The Holy Spirit—Third Person of Trinity or God’s Active Force?
“You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me . . . to the most distant part of the earth.”—Acts 1:8, NW.
1, 2. What notable event took place in Jerusalem on Pentecost A.D. 33?
The scene is Jerusalem. The time late in May of the year (A.D.) 33. In obedience to the law of Moses more than a million Jews are crowding the city where Jehovah put his name to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. In one of the upper rooms of the city we see the eleven apostles gathered, together with 109 other disciples of Jesus, including his mother and his fleshly half brothers.
2 Then, “suddenly,” as Luke describes it, “there occurred from heaven a noise just like that of a rushing stiff breeze, and it filled the whole house in which they were sitting. And tongues as if of fire became visible and were distributed to them, and one sat upon each one of them, 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.”—Acts 2:2-4, NW.
3. What is the general view of Christendom regarding God’s holy spirit? What is the view of the Unitarians?
3 With but very few exceptions the creeds of Christendom state that God’s holy spirit is the third person of a trinity, coequal, coeternal and cosubstantial with the Father and the Son. Bible dictionaries and religious encyclopedias go to great lengths to prove not only that the holy spirit is a person but that it is a divine person. An exception is the Unitarian creed, which holds the holy spirit to be merely “the influence of the Deity on the minds of his servants, . . . dwelling in the hearts of believers, as the source of their spiritual life.”—Dictionary of Religious Knowledge, Abbott.
4. What views prevailed in 380 (A.D.) as to the identity of God’s holy spirit?
4 While the consensus of the religious teaching of Christendom today may ascribe divinity to God’s holy spirit, such was not always the case. Note, for example, the words of Neander, of whom McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia states: “Universally conceded to be by far the greatest of ecclesiastical historians.” Though himself a trinitarian, he wrote: “In A.D. 380, great indistinctness prevailed among the different parties respecting this dogma so that a contemporary could say, ‘Some of our theologians regard the holy spirit simply as a mode of divine operation; others as a creature of God; others as God himself; others again, say that they know not which of the opinions to accept from their reverence for Holy Writ, which says nothing upon the subject.’”
5. What questions present themselves regarding God’s holy spirit?
5 Is God’s Word ambiguous on the subject of the holy spirit? Does it fail to indicate clearly whether God’s holy spirit is God himself, a creature of God or a mode of divine operation?
6. What Hebrew and Greek words are rendered “spirit” in the Scriptures, and what are the meanings of these words?
6 To understand what the Bible has to say about God’s holy spirit we must first note the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words translated “spirit,” namely, the Hebrew word ruʹahh and the Greek word pneuʹma. Both of these words have the meaning of “breath,” “blast” or “wind,” and are translated in various ways. The English word “pneumatic” comes from this Greek word pneuʹma, a pneumatic tire being a tire full of wind. While the term “Holy Ghost” occurs some ninety times in the King James and Douay versions, it is actually an Old English term, “ghost” being derived from the German word geist, meaning “spirit.” That is why the expression “Holy Ghost” does not appear in modern translations.
7. In how many different senses is the term “spirit” used in the Scriptures, and, therefore, what admonition must we heed?
7 The term “spirit” is used in seven different ways in the Bible, and is applied both to persons and to impersonal things. Obviously, a failure to distinguish between these seven senses of “spirit” would result in confusion on the subject. To ascertain the truth we must therefore heed Paul’s admonition: “Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.”—2 Tim. 2:15, NW.
8. What two basic characteristics of wind do all these various uses of “spirit” have in common?
8 Why did Bible writers use the words ruʹahh and pneuʹma in seven different senses and apply them both to persons and to that which is without personality? Because all these senses have in common the two basic characteristics of wind, namely, invisibility and force. Note, for example, the sails of a boat driven by the wind. We cannot see the wind, yet the fact that the sails are bowed and the boat is being driven over the water shows a force at work. Thus we note a visible effect produced by an invisible force. Stressing these characteristics of “spirit” are the prophet’s words: “The Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses are flesh, and not spirit.”—Isa. 31:3, RS.
9-11. (a) Why is the term “spirit” fittingly applied to Jehovah God? (b) To Jesus Christ since his resurrection? (c) To the angels, good and bad?
9 Logically, the term “spirit” applies first of all to Jehovah God, for he is both invisible, no man ever having seen him, and mighty—almighty, in fact. (Ex. 6:3; 33:20) Yes, as Jesus said, “God is a Spirit”; and as Paul wrote, “Now Jehovah is the spirit.”—John 4:24; 2 Cor. 3:17, NW.
10 The Scriptures also speak of Jesus Christ as a spirit. “The first man Adam became a living soul,” quotes Paul, contrasting him with the last Adam, Jesus, who “became a life-giving spirit” upon his resurrection, “he being put to death in the flesh, but being made alive in the spirit.” And since he now dwells in “unapproachable light,” and is also known as “The mighty God,” the term “spirit” is also fittingly applied to him.—1 Cor. 15:45; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 Tim. 6:16, NW; Isa. 9:6.
11 Angels, both good and bad, are also termed “spirits.” Thus at Hebrews 1:7, 14 (NW) Paul states that God “makes his angels spirits,” and that angels are “all spirits for public service.” These good angels are both invisible and powerful, as the Bible repeatedly shows. (2 Ki. 6:16, 17; Isa. 37:36) Wicked angels are also referred to as spirits, Jesus often expelling these spirits “with a word,” from persons possessed by them. And Paul speaks of Satan as “the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience.” (Matt. 8:16; Eph. 2:2, NW) That these wicked spirits are also very powerful is apparent from Daniel 10:13, 20, where we are told that one of them was able to restrain one of God’s invisible messengers for twenty-one days.
“SPIRIT” USED IMPERSONALLY
12-15. (a) What reasons and scriptures show that “spirit” is used to designate the life force? (b) To designate the mental disposition? (c) To designate inspired utterances?
12 One of the uses of “spirit” for that which is without personality is for the spirit or life force God put in man after forming him out of the dust of the ground, thereby causing man to live. Regarding this life force, we read at Genesis 7:22 (Ro) that “all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life” died on account of the Flood. Or, “everything in which the breath of the force of life was active . . . died.” (NW) And the apostle John tells of seeing a vision in which certain witnesses had “the spirit of life” enter them, causing them to stand on their feet after they had been dead for three and a half days. (Rev. 11:11, NW) At death “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit [ruʹahh, not nephʹesh or soul] returns to God who gave it.” (Eccl. 12:7, RS) This life force certainly is invisible and powerful, and is therefore fittingly termed “spirit.” Scientists are trying very hard to discover this life force or “life principle,” but Jehovah in his wisdom has seen fit to keep this secret to himself.—Ps. 36:9.
13 Another use of the term “spirit,” ruʹahh, pneuʹma, in the Scriptures for that which is without personality is its application to mental disposition. Thus we read: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” And: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (Prov. 16:18, 32, RS) The mental disposition itself cannot be seen, but it has force that manifests itself in actions that are visible, as when one loses self-control and becomes red in the face and trembles with rage. Jesus used “spirit” in this sense when he counseled: “Keep on the watch and praying, that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit, of course, is willing, but the flesh is weak.” One’s mental disposition is therefore also fittingly termed “spirit.”—Matt. 26:41, NW.
14 Another sense in which the term “spirit” is applied to impersonal things is to “inspired utterances.” A prophecy inspired by God is an inspired utterance or expression, and so the prophecy when quoted is properly referred to as the “spirit” talking. Thus Paul says that “the inspired utterance [spirit: footnote] says definitely that in later periods of time some will fall away from the faith.”—1 Tim. 4:1, NW.
15 The Devil and his agents also inspire utterances, although such are not prophetic. Thus a line of Communist propaganda issued as news is modernly termed an “inspired statement.” Satan’s present worldwide propaganda campaign against Jehovah’s kingdom is pictured as “three unclean inspired expressions,” or “unclean spirits,” resembling frogs, that are gathering all nations to Armageddon. (Rev. 16:13, 14, 16, NW) The apostle John warns Christians to be on guard against being deceived by the wrong kind of inspired expressions: “Do not believe every inspired expression [spirit], but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God, because many false prophets have gone forth into the world.” The very fact that John here associates “spirit” with false prophets shows that it refers to what these prophets say and not to spirit creatures. As humans we cannot make trial of spirit creatures, but we can try the expressions inspired by spirits to see whether they are true or not. Since such ideas are in themselves invisible and also can exert a powerful force upon men’s minds, they are properly termed “spirits.”—1 John 4:1, NW; AT.
16, 17. (a) What does the Athanasian Creed hold regarding holy spirit, and how vital is this teaching regarded? (b) What reasons argue against this being the Scriptural position?
16 The seventh and remaining sense of the term “spirit” is its use as “holy spirit,” which trinitarian translators usually render with capital letters and precede with the definite article the, as “The Holy Spirit.” According to the Athanasian Creed, the earliest creed to explicitly teach the trinity as it is understood today, therefore the one most relied upon by trinitarians, the “Holy Spirit,” or the “Holy Ghost,” is a member of the trinity, uncreated, almighty, incomprehensible, a Person, a Lord and a God, “the glory equal, the majesty coeternal” with God the Father. A clergyman may deny the inspiration of the Bible, that Jesus’ blood cleanses us from our sins, that Jesus performed miracles and was raised from the dead, and still be considered a good Christian; but let him deny the trinity and he would at once be branded as a heretic. Says the Roman Catholic Encyclopedia regarding this teaching: “The Trinity is the term employed to signify the central doctrine of the Christian religion.
HOLY SPIRIT NEITHER A PERSON NOR A GOD
17 If the holy spirit is equal with Jehovah God, as claimed by the Athanasian Creed, and if the trinity is the central teaching of the Christian religion, as claimed by The Catholic Encyclopedia, should we not expect these things to be plainly stated in so many words in the Bible? And should this not especially be the case in view of the fact that it is stated that the trinity teaching is “of all revealed truths” “the most impenetrable to reason,” and yet salvation depends upon its acceptance? The fact that the Word of God does not explicitly mention, explain or teach a trinity is in itself strong proof that the trinity teaching is false. And this is also borne out by what the Bible teaches regarding the holy spirit.
18. What Scriptural testimony shows that holy spirit could not be equal with God?
18 Yes, how could the holy spirit be equal with Jehovah the Father when it is given such a secondary position in the Scriptures? Daniel, Stephen and John in visions saw representations of the Father and the Son, but never one of the holy spirit. Why not, if the holy spirit is equal to the Father and the Son in glory, power, etc.? The creed may state that unless we believe that the holy spirit is equal to God we shall perish, but Jesus, in giving us the rule for life, does not even mention the holy spirit: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.”—John 17:3, NW.
19. How does baptism with holy spirit indicate that holy spirit is not a person?
19 Far from teaching equality with Jehovah, the Scriptures show that the holy spirit is not even a person. Thus John the Baptist stated that Jesus would baptize “with holy spirit and with fire,” even as he was baptizing with water. To baptize means to immerse, to dip, to submerge. A person can baptize others with water, dipping them into it, as John did, and a person can baptize others with fire by immersing them in flames or causing their destruction; but how can one person baptize others with another person? Since neither water nor fire is personal, is it not reasonable to conclude that the holy spirit is also not a person? Besides, Peter stated that God poured out ‘some of his spirit’ upon all kinds of flesh. Can we imagine some of a person being poured out on thousands of other persons, as was the case at Pentecost after Peter had preached to the Jews?—Matt. 3:11; Acts 2:17, 38, 41, NW.
20, 21. How does the fact that God’s holy spirit does not have a distinctive name argue against its being a person?
20 That the holy spirit is without personality is also indicated by the fact that it has no distinctive name. God, the Creator, has many distinctive appellations. His name is Jehovah, and he only is “The God,” or “The [true] God,” he only is the “Most High” and the “Almighty.” He is thus distinctly distinguished from other gods or mighty ones. Likewise with his Son, Jesus Christ. There is only one by that name, only one “only-begotten Son,” only one “First-born,” only one Logos or “Word.”
21 But not so with the holy spirit. Jehovah, Christ and the faithful angels are all holy spirits. Is the holy spirit “The holy spirit”? If so, in what way does he excel Jehovah and Christ either as respects being a spirit or being holy? And more than a hundred times the holy spirit is referred to as “the spirit of Jehovah,” “God’s spirit,” “my spirit” and “spirit of Jesus Christ.” All such possessive uses of the holy spirit further argue that it is an instrumentality rather than a separate and distinct person.—Judg. 3:10; Matt. 3:16; Acts 2:18; Phil. 1:19, NW.
22. How does the question of location argue against God’s holy spirit’s having personality?
22 And note still another point, that of location. The Bible tells us that God dwells in heaven, that he holds court there. Also that Jesus in his prehuman existence was rejoicing in his Father’s presence, that he came to earth to perform special missions, especially at the time he came as a man, and that he has now returned to heaven. Where was or where is the holy spirit now if it is a person? Did “he” come down upon Jesus at Jordan and then remain, or return and then come again at Pentecost? Is “he” now in heaven with God and Christ, or is “he” scattered throughout the earth wherever Christ’s followers are to be found?
23. How have Bible translators beclouded the truth regarding holy spirit?
23 The fact is that the truth about the holy spirit has been beclouded by the prejudices of Bible translators. Their use of capital letters cannot be used to prove the holy spirit is a person. Why not? Because at the time the Scriptures were written proper and common nouns were not thus distinguished from each other. The same is true regarding their adding the definite article the before holy spirit in some hundred instances where the Bible writers had not done so. To omit the definite article seemed disrespectful to such Bible translators but not to the Bible writers. Thus Paul wrote that God’s kingdom meant “peace and joy with holy spirit,” not “with the holy spirit.” And Peter wrote that God’s servants spoke, being “borne along by holy spirit,” not “by the holy spirit.”—Rom. 14:17; 2 Pet. 1:21, NW.
THE HOLY SPIRIT—GOD’S ACTIVE FORCE
24. What is God’s holy spirit?
24 Since God’s holy spirit is not a God, not a member of a trinity, not coequal, and is not even a person, is it “the influence of the Deity on the minds of his servants,” as claimed by some? While the holy spirit is used by God to influence the minds of his servants, its operation takes in far more than just that. It is God’s active force, not Jehovah’s power residing within himself, but his energy when projected out from himself for the accomplishing of his purposes. This is what certain early “church fathers” chose to call “a mode of divine operation.” Being invisible and powerful it can properly be termed ruʹahh, pneuʹma or spirit. However, it is not a blind, uncontrolled force, such as the forces of “nature,” lightning, hurricanes and the like, but as God’s holy spirit it is at all times under his control, accomplishing his holy purposes, and therefore may be likened to a radar beam.
25. What are some of the things God’s holy spirit accomplished in times past?
25 Thus it was by means of his holy spirit or active force that God created all things, doing so, of course, as John 1:3 shows, through his Son. As Elihu said: “The spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.” (Job 33:4; see also Genesis 1:2; Psalm 104:30.) This active force came upon the faithful men of old, such as Gideon, Jephthah and Samson, empowering them to gain notable victories. Jesus testified that it was “by means of God’s spirit” that he performed miracles. And the apostle Paul showed that it was the holy spirit that enabled the Christians back there to do the various signs and works. Included, therefore, is the writing of the Scriptures. Said David: “The spirit of Jehovah it was that spoke by me.” And Peter: “For prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.”—Matt. 12:28; 2 Sam. 23:2; 2 Pet. 1:21, NW.
26-28. How has God’s holy spirit been active in behalf of his spirit-begotten sons beginning with Jesus Christ?
26 The Scriptures further show that it is by means of his holy spirit or active force that God brings forth his spiritual sons, the first of whom is Jesus Christ. At the time of his baptism God’s holy spirit came upon Jesus in the form of a dove, after which God acknowledged him as his spiritual Son. (Matt. 3:16, 17) And so Paul says regarding Christ’s footstep followers: “For all who are led by God’s spirit, these are God’s sons.” And that “the [holy] spirit itself bears witness with our spirit [mental disposition] that we are God’s children.”—Rom. 8:14, 16, NW.
27 By means of this holy spirit these spiritual sons of God are anointed, appointed or commissioned by Jehovah to preach. And so Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, read from Isaiah 61:1, 2, and applied it to himself: “Jehovah’s spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to declare good news to the poor.” This anointing by God’s spirit commissioning them to preach came upon Christ’s followers at Pentecost in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, even as Peter showed: “‘And in the last days,’ God says, ‘I shall pour some of my spirit out upon every kind of flesh, . . . and they will prophesy.’”—Luke 4:18; Acts 2:16-18, NW.
28 God’s holy spirit also serves to enlighten his servants and help them to understand his Word. In fact, it cannot be understood without the help of God’s holy spirit. That is why the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees and lawyers, though very familiar with the Scriptures, did not understand them. Yes, as the apostle Paul shows: “‘Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, neither have there been conceived in the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him.’ For it is to us God has revealed them through his spirit.”—1 Cor. 2:9, 10, NW.
29. (a) What objections are raised to holy spirit’s being God’s active force? (b) What did certain “church fathers” believe holy spirit to be?
29 But perhaps at this point a firm believer in the trinity will object, asking: ‘Does not the Bible in various ways indicate that God’s holy spirit is a person? And did not the early church fathers believe the holy spirit to be a divine person?’ Since Jesus warned of a falling away and Paul and others told of an apostasy already at work in their day, it follows that the early “church fathers” could have been mistaken. However, personality was not always ascribed to God’s holy spirit. Justin Martyr believed that “the holy spirit was an influence or mode of operation of the Deity.”a Hippolytus, who according to The Catholic Encyclopedia was the “most important theologian and the most prolific religious writer of the Roman Church in the pre-Constantinian era,” in his writings “decidedly ascribes no personality to the Holy Spirit.”b And as we have already noted (paragraph 4), there was decided difference of opinion as to the nature of the holy spirit in the fourth century. That is why we read that “though Basil of Caesarea [late fourth-century theologian] wished to teach the divinity of the holy spirit in his church, he only ventured to introduce it gradually,” because of the strong opposition to this novel teaching.—History of Christian Dogma, Neander.
30-32. Why cannot the use of personal pronouns in referring to God’s holy spirit be used to prove it is a person?
30 So early church history cannot be used to prove the trinitarian view of the holy spirit. And neither can the fact that at times the personal pronoun is used in connection with the holy spirit prove the holy spirit is a divine person or even a creature. For example: Jesus said he would send his apostles the Comforter, Helper or Paraclete, the “spirit of the truth.” Since the Greek word par·aʹcle·tos is in the masculine gender, it was logical for Jesus also to use personal pronouns when referring to the holy spirit in this capacity or activity. This promised Helper came at Pentecost.—John 15:26, NW.
31 But, on the other hand, we find Jesus repeatedly using impersonal pronouns when referring to God’s holy spirit, a most disrespectful thing to do if the holy spirit were the third person of a trinity, coequal and cosubstantial with Jehovah God himself. “The spirit of the truth, which the world cannot receive, because it neither beholds it nor knows it. You know it, because it remains with you and is in you.” (John 14:17, NW; Ro; AT; ED) True, some translations use the personal pronouns here, but since the original Greek has impersonal pronouns, such translators must have allowed their religious prejudices to influence their translations. For a similar instance note Romans 8:26, where the holy spirit is referred to by the pronoun “himself” in some translations (RS, Dy), and by “itself” in others (NW, AV, AT, Ro, ED).
32 In view of the fact that we find the nation of Israel and God’s universal organization and the Christian congregation repeatedly referred to in the Scriptures under the symbol of a woman, it should not surprise us that at times the part played by the holy spirit is personalized. But if the holy spirit were the third person of the trinity, equal to God and Christ in glory and honor as claimed by the creeds, could we imagine the Scriptures referring to the holy spirit as “it”?
33. What are some other arguments produced to support the teaching that God’s holy spirit is a person?
33 However, someone may ask, How can an impersonal spirit be spoken of as speaking, teaching, forbidding and ordaining? And what about God and the holy spirit being used interchangeably, as when we read that God said a certain thing and then again that it was said by the holy spirit? Besides, do we not read that Ananias lied to God and then again that he lied to the holy spirit? Does this not further prove that God and the holy spirit are one, members of a trinity?
ILLUSTRATING HOW THE HOLY SPIRIT OPERATES
34. In what respects may holy spirit be likened to electrical force?
34 In considering the foregoing question, doubtless the use of illustrations will be helpful, even as the greatest Teacher that ever lived, Jesus, found to be the case. The holy spirit has been likened to wind. In certain respects it can also be likened to electricity. It also serves for illumination, as a means of communication, and represents a powerful force that can accomplish great things. We cannot tell whether a person is filled with the holy spirit merely by looking at him, even as we cannot tell whether a battery or a “third rail” is charged with electricity merely by looking at it. And even as electricity is used by certain governments to execute criminals, so Jehovah has at times used his holy spirit to execute the wicked, as in the case of Ananias and his wife Sapphira.—Acts 5:1-11.
35. How can the holy spirit’s teaching and forbidding be illustrated?
35 And to use another illustration: Today policemen and soldiers keep in touch with their superiors by means of radio. Their officers send messages that instruct, command, forbid, as the case may be, by which the men in the field or on duty are maneuvered. It might be said that the radio did all this in that it was the agency used. So likewise Jehovah God, by means of his holy spirit, both through his Word and in addition thereto, speaks to, instructs and directs his servants. Thus we read: “These things we also speak, not with words taught by human wisdom, but with those taught by the spirit, as we combine spiritual matters with spiritual words.”—1 Cor. 2:13, NW.
36. Why can it properly be said that holy spirit or God’s active force appointed overseers?
36 The same holds true regarding the holy spirit’s ordaining or making appointments of overseers in the Christian congregation. It does so by means of human instrumentalities. Thus we not only read of Paul saying “the holy spirit has appointed you overseers,” but also that Paul left Titus in Crete ‘to correct matters and to make appointments.’ In that Titus and others made such appointments by reason of the wisdom and authority given them by God’s holy spirit, it can be said that such appointments were made by the holy spirit.—Acts 20:28; Titus 1:5, NW.
37. Further argument for the divinity of God’s holy spirit is disproved by what reasoning, illustration and scripture?
37 Then again, God’s imparting knowledge of his will to his servants by means of his holy spirit in times past may be likened to a newscast over the radio regarding a statement made by the chief of state. It would be correct to say that the radio said it, that a certain news commentator said it or that the chief of state said it. Such expressions are common and no confusion results. But because God’s Word at one place states that God said a certain thing and in another place that the holy spirit said it is taken by trinitarians to argue that God and the holy spirit are members of a trinity or one God.c Such a strained inference merely points up the weakness of the trinitarian position. The Bible’s testimony is simple and plain, not mysterious. It shows that God spoke the words in the first place and that his faithful servants on earth received them by means of the holy spirit.—2 Pet. 1:21, NW.
38. How can it be said that Ananias lied both to God and to his holy spirit?
38 The same reasoning can be applied to Peter’s words to Ananias. In that Peter was enlightened by the holy spirit, Ananias in lying to Peter was lying to the holy spirit; and in that Peter represented God and spoke for Him, Ananias in lying to Peter was also lying to God.—Acts 5:1-11, NW.
For we are overturning reasonings and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.—2 Cor. 10:5, NW.
a The Church of the First Three Centuries, Lamson.
c The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VII, p. 409.