I’ve been writing a Bible essay on the Spirit in Ezekiel at the same time as I’ve been writing a Theology essay on the divinity of the Spirit. It’s an odd experience because in one essay I’m super zoomed in on one book and in the other, trying to take in all that the Bible says. It’s been fascinating because sometimes, the two appear to say different things.
One issue is about the Hebrew word that we translate ‘spirit’. It can also be translated ‘breath’ or ‘wind’ and some people reckon that’s the ONLY way to translate it in Ezekiel. There is no spirit, much less Holy Spirit in Ezekiel.
The first time I heard this, I was horrified! God is Trinity, I reasoned – you can’t just leave the Holy Spirit out! Except, when you look at the passages, most of the time any of the three translations fit. The reason I want to go with ‘spirit’ is because that’s my theological assumption about the Trinity, not because it’s necessarily the best fit for the text.
But it’s more complicated than working out which translation to use where. Each time the word appears, sure if could be translated spirit OR breath OR wind, but God-y stuff still happens each time. Plus, several times, God refers to this spirit/breath/wind as his. It may not be the clear 3rd person we see in the NT, but you also can’t say that the Spirit’s NOT there. He might just not be as well defined.
Theological types call this ‘the hermeneutical spiral’ which basically means that you go round and round in a cycle of working out theology and reading the Bible. You read the Bible to check (and ultimately re-formulate) your theology; but you also make sure that your reading of the passage isn’t skewed by your own hobby horse by checking it with broader theological concepts. And as you keep doing that, you should get closer and closer to working out the meaning for today but without getting carried away with wild ideas. So it’s totally worth doing – but it sure is exhausting!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.