Thursday, November 4, 2010

Angels & Demons 27: The Spirit of Truth and God’s Communication Network

While the New Testament makes no comment on the existence of an Angel of Truth, as presented in Rabbinic writings, John (14:17, 15:26, and 16:13) speaks of the Spirit of Truth, whom John also identifies as the Comforter (14:16, 15:26, and 16:7), and whom John, in turn, equates with the Holy Spirit (14.26). Old Testament writers equate various terms for truth with God, some fifty times. Besides the three references to the Spirit of Truth, John connects truth with the Spirit at least one more time, with God at least four times, and with Jesus at least nine times. The Spirit of Truth shows up again in I John 4:6 where he is contrasted with the Spirit of Error. The Spirit of Error seems to be connected with false prophets, in I John 4:1. (We will return to a discussion of the Spirit of Error in future commentaries on demons.) It is clear that the biblical authors would have real problems with postmodernists who proclaim that there is no truth. They believed that God communicated truth, but that there is also the communication of error in the world.
The role of the Spirit of Truth seems to be a mediating communication role. I point out the following in my commentary “Angels & Demons 23: Angels as the Personification of God’s Word”:

“Jewish scholar G. F. Moore (in Volume I, page 414, of his book Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era) . . . [i]n his chapter entitled, ‘The Word of God: The Spirit,’ . . . states, ‘God's will is made known or effectuated in the world not only through personal agents (ANGELS), but directly by his WORD or by his SPIRIT’ (emphases mine). Here all three terms of Caird's puzzle fit neatly together. If the seven stars represent ‘angels,’ then ‘angels’ are a part of the whole. If the stars ‘represent’ ‘spirits of God,’ then spirits are a part of the whole. If ‘the spirit’ is ‘say[ing]’ things to the churches, then what ‘the spirit says’ (i.e., the ‘word’) is a part of the whole.”

To demonstrate a further equation between the Spirit and Word, I cite Ephesians 6:17. Paul lists among the various pieces of the armor of God “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” The English translation is confusing and seems to indicate that the “sword” is the Word of God. The Greek word for “which,” however is a MASCULINE or NEUTER pronoun. It cannot refer to “sword” because “sword” is a FEMININE noun. “Spirit” is, however, a NEUTER noun and serves easily as the antecedent to “which.” Paul clearly states that the Spirit is the Word of God.

So, what is the difference between the various methods God uses to communicate with men? Sometimes, God speaks directly to a specific human. Sometimes, God places His Holy Spirit inside a prophet, a priest, or a king and that prophet, priest, or king, then, delivers God’s message to other humans. Sometimes, God sends a message to an individual through a dream or vision. Sometimes, God sends a personal agent (or angel) to convey his message. Sometimes, His Word is written down and read to or by others. Sometimes, the message is merely audible. Once one person receives the message, he passes it on via interpersonal communication to others. It all sounds very much like the communication networks studied by organizational communication specialists. On pages 95-98 of my book, Psychotic Entelechy: The Dangers of Spiritual Gifts Theology, I explain the processes:

“Certainly, the Jewish Bible (the Christian Old Testament) accepts the premise that God spoke to and through certain individuals. That God spoke directly to Moses is the fundamental premise upon which Jewish Law is founded. . . . According to tradition, Moses is the essential author of all five books.

Genesis provides a rapid-fire account of more than two thousand years of human history prior to Israel’s four hundred year sojourn in Egypt. Prior to the account of human history, Genesis offers a one-chapter account of the creation of heaven, earth, and the plant and animal kingdoms. Presumably, if Moses authored the creation and human history accounts, he would need some inspiration from God to certify that his account was accurate. Moses’ account has God speaking directly to Adam and Eve, warning them not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Following their Fall, God interrogates them and communicates to them their respective punishments. To their children, God signifies his preference for the animal sacrifices (of Abel) to the vegetable sacrifices (of Cain). Then, God warns Cain not to kill his brother. After Cain murders Abel, God personally interrogates Cain and tells Cain of his punishment. Later, God speaks to Noah, instructing him to build an Ark. After the Flood, God provides Noah and his family a brief list of laws. Then, God does not appear to communicate with humans until he begins to communicate with Abram, whom God renames Abraham.

In the final three-fourths of Genesis, God communicates frequently with Abraham and his family. God makes covenants with Abraham, his son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob, whom God renames Israel. In addition to his son Isaac, Abraham has another son through surrogate marriage with Hagar, the handmaid of his wife Sarah. . . . One of those sons, Joseph, God takes special interest in, communicating with him through dreams. God has a special purpose in mind for Joseph, which takes Joseph to Egypt. His brothers sell him into slavery, but God causes him to rise to leadership in that land. Eventually, God uses Joseph’s position of influence to rescue his father and his brothers’ families from famine in the land of Canaan as they emigrate to Egypt. The entire account of Genesis, if authored by Moses, would require that Moses be inspired by God to be certified historically accurate. Moses’ perspective was four hundred years removed from the most recent historical circumstances he reports on. The suggestion that Joseph may have written some accounts that Moses found in the Egyptian archives would argue for some historiographical accuracy, but none of the first five books make such an assertion.

Exodus begins with the Israelites still in Egypt four hundred years later. Now, the name of Joseph is long-forgotten by the Egyptians and the Israelites have become an enslaved people. God raises up an Israelite named Moses, educates him in Phaeroh’s palace, and eventually speaks to him through a burning bush, commanding him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land (of Canaan). God infuses Moses with miraculous powers and, upon his successful campaign to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, God gives Moses the Law on Mount Sinai. The various laws and instructions God gives to Moses are detailed in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These four books pertain to historical issues occurring during the lifetime of Moses. The exception to this observation is the final chapter of Deuteronomy, which discusses the death of Moses. The primary purpose of spiritual gifts theology in the final four books (of Moses) is to certify the accuracy of Moses’ messages concerning the Law. The Law (Torah) comes from God.

After Moses, there is a lesser profusion of spiritual giftedness throughout Jewish history. God speaks to Moses’ successor Joshua throughout his leadership career in retaking the Land of Canaan. He performed miracles through Joshua—such as causing the Walls of Jericho to fall. After Joshua’s death, God inspires and speaks to various judges—Othniel, Deborah, Gideon, Samson, and others. These judges receive miraculous abilities and counsel from God as they defend and protect Israelites in battle.

Although Moses, following God’s Law, institutes the priesthood, it is not until later that the High Priest becomes the primary vehicle for God to communicate with humans. After the time of the Judges, God speaks to Samuel, as a child, and calls him into the priesthood. God continues to communicate messages to Samuel throughout his career. Samuel, with God’s direction, anoints the first Israelite king, Saul. Then, Samuel, with God’s direction anoints King David to replace Saul. The anointing of Samuel as priest (and the sense in which Samuel’s anointing also made him a prophet) combined with the anointing of David as King (and the sense in which David’s anointing also made him a prophet) introduces a new era in God’s communication with humans. The three anointed (messianic) offices—prophet, priest, and king—become God’s primary mouthpieces for Israel. The Hebrew word meaning ‘anointed one’ is ‘messiah.’ (The Greek word meaning ‘anointed one,’ incidentally, is ‘christ.’)
King David, under inspiration from God, writes many psalms. His son King Solomon, with similar inspiration, writes many proverbs. Later kings and priests are not considered to have equal inspiration. Later prophets, however, become the voice of God to Israel. The prophet Nathan was a contemporary of David. Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel are the most famous prophets.

Other prophets whose writings are included in the Bible are: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Pharisaic and Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity accept the premise that God spoke through these prophets. Other early Jewish groups such as Sadducees and Samaritans accepted only the inspiration of the Torah. Pharisaic and Rabbinic Judaism believes that God's activity of speaking through prophets, however, ended with the canonical prophets of the Jewish Bible. Ezra the scribe instituted a new way for God to speak to Israel—through reading the Torah aloud to the people. Even though the age of the prophets ended with the canonical Tanach (or Old Testament) for the Jews, Pharisaic and Rabbinic Judaism still allowed for the possibility that God might speak through infants and fools.

Pharisaic and Rabbinic Judaism also taught that God could speak through a Bat Qol (or ‘mysterious voice’). This type of communication is claimed by the early Christians on a few occasions. When Jesus was baptized, a voice from Heaven said: ‘This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17 NIV). When Jesus was transfigured, his disciples were startled by a bright cloud. A voice from the cloud said: ‘This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him’ (Matthew 17:5 NIV) When Saul of Tarsus (who later became the Apostle Paul) was confronted on the road to Damascus, he was blinded by a light from heaven and heard a voice saying: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ Saul asks who is speaking and the voice responds: ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting . . . . Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do’ (Acts 9:5-6 NIV).

Christianity also believes that God continued to speak through the visitation of angels (as when Gabriel announced John’s and Jesus’ births) and through prophets and prophetesses such as Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38) and especially through John the Baptist who lived at the time of Jesus. Christianity also teaches that God spoke through those (such as apostles and prophets) who had received spiritual gifts in the first generation of the church.”

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