The Holy Spirit, Person or Power?
“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath [Spirit] of his mouth” (Ps. 33:6).
In the early 1990's the Worldwide Church of God, under the direction of Joseph Tkach, Sr. accepted and adopted the Trinity doctrine of mainstream Christianity. This teaching regards God as one, yet composed of three equal personages, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
However, the Roman Catholic Church which first officially propagated the Trinity in 325 A.D., describes it as “an unexplained mystery”; yet, any true doctrine of God should be clear and unambiguous, for God is not the author of confusion.
By way of contrast, God's Church, Worldwide teaches that, at present, there are only two personages in the Godhead, the Father and the Son, and that the Son, by His own admission, is subordinate to the Father, “Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I” (Jn. 14:28).
What then is the Holy Spirit? It is not a separate person, but rather it is the power of God, through which Christ created and sustains the entire universe. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (Gen 1:2-3); “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (Jn. 1:1-3). The Holy Spirit also enters repentant human beings, enabling them to develop godly righteous character, so that at Christ's second coming they will be transformed into spirit beings, born into God's family.
God's Church, following the biblically inspired teaching of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, understands that God is involved in reproducing Himself through human beings, into a spiritual family of billions. This is a far cry from the restrictive doctrine of the Trinity - with a Godhead of only three.
Rather than go into the convoluted development of the Trinity, with its origins in Greek and early pagan philosophy, the purpose of this study is restricted to the question of whether by biblical definition, the Holy Spirit is a person or a power.
In Psalms 51, a Psalm where King David expresses his repentance over his adultery with Bathseba, and the murder of her husband, Uriah, he pleads with God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit” (Ps. 51:10-12).
In this passage of scripture, the Holy Spirit is likened to something which is given, that can be renewed or taken away, not a person, but rather a gift. “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (Acts 10:45, NIV).
Jesus, prior to His resurrection and ascent into heaven, told His disciples “ . . . behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued [provide or endow] with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49).
The coming of that power from heaven is described in Acts 2. Prior to this in Acts chapter 1, verse 8, Christ tells His disciples, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: . . .” In chapter 2 of Acts, verse 4, we find that they were filled with the Holy Spirit and later in the chapter the prophet Joel is quoted as saying, “in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh . . . .” So we see that the Holy Spirit is power from on high.
When the assembled crowd asked Peter what they needed to do to be saved he told them, “Repent, and be baptized . . . and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy [Spirit]” (Acts 2:38).
Nowhere in the above scriptures is the Holy Spirit likened to a personality. To the contrary, it is described as being poured out, people are filled with it and it is a gift which can be taken away.
Why then, in the gospel of John particularly, is the Holy Spirit referred to as him instead of it? In this case it is basically a matter of grammatical usage, which creates the problem. As with many languages, Greek designates nouns as masculine, feminine, or neuter. Whichever gender the noun in a sentence is, the pronoun must agree. For example, in John 14:16, Christ states, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;” the next verse identifies “the Comforter” as “the Spirit of truth.”
So why is the pronoun he used in verse 16? Because the word “Comforter” is of masculine gender in the Greek and as noted, the pronoun must agree.
By way of contrast in Romans 8:16, the verse states “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” “Itself,” is used because the noun “Spirit” is neuter in the Greek. In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the Spirit was generally given the masculine gender. Did the Spirit change gender between the Testaments? So as you can see, grammatical usage is not evidence as to whether the Holy Spirit is the power of God or is the third person of the Trinity.
However, if the Holy Spirit is a person of equal value with the Father and the Son, we should expect to see “Him” given equal billing in the introductions of the epistles of Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude. This is not what we find. To the contrary the Holy Spirit is universally left out of these introductions. Let's take a look at some examples.
“To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:7).
“Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 1:3).
II Corinthians opens the same way, as does Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. In I Timothy, Paul begins, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Savior, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope.”
II Timothy has a similar beginning, which again makes no mention of the Holy Spirit. However, in verses six and seven of chapter one Paul admonishes Timothy to “stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” If the Holy Spirit were God, it would not need to be stirred up.
Let's be clear about what this gift of God is, which comes into men through the laying on of hands by God's true ministry! For an explanation we can turn to Acts 8, which details God's work growing rapidly and spreading from Jerusalem to Samaria. Let's pick up the story in verse 14.
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money (Acts 8:14-18).
Those who repent of their sins and are baptized receive the Holy Spirit when a true minister of God lays hands on them. Here the Spirit is described as “falling upon” them. Again, this terminology speaks to an object, as opposed to a person.
Perhaps one of the best examples in the Bible which proves the Holy Spirit is not a person is found in Numbers chapter 11. In this chapter God decides to provide Moses with seventy assistants to help him govern Israel. Let's pick up the account in verse 16 of Numbers 11.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee. And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone (Num 11:16-17).
And the Lord came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease. But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp. And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them! (Num. 11:25-29).
These verses show clearly that the Holy Spirit is not God, but that it belongs to Him and is sent forth from Him to empower men to think and act like God. The Holy Spirit is His instrument. It is not part of a trinity. In I Sam. 10:6, the spirit is described as “the spirit of the Lord”, denoting ownership not equality.
When the prophet Elijah was about to pass on his mantle of responsibility to Elisha, Elisha asked for “a double portion of your spirit” (II Ki. 2:9b, NIV). Once again the Holy Spirit is likened to something which can be distributed, rather than a person. Please also note Isaiah 32:15a, where, consistent with many New Testament passages, the Spirit is described as being “poured upon us from on high.” Finally in the introduction to Peter's second epistle, the apostle clearly differentiates between God the Father and Christ as persons and the Holy Spirit as their power. “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, according as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (II Pet. 1:2-3).
Now let's return to how the introductions of the epistles are worded. Philemon's introduction is the same as the rest of Paul's epistles. James begins his letter to the twelve tribes, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” In I Peter, the apostle mentions that God's elect is sanctified through the Spirit. Sanctified through the Spirit means set apart for a holy purpose by God's Spirit. This again shows the Holy Spirit as a power rather than as a person. In II Peter, Peter states that God's divine power has given Christians “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (II Pet. 1:3).
Let's also look at John's writings including his epistles and the book of Revelation. In John's first epistle we are told that “truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (I Jn. 1:3). II John begins “Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love” (II Jn. 1:3). If the Trinity is a true teaching of God, then to blatantly ignore the Holy Spirit in all these letters is a great insult.
Likewise in the book of Revelation, chapter 21, John beheld in vision New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God (v. 10). Verse 22 continues, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God almighty and the lamb are its temple . . .” Once again there is no mention of the Holy Spirit, which one would expect, if the Holy Spirit were the third person of the Godhead. The same applies to Revelation 22:3. “The throne of God and of the lamb will be in the city.”
So from Genesis to Revelation, there is no evidence of the Holy Spirit being a personage. To the contrary the biblical evidence all points to the Holy Spirit being the means through which God and Christ project their power in all its various forms.
Thus, in the near future, when Christ brings the remnant of Israel back to their homeland, He makes the following promise to them.
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:25-26).
In the next verse He describes the Spirit as “my spirit.” The Holy Spirit, as noted, belongs to God and Christ. As a power it is sent out to change the hearts of repentant men and women, to enable them to obey God and keep His Commandments. “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezek. 36:27). In I Corinthians 2, Paul explains how this is accomplished.
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but [without] the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (I Cor. 2:11-14).
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God (I Cor. 2:9-10).
It is the Holy Spirit linked to our human spirit which enables each of us to develop a godly, converted mind, like that of Christ. It is the human spirit which makes us different from the animals. But it is the Holy Spirit which gives us the ability to think and act with God's perspective. Mr. Armstrong came to understand this truth between 1968 and 1972.
It is the combination of Holy Spirit with human spirit which makes us Christians. The human spirit is not a person, and neither is the Holy Spirit.
However, there are certain scriptures which could lead you to think otherwise. Let's take a look at some of these to see whether they actually prove the Holy Spirit is a person or if they are simply figures of speech; a form of shorthand, used by the apostles when they wrote their epistles.
Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus (Acts 13:1-4).
Here is another example from I Timothy. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;” (I Tim. 4:1).
These and other scriptures throughout the New Testament state, “the Holy Spirit said or spoke”; however, we have shown that God's Spirit enters repentant human beings as a power to enable them to understand spiritual concepts. God's Spirit guides God's servants to think, speak, and act in ways pleasing to Him. That is exactly what we find expressed in II Peter 1:21, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” The Holy Spirit speaks through men of God. This is clearly seen in the following scriptures: Hebrews 3:7; 4:7 and Acts 1:16.
In Hebrews 3:7, which is a direct quote from the latter part of Psalm 95:7, it states that “the Holy Spirit says”. However, in Hebrews 4:7, it states that God spoke these words through David, who was both a king and a prophet (Acts 2:29-30), “Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
So who actually did the speaking? The answer is clear and unequivocal from Acts 1:16. “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David . . . .” Clearly the meaning is that God's servants speak under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So when the Bible states the Holy Spirit spoke, this is simply a biblical form of shorthand, as mentioned earlier; the writers understood that the words came by the mouth of human beings, under the inspiration of God, through the motivation of His Spirit.
Another example of this is to be found in Acts 21:4, where certain disciples advise Paul not to go to Jerusalem. “And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.”
Now let's turn to the I John 4:1. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” Here Christians are commanded to test whether a prophet is motivated by God's Spirit or some other spirit, such as the spirit of this world, which is influenced by Satan. How are Christians to do this? By comparing what these men say and do when compared to the biblical standard as exemplified in Jesus Christ. Remember, “ye shall know them by their fruits!” It is God's Holy Spirit which inspires the words of His ministry. The spirit is not a person and it does not speak out as such. To the contrary, the Bible speaks of it being fanned into flame, the possibility of it being quenched, or put out, or of it being supplied, poured out, or filling believers, etc.
Matthew 1:20 (NKJ) states “But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, `Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her [Mary] is of the Holy Spirit.'” If the Holy Spirit is a person, then he should be properly described as the father of Jesus. But this is clearly not the case, as Christ describes God as His Father, not the Holy Spirit. Once more we see the Holy Spirit as an agency or power of God, that He sends out to accomplish His will. In John's gospel we are told that Christ was the Creator of the universe, but He accomplished this by the power of His Holy Spirit.
For a final scripture, let's consider Romans 8:9a, the Holy Spirit is described as the Spirit of God, and in verse 9b, as the Spirit of Christ. They own the Holy Spirit. It is not a separate, or even an equal member of the Godhead. Now note verse 10, “And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” By combining what we see in verse 9 with verse 10, we learn that Christ lives His life in us through the power of His Spirit. Christ is in the third heaven, and we are on the earth, yet through the Holy Spirit He projects Himself into our minds, so that we can learn to live pleasing God, in this society as He did some 2,000 years ago. This is how it is possible for us to overcome, Satan, self, and society.
We don't pray to the Holy Spirit, but rather, by Christ's authority we pray to the Father, to supply us with more of their Spirit, so that we may have the ability to please Them by being more like Them. The Holy Spirit is not a person. It is a power.
Please take the time to carefully read all of Romans 8 and 9, be confident that the Holy Spirit is not a person, it is a power. Also, take note of the following scriptures from the New International Version.
Acts 11:28 “One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)”
Acts 28:25 “They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made his final statement: `The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet;'”
Eph. 5:18 “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
Phil. 1:19 “For I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”
Phil. 3:3 “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.”
I Thess. 5:19 “Do not put out the Spirit's fire.”
I Jn. 3:24 “those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”
Mk. 12:36 “David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: `The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.'”
Acts 6:3 “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them . . . .”
Acts 10:38 “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”
Acts 10:45 “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.”
Rm. 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Heb. 10:15-17 “The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this, First he says: `This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.' Then he adds: `Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.'”
Hebrews 10:15-17 is a quote from Jeremiah 31:33-34, which illustrates the “shorthand” mentioned earlier, where the Lord God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah. “This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: `This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you” (Jer. 30:1-2). Jeremiah wrote under the inspiration of God's Spirit.
Dan. 7:13-14 “`In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.'”
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