“Life-Giving Spirit”: Probing The Center Of Paul’s Pneumatology -- By: Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 41:4 (Dec 1998)
Article: “Life-Giving Spirit”: Probing The Center Of Paul’s Pneumatology
Author: Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.


“Life-Giving Spirit”:
Probing The Center Of Paul’s Pneumatology

Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.*

* Richard Gaffin is professor of Biblical and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA 19118.

A survey treatment, in short compass, of so rich and multifaceted a topic as the Holy Spirit in Paul is bound to be superficial. A surely more promising alternative is to identify and reflect on those viewpoints in his teaching on the Spirit that are dominant and most decisive.

My subtitle reflects certain convictions: (1) Paul had a theology, (2) this theology has a center, and (3) his teaching on the Spirit is tethered to that center/core.

These sweeping—and for some, I recognize, debatable—assertions, along with related questions of method in doing Pauline theology, will largely have to be left in the background here. I limit myself to some brief comments.

Does Paul have a theology? Paul, as Albert Schweitzer has put it, is “the patron-saint of thought in Christianity.”1 We need not agree with Schweitzer’s particular analysis of Paul’s thought or play Paul off as a thinker against the other NT writers to appreciate that this statement captures an undeniable state of affairs. Is this to suggest, then, that Paul is a (systematic) theologian? Yes and no, depending on how one defines theology. Obviously Paul does not write systematic theology, at least not as we usually conceive of it. From beginning to end, even in the more generalized and reflective sections, say, of Romans and Ephesians, his writings are “occasional”—that is, genuine letters, pastoral pieces addressing specific problems and circumstances in particular church situations.

At the same time, however, over against a recurrent tendency, most glaring in the failed old-liberal effort to enlist him as an exponent of idealistic, post-Kantian religiosity, neither are Paul’s letters marred throughout by the ad hoc expression of ideas that are poorly thought through, disconnected, or mutually contradictory.2 In their fully occasional and contingent character Paul’s letters are fully coherent—to adapt Beker’s well-known distinction

here.3 They evince a unified, consistent body of teaching, a thought-out worldview and in that sense, especially given their relative size and quantity, a theology. The Pauline corpus discloses, in the words of Geerhardus Vos, “the genius of the greatest constructive mind ever at work on the data of Christianity.”

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