The Holy Spirit — a Person or Force? – Chapter 6 – Yes, You Should Believe in the Trinity!

Yes, You Should Believe in the Trinity bookCHAPTER 6: THE HOLY SPIRIT—A PERSON OR FORCE?

PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

“THE Bible’s use of ‘holy spirit’ indicates that it is a controlled force…it can be likened to electricity, a force that can be adapted to perform a great variety of operations.…On one occasion the holy spirit appeared as a dove. On another occasion it appeared as tongues of fire—never as a person.…some Bible texts say that the spirit speaks.…The action of the spirit in such instances is like that of radio waves….”—Should You Believe in the Trinity?, pp. 20-22

We have already discussed how a personal being does not need to possess a physical body in order to qualify as a “person.”  For example, Satan has never appeared in a physical body, yet even Jehovah’s Witnesses agree that this fact does not imply that he is not a personal being.  Yet, the Watchtower Society asserts that the Holy Spirit “never” appears as a person in the Biblical text and discounts all of the personhood texts about the Holy Spirit by attributing the actions of the Holy Spirit seen in the text to being a mere force like “electricity” or “radio waves” and pointing to examples where the Spirit is described in non-personal ways such as the “tongues of fire” of Acts chapter two. Yet, simply because the Holy Spirit has appeared in forms other than that of a physical being, does not indicate that He is not a person.  In fact, the opposite is true as we will see in the following Scripture texts where the Holy Spirit is described as possessing all of the qualifying attributes of personhood:

THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS A MIND:

ROMANS 8:27: “and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
1 CORINTHIANS 2:10-11: “For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God….Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.”

THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS EMOTIONS:

EPHESIANS 4:30: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God….”
ISAIAH 63:10: “But they…rebelled and made his holy spirit feel hurt.”—New World Translation
MICAH 2:7: “…Is the Spirit of the LORD impatient? Are these His doings?”
HEBREWS 10:29: “…and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS A WILL AND ISSUES COMMANDS:

1 CORINTHIANS 12:11: “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”
ACTS 8:29; 13:2,4; 16:6: “And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’ …The Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’…So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit….having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”
2 SAMUEL 23:2: “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue.”

  THE HOLY SPIRIT IS TREATED AS A PERSON:

JOHN 14:16; 15:26: “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper….When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me.…”

Concerning the Holy Spirit being our Helper, Ron Rhodes notes:

“Now there are two words in the Greek language for the English word ‘another’: The first one (heteros) means ‘another of a different kind.’ The other Greek word (allos) means ‘another of the same kind.’ It is this second word, allos, that is used in John 14:16. So Jesus is saying that He will ask the Father to send another Helper of the same kind as Himself—that is, personal!”—Reasoning from the Scriptures with Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1993, p. 212

ROMANS 8:26: “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
JOHN 14:26: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”
1 TIMOTHY 4:1: “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away.…”
ACTS 5:3-4: “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit.…You have not lied to men, but to God.’ ”

Now let’s take some of these same verses and substitute the word “electricity” or “radio waves” for the Holy Spirit and see how they would read.

“…but the radio waves Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts [God] knows what the mind of the radio waves is….for the electricity searches all things, even the depths of God….Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the electricity of God.…But they themselves rebelled and made his electricity feel hurt.…And do not grieve the radio waves of God…How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who…has insulted the radio waves of grace?….Is the electricity of the LORD impatient?…But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the electricity….’ ”

How can an impersonal force express personality?  I can’t make the electricity in my room express my personality any more than I can cause radio waves to “feel” hurt.  As one considers these passages, the irrationality of interpreting the Holy Spirit as a mere force is plainly manifest.

  MATTHEW 24:36 – THE HOLY SPIRIT DOES NOT KNOW…?

An argument that is not mentioned in this Watchtower brochure on the Trinity but is used in other literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses to try to disprove the Personhood and Deity of the Holy Spirit is a reference to Matthew 24:36.  In the 2006 Watchtower publication, What Does the Bible Really Teach?, the Society states:

“Consider what was written by Matthew, …he quotes Jesus as saying: ‘Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.’ (Matthew 24:36) … Jesus says that the Father knows more than the Son does. …Yet, some will say: ‘Jesus had two natures. Here he speaks as a man.’ But even if that were so, what about the holy spirit? If it is part of the same God as the Father, why does Jesus not say that it knows what the Father knows?” —What Does The Bible Really Teach?, pp. 203-204

Nowhere in this verse does Jesus mention the Holy Spirit or say that He does not know what the Father knows concerning Christ’s return.  In fact, Scripture specifically teaches that the Holy Spirit knows everything that the Father knows when it states at 1 Corinthians 2:11 in the New World Translation, “…no one has come to know the things of God, except the spirit of God.”  If the Holy Spirit is the only One who ‘knows the things of God,’ how can He not know the Father’s plan concerning the specific day and hour Christ will return?

  THE HOLY SPIRIT INDWELLS BELIEVERS

Several passages of Scripture describe people being “filled” with the Holy Spirit.  The Watchtower Society points to these passages in an attempt to claim that the Holy Spirit must be an impersonal force because he indwells other beings.  Note the following argument from the Watchtower:

“…regarding Samson, Judges 14:6 relates: ‘The spirit of Yahweh seized on him….’ …Did a divine person actually enter or seize Samson, manipulating his body to do what he did? No….Acts 2:1-4 relates that the disciples were assembled together at Pentecost when….‘they all became filled with holy spirit.…’ …People are urged to become filled with holy spirit instead of with wine. (Ephesians 5:18)…Such expressions would not be so common if the holy spirit were actually a person.”—Should You Believe in the Trinity?, pp. 21-22

Is this a viable argument? Is it impossible for a spirit-person to “fill” another physical person?  Let’s consider the following passage:

“And when He had come out onto the land, He was met by a certain man from the city who was possessed with demons.…And seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him.…For He had been commanding the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had seized him many times.…And Jesus asked him. ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him.”—Luke 8:27-30

Obviously no Jehovah’s Witness would claim demonic spirits are not persons simply because they are able to enter and “seize” humans. Yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses accept this Watchtower argument against the personhood of the Holy Spirit.  Now, let’s consider another passage of Scripture.  At 2 Timothy 4:6, the Apostle Paul claims: “I am already being poured out as a drink offering….”1. Is Paul a non-personal force or a type of drink? Of course, the context makes it clear that Paul is using a non-personal expression to provide a picture of the exhaustion he faces in personal ministry.  Likewise, when we see non-personal expressions or metaphors used for the Holy Spirit, this does not imply that the Holy Spirit is a non-personal force or object.  Likewise, in the following Scriptures we read that both the Father and Jesus “fill” people to empower them for ministry:

“…that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.…one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”—Ephesians 3:19; 4:6

“…which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead.…and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all.…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.…Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test.”—Ephesians 1:20, 22-23; 3:17; 2 Corinthians 13:5

Are we to argue that the two other Persons of the Triune God are not personal beings because they “fill” Christians in much the same way that the Person of the Holy Spirit is said to “fills” Christians?  Of course not!  Since it is clear that both the Father, Jesus, and demons are not any less personal beings simply because they “fill” people, we must therefore conclude that this Watchtower argument is untenable, for the Holy Spirit is not any less a person than the Father and the Son.

  PERSONIFICATION AND THE HOLY SPIRIT

“In the Scriptures it is not unusual for something to be personified. Wisdom is said to have children. (Luke 7:35) Sin and death are called kings. (Romans 5:14, 21)…But, of course, sin is not a spirit person; nor does personifying the holy spirit make it a spirit person. Similarly, at 1 John 5:6-8 (NE) not only the spirit but also ‘the water, and the blood’ are said to be ‘witnesses.’ But water and blood are obviously not persons, and neither is the holy spirit a person.…At Matthew 28:19 reference is made to ‘the name…of the holy spirit.’ But the word ‘name’ does not always mean a personal name.…Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament says: ‘The use of name (onoma) here is a common one in the Septuagint and the papyri for power or authority.’ ” —Should You Believe in the Trinity?, pp. 21-22

Concerning the Scripture’s personification of wisdom and death, Peter Barnes2. notes:

“It is vitally important to understand that the purely abstract attribute of wisdom is personified only once in the entire New Testament. Also, sin is personified just five times, and death six times, on the other hand, the Holy Spirit is personified in excess of one hundred times. There is positively no valid parallel between the way in which the New Testament writers spoke of the Holy Spirit and their sporadic personification of utterly abstract things.” —The Truth About Jesus And The Trinity, 1994, p. 48

The assertion that the Holy Spirit is not a person because he is associated with impersonal objects is another argument that is not reasonable for Scripture also associates Jesus with impersonal objects such as the following:

DOOR (John 10:9) VINE (John 15:1) ROCK (1 Cor. 10:4) STONE (1 Peter 2:6-8)
BREAD (John 6:41) TRUTH (John 14:6) LIGHT (John 8:12) WORD (John 1:1)

In regard to the Watchtower argument that the word “name” used in reference to the Holy Spirit only refers to power and authority, Robert Bowman comments:

“The booklet offers two points in rebuttal to this argument. First, they state that ‘the word “name” does not always mean a personal name, either in Greek or in English,’ and give as an example the expression ‘in the name of the law’ (p. 22). No examples from biblical Greek, however, are given. In fact, the Greek word for ‘name’ (onoma) is used some 228 times in the New Testament, and except for four places-names (Mark 14:32; Luke 1:26; 24:13; Acts 28:7; see also Rev. 3:12) always refers to persons. Reading the modern idiom ‘in the name of the law’ back into Matthew 28:19 is simply anachronistic. Second, the booklet quotes A.T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament as saying that the word name is used ‘for power and authority.’ That is true, of course, but it stands for the power or authority of someone, never some impersonal force. An impersonal force cannot have authority; only a person can.”—Why You Should Believe in the Trinity, pp. 114-115

  THE HOLY SPIRIT – A NEUTER NOUN

“JESUS spoke of the holy spirit as a ‘helper,’ and he said it would teach, guide, and speak. (John 14:16, 26; 16:13)…On the other hand, when the neuter Greek word for spirit (pneu’ma) is used, the neuter pronoun ‘it’ is properly employed.”—Should You Believe in the Trinity?, p. 22

While it is true that Greek grammar rules require that neuter personal pronouns be used in conjunction with neuter nouns, Ron Rhodes comments:

“The primary reason the Jehovah’s Witnesses say the Holy Spirit is an ‘active force’ is that the Greek word for ‘Spirit’ (pneuma) is neuter. However, as noted above, this is faulty reasoning, since the gender of the word has to do with the grammatical form of the word and not actual physical gender. For example, one will find that in Scripture, neuter terms are used in reference to infants (Luke 1:41,44; 2:16; 18:15), children (Mark 5:39-41), girls (Matthew 9:24,25; Mark 5:41,42), unclean spirits (Matthew 12:24,27,28; Mark 7:26,29,30), and angels (Hebrews 1:14). Obviously, each of these beings have personality, even though a neuter term is used in reference to them. We can safely conclude, then, that the use of a neuter term does not indicate a lack of personality.”—Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1993, pp. 213-214

Peter Barnes is also quick to observe that “in the very chapter to which the Watchtower article makes reference, namely John 16:13-14, there are three strikingly clear instances where the masculine personal pronoun is used in connection with the neuter word ‘Spirit.’”3. In other words, the apostle John broke Greek grammar rules when he wrote John 16:13-14, because he used the personal pronoun “he” in reference to the neuter gender noun “Spirit.” How is that for indicating personality? To see just how clearly the Apostle John promoted the personhood of the Holy Spirit in his writings, we will look at John 16:13-14 from the New World Translation Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses:

“However, when that one arrives, the spirit of the truth, he will guide YOU into all the truth, for he will not speak of his own impulse, but what things he hears he will speak, and he will declare to YOU the things coming.  That one will glorify me, because he will receive from what is mine and will declare it to YOU.”

Not only is it interesting to note all of the personal pronouns “he” translated in reference to the Holy Spirit in this Bible used by Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the phrase translated “that one” for the Greek word  ekeinos (ἐκεῖνος) in both verses is significant when viewed in the Greek text because it is clearly masculine, not neuter.  On page 102 of the Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, William D. Mounce explains:

“The demonstratives in Greek are οὗτος (this/these) and ἐκεῖνος (that/those). They function the same way as they do in English, but as pronouns and as adjectives. The difference between the English and Greek demonstratives is that the Greek demonstratives also have case and gender.”—Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, 1993, p. 102

Mounce’s Grammar goes on to explain on page 103 that the form of this word rendered ἐκεῖνος is masculine while ἐκεῖνο is in the neuter form.  If the Apostle John were to be consistent with Greek grammer rules, he would have had to use the form ἐκεῖνο when speaking of the neuter word “spirit,” but instead he chose the masculine pronoun ἐκεῖνος that can be clearly seen in the Greek/English Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures published by the Watchtower Society.

THE TRIUNE GOD

On page 21 of the Trinity brochure, the Society quotes Edmund Fortman as stating: “Although this spirit is often described in personal terms, it seems quite clear that the sacred writers [of the Hebrew Scriptures] never conceived or presented this spirit as a distinct person.” However, they fail to note that Fortman goes on to say:

“Perhaps it can be said that some of these writing about word and wisdom and spirit did provide a climate in which plurality within the Godhead was conceivable to Jews. However, these writers definitely do give us the words that the New Testament uses to express the trinity of persons, Father, Son, Word, Wisdom, Spirit.”—The Triune God, p. 9

On page 22, the Society goes on to quote Fortman as stating: “The Jews never regarded the spirit as a person; nor is there any solid evidence that any Old Testament writer held this view.…The Holy Spirit is usually presented in the Synoptics [Gospels] and in Acts as a divine force or power.” Notice how the first statement is separated from the second statement by an ellipsis. The Society pulled these statements from two different pages of Fortman’s book and took them out of context. Note the contexts from which these two quotes are taken:

The spirit of Yahweh was often described in personal terms. The spirit was grieved, guided men, instructed them, caused them to rest (Ps 143.10; Neh 9.20; Is 63.10,14). But it seems quite clear that the Jews never regarded the spirit as a person; nor is there any solid evidence that any Old Testament writer held this view. A few scholars today maintain, however, that even though the spirit is usually presented as an impersonal divine force, there is an underlying assumption that the spirit was a conscious agent, which ‘provided a climate in which plurality within the Godhead was conceivable.’ ” —The Triune God, p. 6

The Holy Spirit is usually presented in the Synoptics and in Acts as a divine force or power. But in a few passages the sacred writers leave a vivid impression that for them He was someone distinct from both Father and Son with a distinct personal existence.”—The Triune God, p. 15

Scripture not only reveals that the Holy Spirit is a person, but He is also God:

· ACTS 5:3-4: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit….You have not lied to men, but to God.”
· 2 CORINTHIANS 3:17: “Now Jehovah is the Spirit; and where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.”—New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures

JEHOVAH SPOKE
THE HOLY SPIRIT SPOKE
ISAIAH 6:8-10: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’…And He said, ‘Go, and tell this people: “Keep on listening, but do not perceive.…Lest they see with their eyes…and return and be healed.” ’ ”
ACTS 28:25-27: “…The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying, ‘Go to this people and say, “You will keep on hearing, but will not understand.…Lest they should see with their eyes…and return, and I should heal them.” ’ ”

NEXT CHAPTER

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1. See also Philippians 2:17
2. Peter Barnes, who was a Jehovah’s Witness for 30 years, served as a Circuit Overseer over 16 Kingdom Halls before he encountered Christ. He currently directs the “Out of Darkness Into Light” ministry based in San Diego, CA.
3. The Truth About Jesus And The Trinity, by Peter Barnes, 1989, 1994, p. 49

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