The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit (See Archives)
The Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts: A Synthesis of Luke’s Pneumatology
Continuation of Part Three in a series of guest lectures given at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri
By Roger Stronstad
Luke brings the same attitude, understanding, and procedure to his portrait of the Holy Spirit as he did toward writing his narrative history (genre) and his portrait of Jesus (Christology). In other words, just as Luke’s historiography is modeled after Old Testament historiography (Paraclete, Vol. 22, No. 4) and his Christology is rooted in the Old Testament (Paraclete, Vol. 23, No. 1), so his pneumatology, in terms of language and motifs, is rooted in the Old Testament. Moreover, just as Luke’s Christology is incarnational, and therefore both ontological and trinitarian, so Luke’s pneumatology has both ontological and trinitarian dimensions. Finally, in the same way that Luke’s Christology is vocational, or functional, so his pneumatology, not only in its relationship to Jesus. but also in its relationship to the disciples, is in explicitly prophetic terms vocational or functional.
Luke’s Is An Old Testament Pneumatology
If no other evidence existed, Luke’s two inauguration narratives (Luke 3:1ff; Acts 2:1ff) alone would compel the reader to understand ’ the activity of the Spirit which he records in terms of the Old Testament. In these narratives we have the proof-from-prophecy for the activity of the Spirit. For his synagogue homily at Nazareth based on the text from Isaiah Jesus declared: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).l Similarly, Peter claims that the reception of the Spirit by the disciples fulfills an oracle from Joel, announcing: “But this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16). There is, however, other evidence for the Old Testament roots of Luke’s portrait of the Spirit, evidence as pervasive, in fact, as for the Old Testament roots of his Christology. The terminology by which Luke describes the present activity of the Spirit is almost totally derived from the Septuagint. An observation by Nigel Turner is germane to this. He writes: “He [Luke] conceived the Christian revelation as the fulfillment of the old Dispensation, and would in consequence tend by his language to emphasize the links between Old and New.”2 In regard to terminology which describes the Spirit of God in the Scriptures of Israel, the translators of the Septuagint used 23 different verbs.3 Of the nine verbs Luke employed to describe the activity of the Spirit, eight are derived from the Septuagint.4 These are: “to fill” (Luke 1:15, and others), “to come upon” (Luke 1:35, and others), “to lead” (Luke 4:1), “to give” (Luke 13:13, and others), “to clothe” (power = Holy Spirit, Luke 24:49), “to speak” (Acts 1:16, and others), “to fall upon” (Acts 10:44, and others), and “to witness” (Acts 15:8). The verb “baptized” in the Holy Spirit alone is not septuagintal. Lest Luke’s indebtedness to the Old Testament/ Septuagint to describe the activity of the Holy Spirit seem inevitable, simply observe that both John and Paul used an almost entirely different set of terms to describe activity of the Spirit.
In addition to this septuagintal terminology, a complex of complementary Old Testament motifs is echoed in Luke-Acts; primarily (1) the transfer, (2) the sign, and (3) the vocation motifs. At strategic points in the advance of Israel’s history, when there is a transfer of responsibility from a leader or leaders to others, there is also a complementary transfer of the Spirit. For example, when Moses begins to share his leadership responsibilities with the 70 elders, the Lord “took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders” (Numbers 11:25). There are similar transfers of the Spirit from Moses to Joshua (Numbers 27:18–20; Deuteronomy 34:9), from Saul to David (1 Samuel 16:13,14), and from Elijah to Elisha (2 Kings 2:9–15). While the transfer of the Spirit from Moses to the elders, which is a transfer from an individual to a group, most closely approximates the transfer of the Holy Spirit from Jesus to the company of disciples on the Day of Pentecost, each of these transfers anticipates the Day of Pentecost.
The sign motif closely complements the transfer motif. The purpose of the sign is twofold: (1) to authenticate to the recipient of the Spirit that his call to leadership is divine in origin, and (2) to witness to others that this man is God’s chosen. The sign is often, though not invariably, an outburst of prophecy. Thus, for example, when the Spirit rested upon the elders, they prophesied (Numbers 11:25). The sign function of this prophesying is confirmed by the report which immediately follows, namely, “they did not do it again.” Furthermore, paralleling the experience of Saul when Samuel anointed him to be king over Israel, when Samuel anointed David to be king over Israel, “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13). Later David will claim prophetic inspiration, declaring, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). Later still Peter can declare, “The Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David” (Acts 1:16). For both Joshua and Elisha, the most immediate though not the only sign of their succession seems to have been the ability to part the Jordan River (Joshua 3:7; 4:14; 2 Kings 2:14,15).
The vocational motif complements the transfer and sign motifs. The call to leadership is not so much a call to authority as it is a call to service, and those whom God calls to service are equipped and/or empowered by the Spirit for that service. These enabling gifts of the Spirit, or charismata, in Old Testament times differ from our catalogs of gifts (for example, 1 Corinthians 12). For example, for Bezalel, and others, it is manual skill or craftsmanship (Exodus 28:3; 31:3; 35:31; LXX). Moreover, for Joshua it is wisdom (Deuteronomy 34:9) and for the judges it is military prowess (Judges 3:10, and others), as it is also for Israel’s two charismatic kings, Saul and David (1 Samuel 10:10; 11:6ff; 16:3). Furthermore, for Elijah and Elisha it is raising the dead (1 Kings 17:17ff; 2 Kings 4:34ff), multiplying a little food into much food (1 Kings 17:9ff; 2 Kings 4:3ff, 42ff), and other miraculous powers. Finally, for the forthcoming scion of David it is the sixfold plenitude of gifts: the spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2). These enabling gifts of the Spirit—craftsmanship, military prowess, wisdom, etc.—are appropriate to the vocation, the kind of service God’s people in Old Testament times were called upon to render.
In Luke-Acts there are strong echoes of this same complex of complementary gift-of-the-Spirit motifs. Thus, the transfer of the Holy Spirit from Jesus to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost echoes the earlier transfer of the Spirit from Moses to the elders (Acts 2:1ff; Numbers 11:25). Moreover, just as prophesying is the sign par excellence of the transfer of the Spirit in Old Testament times, so on the Day of Pentecost speaking in other tongues/prophesying (Acts 2:4,17) is the sign that the Spirit has been transferred to the disciples. As in Old Testament times, so in Luke-Acts, there are other signs as well—dramatic signs such as the descent of the Spirit in bodily form like a dove, and the tongues of fire and the sound of a violent wind, which (and this is Luke’s emphasis) others could see and hear (Acts 2:33; 8:18; 10:46). In addition, whether Luke is writing about Jesus or the disciples, as in Old Testament times, the Spirit which is given to them empowers their service. In the power of the Spirit, Jesus, like Elijah and Elisha before Him, raises the dead (Luke 7:14ff), multiplies a little food into much food (Luke 9:12ff), heals the sick (Luke 4:14ff), and performs other acts of good. Similarly, the disciples serve their Lord in the power of the Spirit, witnessing in both word, as in Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:14ff), and in deeds, such as the healing of the cripple who daily begged at the gate of the Temple which is called Beautiful (Acts 3:1ff).
Certainly there are differences in detail between the gift-of-the- Spirit motifs in Old Testament times and Luke-Acts, but these are differences of historical particularity rather than differences of fundamental orientation.
Clearly, both in terminology and motifs, Luke’s pneumatology echoes the Old Testament pneumatology. This is not surprising. Indeed, it is exactly what the interpreter of Luke-Acts ought to expect since, as we have observed, both Luke’s historiography and his Christology are heavily indebted to the Old Testament. Every interpretation of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, therefore, that does not give full weight to this Old Testament heritage must inevitably prove to be a distortion of Lucan pneumatology.
Luke’s Pneumatology Is Ontological-Trinitarian
In the Old Testament there is no clear evidence that the Spirit of God is, to use a term of Christian theology, a person. Having canvassed the relevant data, one scholar writes: “The final conclusion is overwhelmingly negative: there is no personalization of the Spirit within the limits of the Old Testament.”5 Most scholars concur with this conclusion. Rather than acting as a person, the Spirit of God functions as the “power, anger, will, mind, presence” of God manifested throughout Israel’s history. Similarly, it might appear that the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts is not a person but a power or substance.
Obviously, Luke uses impersonal language to describe much of the Spirit’s activity. For example, Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:22; 4:18), but this language echoes the oil poured by Samuel over the heads of Saul and David to anoint them as King over Israel (1 Samuel 10:1; 16:13). The followers of the Anointed One, John and Jesus announce, will be baptized in the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16; Acts 1:5), but this parallels being baptized in water. In addition, the Holy Spirit is “poured forth” (Acts 2:33), “fills” people (Luke 1:15, and others), and is the “power from on High” (Luke 24:49). Though Luke frequently uses this impersonal language to describe the activity of the Holy Spirit, it would not only be superficial but also incorrect to conclude that the Spirit in Luke-Acts is impersonal.
Complementing this impersonal language in Luke-Acts, Luke frequently describes the activity of the Holy Spirit in personal or ontological terms. The Holy Spirit, for example, witnesses: perhaps through the signs and wonders which filled Jerusalem after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 5:32; compare 2:22,43; 4:30), or through a prophet, “saying that bonds and afflictions” await Paul (Acts 20:23; compare 21:4,11). Less ambiguous than the witnessing of the Holy Spirit, He also speaks. At times, His speaking is indirect and mediated. His voice is the words of Scripture (Acts 1:16), or the voice of anonymous prophets at Antioch and Tyre (Acts 13:2; 21:4), or the prophecy of Agabus at Caesarea (Acts 21:11). At other times, such as when the Spirit spoke to Philip and Peter (Acts 8:29; 10:19; 11:12), His voice is direct and unmediated, though we do not know in these cases if the voice of the Spirit is an audible voice or the voice of inner consciousness.
In addition to speaking, the Holy Spirit can be spoken to, that is, lied to (Acts 5:3); forbids (Acts 16:6); and prohibits (Acts 16:7). The Holy Spirit can also be tested (Acts 5:9), resisted (Acts 7:51), and makes elders to be overseers of the church (Acts 20:28). Individually, some of this evidence is more ambiguous than we would like. Inanimate objects as well as persons, for example, can be witnesses (Joshua 24:26,27). Cumulatively, however, the evidence is overwhelmingly conclusive: There is a personalization of the Spirit in Luke-Acts.
The personalization of the Holy Spirit finds its fullest significance in the trinitarian dimension of Luke’s theology. Our discussion of Luke’s pneumatology necessarily leads to the doctrine of the Trinity. Luke identifies the Holy Spirit as God. The Spirit is variously the Spirit of the Lord = Father = Jesus (Acts 5:9; 8:39), and the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7). To lie to the Holy Spirit is the same as lying to God (Acts 5:3,4), and men not only test God but they also test the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:10; 5:9). In Luke-Acts there are also several trinitarianisms, both unconscious and conscious. There is, for example, the formula: “in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:31). The angelic announcement to Mary that she will conceive and bear a son is trinitarian: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
At Jesus’ baptism, the Father’s voice from heaven publicly declares His approval of His Son, while the Holy Spirit descends upon the Son, in bodily form like a dove, anointing Him for service (Luke 3:22). Clearly, Luke’s trinitarian theology is repertorial rather than speculative; it is incipient and embryonic rather than fully developed. Though Luke’s trinitarian theology is not as fully formulated as it will become in later Church Councils, in Luke-Acts the Holy Spirit appears as God the Spirit, just as Jesus appears as God the Son, and God in heaven is the Father.
Luke’s Pneumatology Is Vocational
Not only is Luke’s pneumatology both rooted in the Old Testament and ontological, but it also has a dominant vocational dimension—a vocational dimension which, we will discover, is just as significant for the mission of the disciples as it was for the earlier mission of Jesus. In other words, in Luke’s pneumatology, just as Jesus is necessarily the charismatic Christ, so the disciples, His successors in mission, must necessarily become a charismatic community, for only when they have received the empowering of the Spirit will they do and teach in the absence of their Lord that which He had earlier begun to do and teach.
Luke inaugurates the missions first of Jesus and subsequently of the disciples with two statements which give programmatic shape to their respective vocations. Explaining the significance of His reception of the Holy Spirit at His baptism, Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel
to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are downtrodden,
To proclaim the favorable year of
the Lord (Luke 4:18,19).
Jesus’ Messianic mission or program is to preach the gospel; that is, the good news of God’s favor to the poor, the needy, and the disenfranchised. After His resurrection, however, Jesus transfers this mission to His disciples. For their mission, now about to be deprived of His earthly presence, He assures them: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This dominical promise of the Holy Spirit proves programmatic for their mission, a witness about Jesus in word and deed, as it unfolds, beginning in Jerusalem and culminating in Rome, the ends of the earth.
It is commonplace among many scholars to interpret the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost primarily in initiation-incorporation terms and only secondarily in vocational terms.6 This initiation-incorporation depends upon a restrictive definition of baptism arbitrarily imported from the Pauline literature. Luke, however, gives a different meaning to Spirit baptism than does Paul. In the structure of Luke-Acts, the Pentecost narrative stands in the same relation to the mission of the disciples as the inauguration narrative does to the mission of Jesus.7 Moreover the experience of both Jesus at His anointing and of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost in prayer, etc., is parallel.8 Furthermore, the explicit dominical promise of the empowering of the Spirit for witness (Acts 1:8) is the context by which we must interpret the purpose of baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). Finally, Peter’s “poured forth” language to describe the gift of the Spirit is reminiscent of the anointing oil poured upon the head of Saul (1 Samuel 10:1).
Therefore, though Luke uses two different terms—Spirit anointing and Spirit baptism—the experience of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost is functionally equivalent to the experience of Jesus at the Jordan. In other words, the miracle of Pentecost is primarily the anointing or consecration of the disciples for mission after the pattern of Jesus’ experience. To interpret it in primarily initiation-incorporation terms does great violence to the complementary inauguration texts in Luke-Acts.
Having been anointed by the Holy Spirit for mission, Jesus, now full of the Spirit, is first led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested in preparation for that mission (Luke 4:1). Just as Jesus experienced this leading of the Spirit, so His followers will similarly experience the leading of the Spirit in their service to God. The Spirit, for example, instructs Philip to join the chariot of the Ethiopian (Acts 8:29) and instructs Peter to go to the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:19). During a prayer meeting at Antioch, the Spirit, through a prophetic word, sends Barnabas and Saul out upon their missionary careers, beginning at Cyprus (Acts 13:1–4).
Paul’s missionary enterprise is guided by the Spirit who forbade him, for example, to speak the word in Asia, and did not permit him to enter Bithynia (Acts 16:6,7). Finally, as his ministry approaches its conclusion, Paul inexorably sets his face to Jerusalem, and the bonds and afflictions which await him there, bound in spirit (Acts 20:22,23). Thus, it is the Holy Spirit who leads God’s people in mission, launching the missionary enterprise, initiating personal contact with those prepared to receive the message which leads to salvation, and directing the footsteps of these intrepid evangelists who carried the gospel along the highways of the Empire.
Besides being led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus also ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:14). Similarly, His successors, the disciples, will subsequently minister in the power of the Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost the transfer of the Spirit from Jesus to the disciples is also a transfer of the power of the Spirit from Him to them. This transfer of power fulfills two dominical promises: “[You will be] clothed with power from on high,” and, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). The purpose of this gift of the power of the Spirit is that the disciples might be witnesses to Jesus.
Complementing the inspiration of the Spirit to witness in word, signified by Luke’s “filled with the Holy Spirit” terminology, this power is the power of the Spirit to witness in deed. In other words, the power of the Spirit is miracle-working power, not only in the ministry of Jesus, but also for the disciples. Thus, having received the power of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, the disciples heal the sick (Acts 3:1ff; 9:32ff), raise the dead (Acts 9:36ff), and do many other signs and wonders (Acts 2:43; 4:33, and others).
Indeed, just as God had earlier anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power, with the result that He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, so God baptized the disciples with the Holy Spirit and power, so that they also went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for the Spirit of God was with them.
The Holy Spirit, having descended upon Jesus, made Him the Anointed Prophet, Priest, and King in Israel, combining all three offices in His one person. In a simplification of an admittedly complex interrelationship Jesus fulfilled the royal office in His ascension to heaven where He reigns as Lord, the sacerdotal office in His self-sacrifice at Calvary, and He fulfilled the prophetic office during His 3 years of public ministry. Beginning with the birth announcements of John and Jesus, the gift of prophecy was restored to Israel after 4 centuries of silence.9 It is renewed, for example, in the inspired praise of Elizabeth and Zacharias (Luke 1:41ff; 1:67ff), and also in the adult ministries of John and Jesus (Luke 20:6; 7:16). So unprecedented and dramatic was this restoration of prophecy that the people speculated John might be the Christ, or Anointed One (Luke 3:15). He denied the speculation, but Jesus, his successor to whom he pointed, proved to be the anointed prophet, ministering in the power of the Spirit after the threefold pattern of the prophet Isaiah (Luke 4:18ff; compare Isaiah 61:1), his charismatic predecessors, Elijah and Elisha (Luke 4:22–30, compare Luke 7:14ff; 1 Kings 17:17ff; 2 Kings 4:34ff), and the prophet Moses (Acts 3:22; 7:37; compare Deuteronomy 18:15ff).
As Luke describes it in Acts, the disciples fill a wide variety of offices and functions: apostles (Acts 1:2), deacons (6:1ff), elders (14:23), bishops (20:28), and evangelists (21:8). However, just as the public ministry Jesus performed was primarily that of a prophet, so the successors to His ministry in Acts primarily fill the office and perform as prophets. Twice Luke mentions groups of prophets (11:27; 13:1). He names as prophets Agabus (11:27,28), Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaean, and Saul (13:1), Judas and Silas (15:32), and daughters of Philip (21:9). In addition, he reports several episodes of prophesying, particularly in regard to Paul’s final journey to Jerusalem (20:23; 21:4). Moreover, groups such as the disciples on the Day of Pentecost (2:4,17ff), the household of Cornelius (10:46, exalting God = prophesying; compare 2:11,17), and the disciples of Ephesus (19:6) speak in tongues and prophesy when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. Visions and dreams, such as those given to Peter and Paul (10:9ff; 16:9), are to be understood as prophetic, for these are the accredited mode of prophetic inspiration (2:17; compare Numbers 12:6; Joel 2:28). As announced by Joel, in the last days the gift of prophecy would be universal; that is, free from all age, sex, and economic barriers (Joel 2:28,29). As reported by Luke in Acts, prophecy is a pervasive phenomenon among the disciples who in fact constitute a prophethood of all believers.
This observation is reinforced by Luke’s most prominent term to describe the activity of the Holy Spirit, namely, filled with the Holy Spirit.10 This term is distributed between Luke and Acts on a ratio of 3/6: (Luke 1:15,41,67; Acts 2:4; 4:8,31; 9:17; 13:9,52) and invariably signifies the prophetic dimension of Luke’s vocational pneumatology. Luke uses the term “filled with the Holy Spirit” in two different yet complementary ways. On the one hand, he uses the term as a pointer to describe a general prophetic ministry, without necessarily specifying either the moment or duration of prophetic inspiration, or any phenomena which might result from this gift of the Spirit (Luke 1:15; Acts 4:31; 9:17; 13:52). On the other hand, he uses the term five times to describe a specific moment or episode of prophetic inspiration (Luke 1:41,67; Acts 2:4; 4:8; 13:9).
When describing prophetic inspiration his narrative has two components: (1) the introductory formula, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and (2) the report of direct speech, which we may classify as a “pneuma discourse.” According to Luke’s record, a pneuma discourse may be either praise (Luke 1:41ff; 1:67ff; Acts 2:4ff), witness (Acts 2:14ff; 4:8ff) or an announcement of divine judgment (Acts 13:9). Thus, in Acts as well as in the Gospel, the term “filled with the Holy Spirit” signifies both the prophetic vocation in general and specific moments of prophetic inspiration in particular.
To sum up, Luke’s pneumatology serves and complements his Christology. We have demonstrated that Jesus’ experience of the Holy Spirit from His Jordan experience onward is a paradigm for the disciples’ experience of the Holy Spirit from Pentecost onward. This is entirely appropriate, for the disciples are heirs and successors to His prophetic ministry. Jesus is the pneumatic Christ, the charismatic prophet. The disciples are a charismatic community of prophets. This picture of Luke’s complementary Christology-pneumatology, of the parallels between the Gospel and Acts, and between the charismatic experience of Jesus and that of the disciples, is neither incidental nor peripheral to Luke’s purpose; it belongs to the warp and woof of the canvas of the history of salvation, and similarly to the warp and woof of Luke’s record of that history.
There are clear implications from Luke’s charismatic theology for the contemporary church. If the gift of the Spirit was charismatic or vocational for Jesus and the Early Church, so it ought to have a vocational dimension in the experience of God’s people today. In other words, if they needed the anointing-baptism of the Spirit, the leading of the Spirit, and the empowering of the Spirit to render their ministries effective, we do as well. If their vocation was prophetic, so is ours to be prophetic. If Jesus was the charismatic Christ and the disciples were a charismatic community, so the Church in our generation is also charismatic, whether or not it functions at the level of our charismatic potential. Luke-Acts challenges the Church in our generation, both individually and collectively, to function up to the level of its charismatic heritage, which it derives from Jesus and the disciples. Only then will the contemporary Church be a prophethood of believers in reality as well as in promise.
1. All Scripture quotations in this article are from the New American Standard Bible.
2. Nigel Turner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1976), 62.
3. Roger Stronstad, “The Influence of the Old Testament on the Charismatic Theology of St. Luke,” Pneuma, Vol. 2, No. 1 (1980), 38.
4. Ibid., 44,45.
5. Lloyd Neve, The Spirit of God in the Old Testament (Tokyo: Seibunsha, 1972), 129.
6. James D.G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Studies in Biblical Theology, Second Series, 15 (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1970), 54.
7. Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984), 34.
8. Charles H. Talbert, Literary Patterns, Theological Themes, and the Genre of Luke-Act, Society of Biblical Literature Monograph Series, 20 (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1974), 16.
9. Stronstad, Charismatic Theology, 38.
10. Roger Stronstad, “ ‘Filled With the Holy Spirit’ Terminology in Luke-Acts,” in The Holy Spirit in the Scriptures and the Church, edited by Roger Stronstad and Laurence M. Van Kleek (Clayburn, B.C.: Western Pentecostal Bible College, 1987), 9.