How Might Grafting Elucidate Our Understanding of the Indwelling Relation of the Holy Spirit and the Human Person?

Kimberley Kroll
Tuesday 2 November 2021
  1. Introduction
  2. Fields of Study
  3. Discussion: A Merger Model of Indwelling
  4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

The primary aim of this article is to elucidate the indwelling relation of the Holy Spirit and the human person utilizing the model of a grafted vine and molecular transformation occurring at the site of the graft union. The model will show that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can be conceivably understood as a form of merger and yet not entail a fusion of ontologically different kinds, maintaining the Creator/creature distinction and avoiding the primary problem which merger accounts typically fall prey to. The metaphor of the vine as articulated in the Gospel of John (15:1-11) is the biblical point of departure.

It is worth noting, I do not believe that Jesus’s use of the metaphor subsumes later development in science regarding the grafting of a vine, nor that Jesus is seeking to provide a metaphysical account of the merging which occurs via the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. The metaphor’s historical context is the Hebrew bible and common knowledge of viticulture during the time it was tokened. However, it is curious that the metaphor can remain alive today and possibly provide greater explanatory power for the subject Jesus was explaining. That is, in the Gospel of John, the author points forward to and elucidates the work and relation of the indwelling Holy Spirit. According to the author, the coming Holy Spirit will be revealed as the abiding presence of God after Christ’s departure. The Holy Spirit via the indwelling relation is Holy Creator in direct relation with unholy creatures (individually and corporately such that human persons can be said to be both united to and participating in God).

There is little agreement as to what constitutes a model with further disagreement as to how one should measure its value. Though this is the case, models continue to be utilized in science to demonstrate and explain unfamiliar and complex phenomena with an appeal to logic (similar to the use of metaphor appealing to shared context). Though the indwelling relation of the Holy Spirit is not to be understood as primarily scientific, the construction of a model regarding its nature seems to be the best avenue for understanding its complexity, especially because the model is going to be used to elucidate a given metaphor. Due to the nature of the content of the model, there will be a focus on vertical relations within the source and target domains which are then shown to have similar relations horizontally between source and target.  The relations present between the relatum (vine, branches, vinedresser) are the focal point of the biblical metaphor. Therefore, the model is understood as relationally rich. The target relation is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit with the source relation being that which marries the vine and the branches (i.e., grafting and, particularly, the grafting site).

The intent of the employment of the vine metaphor seems to be Jesus’s explanation to his disciples of a future time when he will be in some sort of new relation with them—both present and not present. This sort of relation had not yet instantiated. By the time the author wrote John’s gospel, this new “present and not present” relation of Christ, i.e., the Holy Spirit “in you”, obtained. The model of the vine and its metaphorical relation to Jesus and his people is intended to provide content for what appeared to the disciples (and the non-believing reader) as contradictory and absurd. That is, if the metaphor was intended for only the immediate understanding of the disciples, it failed. There was an expectation of the agent, Jesus, that the metaphor would provide confirmation and further probative force when retrospectively contemplated, reiterated, and expanded by means of the target itself, i.e., the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God in the human creature acting as interpretive guide and teacher (John 16:12-15).

As will be argued in section 2.1.2, clearly demarcated in the metaphor, the Father tends the vine, the vine is Jesus, the disciples (and by extension those who will also be grafted in) are branches. Fruit represents the health of the relation between the vine and branches. Thus, the biblical metaphor presents and then leaves the hearer/reader with three metaphysical questions: (1) how is it that one is to understand this intimate sort of relation between the vine and the branches when applied to two separate subjects (i.e., we think of the vine as a single entity)? (2) how is it that Jesus, being Creator, can be united to creatures without there being a collapse in distinction? (3) how, if they are able to be united, might attributes of the Creator be shared with and produced in a human creature? And yet, if one interprets the vine metaphor as a model for the future indwelling relation which would be realized between the human creature and the Holy Spirit, there might be a way for a Grafting Model which makes use of the scientific understanding of viticulture and molecular transformation taking place at graft site to provide possible answers to the above questions.

2. Fields of Study

2.1 Textual Context: Biblical Studies

2.1.1 The Vine in the Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew bible offers a pervasive picture of the influence of viticulture in Israel.   This is evidenced in the specified vocabulary of the Hebrew bible which makes use of over a dozen poetic and categorical terms in reference to wine (the fruit of the vine) (see Sasson 1994, 402; Walsh 1996, 195-216).  Because of the semantic range and specificity of terms incorporated in the text, one infers that viticulture was vital to God’s people and that there was a common knowledge amongst the people regarding it. The Hebrew text assumes its reader has knowledge of how to cultivate and prepare the vineyard for the planting, training, maintaining, and harvesting of the vine.[1] A lack of detail regarding how-to knowledge of viticulture and yet extensive reference to viticulture presumes the reader would understand the basics of the practice and share the correct referent context when the common metaphor of the vine was utilized. One should note, the biblical use of the vine metaphor differs from the act of cultivation in that God is both vinedresser and sovereign over the abiotic elements which influence the health of the vine.  Therefore, within the Hebrew context any lack of flourishing in the vine was due to the vine itself.

In the Hebrew text, the cultivation of the vine is consistently used to point out the present state of the covenantal relation between God and his people (Isaiah 5:1-7; Hosea 10:1-2; Jeremiah 2:21).[2] The first explicit reference to a vineyard occurs in the initial non-covenantal act following the flood, when Noah plants a vineyard displaying the fruitfulness of the re-creation (Genesis 9:20). Next, the Mosaic Law instructs the Israelites on the cultivation of the vineyard (Exodus 22:5; 23:11; Deuteronomy 20:6, Deuteronomy 24:21). The laws in place for planting, harvesting, and gleaning focused on: (1) how to care and maintain the purity of the land, and (2) how to care and provide for the people within the larger social context. Pantoja notes, “The metaphor of YHWH as the ‘vinter’ and the people as the ‘vine’ became one of the symbols of the health of the divine/human relationship, as well as a barometer for measuring the level of social justice in the land” (Paantoja 2014, 450). The health of the vine’s fruit was a visible display of the health of the land as well as confirmation of God’s promises (Numbers 13:23). The freedom to cultivate a vineyard producing healthy and abundant fruit would be a sort of luxury; the capacity to practice viticulture needs a vinter settled in a single place over a number of years. Thus, healthy and flourishing vineyards were a sign of peace, stability, and productivity. Because of this, Yahweh’s promise of land includes vineyards not planted by Israel but given over to Israel as an act of grace (Numbers 16:14; Deuteronomy 6:11; Joshua 24:13). In contrast, the unfruitful vine  was the sign of a broken covenant and coming destruction (Isaiah 16:10, 27:2). The removal of vineyards or one’s inability to reap the fruit of the vineyards one has planted was a reminder of the curses and an indicator of being out of God’s favour (Deuteronomy 28:30, 39; Amos 4:9, 5:11; Isaiah 16:10). Sour grapes produced by immature harvest or a disorderly vine were a sign of the corruption of the people made evident through the fruit of the ground (Deuteronomy 32:32; Isaiah 5:2, 4; Jeremiah 38:30; Ezekiel 18:2).

Acting as a gauge for the health of the covenant relation between God and his creatures, it is not surprising that the metaphor of the vine is transformed to highlight the flourishing of the future restoration of the people.  The restored vineyard and its new, good, abundant wine-producing fruit assure God’s people of the future establishment of justice and rest for the righteous remnant of Israel by way of a new sprouting for which they might be grafted—the coming messiah (2 Samuel 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; Ezekiel 29:21; Psalm 132:17; Zechariah 6:12).

This new sprout, which restores their covenantal relationship with God, is what the Hebrew bible looks forward to. In the metaphor, the people of God will no longer be represented by the vine but its branches (Paantoja 2014, 185). There is something new coming; it is almost like a new form of mediation of power which gets into the vine itself, cultivating it from the inside out.

In the redemptive-historical narrative of the text, God is constantly bringing his unruly people out of a corrupted land and into a new land, a place prepared for them to eternally dwell, be at rest, and be fruitful. At the end of the prophets, the metaphor no longer refers to God’s covenant with the nation of Israel but the faithful remnant (Zechariah 8:12) and those who will be grafted in by way of the new sprouting (Isaiah 11:1-5, 10-11; Isaiah 53:2, Isaiah 56:1-8; Ezekiel 17). In the Hebrew bible there is a clear development in the use of the vine as metaphor with the vine transitioning from the nation of Israel to the new messianic shoot. Therefore, in John 15, Jesus marks himself as the Messiah, the true Israel, the true Vine, and explains how the relations between God and his people will be transformed from God being with his people in an external sort of way (e.g., Hebrew bible, Jesus incarnate) to abiding within them, internally indwelling via the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit.

2.1.2 The Vine in John’s Gospel

John’s gospel is a retrospective account of the life of Christ. The content of the gospel, if true, ensures that those who believe that Jesus is both Messiah and Son of God (as intended by the author (John 20:31)) have come to know this by way of the Holy Spirit who was to come and dwell in them after Jesus ascended. The author uses editorial intrusion as a tool that he might bear witness (μαρτυρήσῃ), i.e., at crucial points of the text the author adds commentary to aid the reader in understanding the theological significance of the subject being discussed.  The author is not only perhaps an eye-witness (Bauckham 2008) to the events of Christ’s life but due to the ascension of Christ having already happened at the time of the gospel’s being written, the author is guided by the internal indwelling witness of the Holy Spirit. The author’s use of editorial intrusion, therefore, serves not only as indicator and interpreter of crucial points in the text, but also illumines spiritual truths which the non-indwelt hearer has no epistemic access without commentary being provided (See especially, John 2:20-22; John 7:37-39).  John becomes an example of one who has received the Holy Spirit and can now remember the words and deeds of Christ (no longer as παροιμία  but with clarity) so as to interpret the life of Jesus and bear witness to the truth.

The Farewell Discourse begins in the thirteenth chapter with Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. After Jesus serves his friends through foot washing, the one who will betray him separates, and Jesus begins to privately instruct his disciples. The instruction begins when Jesus foretells of his departure and identifies himself with the Father (John 13:31-35). The disciples are confused as to where Jesus is going, why he is going, and why he will go alone (John 14:5, 22; 16:16-18). They desire to see the Father, not grasping that Jesus reveals the Father, does the work of the Father, and is the earthly manifestation of the Father (john 14:8). Jesus’s response to each of the points of confusion is made by way of gesturing ahead to the coming of the Holy Spirit who will aid them in understanding who the Son is and his relationship to both the Father and to his people (John 14: 15-21, 23-26; 15: 26-27; 16: 4-15). It is at this point in the discussion, a time of absolute puzzlement, when Jesus turns to the metaphor of the vine to explain the future relation of abiding in creation which will instantiate when he is no longer present via incarnation but via indwelling Spirit (John 15:1-17).

Following the metaphor, Jesus speaks to his disciples (those who will be in abiding-relation) of how this new relation works. In the world, they will be identified with the Son by way of the indwelling Spirit. As Christ bore witness to the Father, so the Holy Spirit will bear witness to the saints, and the saints by way of this internal witness of the Holy Spirit, will bear witness to Christ, for they will embody the truth. It is this sandwiching of the metaphor of the vine between discussions of the Holy Spirit which encourages a pneumatological reading of the metaphor (Byers 2017, 224; Engberg-Pederson 2017). The metaphor communicates a truth by way of a shared context—the cultivation of a vine. The metaphor acts as a tool in communicating the future relationship between God and those who will become followers of Jesus which depends on the future fulfilment of the Christ-event and the sending of the Spirit.

There is a living union of sorts between the vine and the branches and the proof and vitality of this living union is witnessed in the fruit it produces.  The metaphor uses relational terms of bearing, abiding, cleaning, glorifying; the interpretation of the metaphor connotes those relations and adds asking, proving, keeping, and loving which appear to be a sort of fruit.  All relations are dependent on the single relationship described as abiding (μένω). The first imperative appears in relation to the underlying model (15:4; i.e., μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί, κἀγὼ ἐν ὑμῖν), and five more times the term occurs in the subjunctive (being dependent on the initial abiding union). The second use of the imperative occurs in verse nine (i.e., μείνατε ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ τῇ ἐμῇ) as Jesus begins to explain the metaphor. Before Jesus ends his discussion of abiding in the vine and its target of abiding in the love of God, the verb occurs four more times, but never in the imperative. What is assumed is that every other sort of relation between Jesus, his disciples, and the Father is dependent on the initial imperative to abide in Jesus’s love just as the branches are to abide in the vine.

If we understand the future presence of God in creation being in the third person (based on the surrounding textual context), it would not be surprising that though the Holy Spirit is not mentioned at the time of its initial utterance,[3] the metaphor should be read in light of what has occurred (in time) since its initial utterance. Often what is primary in the use of a metaphor is that which is not explicitly stated but can be inferred from it.[4] The metaphor explains the state of the relation, i.e., abiding via the sending person of the Holy Spirit to indwell human creatures. In the surrounding context, Christ has explained that when the Spirit does come and remain in them, they will remember what he has said and be able to bear it because the Spirit dwelling in them will help them to understand  all he has said (including the metaphor of the vine) in light of the full revelation of Christ as incarnate God.

Thus, the vine metaphor is being utilized by Jesus to provide a model for the new way in which he will be present to his disciples, though he will no longer be embodied. Though the metaphor of the vine continues to be used to explain God’s covenantal relation to his people and the abundance of fruit continues to be significant in weighing the health of that relation, the metaphor has been significantly changed.[5] God is not only vinter, but also vine in the person of Christ; the people of God are not the vine but branches. The relationship is no longer merely external with God acting on the vine and on the abiotic conditions, though God continues to act and be present to the vine in these ways; God has become one with his people in that God is the vine. Christ has eclipsed and fulfilled the telos of the people of God. The people of God are made one in the Vine of Christ (whose branches are believers in him into which even the Gentiles have been grafted). The branches of a vine cannot remain, let alone produce fruit, without receiving nutrients from the vine with which they are intimately connected.

2.2 Material Context

2.2.1 The Grafted Vine

Grafting[6] is a classical method utilized to breed plants via physical attachment (Vogel 2012, 59). Though grafting has been practiced from at least 1800 BC (Warschefsky et al. 2016, 418; Mudge et al. 2009, 439). Human understanding of the mechanics of how plants graft remains limited (Melnyk 2016, 3; Warschefsky et al. 2016, 427). Grafting refers to the natural or controlled merger of plant parts resulting in a composite plant that functions and appears as a singular organism. Grafting consists of combining the upper part of a plant (scion) with the lower part of another plant (the rootstock) which can be of a differing species from the scion or have been genetically modified; the former contributes stems, leaves, fruits, etc., while the latter provides the root system and lower end of the trunk. The entirety of the plant, rootstock and scion, might be considered a chimeric-graft. Yet, each plant part remains intact and genetically distinct, retaining its individual identity with the ability to be separated.

Grafting requires a healthy and vigorous rootstock, and in most cases, a dormant scion. Grafting somehow facilitates the transfer of desired properties of the rootstock to the scion (Lusser and Davies 2013, 438-445); properties advantageous to the plant are produced and disadvantageous properties avoided. Grafting is used for clonal vegetative propagation, avoidance of juvenility, repair, biotic and abiotic resistance, size control, to create unusual growth forms, and cultivar change (Mudge et. al 2009, 441-444). The rootstock is thought of as the physical anchor of the vine, exerting some level of control over the scion through modulation of the scion’s phenotype, affecting nutrient uptake, vigor, shape, and quality of the scion (Melnyk 2016, 4; Cookson and Ollat 2013). It is important to note that changes in the rootstock do not change the genetic kind or genotype of the scion.

The operation of grafting begins with the wounding of two plants and is completed in the healing of those wounds via the graft or union site. Essential to successful grafting is permanent cambium contact (Kassai et al. 2011, 1-6).  Lying just beneath the bark, the cambium consists of the layer of meristematic cells (undifferentiated cells similar to stem cells[7]) responsible for secondary growth. The process requires both preparation (maintaining health and moisture of the cambium layers for union, proper cutting of both rootstock and scion, etc.) as well as time. It is at the graft site where “communication” occurs between cells leading to possible “substantial changes occur[ing], such as cell differentiation and organ regeneration, and even genetic material […being] exchanged between the scion and stock at the graft site” (Yin et al. 2012, 4220).

2.2.2  The Graft Union and Molecular Transformation

The scientific data regarding molecular transformation offers evidence that two distinct subjects with varying degrees of similarity can come together and interpenetrate without being identified as a new fused entity or blurring the lines of identity between the subjects involved. Molecular transformation, normally performed in a lab, can be observed naturally at the site of the graft union of every individual scion. In the case of induced molecular transformation, the modified cell (X), though now composite in that it has received and thus been changed by external RNA from another living cell (Y), retains its identity as (X).  The merged cell (X) can manifest properties of varied quality impossible without the merging of the two subjects and possibly entirely unique properties. If the two subjects are separated, they will lose that which has been gained and revert to their old form, i.e., if union is lost, effects of the union no longer manifest in cell (X).

At the point of contact between the scion and rootstock, i.e., the graft union, molecular transformation occurs by way of cambium contact and regeneration of cells in the wounded plant parts. In other words, at the graft union, cells of both the rootstock and scion begin to divide, regenerate, and differentiate, causing them to naturally bump up against one another and begin to share and/or transfer molecules with one another. This is often referred to as “communication” between cells. Understanding how healing and union occurs by way of contact is not clear. One way is that the injury to the plant produces an asymmetry at the wound site changing the transport dynamics. The second is that, due to injury, hormonal and mechanical cues trigger regeneration response in the plant. The former theory of healing might be thought of as a literal metaphysical restructuring of the plant; the latter theory of healing would occur through the activation of potential properties already existent yet dormant (and unseen) in the scion which require the interpenetration relation with a given  set of alien cells to catalyse their potential and affect manifestation of particular properties. Charles Melnyk (2016, 4) of the Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge explains:

The severed tissues adhere, the cells divide and the vasculature differentiates through a remarkable process of regeneration between two genetically distinct organisms as they become one. By understanding grafting better, we can shed light on fundamental regeneration pathways and the basis for self/non-self-recognition…Cell differentiation also occurs and cells rapidly lose and gain new cell identities. In cut root tips, cells lose expression of cell identity markers before regaining a similar or new identity. Similarly, these cell identity markers[8] changed location in healing tissues, suggesting a dynamic dedifferentiation followed by differentiation process.

The result of a successful graft union appears to be the formation of a single unit from two separate plants having different genomes. For this to be possible, there must be a vascular connection (similar to created vein pathways) between stock and scion for any unified growth to occur (Kasai et al. 2011, 1).  What is most perplexing, molecularly, is that only the graft site contains genetic material from both genomes (the scion and stock), though the scion has changed phenotypically (Stegemann and Bock 2009, 649-651). In the study of molecular transformation, particular attention is given to the grafting union because understanding its mechanics will provide insight regarding the compatibility of plants and long distance movement of molecules; the former being relevant pragmatically, i.e., grafting for a particular product, and the latter for understanding the mechanics of genetic transformation as a scientific study more generally.

Currently, the classical method of grafting is used in tandem with genetic modification. Genetic modification is performed in the rootstock only. The rootstock is engineered to deliberately transport protein to the scion to change its phenotype[9] and produce desired traits not naturally expressed in the scion (Vogel 2012, 59-61). There is concern in the field of agriculture as to how to identify the product (e.g., fruit) of the graft chimera.[10]

Understanding the vine graft provides a model of interpenetrating union which allows both relatum to maintain identity through the formation of a site of regeneration that shares in both entities, having a unique constitution of its own. Functioning as a single entity, properties are shared and transferred between relatum through the union site. The rootstock and scion are considered a single chimeric-graft, if and only if, a successful union is obtained. The union takes place through external intervention but can occur naturally (without genetic modification to the stock) by way of repeated contact. The union, initially a wound, goes through a healing process by which the rootstock and scion form vascular veins to heal together as one. Because of this healing, channels open at the graft site so that sharing of sap occurs between the rootstock and scion. The rootstock can be united with the intent to transfer and instantiate particular properties in the scion. These properties can change the quality of the scion and fruit. These properties can also change the way in which the scion interacts with its environment, thus allowing it to manifest what at least appear to be new properties.

3. Discussion: A Merger Model of Indwelling

Now that both fields of study have been reviewed, we can evaluate whether a Grafting Model can help to elucidate some aspects of the indwelling relation of the Holy Spirit. Here is a reminder of the three metaphysical questions mentioned in the introduction:

(1) How should one understand this intimate sort of relation between the vine and the branches when applied to two separate subjects (i.e., we think of the vine as a single entity)?

(2) How is it that Jesus, being Creator, can be united to creatures without there being a collapse in distinction?

(3) How, if they are able to be united, might attributes of the Creator be shared with and produced in a human creature?

Simply put, just as the rootstock and scion become one and yet do not share genetic material, so too can the believer abide in Christ and both maintain their distinct identities. The union site, where there is active regeneration, is the only place in the chimeric plant that undergoes what appears to be some sort of genetic transfiguration. The Holy Spirit as target of the union site, is able somehow, in his person, to maintain the abiding relation in a state of dynamic re-creation and transformation while initiating and allowing for the sharing of properties by way of his interpenetration of both entities—the Son and human creature. The Holy Spirit acts to both unite the Son and the human creature, and to maintain the distinction between the Son and the human person; he alone hypostasizes the union in his being just as the graft site is the only place in the graft where there is a differentiation, unification, and dedifferentiation of cells. Just as God the Son remains Creator when he assumes a creaturely nature thus being modified to take on the form of human creatures, so too the Spirit of God, condescending to dwell among human creatures in new indwelling relation, can remain Creator while united to the church by way of being united to its creatures. The Holy Spirit acts to resurrect what is dead in fallen yet reconciled human creatures, not by merely taking a single concrete particular of humanity into his own person through assumption, as is the case with the Son, but by way of gifting himself to multiple concrete particulars of redeemed humanity because Christ has made a way for human creatures to properly relate to God via his condescension, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The Spirit of life that was in Christ (and continues in him via inter-trinitarian relations) provides the new life of the Son to redeemed human creatures via the indwelling relation. It is what occurs at the site of union, the Spirit’s indwelling presence, which allows for transformation and transference of divine properties into that which the human creature can instantiate without a change in nature.

The Holy Spirit, through the unique instantiation of the relation of indwelling human persons to whom the Father has applied the salvific work of the Son,[11] communicates, transfers, and makes possible for instantiation the thoughts, feelings, quality, virtue, and status of the Son in the human creature. The peace, security, and stability of one being grafted into the Son is held firm through the ongoing sustained relation of the Holy Spirit’s condescending to indwell redeemed humanity. Because this merging relation of indwelling is maintained by and guaranteed through the promise of God and contained within God’s own being, the relation of union is one that is not dependent on the life of the human creature. Instead, it is the God with whom one is made to be in union, who instantiates that union, and is sovereign over all the external factors that might hinder that union.

Moreover, that which is now available for transference from the Son to the human person is not only that which is proper to a creaturely nature but also to the nature of the Creator, primarily a form of participatory holiness[12]; that is, the redeemed human creature in union with Christ and immediately united to the Spirit participates in the holiness for which the Holy Spirit receives his distinct name. It is this unique property of participatory holiness that produces fruit of a particular quality and is aimed at a proper end due to its being in right relation with the Holy Creator God. Further, there may be properties in the human creature which are, in a sense, “unnatural” or counter to this new participatory holiness, no longer able to instantiate freely due to the sharing of properties (e.g., propensity to sin, hate, etc.). These properties will not be eradicated in the human creature due to the new graft union, but they might be able to be made dormant or ineffective due to the power and additional characteristics made available via the new union.[13] And yet, if any of the latter properties continue to instantiate, one might think the indwelling relation of the Holy Spirit has not instantiated or the human creature is not properly responding to the relation (being unruly). Though this might sometimes be the case, one must remember that the human person, prior to union, has been conditioned to sin. Just as in a chimeric graft, it takes time for the union to affect the fruit produced by the scion; so too, one should expect that though the human person is given the gift of the Spirit and put in indwelling union with the Holy Spirit upon conversion, the redeemed most likely will not instantiate all properties or changes in the form or quality of properties immediately. And yet, in a real way, the converted has all the resources necessary to instantiate the divine property of holiness (through participation) by way of those properties already being instantiated in the Son. Thus, the indwelling relation might appear or be experienced as degreed or broken, and yet this is not possible because the whole divine person of the Holy Spirit interpenetrates the human creature; that is, the Spirit in his divine uniqueness reveals that he somehow constitutes this union.

The natures of neither the human creature nor the Son change even though the human creature is partaking of the Creator’s holiness. It is the Holy Spirit who maintains the union in Himself, just as Christ maintained the hypostases of natures within himself.[14] What sort of stuff (material, non-material, supra-material) one considers the Spirit to be does not matter. Whatever the Spirit is, when sent by the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit merges with human creatures who are brought into union with the Son through the grace of the Father putting them in direct contact. Transfiguration of relations, shifting of what appear to be essential properties of human creatures, and the metaphysical structures of a subject can all occur, and that subject retain its identity and distinction. This is because the apparent change occurs at the union site, i.e., within the Holy Spirit himself. This occurs through the Spirit’s condescension to indwell human creatures just as the Son had condescended to indwell the creation. The Spirit does not take on his own flesh, he enters the flesh of other human creatures through interpenetration, participating in their progressive sanctification.

4. Conclusion

The Grafting Model provides a framework for understanding the relation that holds between God and his people post Christ’s ascension. The indwelling relation simpliciter is a direct, immediate, internal, merging relation between the Holy Spirit and the human creature where the Holy Spirit does not become creaturely nor does the creature become Creator.[15] The Holy Spirit works in union and as the unionizer; therefore, the union cannot be broken by the human creature but only by an intervention of the Father. If union instantiates, i.e., if the Spirit indwells, one should expect noticeable change in the human creature. If a union takes place, the human creature himself (and other human creatures) must be able to, as consequent to the instantiation of indwelling relation, recognize real change in the quality of the indwelt person’s character. The person is reconciled to God, indwelt by the Spirit, producing fruit worthy of the Son in whom she is rooted. And that branch along with the fruit produced, is enlivened and sustained by the Spirit of Life, becoming partaker of the uniquely divine quality that is unfitting to the creature in and of itself—holiness of a participatory sort.

The Grafting Model is a model that can be easily extended to accommodate the communal dwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Church. That is, all are grafted into the same rootstock and each individual plant produces unique fruit. And yet, the fruit of each branch has the same quality of being derivatively holy due to its receiving and being sustained by the Life Spirit of the rootstock; the more branches that are grafted in the more the infinite beauty of the Holy can be expressed within the diverse creaturely reality.[16]


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[1] The most detailed description of cultivating the vine is found in Isaiah 5:1-7 in the form of a metaphor representing the broken relationship between God and his people.

[2] Interestingly this text in Jerimiah, ‘could be construed as an undesired mutation that appeared in the grapevine; more likely it can be understood as an outgrowth of the stock on which the grape was grafted.’ If this is the case, there would be a stronger argument for understanding John 15 as a grafted vine creating a tight connection to Paul’s use of the metaphor in Romans 11. See Mudge et al., ‘A History of Grafting’, in Horticultural Reviews, Volume 35 (2009), 450.

[3] See Byers argument for a trinitarian reading of the Gospel as narrative. The Holy Spirit is one of the key characters that is being disambiguated throughout the narrative. The Holy Spirit is the one who is actualizing the presence of God absent the Son of God. He writes, ‘Although the reciprocity statements and inclusive parallels occurring in narrative time are not directly attributed to the Spirit-Paraclete, this divine figure will actualize what they model for believers beyond the Gospel account…the Spirit is presented as the primary source and agent of Johannine theosis for post-resurrection believers’. Byers, Ecclesiology and Theosis, 224-225.

[4] See Mary B. Hesse, Models and Analogies in Science (University of Notre Dame Press: Notre Dame:  Notre Dame, 1966) 8-9. She uses the term neutral properties to identify properties which are neither positive (properties of both domains) or negative (properties of the source and not the target). They are properties of the target domain which are not yet known. In analogical models, they are the properties that facilitate predictive interpretations of models. In the case of the vine metaphor, the abiding or union occurring between the vine and its branches is understood as the Spirit of God.

[5] Though the Hebrew bible foretold of the coming sprout, it was not explicit that the sprout would be God himself. Though the Hebrew bible foretold of the restoration of God’s people, it was not understood that the Gentiles and Jews would be grafted into a singular people of God. Though God said he would dwell with his people and never leave them, it was not known that he would come to make them a holy sanctuary so he might dwell in them. See also, Byres, Ecclesiology and Theosis, 231-232 where he argues that part of the ‘disambiguation’ of the Holy Spirit in the gospel’s narrative takes place as ‘he sustains the believers’ post-resurrection participation in divine reality through his abiding presence.’

[6] There are many different techniques which can be used to graft. Further, the grafting of multiple scions onto a single rootstock is common. For simplicity’s sake, (1) the most basic form of grafting will be described, and (2) this only in reference to a single scion being grafted in a rootstock.

[7] Importantly, though the meristematic cells function similarly to stem cells, cells from a mature rootstock maintain their maturity and can thus transfer traits only present in mature plants (e.g., ability to reproduce and flowering). See Mudge et al., ‘A History of Grafting’, 473.

[8] An identity marker is inserted into some aspect of the cell (e.g., a particular staining) such that transfer of molecular material can be monitored.

[9] Genotype, one’s genetic hereditary identity, gives rise to one’s phenotype. Phenotype refers to gene expression or instantiation of properties dependent on environment and interaction between the two. One’s genetic code stored in DNA is ‘interpreted’ by gene expression. Regulation of gene expression is thus critical to an organism’s development.

[10] This very practical concern regarding genetically modified produce is similar to the philosophical concerns raised in questions (1) and (3) posed in the introduction. The practical problem is whether certain produce should or should not be considered genetically modified; this would affect where the food could be sold, the pricing, etc.

[11] Christ was granted a unique instantiation through incarnation.

[12] For an account of ‘extended or transferable sanctity’ in Paul’s use of the grafting metaphor and its relation to halakic saying regarding agricultural dedications as offerings to God, see Benjamin D. Gordon, ‘On the Sanctity of Mixtures and Branches: Two Halakic Sayings in Romans 11:16–24’, in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 135, No. 2 (Summer 2016), 355-368.

[13] All of this assumes a transference of properties and is ‘in addition to’ and dependent on the gift of the person of the Holy Spirit with whom the redeemed human creature enters into a type of intra-personal relation.

[14] This is not a hypostasis between the human person and the divine person of the Spirit; this is a hypostasis of natures within the Holy Spirit which allows for the indwelling relation of the Holy Spirit in the human person.

[15] For an extended argument and explanation as to how the Grafting model can satisfy the six desiderata of indwelling ((1) the indwelling relation is a unique relation, (2) the indwelling relation is unitive, (3) the indwelling relation is personal, (4) the indwelling relation is transformative for the nondivine person in some way, (5) the indwelling relation is internal in a way that no other relation between persons and beings can be, and (6) the indwelling relation is evidence of the eternal conditioned new covenant relationship), see Kimberley Kroll, The Condescension of God: the nature and relation of the indwelling Holy Spirit (forthcoming), chapter 6.

[16] One could also explain how each member of the Church is connected and dependent on every other member of the Church regarding its ‘health’ and ‘vitality’. This easily accommodates the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ articulated by Paul. See 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.

Cite this article

Kroll, Kimberley. 2021. “How Might Grafting Elucidate Our Understanding of the Indwelling Relation of the Holy Spirit and the Human Person?” Theological Puzzles (Issue 4).

Contact the author

Kimberley Kroll
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