The Holy Spirit: God at Work in the World by William Simerly

“William Simerly has attended King University since the Spring of 2019 obtaining a B.S. in Religious Studies. In addition to his course work, William is currently the Director of Children, Youth, and Family Ministries at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Knoxville, TN. William is a postulant for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church and will begin his seminary studies in the fall of 2021.  William’s time at King has deeply impacted his discernment to ordained ministry and he is grateful for King University and the Bible and Religion Department for their role in his education.”

The Holy Spirit: God at Work in the World

Written by William Simerly, King University

            The Holy Spirit has been, since the beginning of Christianity, a source of deep affection and deep division.  The faithful have taken comfort from the beautiful descriptions of the Spirit found in the Bible throughout the millennia, while at the same time, theologians have debated what, who, and how the Spirit works among God’s people. Wars, schism, and more have been the result of these theological debates. In this paper, I hope not to cause a war or schism, but instead to shed light on how the Holy Spirit has moved and worked among God’s people and how it continues to do so to this day. There are two important ways of examining the Spirit: examining the nature of the Spirit, and the work of the Spirit.  I will start by examining the nature of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, by its nature, is a “spirit.” It is not a concrete thing by its original nature. The Spirit is however a person of the Trinity. Karl Barth states, “…the spirit is himself God, the same one God who is also the Father and the Son; he acts both as Creator and as Reconciler, as the Lord of the covenant” (Barth). The Bible, when describing the Spirit, always uses non-living, physical means when describing the Spirits appearance or perception by humans. Genesis 1: 1-2 states, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” In this first depiction of the Spirit, it is portrayed as a, “wind from God,” hovering over the primal waters of creation. However, this is not the only place in scripture where the Spirit of God is described as a wind. In Acts 2:1-2 it sates, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” These two separate depiction of the Holy Spirit as a wind help to illustrate the fact that the Spirit found in Genesis is the same Spirit and God found in Acts with the birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost. By the Spirit being portrayed as a wind, it allows the reader to begin to understand the fluidity that it has by its very nature.

The Spirit is not only described as a wind in scripture, but also as the very breath of God. In Genesis 2:7 it states, “… then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”  This scene portraying God as breathing the very breath of life into Adam portrays the Spirit as the giver of life. In John 20:22-23 it says, “…he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” Both of these passages from scripture portray the first and second persons of the trinity breathing onto humans and imparting the Spirit to those humans. This shows ultimately the power of the Spirit: the power to give life to Adam, and power to the apostles to do the work that Jesus has given them to do.

The Holy Spirit is also most famously described in the Bible as a fire. Exodus 13:21-22 states, “The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” This depiction of God leading the people by day and night in a pillar of cloud and fire is one of the most recognizable depictions of God’s Spirit from the Old Testament. The Spirit is most famously depicted as fire in the Book of Acts. Acts 2:3-4 says, “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” This scene from the Day of Pentecost and the birth of the Church illustrates the Spirit as tongues of fire resting on the heads of the gathered disciples, and the Spirit allows them to speak in other languages and share the Good News with those gathered in Jerusalem.  These two separate biblical stories show the Spirit as an agent of renewal. The Spirit led the Israelites out of Egypt and into a new life, and in Acts the Spirit gave the apostles the ability to build the church and renew the faith of the whole world in the God of Abraham and Jesus.

The second way that the Holy Spirit can be examined is by its work throughout the scripture. Hildegard of Bingen, a church mystic and writer wrote the following about the work of the Holy Spirit:

“I, the highest and fiery power, have kindled every spark of life, and I emit                        nothing that is deadly. With my lofty wings I fly above the globe: With                              wisdom I have rightly put the universe in order. I, the fiery life of divine                            essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows, I gleam in the                                waters, and I burn in the sun, moon and stars. With every breeze, as with                             invisible life that contains everything, I awake everything to life.”

This depiction of the Spirit helps to put a lens on the rest of the depictions of the work of the Spirit found in the Bible.

One of the very first actions the Holy Spirit does in the Bible is found in the Book of Genesis. As quoted earlier, the Spirit was with God at the beginning of creation. The Spirit was God’s agent of creation, hovering over the waters and bringing life to the world. The Gospel of Luke also portrays the Spirit as bringing life to the world, this time in the conception of Jesus, “The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God’” (Luke 1:35). Both of these biblical passages show the Holy Spirit to be the agent of creation and the incarnation. The Spirit brought life to the whole creation and also conceived new life in Jesus the Christ that would eventually renew the life of the world and bring about the Kingdom of God.

Another way that the Spirit works in the Bible and in our world today is that it leads us. In the Book of Exodus, the Spirit of God led the Hebrews out of bondage in Egypt into a new life in a new land.  The Spirit did this by being a physical pillar of cloud and fire. John 14:12-13 states, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” As Jesus says in this quotation from John, the Spirit will lead the apostles in their teaching and will lead the church.  Jesus was not done teaching and God was not done revealing truths about himself, so the Spirit was sent to us to continue this revelation from God to this day.

Finally and most importantly, the Holy Spirit is the bearer of Good News. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus reads from a portion of the prophet Isaiah, “He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”” (Luke 4:17-21).  This episode from scripture illustrates how the Spirit is the bearer of Good News. The Spirit seeks out and finds those on the margins and calls the Church to invite them in and make the family of God broader and wider.  The Spirit gave Jesus the power to begin his ministry of reconciliation and sharing God’s love. That same Spirit calls us to the same ministry today.

In conclusion, the Holy Spirit is a complicated and compelling subject.  The third person of the trinity has been given many names and has done many things throughout time, but to me the greatest of these is “comforter.”  The Holy Spirit comforts and guides the Church on our mission of reconciliation; a mission of reconciliation to God and each other.

Works Cited

Barth, Karl. Evangelical Theology: an Introduction. W.B. Eerdmans, 1980.

The Bible. The New Oxford Annotated Version, 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2001.



Could the Split with the Catholic Church be Prevented? Written by Mallory Davis:

Written by Mallory Davis, King University, Religions of the World

Mallory Davis, King University

My name is Mallory Davis. I was born and raised in Monahans, Texas a small town in the Permian Basin. I graduated from Monahans High School in 2019 where I participated in Acapella Choir, Lady Lobo Juniorettes, cheerleading, track, and a four-year varsity swimmer. I was a regional swim qualifier all four years and served as team captain my junior and senior year as well as being named Outstanding Female Swimmer those two years. My hobbies include scuba-diving, boating and fishing, and rebuilding old cars with my dad. I have led praise and worship at my hometown church and been actively involved in community service. At the end of my senior year of high school, I signed on as a dual athlete at King University to swim and cheer. I am currently a sophomore at King.


Could the Split with the Catholic Church be Prevented?

Mallory Davis, King University

Henry VIII has always been a controversial character in English history. The man was notorious for divorcing his wives or having them beheaded attempting to secure a male heir leading to the old adage, “Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced beheaded survived.” Life for a wife of Henry VIII was not very easy, but what if his first wife Catherine of Aragon could have given him a surviving male heir? Would he have still split from the Catholic Church, or would he have continued to stay with his wife of 24 years? Logistically, several things suggest that the break from the Catholic Church did not have to occur. Henry held a devout devotion to the Church in his early reign and was extremely devoted to Catherine of Aragon during her early childbearing years. Worried about securing the Tudor legacy, Henry only turned to divorce as a last resort after Catherine was unable to produce a living male son.

Henry’s Religious Upbringing

Henry VII had been religious from a very young age as was expected of him because he was only second in line to the throne. It was custom for the first son to become a high-ranking church official. Henry was given the best education possible and participated in things such as sports, music, and art. He would also partake in mass five times a day unless he was hunting; then he would only take part in mass three times a day. When his brother died at age 15, the death left Henry as the sole male heir changing the course of Henry’s vigorous religious training forever. Henry had to leave behind the idea of becoming a church official, but although he would be leaving it behind, he never forgot what he was taught by the Church and many things that he did after being crowned King of England at 17 reflected his staunch religious upbringing.

Henry’s Life with his First Wife, Catherine

Catherine of Aragon, in my opinion, was Henry’s only true love. He fell in love with her when she was stuck in England when Henry VII, Henry’s father, was trying to figure out what to do with her after his brother Arthur, Catherine’s late husband passed away. Henry VII solved this problem by marrying her to his second son who would succeed him as king.  He was married to Catherine for 24 years, longer than any of Henry’s other five wives. It was not until Catherine was in her 40s, and it had become apparent that she would not bare Henry a living male heir that he began to look for ways to solve his dilemma. His lust for a son who would take over for him after he died made him begin to look for other ways to get a male heir.

Henry Tries to Legitimize His “Bastard” Son 

After it became apparent that Catherine would not be able to give Henry the heir he wanted, he came up with a few ideas to remedy the situation. One of these ideas was legitimizing his healthy “bastard” son with Elizabeth Blount, a maid of honor to Queen Catherine. She became one of Henry’s many mistresses, and she had borne him a healthy son, Henry FitzRoy, in 1519.  Henry VIII decided that if he could not have a healthy boy with Catherine, he would make his healthy bastard son with Blount a prince by legitimizing him. Henry publicly acknowledged this son and bestowed many honors on him, including giving him the double Dukedom of Richmond and Somerset. It has been suggested that FitzRoy was bestowed with such lavish titles and positions

Defender of the Faith

Throughout these early years in Henry’s effort to begat an heir, he maintained a strong relationship with the Catholic Church. He even wrote a book called Assertio Septem Sacramentorum in which he defended the Catholic Church from religious leader Martin Luther who had written Ninety-five Theses, arguing against the perversion many felt was rampant in the Catholic Church. As a reward, Pope Leo X gave Henry the title “Defender of the Faith” in 1521.  It was not until 13 years later that Henry VIII would be forced to completely break from the Catholic Church after disagreeing with the pope over several things, most importantly, the refusal to grant an annulment from Catherine, who was by that time, obviously beyond child-bearing years. The annulment would essentially declare a marriage null and void, essentially saying that the marriage had never occurred in the first place. Henry had petitioned for this annulment based on Catherine’s brief marriage to his brother and the Biblical book of Leviticus’s teaching against marrying a brother’s spouse.

The Pope’s Refusal to Annul

Pope Clement VII delayed and denied Henry’s request for annulment for many years, citing several reasons for the denial.

  • The main reason was that the pope and the Catholic Church had already granted a dispensation for his marriage to Catherine, essentially saying that the Levitical passage did not apply to Henry. He could not annul a marriage that had been approved by the Church in the first place.
  • Secondly, the Church feared that an annulment such as this would be viewed as a divorce which was not recognized. It was against basic beliefs. As Henry was the “Defender of the Faith” and the king, the pope especially would not allow this divorce. It was believed if the king was allowed a divorce, then common people would believe it was okay to divorce their wives as well.
  • Finally, Catherine of Aragon was the Holy Roman Emperor’s niece. Charles V had conquered Rome and was holding Pope Clement VII as hostage. He refused to allow the pope to grant Henry’s request for annulment as he would not allow his own family to break from Catholic law and be disgraced by a divorce. Catherine herself was a very devout Catholic and had petitioned her uncle to fight for her cause.

Henry Divorces Catherine and the Church

For Henry, divorce from Catherine had been a last resort, but now it was the only option he had left. As the Church would not grant the annulment or a divorce, he had to take matters into his own hands. Henry’s mind was made up. He would turn his back on his own faith. Instead of prolonging the situation any longer, Henry declared himself the Head of the Church of England, breaking from the Catholic Church. He made Thomas Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury who then quickly granted Henry his desire divorce from Catherine. During these years of waiting for an answer from the pope, Henry had fallen in love with the young Anne Boleyn, one of Catherine’s ladies in waiting. In less than a year after his divorce from Catherine, Henry married an already pregnant Anne who had promised to bear him the son he so desired. In 1533, Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. Later, she gave birth to two stillborn boys, and Henry would have her beheaded on false allegations of treason to continue his quest for a son. However, by this time, the breach with the Catholic Church had become irreparable, and Protestantism was quickly spreading through England and other parts of Europe.

In Conclusion

Henry’s obsession with having a male heir finally led to his break with the Catholic Church. He maintained a strong relationship with the Church right until the end, indicating that if Catherine had ever been able to produce a living male son, he would not have pursued the route he finally took. Henry had first tried to legitimize his bastard son Henry FitzRoy and sought annulment from his first marriage before resorting to divorce and breaking with the Church. Only after the annulment was denied by the pope did he become desperate enough to completely part ways with the Church. This parting had grave repercussions on the future of religion in England. The Catholic monasteries were dissolved, and priests were relieved from their duties. Attending mass became illegal. Citizens were forced to take an oath to Henry VIII as the Head of the Church of England, and many who refused to do so were executed. Ultimately, the most consequential effect of Catherine of Aragon’s inability to produce a living male son for Henry was the establishment of Protestantism in England under the new Church of England.


Henry VIII. (2020, January 03). Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

How Henry VIII’s Divorce Led to Reformation. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

Person. (2008, August 08). Henry VIII. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

Robert Alter on Translating the Bible and The Art of Biblical Narrative

On January 29 and 30, 2020, Professor Robert Alter delivered two lectures at the Brigham Young University Maxwell Institute. In his first lecture, he discusses his translation of the Bible and in the second he discusses his writing of The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981).



“Robert Alter published The Art of Biblical Narrative in 1981—a seismic moment in the history of interpreting the Hebrew Bible. Literary analysis of scripture in the academy took off like never before. Alter’s work showed that biblical authors were not mere primitive scribblers; they were “among the pioneers of prose fiction in the Western tradition” in matters of narrative, character, organization, and so much more. Using the tools of literary criticism, Alter has helped countless readers find countless treasures in these ancient texts.

For nearly a quarter of a century, Alter worked on his own translation of the Hebrew Bible, which was published last year in three volumes of over 3,000 pages. In this special guest lecture, Alter discusses the challenges of translating scripture today.

In a lecture the following day, January 30, Alter discusses how he came to write ‘The Art of Biblical Narrative a book that inspired scholars to appreciate the craft and composition of one of the world’s most widely-read texts.”