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Is the Holy Spirit a Person?

 

By Eric V. Snow

 

Is the Holy Spirit a Divine Person who is God?  Is the doctrine of the Trinity correct to assert this teaching?  In actuality, the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a separate center of consciousness from the Father and the Son, but these two members of the Godhead act through the Holy Spirit and are present through the universe through the Holy Spirit.  That’s one reason why at times the Spirit may appear to be a person.  Consider this interesting text that effectively equates the Holy Spirit with Jesus (II Cor. 3:17-18):  “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. . . .  just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”   Furthermore, when the Holy Spirit is in a Christian, the Spirit is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27; cf. Romans 8:10).  This is how someone could lie to the Holy Spirit, since they were lying to Jesus, who was in the Apostle Peter.  (See Acts 5:3-4). The same goes for how the Holy Spirit can be blasphemed.  The Holy Spirit is the agency through which God, the Father and the Son, act, much like the human mind acts through its hands and feet.  The burden of proof is on the Trinitarians to show that the Son and the Holy Spirit are separate divine persons since various texts can be cited that equate the two.

 

The personhood of the Holy Spirit isn’t a biblical teaching.  For example, many texts refer to the Holy Spirit impersonally.  In Acts 10:45 and I Timothy 4:14, the Holy Spirit is a “gift.”  The Spirit can be “quenched,” meaning, “put out” (I Thess. 5:19).  It can be poured out like water (Acts 2:17, 33).  People are baptized in it (Matt. 3:11).  People can drink of the Spirit (John 7:37-39).  They can partake of it (Hebrews 6:4) and be filled with it (Eph. 5:18; Acts 2:4).  It also renews us (Titus 3:5).  If it is a person and active, why would it need to be stirred up?  (II Timothy 1:6).  It also has designations applied to it, such as (in Ephesians 1:13-14, 17) its being “the guarantee of our inheritance,” “the Holy Spirit of promise,” and “the spirit of wisdom and revelation,” which show that it isn’t a person.  Unlike the Father and Son, who are represented in forms and shapes like that of men, the Holy Spirit is frequently represented symbolically.  The Spirit is compared to breath (John 10:22), oil (Psalm 45:7; cf. Acts 10:38; Matt. 25:1-10), a dove (Matt. 3:16), wind (Acts 2:2), fire (Acts 2:3), and a down payment on eternal life (Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5).  So if the Holy Spirit is a person, why does Scripture so often refer to it impersonally, unlike the case for the Father and the Son?

 

The various cases in which the Holy Spirit is said to do this or that personal activity are examples of personification.  After all, we wouldn’t say that Abel’s blood literally called out from the ground (Genesis 4:10), right?  We certainly don’t believe that wisdom literally cries out with an audible voice (Proverbs 1:20-21).  The valleys shout for joy and sing in Psalm 65:13.  According to Isaiah 14:8, the cedar trees talk and the cypress trees rejoice.  In Hababkkuk 2:11, the timbers and stones are said to speak to each other.  In Matt. 11:19, wisdom is said to have children.  Righteousness speaks in Romans 10:6.  Obviously we have figurative language used in these texts.  The same principle applies to the cases in which the Holy Spirit is described in a personal manner, including in John 14-16.

 

The Holy Spirit has no separate consciousness separate from the Father and the Son.  Rather, the Holy Spirit is the power or force of God (Luke 1:35; I Cor. 2:4; Acts 1:8; compare Romans 15:13, 19, and Acts 6:5 with verse 8).  Paul in Eph. 3:16 desires that Christians “be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.”   The Holy Spirit gave spiritual power to Jesus and the disciples (Luke 4:14; Acts 1:8).  Power and the Spirit are equated in Acts 10:38:  “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.”  Furthermore, rarely is the Holy Spirit referred to in the introductions and conclusions to the letters where the writers mention the Father and the Son.  No songs, prayers or exclamations directed to the Spirit in the Bible, unlike the case for the Father and the Son.  Furthermore, since the Holy Spirit was the means by which the Virgin Mary was impregnated, “He” would be the “Father” of Jesus instead of the Father, if “He” were a separate divine person (Matt. 1:18, 20; Luke 1:34-35).   So then, the Spirit was the agency or power through which the Father sired Jesus as His Son.  It isn’t a separate person or being from them.

 

The Holy Spirit is never described as a personage in any of the heavenly scenes found in the Book of Revelation.  The seven spirits shouldn’t be seen as the third member of the Godhead of the Trinity teaching.  “The Holy Spirit” is never personified in any of the throne room scenes described in the Book of Revelation, which is one of the best arguments against its being a separate member of the Godhead.  Even if someone believes in that teaching, wouldn’t it be peculiar to imagine one member of the Godhead being seven separate “Spirits” (Revelation 4:6), right?  That’s a poor way to claim that the Holy Spirit has a presence in heaven as a consciously separate Divine entity from the Father and Son.

 

In order to show that the seven spirits of Revelation aren’t references to a purported third member of the Godhead, let’s begin by looking at Revelation 4:6 more closely:  "Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God."  Likewise, consider Rev. 15:1:  "Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous:  seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete."  Now, these seven spirits stand before God's throne, according to Rev. 1:4.  Also notice how the seven stars are the seven angels in Rev. 1:20:  "As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”  In Revelation 3:1, Jesus equates the seven spirits with the seven angels when we compared Rev. 1:20 with this statement:  "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: 'The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. "'I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead.’”  In the next two chapters of Revelation, one angel corresponds with each church Jesus specifically wrote a letter to.

 

Angels are messengers for God, for the very word translated “angel” means “messenger” in Greek and also Hebrew.  The seven spirits shouldn’t be seen as the third member of the Godhead of the Trinity teaching.  “The Holy Spirit” is never personified in any of the throne room scenes described in the Book of Revelation, which is one of the best arguments against its being a separate member of the Godhead, unlike the case for the Father and the Son.  Even if we believe in that teaching, wouldn’t it be peculiar to imagine one member of the Godhead being seven separate “Spirits,” right?

The texts describing the Holy Spirit in John 14-16 are commonly cited to prove that it is a “he.”  However, Greek is a language that uses nouns with assigned genders, much like Spanish, French, and German.  The word translated “Comforter” or “Helper” happens to be masculine.  But grammatical agreement between a noun and pronouns doesn’t prove the Holy Spirit is any more a person than a feminine pronoun referring to a “silla” in Spanish proves that a chair is a real woman.  In addition, Jesus told the disciples, and they responded back, that figurative language had been used during the conversation between them on the night before His crucifixion (John 16:25, 29).  Interestingly enough, the word in Greek translated “Spirit” is a neuter word, which may have contributed to why even the Trinitarian translators of the King James Version used the word “itself” to refer to the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:16, 26.

 

The earliest Catholic writers didn’t have a clearly orthodox Trinitarian view of the Holy Spirit.  For example, Justin Martyr, one of the earliest Catholic writers (he died in the second century A.D.), often referred to the Holy Spirit as if it were a force or something impersonal, not as a person.  This may be why, interestingly enough, the original Nicene declaration of 325 A.D. merely asserted they believed "in the Holy Spirit," saying nothing about its nature.  Only later on was that creed rewritten, and the detailed description of the Holy Spirit’s being a person was added.

 

So above the evidence for the Holy Spirit being a person was reviewed and found wanting.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t have a separate consciousness from the Father and the Son’s.  The Holy Spirit is the power of God through which the Father and the Son act.  So we should reject the doctrine of the Trinity as well as the personhood of the Holy Spirit as unbiblical teachings.

 

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