The Deity of the Holy Spirit

What we believe about God is important. We are not at liberty to believe anything we like. In some of the recent controversies about the incarnation of Jesus we have seen several different depictions of the Lord. Some believe Jesus gave up all attributes so deity. His spirit was changed from a divine spirit to a human spirit. Others believe that Jesus had two spirits, one human and the other divine. These ideas are rooted in theology rather than scripture. The Bible depicts Jesus as a divine spirit clothed in human flesh. All that changed was the outward appearance (Phil. 2:7-8), not His nature. One can easily see that these are three different Jesus’.

The same may be said of God the Father. If we change His attributes or character we are worshiping a different God from the one revealed to us in scripture. For example, Calvinism teaches that God’s omnipotence is total. That is, all things happen by the will of God, including sinful acts. Calvinists tell us that God is not responsible for man’s sin even though He is the cause of sin. Such a doctrine eliminates man’s free will. This contradiction is categorized as part of the “great mystery” that somehow all works out in the mind of God. But omnipotence does not mean that God does everything, it means He has the ability to do anything that does not conflict with His nature or character. God has the ability to control His actions allowing for man’s free will (2 Pet.1:4-6, note that self-control is part of the divine nature). The Calvinists version of the Father is far different than the One revealed in the Bible.

Men have also tried to redefine the person of the Holy Spirit. When Aruis concluded that there was only one person in the godhead and that Jesus was a “lesser God” created by the Father, the Council of Nicea (325) rightly branded him a heretic. But implicit in the affirmations of Arius is that the Holy Spirit is not part of the godhead. This debate concerning the Spirit came several years after Nicea.

“Early in the Arian controversy, little attention had been paid to the Spirit, but from c. 360 this changed. The new issue may have arisen because the Anomoeans clearly declared that the Spirit was simply next in rank of created beings after the Son, made to give illumination and sanctification. The mainstream of the Nicene party wanted to place the Spirit alongside the Father and the Son since all three were mentioned together in the baptismal formula and the doxology. But some who were opposed to Arian teaching on the Son would not accord deity to the Spirit. This group, called the Pneumatonachi (Spirit-fighters) by their opponents, complained of a lack of scriptural evidence for the Spirit’s deity. In particular, they saw no warrant for another relationship than that of the Father and Son within the Godhead.” (New Dictionary of Theology, p.43)

Arius held that the Spirit was simply emanations or the power of God the Father. Today the teachings of Arius and the Pneumatonachi continue with the Unitarians, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. Sadly, a few brethren have taken up this cause. While there are many aspects of the Spirit worthy of examination, we will limit ourselves to two questions: 1) Is the Spirit a Person, and 2) Is the Spirit a Person of the Godhead?

Is the Spirit a Person?

Let’s begin by examining some of the claims of those who deny the Spirit as a living being. There are several basic arguments that are put forth that supposedly prove that the Holy Spirit is the impersonal power of God.

First, we are told: “The Holy Scriptures tell us the personal name of the Father—Jehovah. They inform us that the Son is Jesus Christ. But nowhere in the Scriptures is a personal name applied to the holy spirit.” (Reasoning From the Scriptures, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1989, pp. 406-7). There are several things wrong with this. In Luke 1:59-60, we are told of the events shortly after the birth of John the Baptist: “So it was, on the eight day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. His mother answered and said, ‘No; he shall be called John.’” Was John a person for the eight days that he remained unnamed? Certainly he was! Those who deny the Holy Spirit as a person admit that demons were living beings, yet, most demons are unnamed in the Scriptures. The fact that some men may not be satisfied with the designation of the Holy Spirit does not deny that the Spirit is not a person. But it does show an arrogance toward God and a disdain for how God has chosen to reveal Himself.

Second, we are told that the word “Spirit” is neuter gender. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is an “it” rather than a “He.” It is true that “Spirit” is neuter gender, but does it necessarily follow that the Spirit is an “it”? No! The word “child” (paidion) and “demon” (daimon) are also neuter gender. Yet, we understand that children and demons are living beings. It is also important to note that the pronouns that refer to the Spirit are masculine, indicating that the Spirit is a “He.” This argument shows a bias toward a preconceived idea.

Third, it is argued that the Spirit is described as being “poured out” (Isa. 44:3; Acts 2:17-18; 10:45 ) and “filling” people (Lk. 1:67; Acts 2:4; 4:8; etc.). Since a person cannot do these things, the Holy Spirit must not be a person. The assumption of this argument is that the Spirit is literally poured out and literally fills people. The fact is that these are figures of speech. Paul wrote, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering” (2 Tim. 4:6). Was Paul a person? In what sense was he being poured out? Peter asked Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” (Acts 5:3). Satan is a living being, yet, he “filled the heart” of Ananias. Clearly, this describes the relationship that Ananias had with Satan.

Fourth, we are told that the Bible merely “personifies” the Holy Spirit for effect. Just as death is personified in Rom. 5:17, or sin is personified in Rom. 7:8ff. But personification has a purpose. The idea that “death reigned” (Rom. 5:17) teaches us that all men are guilty of sin and worthy of spiritual death. Sin is personified (Rom. 7) to show the internal struggle of Jews who wrestled with the flesh. The Law of Moses could not forgive their sins, as much as they desired that forgiveness. Personification teaches us something about the nature of an inanimate object or an abstraction. If the Scriptures merely personify the Holy Spirit, what is it trying to teach us about the Holy Spirit? The most obvious answer is to take the word at it’s simplest interpretation, that the Holy Spirit is a living being.

Fifth, some say that the word Spirit (pneuma) simply means “wind or breath.” Therefore, the Spirit is simply the breath of God, God’s active force. But pneuma has a variety of meanings, and the intended meaning must be determined by the context. To assume one meaning for pneuma makes the Scriptures say some pretty silly things. Consider: “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the wind will not be forgiven men” (Matt. 12:31). “For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the breath will of the breath reap everlasting life.” - (Gal. 6:8). This argument is an assumption that is contrary to the evidence.

The Spirit posses all of the attributes of a living being. He has intellect, emotion, and will. He hears (Jn. 16:13). He can be lied to (Acts 5:3-4) and blasphemed (Matt. 12:31-32). He can be tested (Acts 5:9). He can be grieved (Eph. 4:30). He leads and forbids (Matt. 4:1; Acts 16:6-7). He speaks (Acts 28:25ff). He invites (Rev. 22:17)

Is the Spirit a Person of the Godhead?

To the unbiased mind, the passages above clearly show the Holy Spirit to be a person. As noted, there have been some who recognize the Holy Spirit as a person, but deny his deity. How do we know that the Spirit is a person equal to the Father and Son?

First, let’s note the close connection that is made in the Scriptures.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” - Matt. 28:19-20

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” - 2 Cor. 13:14

“For through Him (Jesus Christ, dg) we have access by one Spirit to the Father” - Eph. 2:18

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” - Eph. 4:4-6

In all of these passages the Spirit is tied to the Father and Son. He is equal to both, though each have different roles.

Second, the Spirit possesses all of the attributes that define deity as deity. Man possesses many of these attributes, after all, we are created in His likeness (Gen. 1:26). We have a spirit that, once created, will live eternally (though the godhead has lived from eternity past). We have mind, emotions, and will. God expects us to put on the “divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4-9). This refers to attributes of His character that we are to posses. But man is not God. While we may have many of His attributes, He has attributes that are unique to Him. The Spirit is omniscient (1 Cor. 2:9-11), omnipotent (Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:8; Mic. 3:8), and omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-10).

To deny the Spirit either as a person or as a part of the Godhead is to deny the clear and overwhelming teaching of Scripture. The Spirit is as much God as the Father and the Son.

By Dan Gatlin

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