Hypostasis in Biblical Literature Part Two

2      Hypostasis in Biblical Literature

Until now, the phenomenon of hypostasis has been studied in the realm of the ANE which included Israelite extra-biblical texts.  Having seen that hypostasis was a real occurrence in the ancient world, one should expect to find passages in the Bible in other than the proposed Proverbs 8.  There are subsequently several other examples in First Temple literature.  The Spirit of YHWH, word, and the glory of God are all salient examples demonstrating how God’s attributes could be turned into hypostases.  Again, we should be reminded that the attributes of a god or goddess were frequently hypostatized.  “Name” and “face”, were terms which indicated God’s presence in the world.[94]

We have seen that the phenomenon was wide spread in the ANE and was also native to Israelite religion in the form of aëerah.  What writers were saying about God in the Second Temple period was not just due to Hellenistic influence, but was a continuation of hypostatic thought which had existed for centuries and perhaps even longer.

2.1 Ruakh YHWH

Isaiah 63:10, describes the people as rebelling not against God, per se, but against his holy spirit, and as a result of that God fought against them.  This is more than a mere circumlocution for God.  The author does not avoid mentioning God at work like the writers of the Targumim, who “often avoid literal translation of such phrases as “God said,” or God spoke”; they choose instead to use periphrases involving such words as dibbõr, memra, “speaking,” or “the word.”[95] The writer here, however, is comfortable saying that God, and not a divine intermediary fought against the people.  However, the people are said to have rebelled against his spirit.  This is not the first time that the spirit of God appears in the Bible.

The spirit was thought to be the agent by which God performed many of his acts among men.  The “…spirit of God is the concrete representation of his power and activity.  The spirit of God is God’s numinous action in specific situations.”[96] In other words, the spirit is quite often, though not always, thought of as a hypostasis of God.[97] It is the part that is sent out by God to work among mankind.  At times the spirit is portrayed as identical to God ‘Where could I go to escape from your spirit?’ (^x,Wrme %leae hn”a)) (Ps. 139:7).  The writer is asking where he can go to escape from God himself.  Likewise, in the latter part of the verse  “Where could I flee from your presence” (Jerusalem Bible) (`xr’b.a, yn<P’mi hn”a’w>) the author equates ruaÊ with panim (face).  This is very illuminating in that ëm baÿl, (name of Baal) found in the Ugaritic text above, is one of the epithets of Aëerah.  Thus, the Psalmist is suggesting that there is nowhere he can go to flee from the hypostasis of God.  As pointed out by Ringgren, verbs used concerning the spirit shed light on the spirit’s role.  The spirit “clothes” Gideon (Judg. 6:34; Heb. labeëa, which in the Jerusalem Bible is translated as came upon)…”[98]

In later works, God promises to send his spirit to dwell among the people (Hag. 2:5).  Furthermore, the role of the spirit is very much parallel to that of Wisdom in Proverbs 8, which in later works become almost identical;[99] the two concepts were actually strongly intertwined leaving the reader confident concerning their identities: God and Wisdom were one.  The hypostasis and God were God.  Charlesworth observes this occurrence in the passage “unless you have given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high?” (Wisdom of Solomon 9:17)  He concludes that in 9:17 the author “plainly makes Wisdom equivalent to the Holy Spirit.”[100] The author understood Wisdom and the Holy Spirit to be one and as we shall see, believed Wisdom to be equal God.

2.2  Kabod YHWH

The other salient example of hypostasis in the Bible is that of God’s glory.  According to A. J. Everson, glory “…is not simply intended as an attribute or descriptive word about God; rather, the word kabod describes an observable phenomenon, something that is actually seen by people.”[101] In I Samuel 4:20, God’s glory is said to go into exile.  Like the spirit, which could be sinned against, the glory can also suffer injury – in this case a physical displacement.

Then she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”  (I Sam. 4:21-22) rmoale dAbk’-yai r[;N:l; ar’q.Tiw:laer’f.Yimi dAbk’ hl’G”~yhil{a/h’ !Ara] xq;L’hi-la,

`Hv’yaiw> h’ymix’-la,w>

laer’f.YImi dAbk’ hl’G” rm,aTow:

`~yhil{a/h’ !Ara] xq;l.nI yKi

The tradition underlying this text understood the glory of the Lord to be synonymous with the Ark where God’s presence dwelt.[102] The text makes it clear that both the glory and the Ark were taken away.  The name, however, also adds some further information regarding the strong lament over the exiled Ark.  Contrary to the widely held tradition that the name means ‘Inglorious’,[103] in which the particle yae was understood as there is no glory, the name is most similar semantically to its Ugaritic equivalent ’iy.  McCarter has demonstrated that the word is best understood in the sense of ‘where is?’ or ‘alas!’,[104] a meaning also found in SBH  (yae)‘ ’Ð -‘alas!’ (see also Eccles. 4:10; 10:16).  He also makes note of the term ’Ûy ‘woe!’ found in the LXX.  He concludes from this that the “name means, ‘Where is (the) Glory?’ or ‘Alas (for the) Glory!’  It belongs to a distinctive group of names referring to lamentation for an absent deity… the popular etymology of ‘Ichabod’ given in the present passage, therefore, stands close to the original meaning of such a name, which should have had something to do with mourning for the departed ‘Glory’ of YHWH.  The latter is to be understood as a technical designation for “the refulgent and radiant aureole which surrounds the deity in his manifestations or theophanies.”[105] The writer, therefore, must have either believed that none other than God himself was taken into exile or that somehow God’s presence (i.e. his hypostasis) could suffer such shame while YHWH remained enthroned in heaven.

The books of Ezekiel and Zechariah[106] also contain references to the glory of YHWH.  In both books, the glory is an entity capable of acting either on God’s behalf or independently of him.[107] In Ezekiel 1, the prophet is confronted with a very awesome vision.  An explication shall not be attempted here; suffice it to say that he describes the movement of the four creatures as subservient to the  (Eze. 1:12), the center of the vehicle,which is later called the glory of the Lord (Eze. 1:28).  Throughout his vision he is in relation not to God per se, but rather his Glory.

However, Glory was not an appellation for God, but was a hypostatized attribute which could roam in the unholy parts of the earth.  In other words, God could not leave his throne since it was simply impossible that the King of the Universe could suffer injury[108].  Therefore, God’s hypostasis – both thought to be God and yet independent of him, had to bridge the gap.  Consequently, we later see in chapter 10, that the glory, which dwelt between the cherubim, departed from the Temple.  There should be now no mistake that the Glory referred to God.  The same language is employed in the scene where the ark is captured by the Philistines.  And consequently, dAbk’-yai where is the glory?  God’s hypostasis was taken into exile.

2.3 Summary To Biblical Hypostasis

From the examples given (though more examples could be adduced) we may determine that the attributes were hypostases for several reasons.  First, Glory and Spirit were both regarded as more than abstracts.  They could move, act, feel, dwell, and even be taken forcefully into exile.  Secondly, they offered the worshipper a point of contact to the transcendent.  God was thought to be accessible through each of the agents and his power was manifest through them though God himself was not present and not accessible.

Therefore, our conclusion of the examples of biblical hypostases is that the biblical writers understood there to have been an intermediary between God and man.  Hypostasis was not a phenomenon reserved for the pagan nations, or writings which were never included in the Bible.  What is important to remember about the Bible in comparison to hypostases outside of its pages, is that the hypostases never take God’s place.  They act for God, are addressed by people, and can suffer grief.  They are in all senses equated to God.  However, we never see where the worship of the hypostasis supercedes the worship of YHWH.  Monotheism never becomes polytheism in the Bible.  The worship of the hypostasis did not result in forgetting YHWH, the originator of the hypostasis.


[94] B. Porten, (1968).

[95] The translation runs “Speaking said…” or “the word spoke…” (H. Ringgren, (1966). P. 308.) “The word, as it were, becomes semi-autonomous, interposing between God and man, and serving as a channel used by God to communicate his will to man.  The Old Testament itself contains the roots of this idea; there the word (dabar) can occasionally appear as a semi-autonomous entity.”  Ringgren, (1947), p. 307.

[96] Ibid. p. 93.

[97] J. B. Bauer (1981) p. 871, suggests that “the ruaÊ is a life giving entity.”

[98] Ibid.  See also Encyclopaedia of the Bible, p. 628.  “…the Spirit is equated with the ‘arm’ of the Lord, and represents the active presence of God among his people…  The Spirit is ‘holy,’ as being the active mode of the operation on earth of the transcendent God, and is virtually identified with the being of God himself.  The Spirit is personally conceived – no mere power or influence, but the object of a possible personal relationship.”

[99] “This wisdom…associated in the later literature with the word of God, the Spirit of God, and the Law, is represented in Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon as something more than an impersonal divine attribute.  It is a distinct hypostasis or divine being, created by and dependent on God but possessing an existence of its own: an associate of God in his divine work of the creation and maintenance of the world, and sent by him to dwell among men, and especially in Israel, to guide and instruct them and to confer God’s gifts on them.” Whybray, (1965), p. 11.

[100] Charlseworth, (1985).  See also Encyclopaedia of the Bible P. 628 for a discussion of identification of the Spirit and Wisdom.

[101] A. Joseph Everson, (1979), p. 165.

[102] So the people went to Shiloh, that they might bring from there the ark of the covenant of YHWH of hosts, who dwells between the cherubim.” I Sam. 4:4. (Emphasis mine).  See also Numbers 7:89.  Ps. 80:1 etc.

[103] McCarter, P. K., (1980), I Sam 4:21.

[104] Ibid.

[105] Ibid.

[106]In Zechariah glory was an agent which could delegate a prophet to go – “Glory sent me.” (Zech. 2:12).  Meyers and Meyers (1987), p. 165 indicate that  “represents divine presence, the Glory of Yahweh which manifests itself to the prophet and stimulated prophetic activity.” Therefore, if the Glory could actually command someone to go to the nations, as it were, then it must be an entity.  We should not make the mistake of passing off the glory as a mere appellative for God just because in one passage the author says “Glory sent me.”  (Zech. 2:12) and in another it is God who speaks.

[107] This phenomenon is especially apparent in later texts.  “I have not sinned before God and his glory.  “… and the spirit of Almighty God…”  4th Ezra 16:54 trans. Charlesworth, 559.

[108] see J. Levenson, Zion Theology (1992).


Ancient Israelite Hypostasis Introduction

Hypostases in the Ancient Near East Part One

Hypostasis in Biblical Literature Part Two

Hypostasis in the Second Temple Period Part Three

Hypostasis, Proverbs Eight, and Wisdom Part Four

Ancient Israelite Hypostasis Bibliography Part Five