We have celebrated the glorious feast of Pentecost when the disciples received the Spirit of Jesus, and so were filled with courage and zeal to spread the Gospel. Perhaps the earliest expression of the Holy Spirit as a distinct person consubstantial with the Father and the Son is by St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was martyred sometime between 98-117 CE. In his Letter to the Magnesians, St. Ignatius exhorts them: “Be subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union both fleshly and spiritual.”
Although the earlier scriptural tradition does not include a Trinitarian doctrine, there are many references to the Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Scriptures. Perhaps the best known reference is found right at the very beginning. We read in Gen. 1:3: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters.” Here other translations render the phrase “mighty wind” as “the spirit of God.” The medieval Jewish commentator Rashi (1040-1104) comments on this verse: “The Throne of Glory was suspended in the air and hovered over the face of the water with the breath of the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He and with His word, like a dove, which hovers over the nest.”
The spirit of God is the source of prophetic inspiration. It is said to have endowed Joseph (Gen. 41:38), Azariah son of Oded (2 Chr. 15:1), Zechariah (2 Chr. 24:20), and Ezekiel (Ez. 11:24). It came upon King Saul, enabling him to prophesy (1 Sam. 10:10, 11:6). It even came upon the pagan prophet Balaam (Num. 24:2) so that he was forced to bless rather than curse Israel.
The spirit of God could be passed on from one charismatic leader to another. Moses passed on the spirit of God to his successor, Joshua: “Now Joshua, son of Nun, was filled with the spirit of wisdom, since Moses had laid his hands upon him; and so the Israelites gave him their obedience, just as the Lord had commanded Moses” (Dt. 34:9). Elisha received from Elijah a double portion of his spirit (2 Kings 2:9-14).
Artists and craftsmen are also endowed with the spirit of God. Thus we read of Bezalel, who was responsible for the Tent of Meeting, the ark of the Covenant and its cover, and all the furnishings and utensils of the Tent: “The Lord said to Moses: See, I have singled out Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with a divine spirit of skill and understanding and knowledge in every craft” (Ex. 31:1-3). The same Hebrew phrase, “the spirit of God,” is used in this text.
Perhaps most important, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the spirit of God is synonymous with God and God’s presence. The psalmist prays in Ps. 51:13: “Do not drive me from before your face, / nor take from me your holy spirit.” The Lord reminds us in Hag. 2:5: “This is the commitment I made to you / when you came out of Egypt. / My spirit remains in your midst; / do not fear!”
Let us then open our hearts and minds to receive the Holy Spirit.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.