The Personality and Deity of the Holy Spirit
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg / Dr. John Weldon; ©2003|
|The most over-looked and perhaps misunderstood member of the Christian Trinity is the subject of this study by Drs. Ankerberg and Weldon..|
The Personality and Deity of the Holy Spirit
Religious groups who deny the Trinity not only characteristically deny the Person and work of Jesus Christ but also the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that “the holy spirit is the active force of God. It is not a person but is a powerful force that God causes to emanate from himself to accomplish his holy will.” Victor Paul Wierwille, founder of The Way International, declares, “One of the most misunderstood fields among Christians today is that of the Holy Spirit.” Wierwille believes that the Holy Spirit is merely a synonym for the one Person of the Godhead, the Father, who alone is God. Thus, whenever Wierwille uses the term “Holy Spirit” in his writings (with capital letters), he is merely using a synonym for God. Whenever Wierwille uses small letters, “holy spirit,” he means the spiritual gilts given by God the Father. In Wierwille’s theology, the biblical Holy Spirit does not exist. Wierwille, Jehovah’s Witnesses and many others claim the early church never believed that the Holy Spirit was God.
Although the development of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was theologically less refined in the early church than that of the doctrine of Jesus Christ, there was still recognition that the Holy Spirit was both personal and God. Here are several sources:
- Athenagoras (his chief work defending the Trinity, Embassy for the Christians, is dated 176-180 AD) wrote that of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit Christians declared “both their power in union and their distinction in order.”
- According to noted theologian, Harold O. J. Brown, “Tertullian (160-250 AD) was the first to speak plainly of the Holy Spirit as God and to say that he is of one substance with the Father.”
- Tertullian concluded, “Thus the connection of the Father and the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete [Holy Spirit], produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another. These three are one essence.”
- Cyril of Jerusalem wrote that the “Holy Spirit is honored together with the Father and the Son and is fully included in the holy Trinity. We are not preaching three Gods, so let the Marcionites hold their peace. We do not divide up the holy Trinity, as some do, nor, like Sabellius, do we coalesce it into one. Great indeed is the Holy Spirit, and in his gifts, omnipotent and wonderful.”
- Athanasius wrote that the “Holy Spirit cannot be a creature, and it is impious to call him so.”
- In speaking of the Holy Spirit as a gift to the church, Augustine wrote. “And therefore the Holy Spirit, God though He is, is most rightly called also the gift of God.”
- Basil of Caesarea wrote. “The Lord has delivered to us as a necessary and saving doctrine that the Holy Spirit is to be ranked with the Father.”
- Origen argued, “For if [He were not eternally as He is…] the Holy Spirit would never be reckoned in the Unity of the Trinity, i.e., along with the unchangeable Father and His Son, unless He had always been the Holy Spirit.”
We emphasize again that the early Christians concluded that the Holy Spirit was God for the same reason that they concluded that Jesus was God: because this was the scriptural testimony and the only option they had. Thus, if we examine what the Scripture teaches about the Holy Spirit, we find that the traditional Trinitarian view is clearly seen. For example, the Holy Spirit is distinguished from both the Father and the Son (Isaiah 48:16; Matthew 28:19; Luke 35:21; John 14:16, 17: Hebrews 9:8). Also, the Holy Spirit is clearly not an impersonal force, as Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, but a real Person. For instance He loves (Romans 15:30); convicts of sin (John 16:8): has a personal will (1 Corinthians 12:11): commands and forbids (Acts 8:29; 13:2; 16:6); speaks messages (1 Timothy 4:1; Revelation 2:7); intercedes (Romans 8:26); comforts, teaches and guides into truth (John 14:26); and can be grieved, blasphemed and insulted (Ephesians 4:30: Mark 3:29; Hebrews 10:29). Once it is established that the Holy Spirit is a Person, it is easy to see that the impersonal, or even inanimate, terminology in Scripture that is used for Him. such as His “filling us,” “being poured out” and so on, is not meant to imply that the Holy Spirit is impersonal, but rather it is illustrating the intimacy of the believer’s relationship to Him.
The Holy Spirit is deity because He performs the functions of God and because He is called God in Scripture. He has the attributes of deity, such as omnipresence (Psalm 139:7, 8); omniscience (1 Corinthians 2:10-11); eternality (Hebrews 9:14); omnipotence (Job 33:4). And He gives eternal life (John 3:3-8). He is also the Creator (Job 33:4; Genesis 1:2). It goes without saying that no impersonal force (Jehovah’s Witnesses) or finite god (Mormonism) has the personal and divine attributes that Scripture assigns to the Holy Spirit.
It is also clear from Scripture that the Holy Spirit is God by the divine functions that He performs and by the divine associations that He has. He indwells all believers (John 14:23; 1 Corinthians 6:19 with 2 Corinthians 6:16); strives with all people and convicts the whole world of their guilt and their need of faith in Jesus (Genesis 6:3 with John 16:8; 1 Peter 3:20); divinely inspires (2 Peter 1:21 with Luke 1:68-70 with Acts 1:16; 28:25; Isaiah 6:1-13; Hebrews 10:15-17 with Jeremiah 31:31-34); sanctifies (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 with 1 Thessalonians 4:7). And in His divine role He sends forth laborers (Matthew 9:38 with Acts 13:2-4; compare Psalm 95:6-9 with Hebrews 3:7-9; Romans 5:5 with 1 Thessalonians 3:12- 13 and 2 Thessalonians 3:5). The Holy Spirit is also called God. In Acts 5:3-4, the one lied to is first said to be the Holy Spirit, who is then immediately identified as God. He is called “the Lord” in 2 Corinthians 3:18 and in Hebrews 10:15-16. In Isaiah 6:8-9 and Acts 28:25- 26, one passage speaks of “the Lord” (God) speaking to Isaiah, whereas the other passage declares the same message was spoken by the Holy Spirit to Isaiah.
There is only one eternal sin spoken of in all the Bible, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32). All sins committed against God the Father and God the Son can be forgiven (Matthew 12:32), but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven. How can this be if the Holy Spirit is merely a creature or an impersonal force? What is the sin spoken of here? Unbelief to the point of death is the only eternal sin: this is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and against His testimony concerning Jesus (John 16:8). Thus, persistent resistance of the Holy Spirit’s conviction of one’s need to believe in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins (John 16:8) can never be forgiven. Why? Because one thereby refuses to place faith in Christ, which alone can bring redemption. The Holy Spirit, then, must indeed be God because one can only commit an eternal sin against an eternal God. Indeed, the scriptural testimony to the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit is far more abundant in Scripture than one might think.
The Holy Spirit, whose job it is to glorify Jesus Christ, has been given His rightful place in the Trinity by the historic Christian church. Sadly, other groups have not given Him the honor due Him.
- Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Reasoning from the Scriptures (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1985), p. 381.
- Victor Paul Wierwille, Jesus Christ Is Not God (New Knoxville, OH: American Christian Press, 1975), p. 127.
- Ibid., Appendix A; cf. Victor Paul Wierwille, Receiving the Holy Spirit Today (New Knoxville, OH: American Christian Press, 1976), Chapter 1.
- E. Calvin Beisner, God in Three Persons (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1984), p. 53, citing Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (eds), The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to AD 325, Vol. 2, p. 133, A Plea for the Christians, X.
- Harold O. J. Brown, Heresies (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984), pp. 140-141.
- Tertullian, Against Praxeas, p. 25, cited in Brown, Heresies, p. 145.
- Cyril of Jerusalem, “Catechetical Lecture,” 16, para. 4, in Maurice Wiles and Mark Santer (eds.), Documents in Early Christian Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 82.
- Athanasius, “Third Letter to Serapion,” I, in Wiles and Santer, p. 85.
- Augustine, “On the Trinity,” VX, xvii, 32, in Wiles and Santer, p. 94.
- Basil of Caesarea, “The Book of Saint Basil on the Spirit,” Chapter X, para. 25 in Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, A Select Library of Nicean and Post-Nicean Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI” Eerdmans, 1975), p. 17.
- In Beisner, God in Three Persons, p. 64, citing Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, p. 253; de Principus I.iii.4.
- See Edward Henry Beckersteth, The Holy Spirit: His Person and Work (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1967) for an excellent scriptural study on the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit.