Section 5: The Holy Spirit
Week 2: The Holy Spirit’s Work in the Old Testament
Day 1: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Creation
Each member of the Trinity is involved at every key moment in redemptive history. So it should be no surprise that we see the Holy Spirit at work in the creation of the universe. Gen 1:1-2 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” There is some debate among Old Testament scholars as to whether this is a direct reference to the Holy Spirit. The hesitancy among some scholars stems from the fact that the doctrine of the Trinity is not fully revealed until we get to the New Testament. If that’s true, the original readers of Gen. 1:1-2 would not/could not have understood “the spirit of God” to be a reference a distinct member of the Trinity.
That may well be a true statement about the original readers of Genesis, but we are not the original readers. The New Testament has made us aware of the Holy Spirit’s existence and has taught us much about him. So when we read Gen. 1:1-2 in the context of all we now know about the Spirit, it is not a stretch to see him at work there. As scholar, Graham Cole explains:
Scripture has a dual authorship: God and the human authors (cf. 2 Tim. 3: 16 and 2 Pet. 1: 21). The human author’s intention, therefore, does not necessarily exhaust the scope of intended meaning. Thus, according to this view, Genesis 1:2 when originally written may not have been a reference to the Third Person of the Godhead in the human author’s mind-how could it have been?-yet such a meaning was in the mind of God.[i]
Assuming Gen. 1:1-2 is a reference to the Spirit’s work, what exactly is he doing? The earth is said to be formless, empty and dark, and the Holy Spirit is hovering over the waters. The picture, thus, isn’t the Spirit bringing the universe into existence out of nothing. That has already happened. Otherwise there would be nothing for the Spirit to hover over.
If the Spirit’s role in creation wasn’t bringing it into existence, what could it have been? As we’ve already discussed, many theologians see the Holy Spirit’s role in general as completing the work the Father and Son have begun. In that role, he works to ensure God’s plans are brought to fruition. In terms of creation then, the original “stuff” of the universe has already been made. The potential for the fulfillment of God’s plans is contained therein. The Holy Spirit’s job is to turn that potential into reality – to bring form and order to the formless void.[ii]
This is consistent with the picture of the Holy Spirit hovering. In Duet. 32:11, God’s care for Israel is compared to an eagle hovering over its young. Just as a mother eagle works to protect her young and ensure they grow up and thrive, God works to build up and protect Israel. When we take that image and apply it creation, we can see the Spirit’s work in similar terms. He hovers over creation, making sure things unfold the way they are supposed to and the universe becomes what God intends it to be.[iii]
Do you think of the Holy Spirit as actively involved in creation itself? Why or why not? Does it change your understanding of things to know that he was involved right from the start?
Picture the Holy Spirit hovering over your life. What does that mean for you today?
[i] Graham Arthur Cole, He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, Wheaton: Crossway Books (2007), Ch. 4 eBook.