Is the Holy Spirit a Person?

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MP3 Audio (39.77 MB)


Is the Holy Spirit a Person?

MP3 Audio (39.77 MB)

"'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts" - Zechariah 4:6.

In preceding chapters we saw that the teaching of the Trinity, asserting that the Holy Spirit is a divine person, was foreign to the writers of the Bible and originated several centuries after the New Testament was completed. How, then, does the Bible define the Holy Spirit if it is not a person?

The word "spirit" is translated from the Hebrew ruach and the Greek pneuma, both words also denoting breath or wind, an invisible force. (The English "ghost" at one time had this meaning, which is why it's used in older Bible translations.) Scripture says that "God is Spirit" (John 4:24). Yet we are also told that God has a Spirit—the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit.

So again, just what is the Holy Spirit?

"The power of the Highest"  

Rather than describing the Holy Spirit as a distinct person or entity, the Bible most often refers to it as and connects it with God's divine power (Zechariah 4:6; Micah 3:8). Jewish scholars, examining the references to it in the Old Testament Scriptures, have never defined the Holy Spirit as anything but the power of God.

In the New Testament, Paul referred to it as the spirit of power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Informing Mary that Jesus would be supernaturally conceived in her womb, an angel told her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you," and the divine messenger described this Spirit to her as "the power of the Highest [which] will overshadow you" (Luke 1:35).

Jesus began His ministry "in the power of the Spirit" (Luke 4:14). He told His followers, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Acts 1:8).

Peter relates that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power" (Acts 10:38). This was the same power that enabled Christ to perform many mighty miracles during His ministry. Likewise, Jesus worked through the apostle Paul "in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God" (Romans 15:19).

Confronted with such scriptures, even the New Catholic Encyclopedia admits: "The OT [Old Testament] clearly does not envisage God's spirit as a person . . . God's spirit is simply God's power. If it is sometimes represented as being distinct from God, it is because the breath of Yahweh acts exteriorly . . . The majority of NT [New Testament] texts reveal God's spirit as something, not someone; this is especially seen in the parallelism between the spirit and the power of God" (1965, Vol. 13, "Spirit of God," pp. 574-576).

The reference work A Catholic Dictionary similarly acknowledges, "On the whole the New Testament, like the Old, speaks of the spirit as a divine energy or power" (William Addis and Thomas Arnold, 2004, "Trinity, Holy," p. 827).

God's Word shows that the Holy Spirit is the very nature, presence and expression of God's power actively working in His servants (2 Peter 1:4; Galatians 2:20). Indeed, it is through His Spirit that God is present everywhere at once throughout the universe and affects it at will (Psalm 139:7-10).

Again and again the Scriptures depict the Holy Spirit as the power of God. Furthermore, it is also shown to be the mind of God and the very essence and life force through which the Father begets human beings as His spiritual children. The Holy Spirit is not God, but is rather a vital aspect of God—the agency through which the Father and Christ both work.

Divine inspiration and life through the Spirit

In its article about the Holy Spirit, The Anchor Bible Dictionary describes it as the "manifestation of divine presence and power perceptible especially in prophetic inspiration" (Vol. 3, 1992, p. 260).

Repeatedly the Scriptures reveal that God imparted divine inspiration to His prophets and servants through the Holy Spirit. Peter noted that "prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21).

Paul wrote that God's plan for humanity had been "revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets" (Ephesians 3:5) and that his own teachings were inspired by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13). Paul further explains that it is through His Spirit that God has revealed to true Christians the things He has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9-16). Working through the Spirit, God the Father is the revealer of truth to those who serve Him.

Jesus told His followers that the Holy Spirit, which the Father would send, "will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 14:26). It is through God's Spirit within us that we gain spiritual insight and understanding. Indeed, we come to receive the very "mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16)—also referred to as the "mind of the Spirit" (Romans 8:27).

Jesus had this spiritual comprehension in abundance. As the Messiah, He was prophesied to have "the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord" (Isaiah 11:2).

As the Son of Man on earth, Jesus portrayed in His personal conduct the divine attributes of Almighty God through completely living by His Father's biblical standards through the power of the Holy Spirit (compare 1 Timothy 3:16).

Now returned to the spirit realm, Jesus wields the omnipotent power of the Holy Spirit along with the Father. The Holy Spirit, we should understand, is not only the Spirit of God the Father, for the Bible also calls it the "Spirit of Christ" (Romans 8:9; Philippians 1:19). By either designation, it is the same Spirit, as there is only one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:4).

The Father imparts the same Spirit to true Christians through Jesus Christ (John 14:26; John 15:26; Titus 3:5-6), leading and enabling them to be His children and "partakers of the divine nature" (Romans 8:14; 2 Peter 1:4). God, who has eternal life in Himself, gives that life to others through the Spirit (John 5:26; John 6:63; Romans 8:11).

Impersonal attributes of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is spoken of in many ways that demonstrate that it is not a divine person. For example, it is referred to as a gift (Acts 10:45; 1 Timothy 4:14) that God gives without limit (John 3:34, NIV). We are told that the Holy Spirit can be quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19), that it can be poured out on people (Acts 2:17-33), and that we are baptized with it (Matthew 3:11).

People can drink of it (John 7:37-39), partake of it (Hebrews 6:4) and be filled with it (Acts 2:4; Ephesians 5:18). The Holy Spirit also renews us (Titus 3:5) and must be stirred up within us (2 Timothy 1:6). These impersonal characteristics are certainly not attributes of a person or personal being!

The Spirit is also described by other designations—"the Holy Spirit of promise," "the guarantee of our inheritance" and "the spirit of wisdom and revelation" (Ephesians 1:13-17)—that show it is not a person.

In contrast to God the Father and Jesus Christ, who are consistently compared to human beings in Their form and shape, the Holy Spirit is consistently represented, by various symbols and manifestations, in a completely different manner—such as breath (John 20:22), wind (Acts 2:2), fire (Acts 2:3), water (John 4:14; John 7:37-39), oil (Psalm 45:7; compare Acts 10:38; Matthew 25:1-10), a dove (Matthew 3:16) and an "earnest," or down payment, on eternal life (2 Corinthians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14, KJV).

To say the least, these depictions are difficult to understand if the Holy Spirit is a person!

In Matthew 1:20 we find further proof that the Holy Spirit is not a distinct entity, but God's divine power. Here we read that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. However, Jesus continually prayed to and addressed God the Father as His Father and not the Holy Spirit (Matthew 10:32-33; Matthew 11:25-27; Matthew 12:50). He never represented the Holy Spirit as His Father! Clearly, the Holy Spirit was the agency or power through which the Father begot Jesus as His Son—not a separate person or being altogether.

Paul's example and teaching were in line with Christ's

If God were a Trinity, surely Paul, who was taught directly by the resurrected Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12) and who wrote much of the theological underpinnings of the early Church, would have comprehended and taught this concept. Yet we find no such teaching in His writings.

Moreover, Paul's standard greeting in his letter to the churches, as well as individuals to whom he wrote, consistently mentions "God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Yet in each of his greetings he never mentions the Holy Spirit! (The same can also be said of Peter in the salutations of both his epistles.)

The same greeting, with only minor variations, appears in every epistle that bears Paul's name. Notice how consistent he is in not including the Holy Spirit in his greetings:

• "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:7).

• "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:3).

• "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:2).

• "Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:3).

• "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 1:2).

• "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:2).

• "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Colossians 1:2).

• "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 1:1).

• "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 1:1-2).

• "Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Timothy 1:2).

• "Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord" (2 Timothy 1:2).

• "Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 1:4).

• "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philemon 1:3).

The Holy Spirit is always left out of these greetings—an unbelievable and inexplicable oversight if the Spirit were indeed a person or entity coequal with God the Father and Christ!

This is even more surprising when we consider that the congregations to which Paul wrote had many gentile members from polytheistic backgrounds who had formerly worshipped numerous gods. Paul's epistles record no attempt on his part to explain the Trinity or Holy Spirit as a divine person equal with God the Father and Jesus Christ.

In all of Paul's writings, only in 2 Corinthians 13:14 is the Holy Spirit mentioned along with the Father and Jesus Christ in such expressions, and there only in connection with the "fellowship of the Holy Spirit" (NIV) in which believers share—not in any sort of theological statement on the nature of God. The point Paul makes here is that God's Spirit is the unifying agent that brings us together in godly, righteous fellowship, not only with one another but with the Father and Son.

Yet here, too, God's Spirit is not spoken of as a person. Notice that Paul writes that our fellowship is of the Holy Spirit, not with the Holy Spirit. As 1 John 1:3 tells us, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ"—the Holy Spirit is not mentioned.

(For other verses that supposedly support the existence of the Trinity, see "What About Passages that 'Prove' the Trinity?")

Jesus likewise never spoke of the Holy Spirit as a divine third person. Instead, in numerous passages He spoke only of the relationship between God the Father and Himself (Matthew 26:39; Mark 13:32; Mark 15:34; John 5:18-22; etc.). The Holy Spirit as a person is conspicuously absent from Christ's teaching in general. Of particular interest in this regard are His many statements about Himself and the Father, especially when He never makes similar statements about Himself and the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is absent in visions of God's throne

We should also consider that, in visions of God's throne recorded in the Bible, although the Father and Christ are seen, the Holy Spirit as a third person is completely absent.

In Acts 7:55-56, which describes the martyrdom of Stephen, we read that he "gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, 'Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!'" He saw God the Father and Jesus the Son, but no Holy Spirit.

Daniel 7:9-14 similarly describes Daniel's vision of heaven. There he saw "the Ancient of Days"—God the Father in this context—plus millions of angelic beings and "One like the Son of Man," the preexistent Jesus Christ. Again, he saw no third person of a Holy Trinity.

And in Revelation 4-5 and Revelation 7:10 we see that Jesus, the Lamb of God, is mentioned as being at the right hand of God the Father, but no one is mentioned as being at the Father's left hand. Nowhere is the Holy Spirit mentioned as a being or person. Nowhere in any of these passages, or anywhere in Scripture, are three divine persons pictured together.

In the final book of the Bible (and the last to be written), the Holy Spirit as a divine person is completely absent from its pages. The book describes "a new heaven and new earth" (Revelation 21:1) wherein "the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them" (Revelation 21:3). Christ the Lamb is also present (Revelation 21:22). The Holy Spirit as a distinct person, however, is again absent—another inexplicable oversight if this Spirit is the third person of a triune God.

This is why Paul states in 1 Corinthians 8:6 that "there is one God, the Father . . . and one Lord Jesus Christ," without mentioning the Holy Spirit as a divine person. He elsewhere refers to "the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ" (Colossians 2:2)—mentioning only the two as God, again not including the Holy Spirit.

We should also consider that nowhere do we find any prayer, psalm or hymn addressed to or dedicated to the Holy Spirit. Nowhere do we see the Holy Spirit worshipped. Again and again, the biblical record just doesn't support the Trinity doctrine in places where it should be obvious if it were true!

This is why, as we saw in numerous quotes earlier in this booklet, so many historians and biblical researchers admit that the doctrine of the Trinity is not found in the Bible. We must not cling to long-held religious traditions if they contradict the Scriptures! Our beliefs must rest solidly on the teachings of the Holy Bible. Jesus said, "[God's] word is truth" (John 17:17).

What about scriptures describing actions of the Holy Spirit?

Some scriptural passages seem to describe the Holy Spirit as apparently engaging in personal activity. Does this mean that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person?

While at first this might seem to indicate as much, it doesn't really prove that at all. In the languages of Bible times, nonpersonal things were sometimes described in personal ways and as having personlike activities.

For example, in Genesis 4:10 God says to Cain: "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground." Here Abel's shed blood is described as having a "voice" that "cries out" from the ground. Yet clearly this is figurative language, as blood has no voice and cannot speak.

Similarly, in the book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified as calling aloud and crying out (Proverbs 1:20-21). Proverbs 8 describes wisdom as crying out, standing on a high hill, calling to men, speaking, having lips and a mouth, loving and being loved, having children and having accompanied and rejoiced with God. Yet obviously wisdom is not a person and does none of these things in a literal sense!

Likewise, Psalm 65:13 describes valleys shouting for joy and singing. Psalm 96:11-12 attributes emotions to the heavens, earth and fields. Psalm 98:8 says the rivers clap their hands. Psalm 148:4-5 describes the skies and rain praising God.

Isaiah 3:26 says the gates of the city of Jerusalem will lament and mourn. Isaiah 14:8 speaks of cypress trees rejoicing and cedar trees talking. Isaiah 35:1 ascribes emotions to the wilderness and says the desert will rejoice. Isaiah 44:23 and Isaiah 49:13 describe mountains, forests, trees and the heavens singing.

Isaiah 55:12 says that hills will break into singing and trees will clap their hands. In Habakkuk 2:11 stones and timbers are described as talking to each other.

We find similar personifications of nonpersonal things in the New Testament as well. Matthew 11:19 speaks of wisdom having children. Romans 6 says that sin enslaves and reigns over human beings (Romans 6:6; Romans 6:12; Romans 6:16). In Romans 10:6 righteousness is described as speaking. In 1 John 5:8 water and blood are said to testify and agree.

Yet clearly none of these things happen literally. At times the Bible similarly applies such figurative language to the Holy Spirit, ascribing activity to it as though it were a person. Yet, as noted earlier in this chapter, the Bible also describes the Holy Spirit in ways that clearly show it is not a person.

As even the New Catholic Encyclopedia, quoted from earlier,acknowledges: "The majority of New Testament texts reveal God's spirit as something, not someone; this is especially seen in the parallelism between the spirit and the power of God. When a quasi-personal activity is ascribed to God's spirit, e.g., speaking, hindering, desiring, dwelling (Acts 8:29; Acts 16:7; Romans 8:9), one is not justified in concluding immediately that in these passages God's spirit is regarded as a Person; the same expressions are used also in regard to rhetorically personified things or abstract ideas . . .

"In Acts, the use of the words 'Holy Spirit,' with or without an article, is rich and abundant. However, again, it is difficult to demonstrate personality from the texts" (2003, Vol. 13, "Spirit, Holy," p. 428).

Thus we see that in some cases where the Holy Spirit is described in a personal activity, we should understand this as God using the Holy Spirit as the power or agency through which He acts.

Consider, for example, that if a man's hand takes hold of a book and lifts it, we can say the man lifted the book. This does not make the hand a separate person. Nor does it mean that the hand is the man. The hand is merely part of, or an extension of, the man. And it is the agency through which the man is acting. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is the agency through which God—Father or Son or both—acts.

Of course, the Holy Spirit is far more than a hand. It is the very power, mind and life essence of God—pervading infinity so that by it God, as Psalm 139:7-10 and Jeremiah 23:23-24 show us, is omnipresent.

This is why Peter in Acts 5:1-10 said that Ananias and Sapphira "lie[d] to the Holy Spirit" and also that they "lied . . . to God." This passage doesn't indicate that the Holy Spirit is God or one of the supposed three persons of God, as some read into this passage, but rather that the Holy Spirit, being the omnipresent agency through which God acts, is how God heard the lie.

Jesus Christ's reference in John 16:7 to the Holy Spirit as a "Helper" (or "Counselor," "Comforter" or "Advocate" as some versions translate it) is a personification that provides a good analogy of part of the Spirit's function in the lives of true Christians. And as noted before, many passages show the Spirit as the power of God to help and assist us, not a distinct person as Trinitarians maintain.

But what does the Spirit do? What is its function and purpose? In the next chapter we'll examine how the Holy Spirit works in the lives of Christians.