The Personality of the Holy Spirit

The Sabbath School lesson for this week takes up the question of the Personality of the Holy Spirit, exploring the long-time discussion or debate about the nature of the Holy Spirit. Over time, people have had various ideas on this subject. Some have claimed the Holy Spirit to be an emanation from God, that it is an unseen force of some kind, while other have attributed personhood to the Spirit. This question has been long debated partly because of the language used to describe the Trinity. Or particularly difficulty is the use of the word “Person,” or “three Persons” of the Godhead. The idea of “three persons in one Godhead” creates mental images that do not fit into human brains, at least not well. This makes it easier to envision the Spirit as a force of some kind for that is far more understandable.

It is important to realize that the difficulties of describing the nature of the Holy Spirit arise from the intersection between the ancient Hebrew world and the Greek world. For the Hebrews, God was significant because of what He had done and was yet doing. “He brought us out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” was the operative phrase in the Old Testament. It was because of his actions that God was revered. There is little to no indication that the ancients tried to define the nature of God. That came when the Hebrew world ran into the dominance of the Greek world. The Greeks were bent on organizing all of life according to several abstract categories of thought and, when the Hebrew ideas ran into the Greek ones, if the ideas of the Bible were to have any play, they had to find a way to speak in ways that the Greeks found relevant. This meant God had to be described using the Greek categories of thought, “Being,” “Metaphysics,” and “Ontology.” It was while trying to fit God and the Holy Spirit into these categories, that the familiar terminology was coined, “three persons in one” Trinity.

Rather than going into the Hebrew/Greek debate further, we will look at the biblical evidences. But first it is worth a few moments answering the question, “What difference does it make whether the Spirit is a person or a force?” The answer to this is quite important. Perhaps the best way to explain this is via the word “relatability.” If the Holy ‘Spirit is a force, it is not possible to relate to a force. There is no way to collaborate with a force. We will either be used by it, or we will use it, for there is no dialog, no negotiating with a force, no co-operating with the impersonal. On the other hand, if the Spirit is a Person, relatability becomes a key factor. Volition becomes an element in the discussion. We can act in ways that are pleasing to the Spirit, or we can act in ways that are displeasing. We can develop a sense of closeness or distance to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit can react to our decisions and actions just as it can also guide and influence us. The presence of a person allows for interactive dialog, even negotiation while the existence of a force is entirely impersonal.

So what are the biblical evidences?

  • Romans 8:14-16 – Here the Spirit performs actions that seem personal, received by us, advocates for our adoption by God, leads us. It is hard to see a force doing these things.
  • 1 Cor. 2:10 – The Spirit teaches all things, even the deep things of God, again something a force could not do.
  • Acts. 8:29; 10: 19, 20; 28:25 - Here the Spirit speaks, “said” things to Peter, giving him instruction and direction. This a force could not do.
  • Ephesians 4:30 - Here we learn that it is possible to grieve the Holy Spirit. How would one grieve a force?
  • Acts 5:3,9 – In this famous story, two people are said to have lied to the Holy Spirit. This certainly implies personality of some kind. You can’t lie to a force.
  • I Cor. 12:11 – here se see the Spirit distributing spiritual gifts and doing so at “his” discretion.
  • Romans 15:30 – mention is made of the ‘love of the Spirit,” and whether this is referring to humans loving the Spirit of the Spirit loving humans, the same applies for love is an action of a person not a force.
  • Romans 15:13 – this verse speaks of the power of the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit were already a power, this verse would not make much sense.

We have as yet not looked at the way Jesus spoke of or describe the Spirit. The major passage for discovering this is John chapters 14-17. This portion of the Bible is profound for it tells of Jesus last evening with his disciples. Central to that discussion is Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit. Notice some of the pertinent verses:

  • John 16:13, 14 – the Spirit will guide the disciples into truth, will tell them of things to come, and will glorify Jesus.
  • John 15:26, 27 – the Spirit is spoken of as being an advocate.
  • John 14:17, 26 – the Spirit is spoken of as living in us, and the personal pronoun “he” is used multiple times.
  • John 14:16 – the Spirit is spoken of as being the Comforter, again hardly something an entity devoid of personality could accomplish.

Granted that there is not a whole lot of specific information from the Bible to settle our issues on the nature of the Holy Spirit but the evidences cited above make it quite difficult to see the spirit as anything that has not sentience or personality. At the same time, we have to hold this idea in the face of the very difficult language that surrounds the human attempt to describe God. Certainly those who see the Spirit as a sentient being will have a much more intimate and interactive relationship than will those who see “it” as something less.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7853

It certainly has been awkward for Christianity to emerge from Judaism with Judaism’s belief in “one God” and to maintain that one-God claim within the framework of Trinitarian theology.

Nice straw man! So swiftly dismembered, too.

If God is not a force to be reckoned with then it would not make much sense to consider Him as god.

Lord, have mercy.


Edit: The Christian Tradition has long stood for the personhood of the Holy Spirit including an anthropology for communication among us mere mortals. Yet nowhere does it constrain that Spirit to a personality apprehend able by man. Perhaps a perusal of this article will disabuse of such proclivities.

May it be blessed.

Very intriguing topic. Though the Christian Testament is rife with references to the Holy Spirit as such , both the SDA laity at study in general , as well as our learned professional theologians have not been of much help in enlightening us as to the nature of this entity, in my opinion. Is the Holy Spirit an energetic entity which is one of the subtle bodies making up the human entity? does it communicate by telepathy , which is one of the “talents” supposedly widely distributed among mankind before the so-called “Fall”? Is this entity peculiar to Homo sapiens or is it an energetic body which all physical beings have? For instance infra-red cameras have taken images of people who have, say, burned to death in a haunted house. The family perhaps did not know they were dead ; life went on as expected and the family dog’s spirit is seen just like the human members of the family? What’s going on?

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I would argue against this assertion.

Isn’t this the reason behind the third commandment? “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” By seeing the “Spirit as a sentient being,” God has now been defined and the arqument begins as to whose definition is right. Better if “it” were “something else” as it leaves no borders and definitions and fosters creativity as we travel our spiritual journey.

After all, this is the core issue behind the current dilemma facing our church. In that TW is contesting anyone’s definition of God that differs from his.

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The Bible seems to relate God’s power with the Holy spirit eg Luke 1:35. And power and force can almost be used interchangeably. Can’t the Holy spirit be a force for good? A force which can impact and change lives not by coercing but by influencing?

Just a couple of points:

It’s interesting to note that the outgrowth of the Hebrew religion was able to be translated into the abstracts of Greek thought - to the point of identifying the Hebrew God in Christ as the “unknown” GOD of the Greeks. That was quite a jump = the “acts of God” becoming the “Spirit of God” at work in this world. This may give us permission to further interpolate God in other terms that may be relevant to other times and cultures - including our own. It gives us permission to see God’s hand in the writings across the entire expanse of the universe as cosmology and physics reveal Him to us in language used in labs, axioms, and even mathematical equations. Those sound very impersonal, but no less foreign than the Olympian gods did to the Hebrews, yet they were able speak to the Greeks about the God of Moses.

The second point has to do with my rejections of a three-heded GOD. If we are going to dissect God into three separate entities that look like the picture above we are going to have do it outside the Scriptures despite all the Bible references given.

First, the issue of “relatability” - We are never asked to relate to God’s Spirit directly. We are told to “Ask the Father in Jesu’s name”. We aren’t even told to pray TO Jesus - only the Father, as in “Our Father…” which serves as the template for our prayers. The reason we’re able to "speak’ to the Father directly is because of our brotherhood with Christ.

The Spirit in all the above texts is seen DOING on our behalf- teaching, speaking, distributing gifts, displaying love, displaying power. When it comes to the idea that the Spirit can’t be a “force” because it “has power” in Romans 15:13, then Spirit can’t be described as being separate from God since God is described as being SPIRIT - (John 4:24.) If the Holy Spirit is something separate from God then we have two Spirits and the Son as the Godhead. At some point, this dissection begins to seem ludicrous.

Why don’t we just admit we can’t know the nature of God. Thinking about this makes the head spin; and we have to ultimately admit the only concrete thing we have is the man called Jesus who said some things about God. Our job is to either believe Him or not. It all comes down to who Jesus is; and how we relate to Him. The TRINITY was a way to picture God as manifested to us in terms of Christ and the influence of Christ that He left on this world.

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Who is the target audience of this lesson?
The point is basically that the Holy Spirit is a person and not just impersonal power or energy.
There are at least 3 members at the church I attend who don’t accept the trinity doctrine. It supposedly is a erroneous doctrine that originates from the catholic church and maybe some infiltrating Jesuits are agents of Satan spreading lies in the remnant church. They also claim that EG White never used the word “trinity” in her writings. Notice in the quarterly… that she writes…“third person of the God head” (28 times in SOP) and in this lesson she writes “trio” (several times in SOP)
Is this a lesson to help present apologetics to Unitarians and others who are not Trinitarian?
How redundant is this lesson to the typical SDA? Is it just a small minority who even look at the lesson these days?
I thought of a verse that the author did not include…

“Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, listening to spirits of error and doctrines of demons” 1 TIM 4:1

Sirje,
While this statement is true I think there is a danger in us not having a clear picture of the three persons of the Godhead (as much as it is revealed) including the person of the Holy Spirit. We are told Satan is also a spirit, how can we fend from Satan if we don’t really understand who HS is?

How or why would you ignore all the biblical references that clearly reveal who The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit are? From the beginning there was a Father and a Son that counseled to create man? The Father and the Son created our world and Adam & Eve? that they together communicated and rested with their creation?
The Bible and the SOP also tells us that no man has seen God because we would be immediately consumed due to our sinful nature, and yet this Supreme Being wanted to come to our level and save us from ourselves and so before He created us He devises a plan so mysterious because it involves His very nature.

  1. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life - He is our intercessor, we can’t go to the Father directly lest we be consumed. He is the one that speaks to the prophets, the Angel of the Lord, Jehovah, the one seen by Moses, Abraham, and Jacob.
  2. We are also told by Jesus that before he left Earth he would not leave us alone, he would send the Spirit of Truth to abide in us and guide us in all Truth ,or the Spirit of Christ as it is called in many biblical references.
  3. [quote=“Sirje, post:7, topic:12795”]
    Why don’t we just admit we can’t know the nature of God.
    [/quote]

This is the ultimate irony of your statement, if you don’t know the Spirit of Christ, then you know Christ.

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No argument there. We are told to pray to God directly, in Jesus’ name, because he lifted use up, as he came down to our level.

We approach the subject, not to learn, but to verify as with all other doctrines. There are other ways to see these things.

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Except, we have the man Jesus who is portrayed in the fourth gospel as not only having said some things about God…he is portrayed as God himself. The logos who holds together and sustains the cosmos. The incarnate Torah and wisdom of God through whom God created, and who is the ultimate revelation of God, as the text also states.

Jesus also is quoted in this gospel as saying that he and the father are one/echad, equating himself with God. He also describes the Spirit as allos parakletos, another helper just like himself…again an equation of being and role.

Unless one dismisses the fourth gospel, one must deal with some form of a picture of God that implies a oneness of entities that is the one God.

Thanks…

Frank

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I have no problem identifying Jesus as the human embodiment of God - God being described as SPIRIT. I also have no problem about God’s spirit working in the world among His children; but not as a separate entity that’s able to split into billions of segments, occupying people. That picture doesn’t compute for me.

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Sirje,
Paul is very clear on this topic:
(1) Gal 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

(2) Col 1:26,27 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. For to them God would make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the nations, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

I will ask again, if you don’t understand the Spirit of Jesus, how could you know Jesus? - The same way that The Father sent the Son, the Son sent His Spirit, this also answers earlier questions by other as to why the Holy Spirit will only speak of Jesus, just as Jesus only spoke the words of His Father.

Best regards

OK, George,

You can’t accept that other people understand things differently from you, but can yet be in sync with the Gospel. While the “Spirit of Jesus” can definitely impact our hearts, it does not get in there as another entity - that’s what science fiction is about - horrific ones. The same goes for your other quote - “Christ in you, the hope of glory”.

You don’t need me to validate your beliefs and perceptions. If you think of the Holy Spirit as some sort of heaveniy or spiritual material able to penetrate our hearts and minds - good for you - I can’t. I see the “Spirit” of Christ as the sum-total of Christ’s influence on our lives and hearts (not the one that sends blood coursing through our bodies.) If you’re going to be literal about the Holy Spirit being a PERSON, as most people understand personhood, then you have to be consistent and interpret “heart” as a literal heart, beating in your chest - etc.

We all have different perceptions; but we can still agree on the main kernel of the Gospel.

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[quote]And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, "ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence."
When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Acts 1.[/quote]

That SDAism does not include this “baptism in the Holy Spirit” among its practices indicates that it preaches a woefully short-changed gospel: “another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.”

I pray that you grieve not the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of Life.

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Peace sister, no offence intended. I do accept that people have different perceptions and I probably got carried away in trying to make a point that it seems eludes many in this forum, including me until not long ago - One which the SDA organization has not made clear for us: What I believe the Bible is saying is that The Holy Spirit is the divinity of Jesus forever separated from Jesus as a result of His sacrifice at the cross, working very hard to recreate us again and present us to the Father.
Best Regards,

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The picture is mis leading . We do not worship a three headed God .The God head is made up of three persons, Father ,Son , and Holy Spirit. The SOP is given to help the church at this time ,but many people no longer accept it. Let us not move the old land marks. The Alpha has past, the Omega is now upon us .If you remove the divinity of the Holy Spirit , you could do the same for Christ . That being the case, where will it stop,: the removal of the sanctuary , 2300days , the cross , the atonement , the second return of Christ ??? Brethren be careful where you walk. You are upon Holy Ground .To deny the Holy Spirit, they only One who can give us the life of Christ, is a serious thing. He is our Comforter . Christ is in heaven , please don’t fall out with the Holy Spirit. He will reveal Himself in the end. He has a body much like the Father and the Son (E.G.White ).

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