The Holy Spirit – Is He a Person?
Most Christians do not have an issue with identifying the Holy Spirit as God, though they may ‘struggle’ finding the relevant Biblical verses to confirm their belief. However, before we cover the deity of the Spirit, it is important to understand that the Bible is emphatic about the personhood of the Holy Spirit, i.e. He is a person, not a divine energy.
In understanding the personhood of the Spirit, the doctrine of the Trinity becomes a tad clearer.
Just a force or Power?
There is a tendency to think of the Holy Spirit as a force or a power. The symbolic reference to the Spirit as a dove , oil , water , fire , and wind adds to this idea. Additionally, the use of the Spirit being poured on people seems to suggest the wrong notion of the Holy Spirit being a ‘force’.
The very title ‘Holy Spirit’ sometimes lends itself to that unfortunate understanding. ‘Spirit’ in Greek is the word ‘Pneuma’, from which we get the words, ‘wind’, ‘breath’ or ‘power’, none of which depict the picture of a person, but that of a nebulous energy.
The symbols we use also enhance the imagery of ‘force’ or ‘influence’. There is an unfortunate reference of “it” in referring to the Holy Spirit in the otherwise wonderful King James Version. That translation is due to the fact that the Greek word for ‘Spirit’ is a neuter word.
However, here is the beauty of inspiration. Jesus Himself uses the pronoun “He” when referring to the Holy Spirit, and not the neutral “it”; though grammatically, if the word is a neuter, then the pronoun must also be. However, that is not the case in at least twelve instances. The neuter word ‘Spirit’ is preceded by a male pronoun (Jones, 1997). Go figure.
Let us look at three other ways where the personhood of the Holy Spirit is made evident.
Attributes of a Person – Roles
We find the personhood of the Spirit reflected in the roles He undertakes – to teach, bear witness, and help. These are terms that we would use in our daily lives to describe our friends, relatives and other persons being ascribed to the Holy Spirit. However, these are also roles we play as Christ-followers. In the local Church, there are Bible teachers who expound the Word, and we know it is the Holy Spirit who teaches through them. As Christ-followers, we are to bear witness of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit . Also, the term for helpmeet used for women in marriage is the same term used for the Spirit. It has thus been argued that the roles played by the Spirit are in conjunction with men and women who add the aspect of the personhood required to carry out the roles.
However, we must be careful not to confuse the roles played by men and women in the strength of the Spirit as the complete fulfillment of the verses indicated above. The Spirit is not dependent on humans to teach, bear witness or be a helper although He does allow us the privilege. Privilege is certainly not the same as dependence, and we are the ones who are both the privileged and the dependent in this equation.
Then there are also the personal characteristics that the Holy Spirit exhibits.
Some of the characteristics are: intelligence, mind, sovereign will, He can be lied to, He has emotions, He can be resisted, He expresses love . The sin of blasphemy against the Spirit , the unforgiveable sin, cannot be committed against ‘Energy’, nor lying or grieving against an impersonal force.
The Bible teaches us that the Holy Spirit is a person and treats Him as such; the attributes He exhibits are evidence of this.
Association in the Work
In certain other passages, the Holy Spirit is seen as a person in His association with mankind. In Acts, we read, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements.” This was part of the letter that was sent by the Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem to the Church in Antioch. Here, we find an example of the Holy Spirit working together with man and possessing anthropomorphic or human-like qualities.
Additionally, the concept of personhood of the Holy Spirit is extremely important to our sanctification just as much as it is to our salvation. If our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, we realize that there is a constant companionship of His presence with us as a person — He is with us wherever we are, and whatever we do. That is a sobering yet comforting thought.
The Holy Spirit is a person just like God the Father and God the Son. By understanding the unique personhood of the Spirit, it clarifies His distinction from that of the Father. This distinction is important since there is a tendency to attribute the personhood of the Father to the Spirit. That form of thinking acknowledges the Spirit as a dependent manifestation of the Father. This false teaching is called ‘Modalism’, which is debunked in any systematic study of the doctrine of the Trinity.