The Holy Spirit and the Power of the Most High

I’m currently working on the famous Annunciation passage: Luke 1:26-38 and something is bothering me…
In v35 the text says (TNIV)
“The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you..”

Now are there one or two things at work here?
I have one commentary that says the two phrases “Holy Spirit” and “power of the Most High” are synonyms i.e. the same thing. On first reading this seems OK, but why are the two things identified seperately?
My ‘Luke for Everyone’ by Tom Wright suggests they are two separate things, the Holy Spirit acting internally within Mary, and the power of the Most High (God) acting externally as a creator, surrounding Mary with his sovereign power…which would lead me to lovely Trinitarian thoughts given that we’re at the point of Jesus entering the world! But for some this may deny that the Holy Spirit can not act externally and physically?

What does anyone else think?

What does our experience tell us?

Should we say both/and or otherwise fall into the trap of limiting God?



  1. Phew – you ask some tricky ones. No time for a full answer now, but I’d do a word search for The Most High or P(p)ower of The Most High and see which member of the Trinity that title belongs to.
    I prefer Tom Wright’s take on it – for the reason that you give, but I don’t see how this limits the Holy Spirit. Belt and braces job :)) Anything that suggests that God is in anyway limited is just plain wrong (IMHO).


  2. I think it’s both the Holy Spirit.

    Trying to give a clear example of how I understand this and will probably fail. I’m trying to make tea and get out of the door within 25 mins which is making me slightly manic.

    Think doctor explaining what will happen to a small child:
    the doctor will simplify anaesthetics to first you will have a small injection and then you will fall asleep.

    The two events are clearly linked but to the child it will be heard as two events rather than just one.

    We can not fully understand the Holy Spirit so I rather see the angel as needing to give the explanation to the child who can’t possibly understand exactly what’s happening.

    I hope that I am making sense!


  3. Peter R by email responded:

    My ‘engineers response’ is that it’s a ‘faulty’ question: the doctrine of the trinity is a convenient way for us (humanity) to catch a glimpse of understanding of something infinitely beyond us (God). Hence it (the ‘trinitarian’ model) is useful for helping us to understand how God relates to us, BUT we shouldn’t be at all surprised if occasionally the model doesn’t fully explain God in action. So what I’m saying is that from time to time we will be able to say ‘it was God wot dun it’ but not be able to to distinguish the WAY he dun it – within the distinction of ‘Father Son and Holy Spirit’ as active parties. Now since the incarnation is arguably the most mind boggling bit of interaction of God with humanity, it’s really quite likely that this will be one of those cases where our (limited) model doesn’t fit exactly!

    I’m not sure if that’s any help or the opposite!!


    Leah T is going for the Trinitarian answer (via Facebook)

    Ian G also commented via Facebook:
    Quite simply read what it says, “the holy spirit will be within her and she will conceive and God will look over or be with her through everything.” Thats it simplest form. there is alot more to it than that but hey who am i!


  4. I’ve obviously hit on one those interesting theological conundrums…

    I did what Mike suggested using e-Sword and came up with

    ” In Luk_1:35 the angel says to Mary that the Holy Spirit (pneuma hagion) shall come upon her, and the power of the Most High (δύναμις Ὑψίστου, dúnamis Hupsístou) shall overshadow her. Here “Holy Spirit” and “power of the Most High” are parallel expressions meaning the same thing; in the one case emphasizing the Divine source and in the other the holiness of “the holy thing which is begotten” (Luk_1:35). ”

    I personally found this weak compared to Tom Wright’s explanation, and I rather like my colleague Peter’s response – but always worry that that’s a cop out! Mind you, Em’s image is lovely, and could well be used in conjunction with Peter’s engineers solution!

    Will post the finished sermon… when it’s been delivered! I’m not sure it’s going to include a resolution of this question though!


  5. Sue A emailed;

    I was pondering as I travelled to last night’s tutorial and came to the conclusion that any answer has to be trinitarian and that this is one of the paradoxes we have in our theology. So it seems to me that your commentator and Tom Wright are correct. Two different roles within the Godhead, both in action – as in God the creator forming the waters and the God the Spirit moving over them, yet both are God in action. Another thought is that the angel explained it in two different ways to Mary in order to emphasise the power at work.


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