Bibligraphical Info: Yarnell, Malcolm, B., III. Who Is The Holy Spirit? Biblical Insights into His Divine Person. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2019. 121pp. $19.99.
Vera McKissic is a student at Southwestern and is the wife of our good friend, Pastor Dwight McKissic.
Malcolm Yarnell is research professor of Systematic Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. His purposes in writing this book is to instruct the current generation in who the Holy Spirit is based upon description of Him found in Scripture. Dr. Yarnell was also motivated by the lack of material written about the person of the Holy Spirit as opposed to the work of the Holy Spirit. His intent in this work is to “rectify a widespread knowledge gap by answering the question, who is the Holy Spirit?”
Dr. Yarnell admits in his introduction that instead of his usual academic style of writing, this work is written in common language to instruct preachers and teachers about the Holy Spirit, leading them to worship of and through the Holy Spirit.
Chapter one starts with an analysis of the words, God and Spirit in the book of Genesis. The professor contends that Genesis 1 teaches that the Spirit is mysterious, the Mover, and mighty. The Ruah Elohim, “Spirit of God,” existed when there was nothing else. In Genesis 6:3 the word ruah has the personal singular possessive suffix attached to it, giving it the meaning of the Spirit or breath belonging to God. As a Mover, the Spirit hovered over the surface of the water. In Deuteronomy 32:11 the Lord hovers over his young. In Exodus 13:21-22 the Lord guided Israel by the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire. The book espouses that because of biblical linguistic associations we may associate the activity of the Spirit in Genesis 1 with God’s providing presence in Exodus and Deuteronomy. The chapter also explains that the Spirit of God has the power of God using the words of the Psalmist when he spoke, “The heavens were made by the word of the Lord, and all the stars, by the breath [Ruah, Spirit] of his mouth” (Ps 33:6).
The question of whether the Spirit is Lord is the subject of chapter two. Dr. Yarnell used the narrative of 1 Samuel to show that the Spirit is the sovereign God and Lord. The Spirit anointed Saul as king in 1 Samuel 10:1 and in 10:10 the Spirit-empowered Saul to prophesy and proclaim the word of God with the other prophets. The Spirit is seen as sovereign in that He comes and leaves as He wills. After Saul was rejected because of his sinful heart, David was anointed as king by the Spirit in 16:13. According to Dr. Yarnell, chapters 18-19 of 1 Samuel affirm the Spirit as Lord and God.
Chapter three discusses why we call the Spirit, “Holy.” The book states that there are only three times that the Old Testament calls the Spirit of God, “the Holy Spirit.” The first reference is found in Psalm 51:11 and the other two are found in Isaiah 63 in verses 10 and 11. David in this Psalm called upon the righteous character of God which David knew did not change. Dr. Yarnell said David confessed his knowledge of God’s character before appealing to Him for forgiveness. The subject of sin is raised then as the human character trait that contradicts the character of God.
The holiness of God is defined in the Hebrew term, qadosh, meaning “holy” or “Holy One.” Dr. Yarnell states, “The first meaning of holiness is that which is unique and transcendent. God is the “the Wholly Other,” He goes on to say that the term Holy could be used as a name for God.
Isaiah’s concept of God as holy comes from his vision in the temple (Isa 6:3) where the angels cry out “holy, holy, holy.” In the vision, Isaiah is convicted of his “uncleanness,” but he is purified by God with the image of the burning coal from the altar. This lays a foundation for the meaning of “holy” as moral purity which continues in the New Testament. In as much as holiness is the opposite of sin, this holiness was required of God’s people made in His image. In addition to the issue of sin as it relates to the holiness of God, Dr. Yarnell discusses the topics of “a Steadfast Spirit, “A Willing Spirit,” and “A Broken Spirit” as it relates to the Spirit of God. He concludes by saying that “the coupling of the character of God as “holy” with the presence of God as “Spirit” will have significant ramifications for the rest of the biblical canon.” Since both terms can be used as the divine name, bringing them together created the title, “Holy Spirit.”
The relationship of the Holy Spirit to Jesus is the subject of chapter four. The book presents four ways the Spirit played a role in the life of Jesus primarily from the gospel of Matthew. He shares how the Synoptics present the life of Jesus starting with His humanity and then progresses to His deity.
Matthew 1:18-21 presents the Spirit as the conceiver of Jesus. Joseph was informed by the angel that Mary, his future wife was pregnant from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is then seen as commissioner of Christ’s ministry on earth when He appeared at Jesus’ baptism by John. In addition to Jesus’ baptism, the chapter discusses the baptism with the Holy Spirit and baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire. The Spirit is viewed as the companion of Jesus as He directs Him through the wilderness encounter in Matthew 4. Dr. Yarnell writes that Jesus had the Holy Spirit as a companion when He drove out evil spirits and brought healing. Jesus defended the work of the Holy Spirit when the Pharisees accused him of blasphemy. Lastly, the chapter addresses how the Spirit shares deity with Christ through the Great Commission.
Chapter five gives insight into the personhood of the Spirit by examining his relationships in the gospel of John. Description is given of his relationship to God, believers and the world. Dr. Yarnell states that while most of the Spirit’s relational identity is found primarily in chapters 14-16, there are six pneumatic episodes in the first thirteen chapters. The noted episodes include: the Spirit’s witness to Jesus’ baptism in John 1, the Nicodemus born again narrative in John 3, the discourse in John 3:34 where God gives the Spirit without measure, the admonition to worship in Spirit and truth in John 4, the function of the Spirit as the one who gives life in 6:63, and the work of the Spirit in 7:39 to place life in the soul of humans.
Chapter five then turns to the Paraclete sayings found in “the Farewell Discourse.” Jesus’ words on the deity of the Spirit is summarized in four theological rules.
“The Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father. The Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son. The Father sends the Spirit at the Son’s request. The Holy Spirit is fully divine with the Father and Son. The Spirit and the Son must be perceived as intimately related in both being and work but must be maintained simultaneously as different.”
The Spirit’s relationship to believers is said to be that of regeneration, enabling believers to worship, and living within the believer. He is also a Counselor, under the label of “the Spirit of truth.”
Dr. Yarnell writes in his section on the Spirit in relationship to the world that the “Spirit of truth” brought truth to the world by assisting and utilizing the disciples to bring truth to the world from which unbelievers would be saved. The natural world is unable to receive God without the truth of Scripture as revealed by the Spirit.
The subject of the relationship of the Spirit to believers is continued in chapter six with insights from the book of Romans. Dr. Yarnell calls Paul the ‘theologian of the Spirit,’ because of the comprehensive amount of material Paul wrote on the subject. He writes that Romans 8 gives the most focused attention to the subject of the Spirit for in it Pneuma is used twenty-one times. Romans 8 he says describes the progress and end of salvation in Jesus Christ. He writes that the human spirit alone cannot embrace the gift of Christ. Romans 8 tells of the God’s plan for the Spirit to bring to humans, the Spirit of life, the Spirit of adoption and the Spirit of intercession. After expounding on these three works of the Spirit, Dr. Yarnell concludes by emphasizing that “Paul identified the Holy Spirit as the Intercessor, for only he can do in the human heart the work required for communion with God.”
In the final chapter entitled, Who Is the Holy Spirit to You? Dr. Yarnell gives positive and negative theology thoughts on the Spirit. He concludes by saying the mystery of the Spirit should drive us to worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
 Malcolm B. Yarnell III, Who Is The Holy Spirit?: Biblical Insights into His Divine Person (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2019), 17.
 Yarnell, “Who Is The Holy Spirit?”, 11.
 Yarnell, 44.
 Ibid, 49.
 Yarnell, 89.
 Yarnell, 112.