On the revelation of the Holy Spirit and the problem of thirdness

Joanna Leidenhag, Kimberley Kroll

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


‘God is Spirit’ (Jn. 4:24) and yet one person of the Godhead is given the amorphous designator ‘Holy Spirit’. Unlike the recognizable designators ‘Father’ and ‘Son’, as well as the familiar relation that holds between them, this ‘Holy Spirit’ in his person and relation to other persons (divine and human) creates, what we call, the problem of thirdness. The first two sections of this paper will outline how this problem of thirdness leads the theologian adrift into (1) the Charybdis of impersonal abstractions, or (2) the mouth of the Scylla where it is swallowed into other (more tangible) doctrine. Whereas (1) attempts to answer the question ‘what is ‘spirit’?’, (2) is preoccupied by ‘where is ‘the Holy Spirit’?’. Note, the question of ‘what’ and ‘where’ do not arise in the same way, or with the same urgency in consideration of the first and second persons of the Trinity. The names ‘Father’ and ‘Son’, analogous to a well-known human relation, provide some relief here. The ‘Father’ and the ‘Son’ are clearly persons whose identities are understood in an ordered yet equal and loving relation to one another. By contrast, the third person who bears the name ‘Holy Spirit’ provides no such relief, and so the theologian is thrown back on to the questions ‘what is ‘spirit’?’ and ‘where is ‘spirit’?’, or put another way, ‘how do we fit a third person, the Holy Spirit, into our understanding of the Godhead?’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Third Person of the Trinity
Subtitle of host publicationExplorations in Constructive Dogmatics
EditorsOliver D. Crisp, Fred Sanders
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9780310106913
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

Publication series

NameLos Angeles Theology Conference Series


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