Prosopological Exegesis (3): The Spirit Speaks

(Note: first see part 1 and part 2 on prosopological exegesis)

Scholars as well as thoughtful Christians devote a lot of attention to the early development of Christology. And this makes sense: Christ is the center of the Christian faith, and almost all of the early theological battles fought during the early centuries of the Christian era concerned the nature of Christ and his relationship to the Father. But the downside of this is that the Holy Spirit is all too often neglected in our discussions of Trinitarian theology, both then and now.

Matthew Bates’ book on PE focuses almost exclusively on Christological prosopological exegesis; that is, how early Christians (including Paul!) found evidence for calling Jesus “God” by looking at verses containing dialogue that could be assigned to the Father or to the Son. But Bates, and other PE authors, have comparatively little to say about what I might call Pneumatological prosopological exegesis. The question I’m currently interested in, then, is when the early Christians first assigned the Spirit a speaking role in his own right.

What’s interesting is that by the time of the apologists in the late second and early third century, the Spirit does clearly have just such a speaking role. Tertullian, for instance, makes the claim that there are many texts in the Hebrew Bible in which “the distinctiveness of the Trinity is clearly expounded: for there is the Spirit himself who makes the statement, the Father to whom he makes it, and the Son of whom he makes it. So also the rest, which are statements made sometimes by the Father concerning the Son or to the Son, sometimes by the Son concerning the Father or to the Father, sometimes by the Spirit, establish each Person as being himself and none other” (Adv. Prax. 11). This is a nice summary of what prosopological exegesis is all about, and demonstrates that he believes all three members of the Trinity can be analyzed using PE.

Regarding the “statements of the Spirit,” Tertullian furnishes three examples: Ps 110.1; Isa 45.1; and Isa 53.1 (conflated with John 12.38 and Rom 10.16). The standard view is that Tertullian is something of an anamoly in making the Spirit a speaking prosopon in his exegesis of the OT. But what strikes me as odd about this position is that Tertullian (and Justin, for that matter), who time and time again are shown to have adopted the exegetical methods and interpretations of earlier generations of Christians, would on this understanding be required to have more or less come up with this on their own. Rather, it seems much more likely that they are drawing on earlier interpretive practice (as they are no doubt doing with Christological PE, which has roots perhaps as far back as Paul). So: something of a puzzle. I’m currently working on an article that seeks to untangle this mystery (despite it being the summer, I know) – more to come! If anyone has thoughts to share, please feel free to comment below.


About krhughes14

Smyrna, Georgia
This entry was posted in Prosopological Exegesis and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Prosopological Exegesis (3): The Spirit Speaks

  1. Pingback: Prosopological Exegesis (1): Overview | Early Christian Archives (τὰ ἀρχεῖα)

  2. Tim Reichmuth says:

    PE or whatever name this form of exegesis goes by seems to be evident in the application of OT texts , such as Psalm 45 in Hebrews 1, by the writers of the NT. Again however, without the inspiration that was controlling their application of this method, what controls would be in place for the Fathers or current exegesis? I like forward to more clarity on this in future articles.

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