It is a common Muslim belief that "the Holy Spirit" is just another name for the Angel Gabriel. In an article at "Understanding Islam", Laura M. Poyneer claims that there are Jewish and Christian sources which support this Muslim belief. She makes the following arguments concerning Gabriel:
Dated: 01 February 2001; Written by: Laura M. Poyneer
Article: Regarding the Christian Concept of Gabriel
In one of your pages, you report that Mr. Jochen Katz claims that there is a contradiction in the Qur'an, when it in one place (2:97) identifies the angel Gabriel as the entity which brought the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad (sAas), while in another place (16:102) it identifies the entity as 'the Holy Spirit'. Muslims do not see any contradiction in this, but instead take 'the Holy Spirit' to be a name or title for Gabriel, since after all angels and spirits are both celestial beings.
[Note: The name of the author and the URL of the article as given above were correct at the time of publication of our response. In January 2004 we discovered that the article has been moved to another location and the identity of the author was changed to "anonymous"]
It might be true that Muslims take "Holy Spirit" as another name for Gabriel, yet the simple fact is that the Qur’an does not support this. There is NOT a single verse in the entire Qur’an where it explicitly refers to Gabriel as the Holy Spirit. More on this later.
However, to a Christian, the Holy Spirit is part of God in the Trinity and thus can hardly be the same as an angel. So, Christians are not satisfied with the Muslim response.
Correction. It is not just Christians who believe that the Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Bible also explicitly teaches this as well. Both the Old and New Testaments clearly teach that the Holy Spirit is an eternal divine Person, not a created entity like the angels. Again, more on this later.
But did Christians at the time of the revelation of the Qur'an have the same understanding as today? Mainstream Christians certainly did, but there were many Christian movements that are now considered heretical, such as the Nestorians (who believed that Jesus only became divine as an adult) and the Monophysites (who believed that Jesus was only divine and not human), which were still popular at the time of the Prophet (sAas) even though they had first come onto the scene one or more centuries previously. Could there have been any heretical belief concerning the Holy Spirit that dated to only a few centuries before the coming of Islam?
Seeing that the Christology held by these two groups has absolutely nothing to do with their particular view regarding the Holy Spirit the author is guilty of bringing up irrelevant issues. In doing so the author chases after red herrings.
Furthermore, the author misrepresents the views held by these respective groups regarding the nature of Christ. For instance, the Nestorians have never believed that Jesus only became divine as an adult. Rather, the early writings of the Nestorians clearly demonstrate that they held to a very orthodox Christology. Author Gerry Redman writes:
This term is perhaps a misnomer, for Nestorius was not guilty of holding to the heresy that bears his name... Formerly, it was held that Nestorius believed in dual personality of Christ, but the discovery of ‘Book of Heraclides’, where he accepts the Chalcedonian Definition, has undermined this. His position was that the two natures remain distinct in the union. The Godhead exists in the man mind and vice versa, without mixture or confusion. The Incarnation cannot affect the impassible Logos in change or suffering. Christ experienced genuine human emotional development. Such is impossible if deity and humanity fused. Thus the two natures were parallel and undiminished as to their respective properties and economy.
For Nestorius, the term ‘nature’ was equivalent to the concrete character of a thing. - the quality of being human or divine; e.g., humanity is circumscribed by finiteness. Prosopon was equivalent to the external form as an individual; nature is not an abstract concept - human nature demands a real, external body & soul to exist. This also demands hypostasis (equivalent to concrete subsistence), thus the human nature of Christ was not a cloak, pace ‘Word-flesh’, but was objectively real - without dichotomising Christ, His human nature had real personality - as did His deity of course, though there was only one Person. Nestorius rejected Paul of Samosata’s dogma of the two Sons: the Incarnate was a unity - God the Logos and the man are not numerically two. Never divided in purpose or will. Thus there are not two Persons, but one prosopon, with two ousiai - divine and human. Nestorius preferred to use ‘conjunction’, rather than ‘union’, as the latter could imply confusion of natures.
The man was the temple in which God dwelt: it was a voluntary conjunction - gracious condescension on the part of the divine, willing submission with regard to the human. Christ was a single being with a single will and intelligence -inseparable and indivisible. ‘Christ’ is the prosopon of union – the prosopon is not identified with the eternal Logos or the man, but is the consequence of the ‘coalescence’. With regard to the communicatio idiomatum, the human actions of Christ should be predicated of the human nature, the divine of the deity, but both could be predicated of the Person. The trouble occurred because either party had differing starting-points, one stressing the distinction of natures, the other the unity of the Person. (Source)
Redmand produces quotations from early Nestorian writings predating Islam (c. 486 and 596 AD) illustrating their orthodox Christology. Here are some relevant portions:
It seemed good to his fatherhood and to all the metropolitans and bishops to write this composition of the faith… which accurately and plainly teaches us the confession... the same by which... all heresy is convicted and condemned which denies the Godhead and manhood of our Life-giver, Jesus Christ, accepting it with the exact meaning of the holy fathers, which the illustrious among the orthodox, the blessed Theodore the Antiochian, bishop of the city of Mopsuestia, ‘the Interpreter of the Divine Scriptures,’ explained, with which all the orthodox in all regions have agreed and do agree, as also all the venerable fathers who have governed this apostolic and patriarchal see of our administration have held, while we anathematize and alienate from all contact with us everyone who denies the nature of the Godhead and the nature of the manhood of our Lord Jesus Christ, whether through mixture and commingling, or compounding or confusing, introducing, with regard to the union of the Son of God, either suffering, or death, or any of the mean circumstances of humanity in any way, to the glorious nature of his Godhead, or considering as a mere man the Lordly temple of God the Word, which, in an inexplicable mystery and an incomprehensible union, he joined to himself IN THE WOMB OF THE HOLY VIRGIN in an eternal, indestructible, and indivisible union.
Again, we also reject... one who calls the one Christ, the Son of God, two sons or two Christs, or one who does not say that the Word of God fulfilled the suffering of our salvation in the body of his manhood. Though he was in him, with him, and toward him IN THE BELLY, on the cross, in suffering, and for ever, inseparably, while the glorious nature of his Godhead did not participate in any sufferings, yet we strongly believe, according to the word and intent of the writings and traditions of the holy fathers, in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, who was begotten before the foundations of the world in his Godhead, spiritually, without a mother, and in the last times WAS BORN from the holy Virgin in a fleshly manner without the intercourse of a man through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is, in his eternal Godhead and in his manhood from Mary, one true Son of God, who in the nature of his manhood accepted suffering and death for us, and by the power of his Godhead raised up his uncorrupted body after three days, and promised resurrection from the dead, ascension to heaven, and a new and indestructible and abiding world for ever. (Synod of Mar Sabris, AD 596)
These citations clearly demonstrate the error of Laura’s claims regarding Nestorian Christology. The author is also wrong in claiming that Monophysites believed that Jesus was only divine and not human. The Monophysites did believe in Jesus’ humanity. Yet they believed that Jesus’ divine nature took over his human nature so that the human nature ceased to exist.
This essay will look at the Holy Spirit in Jewish thought during the Talmudic era (circa 50-400 CE) since this is the background for the development of Christianity, and then at some Christian writings on the Holy Spirit from around 50 CE and from around 360 CE.
The author should have first consulted the Hebrew Bible to see what the OT prophets said regarding the Holy Spirit. It is only after consulting the OT that the author would have been able to know whether the rabbinic material accurately interpreted the data on the Holy Spirit. It is the Hebrew Bible, not the rabbinic traditions, which provide primary source material regarding early Jewish belief on the Holy Spirit. Near the end of the article we will present both the OT and NT data regarding the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We will then present the Islamic data. This will help the reader to see if whether the evidence supports the Muslim view that the Holy Spirit and Gabriel are identical, or if in fact the data shows that they are distinct entities.
The Holy Spirit in Jewish thought
The book 'Everyman's Talmud' by Abraham Cohen provides an introduction to the Holy Spirit in Talmudic thought:
"Another Rabbinic concept to indicate the nearness of God and His direct influence on man is that of Ruach Hakodesh (the Holy Spirit). Sometimes it seems to be identical with the Shekhinah as expressing the divine immanence in the world... More often it is employed to describe the endowment of a person with special gifts. Prophecy, in the sense of the ability to interpret the will of God, is the effect of which the Holy Spirit is the cause. Its possession also endows one with foreknowledge" (p. 45).
The similarity between this belief and the Qur'an's statement that 'the Holy Spirit' brought down the Qur'an should be obvious.
When one does read the passage in its intended context one will see that the rabbis viewed the Holy Spirit as God’s very own Presence. We present part of Laura’s own quotation, this time with added emphasis:
"… Sometimes it seems to be IDENTICAL with the Shekhinah as expressing THE DIVINE IMMANENCE IN THE WORLD..."
According to Cohen, the Holy Spirit and God’s Shechinah were viewed as being identical. The rabbis understood the Shechinah as God manifesting and interacting within time and space. Cohen states:
"What, in Rabbinic teaching, is God’s relation to the world? Is He thought of as transcendent and far removed from His creatures, or is He considered as being near to, and in contact with, them? The true answer is to be found in a combination of both ideas. The Rabbis did not look upon the two conceptions as contradictory or mutually exclusive, but rather as complementary.
When they reflected upon the ineffable Majesty of the Creator, His absolute perfection and boundless might, they reverentially spoke of Him as a Being immeasurably removed from the limitations of the finite world. But they, at the same time, realized that such a transcendent God was of little use to the human being who was grappling with the problems of life and yearned for communion with a Helper and Comforter and Guide amidst his perplexities and struggles. They, accordingly, stressed the doctrine that God was immanent in the world, and was very near to all who call upon Him in sincerity.
We have seen that in the cosmology of the Talmud, the Deity is located in the seventh heaven. His habitation was therefore infinitely removed from earth...
Much more prominent, however, in the Talmudic literature is the conception of God’s immanence in the world and His nearness to man. It follows as a corollary from the doctrine of His omnipresence... the Holy One, blessed be He, appears to be afar off, but in reality there is nothing closer than He... Can there be a God nearer than this, Who is close to His creatures as the mouth is to the ear?’ (p. Ber. 13a)...
With the object of utilizing the doctrine of the immanence of God in the world, while avoiding the suggestion that He could be located in any spot, the Rabbis invented certain terms to express the Divine Presence without giving support to a belief in His corporeality. The most frequent of these terms IS SHECHINAH, which literally means ‘dwelling.’ It denotes the manifestation of God upon the stage of the world, although He abides in the far-away heaven. In the same way that the sun in the sky illumines with its rays every corner of the earth, so the Shechinah, the effulgence of God, may make its presence felt everywhere (Sanh. 39a)." (Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud, pp. 40-42)
"The Talmud offers this demonstration of divine omnipresence: ‘The messengers of God are unlike those of men. The messengers of men are obliged to return to those who sent them with the object of their mission; but God’s messengers return at the place wither they had been dispatched. It is written: "Canst thou send forth lightnings, that they may go and say unto thee, Here we are?" (Job xxxviii. 35). It is not stated "they returned" but "they go and say", i.e. wherever they go they are in the presence of God. Hence it is to be deduced that the Shechinah is in every place’ (Mech. to xii. I;2a; B.B.25a).
The question how God could be everywhere at the same time received various answers. The problem was elucidated by this analogy: ‘It may be likened to a cave situated by the seashore. The sea rages and the cave is filled with water, but the waters of the sea are not diminished. Similarly the Tent of Meeting was filled with the lustre of the Shechinah, which was not diminished in the Universe’ (Num. R. XII. 4)...
‘A heretic said to R. Gamaliel: "You Rabbis declare that whenever ten people assemble for worship the Shechinah abides amongst them; how many Shechinahs are there then?" He called the heretic’s servant and struck him with a ladle. "Why did you strike him?" he was asked, and he replied, "Because the sun is in the house of the infidel." "But the sun shines all over the world!" exclaimed the heretic; and the Rabbi retorted: "If the sun, which is only one out of a million myriads of God’s servants, can be in every part of the world, how much more so can the Shechinahradiate throughout the entire Universe!"’ (Sanh. 39a)." (Cohen, pp. 9-10)
We see therefore that the Shechinah refers to God’s omnipresence and nearness to his creatures. That the rabbis identified the Holy Spirit with the Shechinah clearly demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is neither a creature nor angel Gabriel. Rather, the Holy Spirit is God personally manifesting himself and interacting with his creation.
Messianic Jewish Scholar Dr. Michael L. Brown concurs:
"Interestingly, there are several references in the Rabbinic literature to the Holy Spirit speaking, announcing, crying out, rebuking, and even serving as the counsel for the defense. For example:
The Talmud (m. Sotah 9:6; b. Sotah 46a) states that when the elders performed the rite of the red heifer (Deut. 21:1-9), ‘They did not have to say, "And the blood shall be forgiven them" [Deut. 21:8], instead the Holy Spirit announces to them, "Whenever you do this, the blood shall be forgiven you."’
Commenting on Exodus 1:12, ‘But the more they [i.e., the Israelites] were oppressed [by the Egyptians], the more they multiplied and spread,’ the Talmud states (b. Pesahim 117a) that the Holy Spirit announced to them, ‘So will he [Israel] increase and spread out!’ This is explained by Rashi and other major Jewish commentators to mean that the Holy Spirit said to the Egyptians, ‘Just as you seek to oppress them more, the more so will they increase and spread out!’
In Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer 31, as Ishmael (Abraham’s son) and Eliezar (his steward) argue about who will be Abraham’s heir —seeing that they are going together with Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to the Lord (Genesis 22) — the Holy Spirit answers them and says, ‘Neither this one nor this one will inherit.’
In a late midrash cited in Yalkut Reubeni (9d) to Genesis 1:26, after Ben Sira shared the secret, mystical teachings with his son Uzziah and his grandson Joseph, the Holy Spirit called out, ‘Who is it that revealed My secrets to mankind?’ Ben Sira replied, ‘I, Buzi, the son of Buzi.’ The Holy Spirit said to him, ‘Enough!’
Lamentations Rabbah 3:60, 9 relates that after the Roman emperor Hadrian indiscriminately executed two Jews, the Holy Spirit kept crying out, ‘You have seen O LORD, the wrong done to ME. Uphold MY cause! You have seen the depth of their vengeance, all their plots against ME’ (Lam. 3:59-60). This provides an example of the Spirit making intercession.
According to Leviticus Rabbah 6:1, the Holy Spirit is a defense counsel who speaks to Israel on behalf of the Lord and then speaks to the Lord on behalf of Israel. To Israel the Spirit says, ‘Do not testify against your neighbor without cause’ (Prov. 24:28), and to the Lord the Spirit says, ‘Do not say, "I’ll do him as he has done me"’ (Prov. 24:29).
"In all these citations, which can easily be multiplied (see, e.g., Genesis Rabbah 84:11; Song of Songs Rabbah 8:16; Lamentations Rabbah 1:48), there can be no question that we are dealing with a ‘who’ and not just a ‘what’, WITH A PERSONAL DIMENSION OF GOD and not just an impersonal power, WITH GOD HIMSELF and yet with a ‘separate’ entity who can mediate between God and man. And these citations closely parallel some of the New Testament descriptions of the Holy Spirit, although virtually all the Rabbinic texts cited were written many years later ..." (Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus—Volume Two, Theological Objections [Baker Books; Grand Rapids MI, 2000], pp. 55-57)
Interestingly, the Qur’an also refers to God’s Shechina called Sakinah in Arabic:
And their Prophet (Samuel) said to them: Verily! The sign of His Kingdom is that there shall come to you At-Tâbût (a wooden box), wherein is Sakinah (peace and reassurance) from your Lord and a remnant of that which Musâ (Moses) and Hârûn (Aaron) left behind, carried by the angels. Verily, in this is a sign for you if you are indeed believers." S. 2:248 Hilali-Khan
This passage states that the At-Tabut, i.e. the Ark of the Covenant, provided Sakinah to Israel. The ark contained images of two golden cherubs, the mercy seat, the tablets of stone, a gold jar of manna and Aarons’ budding staff. The ark was a symbol of God’s abiding presence amongst his people. This indirectly links God’s presence with the Sakinah. (Cf. Exodus 25:8-23; Hebrews 9:3-5)
Ibn Kathir notes:
"Their Prophet informs them that the sign of Talut’s blessing upon you is that Allah will bring you back at-Tabut (The Ark of the Covenant) which had been taken away from you.
Other Qur’anic references to the Sakinah include:
Then Allâh did send down His Sakînah (calmness, tranquillity and reassurance, etc.) on the Messenger (Muhammad SAW), and on the believers, and sent down forces (angels) which you saw not, and punished the disbelievers. Such is the recompense of disbelievers. S. 9:26 Hilali-Khan
If you help him (Muhammad SAW) not (it does not matter), for Allâh did indeed help him when the disbelievers drove him out, the second of two, when they (Muhammad SAW and Abu Bakr) were in the cave, and he (SAW) said to his companion (Abu Bakr): "Be not sad (or afraid), surely Allâh is with us." Then Allâh sent down His Sakînah (calmness, tranquillity, peace, etc.) upon him, and strengthened him with forces (angels) which you saw not, and made the word of those who disbelieved the lowermost, while it was the Word of Allâh that became the uppermost, and Allâh is All-Mighty, All-Wise. S. 9:40 Hilali-Khan
He it is Who sent down As-Sakinah (calmness and tranquillity) into the hearts of the believers, that they may grow more in Faith along with their (present) Faith. And to Allâh belong the hosts of the heavens and the earth, and Allâh is Ever All-Knower, All-Wise. S. 48:4 Hilali-Khan
Indeed, Allâh was pleased with the believers when they gave theirBai'â (pledge) to you (O Muhammad SAW) under the tree, He knew what was in their hearts, and He sent down As-Sakinah (calmness and tranquillity) upon them, and He rewarded them with a near victory. S. 48:18 Hilali-Khan
When those who disbelieve had put in their hearts pride and haughtiness the pride and haughtiness of the time of ignorance, then Allâh sent down His Sakinah (calmness and tranquillity) upon His Messenger (SAW) and upon the believers, and made them stick to the word of piety (i.e. none has the right to be worshipped but Allâh), and they were well entitled to it and worthy of it. And Allâh is the All-Knower of everything. S. 48:26 Hilali-Khan
According to these passages the Sakinah is something that comes down on and/or indwells believers. This clearly shows that the Sakinah cannot be an angel since an angel is unable to dwell within a group of individuals at the same time. Only an omnipresent entity is capable of such a function.
Finally, the author attacks a straw man since the issue is not whether the Holy Spirit brings revelation to prophets and men. All informed Christians believe that he does. Rather, the issue is whether the Holy Spirit is the angel Gabriel. Thus far, we have seen that the rabbinic data comes closer to the NT view than it does with the general Muslim position.
This belief is expressed in a number of other passages from the Talmud, which are quoted below:
"The Holy Spirit alighted on Solomon and he composed three books: Proverbs, the Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes" (Midrash Rabbah, Song of Songs 1.1)
"Hezekiah said to him, 'The reason is that I have seen by the aid of the Holy Spirit that worthless children will issue from me'" (Berachot 10a)
"By means of the Holy Spirit, Rabbi Meir knew what had happened..." (Sotah 16d)
"When these workmen came to Solomon, he foresaw by means of the Holy Spirit that they were to die in the course of the year..." (Pesitka 34a)
"Which [David] foresaw by the Holy Spirit would enslave Israel..." (Midrash 66b)
"As Abigail told David through the medium of the Holy Spirit ..." (Midrash Rabbah Ecclesiastes iii. 21)
It seems that the author has misunderstood or misrepresented the Christian argument. The argument is not whether the Holy Spirit inspires, brings down, or reveals God’s truth to the prophets. The issue centers on the Spirit’s identity, whether he is Gabriel or not. Thus far, the author has attacked a straw man by presenting passages that have no bearing on the real issue.
The Holy Spirit in early Christian thought
In the Bible book Acts of the Apostles, after the Holy Spirit has come and given the apostles the gift of speaking in foreign languages they did not know before, Peter quotes the Book of Joel from the Old Testament to explain what has happened:
"But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and manifest day. And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’" (Acts 2:16-21).
This is clearly referring to various forms of God's discourse with human beings. Thus Peter's understanding was the same as that of any Jew of the period, which has been described above.
We agree with the author regarding Peter’s understanding being the same as that of the Jews in general. Yet when we consider Peter’s words in light of the historical and cultural context one will soon discover that Peter’s views are incompatible with the author’s as Acts reports:
"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven AND FILLED THE WHOLE HOUSE where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT and began to speak in other tongues AS THE SPIRIT ENABLED THEM." Acts 2:1-4
The Holy Spirit is seen manifesting as tongues of fire and settling on the entire group of believers numbering 120. (Cf. Acts 1:15)
This means that the Holy Spirit is omnipresent and omnipotent since he is able to both fill and empower more than one person at the same time. In fact, the very passage Peter cites indicates that God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh. This means that God’s Spirit is fully divine, perfectly sharing God’s omni-attributes.
Yet this poses a serious problem for the author. Unless the author wants to claim that Gabriel also perfectly shares God’s omni-attributes then this passage does not help her cause in the least. We therefore see the author misapplying biblical texts since these passages do not lead to her desired conclusion.
Furthermore, in his Epistles, Paul often describes the workings of the Holy Spirit in ways that are consistent with this understanding:
"To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills." (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)
"By the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that from Jerusalem and as far round as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ," (Romans 15:19)
"And my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power," (1 Corinthians 2:4)
"Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:3)
"For our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake." (1 Thessalonians 1:5)
From this we can see that the first generations of Christians held views of the Holy Spirit that were consistent with Jewish thought of the time.
Since we have already shown that the Jewish view of the Holy Spirit is incompatible with the Muslim claim, this means that Paul’s views are also incompatible with the author’s position.
In fact, had the author carefully noted Paul’s statements she would have found them inconsistent with the Muslim view. In 1 Corinthians 12:3, 7-14 Paul states that the Holy Spirit distributes different gifts to different individuals and enables them to confess Jesus as Lord. As was noted, for the Holy Spirit to empower all Christian believers with diverse gifts means that the Spirit is omnipotent and omnipresent.
Furthermore, since Paul states that one of the Spirit’s functions is to enable a person to embrace Jesus as Sovereign Lord this implies that we are not dealing with one and the same Spirit. In Islam, to say that Jesus is Lord is to commit the sin of association called shirk. (Cf. S. 4:48. 116)
Yet from the biblical perspective, to deny that Jesus is the risen Lord and the Son of God is to have the spirit of Antichrist. (Cf. 1 John 2:22-23; 4:1-6)
Both positions may be wrong, but both can’t be right. It is the duty of every individual to examine the evidence and see where the truth lies, i.e. either Christianity or Islam, or perhaps neither!
Let us now look at the situation about the year 360 CE. In her book 'A History of God', Karen Armstrong, a noted British scholar of religion, describes Christian beliefs regarding the Holy Spirit during the fourth Christian century. It should be noted that the Gregory of Nazianzus quoted in this passage lived from 329-391 CE, so he was probably writing in the year 360 or later:
"The Cappadocians were also anxious to develop the notion of the Holy Spirit, which they felt had been dealt with very perfunctorily at Nicaea: 'And we believe in the Holy Spirit' seemed to have been added to Athanasius's creed almost as an afterthought. People were confused about the Holy Spirit. Was it simply a synonym for God or was it something more? 'Some have conceived [the Spirit] as an activity,' noted Gregory of Nazianzus, 'some as a creature, some as God, and some have been uncertain what to call him'" (p. 115).
From this, it does not sound like the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity had been developed at all until that time! Armstrong goes on to describe how the Cappadocians (Gregory of Nazianzus was one of them, from Cappadocia in what is now Turkey) studied the Bible, decided that the Holy Spirit must be divine and from this worked out the doctrine of the Trinity that is familiar today.
The author commits a gross fallacy. She erroneously assumes that unless the early Church also held the fully developed doctrine of the Holy Spirit then it simply cannot be true. Yet the author fails to realize that the data leading to the development of these doctrines existed prior to the fourth century. In fact, it was primarily the biblical data that led the Church to convene Councils in order to accurately define and canonize its position regarding the Trinity and the Holy Spirit. This was done to safeguard the biblical teaching regarding the Trinity from the false views that had crept in due to the influence of heretics.
Near the end of our rebuttal we will present the biblical data establishing the Deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit. For now we would like to quote the early Church Fathers’ views on the Holy Spirit. The following citations are taken from David W. Bercot, The Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs—A Reference Guide to More Than 700 Topics Discussed by the Early Church Father (Hendrickson Publishers Inc., P.O. Box 3473, Peabody Massachusetts 01961-3473). The editor, David Bercot states:
"The following passages reveal that the early church believed in the divinity of the Holy Spirit. They also reveal that, while believing in the consubstantiality of all three persons of the Trinity, the early church also believed in a hierarchy of order among the members of the Trinity." (Bercot, p. 345)
Bercot has a list of citations from the early Church Fathers, some of which include:
The Holy Spirit Himself, who operates in the prophets, we assert to be an effluence of God, flowing from Him, and returning back again like a beam of the sun. Athenagoras (c. 175, E), 2.133.
He [Isaiah] attributes the Spirit as unique to God, whom in the last times He pours forth upon the human race by the adoption of sons. But that breath [of life] was common throughout the creation, and he points it out as something created. Now that which has been made is a different thing from the one who makes it. The breath, then, is temporal, but the Spirit is eternal. Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.538.
GOD here assumed the likeness, not of man, BUT OF A DOVE, for He wished, by a new apparition of THE SPIRIT in the likeness OF A DOVE, to declare his simplicity and majesty. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.578.
He says, "I will pray the Father, and He will send you another Comforter—even the Spirit of truth," thus making the Paraclete distinct from Himself, even as we say that the Son is also distinct from the Father. So He showed a third degree in the Paraclete. For we believe the second degree is in the Son, by reason of the order observed in the "Economy." Tertullian (c. 213, W), 3.604.
He has received from the Father the promised gift, and has shed it forth, even the Holy Spirit—the third name in Divinity, and the third degree of the Divine Majesty. Tertullian (c. 213, W), 3.627.
Up to the present time, we have been able to find NO statement in Holy Scripture in which the Holy Spirit could be said to be made or created—not even in the way in which we have shown that the Divine Wisdom is spoken of by Solomon. Origen (c. 225, E), 4.252.
It was not by progressive advancement that He came to be the Holy Spirit... For if this were the case, the Holy Spirit would never be counted in the unity of the Trinity—along with the unchangeable Father and His Son—unless He had always been the Holy Spirit. Indeed, when we use such terms as "always" or "was", or any other designation of time, they are not to be taken absolutely, but with due allowance. Origen (c. 225, E), 4.253. (Bercot, p. 345)
Do we not have one God and one Christ? Is there not one Spirit of grace poured out upon us? Clement of Rome (c. 96, W), 1.17.
The most true God, is the Father of righteousness... We worship and adore Him, the Son (who came forth from Him and taught us these things, along with the host of the other good angels who follow and are made like Him) and the prophetic Spirit. Justyn Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.164.
Who, then, would not be astonished to hear men called atheists who speak of God the Father and of GOD THE SON, and of the Holy Spirit, and who declare both their power in UNION and their DISTINCTION in order? Athenagoras (c.175, E), 2.133.
Christians know God and His Logos. They also know what type of oneness the Son has with the Father and what type of communion the Father has with the Son. Furthermore, they know what the Spirit is and what the unity is of these three: the Spirit, the Son, and the Father. They also know what their distinction is in unity. Athenagoras (c. 175, E.), 2.134.
Christians know a God, and a Son (His Logos), and a Holy Spirit. THESE ARE UNITED IN ESSENCE—the Father, the Son and the Spirit. Now the Son is the intelligence, Reason, and Wisdom of the Father. And the Spirit is an emanation, as light from fire. Athenagoras (c. 175, E) 2.141.
We pray at a minimum not less than three times in the day. For we are debtors to Three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Tertullian (c. 198, W), 3.690.
For the very church itself is—properly and principally—the Spirit Himself, in whom is the Trinity of the One Divinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Tertullian (c. 212, W), 4.99 (Bercot, p. 652)
These citations demonstrate that both Gregory and the Cappadocians were faithfully preserving the teachings of the Apostles and their followers. Their position regarding the Holy Spirit faithfully represents the true historic view held by all orthodox Christians.
During the Talmudic period (c. 50-400 CE), most Jews understood the Holy Spirit to be something sent by God that was responsible for prophecy and revelation. The early Christian writers like Paul understood it the same way, and it appears that many Christians continued to do so even as late as 360 CE. If Gabriel was accepted as the angel of revelation, then none of these people would have been surprised that the Qur'an referred to Gabriel as 'the Holy Spirit'. They certainly would not have thought of the Holy Spirit as God, or as part of God in a Trinity. It is not unlikely that many Jews, and perhaps some Christians as well, even a couple of centuries after this period continued to understand the Holy Spirit as the spirit of revelation, and thus the Jews and Christians of Arabia may not have been surprised at all by the Qur'an's identification of the Holy Spirit as Gabriel.
As most of the author's claims have been plain wrong, her conclusion has no support. Let us now see whether the Biblical data supports the author’s conclusion that the Jews and Christians would not have been surprised that Gabriel is the Holy Spirit.
Continues on Part II