God - A Dictionary Of Christ And The GospelsGOD
Introduction.—The sphere of the revelation of Jesus was limited to the Fatherhood of God (see Father), and all His other references to the Divine Being are more or less incidental. They involve conceptions which He shared with OT prophets, and to some extent also with contemporary Judaism; but the form which some of these conceptions take in His teaching, and the relative emphasis which He laid upon them, are modified by that truth which was central and fundamental in His own experience and thought of God. Jesus, in all His references to God, spoke after the manner of a prophet, and not after the manner of the Rabbis or the Christian theologian. He never sought to prove the existence or the personality of God. These were invariably assumed. He never communicated any speculative views regarding the nature or the attributes of God. All that He said stood in direct relation to right conduct.
The aim of the present article is to set forth briefly those views of God, expressed or implied in the words of Jesus, which may properly be considered apart from the Divine Fatherhood, and which are, to some extent, characteristic of Jesus.
1. God is one.—To Jesus, as to His people through many centuries, God was one. He did not modify this ancient belief. To the scribe who asked which commandment was greatest, Jesus quoted the familiar confession from Deut. (Deu 6:4 ff.) which begins with the words, ‘Jehovah our God is one Jehovah’ (Mar 12:29); and the author of the Fourth Gospel represents Jesus as addressing these words of prayer to the Father—‘This is life eternal, that they should know thee, the only true God’ (τὸν μόνον ἁληθινὸν θεόν, Joh 17:3).
Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit; and if there is any place at which He suggests a personal distinction in the Divine Being, it is here. It is necessary, therefore, to consider His words on this subject. His references to the Spirit in the oldest Gospels are extremely rare; and in only one instance do all the Synoptics agree in reporting the use of this term. This is the passage concerning blasphemy against the Spirit (Mar 3:29, Mat 12:31, Luk 12:10). There are three other* [Note: The Baptismal formula of Mat 28:19 is not included, for the evidence against its genuineness is regarded by the present writer as conclusive; and Luk 4:18 is a quotation.] occasions on which, according to one or two of the Synoptics, Jesus spoke of the Spirit. (a) The first of these occasions was when He spoke words of encouragement to His disciples in anticipation of their future need of support when called before governors and kings. According to Matthew (Mat 10:20), He said to them, ‘It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.’ In Luke we have two passages referring to the same, or at least very similar occasions; one of these speaks of the Holy Spirit (τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα), while in the other Jesus is represented as saying, ‘I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to withstand’ (Luk 12:12; Luk 21:15). Mark has a similar word of Jesus, but puts it on a different occasion. The situation of the disciples is the same, and Jesus says, ‘It is not ye that speak, but the Holy Spirit’ (Mar 13:11). The thought which all the accounts have in common is that of Divine assistance. The agent who assists is either the ‘Holy Spirit,’ the ‘Spirit of your Father,’ or Jesus Himself.
(b) Another reference by Jesus to the Spirit is found in His reply to those who accused Him of working in league with Beelzebul. Here He said, ‘If I by the Spirit of God cast out demons’ (Mat 12:28); or, according to Luke, ‘If I by the finger of God cast out demons’ (Mat 11:20).
(c) Finally, according to Mark (Mar 12:36), Jesus referred to the 110th Psalm as spoken in the Holy Spirit. Mt. has simply ἐν πνεύματι, and Lk. no reference to the Spirit.
Now the language of these passages does not appear to suggest a different view of the Spirit from that of the old prophets. If Jesus as a rule represented His disciples as dependent on the Father, and the Father as caring for them, and then in a single instance, when speaking still of the Divine aid, said, ‘the Spirit of your Father’ or the ‘Holy Spirit,’ we cannot suppose that He made any personal distinction between them. His word is an echo of such a passage as Isa 61:1 ‘The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon me,’ and is in part a fulfilment of the promise in Joel (Joe 2:28) that the Spirit shall be poured out upon all flesh. The statement of Jesus regarding the 110th Psalm, that it was spoken in the Holy Spirit, is quite parallel to this word concerning His disciples. It shall be with them as it was with the author of this psalm. The Spirit of their Father will speak in them.
Again, when Jesus said, ‘If I by the Spirit of God [or the finger of God] cast out demons,’ it is manifest that His thought is that of God’s presence and aid. It is like the language of Micah when he said, ‘I am full of power by the Spirit of Jehovah’ (Mic 3:8). The Fourth Gospel expresses the same thought when it represents Jesus as saying, ‘The Father abiding in me doeth his works’ (Joh 14:10).
Finally, when Jesus warned the scribes and Pharisees concerning the irremissible sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, it is obvious that we cannot draw any personal distinction between this Spirit and God. These men had attributed the manifestly good work of Jesus to the prince of bad spirits. Thus they had wilfully called good evil (cf. Isa 5:20). They had violated conscience; they had quenched, at least for the moment, this inner and fundamental voice of God. This manifestation of God within them is called the Spirit of God in accordance with OT usage, which ascribes a spirit to Jehovah, in and through which He reveals Himself to the spirit of man (e.g. Isa 42:1; Isa 63:11). See Unpardonable Sin.
The teaching of the Fourth Gospel (John 14-16) regarding the Spirit marks an advance on that of the Synoptics, both in quantity and in character; but this teaching, as it now stands, like the other discourses of John, cannot be attributed directly to Jesus. It appears to represent a stage of thought fully as late as that which we find in Mat 28:19. We need not, therefore, discuss it in this connexion, where we are concerned with the teaching of Jesus. And we conclude this paragraph with the statement that there is nothing in the narrative of the genuine teaching of Jesus which suggests a modification of the old prophetic conception of a pure monotheism.* [Note: The story of the experience of Jesus at His baptism is probably to be traced back to Himself. This speaks of a descent of the Spirit and a voice from God. It recalls Isa 61:1, and presupposes the same conceptions the Spirit.]
2. God is holy.—The conception which Jesus had of the holiness of God is implied rather than expressed in His teaching; yet though not directly stated, it is fundamental, and marks an advance on the teaching of the OT. How fundamental this conception was in the teaching of Jesus may be illustrated from the Sermon on the Mount. According to this, the standard of the Kingdom of God called for a righteousness that exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Mat 5:20). The Law declared that a man should not kill, but Jesus taught that anger exposed one to the same danger of judgment (Mat 5:21 f.). The Law declared against adultery, but He declared against the lustful desire (Mat 5:27 f.). Now this profounder conception of sin, this attaching of the gravest penalties to the secret feeling of anger and to the unclean desire, implies a clearer and more ethical conception of the holiness of God.
Again, Jesus’ sense of the holiness of God is reflected when He says that it is the aim of His mission to call sinners (Mat 9:13, Mar 2:18 [Luk 5:32 adds, ‘to repentance’]); and His feeling is still more significantly seen in the Beatitude for the pure in heart (Mat 5:8). Finally, the intensity of His appreciation of God’s holiness may be measured by the severity of His judgment on impenitent sinners. One of such tenderness of heart as Jesus showed in all His relations to others—a tenderness which He believed was an attribute of God—could not have uttered such words of judgment as Mar 3:29; Mar 12:9 and Mat 25:46, unless He had had an open vision of the Divine purity.
It is obvious from this brief survey that, to the thought of Jesus, the holiness of God was a fundamental fact, and it is equally plain that His conception of this Divine attribute was profoundly ethical. Its demands could not be satisfied, as the scribes taught, by the performance of any number of statutes. Nothing but a righteous state of the heart could satisfy them. Jesus taught His disciples to ask for the pardon of their sins, not on the ground of any fulfilment of the Law, any good works of any sort, but simply on the ground, as far as the human side of the pardon is concerned, that they themselves have a forgiving spirit (Mat 6:12, Mar 11:25). The ethical character of Jesus’ conception of the holiness of God is seen also in His own relation to sinners; for it is clear that His thought of God’s relation to sinners was illustrated by His own attitude toward them. Now we are told that He came into personal contact even with the worst of men. He ate with publicans and received harlots, having no fear of defilement from them. He represented God under the figure of a father embracing a son who had wasted his substance in riotous living (Luke 15).
In the thought of Jesus, therefore, the holiness of God did not imply, as with the scribes, that He was far removed from sinful men, being Himself subject to defilement. His holiness is not ritual, but purely ethical. It is that quality or side of His being which makes it incumbent on all men to ‘hallow’ His name (Mat 6:9). It is that which defines His character with reference to sin. It is that attribute of God which renders it impossible to trace the origin of evil up to Him. Jesus everywhere assumes that evil originates either in the freewill of man (Mar 3:28-29), or with a power called the ‘devil’ (Mat 13:39) or ‘Satan’ (Luk 13:16). It cannot come from God, for He is the one absolutely good Being (Mar 10:18).
The conception of the holiness of God involved in the teaching of Jesus, and perfectly illustrated in His character, is thus seen to have been fundamental in importance and ethical in nature. It has parallels in the OT, as, for example, in Psa 51:6 and Hab 1:13; but the clearness and intensity with which it is expressed in the Gospels are unique.
3. God is near.—There is a third feature of Jesus’ thought of God which, though wholly incidental and subordinate when compared with His revelation of the Divine character, is nevertheless so conspicuous that it helps to mark off the Gospel from the writings of the Old Covenant, and far more noticeably from the views of contemporary Judaism. This is the conception of the nearness or presence of God. To a certain extent Jesus shared the thought of His countrymen, and used the current phraseology regarding God’s habitation. Thus He spoke of heaven as the throne of God, and the earth as His footstool (Mat 5:34; Mat 23:22). The idea of a Divine revelation clothed itself to His mind in the imagery of an open sky, the descent of the Spirit, and a voice out of heaven (Mar 1:10-11). But there is no special emphasis in the teaching of Jesus on the thought that heaven is the dwelling place of God in a peculiar sense. The emphasis is laid on another point, viz. the practical thought of God’s nearness. Though His throne is said to be in heaven, He is no ‘absentee’ God. On the contrary, He is personally present with men. One may meet Him in the inner chamber (Mat 6:6). He reveals the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven unto ‘babes’ (Mat 11:25). He worked in and through Jesus (Mat 12:28), and Jesus said that God would speak in His disciples (Mat 10:20). This statement may well be taken as suggesting the way in which Jesus generally conceived of God’s presence with men. It is an inner spiritual nearness, a fact of which the soul takes cognizance, and which is manifested to the world only through the life of the man who realizes it.
But God is present not only with those beings who are capable of communion with Him: He is present also in Nature. He arrays the lily in beauty (Mat 6:29), He cares for the birds (Mat 6:26), notes the fall of a sparrow (Mat 10:29), and is unceasingly active in works of mercy and kindness (Joh 5:17). How Jesus pictured to His mind this presence of God in the material world we cannot learn from the Gospels. His belief in this particular, as also in regard to God’s presence with men, was probably like that of the Psalmists and Prophets (see, e.g., Psa 23:4; Psa 139:7-12, Isa 40:11; Isa 66:13), though a more constant and marked element of His teaching. It was, doubtless, a consequence of His religious consciousness of God rather than a product of philosophic thought.
Literature.—See under art. Father.
George Holley Gilbert.
Consult other dictionaries:
A Dictionary Of Christ And The Gospels
A Dictionary Of Christ And The Gospels. James Hastings, 1906.
This classic work is a comprehensive study on the life of Christ, including every reference to His life and teaching. A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels (2 Vols.) also includes extensive entries on the four Gospels.