It is time for me to read through Jon Levison’s Filled with the Spirit as I have said I would. Due to my lack of diligence in this matter I feel like I owe Michael Thomson of Eerdmans, and Dr. Levison himself, more than a brief sketch of the book. I have decided to dedicate several posts instead outlining the book from front to back.
My delay has not been totally unjustified. It has been a bit intimidating since I am not familiar with the work of Hermann Gunkle and Gunkle is an important figure in this book. It seems like one would want to read Gunkle’s work if Levison’s is to be understood. This has given me a desire to read Gunkle eventually, but I do not have the time now. Sadly, I will have to review this book with little knowledge of one of the main scholarly “characters”.
Levison begins with a story about the politics surrounding Gunkle’s career as well as his contributions various aspects of Old Testament studies. It is from here that he moves to the significance of Gunkle as applies to this book: the rejection of the German understanding of the Spirit as “the substance of human potential, as the force of ordinary human life” (xvii). Ahead of his time Gunkle suggested that Pneumatology must begin with Judaism. According to Levison, “Gunkle’s contention, of course, was the knowledge of Judaism would function to illuminate early Christianity and to underscore what was distinctive about it.” (xviii) This seems to be a common place presuppositions in biblical studies today; it was revolutionary then.
For Gunkle the focus was upon the Wirkungen of the Holy Spirit–the “inspired effects of the spirit”. (xvii) Several scholars began to pick up this motif in their own studies on the Spirit. For the last century Pneumatology has become an important branch of theology that prior to Gunkle seems to have been ignored. Levison comments in relation to his own work, “The questions Gunkle raised about the spirit provide indispensable direction for this study: the question of whether the spirit is invariably an extraordinary impulse; the role of early Judaism in reconstructing early Christian pneumatology; and the diversity of pneumatologies in the New Testament.” (xxi)
Levison’s goal in this book is to further develop Gunkle’s work by “offering a more in-depth analysis of Israelite, early Jewish, and early Christian literature and by pressing the case for farther-reaching implications in the study of ancient pneumatology.” In order to do this Levison adopts the paradigm of “filling with the spirit”. Why this instead of the spirit being poured out, coming upon, et cetera? Well, for Levison (1) “it applies more universally than most most of these, encompassing individuals and communities”; (2) it spans Israelite, Greco-Roman, early Jewish, and early Christian literature; (3) “language of filling with the spirit would become the most popular way of expressing the spirit’s presence for first-century Christians, more so that the others”; and (4), the most important, “The lens of filling with the spirit…is exhilarating in its expansiveness”. (xxv)
Levison will follow this motif, and Gunkle, by dividing his work to focus upon (1) Israelite Literature; (2) Jewish Literature of the Greco-Roman Era; (3) Early Christian Literature. It is to (1) that I will venture in my next posts. I am looking forward to going further into the book Amos Yong compared to Barth’s Romerbrief in its potential impact in its field.
One may notice that in my quotations of Levison he does not capitalize “spirit”. The reason for this according to n. 4 on p. xv is “I have consistently written ‘holy spirit’ without capitalization in order to prevent a misunderstanding that is based on the unnecessary distinction between an allegedly divine Holy Spirit and a human spirit”. This will unfold more as I blog through the book. Needless to say, there seems to be important theological implications for this small decision in regards to capitalization.
Just wanted to say hello – I am beginning a doctorate in Pneumatology and just reviewing Levison for a chapter in it, alongside Menzies, Dunn, Turner.
I notice you guys are doing Masters – I have just finished mine and waiting for the dissertation to be marked right now. Must say the Masters was the only way I could get any better at reading and writing theologically, so am really thrilled to have been able to do one.
Now trying to work out how the Anthropological Spirit (from Levison) fits into my study and its functionality relative to the soteriological Spirit in the NT. Hope section III of Levison will help me out on that.
So chuffed to see your article and look forward to reading more,
Best wishes Marc – in the UK.
Thank you for commenting. Where are you doing your doctoral studies? I would like to go to the UK as well. It would be great to hear more about your journey.
If I err in my comments on Levison’s book please let me know. It feels like a whole new world of Pneumatology. Much different than say Fee’s work. It is stretching my mind.
Thanks for the reply – my doctoral studies have just started with Dr. Kathy Ehrensperger at University of Wales, Lampeter.
The approach I’ve chosen is to look at Youngmo Cho’s Spirit and kingdom thesis and extend it by way of Paul’s charismata. I came across Levison along with his Spirit in First-century Judaism by a Google search on pneumatology. Am using the standard debate resources which (according to Levison) use the ITJ literature on the basis of Gunkel’s study. That them as you know gives direct access to the materials that Luke and Paul would have been familiar with.
Personal reasons for the study are to get more involved in Paul, continue Synoptic study and learn something about the structure of ITJ material. At the same time to improve my understanding of Dunn and Turner’s terminology, which better define the subject matter. Also want to see for myself the plausibility of a development in Luke-Paul pneumatology and their common and divergent understanding of the soteriological roles of the Spirit.
Sounds like I know what I am doing – but the learning curve over the past 6 months has been mind-blowing to say the least, and that was after the Masters.
Is Cho the pastor of that massive church in S. Korea? I am unfamiliar with his Spirit-Kingdom thesis. I should look it up.
Where did you do your MA?
The Pastor (now retired) is David Yonggi Cho of the Yoido Full Gospel church in S.Korea. Youngmo Cho is another AOG Christian who did his PhD in 2005 at Aberdeen University, Scotland, which is where Robert Menzies also studied. Youngmo’s thesis is called “Spirit and Kingdom in the Writings of Luke Paul”. But his style is in the vein of Dunn, Menzies, Turner and so very analytical and technical in its analysis of scripture. Levison to me is really accurate on the text, and ancient languages, but writes it in a very smooth creative way. So his strong theological mind is hidden within very rich language, which I have found inspiring and even impacts my own writing, which is quite wonderful. So he has helped me enormously in my doctoral foundation.
I did my MA at Regents Theological College in Nantwich, England – the Elim Pentecostal church seminary over here. One of the modules was on the Pneumatology of Luke and Paul, which was unbelievable – particularly as I had a very strong Christological focus and could not imagine being drawn away, in the sense of focusing on Spirit theology in addition to Jesus theology. So it had a slow but discernible impact on my inner foundation and view of scripture.
Also had to learn how to write theologically which was difficult as I am a High School Science teacher (evangelist). But the MTh., in addition to two years full-time Undergraduate theology, really showed me the need to reason and so was able to begin in a more analytical direction for my mission as an evangelist.
Where are you up to in your Masters? We do have a very high view of American theological colleges over here, as there is such excellent provision and commitment from what we read.
I did my MA in Biblical and Theological Studies at Western Seminary-San Jose. I am not working on my Master of Theology (Th.M) at Western Seminary-Portland (same seminary; different campuses). Your thesis sounds very interesting. Pneumatology is one of my favorite theological subjects.
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