What Scripture Says About Salvation
A Bible Study by Fred Kenison
Monograph 13: God the Holy Spirit?
This brief study will consider whether or not the holy spirit is a person. Our look here will be rather abbreviated since a much broader study of the holy spirit is contained in Part III of this book.
In his book, The Holy Spirit, John F. Walvoord said,
"The Holy Spirit is presented in scripture as having the same essential deity as the Father and the Son and is to be worshiped and adored, loved and obeyed in the same way as God. To regard the Holy Spirit in any other way is to make one guilty of blasphemy and unbelief."
We shall attempt to discover if what Walvoord asserts is aligned with the scripture. We are not questioning whether or not the holy spirit is divine, but whether or not the holy spirit is a person.
Walvoord's (pp. 5-6) first argument is that,
"Every aspect of the doctrine of the holy spirit contributes to his personality, but a study of his attributes in themselves demonstrates the truth of his personality beyond question. Personality is commonly defined as containing the essential elements of intellect, sensibility, and will. All of these elements can be found in the holy spirit. His intelligence is manifest in all his mighty works. It is expressly claimed for the holy spirit, 'The spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For who among men knoweth the thing of man save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God none knoweth, save the spirit of God' (l Cor. 2:10-11). He is the spirit of wisdom (Eph. 1:17) and the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah (Isa. 11:2). His sensibility is revealed in that the spirit can be grieved by sin (Eph. 4:30). His will is shown in the sovereign bestowal of spiritual gifts on men which is accomplished, 'as he will' (l Cor. 12:11). Sustaining these essential elements of personality is the whole broad doctrine of the deity of the holy spirit. If God possesses personality, and the holy spirit is a person of the trinity, it follows that he has personality. A denial of his personality is a denial of the doctrine of the trinity."
And, Walvoord later says (p. 192) that,
"In the nature of the persons of the trinity, their personality is undivided, ministering and dwelling in entirety wherever any ministry or presence is indicated at all."
The last quote (p. 192) becomes rather ridiculous if we accept the clear teaching of scripture that Jesus was raised a glorified man, not a spirit, as he himself said: "for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." (Luke 24:39). He asked the disciples to feel him and see for themselves that what he said was true.
"For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (I Timothy 2:5).
Paul did not say "was" but "is," present tense, which means continuously. Jesus is definitely a man and has a personality. Either God is not around very often, or Walvoord is mistaken when he states that their personality is undivided and where one is present, they are all three present. Jesus said he was not a spirit, yet this concept would require him to be a spirit. Either the apostle Paul is mistaken, or Walvoord is mistaken.
Although Walvoord states that the personality of the holy spirit is beyond question, experience shows that few concepts are beyond question, least of all this one.
I Corinthians 2:10-11 is quoted to indicate that the spirit has intelligence.
"But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God."
Logically, if the spirit of God is given a personality of its own, then the spirit of man must also have a personality of its own, both supposedly separate from the person in which it abides.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 says,
"Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."
In other words, when we die our spirits return to God who gave them to us in the first place. This raises the question as to the difference between spirit and holy spirit.
The holy spirit is defined in I John 5:6:
"The Spirit is [the] truth."
The definite article was not translated in the KJV, but it is there in the Greek manuscript.
Concerning the use or omission of the definite article, Dana and Mantey (p. 148) said,
"In Xenophon's Anabasis, 1:4:6, emporion d' en to xopion, and the place was a market, we have a parallel case to what we have in John 1:1, kai theos en ha logos, and the word was deity. The article points out the subject in those examples. Neither was the place the only market, nor was the word all of God, as it would mean if the article were also used with theos."
In each of these examples there was an article only with one of the nouns, but in I John 5:6 the article appeared with both the subject of the sentence, the spirit, and the noun in the predicate, the truth. This means that truth is all of the spirit; and, the spirit is all truth, nothing else. So, if the spirit is only truth, how can it also be a personality?
In John 15:26, Jesus said to his disciples,
"But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me."
The word translated as "proceedeth" is present tense in the Greek and means that there is a continual "going forth" from the Father. This means a continuous exuding of spirit from God, or a continual exuding of truth.
Truth is one of God's attributes (see Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalms 31:5, Psalms 117:2, Isaiah 65:16, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:17-18). When God created man, he breathed into him, giving man a spirit from himself. This spirit is truth, and perhaps this explains why Jesus was so stern with those who were loose with the truth. They were corrupting their own spirit which had been instilled by God.
In reading John 14, 15, and 16, note how often spirit and truth are associated. It is a "spirit of truth" which Jesus is going to send, and this truth is constantly proceeding from the Father even today, as evidenced by the many acts of love which God the Father gives us. If we would exude the spirit which God put upon us, that spirit would also be evidenced by acts of love toward others. People might say we have "a loving spirit." But no one would say that the loving spirit we exhibited was a personality of its own separate from us.
I John 4:2 essentially denies that Jesus is a spirit:
"Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world."
The words "is come," is a perfect participle which, according to Dana and Mantey (p. 200), means,
"The perfect is the tense of complete action. Its basal significance is the progress of an act or state to a point of culmination and the existence of its finished results."
In other words the grammar used simply says that Jesus became flesh and continues to be flesh. He became flesh; he was crucified; he arose with a glorified body which was flesh; he ascended in the flesh; and he sits at the right hand of God in the flesh. To deny this is "that spirit of antichrist."
If a man can have a loving spirit, can he not also have a spirit of wisdom, a spirit of understanding (or an understanding spirit), and a spirit of counsel? Are not these characteristics of the one to whom the spirit belongs, rather than being characteristics of the spirit itself? Does the spirit exude a personality in its own right, or are these simply characteristics of the one to whom the spirit belongs?
We often confuse the characteristics of the one to whom the spirit belongs with being characteristics of the spirit itself. The spirit does not exude a personality in its own right, but simply displays the characteristics of the one to whom the spirit belongs. A man may show forth all of the above characteristics-a loving spirit, an understanding spirit, a wise spirit-and no one will ever claim that the spirit he exudes is a separate personality. So why do we say this of God?
Walvoord maintains that,
"His (the spirit) will is shown in the sovereign bestowal of spiritual gifts on men which is accomplished 'as he wills.' 1 Cor 12:11."
Walvoord considers the word "he" significant to his position. The word "he," however, does not appear in the Greek manuscript and was supplied by the translators according to the context, since Greek verbs carry no connotation of male or female. This verse would be more accurately translated "as that spirit wills."
One of Walvoord's main arguments is that the use of the personal pronoun affirms personality. He points out (p. 6) that,
"In normal discourse, personal pronouns such as I, thou, he, they are used of persons. While personification occurs in literature frequently, it is always quite apparent and does not leave the meaning in doubt. Personal pronouns are used of the Holy Spirit in such a way that personality is affirmed. In the New Testament the Greek word pneuma is neuter and would normally take a neuter pronoun. In several instances, however, the masculine pronouns are found (John 15:26, 16:13-14). The only explanation for the masculine is that the pronouns refer to a person. Relative pronouns are used in the same way in Ephesians 1:13-14. These indirect evidences confirm that the Holy Sprit is commonly regarded as a person in the scriptures."
One of Walvoord's strategies is to make a statement to forestall any deep scanning of the assertions he makes. For instance, consider his statement that although personification occurs frequently in literature it is always quite apparent and does not leave the meaning in doubt. Or, consider his statement that the only explanation for the masculine is that the pronouns refer to a person. If he is correct, then there is no reason to examine his statements. However, these assertions can hardly be accepted as automatic truth, and should indeed be open to study and discussion.
Contrary to what Walvoord claims, nowhere in the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament is there even one personal pronoun used in regard to the holy spirit. The pronouns used in reference to the holy spirit are either reflexive, demonstrative, or neuter. If translated correctly, the neuter form would be translated as "it."
However, several personal pronouns referring to the holy spirit are found in the English translations. Perhaps this was done because it is easier to translate the Greek pronouns as personal pronouns instead of demonstrative or reflexive. Or, perhaps it was done to make the scriptures agree with church doctrine. Nevertheless, these inaccuracies in translation have no doubt caused much confusion, especially for those who do not go back to check the original Greek manuscripts.
For instance, in John 14:16, there is no Greek word for "he," although the word "he" does appear in the KJV translation.
"And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he [it] may abide with you for ever."
This would be more accurately translated "it may abide" rather than "he may abide."
Again, in John 14:17,
"Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he [it] dwelleth with you, and shall be in you."
Here, the Greek neuter pronoun auto was used, and should be translated as "it," not "he." This verse also contains the relative pronoun ho, that can be translated as whom or which. If auto were translated as it instead of he, then ho would be translated as which instead of whom.
In other words, John 14:16-17 should read,
"And I will ask the Father, and another paraclete he will give you, that may remain with you forever, the spirit of the truth, which the world cannot receive, because it does not see it, nor know it; but ye know it, for it abides with you, and shall be among you."
In the New Testament, the Greek word pneuma is neuter and would normally take a neuter pronoun, auto. The fact that pneuma, spirit, is neuter, and neither male nor female, should be remembered at all times. It is highly misleading to construe something which is neuter as male. This error may be due to the predilection of the translators; it is certainly not in the grammar.
Walvoord also states that,
"In several instances, however, masculine pronouns are found (Jn. 15:26; 16:13-14)."
Is this true? John 15:26 says,
"But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me."
Three pronouns are used in regard to the spirit. The first pronoun is whom, from hon, which is a masculine relative pronoun. The second pronoun is which, the neuter form of the same relative pronoun hon. Therefore, in the same verse, the holy spirit is spoken of as a "whom" (masculine) and a "which" (neuter). The third pronoun used is he, from the Greek adjective ekeinos, used as a pronominal (pronoun), a demonstrative pronoun which should be translated as "that."
When translating, however, it is much easier to say "he" instead of saying "that one" or "that spirit" to which it refers. Notice that none of the three pronouns are personal pronouns. The "whom" could just as well be translated as "which," and the verse would read:
"But when the comforter is come, which I will send unto you from the Father, even the spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, that one (that thing, or that spirit) will testify of me."
Next, let us consider John 16:13-14:
"Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you."
Note that the word ekeinos is translated twice as "he" instead of "that," as it should be.
The other pronoun himself, eautou, is a reflexive pronoun, and although it is masculine the noun which it modifies does not need to be masculine, since it is definitely related to the spirit which is neuter. (For further study of this reflexive pronoun, see Green, pages 50 and 279.)
The other pronouns "he" do not appear in the Greek. The two pronouns translated as he come from ekeinos. They are demonstratives and should be translated as "that," with "one," or "spirit," added to clarify the meaning.
Another quotation from Walvoord says,
"The only explanation for the masculine is that the pronouns refer to a person."
Dana and Mantey (p. 35) say,
"But, however we may regard the importance of gender, as students of the Greek New Testament we must adapt ourselves to the fact. It is to be carefully observed that there is not only 'sense gender'-that which is relative to actual sex-but 'grammatical gender'-that which is determined purely by grammatical usage."
In other words, there are at least two explanations for the masculine usage of the pronouns in question. From the Dana and Mantey quote we know that the holy spirit is not referred to in the "sense gender" (relative to actual sex) because the word spirit is neuter, neither male nor female. This, then, leaves only the "grammatical gender," or that which is determined by grammatical usage. But why should "spirit," which is a neuter word in John's manuscript, be referred to by the masculine gender pronoun?
Recall that John 14:16-17 says,
"And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you."
Note that in these verses Jesus used the term another comforter, paraclete, as equating with the spirit. When Jesus used the word "another," the spirit was referred to as masculine because Jesus was masculine.
In the "grammatical gender," determined by the usage of grammar, the spirit in these few verses is referred to by a demonstrative pronoun (actually an adjective) in the masculine gender.
Nowhere in scripture is the spirit referred to by the personal pronoun "he" in the Greek manuscripts; this occurs only in the English translations, which is highly misleading. The KJV translators had probably already decided that the spirit was a "he" (the official church doctrine at that time), and their translation simply reflected their prejudiced belief.
If the spirit is referred to as masculine because of the "grammatical gender," which it is, then this becomes a use of personification, or anthropomorphism. It cannot be because of sex because the spirit is neuter. Green (pp. 183-184) says,
"Before abstract nouns the article denotes that the conception is individualised, as an object of thought. For example, the article is employed when the abstraction is personified."
Spirit is definitely an abstraction even as love, which is described in I Corinthians 13 in a personified sense, i.e. given human attributes while not being human or having form of any kind. Walvoord may consider his explanation to be "the only explanation," but there is clearly another explanation in the grammar books of which he should have been aware.
Walvoord offers Ephesians 1:13-14 as another scripture to support his thesis that the holy spirit is a person:
"In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory."
There are three relative pronouns in Ephesians 1:13-14, two which are translated "whom" and the other translated as "which." All of them are in the masculine, but all three could easily have been translated as "which." There seems to be no particular reason for why they are translated as "whom," or "which." This passage can certainly not be construed as conclusive evidence that the spirit is a person.
The word "spirit" is used 261 times in the New Testament. The only places found in which any kind of a pronoun was used in conjunction with "spirit" were the scriptures examined above: John 14:16-17, John 15:26, John 16:13-14, and Ephesians 1:13-14.
When there are 261 scriptures in which "spirit" is used, basing such a heavy doctrine as the trinity on only these four verses seems like capricious folly at best, and malicious intent at worst. This is especially so when considering that even these verses never contain a personal pronoun in the Greek manuscripts, only in the English translations.
Furthermore, none of the 261 verses refers to the holy spirit as "God the Holy Spirit." Perhaps this was simply an oversight on the part of the disciples and apostles who wrote the New Testament. If such a concept is as important as the organized churches today claim it is, surely those who wrote the New Testament would have mentioned it at least once.
In his book, Karl Barth, David L. Mueller, commenting on Barth who wrote much about the trinity, said (p. 64),
"Barth does not contend that the doctrine of the Trinity is to be found in the Bible."
And that is probably as truthful a statement as we may ever read about the concept of the trinity. Jesus was a person, but we find no such evidence concerning the spirit. And, neither Jesus nor the holy spirit are spoken of as being The God.
This short study has been limited to the question of whether or not the spirit was a person. A wider study of holy spirit follows in later monographs (Part III of this study). Those writings will delve into other aspects of the spirit, such as the ministry, or work, of holy spirit.
In summary, the scriptures never describe the holy spirit as a "he," only as neuter, and therefore neither male or female. This should be understood as the personification which it is.
# Logically, if the spirit of God is granted a personality of its own, then
the spirit of man must also have a personality of its own, both
supposedly separate from the person in which it abides.
# When we die our spirits returns to God who gave them to us in the first
# Scriptures say that the spirit is the truth.
# There is a continual exuding of spirit from God, or a continual exuding
# If we would exude the spirit which God put upon us, that spirit would
be evidenced by acts of love toward others. People might say we have
"a loving spirit." But no one would say that the loving spirit we
exhibited was a personality of its own separate from us.
# The grammar used indicates that Jesus became flesh and continues to
be flesh. He became flesh, he was crucified, he arose with a glorified
body which was still flesh. He ascended in the flesh, and he sits at the
right hand of God in the flesh.
# We often confuse the characteristics of the one to whom the spirit
belongs with being characteristics of the spirit itself. The spirit does not
exude a personality in its own right, but simply displays the
characteristics of the one to whom the spirit belongs. A man may show
forth many characteristics-a loving spirit, an understanding spirit, a
wise spirit-and no one would ever claim that the spirit he exudes is a
separate personality. So why do we say this of God?
# Nowhere in the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament is there even
one personal pronoun used in regard to holy spirit. The pronouns used
in reference to holy spirit are either reflexive, demonstrative, or neuter.
However, several personal pronouns referring to the holy spirit are
found in the English translations.
# Holy spirit is not referred to in the "sense gender" because the word
spirit is neuter, neither male nor female. This, then, leaves only the
"grammatical gender," or that which is determined by grammatical
usage. So why should "spirit," which is a neuter word in the Greek
manuscript, be referred to by the masculine gender pronoun?
# Spirit is definitely an abstraction even as love, which is described in I
Corinthians 13 in a personified sense, i.e. given human attributes while
not being human or having form of any kind.
# None of the 261 verses referring to holy spirit describe the holy spirit as
"God the Holy Spirit." Was this perhaps simply an oversight on the
part of the disciples and apostles who wrote the New Testament?
# Jesus was a person, but we find no such evidence concerning the spirit.
And, neither Jesus nor the holy spirit are spoken of as being The God.
© 2009, Fred Kenison and Merrill Douglass. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.