Dan Treier on Word and Spirit, Revelation and Scripture

Daniel J. Treier, Virtue and the Voice of God: Towards Theology As Wisdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 197-8.
The Spirit helps to give the Word form. In that pattern of possibility we learn a lesson about the form the Christ-centered theological meaning of Scripture takes. The form of access is personal – holistic, embodied, and social – not strictly cognitive…the Spirit tans-forms us by the renewing of our minds in such a way that we are con-formed to Christ. Yet, although the Spirit’s renewal always takes a form like Christ’s and therefore fits within and extends the patterns of his mind in Scripture, two reminders balance this out with remaining freedom for interpretative practice.

First, who raised Christ from the dead so that he could ascend triumphantly as the God-man? The Spirit. Their relationship is not simply asymmetrical in favor of the Son, but always interpenetrating and mutually on the move. Second, what is the form of Christ? Not the form of God given from the Father only, but the Logos took human form and grew faithfully in the freedom of the Spirit as well. For the Spirit not only raised him from the dead but also led throughout his life and to the cross. Indeed, the Spirit superintended and strengthened the incarnate Son from conception onward. Moreover…the Spirit spoke through the OT “prophets” even before that. This means that the form of Israel’s servanthood, which shaped the vocation Jesus Christ fulfilled, was shaped by the Holy Spirit’s role in the economy of salvation.

Accordingly, while the Spirit’s freedom in illuminating Scripture for us is always bound to take the form of the inspired Word, that says a lot! The Spirit helped give form to that Word in the first place – not simply in the testimony of “apostles” after the fact, but just as surely before in prophetic testimony to the form the Son would take. Worries about the doctrine of revelation resulting in Trinitarian imbalance, or de-personalization of the Spirit, are best addressed not by denying that in Christ all things hold together, but by developing the Spirit’s salvation-historical role in proper Christimorphism…The Spirit’s formation of a particular people (Israel, in part via law) and person (the Christ) paved the way for the most universal freedom, which can embrace rather than bypass cultural particularity (the church).

In this light, implications of the famous analogy between the divinity and humanity of the Logos, and the divinity and humanity of Scripture, may take appropriate shape. God’s self-communication does incorporate three forms – three human forms, in fact, which include both personal and verbal factors. In the primary form, Jesus Christ, the personal factor seems primary; in the tertiary form, church witness and its forms of understanding, the personal factors also seem primary…; whereas, in the second form, Scripture, the verbal factor seems primary (it is the certain source for the Spirit’s connection between the church and the mind of Christ).


Thanks, this helps me understand the relationship between Word and Spirit, which I hear thrown out a lot (esp. by Webster).
Andy said…
Thanks for the quote, T. I've been wanting to take a look at this book.

I'm a little nervous about these thoughts. To me it sounds like the evangelical commonplace: the Spirit never speaks against the Scriptures. He's much more nuanced, but his use of "certain" in the last line is conspicuous.

Couple of questions first. Is the Holy Spirit also the Spirit of Christ? If so, in what use of the genitive, subjective or objective? In some ways, Treier wants to affirm the unity of Trinity, but he seems to be doing so at the economic level. What I wonder is if this leaves his Trinity feeling more like a cooperative three than a tri-unity.

But these are questions for him.

More to the topic of our recent discussion, I don't see how he escapes solipsism, either. Or, if you like, what keeps Treier from being a Montanist?

"The form of access [to Scripture] is personal," he writes, "not strictly cognitive." I'm on board with that statement. But here's where it gets fuzzy. In parsing personal he uses three adjectives--holistic, embodied, and social. The first two mean roughly the same thing. The last one is an anomaly. Especially when we consider how he goes on to say "the Spirit trans-forms us by the renewing of our minds in such a way that we are con-formed to Christ." If he really meant social, he should have added, "and in-formed into the body of Christ, which is the Church." No one can have God as father who does not have the Church as mother. This is why. Where two or more are gathered, there I AM in the midst of them. Hence the importance of the communal reading of Scripture.

Let me also take caution with regard to his next move. "First, who raised Christ from the dead so that he could ascend triumphantly as the God-man?" Wait, what? Perhaps we can acknowledge the agency of the Spirit in the Resurrection (even though in the West, the procession of the Spirit is not simply from the Father, but from the Father and the Son). But what worries me (and maybe he's just careless with his language) is the "so that." Is resurrection only on the way to ascension? And is Christ only God-man at the ascension? I must quote a relatively famous theologue here: Nein! Rather, Christ was God-man at the more proper determination of the form of the Word--the incarnation.

His next point is to say that Christ is equally the form of the Spirit, as well as of the Father. I've never seen this in Scripture, though I have seen that Christ is the true image of the Father. I also don't remember anything like that in the Creeds. Does the Son need the Spirit to strengthen and superintend (especially superintend!) him? Is not superintendence what the Law was for before Christ? And did not Christ come to fulfill the Law? And was not all the fullness of the Godhead pleased to dwell in Jesus Christ? Not to superintend this very interesting human who was the embodiment of the Logos, but to actually indwell with this Logos in Jesus of Nazareth? He speaks well, naturally, when he says the Spirit has spoken through the prophets. So, if we are to talk about the Spirit giving form to the Word, we must talk about Incarnation. This is the genius of Jamie Smith's suggestion in Speech and Theology.

I have to chuckle at how he balks when he does make it to the church. The three forms of God's self-revelation are the personal Son, the personal "church witness and its forms of understanding", and the verbal Scriptures. He forgets that modes of communication are not simply verbal and personal. And he might have done well to include, instead of simply church witness, the church and its witness, which is properly social. Sociality is as much a mode of communication as the personal and the verbal, and is perhaps more holistic than either of the others. Thank you, social theorists.

The Scriptures come in-between the church and Christ, as "the certain source of the Spirit's connection" between the two. That is, the Spirit's role of mediation between the mind of Christ and the Church is the Scriptures. While the Spirit has the freedom to work outside of the Scriptures, the Spirit does not speak against the Scriptures. My response: It is not that the Spirit does not speak against the Scriptures, it is that the Scriptures do not speak against the Spirit. The Spirit of God moves in the discernment of the Church, in meditation on the Scriptures. But the fixed meaning is not the Scriptures--texts can mean almost anything. The fixed meaning is the work of the Spirit who is revealed through the text.

What is the practical difference? If the Scriptures are primary here, then the literal meaning, the literal words, and thus only the original autographs and languages should be authoritative. They are not. In fact, we do not possess the original autographs, nor do we have any guarantee that what our text says mirrors them precisely. Hence, textual variants in even all major English editions. We trust the Spirit to be true, and the Scriptures only insofar as the Spirit has ordained through the Church that these Scriptures should be the primary voice of the Spirit.

So, I realize these are not your thoughts. But I naturally had to respond. Sorry if I sound a bit like a grumpy gus, but I really think Treier's Trinitarian and Pneumatological meditations need more nuance here, maybe even an overhaul. Plus, I just have a knee-jerk response to anything that seems to want to posit any kind of autonomy of Scripture. By which I mean, the Scriptures are not autonomous but are simultaneously subject to the judgment (authoring/interpreting) of God and the judgment (authoring/interpreting) of the Church. I think the work of the Spirit with regard to the Scriptures has been and is to make these two judgments align.

The length of your comment makes it impossible for me to address all of your concerns. I will say that I don't see the Trinitarian or Christological problems you identify - but that may be because Treier is working with a very Reformed Christology (from what I can tell), and that is how I roll too.

Anyway - and this may sound rude, but I'm being serious - what is your point? Your comments have read like series of nit-picking coming out of a very eclectic position, and I'm having a hard time figuring out precisely what sort of alternative you envision.

I don't have a problem (and I don't think Treier does either) with the importance of communal interpretation, nor do I have a problem (and I don't think Treier does either) with a community's form of life as witness (although, witness must also be more than this).

You are right about the relation of Spirit to Scripture: It is Scripture that is subordinate to Spirit, not vice versa. Of course, they don't contradict.

I'm not nearly as skeptical about textual meaning as you seem to be. Nor am I worried about textual variants, both because the most questionable material from the perspective of textual criticism doesn't have a lot of theological import, and because even if they did we would have theological resources to deal with them.

Scripture must still be understood as the community's norm. No matter what you want to say about communal interpretation, Scripture must be understood as something that addresses the community (you can say that the Spirit addresses the community through Scripture if you like; or better, Christ addresses the community through the work of the Holy Spirit and the instramentality of Scripture). It is this basic conviction that determines how I understand canonization.
Andy said…
Sorry T,

I'll refrain from such comments in the future. There were many things I had problems with in your brief quotation of Treier, and I could not synthesize them at the level of the comment.

The alternative I envision is simply conciliar Catholic Christianity. As I have mentioned on many occasions, I don't think you can hold onto the creeds or the canon without apostolic succession. There are many correlates to this position, including a downplaying of the autonomy of Scripture.

My point is--how does a Protestant system know it is the Holy Spirit according to which one interprets Scripture? If the Spirit is the access to Scripture, what is the access to the Spirit?

I'll leave my comment there. Conversation is too hard in this format.

This is precisely the point of the internal witness of the Spirit. I'm perfectly happy to say that the authority of Scripture is a confession of faith, that the shape of Scripture is a confession of faith, etc.

Nor do I think you need a conception of ecclesial authority so rigid as apostolic succession in order to get a canon that - in terms of the tradition - it makes sense to be confident in.

In any case, I didn't mean to discourage you from commenting. I'm glad that you have been. Your comments have just been hard for me to get at and address, partly because of their length and partly because I've been busy and tired the last couple days. :-)

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