Hello Enthusiastic friends of the Bible Project!
We recently released our biblical theme video on the Holy Spirit, which was exciting! As we watched the online conversations about the video, we noticed a number of people express concern about things we didn’t explore or make more clear. Some wondered whether we believed the Spirit is a divine energy, a personal being, or a member of the Trinity alongside the Father and Son.
This is a fascinating topic—welcome to a two thousand year-old conversation! To be clear up front, we (that is, Tim, Jon, and the Bible Project Board, Gerry and Steve) all hold to the historic, orthodox confession that God is Triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as expressed in the classic Christian creeds. However, our purpose in the biblical theme videos isn’t to explain those creeds. Rather, we are trying to show how the Bible is one unified story that leads to Jesus. It would be awesome to make a video that explores the Trinity, but it would be totally different. We encourage you to read more about how we created this video after (or before) watching. Enjoy!
We began the video with an affirmation that the Spirit is “God’s personal presence” to make it clear that the Spirit is a person and not merely a force. From there, we wanted the biblical story to speak for itself, showing how God sent his Spirit into the world, and then how Jesus did the same for his disciples. Logically, this means that the Spirit is distinct from the Father and Son, but we didn’t make that the focus of the video. In retrospect, however, we can see that we could have emphasized more the cooperation of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
Quite often, people are introduced to the Holy Spirit up front as “the third person of the Trinity,” without grasping the biblical storyline that gives this idea its profound meaning. The later Christian creeds do a great job of summarizing the Bible’s teaching about God with words like “Trinity” or “person.” But, we should be mindful that these are not the words used in the Bible. This is why we started by exploring the biblical word for Spirit (ruakh), whose primary meaning is “invisible energy,” whether it’s wind, breath, or the personal presence of God. In the Bible, the primary thing the Spirit does is create life, and energize and transform people. It’s significant that the main biblical word associated with Spirit is “power” (see, for example, how Jesus calls the Spirit “power” in Luke 24:49; so does Paul in Ephesians 1:17 and 19).
In all our videos, we try really hard to focus on the actual language and imagery used by the biblical authors. In academic circles, this is called a “biblical theology approach.” We try to avoid importing foreign categories from later tradition into the Bible, so we can hear what the biblical authors are saying in their own unique way, even if it surprises us!
Another way to put it is that understanding the Trinitarian God of the Bible requires getting the horse in front of the cart. When you start at page one, you allow the biblical narrative to reveal God’s identity on its own terms, with its own language. This means letting the “wind/breath/energy” ideas shape our first conception of the Holy Spirit. After that, the personal nature of God’s ruakh emerges naturally out of the story, alongside God the Father, and then alongside Jesus. This is also why the video concluded with the climax of the biblical story in new creation instead of an explanation of the Trinity. We believe there’s power when you tell the biblical story and let it speak for itself.
If you’re interested in seeing how we approach the Trinitarian view of God where it’s more explicit in the Bible, check out our videos on the Gospel of John or John’s Letters. You can also check out our four-part podcast discussionn on the Holy Spirit where we talk about all this in greater depth. We hope the video invites people into a new vision of the Spirit’s role in the story of the Bible and in their lives.
Thanks again for all your enthusiasm and support for the Bible Project, we couldn’t do this without you all!
– Tim, Jon, and The Bible Project Team