A Conversation With a Neighbor—What Is the Holy Spirit?
JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES enjoy discussing the Bible with their neighbors. Do you have a particular Bible question that you have wondered about? Are you curious about any of the beliefs or religious practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses? If so, do not hesitate to bring up the subject the next time you come in contact with a Witness. He or she will be pleased to discuss such matters with you.
The following is a typical conversation that one of Jehovah’s Witnesses might have with a neighbor. Let us imagine that a Witness named Scott has called at the home of a man named Brad.
What Do You Mean by “Holy Ghost”?
Brad: I have heard that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christians. You don’t believe in the holy ghost.
Scott: First, let me assure you that we are Christians. My belief in Jesus Christ has brought me to your door this morning. After all, he is the One who commands his followers to preach. But may I ask, just what do you mean by “holy ghost”?
Brad: I mean the holy spirit, the third person in the Trinity, the helper that Jesus promised to send to us. That helper is very important to me. I want to feel the presence of the holy spirit in my life.
Scott: That’s how many people understand the holy spirit. Some time ago, I had an opportunity to examine what the Bible teaches on this subject. If you have a few minutes, I would be pleased to show you what I learned.
Brad: Yes, I have a few minutes.
Scott: By the way, my name is Scott. May I ask your name?
Brad: Brad. Nice to meet you.
Scott: Nice to meet you too, Brad. Out of respect for your time, let me focus on just one aspect of this subject. You mentioned that the holy spirit is the helper that Jesus promised us. I agree with you. But is it your understanding that the holy spirit is a person and equal to God?
Brad: Yes, that is what I was taught.
Is the Holy Spirit a Person?
Scott: Let’s look at a Bible passage that will help us to establish whether the holy spirit is a person or not. You may be familiar with these verses. At Acts 2:1-4, we read: “Now while the day of the festival of Pentecost was in progress they were all together at the same place, and suddenly 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 to them and were distributed about, 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.”
Brad: I’m familiar with that account.
Scott: Now, Brad, can a person get filled with another person?
Brad: Of course not.
Scott: Let’s look a little further in the same chapter, at verse 17. The first part of the verse reads: “‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I shall pour out some of my spirit upon every sort of flesh.’” Let me ask you, Brad, could God pour out a portion of a coequal God?
Brad: Again, no.
Scott: John the Baptist used a different description for being filled with holy spirit. It’s found at Matthew 3:11. Would you like to read this verse, please?
Brad: “I, for my part, baptize you with water because of your repentance; but the one coming after me is stronger than I am, whose sandals I am not fit to take off. That one will baptize you people with holy spirit and with fire.”
Scott: Thank you. Did you notice what John the Baptist said would be done with holy spirit?
Brad: He talked about being baptized with holy spirit.
Scott: That’s right. Notice that he also mentioned being baptized with fire. Obviously, fire is not a person. Do you think this verse is saying that holy spirit is a person?
Scott: So according to the scriptures we have considered, the holy spirit is not a person.
Brad: I guess not.
How a “Helper”?
Scott: Earlier, though, you mentioned that expression “helper.” Jesus referred to the holy spirit as a “helper” at John 14:26. Let’s read that together: “The helper, the holy spirit, which the Father will send in my name, that one will teach you all things and bring back to your minds all the things I told you.” Some feel that this scripture seems to support the idea that the holy spirit is a person, someone who will help and teach.
Brad: Right, that’s how I’ve always viewed it.
Scott: Is it possible, though, that Jesus was using a figure of speech? Now notice what Jesus said about wisdom, according to Luke 7:35: “All the same, wisdom is proved righteous by all its children.” Would you say that wisdom is a person, that it really does have children?
Brad: No. That’s obviously a figure of speech.
Scott: I agree. Jesus’ point is that wisdom is demonstrated by results. The Bible often uses a figure of speech called personification—that is, speaking of something inanimate as if it were alive. We often use such figures of speech in our own conversations. For example, on this bright morning, it wouldn’t be unusual for someone to say, “Open the curtains, and let the sun in,” would it?
Brad: I would say that myself.
Scott: And would you be referring to the sun as a person who would come into your home as a guest?
Brad: No, obviously not. It’s a figure of speech.
Scott: So when Jesus spoke of the holy spirit as a helper, or teacher, could he have been using a figure of speech?
Brad: I suppose so. That would fit in with the scriptures you read about the spirit being poured out and about people being baptized with it. But if the holy spirit is not a person, what is it?
What Is the Holy Spirit?
Scott: At Acts 1:8, Jesus tells us what the holy spirit is. Would you like to read that?
Brad: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.”
Scott: Notice that Jesus associates the holy spirit with power. And from the previous verses we read, where do you think that power comes from?
Brad: From God the Father.
Scott: That’s right. The holy spirit is the same force that God used to create the universe. The second verse in the Bible refers to it. Genesis 1:2 says: “God’s active force was moving to and fro over the surface of the waters.” The Hebrew word here translated “active force” is also translated “spirit.” It is the invisible active force by means of which God accomplishes his purpose and expresses his will. Let me give you just one more scripture to consider. It is Luke 11:13. Would you read this verse, please?
Brad: “If you, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will the Father in heaven give holy spirit to those asking him!”
Scott: If the Father in heaven controls the holy spirit, giving it to those who ask him, could the holy spirit be equal to the Father?
Brad: No. I see your point.
Scott: I don’t want to keep you, Brad. You mentioned that you have only a few minutes. But let me ask a question to summarize our discussion. From the scriptures we considered, what would you say the holy spirit is?
Brad: It’s God’s active force.
Scott: That’s right. And according to John 14:26, when Jesus spoke of the holy spirit as a helper, or teacher, he was using a figure of speech called personification.
Brad: I never knew that.
Scott: There is something most reassuring to learn from Jesus’ words.
Brad: What’s that?
Scott: We can ask God for his holy spirit to help us in difficult circumstances. We can also ask for his spirit to help us learn the truth about him.
Brad: That is interesting. I’ll have to think about that.
Scott: Before I go, let me leave you with something else to think about. Since the holy spirit is God’s active force, then we’ll agree that God can use it to accomplish anything he chooses.
Scott: Then why has he not yet used that limitless power to end all the misery and wickedness we see in the world around us? Have you ever wondered about that?a
Brad: I have, actually.
Scott: How about if I come back next week at this same time and we discuss it?
Brad: I would like that very much. See you then.
a For more information, see chapter 11 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.