Oddly enough, a study of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels introduces us to both the first and the last word of the New Testament concerning this doctrine. In the first three Gospels (called the Synoptic Gospels since their contents for the most part are held in common and can therefore be arranged in parallel columns on a page and “viewed together,” i.e., synoptically) the emphasis is primarily on the pre-pentecostal aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work in Jesus’ own life and mission. In the Fourth Gospel, on the other hand, the teaching, though drawn against the background of the earthly ministry, is anticipatory of the future pentecostal work of the Holy Spirit in believers. In the Synoptics the Old Testament idea of the Spirit is in process of fuller definition in the life of Jesus himself. In the Gospel of John the function of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost receives its definitive treatment in the New Testament.

The Synoptics And The Fourth Gospel

No serious study of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels can overlook this basic difference between the Synoptics and John. In the Synoptics it is the earthly Jesus who lives and fulfills his ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit; little is said of either the present or the future relation of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ disciples. In John the situation is just the reverse; little is said of the Holy Spirit’s relation to the incarnate Jesus, while much is made of what the Holy Spirit’s coming will mean in the experience of Jesus’ disciples and the church.

This is not to say that these emphases are in any sense contradictory. Yet the witness of the Synoptics and that of the Fourth Gospel have often been set over against one another in contrast. ...

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