Trinity, Holy Spirit

The Trinity

Throughout the Bible, writers perceive God in a variety of ways. Although God is considered to be one single being, he is at the same time perceived to exist as three persons. First, he is God the Father, the Creator of all things. However, he also reveals himself in human form, through his son, Jesus Christ. In addition, the power of God working in the world is often referred to as the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of God. This three-fold view of God is known as the doctrine of the Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Spirit are believed to be equal and distinct, and together bring about the creation and salvation of the world.

The Holy Spirit

At the beginning of the Bible, when God creates heaven and earth, the writer of Genesis describes how ‘the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters' (Genesis 1:2). Throughout the Bible, different imagery is used to describe this Spirit of God, such as wind, breath, fire, or a dove.

In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God is seen to be empowering his people. One example of this is the account of God leading the Israelites out of their life of slavery in Egypt. Here, God's Spirit is said to have given strength to Moses (Isaiah 63:11-12). Equally, when the prophet Samuel anoints Saul as king of Israel, he tells him:

‘The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy … and you will be changed into a different person' (1 Samuel 10:6).

There are also prophecies in the Old Testament of the significance of the Spirit in the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. Isaiah describes how:

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might (Isaiah 11:2).

According to the New Testament account, the conception of Jesus happened through the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon his mother, Mary. Before Jesus begins his ministry, John the Baptist prepares the people for his coming, telling them that Jesus will ‘baptise … with the Holy Spirit'. When Jesus himself is baptised by John, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon him is described as ‘descending on him like a dove' (Mark 1:8-11).

Pentecost/'Whit' Sunday

pentecostThe book of Acts records a special experience that the disciples are said to have had with the Holy Spirit after the death and resurrection of Jesus, when they were gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). According to the book of Acts, they heard a ‘sound like the blowing of a violent wind', and saw what seemed to be tongues of fire touching the heads of each of them. Subsequently, they began to speak in other languages, enabling them to communicate and preach to a huge, international crowd that had gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost.

This event is still celebrated in the Christian Church on Whit sunday (‘white Sunday') – the festival mentioned by Shakespeare in The Winter's Tale when Perdita refers to ‘Whitsun pastorals'. As the festival is in summer, and marked by a holiday (literally, Holy Day), it is also often, as Philip Larkin indicates in his volume of poetry of the same name, a time for ‘Whitsun Weddings'.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit were not confined to the disciples who received them at Pentecost; Paul in his letter to the Corinthians states that all who follow Christ receive ‘different kinds of (spiritual) gifts' through ‘the same Spirit' (1 Corinthians 12:4).

Related topics

Big ideas: Dove; Baptism; Christians; Fire

Other cultural references

Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

Larkin's Whitsun Weddings

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