to heal.” What else could this mean than that the Lord had anointed Jesus with the Power of the Spirit?

If the signs of Jesus had been intended to point to his divinity, why would Jesus tell the apostles that they would do greater things than he (Jn 14.12)? Were they, too, divine? Peter preached at Pentecost and 3,000 were converted (Acts 2), people longed to fall under Peter’s shadow as he walked by in hopes of being healed (Acts 5.15), and handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul’s skin were healing people (Acts 19.12). No, the apostles were not divine, however, like Jesus, they performed powerful signs after having received the spirit at Pentacost.

So, then, the things Jesus did were done in his spirit filled humanity. If we want to see the divinity of Jesus demonstrated we should look less at the signs themselves and more at what they verify, such as claims to be able to forgive sins (Mt 5.20-25) and that ‘before Abraham was, I am’ (Jn 8.58).

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10 Responses to “The Humanity of Jesus and the Spirit of God”


  1. 1 joelpatrick November 1, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Another interesting verse along these lines is Matthew 12.28: But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you…

  2. 2 irishanglican November 1, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    joelpatrick, Very nice mate, good stuff! Luke’s Gospel is especially toward this reality…”Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit.., etc.” (St.Lk. 4:1) This exodus of Jesus into the wilderness following His baptism has a dual nature and symbolism. It fulfills the OT type, in which Israel journeyed in the wilderness for 40 years after its “baptism” in the Red Sea. And it prefigures our own journey thru this fallen world after baptism as we struggle for and towards the Kingdom of God.

    Fr. Robert (Anglican)

  3. 3 Emily Hunter McGowin November 1, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Joel,

    I definitely do NOT think you’re a heretic. I think you’re totally on the right track. As long as you are not saying that Jesus “became God” at his anointing by the Spirit, you’re a-okay in my book. Often, I think evangelicals are so eager to protect Jesus’ deity that they completely ignore his humanity. Among lay Christians, this emphasis even turns into a sort of docetism, which IS heresy.

    I think the theological label for what you’re describing is Spirit Christology. I’m not sure who coined it, but Clark Pinnock has written some of the best work on it that I’ve read (Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit). You don’t have to be an open theist to appreciate his thinking in this area. He’s biblical and creative. I’d HIGHLY recommend it if you’re doing some thinking in this area.

    Thanks for the good work, Joel,

    Emily

  4. 4 irishanglican November 2, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    The Church must always stand in the biblical tension of what we can see in scripture as the mystery of the Incarnate Christ, which is still real before both the Throne of God (Heb.9: 24), and the living Mystical Body of Christ on earth (1 Tim.3:14-16).

    “We also, in our heart of hearts, tend to shur over the risen “manhood” of Jesus, to conceive Him, after death, simply returning into Diety, so that the Resurrection would be no more than the reversal or undoing of the Incarnation.” C.S. Lewis, Miracles

    Fr. Robert

  5. 5 Joshua Boulter November 6, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    Joel-

    I’m so excited to see you pursuing kingdom studies in such earnest! I haven’t yet read your other blogs (the three part kingdom series) but you can bet I will. Its so important for us to come back to the humanity of Jesus. We loose so much of his significance when we forget. Like the Fathers said, he had to become that which he redeemed.

    And to know that Jesus and his ministry (casting out demons, healing the lame, etc.) was not to manifest his deity (at least the early disciples wouldn’t think like this) but to show that he was the promised Messiah who was filled (at his baptism) with the eschatological Spirit, displaying that the kingdom of God was at hand (whether you understand that to be present or very near).

    Miss you, buddy.

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