Just What is the Holy Spirit?

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Just What is the Holy Spirit?

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Exactly who-or what-is the Holy Spirit? Many assume that the Holy Spirit, along with God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son, form what is commonly known as the Trinity. This doctrine expresses a belief in one God who exists in three distinct but equal persons. Is the Holy Spirit a third divine person, along with God the Father and Jesus Christ?

The word Trinity doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible. It didn’t come into common use as a religious term until after the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325), several centuries after the last books of the Bible were completed.

A.W. Tozer, in his book The Knowledge of the Holy , writes that the Trinity is an “incomprehensible mystery,” and that attempts to understand it “must remain forever futile.” He admits that churches, “without pretending to understand,” have nevertheless continued to teach this doctrine. He concludes, “The fact that it [the Trinity] cannot be satisfactorily explained, instead of being against it, is in its favor” (Harper & Row, New York, 1961, pp. 17, 18, 23).

Unger’s Bible Dictionary , in its article on the Trinity, concedes that the Trinitarian concept is humanly incomprehensible: “It is admitted by all who thoughtfully deal with this subject that the Scripture revelation here leads us into the presence of a deep mystery; and that all human attempts at expression are of necessity imperfect” (Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 1118).

Why is the concept of the Holy Spirit as a third person of a supposedly triune Godhead, along with God the Father and Jesus Christ, so difficult to grasp?

Because the Bible does not teach it! You cannot prove something from the Bible that is not biblical. The Bible is our only reliable source of divine revelation and truth, and the Trinity concept is not part of God’s revelation to humankind.

The Holy Spirit-the power of God

The Holy Spirit, rather than being a distinct person, is spoken of in the Bible as being God’s divine power. The Anchor Bible Dictionary, in its article on the Holy Spirit, describes it as “[t]he manifestation of divine presence and power perceptible especially in prophetic inspiration” (Vol. 3, Doubleday, New York, 1992, p. 260).

Scripture refers to the Holy Spirit as the power of God (Zechariah 4:6 Zechariah 4:6Then he answered and spoke to me, saying, This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, said the LORD of hosts.
American King James Version×
; Micah 3:8 Micah 3:8But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the LORD, and of judgment, and of might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin.
American King James Version×
). Paul told Timothy that it is the “spirit of … power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7 2 Timothy 1:7For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
American King James Version×
, emphasis added throughout).

Luke 4:14 Luke 4:14And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.
American King James Version×
records that Jesus Christ began His ministry “in the power of the Spirit.” Speaking of the Holy Spirit, which would be given to His followers after His death, Jesus told them, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you …” (Acts 1:8 Acts 1:8But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come on you: and you shall be witnesses to me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.
American King James Version×
).

Peter relates how “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, [and Jesus] went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him ” (Acts 10:38 Acts 10:38How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.
American King James Version×
). The Holy Spirit is here associated with the power by which God was with Him -the power through which Jesus Christ performed mighty miracles during His earthly, physical ministry. The Holy Spirit is the very presence of God’s power actively working in His servants.

The apostle Paul’s desire was that the members of the church in Rome would “abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” in the same way that Jesus Christ had worked through him “in mighty signs and wonders , by the power of the Spirit of God” (Romans 15:13 Romans 15:13Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×
, 19).

Divine inspiration by the Spirit

Repeatedly the Scriptures reveal that God imparts His 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 2 Peter 1:21For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×
).

Paul stated that God’s plan had been “revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:5 Ephesians 3:5Which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
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), and that his own teachings were inspired by the spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13 1 Corinthians 2:13Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Ghost teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
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). Paul, in 1 Corinthians 2:9 1 Corinthians 2:9But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.
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, 10, explains that God through His Spirit has revealed to us the things which He has prepared for those who love Him. God the Father is the Revealer, working through His Spirit in those who serve Him.

Jesus Christ told His followers that the Holy Spirit, which the Father would send to them, “will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26 John 14:26But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you.
American King James Version×
).

It is through God’s Spirit within us that we can gain spiritual understanding and insight. “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save [through] the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but [through] the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11 1 Corinthians 2:11For what man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knows no man, but the Spirit of God.
American King James Version×
, 12).

Jesus Christ had this spiritual understanding 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 Isaiah 11:2And the spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;
American King James Version×
).

Other 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, the Holy Spirit is referred to as a gift (Acts 10:45 Acts 10:45And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×
; 1 Timothy 4:14 1 Timothy 4:14Neglect not the gift that is in you, which was given you by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.
American King James Version×
). We are told that it can be quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19 1 Thessalonians 5:19Quench not the Spirit.
American King James Version×
), that it can be poured out (Acts 2:17 Acts 2:17And it shall come to pass in the last days, said God, I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
American King James Version×
; 10:45), and that we are baptized with it (Matthew 3:11 Matthew 3:11I indeed baptize you with water to repentance. but he that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
American King James Version×
). It must be stirred up within us (2 Timothy 1:6 2 Timothy 1:6Why I put you in remembrance that you stir up the gift of God, which is in you by the putting on of my hands.
American King James Version×
), and it also renews us (Titus 3:5 Titus 3:5Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
American King James Version×
). These are certainly not attributes of a person.

This Spirit is also called “the Holy Spirit of promise … the guarantee of our inheritance … the spirit of wisdom and revelation …” (Ephesians 1:13 Ephesians 1:13In whom you also trusted, after that you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that you believed, you were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
American King James Version×
, 14, 17).

This Spirit is not only the Spirit of God the Father; it is also “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9 Romans 8:9But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
American King James Version×
; Philippians 1:19 Philippians 1:19For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
American King James Version×
; 1 Peter 1:11 1 Peter 1:11Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
American King James Version×
). It dwells within Christians, leading and enabling us to be children of God (Romans 8:14 Romans 8:14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
American King James Version×
).

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 just as consistently represented in a completely different manner. It is described as appearing as a dove (Matthew 3:16 Matthew 3:16And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, see, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting on him:
American King James Version×
; Mark 1:10 Mark 1:10And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending on him:
American King James Version×
; Luke 3:22 Luke 3:22And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove on him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased.
American King James Version×
; John 1:32 John 1:32And John bore record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it stayed on him.
American King James Version×
) and as “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3 Acts 2:3And there appeared to them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat on each of them.
American King James Version×
). Jesus Christ compared it with “living water” (John 7:37-39 John 7:37-39 37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. 38 He that believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. 39 (But this spoke he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
American King James Version×
).

There is further evidence that the Holy Spirit is not a person, but is the divine power of God. In Matthew 1:20 Matthew 1:20But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, you son of David, fear not to take to you Mary your wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×
, we read that Jesus was begotten by the Holy Spirit (Moffatt translation). Yet Jesus Christ continually prayed to and addressed the Father, not the Holy Spirit, as His father (Matthew 10:32 Matthew 10:32Whoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
American King James Version×
, 33; 11:25-27; 12:50; 15:13; 16:17, 27; 18:10, 35). He never represented the Holy Spirit as His Father.

Paul didn’t acknowledge the Trinity

If God were a Trinity, surely the apostle Paul, who recorded much of the theological underpinnings of the early Church, would have understood and taught this understanding. Yet we find no such concept in his writings.

Paul’s standard greeting in his letters to churches, as well as individuals to whom he wrote, is, “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” There is no mention of the Holy Spirit.

This same greeting, with only minor variations, appears in every epistle that bears Paul’s name: Romans 1:7 Romans 1:7To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×
; 1 Corinthians 1:3 1 Corinthians 1:3Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×
; 2 Corinthians 1:2 2 Corinthians 1:2Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×
; Galatians 1:3 Galatians 1:3Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ,
American King James Version×
; Ephesians 1:2 Ephesians 1:2Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×
; Philippians 1:2 Philippians 1:2Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×
; Colossians 1:2 Colossians 1:2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×
; 1 Thessalonians 1:1 1 Thessalonians 1:1Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, to the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×
; 2 Thessalonians 1:2 2 Thessalonians 1:2Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×
; 1 Timothy 1:2 1 Timothy 1:2To Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
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; 2 Timothy 1:2 2 Timothy 1:2To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
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; Titus 1:4 Titus 1:4To Titus, my own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior.
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; and Philemon 3.

The Holy Spirit is always left out of these greetings-an unbelievable oversight if the Holy Spirit were indeed a person coequal with God and Jesus Christ.

This is even more surprising when we consider that the churches to which Paul wrote had many gentile members from polytheistic backgrounds who had formerly worshiped 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 Paul’s writings, only in 2 Corinthians 13:14 2 Corinthians 13:14The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.
American King James Version×
is the Holy Spirit mentioned along with God the Father and Jesus Christ, and there only about our “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (New International Version) with God and Christ.

The apostle Paul states clearly that “there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things … and one Lord Jesus Christ …” (1 Corinthians 8:6 1 Corinthians 8:6But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
American King James Version×
). He makes no mention of the Holy Spirit as a divine person.

Other perspectives

Jesus Christ did not speak of the Holy Spirit as a third divine person; instead He only spoke of the relationship between Him and God the Father (Matthew 26:39 Matthew 26:39And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.
American King James Version×
; Mark 13:32 Mark 13:32But of that day and that hour knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
American King James Version×
; 15:34; John 5:18 John 5:18Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
American King James Version×
, 22; 8:16, 18; 10:30; 13:3; 17:11). Some passages, like Christ’s reference to the “Helper” or “Comforter” in John 14, 15 and 16, could easily be read as referring to a person. However, there is no reason to do so from the original language (see supplement article “Grammar Confuses the Nature of the Holy Spirit”).

Most Bible scholars, as pointed out in many translation notes, agree that the one biblical passage that most obviously supports a Trinity-the latter portion of 1 John 5:7 1 John 5:7For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
American King James Version×
and the beginning of the following verse-is readily acknowledged by Bible scholars as a spurious addition made long after John’s epistle was written. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary dismisses this passage as “obviously a late gloss with no merit” (Vol. 12, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 353).

In the final book of the Bible (and the last to be written), the Holy Spirit is conspicuously absent. The book describes “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1 Revelation 21:1And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
American King James Version×
) wherein “the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them” (verse 3). Jesus Christ, “the Lamb,” is also there (verse 22). The Holy Spirit, however, is completely missing-an incredible oversight if this Spirit is the third person of a Trinity. 

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