Digression 3: Is the Holy Spirit a Person?

Studies 2.1 and 2.2 have given ample evidence that God’s spirit refers to His power, which reflects His “mind” in a very broad way. Because the way God’s spirit acts is such an accurate reflector of the essence and personality of God, some have argued that God’s spirit is a person who is also God. A careful re-reading of the previous sections will show that God’s spirit is His mind and power. Electricity is an unseen power that can produce results for the person controlling it, but it cannot be a person. Love is a part of someone’s character, but it cannot be a person. God’s spirit includes His love, as part of His character, and also refers to His power, but in no way can it refer to a person who is separate from Him.
It is a tragedy to me that this mistaken view (of the spirit being a person) is believed by the majority of Christians, seeing that they believe in the doctrine of the ‘trinity’. This effectively states that there are three gods who are somehow also the same - God the Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus.
There is good reason to believe that the ‘trinity’ was fundamentally a pagan idea imported into Christianity - hence the word does not occur in the Bible. If we accept this idea that God is a trinity, we are then driven to reach the conclusion that somehow God’s power/spirit is a person, who is also God, although not God the Father. When confronted with the illogicality of their position, the most popular escape route is for such people to claim that God is a mystery, and that we should accept such things in faith without requiring a logical explanation.
This pointedly overlooks the references in the New Testament to the mystery of God being revealed through the word and work of Christ.
• “I would not, brothers, that you should be ignorant of this mystery” (Rom. 11:25).
• “The preaching of Jesus...the revelation of the mystery” (Rom. 16:25).
• “I shew (explain to) you a mystery...” (1 Cor. 15:51).
• “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will” (Eph. 1:9; 3:3).
• Paul’s preaching was “to make known the mystery of the Gospel” (Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3).
• “The mystery...now is made manifest to his saints” (Col. 1:26,27).
With all this emphasis - and it is that - on there not now being any mystery attached to fundamental doctrines, it will only be someone still in darkness who will claim that there is. And does such a person not worry that the Bible’s name for “Babylon”, the system of false religion described in Revelation, is “Mystery” (Rev. 17:5)? The obvious implication is that this system proclaims that its beliefs are a mystery; but the true believers understand the mystery of that woman (Rev. 17:7).
Such hazy reasoning arises from having an understanding of God which is based upon subjective things like human experience, or the sense we have of church traditions. If we are expected to be truly humble to the teaching of God’s Word, it follows that we are also required to use basic powers of reasoning and deduction in order to discover its message.
Never did any preacher of the Gospel recorded in the Bible resort to saying, ‘This is a complete mystery, you cannot begin to understand it’. Instead, we read of them appealing to people through reason and drawing logical conclusions from Scripture.
In his preaching of the type of Gospel fundamentals which we are considering in these Studies, Paul “reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, … that Christ needed to have suffered, and risen again” (Acts 17:2,3). Here was systematic, logical Bible reasoning par excellence; and the record prefaces this sentence with, “Paul, as his manner was...reasoned...”. This was, therefore, his usual style (see also Acts 18:19). In keeping with this, during the great campaign at Corinth, Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews...(but) when they opposed themselves...” (Acts 18:4-6). Those who were converted went through a process of persuasion by Paul’s Bible-based reasoning.
Notice, too, that the inspired record makes an appeal to logic and rationality, by pointing out that they “opposed themselves”. Likewise at Antioch, Paul and Barnabas “speaking (the word) to them, persuaded them...” (Acts 13:43). Their next stop was Iconium, where they “so spake, that a great multitude...believed” (Acts 14:1).
As he stood trial for his life a while later, the same glorious logic continued to inspire Paul’s sure hope for the future: “He reasoned of righteousness, temperance and judgment to come” with such penetrating clarity that even his cynical, laid-back judge “trembled” (Acts 24:25).
Because our conversion should be based on such a process of reasoning, we should be able to give a logical Biblical account of our hope and doctrine.
“Be ready always to give an answer to every man who asks you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15).
To talk in a sober voice about one’s personal experiences, valid testimony as this can be, is not the same as the Gospel. We must be ever giving a reason of the Gospel hope. Such personal anecdotes must not be allowed to conflict with the words of Paul: “We preach not ourselves, but Christ” (2 Cor. 4:5) - and that from a man who ‘had a personal relationship with Jesus’ more than most.
The logical, Biblically reasonable manner of our conversion should set the pattern for our wider relationship with God through the rest of our days. Our examples, as always, are the first Christians who used “reason” to figure out the solutions to their problems of administration (Acts 6:2). The New Testament letters also assume their readers’ acceptance of using Biblical logic. Thus “by reason of” what the High Priests were like under the Law of Moses, we can understand details about the work of Christ (Heb. 5:3). Having spoken of the surpassing love of God in Christ, Paul urges that it is “your reasonable (Greek ‘logikos’ - i.e. logical) service” to totally dedicate ourselves to Him in response (Rom. 12:1). The word ‘‘logikos’ is derived from the Greek ‘logos’, which is the word normally translated “the word” with reference to God’s Word. Our “logical” response in Biblical terms is therefore one which is derived from God’s Word.
If we cannot draw logical conclusions from the Scriptures, then all Bible study is vain, and there is no need for the Bible, which can be treated just as sweet platitudes or a piece of fascinating literature. This is all it seems to be on many bookshelves.
However, to their credit, there are many earnest Christians who believe that the spirit of God is a person, and they do try to give Biblical reasons. The verses quoted are those which speak of God’s spirit in personal language, e.g. as “the comforter” in Jn. 14 16, or reference to the spirit being “grieved”.
We demonstrate in Study 4.3 that a man’s “spirit” can be stirred up (Acts 17:16), made troubled (Gen. 41:8) or happy (Lk. 10:21). His “spirit”, i.e. his very essence, his mind and purpose, which gives rise to his actions, is therefore spoken of as a separate person, but, of course, this is not literally so. God’s spirit, too, can be spoken of in the same way.
It must also be understood that the Bible often uses the language of personification when talking about abstract things, e.g. wisdom is referred to as a woman in Prov. 9:1. This is to demonstrate to us what a person who has wisdom would be like in practice; ‘wisdom’ cannot exist except in someone’s mind, and so this device of personification is used. For more on this, see Digression 5, “The Principle of Personification”.
Paul’s letters contain opening salutations which refer to God and Jesus, but not to the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Thes. 1:1; 2 Thes. 1:2; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Tit. 1:4; Philemon 3). This is strange if he considered the Holy Spirit to be part of a godhead, as the ‘trinity’ doctrine wrongly supposes. Some of the Holy Spirit was poured out on men (Acts 2:17,18; the same Greek construction is found in Mk. 12:2; Lk. 6:13; Jn. 21:10 and Acts 5:2). How can we receive part of a person? We are given “of His [God’s] spirit” (1 Jn. 4:13). This is nonsense if the Holy Spirit is a person. Another serious nail in the coffin of the proposition that the Holy Spirit is a person is the fact that the Holy Spirit is described in the Greek text with a neuter gender (as reflected in the AV of 1 Jn. 2:27, where it is called “it”). This means that when we read passages which speak of the Holy Spirit as “he”, we are definitely seeing a personification of a power, not a reference to an actual person.