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10 Things You should Know about the Person of the Holy Spirit


Today we turn our attention to the person of the Holy Spirit. We’ll follow up next week by looking at the work of the Spirit. Continue reading . . . 

Today we turn our attention to the person of the Holy Spirit. We’ll follow up next week by looking at the work of the Spirit.

(1) In the OT the word most often translated as “Spirit” is the feminine noun ruach. It is used 94 times of the Spirit of God. In the NT the word most often translated “Spirit” is the neuter noun pneuma. Anthony Thiselton wisely reminds us that “it is an accident of convention that ‘spirit’ (ruach) in Hebrew is feminine, and ‘spirit’ (pneuma) in Greek is neuter. It does not suggest that Greeks viewed children as subpersonal merely because teknon, ‘child,’ is neuter” (Thiselton, The Holy Spirit – In Biblical Teaching, Through the Centuries, and Today, 121).

(2) The Holy Spirit is spoken of in the OT with regard to a number of activities: he is the divine creative power of God (Ps. 104:30; Isa. 32:14-15; Job 33:4; etc.); he empowers civil and military administrators (Num. 11:16-17; 27:18; Judges 3:10; 6:34; 14:5-6; 1 Sam. 10:1-10; 16:14; etc.); he equipped particular people with unique skills (Exod. 31:1-4); he inspired prophecy (Num. 11:24-30; 2 Sam. 23:1-2; Micah 3:8; etc.); he is the source of divine revelation and interpretation (Dan. 4:8-9; cf. 4:18; 5:11,14); he is God present with us (Ps. 139:7); and he will bring in the final age of God’s redemptive purposes (Isa. 11:1-2; 42:1; 59:21; 61:1; Ezek. 11:19; 36:26-27; Joel 2:28-29; etc.);

(3) That the Holy Spirit is a genuine person and not an impersonal power or force is seen in the fact that he has all the qualities we typically associate with personhood/personality: mind (Isa. 11:2); emotions (Rom. 8:26; 15:30; Eph. 4:30; Acts 15:28); and will (Acts 16:7; 1 Cor. 12:11).

(4) The Holy Spirit also performs all the functions of a personal being. He talks (Mark 13:11; Acts 1:16; 8:29; 10:19; 11:12; 13:2; 21:11; 1 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 3:7; Rev. 2:7 [“what the Spirit says to the churches”; see also 2:11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22); testifies (John 15:26; 16:23); can be sinned against (Matt. 12:31); can be lied to (Acts 5:3); can be tested/tempted (Acts 5:9); can be insulted (Heb. 10:29); enters into relationship with other persons (2 Cor. 13:14); encourages (Acts 9:31); strengthens (Eph. 3:16); and teaches (Luke 12:12; John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:13).

(5) The Holy Spirit is not simply a person, but a divine person. We know this because what is said of God is said of the Spirit (Acts 5:3-4); the Holy Spirit is identified with Yahweh (Acts 7:51, quoting Ps. 78:17, 21; Heb. 10:15-17, quoting Jer. 31:33-34); the activity of God = the activity of the Holy Spirit (e.g., in creation, conversion, etc.); what “God said” = “the Spirit said” (Isa. 6:9 / Acts 28:25); we are the “temple of God because the Holy Spirit dwells in us” (Eph. 2:22; 1 Cor. 6:19); blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only unforgiveable sin (Mt. 12:31; Mk. 3:28).

(6) Both the attributes and actions of deity are ascribed to the Spirit: omniscience (Isa. 40:13-14; 1 Cor. 2:10-11); omnipresence (Ps. 139:7-8); omnipotence (as seen in the Spirit’s role in creation [Gen. 1], providence [Ps. 104:30], regeneration, etc.; see especially Zech. 4:6); eternality (Heb. 9:14); and holiness (used of the Spirit only twice in OT: Ps. 51:11 and Isa. 63:10)

(7) The Holy Spirit is often linked with the Father and the Son in an obvious Trinitarian fashion (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Cor. 12:4; Rom. 5:1-8; 2 Cor. 3:1-4:6; Gal. 4:4-6; Eph. 1:3-14. See also 1 Thess. 1:4-5; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Cor. 1:4-7; 2:4-5; 2:12; 6:11; 6:19-20; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; Gal. 3:1-5; Rom. 8:3-4; 8:15-17; Col. 3:16; Eph. 1:17; 2:18; 2:20-22; Phil. 3:3.

(8) The fact that the Holy Spirit is referred to as “of the Father” and “of Christ” does not mean he is the “third” person of the Trinity. Neither should he be thought of as the “grandson of the Father”. As Christopher Holmes points out, to speak of the Spirit as the Spirit “of Christ” is “not to reduce the Spirit to an appendage of Christ or to collapse the Spirit into him. Rather, it is to say that the Spirit demonstrates profound boldness in promoting another, Jesus Christ” (The Holy Spirit, 22). This is simply to say that the Spirit is other-directed or Christ-directed.

(9) When we speak of the Holy Trinity we are saying that the Father is not the Son or the Spirit because as God he begets and is he from whom the Son and Spirit proceed. And the Son is not the Father or the Spirit because he neither begets nor proceeds but is begotten. And the Spirit is not the Father or the Son because he neither begets nor is begotten but rather proceeds.

(10) In his reflections on the Trinity, Jonathan Edwards spoke of the Spirit as the love that flows between the Father and the Son. He writes:

“And this I suppose to be that blessed Trinity that we read of in the holy Scriptures. The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner, or the Deity in its direct existence. The Son is the Deity generated by God's understanding, or having an idea of himself, and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the Deity subsisting in act or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth, in God's infinite love to and delight in himself. And I believe the whole divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the divine idea and divine love, and that therefore each of them are properly distinct persons.”

If Edwards’s conception of the Spirit causes you to question the personality of the Spirit, you can read his defense of the latter in his Discourse on the Trinity, Yale: 21.


OK, thanks Sam!

No, I'm not saying we shouldn't refer to the Spirit as the "third" person of the Trinity. I'm saying that the Bible never does this and that we should be cautious in using that terminology lest we suggest that he is in some way "less than" the other two or subordinate in glory and deity. The bible simply never "numbers" the persons of the Godhead. That was my point.

In point 8 you say, "The fact that the Holy Spirit is referred to as “of the Father” and “of Christ” does not mean he is the “third” person of the Trinity." So, we should NOT refer to Him as the 3rd Person of the Trinity? I hear theologians do this all the time. Please explain.

Hans, the remaining points (3-9) in the article!

What are the "other grounds" that can be used to establish the person-hood of the Holy Spririt?

Here are my observations on whether or not the Holy Spirit is described with masculine pronouns in John’s gospel.

Consider these texts.

“But the Helper [ho parakletos; masculine], the Holy Spirit [to pneuma to hagion], whom the Father will send in my name, he [ekeinos; masculine demonstrative pronoun] will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).

“But when the Helper [ho parakletos] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit [to pneuma] of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he [ekeinos; masculine demonstrative pronoun] will bear witness about me” (John 15:26).

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he [ekeinos; masculine demonstrative pronoun] will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority [literally, “from himself,” heautou; masculine possessive pronoun], but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He [ekeinos] will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14).

In a paper delivered to the Institute for Biblical Research (11-17-01), Dan Wallace has argued that such grammatical arguments for the Spirit’s personality are invalid. He argues that in John 14:26 and 15:26 the noun pneuma “is appositional to a masculine noun, rather than the subject of the verb. The gender of ekeinos thus has nothing to do with the natural gender of pneuma. The antecedent of ekeinos, in each case, is parakletos [a masculine noun], not pneuma” (6). As for John 16:13-14, again the masculine gender of ekeinos is more likely due to parakletos in v. 7 than to any attempt to predicate personality of the Spirit. Wallace also addresses similar cases in Ephesians 1:14 and 1 John 5:7-8. None of this is to suggest, however, that Wallace himself denies the personality of the Holy Spirit. He simply argues it must be established on other grounds.

My rudimentary understanding is that the Spirit is referred to in the masculine in John 16. Can you please confirm ?

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