Luke 3:15-16…

Knowing what’s on peoples’ hearts and minds is an indication of deity for Jesus (Luke 4:23; 5:22; 6:8; 9:47; 11:17). But as I was reading through Luke 3 tonight, I noticed something in vv. 15-16; “As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all.” If no one told him these things, he then must have known what was on their hearts, which is attributed as a sign of deity in Jesus, but what is it in John?

I don’t mean to step on anyone’s Christology here, but this does seem to be something that one needs to wrestle with. Personally, I don’t think Luke is necessarily portraying John as being divine, but rather having a divine entity in him – that is, the Holy Spirit. And yet I don’t know. If it’s merely the Holy Spirit for John, then what is it for Christ? If Christ was merely empowered by the Holy Spirit, then where is God-the-Son’s divine power to read peoples’ minds and hearts? How does the Trinity still function if it’s only God in heaven and the Holy Spirit down on earth empowering characters like John and Jesus?

Anyone from Near Emmaus care to offer up their thoughts? Maybe I’m misreading the text; perhaps someone who knows a little bit more about how Greek words translate could offer up a piece of their knowledge? This is one of those things that keeps people like me up all night; trying to piece together a complex theological puzzle. Anybody’s thoughts on the matter would be great.


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Cherokee / Whovian / Sherlockian / Aspiring Auror / Lover of Jesus, Scripture, and creativity / MATS Student at George Fox Seminary.

5 thoughts on “Luke 3:15-16…”

  1. @Jeremy:

    I don’t think any of the passages mentioned indicate that Jesus was divine, per se. In Luke’s thematic structure, through his gospel into the Book of Acts, we see Jesus as the exemplary Spirit-bearer par excellence. John receives the Spirit in his mother’s womb; the disciples at Pentecost. But Jesus is born when the Spirit causes his birth inside of Mary (1.35)It is not until Jesus’ ascension that the New Covenant Spirit is democratized where any and all can receive it (Acts 2.38-39) fulfilling Moses’ prayer (Num. 11.29).

    The difference between John and Jesus is not how the Spirit works as much as it would be how the Spirit relates to the identity of these two people. Even in the Gospel of John where the identity of Jesus’ divinity, and his interrelationship with the Father and Spirit is made most evident,Jesus has no qualms with saying that after his ascension the church will do greater things that he did (Jn. 14.12). That doesn’t make us divine.

    Theologically speaking, Jesus is the one in whom God and humanity meet. Jesus’ death and resurrection allowed humanity to receive new life in the Spirit (here we enter into atonement models, which is another discussion. Even if Luke is not as explicit as John about the relationship between Jesus and the Spirit he is headed the same direction as John.

    In summary, the Spirit worked through John and Jesus just like he works through us today. In the kenosis Jesus was limited to what the Father revealed (which is why Luke can speak of him growing in wisdom, stature and favor in 2.51), but like the Gospel of John, there is a categorical difference in that the Spirit’ access to humanity seems to hinge on Jesus, the Messiah, the Spirit-bearer and giver.

    See also 1 Cor 15.

    1. @Brian:

      That makes a lot of sense; not how the Spirit functions, but how it defines? In John’s case it defines him as a prophet, but in Jesus’ case something much more? I think the only reason Luke 3:15-16 tripped me up is because in each of those verses I listed in Luke, my ESV footnotes noted that knowing someone’s thoughts was an indication of deity, but there wasn’t any footnote under 3:15-16. It just doesn’t make much sense to say that it identifies Jesus as divine when it’s actually an indication of, as you say, the Spirit at work. I’m thinking my ESV footnotes can be misleading sometimes…

  2. @Jeremy:

    Good catch! Yes, too often people want to find proof texts for deity where there may not be one and in the end it seems to undermine the claims of other passages where there is something there. Footnotes can be silly, and that is a great example.

  3. Jeremy and Brian,

    Great observations! To add to the discussion, I think that John can function in ways similar to Jesus because John was endowed with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15) as the prophets of the Old Testament were. There are instances where an OT prophet knew things supernaturally.

    As to Jesus, he could operate through both natures simultaneously. This can be seen where in the temptation scenes, Jesus is assumed to be the Son of God—by that very position as God’s Son, Jesus could turn the stones to bread. Yet, from the perspective of the kenosis, Jesus voluntarily refrained from using his divine prerogatives. Instead, Jesus ministered through his genuine humanity by the power of the Holy Spirit. With this in mind, it is possible to see how John and Jesus could know the thoughts of people: they both ministered through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ ability to do things as the Son was still there, but Jesus chose not to make use of it and instead chose to rely upon the Spirit and the Father.

    Jesus’ humble ministry of reliance upon the Holy Spirit does not negate his God-hood. At his very essence, Jesus was still God (in addition to also being human), so the ever-continual relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was still taking place. In the incarnation of Jesus, that relationship was made even more explicit because now all could see it at work—at the baptism, for instance; but also in Jesus’ earthly ministry.

    It would also be helpful to note that among the Synoptics, Luke is most explicit about the working of the Spirit. Recall the explicitness of the Spirit at work in the birth narratives; the temptations; the start of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee; Jesus’ rejoicing in the Spirit; and the “good thing” given when one asks, seeks, and knocks is the Holy Spirit—these things are all unique to Luke. So for John to do know the hearts of people is in line with Luke’s emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.

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