Holy Spirit And Personhood
The Holy Spirit has perhaps been the least understood in the Scriptures down through the history of the Church. God's Spirit has been historically understood as: non-existent, the expression of His power and might (rather like electricity), the creation of the Son of God, just another expression of Jehovah God (modalism), a divine Person co-equal by nature with God the Father (Trinitarian), etc.
However, as with all things believed, these theories must be tested by the final source of all truth, the Scriptures. Church history and tradition can be informative in this analysis, if only in a negative sense, revealing what is error. But it can also be informative to understand what the Church came to believe about the Holy Spirit and how that conclusion was derived. However, even the teachings of the Church must come under the scrutiny of God's Word.
This is a response to the Holy Spirit as discussed in the Trinity Booklet and in the Reasonings book. It seems that there are some misconceptions, issues not considered and logical problems with both of these works. They are as follows:
The Holy Spirit as Active Force
The Trinity Booklet defines the Holy Spirit as a "controlled force that Jehovah God uses to accomplish a variety of his purposes. To a certain extent, it can be likened to electricity, a force that can be adapted to perform a great variety of operations" (p.20). Thus the Holy Spirit is impersonal.
However this creates some problems. What exactly is the nature of God's "force?" According to these two works the Holy Spirit is not God since it is an impersonal force that God uses. How, then, did the Holy Spirit come to be? If it is not created nor the Creator, what exactly is it?
It seems that there is a logical problem if the Holy Spirit is a force.
There are only two possible answers to this problem. First, it may be that this force is some energy source that emanates from Jehovah God's body. However, this creates other issues. Since God has a finite spirit body (WT 10/1/51, 2/15/81) can His supply of this force be infinite? Also, since His spirit body is finite that would necessarily limit the amount of spirit contained within. Is it then possible for Him to run out of spirit?
Second, the only other possible explanation is that this force is co-eternal with Jehovah God. That is, it is uncreated and has always existed along side of Him. If it is uncreated then it cannot be destroyed and exists independent of Him. This is contrary to Scripture because He alone is eternal and uncreated.
Another problem with the Holy Spirit being a force is how Jehovah God, who is located somewhere far away, can control events through this force trillions of miles away.
The Personality of the Holy Spirit
It would seem that the Scriptures do indicate the personality of the Holy Spirit for the following reasons.
1. In Acts 5:3-4 Peter first tells Ananias that he has "played false" to the Holy Spirit, and then that he has not played false to "men, but to God." The implication without any previous understanding is that the Holy Spirit and Jehovah God are the same. It may also be asked how a force can be "played false," lied to?
2. In Matthew 28:19 Christians are to baptize in the "name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
- Since the Father and Son are both persons it would seem that the Holy Spirit is also one, to be consistent.
- The Trinity booklet states that name does not always mean a personal name either in the Greek or English. However, no examples are given in the Greek.
- The Greek word for "name" (onoma) occurs 228 times in the NT. Except for four instances (where it refers to place names, Mark 14:32; Luke 1:26; 24:13; Acts 28:7) it always refers to persons.
- To read back into the Greek the English idiom "in the name of the law" is forcing a 20th Century interpretation upon a 1st Century culture. There is not one example of such usage in the NT.
- The Trinity booklet quotes A.T. Robinson as stating that the word "name" is used "for power or authority." But it must be noted that this is the power and authority of someone, not some impersonal force. An impersonal force does not exercise authority.
- It is also very problematic that Jesus would be essentially saying in this verse that Christians were to baptize in the name of the eternal personal Jehovah God, the created angelic being Jesus, and the impersonal active force of God! A Trinitarian concept eliminates all these difficulties.
3. John 14-16 teaches a great deal about the Holy Spirit. The only point the Trinity booklet deals with is a grammatical one. It points out that the use of a masculine pronoun does not prove personality but is dictated by grammar since parakletos (helper, comforter) is a masculine noun. This is true in a strict sense. See John 14:17 in KIT where this grammatical rule is strictly applied but is violated in Colossians 1:27. Here in Colossians the feminine "glory" is translated as "[his]" glory, to agree with the masculine subject Christ.
- However in this section of John it would seem that the personality of the Holy Spirit is emphasized at the expense of correct grammatical rules in a number of passages. In John 14:16; 15:26; 16:8,13,14 the emphatic masculine pronoun, eikeinos (He), is used of the Holy Spirit, whereas the neuter noun pneuma (Spirit) is used in the same context or sentence. Proper Greek grammar demands that nouns and their accompanying pronouns must agree in gender. This is seemingly intentional to emphasize a point, that the Holy Spirit is a person.
- Jesus also refers to the Holy Spirit as "another (allos) helper" which clearly implies that there is a first "helper." Jesus is called our "Helper" in 1 John 2:1. Since the first helper is a person it is consistent to think of the (an)other "Helper" as a person too.
- It is also instructive to note that the Holy Spirit is "allos," another helper of the same kind. John could have written "heteros," another helper of a different kind. While this does not prove the personhood of the Holy Spirit, to a reader of Greek the implication is clearly that the Holy Spirit is like Jesus, or the same. See Luke 6:6, "another Sabbath" where heteros is used meaning a different Sabbath, not the same.
- In John 14:26 Jesus states that the Holy Spirit will be sent in Jesus' name. It is not the normal usage to speak of sending an impersonal force in somebody's name. Then Jesus says that this impersonal force will teach them all things.
- Chapter sixteen of John contains Jesus' most extensive teaching on the Holy Spirit. Here Jesus states that the Holy Spirit is sent, arrives, will convict the world of sin and impending judgement, guide into all truth, says whatever He hears from the Father and Jesus. It seems absurd to say that an impersonal force will say nothing on its own but only what it hears.
- The Holy Spirit is described as being self-effacing, humble, and only concerned for the glory of Christ. Is an impersonal force these things?
The Holy Spirit as Contrasted with Unholy Spirits
If Jehovah God is a person, and the Devil and his legions (all spirits) are persons, and the 144,000 will be resurrected as spirits and live in heaven as spirit persons, then it must be admitted as being possible that the Holy Spirit is also a person.
1. Mark 3:22 begins a section of Scripture where Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons. After pointing out the contradiction of such a statement Jesus states that blasphemy against Him can be forgiven but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an everlasting sin; never to be forgiven. Mark then adds that Jesus said this because He was accused of having an unclean spirit.
- First, note that the Holy Spirit can be blasphemed. But so also can the word of God (Titus 2:5). So this in and of itself does not prove the personality of the Holy Spirit. However, that this form of blasphemy is apparently the worst kind strongly suggests that the Holy Spirit is God Himself.
- Second, in Matthew 12:32 (a parallel passage) speaking against the person of Jesus is contrasted with speaking against the Holy Spirit, which is worse. The implication, without any preconceived understanding, is that the Holy Spirit is a divine person.
- Third, the Holy Spirit is contrasted in the Mark version with an unclean spirit (Mk. 3:29-30). Jesus is charged with having an unclean spirit. To this He responds that He casts out these unclean, personal entities (with spirit bodies), by the power of the Holy Spirit, who by a consistent application of logic is also a person.
2. It is instructive to note the WTBTS teaching on the person of Satan (Awake 12/8/73).
- The Devil is a person because he talks to other persons. In Acts 8:29 the Spirit talks to Philip; in Acts 13:2 and Heb. 3:7 the Holy Spirit makes a pronouncement. The Holy Spirit talks with other people so He cannot be an unintelligent force.
- The Devil is given numerous names in the Scriptures which indicate that he is a person. The Holy Spirit is called the helper, the spirit of truth, a teacher, a guide (John 14:26; 16:13). These indicate that the Holy Spirit is a person.
- The Spirit is also said to have a mind (Romans 8:27), a will (I Corinthians 12:11), affections (Ephesians 4:30). How can a force have a mind, exercise a will, and feel grief?
Person or Personification
Both the Trinity booklet and the Reasonings book speak of the Holy Spirit as a personification; speaking of an impersonal reality as if it were personal. Examined more closely this understanding is fraught with problems.
1. It is true that impersonal realities are occasionally personified (sin, blood, water, death). However, no one thinks that sin, defined abstractly elsewhere as the failure to do what is right (James 4:17), acts of unbelief (Romans 14:23), or as transgression of the law (I John 3:4), is a person. No one thinks that death or water or blood are persons.
2. Potentially, the best example of personification is Wisdom in the OT. The problem here is two fold.
A. The personal emphases/references of the Holy Spirit far surpass the references to Wisdom being personal. Historically, it has never been thought that the Scriptures taught that wisdom is a person. On the other hand, most people historically (including many antitrinitarians) have understood the NT to teach that the Holy Spirit is a person.
B. The WTBTS has already identified wisdom as the prehuman existence of Jesus (WT 4/15/80).
"God's Son had a fondness for mankind even during his prehuman existence. Under the figure of wisdom personified, he is identified as God's "master worker" who served with gladness and said: "The things I was fond of were with the sons of men." (Prov. 8:30, 31; John 1:1, 14) So, with mankind's need of redemption in mind, Jehovah chose one especially fond of mankind-His only-begotten Son, who "emptied himself and took a slave's form and came to be in the likeness of men." (Phil. 2:5-7) Yes, God's Son displayed self-sacrificing love in becoming a man."
Watchtower 4/15/80, p.26, section 11. Love-The "Surpassing Way"
You can not identify wisdom, when speaking of Jesus, as his prehuman existence, and then argue, when speaking of the Holy Spirit, that wisdom is an impersonal personification.
3. Personification as a metaphorical device can only go so far. It appears that it is only in poetical books (primarily Psalms and Proverbs) and in the highly symbolic books of Daniel and Revelation, that you find impersonal realities personified. However, none of these are pictured in such a sustained fashion as the Holy Spirit in John 14-16. It is not possible to assert that the vast amount of Scriptures that speak of the Holy Spirit as a person are personifications, when nowhere in the Bible is this clearly indicated to be the case. This would imply that the Scriptures are misleading when speaking of the nature of the Holy Spirit.
4. It also seems that the Trinity brochure misunderstands certain Scriptures.
- In Judges 14:6 and Luke 5:17 it is stated that the Holy Spirit is equated with the power of God. However, in neither one of these passages is it stated that the Holy Spirit is the power of God.
- Mark 1:10 states that the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove. However, this no more proves the impersonality of the Holy Spirit than the fact that Jehovah (or His angel) appeared to Moses as fire proves that He is not a person.
- In Matt. 3:11 and Luke 3:16 the Holy Spirit is compared to fire. However, the Bible also figuratively speaks of God as fire (Deut. 4:24; 9:3; Heb. 12:29).
- The Reasonings book makes the point that if the Holy Spirit is a person it is nonsensical to speak of being filled with the Holy Spirit, a person. This is an allusion to Ephesians 5:18 where being drunk with wine is compared with being filled with the Spirit. However, in Ephesians 3:19; Colossians 1:27 and Galatians 2:20 the Kingdom Interlinear Translation in the Greek section correctly translates these Scriptures as being "filled with God" and "Christ in you." The New World Translation makes a deviation at this point that is a violation of Greek grammar by inserting the word "union" or "gives" where neither one of these words appear in the Greek nor are implied by the context. See also John 17:26 where "in them" (en autois) appears twice. The first time it is correctly translated as "in them." Two words later it is translated "in union with." If John had intended to say "in union with" he could have easily done so. This is extremely arbitrary and alters the meaning of the original text.
- In II Corinthians 6:6 the Holy Spirit is linked with a number of qualities in the Trinity booklet. But if one is going to be consistent it is more correct to say the Holy Spirit is a quality and not a force.
- I would also be interested in understanding what is meant by the following verse from the NWT:
"But when there is a turning to Jehovah, the veil is taken away. Now Jehovah is the Spirit; and where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom. And all of us, while we with unveiled faces reflect like mirrors the glory of Jehovah, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, exactly as done by Jehovah [the] Spirit." II Cor. 3:16-18
What does "Jehovah is the Spirit" mean?
It would seem that most of the arguments used by the WTBTS to discount the personality of the Holy Spirit are better explained by understanding the Holy Spirit as operating in ways that are not easily pictured as the actions of a human being.
This also seems to be a more satisfying explanation of the Scripture.