Perspectives on Pentecost by Richard B Gaffin – a review

Posted: November 2, 2014 by J in Bible, Book review, Church, Church history, Theology

This review is by regular contributor Dan.


At The Grit we dig the big G. ‘Resurrection and Redemption’ is a great read, as is his more basic ‘By Faith not by Sight’ (which ties in much of R and R as well). So we had to read this one too. One other attractive point, nothing over $12.50.

Gaffin starts broad with a general discussion of the Spirit before narrowing down to the specifics of spiritual gifts, most specifically tongues and prophecy, for which he argues for a cessationist position. There’s plenty of extraneous stuff along the way, much of which is worthwhile. However I won’t mention much of that, nor his regular pauses to respectfully disagree with Pentecostal and Second Blessing theology.

So, starting general…

  1. The Gift of the Spirit.

For Gaffin, the day of Pentecost is hugely significant. ‘It is fair to say that everything said in the New Testament about the Spirit’s work looks forward or traces back to Pentecost.’ [News to me.]

Pentecost and Christ

He argues that the whole work of Christ could be seen as the securing and communicating of the gift of the Holy Spirit (with special emphasis on the fact that Jesus baptises with the Spirit). This is argued both from the direction of New Testament promise and fulfillment.

Promise: John states that Jesus’ work is to bring a spirit and fire baptism. ‘[This] baptism as a whole involves nothing less than the eschatological judgement with its dual outcome of salvation or destruction.’ This sets the scene for Jesus’ work. ‘For the Spirit-fire baptism […] to be one of blessing rather than destruction for the messianic people, the Messiah himself must first become identified with them as their representative sin bearer […] and be endowed with the Spirit, in order to bear away the wrath and condemnation of God their sins deserve. If that are to receive the Spirit as a gift and blessing, then he must receive the Spirit for the task of removing the curse on them.’ Gaffin is at his best here, seeing Pentecost in light of the bigger story of the Bible.

Fulfillment: As in Peter’s Pentecost address, the Spirit is the ‘promise of the Father’, ‘and so the essence of the entire fulfillment awaited under the Old Covenant.’ A ‘most basic, controlling principle’ for Gaffin is ‘the absolute coalescence, the total congruence in the church between the work of the exalted Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.’ The exalted Christ is the life giving Spirit. (1 Cor15). Their work is to bring Christ’s risen life to the church.

Pentecost and the Church

Basically, Pentecost establishes the church as the New Covenant people of God, the body of Christ.

Pentecost and the Individual Believer

The big point here, which contributes significantly to the greater argument, is that Pentecost is an unrepeatable moment in the History of Salvation, rather than a moment in each believer’s Ordo Salutis. We aren’t to see Pentecost as a ‘conversion’ moment. Eg. Peter didn’t start believing then. They had already worshipped Jesus, being continually in the temple (Luke 24). However, each believer is baptized en the Spirit ‘at the point of incorporation into the church, His [Christ’s] Spirit-baptised body.’ Again, Gaffin’s strength in taking in the whole story of the Bible is seen in his discussion of the pneumatological difference between the two covenants. He insists that the distinction isn’t between ‘theocratic endowment’ and ‘personal indwelling’ of the Spirit, but rather is found in the work of Christ. Gaffin’s summary is worth quoting at length. ‘This union, as union with the exalted Christ, is the immediate ground and source of all the other blessings of salvation, yet it was not enjoyed prior to Christ’s death and resurrection. Old Testament believers were regenerated, justified, and sanctified on the basis of Christ’s (future) work, but the mode of covenant fellowship in which they experienced these blessings was provisional and lacked the finality and permanence of union with (the glorified) Christ.’ The New Covenant in the Spirit makes us adopted children with new hearts, rather than slaves/minors.

Tomorrow, getting onto the gifts of the Spirit.

  1. J says:

    Hey Dan, I’m loving this review. That first chapter sounds like the one I’m most interested in: Gaffin’s take on the Spirit in the work of Christ.

    “the whole work of Christ could be seen as the securing and communicating of the gift of the Holy Spirit” – awesome insight. Gaffin at his best indeed. Never thought I’d want to read this book till your review.

    Thanks bro.

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