The Holy Spirit: An Impersonal Force?

Is the Holy Spirit of the Godhead, or not? Is the Holy Spirit a personality, or an impersonal force? How should we think about the Holy Spirit?

Some teach that the Holy Spirit is not deity, but a thing, a force. The Jehovah Witnesses believe and teach this. A Jehovah Witness tract states, “The Bible’s use of ‘holy spirit’ indicates that it is a controlled force that Jehovah God uses to accomplish a variety of his purpose. To a certain extent, it can be likened to electricity, a force that can be adapted to perform a great variety of operations” (Should You Believe in the Trinity?, The Holy Spirit – God’s Active Force, p. 20). A Jehovah Witness book states, “It is not a person but a force that God causes to emanate from himself to accomplish his holy will” (Reasoning From the Scriptures, p. 381). Islam also denies the deity of the Holy Spirit. The Quran reads, “They put questions to you about the Spirit say, ‘The Spirit is at my Lord’s command. Little indeed is the knowledge vouchsafed to you’” (Sura 17).

A Case For Personality

The Holy Spirit is spoken of as possessing emotions. The Spirit can not only be lied to (Acts 5:3) and resisted (Acts 7:51), but grieved (Ephesians 4:30). This sounds like a personality and not some impersonal force like electricity. God can be grieved (Genesis 6:6). Jesus was grieved on earth (Mark 3:5). The Holy Spirit loves (Romans 15:30). God loves (John 3:16). Jesus loves (Mark 10:12). This does not sound like electricity.

The Spirit is spoken of as having knowledge (1 Corinthians 2:9-11) and speaking (1 Timothy 4:1). The Jehovah Witnesses explain the speaking this way: “While some Bible text says that the Spirit speaks, other text shows that this was actually done through humans or angels… The action of the Spirit in such instances is like that of radio waves transmitting messages from one person to another far away” (Should You Believe in the Trinity?, p. 22). However, the Bible likens the Spirit’s knowledge to the Spirit of man knowing (1 Corinthians 2:9-11). Just as one cannot know the inner thoughts, or plans of another man unless he reveals such. Even so, one cannot know the plans of God unless such is revealed. The Spirit knew and revealed such speaking through inspired apostles and prophets. This does not sound like radio waves.

The Spirit is referred to as “another Helper” (John 14:16-17). Jesus was going away (John 16:5-7). He would not leave them helpless as orphans (John 14:18). He would send them “another Helper.” The term “another” is in the Greek allon meaning another of the same kind. If Jesus was not an impersonal force, why should one conclude that the Spirit is?

A Case for Deity

The Holy Spirit possesses characteristics which one would expect of deity. The Spirit is eternal (Hebrews 9:14), omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-10), and omniscient (Isaiah 40:13-14).

What is said of the Spirit is said of God. When man lies to the Spirit (Acts 5:3), he is lying to God (Acts 5:4). It is possible that such, taken alone, might simply be language of agency (cf. John 13:20). However, consider that what is said about the characteristics of the Spirit (Isaiah 40:13-14), also is said of God (Job 21:22; 36:22-23; Romans 11:34-35; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

The Spirit is joined closely with the Father and the Son in the Scriptures: (1) Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in (literally ‘into’ – B.H.) the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is language of possession and protection (B-A-G). To sign a piece of land over into the name of someone is to transfer ownership to that someone. To deposit money into the name of someone is to put that money into the account of that someone. To entrust something into the name of someone is to place that something into the protection or trust of that someone. Arndt-Gingrich lexicon says, “through baptism… the one baptized becomes the possession of and under the protection of the one whose name he bears.” “Name” is singular. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are so closely joined that the singular “name” is used. This does not sound like some impersonal force. Moreover, remember that “Paul would not allow people to be baptized into his name (1 Corinthians 1:13).” (Roy Lanier, Sr., The Timeless Trinity, pp. 307). (2) 2 Corinthians 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” Roy Lanier, Sr. has written, “How would it sound if you heard this: ‘The grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of Peter be with you’? …Only persons of deity are allowed in the hallowed triumvirate” (ibid, pp. 306-307).

Objections

It is objected that the neuter pronoun “it” is used of the Spirit. “It is true that the neuter pronoun ‘it’ is sometimes used when speaking of the Holy Spirit (e.g. Romans 8:16, B.H.)… The gender of the pronoun is determined by the gender of the noun… the word for Spirit being a neuter noun, the pronoun referring to it has to be neuter gender. However, in several places the writers of the New Testament used the masculine pronoun (e.g. John 14:26; 16:13-14, B.H.)” (ibid, p. 297). Marion Fox warns that we should be careful with our language. He wrote, “When people hear Christians use the word ‘it’ to refer to the Holy Spirit, they immediately think that the Holy Spirit is a force rather than a person” (The Work of the Holy Spirit, Vol. 1, p. 55).

Some have argued that since the Spirit is connected with “water” and “fire” (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8), the Spirit must not be a person. Such reasoning would reduce the apostles to being a force without personality (Acts 5:32).

Some have argued that since “water” and “blood” and “the Spirit” are said to be witnesses (1 John 5:8), the Spirit must not be a person. Such reasoning would make John and the Father not persons [(cf. John 5:31-35, 36, 37-39). If the King James rendering of 1 John 5:7 is allowed (I do not think it should be) then the Father, by such reasoning, would not be a person]. In truth, it is possible for both people and things to bear witness, or provide evidence.

Some have pointed out that “wisdom” (e.g. Luke 7:35) “sin” and “death” (Romans 5:14, 21) and other things are personified in the Bible. This is true. However, such does not establish that such is the case for “the Spirit.”

Some have argued that since “the Spirit” is connected with “wine” (Ephesians 5:18),  the Spirit must be a thing and not a person. However, consider this: If I said “Let God influence you and not wine,” am I removing the possibility of personality for God? Certainly not.

Some have argued that one cannot be “filled” with a person (Ephesians 5:18). I would point out that the Bible speaks of God abiding in us (John 14:23; 1 John 4:15) and Jesus abiding in us (Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:27) are we to think of them as lacking personality?

Some have wondered how a person can be poured out (Acts 2:16-ff cf. Joel 2). Marion Fox has written, “That which was poured forth in Acts 2:33 was seen and heard… it is evident that they did not see the Holy Spirit. This must be a metonymy where the cause (the Holy Spirit) is put for the effect (the working of miracles)” (ibid, pp. 199-200).

Some have wondered how one can be baptized with a person (Mark 1:8; Acts 1:4-5). It should be remembered that neither the Holy Spirit, nor the Father have bodies like ours (cf. Luke 24:39-40; John 4:24). This needs to be kept in mind. However, this is simply a reference to the Holy Spirit coming immediately upon one, overwhelming, miraculously empowering (Acts 1:8), and filling one (Acts 2:4). This happened to the apostles on Pentecost (Acts 2). It was through this, it appears, that the apostles received their apostolic powers (Galatians 1:1; 2:8 cf. 2 Corinthians 12:12-13).

Some have argued that in some passages there is an absence of the definite article (e.g. Acts 6:3-5). This is true. However, the article is present in other passages (e.g. Matthew 12:32; 28:19). “If the absence of the article in such passages as Acts 6:3, proves that the Spirit is not a person, then the presence of the article in such passages as Matthew 12:32, proves his personality. This poses a contradiction. Therefore, the argument is unsound. Further, if the absence of the Greek article proves a lack of personality, then God the Father is not a person because several passages do not have the Greek article with the word God (cf. Matthew 4:4)” (Marion Fox, The Work of the Holy Spirit, Vol. 1, pp. 51-52).

The objections have been considered. However, the evidence is clear to me. The Holy Spirit is not simply an impersonal force, but a personality, and of the Godhead.

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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One Response to The Holy Spirit: An Impersonal Force?

  1. Pingback: God: One or Three? (Part 3) | Bryan Hodge

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