The Holy Spirit Is Not a Person; God’s Identity that Only Worsens

The Holy Spirit Is Not a Person; God’s Identity that Only Worsens June 5, 2013

Most Christians believe in the Trinity since that’s what their church teaches. It says God is one essence consisting of three co-equal and co-eternal Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So, the Holy Spirit is deemed a full-fledged Person.

The church didn’t always believe this. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries, there was no consensus among church fathers, called “apologists,” about the constitution of the Holy Spirit. Most of them didn’t think it was important. In fact, there was a widespread fluidity of ideas among Christians about it. Some thought the Holy Spirit was an impersonal power; others ascribed full personality to the Holy Spirit. Eminent church historian Philip Schaff observes, “the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was far less developed, and until the middle of the fourth century was never a subject of special controversy.”

Both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed only state, “I/We believe … in the Holy Spirit.” Due to this brevity, it is absurd for later Trinitarians to assert that a person must believe the Holy Spirit is a full-fledged Person in order to be a Christian.

The Arian-Nicene Controversy of the 4th century was conducted mostly in Greek. All three parties in conflict agreed that the Spirit is a separate hypostasis (subsistence) from the Father and Son. Arius deemed the Spirit’s essence to be unlike that of the Father or the Son. Eusebius, church historian who led the middle party, said the Spirit is inferior in essence to that of the Father and Son, “a third power” in “third rank” to them.

Jannes Reiling contrasts biblical teaching about God’s Spirit with the above view by rightly alleging, “Within the Bible neither ruah nor pneuma are used as a divine name. They are not worshipped as divine beings…. The OT does not represent the spirit as a divine being connected with, yet distinct from, God. It is always functioning as an intermediary between God and mankind…. In the NT the spirit is not envisaged as a divine being (hypostasis), but as an instrument of divine action or revelation.”

James D. G. Dunn says of the Old Testament (OT), “‘Spirit of God’ is simply a way of speaking of God accomplishing his purpose in his world and through men.” He adds, “‘Spirit of God’ in Judaism denoted the power of God.” He says of the writings of Paul and John in the New Testament (NT), “The idea of God’s Spirit as a power and presence (i.e., God’s) … that thought is well established…. But of the Spirit as an entity in any sense independent of God, of Spirit as a divine hypostasis, there is nothing.”

Non-Trinitarian, Dutch theologian Ellen Flesseman-van Leer explains that the Holy Spirit is “not an independent entity alongside God, but the evidence of God’s active presence in the world.”

The Apostle Paul mentions both God the Father and Jesus Christ in the salutations of all ten of his NT letters (assuming he wrote them all), yet he does not mention the Holy Spirit. This absence suggests that Paul did not regard the Holy Spirit as a person.

One reason Trinitarians think the Holy Spirit is a full-fledged Person is that English Bibles usually capitalize “Holy Spirit” and “Spirit” when associated with God. Yet the Hebrew and Greek languages did not have upper and lower case when the earliest biblical manuscripts were written. Such capitalization is merely interpretation of the translators of these versions since they were Trinitarians. In contrast, Jews don’t capitalize “holy spirit” or “spirit” because they don’t think it refers to a person.

Most Christians also think the Holy Spirit is a Person since nearly all Bible versions ascribe personal pronouns to the Spirit. The best biblical example is the frequent “he” in Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit in John 14-16. But pronoun gender in Greek is irrelevant. Whether pronouns applied to the Holy Spirit should be translated “he” or “it” is strictly a theological decision. It is the same there for the pronoun ekeinos.

Binitarian, UK theologian C.F.D. Moule says concerning the Bible applying personal pronouns to the Holy Spirit, “the appeal to Scripture,… proves nothing as to the eternal ‘being’ of the Spirit. It only shows that ‘Spirit’ is a word for a personal God’s personal activity.” Moule concludes, “the fact that Spirit is the mode by which a personal God is present does not seem, in itself, to necessitate the recognition of Spirit as essentially personal;… it seems gratuitous to insist on using a personal pronoun” for the Holy Spirit.

Another reason most Christians think the Holy Spirit is a Person is that the Bible can personify the Holy Spirit as it does God’s Word or Wisdom. When it says the Holy Spirit did some activity, such as speaking, it should not be taken as depicting personality. Jesus once said, “the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles’” (Luke 11.49); yet he did not intend to attribute personality to wisdom. The best OT example of the personification of wisdom is in Proverbs 8—9.6.

Catholic theologian Karl Rahner and biblical exegete Murray Harris rightly admit that the NT never identifies the Holy Spirit as God. Thus, some Trinitarians have wrongly contended that it does in Acts 5.4.

The Bible teaches that man is a tripartite being consisting of body, soul, and spirit. Since God made man in his own image (Genesis 1.26-27), man’s spirit must correspond to God’s Spirit. Moule states, “there is a certain kinship between God and man—between Spirit and spirit.” Yes, and it should be understood from creation that the Spirit of God is to God what the spirit of man is to man. Since man’s spirit is not a person as we moderns understand personhood, God’s Spirit must not be a person either. Rather, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father (Matthew 10.20; Mark 13.11).

(In my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ, I devote 14 pages to an appendix, “The Nature of the Holy Spirit,” citing 25 scholars and their writings as well as the writings of 5 church fathers.)

…………….

To see a list of titles of 130+ posts (2-3 pages) that are about Jesus not being God in the Bible, with a few about God not being a Trinity, at Kermit Zarley Blog click “Chistology” in the header bar. Most are condensations of my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ. See my website servetustheevangelical.com, which is all about this book,  with reviews, etc. Learn about my books and purchase them at kermitzarley.com. I was a Trinitarian for 22 years before reading myself out of it in the Bible.

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  • SoundOn

    The Trinity is indeed an interesting history lesson. Arias’ views showed the deep misunderstanding of the Godhead within the church and he certainly had some false views, but his teachings were no less false than the current understanding of the Trinity. Arius teachings simply showed the beginnings of the Great Apostasy and highlighted a major division over a simple doctrine. The Church struggled to define God and therefore it was doomed to eventually split apart. Only a few hundred years after Christ’s ministry and the Church couldn’t even accurately define God anymore which is why it is so important that the Church be led by those with the appropriate Priesthood authority. The debate at the Council of Nicea lasted not just those few months, but it took another 125 years and three more major councils to finally provide an explanation that everyone could agree on. And it’s not surprising that if you read the Nicene Creed it is obvious that nothing was really defined or clarified at all. In the end it is more of a politically correct explanation rather than a doctrinally correct one. The creed declares the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be abstract where all three members are separate persons, but they are a single being. They are three distinct persons, yet not three Gods but one. With such a weak, but safe explanation one can believe whatever they want about the Godhead. One could believe that they are separate beings, or one being, or both. Trinitarinism also claims that God is immaterial, formless, and uncreated, but the problem is that this definition is not derived from nor supported by the Bible. There is no scripture to be found in the Bible that states this. Not to mention that Trinitarianism is too confusing to be true and God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33). A child should be able to understand something as simple as the Godhead. The simplest explanation for the Godhead is that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are separate and distinct beings, but united in purpose just as it is described in John chapter 17. There is no other possible explanation for their oneness based on what this chapter teaches. On the other hand there is no way a child could logically understand Trinitarianism because there is no logical explanation for it. And anyone who attempts to explain the Trinity using scripture must use a rationale that is illogical and which will become more and more complicated as it is explained because it is not true.

  • 182Panas

    The “Holy” Spirit is the “Holy” God because God is Spirit and God is Holy.
    This Spirit is interceding for us,when in prayer we don’t know what to ask,the Spirit intercede and “express” our desire because He know us.The Holy Spirit is expressing ourselves as He was expressing the Father trough Jesus.The Spirit is “the expression” the Word the Logos and all thing being made by Him.
    There is only One Holy Spirit called “I AM” the other spirit is an unholy one.
    The Spirit in us is manifested by modeling(new life) us in Christ image,to teach us in His light(truth) and to conduct us (sanctification) So the Spirit is the same that the One Jesus have. He conduct= the Way He his the Truth (light) and Life (new creature) and He his Eternal.

  • Jason

    “The Apostle Paul mentions both God the Father and Jesus Christ in the
    salutations of all ten of his NT letters (assuming he wrote them all),
    yet he does not mention the Holy Spirit.” (paragraph 8). Paul may not have referenced the Holy Spirit in his salutations but Peter does in 1 Peter 1:1-2. So, I think that’s a weak argument.

    Truly, Jesus referred to the spirit speaking through them to the be the spirit of the Father in Matthew 10:20. But the apostles understood the Holy Spirit to be the Spirit of Jesus (Romans 8:9-11, Galatians 2:20 are examples). I’m not sure how that contributes for or against the discussion but that was neglected in this article and I think it’s important to note. I can understand how people could interpret the Holy Spirit as being the extension of the power of God in the old covenant where the Spirit of God would fill people for appointed tasks. But the new covenant language of John 14-17 seems to demonstrate that Jesus distinguished the Helper as uniquely distinct from Father and Son. It also seems to demonstrate that the Spirit – though subordinate to the Son as the Son is willing subordinate to the Father – is not inferior in divine quality and power.

    I’m not too hung up with distinguishing “person-hood” because I don’t see that language in the new covenant. But my conviction from Scripture is that the Spirit is revealed as distinct from Father and Son, yet equal in divine quality.

    • kzarley

      When Paul regularly says “grace [mercy] and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” he clearly means that they are personal entities from which we can derive these benefits. But if Paul was a Trinitarian, he would not have ignored all those times the Holy Spirit as a co-equal personal entity with them. And I don’t deny that the NT mentions God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit together; in fact, in my RJC I have a table with the NT’s total of eight texts that do this, and 1 Pt 1.2 is one of them.

      Yes, after Jesus was glorified due to his ascension and heavenly exaltation, and not before, the NT reveals that the early Christians identified the Holy Spirit as being both “of God” and “of Jesus” which I also state in RJC. In these christology posts, I am trying to keep them to two pages and I don’t think that relates to the issue–whether or not the Spirit is a Person as taught in the doctrine of the Trinity.

      See my related post–“If the Holy Spirit Is a Person of His Own, Then Why Isn’t He Sitting on Heaven’s Big Throne?”

  • Star Ted Withamouse

    Is it possible that the idea of the trinity isn’t necessarily meant to be three distinct entities that make up God, but rather 3 different ways in which God acts? The Father being how we describe God as a judge and creator, the spirit how we describe God working in the universe all the time, and the Son being how we describe God to be a savior? I know one argument against this is that, if Jesus is not a separate entity from the father then why does he sit next to the father? Well Jesus had a human body that rose with him, he would have to keep that if he was truly all man and all God. So in the end it is really all one entity, we just describe it differently based on what He is doing, would be the idea.

    • kzarley

      Your questions and suggestions were hashed out long ago by church authorities in the early history of Christianity and settled. God being a single person/entity who manifests himself in three different ways (father, son, spirit) is called modalism. Trinitarianism is belief in one God as three separate and distinct persons (hypostases in Greek). The main church denomination today that is modalistic is the United Pentecostal Church, and its most prominent personality is TV pastor T.D. Jakes, who recently switched to a more Triniatrian faith. These two views are quite opposite. I am a former Trinitarian. But I now differ from both of these views and embrace the belief of the early Nazarene Jewish Christians, who said Jesus was virgin-borth and our risen Savior and Lord, but not God, that only the Father (a separate person) is God.