In previous posts about the Trinity we have looked at the biblical basis for the doctrine, the biblical importance of the doctrine, and the biblical analogies of the doctrine. In this post I want to address a question posed to me by a good friend regarding the relationship of Jesus and the Spirit. The Bible says that the Son proceeds from the Father (John 8:42), and that the Spirit also proceeds from the Father (John 15:26). On the basis of passages like these, the classical tradition has suggested that the Father eternally “begets” the Son and eternally “breathes” the Spirit. But what about the relationship between the Son and the Spirit?
There is something peculiar about the way the New Testament speaks of the Spirit. On the one hand, the biblical text plainly identifies the Spirit as God. You can see this clearly in 2 Corinthians 3:15-18, where Paul reflects on the story found in Exodus 34 in which “Moses went in before the LORD (YHWH) to speak with him” with a veil (34:34). According to Paul, the Holy Spirit is YHWH:
Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:15-18, emphasis added).
And yet on the other hand, as you can also see in the same text, Paul also speaks of the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of the Lord” (v. 17). So the Spirit is the Lord, and the Spirit is of the Lord. In v. 3 of the same chapter, Paul describes the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of the living God.”
Indeed, throughout the New Testament, the Spirit is called “the Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30; 1 John 4:2, for example), as well as the “Spirit of Christ” (as in 1 Peter 1:11) or “Spirit of Jesus” (Acts 16:7). And sometimes this occurs in the same verse!
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him (Romans 8:9, emphasis added).
The Spirit is God, but the Spirit is also “of God,” and “of Christ.” What are we to make of this data?
Let’s go back to those ancient concepts of the eternal begetting of the Son and the eternal breathing of the Spirit. What if the manner by which the Father eternally breathes the Spirit is somehow through or with the Son? This suggestion acknowledges that the Spirit is God – He is eternal; and it would also take into account the passages that describe the Spirit as the Spirit of God and of Christ.
This suggestion would also align with the passages that describe the Son sending the Spirit, like this one:
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me (John 15:26).
Or this one:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:13-15).
And this suggestion would also explain why at times Jesus says that the Father sends the Spirit, but that the Father does so in his name-
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (John 14:26).
The proposal that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son seems to make the best sense out of all of these passages. And it is the conclusion drawn by many ancient thinkers. In the fourth century Augustine summarized the idea like this:
…because we find that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also. But the Father gave Him this too, not as to one already existing, and not yet having it; but whatever He gave to the only-begotten Word, He gave by begetting Him. Therefore He so begot Him as that the common Gift should proceed from Him also, and the Holy Spirit should be the Spirit of both. This distinction, then, of the inseparable Trinity is not to be merely accepted in passing, but to be carefully considered (On the Trinity 15.29).
So to answer my friend’s question, the connection between the Son and the Spirit is that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.* And all of this speaks to what Augustine described as “the inseparable Trinity.” The Father, Son, and Spirit are not three distinct pieces of a godhead pie. They are inseparable eternal relationships. The Father eternally begets the Son, and the Son is the eternally begotten. The Father eternally breathes the Spirit, and the Spirit is the eternally breathed. And in view of what we have looked at in this post, the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son, so that He is eternally the Spirit of God and the Spirit of the Son.
These are deep waters for sure, but – as I hope to explain in my next post – they are inexhaustibly beautiful waters to contemplate.
*That last phrase, “and the Son,” is a crucial one in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity. In Latin, “and the Son” is filioque (pronounced like “filly ohkway”), and that word was added to one of the early creedal statements about the Trinity known as the Nicene Creed. Some believers objected to this addition, and the resulting debate came to be known as the filioque controversy. It is one of the major sources of schism between the Orthodox Church (which rejected the filioque addition) and the Catholic Church (which accepted it). As I have explained, I think the concept of the Spirit’s procession from the Father and the Son is the best way to make sense of the scriptural data, so in my opinion, the filioque is really ok!