“Spirit Of Your Holiness” (רוּחַ קָדְשְׁךָ) in Psalm 51:13 -- By: W. Creighton Marlowe
“Spirit Of Your Holiness”
in Psalm 51:13
* W. Creighton Marlowe is Associate Professor of Old Testament Studies at Tyndale Theological Seminary in Badhoevedorp, The Netherlands and also serves as Old Testament Dean for Kiev Christian University in Kiev, Ukraine.
A. The Problem
If asked to provide a key verse or the first verse that comes to mind about the Holy Spirit in the OT or that shows how the Holy Spirit’s ministry during the Old Covenant contrasts with the New, most Bible students would cite Ps 51:13 in its popular English version: “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me” (KJV).1 Traditional use of this verse among some evangelicals has provided a proof text for the doctrine that the Holy Spirit did not permanently indwell believers prior to his coming at Pentecost. Commentators differ over whether or not this verse directly supports this idea. If it were not about the person of the Holy Spirit, it would have no bearing whatsoever on this belief about the non-permanent influence of the Spirit in OT times. The problem is that the usual translation of this verse may present an erroneous exegesis - especially when “holy” and “spirit” are capitalized, which freezes the interpretational options. For example for St. Basil the Great all the descriptions of the “spirit” in Psalm 51 are titles for the Holy Spirit: “For He is called the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Truth … the Upright Spirit, the Princely Spirit.”2 The editor’s footnote to this statement connects it to Psalm 51 and, at least in the editor’s opinion, corrects it by saying:
Psa. li. 10, 12. Sept. Heb. A steadfast spirit, i.e., “a spirit steadfastly purposed to lead a new life,” cf. lxxviii. 37, cxii. 7, and a free, i.e., willing spirit. Whether the latter does not refer to the Holy Spirit (in
TrinJ 19:1 (Spring 1998) 30
this case, “Thy freely-bestowed Spirit”) is disputed. It must be noted, however, that “the Holy Spirit” is not spoken of in the Hebrew Scriptures as a Person, but as an influence.3
This verse may not be about the person of the Holy Spirit. A closer look at the grammar and context allows for an alternative understanding; and if this proposal is accepted, then Ps 51:13 should not be used doctrinally regarding the nature of the Spirit’s indwelling performance in OT...
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