The Spirit Of God
To follow up on a prior post, I previously affirmed that Godhood, and distinct personhood, are both attributed to three Beings in the scriptures: The Father, Son, and Spirit – the Divine Community. When God speaks in the First Testament scriptures, it appears to me that he is speaking of himself singularly, on behalf of the Divine Community, not that he is himself in some sense triune. The Father, Son, and Spirit are one in that they are united in thought, purpose, and authority, though the Father is “greater” according to Christ. They are the same class of Being and thus are equal in that regard. Though they are distinct selves, there is no competition between them. Because they are one (indivisible), when I pray to one, I am praying to all. When I obey one, I am obeying all. When I honor one, I am honoring all. In my post, I saw no need to refer to them as one other than how the Bible reveals their oneness.
I looked at and affirmed the distinct personhood and deity of Christ, and now I will look at the matter of the distinct personhood of the Spirit. I want to be aligned with the teaching of the scriptures; I do not care to fit in with any religious establishments. Church councils and historical creeds do not determine truth for me. The people involved in these were not above error, nor were they above enforcing their creeds through political force. I have asked God to give me understanding and I pray that he has. It is important to point out that receiving understanding may not mean coming to a definite answer; maybe it means coming to a place where we examine traditional beliefs by the Word, and if there is a lack of clarity, we refrain from restricting ourselves to a certain way of thinking. I will say from the start, after spending some time studying this matter, I am not prepared to provide a definite affirmation. There is enough ambiguity for me to say that I must pray and seek more light on this subject.
I will start with some questions.
1. Why does the Bible refer to the Spirit as “it” at times?
2. Why does the Spirit not have a personal name like Yahweh and Yeshua (Jesus in Greek)?
3. What is the difference between the spirit (lower case s) of God and the Spirit (capital S) of God? There are many verses I could list for this comparison, but here are two:
a. Exodus 31:3 – “And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge,
and in all manner of workmanship.”
b. Ephesians 5:18 – “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;”
4. What is the difference between the holy spirit, the holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost)? Note the usage of a capital or lower case “s” in these verses. These are but a few examples that highlight these differences:
a. Psalm 51:11 – “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.”
b. Isaiah 63:10 – “But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he
fought against them.”
c. Luke 11:13 – “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your
heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”
d. Luke 1:21 – “And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her
womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:”
5. Since God is a Spirit, are there two Spirits in the Divine Community?
6. Why do people say the Spirit is not a divine center of consciousness but rather the active presence or force of God and/or Christ?
7. Can a mere force be grieved? (Ephesians 4:30)
8. Can a mere force have a will? (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
9. If lying to the Spirit means we lie to God, does this mean the Spirit is God? (Acts 5:3-4)
10. Could the Bible simply be personifying the Spirit as it does wisdom, death, and sin?
11. Why did the Lord Jesus not include knowledge of the Holy Spirit as being necessary for eternal life? (John 17:3)
12. Why does Paul not mention the Holy Spirit in in his greetings in his epistles?
a. Romans 1:7 – “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our
Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.:
b. 1 Corinthians 1:3 – “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
c. 2 Corinthians 1:2 – “Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
d. Galatians 1:3 – “Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ,”
e. Ephesians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4;
f. Could this be a major oversight on the part of Paul?
13. Why did James say he was a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, but not of the Holy Spirit?
a. James 1:1 - “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad,
b. Is this a major oversight on the part of James?
14. Why did Christ commission his disciples to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”?
These questions pull us one way then the next along the spectrum of this subject.
Some argue that the Bible verses that indicate the Spirit has a distinct personality from the Father and the Son are simply personifications of God’s presence, power, or one of his attributes. The same could be said of God’s wisdom, for example. Luke 11:49 records these words of the Lord Jesus:
“Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute:”
This verse does not teach that the wisdom of God is a distinct personality, but God’s wisdom is certainly personified. As for the argument that only a real person could be lied to (Acts 5:4), the Bible says in Proverbs 8 that God’s wisdom: can cry (1), speak (1), call (4), instruct (10), dwell with prudence (12), find out knowledge (12), counsel (14), love (17), be loved (17), lead (20); that it existed before creation (22-29); was with God (30); can be hearkened to (32); and can be sinned against (36). *See also chapter 9.
Following this line of thinking, when the Spirit is referred to as a Comforter, or when the Bible says the Spirit speaks, teaches, bears witness, hears, grieves, etc., these are personifications of God’s Spirit (and Christ’s, as the Father and Son are one in Spirit). Some believe that an additional point to be made that supports this explanation is the fact that the Father and Son have personal names, but the Spirit does not.
It appears that it can rightly be argued that the Hebrews never considered the Spirit of God to be another person, but an extension or expression of God’s presence. When David prayed: “take not thy holy spirit from me”, the translators appeared to understand this as God’s presence, not a person, since they did not capitalize “holy spirit.” It is not always clear why a lower case “s” was used in some places for the word Spirit and a capital “S” at others, and one wonders if these instances are mere theological decisions by translators since capital letters were not used in the Hebrew language, and the original Greek New Testament was written in all capital letters. While I believe in the inspiration of the original Hebrew and Greek scriptures, I can see how translators could “muddy up the waters” by applying the rules of their languages based on theological assumptions.
Again, it is commonly admitted that the Hebrews did not hold to the concept of a multiple person God, yet the Spirit of God is mentioned numerous times in the Hebrew scriptures. Clearly, they believed the Spirit of God was divine, but they did not consider the Spirit of God to be a separate person from God. Many theologians today claim to know better what the Hebrews believed and taught about God than the Hebrews did. That is not a light matter in my eyes. When reading the Hebrew scriptures, it appears that the distinction between God and the representations of the Spirit of God, is that God is the one true God, and the Spirit of God is God’s manifestation of his presence and power.
The Lord Jesus said that “I and my Father are one”, but never claimed the Spirit was a person that was one with the Son and the Father. Why is this? John said that Christians are those who have entered into fellowship with the Father, the Son, and other Christians (1 John 1:3). What a sleight this would be against the Holy Spirit if he is a third person of the Divine Community. Paul wrote:
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)
Some interpret this to mean that, according to Paul, the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit) is the holy influence that brings us together in fellowship. Notice this fellowship, or communion, is with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3), and of the Spirit according to Paul (2 Corinthians 13:14).
Some believe that the Holy Spirit is to God what man’s spirit is to man because man was made in the image of God. A person’s spirit is not a separate person from himself, but the life-giving breath of God that gives him personality. Just so, God’s spirit (or Spirit) is his life force, power, and presence.
Consider what the Bible says about the spirit of men:
“And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and they brought the LORD’S offering to the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all his service, and for the holy garments. And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing hearted, and brought bracelets, and earrings, and rings, and tablets, all jewels of gold: and every man that offered an offering of gold unto the LORD.”
A man’s spirit can make him willing, but this isn’t a reference to another person.
“Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said, Therefore do my thoughts cause me to answer, and for this I make haste. I have heard the check of my reproach, and the spirit of my understanding causeth me to answer. Knowest thou not this of old, since man was placed upon earth, That the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment?”
A man speaks of “the spirit of my understanding”, but it isn’t referring to another person.
“And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.”
A man’s spirit can behave one way or another. This doesn’t mean his spirit is a separate person.
“Thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!”
A man’s spirit can influence and lead him.
1 Corinthians 2:9-15:
"But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 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. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.”
This passage appears to equate the relationship between a man and his spirit and God and his Spirit. A man’s spirit can lead and be followed. Doesn’t this say the same about God’s Spirit, or the Holy Ghost?
“And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof: and Pharaoh told them his dream; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh.”
A man’s spirit can be troubled, but this doesn’t mean his spirit is another person. Might this explain how God’s Spirit can be grieved?
1 Kings 21:5:
“But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said unto him, Why is thy spirit so sad, that thou eatest no bread?”
Once again, a man’s spirit can be sad, or grieved, but this not does speak of his spirit being a distinct person.
2 Kings 2:15:
“And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.”
The spirit of a man can rest on another man, though it does not mean that he is resting on the man in person.
2 Chronicles 36:22:
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,”
A man’s actions can be said to come forth from his stirred spirit.
“For I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me.”
A man’s spirit can compel him; to it can be ascribed the language of activity. This does not mean it is a separate person.
“I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.”
Here a man’s spirit searching his heart is equivalent to self-contemplation. His spirit is not a separate being, it is himself, his own mind and consciousness within him.
“Because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips.”
A man’s spirit was provoked. This does not mean his spirit is another person, only that his spirit is an element of his identity, or an expression of his being.
“But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them.”
God’s Spirit can be vexed.
Isaiah 65:14 “Behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for vexation of spirit.”
And so can man’s spirit be vexed; this does not mean man’s spirit is a separate center of consciousness.
“And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
The spirit and power of a man can assist a messenger in turning people toward God. This does not mean the spirit of man is a separate self.
From looking at all of these verses, we can see that an attribution of personal qualities is made to man’s spirit – why not God’s?
Though we know that a person (including the Father and the Son), an individual center of consciousness, has a spirit, we never read in the Bible of the spirit of the Spirit. Does the Spirit have a spirit? God (who is Spirit) does. Christ does. Is this an important insight for us to consider? Does it help us as we seek to understand the nature of the Spirit of God? It appears we can rightly ascribe divinity to the Spirit, or a supernatural essence, as it is the personal Spirit of God and Christ, but this is not the same as calling the Spirit a third self or person. The Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit; Spirit of Christ) may be referred to as “he” because, rather than being an impersonal force, it is the personification and operational presence and mind of God, the divine breath of life, the expression and source of consciousness. The spirit of a person is “him” or “her” in the deepest sense, and in God’s case, is an extension of his Being. The Spirit of God is the agency of God that contains his thinking patterns and can carry out his will. Perhaps the Spirit is not a separate person from God, but is in fact God – God’s presence, the operational consciousness and presence of God’s self that can be grieved, sinned against, or pleased. If so, God and the Spirit are not two distinct persons (though a distinction exists within God’s Personhood – perhaps akin to the difference between soul [being] and spirit [operational consciousness or mind] though both belong to the concept of one “self”); the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father, just as the Bible says.
Do the following verses contradict, confirm, or corroborate with any of these concepts?
“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:” John 15:26
“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 shew you things to come.” John 16:13
“Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.” Acts 8:29
“While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee.” Acts 10:19
“And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house:” Acts 11:12
“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Romans 8:26
“And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:27
“But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”
1 Corinthians 2:10
*See Psalm 77:6 and accompanying comment above and compare it with 1 Corinthians 2:10.
As pointed out by another source:
“Note that it is impossible to establish that the Holy Spirit was believed to be a third Divine Person from New Testament times onwards. Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople, wrote in 380 AD:
"Of our thoughtful men, some regard the Holy Spirit as an operation, some as a creature and some as God; while others are at a loss to decide, seeing that the Scripture determines nothing on the subject" (Oratio 38: De Spiritu Sancto). Source (a site that I do not endorse)
I will finish for now by taking into consideration the words that are recorded in Matthew 28:19.
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:”
The respected commentator Albert Barnes said about this verse:
“The union of these three names in the form of baptism proves that the Son and Holy Spirit are equal with the Father. Nothing would be more absurd or blasphemous than to unite the name of a creature - a man or an angel - with the name of the ever-living God in this solemn rite. If Jesus was a mere man or an angel, as is held by many who deny his divinity, and if the Holy Spirit was a mere "attribute" of God, then it would have been the height of absurdity to use a form like this, or to direct the apostles to baptize people under them. How absurd would be the direction - nay, how blasphemous - to have said, "Baptize them unto God, and unto Paul, and unto the "wisdom or power" of God!" Can we believe that our Saviour would have given a direction so absurd as this? Yet, unless he himself is divine, and the Holy Spirit is divine, Jesus gave a direction substantially the same as this. The form of baptism, therefore, has been always regarded as an unbreakable argument for the doctrine of the Trinity, or that the Son and Holy Spirit are equal with the Father.”
As with others who have studied the Bible and written their thoughts, you can see the inherent tension related to this debate embedded in Barnes’ words. It would be several centuries after the death and resurrection of Christ that people connected to the Church would formulate what we now call the Trinity. Matthew 28:19 strongly implies there is truth to this formula. Many are not convinced, however.
An analogy taken from a commenter on a discussion forum stated: “….pretend that I am an ambassador of a country and I am tasked to deliver a speech to a foreign land. In my speech, I start saying: "In the name of our president, our senate, our house of representatives, and of our beloved country, this is our message to all of you…”
His argument is that the words of Matthew 28:19 do not prove there are three divine selves, but three subjects that are related to the salvation of man. Can the term “name” be used for something that is not a person? We use this term this way frequently, in fact, by making command statements such as “stop, in the name of the law”, though I am not sure this helps us in this particular matter.
It is worth considering that there is no evidence in the New Testament of anyone’s baptism being accompanied by these words, for the apostles repeatedly preached that people were to be baptized in the name of Christ. I have read that the earliest manuscripts did not contain these words, but that is not something I am able to confirm nor deny.
People have struggled for centuries with the concepts set forth in the teachings of the “Trinity”, and those problems, while not stated in this article, do undergird this study. I am aware of the counter points in this discussion. At this point, I must align myself with those referred to by Gregory of Nazianzus who are “at a loss to decide” when it comes to the exact nature of the Spirit of God.