5
Aug
2013

No Greeting From the Holy Spirit?

I’ve always been intrigued by the way in which God greets His church in so many of the Epistles. Whether it is Paul, Peter, James, John or Jude, there is a standard format by which the church receives introductory blessing from God. One of the remarkable features of these greetings is that they uniformly come from two of the three Persons of the Godhead. This forces us to ask the question, ‘What happened to the Holy Spirit?” Why is the Holy Spirit not mentioned in these greetings? There are two possible answers we can give; but first it will be helpful to familiarize ourselves with the greeting to each church or individual:

  • “To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:7)
  • “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2-3).
  • “To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 1:1-2).
  • “To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:2-3).
  • “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:1-2).
  • “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:1-2).
  • “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Colossians 1:2).
  • “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:1).
  • “To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:1-2).
  • “To Timothy, a true son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Timothy 1:2)
  • “To Timothy, a beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (2 Timothy 2.:2).
  • “To Titus, a true son in our common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 1:4).
  • “To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer…and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1-3).
  • “James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings” (James 1:1).
  • “To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:1-2).
  • “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
  • “To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth…Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love” (2 John 1-3).
  • “To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you” (Jude 1).

It was the great Jonathan Edwards who first drew my attention to the question, “Why is the Holy Spirit not mentioned in the greetings to the churches?” In his Unpublished Essay on the Trinity, Edwards observed:

I can think of no other good account that can be given of the apostle Paul’s wishing grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in the beginning of his Epistles, without ever mentioning the Holy Ghost, – as we find it thirteen times in his salutations in the beginnings of his Epistles, – but [i.e., except] that the Holy Ghost is Himself love and grace of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; and in his blessing at the end of his second Epistle to the Corinthians where all three Persons are mentioned he wishes grace and love from the Son and the Father [except that] in the communion or the partaking of the Holy Ghost, the blessing is from the Father and the Son in the Holy Ghost. But the blessing from the Holy Ghost is Himself, the communication of Himself. Christ promises that He and the Father will love believers (John 14:21,23), but no mention is made of the Holy Ghost, and the love of Christ and the love of the Father are often distinctly mentioned, but never any mention of the Holy Ghost’s love.

(This I suppose to be the reason why we have never any account of the Holy Ghost’s loving either the Father or the Son, or of the Son’s or the Father’s loving the Holy Ghost, or of the Holy Ghost’s loving the saints, tho these things are so often predicated of both the other Persons.)1

Edwards’ explanation is palatable on many accounts. If God is His attributes, and the Holy Spirit is the agent of the Godhead in communicating those communicable attributes to the saints–and, if the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son (thereby mutually sharing in those attributes in perichoretic fellowship)–then it might be the case that He is not mentioned because–as Edwards noted–“the Holy Ghost is Himself the love and grace of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

While Edwards’ Essay is highly speculative (and even somewhat problematic in certain places), it seems to come close to providing the answer to our question. There might still be another related, yet somewhat modified, explanation. It may be that the Holy Spirit is not mentioned because He is always present with His people. He is the Person of the Godhead by whom we are sealed until the day of redemption. He is the downpayment of our inheritance. Jesus said that it was better for  Him to go away because, if he did, He would send the Spirit so that He would always be with His people. Since this is so, it is possible that the Spirit is not mentioned in the greeting of the epistles because the greeting comes to the church from afar–but the Spirit is always near. If a King sent a letter to His people in a distant territory, he would greet them from a far off place. This, it seems to me, might explain why the Father and the Son (who dwell in Heaven) are mentioned, but not the Holy Spirit (who dwells in the hearts of His people).

 

2 Responses

  1. My First thought on your alternate explanation is: But Jesus also has promised “Lo I am with you always.” And as touching God, who is omnipresent, then none can every hide or be away from him. Yet the scriptures also promise, “draw near to him and he will draw near to you.” or “he is a very present help in time of need.” “thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee.”

    As I read your article, I realized I had never asked the question, but also as I read, I thought it is the Spirit who works in us to will and to do of His Good pleasure.” And the Spirit is the Spirit of Grace. We are to ask for grace, and grow in grace. I liked Edwards who I understand you to say, It is a threefold greeting in that the Grace mentioned will be the work of the Spirit of Grace, the communication of Grace from the Spirit of God. Making these triune after all. Great question, great post, May God give me Great thoughts to accompany it.

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