The Spirit Of Life And The Spirit Of Immortality

The Spirit Of Life And The Spirit Of Immortality

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Pneuma 33 (2011) 69-78

Te Spirit of Life and the Spirit of Immortality:

An Appreciative Review of Levison’s

Filled with the Spirit

Frank D. Macchia

Professor of Systematic Teology, Vanguard University, Costa Mesa, California

[email protected]


Levison’s Filled with the Spirit explores the deep difference between the two Testaments in how Spirit filling is understood. While the Old Testament holds Spirit filling to be a flourishing of human life through an interaction of divine and human initiatives, the New Testament sees it as a subsequent gift granted supernaturally through faith in Christ. Yet, there is also a sense of continuity in the midst of this difference, especially in how the flourishing of life resists death. Tis review appreciatively explores Levison’s understanding of such biblical tensions and continuities in the light of the one-sided accent of Pentecostalism on the supernatural quality of life in the Spirit, but also in the light of the question as to whether or not Levison has unnecessarily widened the gap between the pneumatologies of the two Testaments.


pneumatology, Spirit filling, Pentecostalism

I enjoyed reading Levison’s richly informative and provocative book, Filled with the Spirit.1 It’s the kind of book that one does not want just to review but also to use as a springboard for theological reflection. I first want to say that reading Levison’s book brought me back to my reading of Hermann Gunkel’s slender volume, Die Wirkungen des heiligen Geistes,2 as a graduate student at the University of Basel. Confirmed in the pages of Gunkel’s book was what I had been taught to highlight growing up in Pentecostal churches. Te Holy Spirit in Acts (and in apostolic Christianity) was a mysterious and


John R. Levison, Filled with the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009); all references to this book will be made parenthetically by page number in my text.


Hermann Gunkel, Die Wirkungen des heiligen Geistes (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1899).

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/157007411X554721



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supernatural power that produced astounding results among Christians such as miracles and empowered witness. Gunkel maintained, however, that Paul was distinctive in accenting the Spirit as essential to the very foundation of faith in Christ, something more deeply formative than Luke’s post-faith power encounters. Most reflections on Old Testament pneumatology that I had surveyed at that time seemed, in the light of Gunkel’s analysis, largely to line up behind Luke. Te Spirit in the Old Testament was typically viewed as the power of God’s mighty breath blown forth from God’s nostrils to part the waters of the Red Sea (Exod 15:8) or to suddenly possess someone like Saul with the gift of prophecy, something that seemed to transform him into an ecstatic prophet (1 Sam 10:6). Even those places in the Old Testament in which the divine Spirit inspired vitality or wisdom or virtue were interpreted in ways that tended to conform to the power and suddenness of charismatic gifting by the Spirit of God. Tese images of the mighty and mysterious Spirit of God from the Old Testament seemed to set the stage well for the sound of a violent wind at Pentecost and the amazing effects produced by the Spirit’s power in the ecstatic tongue-speaking and prophesying among the earliest Christians. Te major tension for Pentecostals thus seemed to exist between a view of the Spirit as a powerful supplement to faith in Christ (Luke, with fleeting examples from the Old Testament) and a pneumatology that placed the Spirit at the very foundation of faith in Christ (Paul). Some Pentecostal scholars have recently exploited this scholarship to argue for a gift of the Spirit that is given “subsequent” to salvation (in an attempt to follow Luke).3 In the meantime, the unique accent of the Old Testament on the Spirit of creation remained to some degree unappreciated.

Levison wishes to highlight the uniqueness of the accent of Old Testament pneumatology on the Spirit of creation. In doing so, he shows us that there is in the Scriptures a deeper tension in relation to the issue of “subsequence” that makes any difference between Paul and Luke seem like small potatoes. I speak of the tension between the pneumatologies of the two Testaments. Te subsequence issue raised by Levison is not between faith and post-faith expe- riences but rather between the human vitality granted at birth and any fur- ther endowment of the Spirit! Spirit filling in the Old Testament is not a subsequent endowment but rather the expansion of the Spirit of life given to


My Baptized in the Spirit was written largely with that tension in mind. I implied through- out that in my view Gunkel and his followers among Pentecostal scholars had overplayed it. See Frank D. Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Teology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006).


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all humans from the time of Adam (Gen 2:7) and even present in some sense in all flesh or creaturely life (Gen 6:17). Flourishing under the shadow of death, human life experiences triumph but no triumphalism. Te New Testa- ment pneumatology is different. Tied to the crucified and risen Christ (and rooted, I would add, in a more devastating estimate of the human fall into captivity to sin and death), the filling of the Spirit in the New Testament is a subsequent gift supernaturally given and “supplemental” to human life. Human life prior to (or outside of) this gift is largely viewed in the New Tes- tament as devoid of the Spirit. Tere seems to be, in the light of Levison’s analysis, a deep divide between the pneumatologies of the two Testaments, a divide that causes him to raise the question concerning the degree to which the pneumatology of the New Testament is biblical!

Levison does, nevertheless, find especially in Paul “a richly scriptural dimension” in his use of the risen Christ “to put death squarely in its place — in the shadow of life” (315). In the New Testament, new life triumphs deci- sively over death by turning the Old Testament “life in the shadow of death” into a death that now stands in the shadow of life. Genesis 2:7 is “radically revised” in this reordering of the relationship between life and death (316). In other words, the Spirit of new life in the New Testament in terms of its future fulfillment is no longer viewed as hemmed in by death, flourishing merely by keeping death at bay but still lived out in death’s shadow. In the glow of Christ’s resurrection, death is defanged and conquered, cowering in the shadow of life. My own way of saying the same thing in the light of Levi- son’s discussion is to note that the Spirit of immortality through faith in Christ is excessive, exceeding the boundaries of death and fulfilling the lavish- ness of the Spirit of life that previously flourished within the limitations imposed by death. Levison’s goal is thus to allow both Testaments to stand in a relationship of “mutual illumination” (xxvi).

Tis is indeed the subsequence issue on which we Pentecostals should be expending scholarly energy. As revivalists, we bathe in the glow of born-again Christianity and accent even more than other evangelicals the supernatural character of the Spirit’s presence as a gift given to those who embrace Christ by faith. Tis accent on the supernatural and eschatological nature of the fill- ing of the Spirit is not problematic in itself, except that we tend to think that we can only highlight this by neglecting the Spirit that inspires human wis- dom and virtue “from below,” so to speak. We thus tend to see life outside of (or prior to) Christ as dark, lost, and devoid of the Holy Spirit. Our talk of spiritual gifts tends to highlight the extraordinary powers of the age to come that overtake us suddenly from above rather than the propensities granted



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from birth that the Spirit causes to flourish in our ongoing dedication to God’s will. We tend to regard any celebration of the Spirit of life outside the sacred walls of the church as “liberal” and denigrating of Christ’s uniqueness.

We are heavily invested in “subsequence” as Levison defines it and we read Old Testament pneumatology in this light. Te Spirit in the Old Testament is thus usually viewed as a fleeting and inadequate foretaste of the supernatural Spirit given through Christ, punctuated by momentary and noteworthy endowments, but generally experienced within a situation of relative spiritual dearth while awaiting the fullness of the Spirit that came through Christ. Te possibility that we have overlooked in the Old Testament a rich understand- ing of spiritual fullness that is not well represented in the New Testament should give us pause to think. Levison shows us that we need to remove our New Testament glasses in order to see it. It has been my conviction that for all of our talk about the Holy Spirit we Pentecostals still lack a fully-orbed pneumatology. Levison’s book provides provocation for us to advance toward this goal.4 After all, we don’t need to denigrate the Spirit that inspires us from below in order to highlight the same Spirit that comes to us from above or beyond!

Tere is certainly room for clarification here, and even qualification and adjustment. Here is where I find value in Levison’s challenging book. Levison wishes to look at the Old Testament in a fresh light on its own terms and to deal with this Testament as a source of revelation in its own right, rather than just looking at it as a prelude to the fullness of the Spirit given in Christ and elaborated on in the New Testament. Certainly the promise-fulfillment rela- tionship of the two Testaments allows room for such insights. Te result of Levison’s rich analysis is a resistance to the notion that Old Testament pneu- matology is merely a weak and fleeting prelude to that which comes through Christ. Te Old Testament and later Jewish literature also offer a lavish filling with the Spirit that can be enduringly and expansively cultivated from birth through disciplined obedience and learning. At last, here is a notion of Spirit filling that involves a life of scholarly research and insight! He paints the pneumatology of the Old Testament and later Jewish literature with bright and bold colors and uses a wide canvas that reaches potentially to all flesh. What we were accustomed to seeing as a relatively fleeting and shallow fore- shadowing of spiritual fullness through Christ, Levison shows to be a rich and full experience of the Spirit in its own right.


I do attempt to make some advances in my most recent book, Justified in the Spirit: Cre- ation, Redemption, and the Triune God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010).


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In thinking about Levison’s book theologically, one is tempted to utilize the distinction between “common grace” (the flourishing of natural life) and salvific grace (the sanctified life). Tough helpful, this is precisely the kind of distinction that Levison is convinced can only be anachronistically applied to the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, according to Levison, even extraor- dinary gifts expand lavishly precisely from the spiritual potential granted to natural life from birth and from the symbiosis of divine and human initiative available from the beginning of life. In other words, in the Old Testament Levison sees human nature, though dust, as graced from birth with extraordi- nary capacities from God (e.g., 12). What a contrast from the dominant New Testament assumption that one must be born anew by faith in Christ in order to receive the Spirit that sanctifies. Levison thus implies that we have in the Old Testament not a mere foreshadowing of the fullness of the Spirit wit- nessed to in the New Testament but rather a very different way of viewing this fullness! We do not just have a promise-fulfillment relationship between the “Spirits” in the two Testaments, we may have competing pneumatologies! Let us attempt to unpack this problem. Levison notes that Spirit filling in the Old Testament does not share the New Testament conviction that human life without faith in Christ is devoid of the Spirit. Tus, the filling of the Spirit does not suddenly possess us from above but flourishes rather through a rich symbiosis between divine and human initiatives possible by virtue of a human potential present from birth. Te problem here as I see it is that Levi- son’s interpretation of such texts as Genesis 2:7 threatens the theological foundation of this symbiosis and unnecessarily widens the yawning gulf between the Testaments by simply identifying in the Old Testament the seat of human consciousness (soul or heart) or natural human vitality with the divine Spirit. I regard Genesis 2:7 and other texts discussed by Levison as advocating at most a qualified or functional unity between human soul or life vitality and the divine Spirit. Te Spirit creates human vitality (such vitality does not emanate forth from the Spirit) and human vitality lives from the Spirit. But a distinction between divine and human vitality is still assumed in the Old Testament. Such a distinction would account for the symbiosis between divine and human initiative highlighted by Levison within Old Tes- tament pneumatology. If human vitality and the divine Spirit are to be iden- tified, would we not simply represent an instrument played by the breath of God after all? On what basis does the Old Testament avoid such conclusions? On what basis does the Old Testament advocate (as it does) the deceitfulness of the human heart, the misdirection or at least ambiguity of human life energy, morality, and wisdom, or the judgment of the divine breath against



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these things: “His breath is like an overflowing stream that reaches up to the neck to sift the nations with the sieve of destruction” (Isa 30:28; ESV). Given the fact that in the Old Testament the Lord is the one from whose mouth the divine Spirit is granted or withdrawn according to divine purposes, does not the divine Spirit require greater freedom and transcendence than to be identi- fied as an anthropological category or as a life energy that lies at our disposal simply to do with as we please? Indeed, as Levison himself implies, the life of the Spirit is continuously a gift, producing results that are lavish in measure beyond that for which the mere sum of human strivings can adequately account.

Tis being the case, we have greater potential for bridging the deep divide between Old and New Testament pneumatologies than is apparent in Levi- son’s book. If the divine Spirit in the Old Testament is not to be simply iden- tified with the natural human heart or vitality, then Old Testament pneumatology would imply some sense of supernatural “endowment” of the Spirit in that which causes natural human vitality to flourish. It is still possi- ble to see spiritual fullness as occurring over a long period of time (even a lifetime) through a symbiosis of divine and human initiatives, though God’s initiative as Creator and Redeemer would remain core, as Levison notes in the context of Ezekiel 37, where the Israelites reach the end of their resources as a nation and require a supernatural endowment from above that raises them up from the dust to new life. Such a reality is not only relevant when people reach the end of their resources; it is a commentary on a constant state of affairs. We as dust came alive by God’s Spirit and continue to require the Spirit as an ongoing gift. Symbiosis can never be understood in a way that alters this insight into the human condition.

Te bridge between the Testaments is also aided by appreciating the way in which the pneumatology of the Old Testament seems to reach for the gift of immortality that comes through Christ. As Levison implies, the Old Testa- ment offers a “fist raised in the face of death” (105). Indeed, the Old Testa- ment sees death as something that not only borders but also threatens to destroy or nullify the value of Spirit filling, for death tends to cancel any dis- tinction between the wise and the foolish since the deeds of both are forgot- ten (Eccl 2:16) and death removes the creature’s capacity to glorify God for divine faithfulness (Isa 38:18). God is the hope for redemption from death (Ps 49:15) or even ransom from its captivity (Hos 13:14). Jonah cries from the “grave” for deliverance and vindication (Jonah 2:2). God is vindicated as the Lord of life in the victory of life over death, for God will be known as the Lord when the dead dry bones are raised (Ezek 37:13-14). Indeed, all those


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thrown into the ash heap of history find hope only in resurrection. Te flour- ishing of natural human life in the Old Testament thus seems to require a solution that is not potentially available from birth. Tis pneumatology reaches for that which only Christ can give.

On the other hand, bedazzlement before the glory of future immortality should not lead to a lack of appreciation for the lavish fullness involved in the way in which life reaches for immortality. True, there is no bridge “from below” between the flourishing of human life and the gift of eternal life through Christ: “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor 15:50). A “subsequent” supernatural bestowal of the Spirit is necessary through the crucified and risen Christ. But does this mean that the consequent gift of immortality is necessarily completely detached from the flourishing of life by the Spirit “from below”? Cannot immortality take up the flourishing of life and bring it to another level? After all, the Christ raised from the dead was also the Christ who grew from birth in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52). Tough the former did not evolve from the latter, neither did the former leave the latter behind! Moreover, is the gift of immortality only “supplemental” to human life and vitality according to the New Testament? Paul notes that we were made or created for the gift of immortal existence granted through Christ and the gift of the Spirit (2 Cor 5:4-5). In fact, resurrection existence is Spirit fullness in the ultimate sense of the word, since the body of the resurrection is a “spiri- tual body” (1 Cor 15:44) or a body fully yielded to and led by the Spirit. If we were created for this, then our humanity is not fulfilled until we attain it. Tis is why our lives are still to some degree “hidden” in Christ (Col. 3:3). In that light, the gift of immortality is not supplemental but rather necessary to the flourishing of human life. Adam as the man of the Spirit has his telos in the risen Christ as the immortal bearer of the Spirit.

Te New Testament may neglect the richness of the Spirit in the flourishing of natural human life, but it doesn’t exclude it altogether. I therefore appreci- ate the indications in the New Testament noted by Levison of the Spirit as involved in human vitality and wisdom. But, strangely, on page 251, he reduces to a footnote the strongest description of the Spirit of creation in the New Testament, namely, Acts 17. In my view this passage deserves lengthy exegesis, and it would have been interesting to see Levison apply his brilliant exegetical imagination to this text. I do not think that it is marginal to the pneumatology of Acts. First, Luke is very much concerned with the way in which the Spirit draws peoples who have been scattered throughout the earth to the excessive outpouring of the Spirit granted through the unjustly



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condemned but also risen and vindicated Messiah. It is no coincidence that the Jewish audience drawn to the Pentecost event consisted of Jews from every nation under heaven. Tey were not drawn to that event by coinci- dence. In fact, scattered Gentiles were drawn as well, from the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) to Cornelius (Acts 10). Peter says to Cornelius, “I now real- ize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). Cornelius seems to qualify as one of those who fears God and does what is right and who enjoys such divine favor in Acts 10 even before Peter arrives. In the light of this developing narrative, Acts 17 grants the ultimate explanation. With the mandate to fill the earth (Gen 1:28; 9:7) and the journeys of scattered peoples to accomplish this in mind (e.g., Gen 11), Acts 17:26-28 tells us that

[f ]rom one man he made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. “For in him we live and move and have our being.” As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.”

Here we find that the Spirit-inspired journeys of scattered peoples is explained as an act of divine providence, not from a distant God, but rather from a God who creates, permeates, sustains, and guides both their physical vitality and their spiritual quests. By implication, it is the all-pervasive divine Spirit who led the Ethiopian eunuch to the Isaiah 53 text or Cornelius to both his prayers and his almsgiving, both of which were pleasing to God. Te very fact that Luke would place this decisive sermon implying such a broad pneu- matology on the lips of Paul is truly significant!

Is Paul’s understanding of “pre-Christian” existence “void” of the Spirit, as Levison states? I’m not sure, especially in the light of Romans 7. A case can be made that this passage is meant to be broadly anthropological in thrust and not specific to the situation of faith in Christ. Te law for Paul is “spiri- tual” but, in contrast, Paul is not (7:14). Tis may sound as if Paul was devoid of the Spirit as a man standing face to face before the law, but he does add that he nevertheless delighted in the law in his inner self and desired to fol- low it (7:18, 22), which caused a struggle between his delight in the spiritual law and his sinful nature in slavery to sin. Tough the Spirit is not explicitly mentioned as the source of this delight in the spiritual law, such is implied. If the law is spiritual and Paul delighted in it in his “inner self,” is there not some traces of the Spirit’s work implied there? Does not Paul imply that this


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is the situation in which humans who stand face-to-face before the law find themselves?

In the light of my remarks above, I also find myself disagreeing with Levi- son’s conclusion that there is a bifurcation of the Spirit and Torah observance in Paul (271). Tere are texts that can be read this way, but others cannot. What is one to make of Paul’s striking statement that “circumcision is noth- ing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God” (1 Cor 7:19; NASB)? Te love of Christ fulfills the commandments but does not replace them (Rom 13:8-10), for the law is spiritual and the inner self yearning for freedom rightly delights in it (Rom 7:14, 18, 22). One could argue that Paul’s deep conviction was that the law requires the Spirit to fulfill its witness to life, a conviction rooted in the prophets (e.g., Ezek 36:26-27), for circumcision is not only of the skin but of the heart and of the Spirit and not merely of the written code (Rom 2:29). Te law needs the Spirit because it cannot bestow new life on us: “for if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law” (Gal 3:21). Only God can impart the new life of the Spirit. Torah observance does not produce the life of the Spirit but rather flows from it and provides the occasion for its release and flourishing. Rather, the Spirit flows forth from the crucified Christ who died on the cross to accomplish what the law ultimately could not, namely, fulfill justice by rec- onciling sinful flesh to God (Rom 8:3-4). Yet, arguably for Paul, the atoning work of Christ and the witness of the Spirit do provide the situation in which the law can fulfill its witness to life in human obedience. Tis, I believe, is the meaning of the reference of Romans 8:2 to “the law of the Spirit of life” (the law lived out in the power of the Spirit) versus “the law of sin and death” (the effects of the law on a life lived in disobedience to the leading of the Spirit). N.T. Wright arrives at this interpretation after comparing this text to the blessings and curses of the law in Deuteronomy.5 Worthy of discussion is whether or not the Old Testament assumes that the witness of the law to life and justice can be fulfilled in human obedience without that which would be granted through Christ. But I do not believe that the Spirit is as separate from Torah observance in Paul as Levison maintains. In short, the New Tes- tament may not separate Spirit filling from human initiative and obedience as much as Levison assumes.


See N.T. Wright, Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Teology ( Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1993), 210-11.



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Tere is so much more I could say, but I think I’ve given some indication of how Levison’s book has provoked my thinking about biblical pneumatol- ogy. I like the potential in Levison’s book for viewing spiritual fullness and gifts as the excessive flourishing over time (and by grace) of natural propensi- ties yielded to God. I like the creative potential for linking the Spirit of Christ explicit in the born-again experience with the Spirit of Christ hidden within any life that flourishes by the Spirit, especially under the burden of oppres- sion or suffering. Moreover, I like the notion of “sober ecstasy” dedicated to the narrative of Scripture when developing a theology of glossolalia or ecstatic prophecy. But my space has run out. I wish to thank Levison for a truly engaging experience. I will never look at the pneumatology of the two Testa- ments in quite the same way again after reading his insightful book, and I will recommend it to others far and wide.


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