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THE SPIRIT OF GOD: A SOTERIOLOGICAL METAPHOR IN BIBLICAL HISTORY AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE FOR US TODAY

Klaus Nürnberger
2013 Scriptura  
On method This paper was prepared for a meeting of the South African Theological Society on the relation between Christ and the Holy Spirit. When it comes to inner-trinitarian relationships, Systematic Theology tends to hover off into the higher realms of metaphysical speculation. The rationale of the paper was to offer at least some biblical grounding for the ensuing discussions. On the one hand it attempts to give a bird's eye view of the biblical witness concerning the Spirit of God. On the
more » ... rit of God. On the other hand it asks some nasty methodological questions. I have to explain the proposed method, therefore, before embarking on a lightning tour through 1000 years of biblical history. There are three related decisions to be taken in the regard. In the first place, I am opting against the reification of concepts and metaphors. Reification means that we transform a metaphor into a tangible entity in our imagination and then assume that it is part of the real world out there. But if we reify the metaphor of the "spirit" we are bound to misunderstand it. 1 Secondly I am opting against the popular approach of levelling all scriptural references to the Spirit of God, regardless of their historical contexts, and using these disparate pronouncements as building blocks for a unified doctrine. 2 Instead I shall try to do justice to the richness and situational relevance of the biblical witness by treating each tradition as a series of responses to concrete and changing constellations of needs. 3 Because this approach is not common, the paper is based on original research into the biblical occurrences of the concept. The literature is only added to engage in some critical dialogue. The Spirit of God: A soteriological metaphor in biblical history and its significance 56 Finally I am opting for induction and against deduction. Deduction means that abstract concepts are taken as axioms from which inferences are drawn. 4 This is the traditional method in Dogmatics, which it inherited from Greek philosophy. Induction means that the existential experiences underlying such metaphors and concepts are analysed. Because we live in a post-Enlightenment era that is, by and large, geared to an experiential criterion of truth, deduction is no longer an option and induction is no longer a luxury. Only induction leads us from metaphysics back to faith experiences -and that is what matters for the life of the community of believers. What is experienced by believers in concrete terms, is the redemptive response of God to ever changing constellations of human need. That is what the proclamation of the "Word of God" is all about. It is not about God as such, Christ as such, the Spirit as such. 5 The actual experience of need reveals the discrepancy between what is and what ought to be. Both what is and what ought to be are subject to human interpretation. Interpretation is derived partly from the theological tradition, partly from the impact of alternative frames of reference prevalent in the environment of the community. As everything else in reality, human needs and patterns of interpretation emerge, evolve and disappear. So divine responses to these needs, that is, all concrete articulations of the "Word of God", also emerge, evolve and fade away in human history. Theology is, therefore, the analysis of an evolutionary dynamic, rather than the construction of a system of propositions. An evolutionary dynamic again is bound to differentiate into various substreams. This does not exclude systematic clarifications and the development of patterns of meaning derived from the historical material. 6 Intellectual clarity is indispensable for the proclamation of the "Word of God" and its appropriation by faith. But the formulation of dogma is a consequence of the Word of God in action, not its constituent. Following evernew constellations of experience and interpretation, it will be in constant flux. It will also move along ever-new tracks. The hermeneutics appropriate for such a theology is to trace the trajectories of soteriological paradigms and metaphors, as they emerged and evolved in response to experienced needs during biblical times, and to extrapolate the thrust of these trajectories to the present as God's response to current human predicaments. This method has been spelt out and applied extensively in previous essays and in a forthcoming publication. 7 The word 'Spirit' as a metaphor The word "spirit" is a metaphor. A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses an expression from ordinary life to describe another, often less tangible phenomenon, for instance, when a
doi:10.7833/79-0-773 fatcat:rfkwdtfoize5di4qrptcg7kea4