A Fitting Tribute: A Review Essay of The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins: Essays in Honor of James D.G. Dunn

 By Robert P. Menzies

James Dunn’s prolific writing career began in 1970 with the publication of Baptism in the Holy Spirit.[1] This sympathetic yet critical evaluation of Pentecostal theology proved to be a significant catalyst for theological reflection in the Pentecostal community and the larger church world. This book, then, represents an important beginning, especially for Pentecostal theology. Fortunately, this book was also merely the beginning of a very remarkable academic career. Over the past 35 years James Dunn has produced an astonishing array of books and articles, many of which address themes related to the chief concern of his first publication: the work of the Holy Spirit. So, it is especially appropriate that now, after these many years of fruitful writing and teaching, James Dunn’s students, colleagues, and friends honor him with a collection of essays devoted to this topic. The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins: Essays in Honor of James D.G. Dunn is a fitting tribute to the extraordinary career of this man.[2] The 27 scholars that have contributed essays to this volume are among the finest New Testament scholars in North America, Britain, and Continental Europe. Their essays reflect the academic rigor, the clarity, the brilliance, and perhaps a few of the weaknesses as well, of this outstanding New Testament scholar.


Let me begin by highlighting what I believe to be the considerable strengths of this book, strengths that find their counterparts in the writings of the book’s honoree. First, the numerous essays[3] that treat aspects of Paul’s pneumatology consistently highlight the charismatic nature of the early church. James Dunn was a pioneer in this area and most of his writings, particularly those produced in the 1980s and 1990s, shed valuable light on Paul’s theological perspective. Ulrich Luz, in his essay, “Paul as Mystic,” follows Dunn’s lead by highlighting the experiential dimension of Paul’s spirituality. Luz argues that the gift of the Spirit is the experiential basis of Paul’s Christ-mysticism, which centers on “the conformity of the believer with the Lord Jesus in his passion and in his resurrection glory.”[4] Luz notes that “the fear and panic at ‘enthusiasm’ and any theologia gloriae which marks out many Protestant theologians is unknown to Paul, for it is not a question of his own glory, but Christ’s.”[5] Alexander Wedderburn specifically affirms the charismatic dimension of Paul’s experience. He suggests that ecstatic experiences were a “recognized and established feature” of Paul’s ministry and the life of the early church.[6] Robert Jewett also emphasizes the “communal, charismatic, and mystical experiences of the Spirit that marked the early Pauline congregations.”[7] Jewett does so by analyzing passages in Romans which speak of the Spirit as a possession (that is “given to” or “dwelling in” or “yours”) of believers. Gordon Fee’s stimulating article also illustrates this trend. He notes how interest in the work of the Spirit in New Testament academic circles over the past 35 years has impacted many modern translations, which tend to “move beyond the KJV…where the KJV translators rendered as ‘spirit’ what appear to be certain references to the Holy Spirit.”[8]

Secondly, just as James Dunn focused attention on Pentecostal and charismatic issues at a time when most preferred to ignore them, so also this volume, in many respects, reflects the growing impact of Pentecostal scholarship. Numerous comments sprinkled throughout the book indicate that the landscape has changed dramatically since Dunn’s first volume was published. I think particularly of the manner in which several authors acknowledge the distinctive nature of Luke’s pneumatology in relation to that of Paul and John. Robert Morgan, for example, notes that “Paul and John had reflected deeply, and Luke perhaps less deeply, on the relationship between what they said about the Spirit and what they were saying about the risen Jesus…”[9] And then there is Robert Banks’ striking statement, “In regard to Luke’s general view of the Spirit, there is a scholarly consensus that the Spirit is the primary agent legitimating the mission, that in Acts it is largely the Spirit’s prophetic work, which involves an ‘empowering for witness’, that dominates, and that Luke shows little interest in the Spirit as the source of spiritual, moral, or religious renewal in the individual as such.”[10] Finally, and most significant of all, is Scot McKnight’s suggestion that “Sometime after Pentecost (note that Joel’s text is remembered as the focus there) and probably by someone other than Peter, an early Christian came to the conviction that the pneumatic experience of Pentecost was in fact what was expected by Jeremiah and Ezekiel.”[11] Here McKnight acknowledges that Luke (or at least his sources, including Peter) did not associate the promises of new covenant blessing (cf. Ezekiel 36:22-38 and Jeremiah 31:31-34) with the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. This association, he argues, was made at a later date and then found its way into the Pauline circle. Although most Pentecostals will tend to disagree with McKnight’s historical reconstruction in many respects – Paul, it appears, was the first believer to associate the gift of the Spirit with new covenant existence and he does so based on Ezekiel 36:26 (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:1-18), with no reference to Pentecost[12] – we can appreciate the significance of McKnight’s thesis. He acknowledges significant development in the early church’s understanding of the Spirit’s work and he correctly connects Ezekiel 36:26 (not mentioned by Luke, but highlighted by Paul and John) with the later presentation of the Spirit as the source of new covenant existence. None of these statements, and McKnight’s thesis in particular, could have been put forward in 1970.

Finally, just as James Dunn voiced his hope that the contemporary church might recapture the vitality of the early charismatic Christian communities,[13] so also a call for change is echoed in this volume. In his deeply moving essay, Ulrich Luz expresses his concerns, “Now we worry about the fact that living religion has to a large extent emigrated from the mainstream churches and flourishes elsewhere…in living communities of neocharismatic groups, in colourful open-air meetings, and so on….the future belongs to religion and not to the traditional Christian churches.”[14] Again, Luz challenges the status quo: “It is important to protect Paul from the constraints of one’s own church’s tradition and thus discover him anew over against one’s own established views.”[15] And Luz concludes with this stirring challenge: “Only when we discover what is new, strange, and other in the very familiar biblical text, and only when we allow ourselves to receive new insight from members of other confessions….will our reading of the Bible have a future.”[16] Unfortunately, Luz’s challenge remains largely unheeded in the academy with respect to Pentecostal theology. Indeed, one significant weakness of this volume is the relative lack of engagement with recent Pentecostal scholarship.[17] To the other weaknesses of this book we now turn.


In addition to the significant strengths of this book noted above, we must also note several weaknesses. Perhaps the key weakness, which recurs throughout the book, is an unwillingness to countenance significant diversity and development in the early church’s understanding of the Holy Spirit. As we already have noted, there are a few significant exceptions. Nevertheless, most of the contributors to this volume operate with what appears to me to be a very faulty assumption. Simply put, the assumption is this: the early church, from the very beginning, had a highly developed understanding of the Spirit. Paul, Luke, and virtually all of the other NT writers drew from this common understanding. This lack of historical imagination is especially striking in view of the number of articles in this Festschriften which deal with the development of pneumatological perspectives within the Pauline corpus.[18] Ironically, this reluctance to acknowledge development more broadly within the New Testament itself, and more particularly, to affirm the distinctive character of the pneumatology of Luke and the early church (reflected in the synoptic gospels and Acts) may be traced to James Dunn, the author of Unity and Diversity in the New Testament.[19]

The power of this assumption is perhaps most clearly seen in Max Turner’s essay, “The Spirit and Salvation in Luke-Acts.” Professor Turner and I have engaged in friendly sparring over the years and our respective positions are accessible in other publications. However, I found one of Turner’s comments to be especially revealing. He writes: “Given the wide diversity of Jewish material we have just referred to, it is rather surprising to be told that because Luke seeks to recover the Jewish concept of the Spirit of prophecy he would not be able to attribute the transformed life of the communities to the Holy Spirit.”[20] I was intrigued by Turner’s use of the term “recover” in this sentence. It suggests that Turner assumes that there is a rather full understanding of the Spirit’s work, including the soteriological element, already present in the Christian communities, and that Luke’s task, as I conceive it, is to bring the tradition back in line with prevailing Jewish views. This is certainly not the case. I argue that Luke reflects prevailing Christian attitudes concerning the work of the Spirit and that these attitudes, as we would expect, conform closely to the dominant Jewish understanding of the Spirit – that is, the Spirit is the source of prophetic inspiration.[21] Luke is not attempting to “recover” anything. He and his community have simply not yet been exposed to the insights that grace the pages of Paul’s epistles.

Turner, of course, acknowledges that there are considerable differences between the pneumatologies of Luke and Paul. Yet, at the end of the day, according to Turner, Luke and Paul both end up saying essentially the same thing. Turner places great weight on the veiled references to Isaiah 32:15 in Luke 24:49 and Luke 1:35, much more weight it would appear than on Luke’s direct statements (e.g., Luke 11:13; Acts 1:8, 2:17-18). These allusions encourage Turner to suggest that in Luke’s view the Spirit is the agent of the Christian community’s “righteousness, peace, and life.”[22] I find Isaiah 49:6, which has a missiological focus, to be a much more convincing backdrop for Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4-8. In any event, none of this should obscure the force of Luke’s explicit statements. These allusions also lead Turner to see Jesus’ miraculous birth by the Spirit (Luke 1:35) as a parallel to the believer’s experience of the Spirit at Pentecost.[23] Yet certainly Luke has crafted his narrative in such a way as to present Jesus’ experience of the Spirit at the Jordan (and his OT commentary on this event at the synagogue in Nazareth) – which Turner himself acknowledges to be an empowering for mission – as the true parallel to the disciples’ experience on Pentecost (again, interpreted as a fulfillment of OT prophecy by Peter). Perhaps our differences are most clearly revealed in Turner’s judgment that “Luke does not think the majority of converts become actively involved in verbal witness/mission to outsiders.”[24] Yet it is precisely because of these differences (you can only disagree in the context of a discussion) that I feel Max Turner should be commended. He like few others has shown a willingness to engage Pentecostal scholarship and to address the key issues being raised by scholars from within this tradition.

The assumption that the early church’s pneumatology was rather homogeneous is also reflected in two studies that focus on the Gospel of John. Here there is a tendency to see John’s portrayal of the gift of the Spirit as one-dimensional. So Peter Stuhlmacher understands John’s Paraclete promises to be fulfilled as preaching in the community.[25] However, this conclusion misses the missiological context of the Paraclete promises, which form a part of the larger trial motif in John’s Gospel, and the forensic terminology employed in them. These aspects of the text call us to recognize that the Paraclete comes to the disciples as their advocate, one who assists them in presenting the case of Christ against the world. He accomplishes this task by enabling bold witness in the face of opposition and persecution. Although the Paraclete grants wisdom – he helps the disciples recall and understand the teaching of Jesus – this wisdom is ultimately directed toward the world.

In her insightful essay, “The Breath of Life: John 20:22-23 Once More,” Marianne Thompson offers a compelling description of John 20:22. According to Thompson, “This is the moment in which the eschatological re-creation and renewal of God’s people, as promised in Ezekiel and Isaiah and anticipated throughout John, takes place.”[26] Yet Thompson assumes that this event also represents the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s prophecy regarding a future baptism in the Spirit (John 1:33) and the fulfillment of the Paraclete promises.[27] This is unlikely in view of the fact that the Paraclete is presented as the inspirer of bold witness in the face of opposition, not as the creator of new life. Additionally, the Paraclete will not come until Jesus departs (John 16:7).

I would suggest that both of these studies have missed the unique role that John plays in the development of the early church’s understanding of the work of the Spirit. I have argued elsewhere that the pneumatology of the Gospel of John, with its emphasis on the life-giving Spirit (received by the disciples at John 20:22) and the Paraclete promises (which point forward to the empowering at Pentecost), represents a synthesis of the prophetic pneumatology of Luke and the early church on the one hand, and the soteriological pneumatology of Paul on the other.[28] So John, too, makes a significant contribution to the development of early Christian pneumatology.

A second weakness of the book is reflected in several essays that leave the impression that the OT and related early Jewish writings are full of references to the Spirit as a soteriological agent. This is simply not the case. When it comes to the OT, Hermann Gunkel argued that no more than six texts attribute ethical significance to the Spirit and that only two of these constitute true parallels to Paul’s soteriological usage.[29] D. Hill offered an even more restrictive list.[30] My own analysis of intertestamental Judaism revealed that soteriological references are exceedingly rare.[31] In spite of these realities, Morna Hooker states without qualification that, “God’s Spirit is connected with the removal of sin in Jewish thought.”[32] Hooker cites Isaiah 4:4 to support this claim, but this text refers to the Spirit as an agent of judgment, not as the source of purification for the individual. Hooker correctly notes that the Qumran community does associate the Spirit with cleansing from sin, but there is no sense of balance or proportion. The vast majority of the relevant Jewish texts portray reception of the Spirit as reception of the prophetic gift, not as the means by which one is purified and granted spiritual life. Indeed, purity and spiritual vitality are generally portrayed as prerequisites for this gift. In a similar vein, Max Turner cites numerous texts which refer to the anointing of the Messiah and suggests that here the Spirit is presented as the basis of the Messiah’s righteousness and intimate life with God.[33] This judgment is highly improbable. Surely the Jews of this period would have understood these texts as references to a charismatic endowment of leadership gifts given to the Messiah because he is righteous and worthy. This is certainly how Luke understands Jesus’ anointing (cf. Luke 2:49, 3:33, 4:18-19). Jesus departs from the desert of temptation victorious and “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14) because he has demonstrated his worthiness to be the bearer of the Spirit. Marianne Thompson also reflects this lack of precision with reference to the Jewish sources. She points to three texts from “Second Temple Judaism” which speak of the giving of God’s Spirit as “purifying God’s people, leading to their renewed obedience.”[34] Yet two of these texts are almost certainly irrelevant: Jubilees 1:23-25 refers to the spirit of the people rather than to the Spirit of God; and Joseph and Aseneth shows clear signs of Christian redaction.[35] Again, the only references that actually link the Spirit with purity are from the sectarian Qumran community. In view of all of this, Joel Green’s claim, that in various early Jewish texts “sanctification is tied to the reception and activity of the Spirit,” should be greeted with skepticism and caution.[36]

However, there is one bright light in this discussion. Thirty-five years ago James Dunn called us to interpret the “promise” of Pentecost (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4, 2:33, 2:39) against the backdrop of a plethora of OT texts, none of which were mentioned by Luke or linked in the suggested manner with Joel’s prophecy by early Jewish thinkers.[37] This furthered the faulty assumption that OT prophecies concerning the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit were understood by the Jews of Jesus’ day in concert – that they were all interpreted rather broadly to refer to a dynamic conversion experience whereby the Spirit grants one a new heart for God. A very positive sign that things are changing is found in Scot McKnight’s intriguing essay. McKnight recognizes the important distinction between the gift of the Spirit interpreted as a fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32 (Acts 2:17-21) and the gift of the Spirit viewed as a fulfillment of Ezekiel 36:26 (e.g., 2 Corinthians 3:1-18 and John 3:5).[38] Therefore, he argues that it is only after Pentecost and by someone other than Peter that an early Christian associated the gift of the Spirit granted at Pentecost with the promises of new covenant existence found in Jeremiah and Ezekiel.[39] McKnight’s thesis, then, represents an important admission that Dunn’s earlier proposals were significantly flawed.


Finally, by way of conclusion, I would note that the contributors to this impressive collection of essays, with two exceptions, all come from North America or Europe.[40] They write about the work of the Spirit from relatively stable and tranquil settings, from countries where the Christian churches have long histories and deep roots. Surely at times it is difficult for the authors of this volume, and for most of us, to identify with the persecuted and harassed Christians that lived in the pioneer settings that many of the New Testament writers address. This suggests that Ulrich Luz’s challenge may require some modification: “Only when we allow ourselves to receive new insight from [Christians living in other contexts]….will our reading of the Bible have a future.” This is an outstanding collection of essays that honor a well-deserving scholar. Yet perhaps we should acknowledge that James Dunn’s vision for the future voiced back in 1970 has been realized, a “new Christian presence which is both truer to…the New Testament and more suited and adaptable to our fast changing world” has emerged.[41] The only problem is that, for the most part, it is not to be found in North America or Europe. It is to be found in Lagos, Sâo Paulo, Manila, Seoul, and Beijing.

[1] James Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit (London: SCM, 1970).

[2] Graham N. Stanton, Bruce W. Longenecker, and Stephen C. Barton, eds. The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins: Essays in Honor of James D.G. Dunn (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2004). xxii + 382 pp. $50.00 hardback.

[3] Out of a total of 27 essays, 11 focus on various aspects of Pauline pneumatology, four highlight pneumatological issues in Luke-Acts, two treat related themes in the Gospel of John. The other articles discuss various topics, including background studies, John the Baptist’s prophecy, and Spirit-texts in James, 1 Peter, 1 John, and some post-apostolic writings.

[4] Ulrich Luz, “Paul as Mystic” in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins, p. 140.

[5] Luz, “Paul as Mystic,” p. 141.

[6] Alexander J.M. Wedderburn, “Pauline Pneumatology and Pauline Theology” in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins, p. 149.

[7] Robert Jewett, “The Question of the ‘Apportioned Spirit’ in Paul’s Letters: Romans as a Case Study” in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins, p. 194.

[8] Gordon Fee, “Translational Tendenz: English Version and Pneuma in Paul” in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins, p. 358.

[9] Robert Morgan, “Unity and Diversity in New Testament Talk of the Spirit” in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins, p. 12.

[10] Robert Banks, “The Role of Charismatic and Noncharismatic Factors in Determining Paul’s Movements in Acts” in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins, pp. 117-18.

[11] Scot McKnight, “Covenant and Spirit: The Origins of the New Covenant Hermeneutic” in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins, p. 54 (italics his).

[12] John’s pneumatology, which does not associate the life-giving reception of the Spirit with Pentecost, presents major problems for McKnight’s thesis. See my comments on the pneumatology of John’s Gospel below.

[13] As early as 1970 James Dunn noted the positive contributions of the Pentecostal movement, especially “their rediscovery of the Spirit in terms of experience.” And with wistfulness, he uttered the hope that “some synthesis of Pentecostal experience with older traditions” might “result in a new Christian presence which is both truer to…the New Testament and more suited and adaptable to our fast changing world.” See James Dunn, “Spirit-Baptism and Pentecostalism,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970), pp. 406-7.

[14] Ulrich Luz, “Paul as Mystic,” p. 131.

[15] Ulrich Luz, “Paul as Mystic,” p. 143.

[16] Ulrich Luz, “Paul as Mystic,” p. 143.

[17] A notable exception is Max Turner’s fine article, “The Spirit and Salvation in Luke-Acts” in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins.

[18] See Victor Paul Furnish, “The Spirit in 2 Thessalonians”; Paul Trebilco, “The Significance and Relevance of the Spirit in the Pastoral Epistles”; and I. Howard Marshall, “the Holy Spirit in the Pastoral Epistles and the Apostolic Fathers.”

[19] James Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity (London: SCM; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977).

[20] Max Turner, “The Spirit and Salvation in Luke-Acts,” p. 113.

[21] Robert Menzies, Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts (JPTSupS 6; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994). Turner acknowledges that “the majority of the Jewish texts treat the Spirit as a donum superadditum,” but he suggests that the Spirit of prophecy was also a transforming power that enabled the new spiritual life that was essential for the righteousness and life of the age to come. See Turner, “The Spirit and Salvation in Luke-Acts,” p. 112-13; quote on p. 112.

[22] Max Turner, “The Spirit and Salvation in Luke-Acts,” p. 110.

[23] Max Turner, “The Spirit and Salvation in Luke-Acts,” p. 113, n. 31.

[24] Max Turner, “The Spirit and Salvation in Luke-Acts,” p. 116. By way of contrast, Anderson correctly notes that “Most forms of Pentecostalism teach that every member is a minister and should be involved in mission and evangelism….” He terms this “the democratization of Christianity” and notes that “the mass involvement of the ‘laity’” is one of the reasons for the rapid growth of the Pentecostal movement. Allan Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 216-17. I would suggest that this perspective is directly related to the Pentecostals’ understanding of the Pentecostal gift as a prophetic and missiological empowering available to every believer.

[25] Peter Stuhlmacher, “Spiritual Remembering: John 14.26,” in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins, pp. 58-60, and p. 68: “The Sitz im Leben of the Fourth Gospel is the liturgy and catechesis of the believing community.”

[26] Marianne Meye Thompson, “The Breath of Life: John 20:22-23 Once More” in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins, p. 78.

[27] Marianne Meye Thompson, “The Breath of Life: John 20:22-23 Once More,” p. 77.

[28] Robert Menzies, “John’s Place in the Development of Early Christian Pneumatology” in Wonsuk Ma and Robert Menzies, eds., The Spirit and Spirituality: Essays in Honor of Russell P. Spittler (JPTSupS 24; Continuum, 2004), pp. 41-52.

[29] Hermann Gunkel, Die Wirkungen des heiligen Geistes nach der populären Anschauung der apostolischen Zeit und nach der Lehre des Apostels Paulus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1888), p. 10. Gunkel listed Isaiah 11:1-2, 28:6, 32:15; Ezekiel 36:27, Psalm 51:11 and 143:10 in this regard. The last two references were, in his opinion, the only true parallels to Paul.

[30] David Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings: Studies in the Semantics of Soteriological Terms (SNTSMS 5; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), p. 210.

[31] Robert Menzies, Empowered for Witness, pp. 48-102. The literature of intertestamental Judaism consistently identifies experience of the Spirit with prophetic inspiration. The only exceptions which portray the Spirit as a soteriological agent are found in Wisdom of Solomon and the writings of Qumran.

[32] Morna D. Hooker, “John’s Baptism: A Prophetic Sign,” in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins, p. 32, n. 38 (quote) and p. 39.

[33] Max Turner, “The Spirit and Salvation in Luke-Acts,” p. 113.

[34] Marianne Meye Thompson, “The Breath of Life: John 20:22-23 Once More,” pp. 73 (quote) -75.

[35] See T. Holtz, “Christliche Interpolationen in ‘Joseph und Aseneth’,” New Testament Stduies 14 (1967-68), pp. 482-97. The text Thompson cites includes the phrase, “…let her eat your bread of life, and let her drink your cup of blessing.” Citations like this indicate that this passage should not be accepted as an authentic reflection of Second Temple Jewish thought.

[36] Joel B. Green, “Faithful Witness in the Diaspora: The Holy Spirit and the Exiled People of God according to 1 Peter,” in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins, p. 291. Green cites texts from Qumran and two secondary sources.

[37] James Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, pp. 47-48 and “Baptism in the Spirit in Luke-Acts: A Response to Pentecostal Scholarship on Luke-Acts,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 3 (1993), pp. 12, 21-22.

[38] Scot McKnight, “Covenant and Spirit: The Origins of the New Covenant Hermeneutic,” p. 51: “…we need to observe that one of the earliest hermeneutical reflections on the Pentecostal experience derived from Joel 2 and not from Jeremiah 31 or Ezekiel, even though the absence of Jeremiah/Ezekiel reflection is often missed in scholarship.”

[39] Scot McKnight, “Covenant and Spirit: The Origins of the New Covenant Hermeneutic,” pp. 52-54.

[40] Robert Banks is currently teaching in Australia and Paul Trebilco in New Zealand.

[41] James Dunn, “Spirit-Baptism and Pentecostalism,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970), p. 407.

Post a comment

I accept the Privacy Policy

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.