Tuesday, November 23, 2021
Genesis 1:1–2 speaks of more than just the act of creation. The text identifies the Creator as “God” and immediately thereafter indicates the possibility of another person of the Godhead at work: “the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the waters.” The phrase “Spirit of God” (יםִ להֱ אַ רוּח) occurs only fifteen times in the Hebrew Bible and appears always to be a reference to a person, not a wind. In addition, יםִ להֱ א never occurs as an adjective in the Creation account—it always refers to God.8 The evidence is so overwhelming that Hildebrandt reaches a conclusion commensurate with that of Moltmann regarding the personhood of the Spirit of God: “The personhood of God the Holy Spirit is the loving, self-communicating, out-fanning and out-pouring presence of the eternal divine life of the triune God.”9 However, Hildebrandt then warns that taking this too far might lead to “speculative intrusion into the OT references,” since the full development of the personhood of the Spirit of God awaits the NT revelation.10 This hesitation to make the commitment to seeing a divine person as “the Spirit of God” in the second verse of Genesis arises even among some of the strongest evangelical theologians. Merrill, for example, concludes that “The Spirit is to be understood here as an effect of God and not yet, as in New Testament and Christian theology, the third Person of the triune Godhead.”11
Why the disagreements and even the hesitation to identify “the Spirit of God” in Genesis 1:2 as a person of the Godhead? Part of the resistance comes from the thinking that the interpreter must give due recognition to the ANE setting for the writing of Genesis and its Creation account.12 Is that how we must read Genesis? Must we limit ourselves to the way that pagan, unbelieving, idolatrous ANE cultures viewed God (or, gods)? To yield to this hermeneutic requires one to degrade and even destroy the significant difference between genuine believers in the true God and those who ridicule them for their faith. Their worldviews are (and were) very different. Their value systems are opposed. A rough equivalent in our own day would be to insist that future readers of evangelical books should read them as though evangelicals have adopted the prevailing worldview or Zeitgeist—that our theology and morality actually coincide with non-Christian philosophy and (im)morality in the twenty-first century. If we would scream, “Foul!,” so would the OT writers. Many who write as Hildenbrandt does only intend that we recognize that the OT writers are reacting to and interacting with the unbelieving culture of their day, not adopting the beliefs expressed by pagan myths. However, it doesn’t always come out sounding or smelling that way, especially when someone insists that there is no way that “the Spirit of God” in Genesis 1:2 could be a person of the Godhead, because such a concept was totally foreign to the ANE cultures among whom the Hebrew writers dwelt.
One must also look at Genesis 6:3 where God refers to “My Spirit.” Hildebrandt’s treatment of this text detours into later revelation before reaching a conclusion. He seeks to place the reference in a context of divine judgment as expressed throughout the OT. He still comes to a result identifying the Spirit as a personal being, but not as independently as the decision he made in 1:2.
William D. Barrick, Divine Persons in Genesis: Theological Implications, p. 3-4