The Jewish Origin of Christian Pneumatology
October 5, 2017
Charles J. Dougherty Ballroom, Power Center
W. J. A. Power Chair of Old Testament Interpretation and Biblical Hebrew
Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
The Eleventh Annual Lecture is available for download
Jack Levison holds the W. J. A. Power Chair of Old Testament Interpretation and Biblical Hebrew at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. The author and editor of more than a dozen books and a featured blogger for the Huffington Post, Dr. Levison is an authority on the Holy Spirit in Jewish and Christian scripture. Included among his books on the Spirit, several of which have been translated into Korean, German, and Spanish, are The Spirit in First Century Judaism (1997), Filled with the Spirit (2009), Inspired: The Holy Spirit and the Mind of Faith (2013), and, for a popular readership, Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life (2012) and Forty Days with the Holy Spirit (2015). He received a BA from Wheaton College, an MA from Cambridge University, where he was awarded the Fitzpatrick Prize for theology, and a PhD from Duke University. The recipient of numerous grants from the National Humanities Center, the Lilly Fellows Program, the Louisville Institute, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Rotary Foundation, the International Catacomb Society, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, Dr. Levison has been a visiting fellow at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, and Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, Munich, Germany.
Pneumatology is by and large a Christian enterprise. From a theological perspective, this may be acceptable; from a biblical perspective, it is not. The agency that Christians would attribute to the Holy Spirit arose, not with Christian doctrine and experience, but five hundred years earlier, when two Israelite prophets imputed agency to the Holy Spirit. Prior to the return from Babylonian captivity in 539 BCE, the spirit was deemed to be active-but not an agent acting on God's behalf. This scenario changed when post-exilic prophets Haggai and the author of Isaiah 56-66 accomplished something unprecedented: they introduced the Holy Spirit into the traditions of the exodus, in which God had rescued Israel from Egypt through a cadre of divine agents-pillars, an angel, clouds. Now, claimed these prophets, the Holy Spirit took on the role of those agents by standing in Israel's midst and guiding them to the promised land. This observation traces the essence of Christian pneumatology deep into the heart of the Hebrew scriptures. Taking this point of origin as our guide, Christian pneumatology is less about an exclusively Christian experience or doctrine and more about the presence of God in the grand scheme of Israel's history-and Christianity as ancient Israel's heir.