The Holy Spirit—God’s Active Force
ACCORDING to the Trinity doctrine, the holy spirit is the third person of a Godhead, equal to the Father and to the Son. As the book Our Orthodox Christian Faith says: “The Holy Spirit is totally God.”
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word most frequently used for “spirit” is ruʹach, meaning “breath; wind; spirit.” In the Greek Scriptures, the word is pneuʹma, having a similar meaning. Do these words indicate that the holy spirit is part of a Trinity?
An Active Force
THE Bible’s use of “holy spirit” indicates that it is a controlled force that Jehovah God uses to accomplish a variety of his purposes. To a certain extent, it can be likened to electricity, a force that can be adapted to perform a great variety of operations.
At Genesis 1:2 the Bible states that “God’s active force [“spirit” (Hebrew, ruʹach)] was moving to and fro over the surface of the waters.” Here, God’s spirit was his active force working to shape the earth.
God uses his spirit to enlighten those who serve him. David prayed: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Your spirit [ruʹach] is good; may it lead me in the land of uprightness.” (Psalm 143:10) When 70 capable men were appointed to help Moses, God said to him: “I shall have to take away some of the spirit [ruʹach] that is upon you and place it upon them.”—Numbers 11:17.
Bible prophecy was recorded when men of God were “borne along by holy spirit [Greek, from pneuʹma].” (2 Peter 1:20, 21) In this way the Bible was “inspired of God,” the Greek word for which is The·oʹpneu·stos, meaning “God-breathed.” (2 Timothy 3:16) And holy spirit guided certain people to see visions or to have prophetic dreams.—2 Samuel 23:2; Joel 2:28, 29; Luke 1:67; Acts 1:16; 2:32, 33.
The holy spirit impelled Jesus to go into the wilderness after his baptism. (Mark 1:12) The spirit was like a fire within God’s servants, causing them to be energized by that force. And it enabled them to speak out boldly and courageously.—Micah 3:8; Acts 7:55-60; 18:25; Romans 12:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:19.
‘Power Beyond Normal’
GOD’S spirit can also supply “power beyond what is normal” to those who serve him. (2 Corinthians 4:7) This enables them to endure trials of faith or to do things they could not otherwise do.
For example, regarding Samson, Judges 14:6 relates: “The spirit of Yahweh seized on him, and though he had no weapon in his hand he tore the lion in pieces.” (JB) Did a divine person actually enter or seize Samson, manipulating his body to do what he did? No, it was really “the power of the LORD [that] made Samson strong.”—TEV.
The Bible says that when Jesus was baptized, holy spirit came down upon him appearing like a dove, not like a human form. (Mark 1:10) This active force of God enabled Jesus to heal the sick and raise the dead. As Luke 5:17 says: “The Power of the Lord [God] was behind his [Jesus’] works of healing.”—JB.
God’s spirit also empowered the disciples of Jesus to do miraculous things. Acts 2:1-4 relates that the disciples were assembled together at Pentecost when “suddenly there occurred from heaven a noise just like that of a rushing stiff breeze, . . . and they all became filled with holy spirit and started to speak with different tongues, just as the spirit was granting them to make utterance.”
So the holy spirit gave Jesus and other servants of God the power to do what humans ordinarily could not do.
Not a Person
ARE there not, however, Bible verses that speak of the holy spirit in personal terms? Yes, but note what Catholic theologian Edmund Fortman says about this in The Triune God: “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.”
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) At Genesis 4:7 The New English Bible (NE) says: “Sin is a demon crouching at the door,” personifying sin as a wicked spirit crouching at Cain’s door. 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.
In harmony with this is the Bible’s general usage of “holy spirit” in an impersonal way, such as paralleling it with water and fire. (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8) People are urged to become filled with holy spirit instead of with wine. (Ephesians 5:18) They are spoken of as being filled with holy spirit in the same way they are filled with such qualities as wisdom, faith, and joy. (Acts 6:3; 11:24; 13:52) And at 2 Corinthians 6:6 holy spirit is included among a number of qualities. Such expressions would not be so common if the holy spirit were actually a person.
Then, too, while some Bible texts say that the spirit speaks, other texts show that this was actually done through humans or angels. (Matthew 10:19, 20; Acts 4:24, 25; 28:25; Hebrews 2:2) The action of the spirit in such instances is like that of radio waves transmitting messages from one person to another far away.
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, either in Greek or in English. When we say “in the name of the law,” we are not referring to a person. We mean that which the law stands for, its authority. 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.” So baptism ‘in the name of the holy spirit’ recognizes the authority of the spirit, that it is from God and functions by divine will.
JESUS spoke of the holy spirit as a “helper,” and he said it would teach, guide, and speak. (John 14:16, 26; 16:13) The Greek word he used for helper (pa·raʹkle·tos) is in the masculine gender. So when Jesus referred to what the helper would do, he used masculine personal pronouns. (John 16:7, 8) On the other hand, when the neuter Greek word for spirit (pneuʹma) is used, the neuter pronoun “it” is properly employed.
Most Trinitarian translators hide this fact, as the Catholic New American Bible admits regarding John 14:17: “The Greek word for ‘Spirit’ is neuter, and while we use personal pronouns in English (‘he,’ ‘his,’ ‘him’), most Greek MSS [manuscripts] employ ‘it.’”
So when the Bible uses masculine personal pronouns in connection with pa·raʹkle·tos at John 16:7, 8, it is conforming to rules of grammar, not expressing a doctrine.
No Part of a Trinity
VARIOUS sources acknowledge that the Bible does not support the idea that the holy spirit is the third person of a Trinity. For example:
The Catholic Encyclopedia: “Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find any clear indication of a Third Person.”
Catholic theologian Fortman: “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.”
The New Catholic Encyclopedia: “The O[ld] T[estament] clearly does not envisage God’s spirit as a person . . . God’s spirit is simply God’s power. If it is sometimes represented as being distinct from God, it is because the breath of Yahweh acts exteriorly.” It also says: “The majority of N[ew] T[estament] texts reveal God’s spirit as something, not someone; this is especially seen in the parallelism between the spirit and the power of God.”—Italics ours.
A Catholic Dictionary: “On the whole, the New Testament, like the Old, speaks of the spirit as a divine energy or power.”
Hence, neither the Jews nor the early Christians viewed the holy spirit as part of a Trinity. That teaching came centuries later. As A Catholic Dictionary notes: “The third Person was asserted at a Council of Alexandria in 362 . . . and finally by the Council of Constantinople of 381”—some three and a half centuries after holy spirit filled the disciples at Pentecost!
No, the holy spirit is not a person and it is not part of a Trinity. The holy spirit is God’s active force that he uses to accomplish his will. It is not equal to God but is always at his disposition and subordinate to him.
[Blurb on page 22]
“On the whole, the New Testament, like the Old, speaks of the spirit as a divine energy or power.”—A Catholic Dictionary
[Pictures on page 21]
On one occasion the holy spirit appeared as a dove. On another occasion it appeared as tongues of fire—never as a person