Feast upon the Word Blog

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NT Lesson #15: What is the Promise of the Holy Ghost?

Posted by BrianJ on April 27, 2007

There is a parenthetical comment made by John in Chapter 7 that I do not understand:

John 7
(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) (John 7:39)

Compare this to a similar verses later in John, and I am no better informed:

John 14
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:16,26)

John 15
But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me (John 15:26)

John 16
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. (John 16:7,13)

What is Jesus teaching? It seems pretty clear that he is saying that the Holy Ghost—or some aspect of the Holy Ghost—will only be available after Jesus is “glorified.” There are two things I don’t understand:

  1. What aspect of the Holy Ghost is Jesus talking about?
  2. Why wasn’t/couldn’t that aspect be present/available during Jesus’ mortal ministry?

Regarding the first question, I think it is very clear from LDS scripture that the Holy Ghost was available to people in some form before Jesus’ birth. Adam had a profound experience with the Holy Ghost (Moses 5) and Nephi preached the baptism by fire (2 Nephi 31:17). Nevertheless, it’s not clear to me whether the availability of the Holy Ghost was the same then as it is now. We understand there to be a difference between feeling the Holy Ghost’s influence and having the gift of the Holy Ghost. (I don’t really mean for this post to be about those differences, but if the discussion needs to go there that’s fine.) Were there aspects of the Holy Ghost that were not available before Jesus’ birth or resurrection?

Whether the Holy Ghost was “different” before Jesus’ birth than now or not, my second question remains. Why couldn’t Jesus’ disciples be baptized by fire when Jesus was with them? From what we read in 3 Nephi 9:20, some Lamanites had experienced baptism by the Holy Ghost—probably referring sometime around 15 B.C. (Helaman 11) and/or A.D. 5-15 (3 Nephi 2). What is it about having Jesus present that prevents the Holy Ghost from being ” fully operative”?

I’ve searched through various commentaries, translations, and General Conference addresses, and here are the two explanations I found:

  1. That the Holy Ghost would only come later because Jesus would send him. (I know that’s not an explanation at all—just a restatement—but that’s seriously the kind of “explanation” I found.)
  2. That the Holy Ghost would come later when the era—or dispensation—of the Holy Ghost was to begin. This idea apparently comes from dispensationalism (the only seven-syllable word I know that I didn’t learn from either Robert or Joe) and I found it in commentaries from various Christians. I am hardly familiar with this belief, so I may misunderstand it, but it seems like it is based upon the doctrine of the Trinity. (It’s probably obvious, but just to be clear: I do not believe this explanation.)

I’m not going to try to wrap this up, because I don’t know how and just want to get my question “out there.” One final thought: I can’t believe that the Holy Ghost was completely absent during Jesus’ ministry; the Holy Ghost had to be operative to some extent. Otherwise, how could anyone—disciples, Apostles, anyone—have gained a testimony of Jesus as the Christ?

9 Responses to “NT Lesson #15: What is the Promise of the Holy Ghost?”

  1. Robert C. said

    BrianJ, I think this is a very difficult and yet very important question, esp. for Mormons to think about. I think it is intimately related with several “second” notions: Second Coming, Second Comforter, Second Annointing, etc., though I really don’t have a good idea how to approach any of this.

    Perhaps one place to start is in reading about Paraclete, which is usually translated “Comforter” in the KJV of John (“Advocate” most often in more modern translations—see this NET note on John 14:16). Raymond Brown in particular has written about this issue, see here for excerpts from his Anchor Bible commentary, and here for another interesting online article I found by him. I think Brown points to a kind of John-specific notion of the Holy Spirit that is important to pay close attention to, something we should be careful not to conflate with our conventional understanding of the Holy Ghost (though much of our previous discussion has already humbled me in terms of thinking I really understand much about the Holy Ghost!).

  2. GDM said

    Think about it like this. Could the people in His presence live by faith if the Holy Ghost were there to bear witness of Him? No, they would have a sure knowledge. Living in His presence without the Holy Ghost as a Testator enabled them to live by faith and gain a testimony of The Christ, just as we must gain one while living in his absence, but with the assistance of the Holy Ghost.

  3. Jim F. said

    GDM, I’ve heard variations of this explanation a number of times, but why is it that the presence of Jesus + the Holy Ghost = sure knowledge, but presence of Jesus alone or the Holy Ghost alone does not?

    Everyone: if not the Holy Ghost, to whom or what was Jesus referring when he said to Peter “flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee” (Matthew 16:17)? Jesus’ presence doesn’t account for Peter’s testimony, because Jesus was flesh and blood then.

  4. brianj said

    Robert C: I read about paraclete from the NET as part of my research for this question, but I appreciate you providing the links for others. As for the links to Brown: I’m about half-way through the first and finding it quite interesting (especially given the nature of the site hosting the information!). It’ll take me a while to get through, but it looks worth it very, very worth it—so thanks!

    GDM: I don’t understand how Jesus’ mortal presence would obviate the need for faith. He had the appearance of any ordinary man (“no form nor comeliness…that we should desire him…”), so wouldn’t his disciples still need to exercise faith in his divinity? (I also like how Jim F phrased his related question.)

  5. Robert, thanks for the link to the AB excerpt… very interesting. A curious little “article,” because though it begins with a kind of extreme position, it ends up quite conservative. But that extreme position at the beginning is very helpful, especially the connections with the satan of Job, etc.

    Just to throw another difficulty (or perhaps a help) on the pile: what should be made of the Jesus’ presence is for Israel/the Holy Ghost is for the Gentiles schematic of the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi, especially, but also 1 and 2 Nephi)? I suppose this is all the more important if we follow Krister Stendahl’s invitation to read the Book of Mormon as a Johannine text (or the Nephites as having a Johannine Jesus). This is something I’ve wanted to think about at some length, but I’ve never quite been sure where to start.

  6. m&m said

    FWIW, this is what the BD says:

    For some reason not fully explained in the scriptures, the Holy Ghost did not operate in the fulness among the Jews during the years of Jesus’ mortal sojourn (John 7: 39; John 16: 7). Statements to the effect that the Holy Ghost did not come until after Jesus was resurrected must of necessity refer to that particular dispensation only, for it is abundantly clear that the Holy Ghost was operative in earlier dispensations. Furthermore, it has reference only to the gift of the Holy Ghost not being present, since the power of the Holy Ghost was operative during the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus; otherwise no one would have received a testimony of the truths that these men taught (cf. Matt. 16: 16-17; 1 Cor. 12: 3).

  7. GDM said

    Sorry about the lag time in response.

    Jim F. asked

    “GDM, I’ve heard variations of this explanation a number of times, but why is it that the presence of Jesus + the Holy Ghost = sure knowledge, but presence of Jesus alone or the Holy Ghost alone does not?”

    I’m not sure that I have a perfect answer for that Jim. Brian’s question will also be covered to the best of my ability in this same reply. I think the best answer is the BD response given by m&m “For some reason not fully explained in the scriptures”.

    As close as I can come in my mind is to look at scripture and try to comprehend the process of coming to a “sure knowledge”. In D&C 93:1 The Savior states:

    ” Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;

    Doing all that we do to repent, come unto Him, call on his name, and keep His commandments evidently isn’t enough to “know that he is” until we see His face. Our faith may increase by the power and testimony of the Holy Ghost until it is like unto pure knowledge, but something would still be lacking.

    Now flip that around and put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples. They are in His presence. We know that they do not have the Holy Ghost as per scripture. We see their reaction to some pretty spectactular events and marvel at their reaction. It appears to me that; for reasons unknown, they cannot gain a sure knowledge of His divinity without the Holy Ghost, in the same way that we cannot “know that He is” without seeing His face.

    To me, this phenomenon is a testimony to the equity of God in His dealings with us. Oh sure, there is are many evidences of inequality in the mortal sphere as well, such as “why were some kids born poor in Africa with AIDS and I was born in American into relative affluence?”. However, the need to live by faith is essential, as stated in the 4th Article of Faith. This process of having the Holy Ghost except in Christ’s presence as part of a telestial experience gives no advantage to those who lived as His contemporaries. Look at the reaction of the disciples on the day of the Pentecost and thereafter. Their faith was much stronger than in His presence. There is apparently some intrinsic interaction between the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost in giving light to mortal man. Perhaps it is that they are two witnesses for the Father, and one without the other does not complete the oft repeated doctrine of truth being established through “two of three witnesses”.

    I don’t know that I have satisfied your curiosity Jim F. or Brian, but this is; in part, how I have satisfied some of mine on the subject.

  8. BrianJ said

    GDM: thanks for the response—and don’t worry about “lag time.”

    You wrote, “Now flip that around and put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples. They are in His presence. We know that they do not have the Holy Ghost as per scripture.”

    That’s part of the question: do we know that they did not have the Holy Ghost? Or were they just lacking some aspects of the Holy Ghost? The distinction is crucial: the former suggests that Peter, et al gained testimony of Jesus’ divinity without any assistance from the Holy Ghost. I’m not talking about “sure knowledge,” of course, but there are many instances in the Gospels when someone bears testimony of Jesus as the Christ; i.e. partial knowledge.

    “…they cannot gain a sure knowledge of His divinity without the Holy Ghost, in the same way that we cannot “know that He is” without seeing His face.”

    I agree.

    Michele: as for the Bible Dictionary, I think it moves in the direction I am leaning: “the Holy Ghost did not operate in the fulness among the Jews during the years of Jesus’ mortal sojourn.”

    I’m not sure that the line should be drawn where the BD draws it: “it has reference only to the gift of the Holy Ghost not being present….” Not that I’m saying the BD is wrong in this respect, just that it’s not clear to me that this is the demarcation. In other words, if there are ‘A-E’ aspects of the Holy Ghost, and the BD is saying that only ‘A-C’ were available, I’m not ready to conceded that ‘D’ was not also operative. (This feels like a silly way to talk about the Holy Ghost, by the way.)

    Likewise, I’m not ready to give up the search, despite the opening line in the BD: “For some reason not fully explained in the scriptures….” Maybe it is in the scriptures, maybe not, but I’d like to keep searching (and eventually get through those links from Robert).

  9. m&m said

    Might it be a matter of two witnesses?

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