Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Is the Holy Spirit God?

Who is the Holy Spirit?  What is the holy spirit?  Is the Holy Spirit a person?  Some cults misrepresent the nature of the Holy Spirit and many people are not sure exactly what or who the Spirit of God is.  Genesis 1:2 states, “the Spirit of God was moving over the waters.”  Some have translated spirit here as “active force” indicating the spirit is an impersonal force, perhaps something like electricity or the force of gravity.  What does the Bible say about the Spirit of God? 

The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament for Spirit is ruach, from the word ruah (Strong’s 7307), used more than 340 times in the Bible.  The word means “breath, wind; by extension: spirit, mind, heart,” and is translated 227 times as spirit, 81 as wind, 27 as breath, and a few similar meanings.[1]  In the New Testament, the Greek word pneuma (Strong’s 4151) is translated 345 times as spirit.  The same word can also be translated as, “wind, breath, things which are commonly perceived as having no material substance; by extension: spirit, heart, mind”[2]

Filled with the Holy Spirit
Is the Holy Spirit a person or a force like the wind?  One Biblical example some use in an attempt to demonstrate that the Spirit is an inanimate force is Ephesians 5:18.  How can we be filled with a person as believers are instructed in Biblical passages such as Ephesians 5:18, in which we are instructed, “do not get drunk with wine…but be filled with the Spirit.”  In this verse, wine is a parallel of spirit, and wine is certainly not a person.  To further make this point, other verses in the Old and New Testaments speak of being filled with the Spirit.  In fact, in at least one instance, many people were filled with the Spirit simultaneously.  Acts 2:4 states that about 120 people in the upper room were “all filled with the Holy Spirit”.  How can that be possible if the Spirit is a personal being? 

Filled with God, filled with Christ
Other verses in the Bible speak of being filled with God Himself (Ephesians 3:19), with the word for God being theos (Strong’s 2316), the most common Greek word for God, used 1152 times in the New Testament.  Similarly, Jesus Christ is referred to as “Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23) and Ephesians 4:10 states that Christ “might fill all things”.  So, if God and Christ may fill believers and all things, and they are intelligent beings, then being filled with the Holy Spirit does not eliminate the possibility that the Spirit is also an intelligent being. 

Baptized with the Holy Spirit
Some people state that, since we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, He cannot be a personal being.  For example, John the Baptist stated, “I baptize you with water”.  Then, he said Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).  Since water and fire (inanimate things) are compared with the Holy Spirit, the spirit must also be an inanimate thing.  What is a response to this assertion?  First, this is non sequitur faulty reasoning:  Simply because A leads to B and A also leads to C does not necessarily indicate that B an C are of the same type.  Second, in Romans 6:3, baptism is associated with Jesus Christ (intelligent being) and death (not an intelligent being), by stating, “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death”.  Using the same logic, we could compare “Christ Jesus” to “his death”, which would not make sense.  Furthermore, since this same verse states that we can be baptized into Christ, who is an intelligent being, then being baptized into the Holy Spirit could also mean that the Spirit is an intelligent being. 

The Holy Spirit has no name
Some reason that, if the Spirit of God is a real person, he/it would have a name.  For example, the Son has a name (Jesus) and the Father has a name (Yahweh, Elohim, etc.).  It is interesting to note that the Spirit is never given a name in the Bible.  However, God typically uses names in the Bible, for Himself and others, not so much as meaningless identifiers like a social security number, but as character traits.  For example, the name Jesus (Hebrew, Joshua and Greek, Iesous) means “Yahweh saves”.  God referred to Himself as “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14).  In the Old Testament, the word elohim (Strong’s 0430) is translated as God 2250 times.  However, the word can mean, “mighty one, great one, judge”[3], which is not so much a name as a description or title.  There are a number of other titles for God, indicating he refers to Himself more descriptively, rather than by name.  Furthermore, other spirits mentioned in the Bible are not always referred to by name, but by description, such as evil spirits.  Some spirits are called evil without being given a name, so another spirit is called Holy, without being given a name.    

Is the Holy Spirit a force?
Some people reason that, because the Hebrew and Greek words translated as spirit can also be translated as inanimate things, such as breath or wind, so the spirit of God is also an inanimate thing.  However, the Bible clearly indicates that the Holy Spirit is a person, not a force.  The Spirit of God is described in the Bible as having attributes of personality, such as emotions, a will, and a mind.  The Bible also portrays the Holy Spirit as acting in ways that only a person would.  Some examples of these include the following:
·         The Holy Spirit can be lied to.  Peter asked Ananias, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3).  It does not make sense to say someone can lie to the wind or another inanimate thing.
·         The Holy Spirit knows things, therefore has cognitive abilities associated with an intelligent mind.  Paul informs that, “the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11).
·         The Holy Spirit has emotions and can be grieved.  Paul advises believers:  “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30).  Only a person with emotions can be grieved.
·         The Holy Spirit acts and wills.  Inanimate things can do neither.  The Bible states, “one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11).
·         The Holy Spirit teaches.  Jesus said, “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” (John 14:26).  An impersonal force does not teach.  A second point we can take from this verse is that the Holy Spirit is separate from God the Father and Jesus Christ.  Jesus speaks of the Spirit and the Father sends the Spirit. 
·         The Holy Spirit speaks and issues commands.  Acts 8:29 informs that “the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’"
·         The Holy Spirit guides.  Romans 8:14 states, “all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”  A person can lead another person, but an impersonal force does not lead a person. 
·         The Holy Spirit testifies.  Jesus said, “the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me” (John 14:26).  Jesus continued by saying of His disciples, “you will testify also” (John 14:27).  Only intelligent beings testify (as in a court of law) as do the disciples and the Holy Spirit.   
·         The Holy Spirit directs people.  Acts 13:4 states of Barnabas and Saul, “being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus.”
·         The Holy Spirit helps and intercedes for believers.  Paul informs that, “the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us” (Romans 8:26).  Jesus Christ is also described in the Bible as interceding for believers (Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25).

The Holy Spirit is somewhat of an enigma in the Bible.  However, the Spirit of God is clearly and unmistakably described in the Bible as an intelligent being and part of the Trinity.

[Biblical quotations are from the NASB version.]

Selected Bibliography
Geisler, Norman and Ron Rhodes, Correcting the Cults, Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 1997.
Rhodes, Ron, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publishers, 1993.

[1] James Strong, John Kohlenberger, and James Swanson, The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2001), 1565.
[2] Ibid., 1637.
[3] Ibid., 1472.

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