The Personality of the Holy Spirit

The title “Holy Spirit” comes from the Greek words “to hagion pneuma”. The term ‘pneuma’ is sometimes translated “spirit” or “wind”. As a noun it is grammatically neuter in gender. Those who deny the divinity and personality of the Holy Spirit argue that ‘pneuma’ is neuter, therefore must be an “it”, that is, a thing, influence, or force like electricity, rather than “He” or a person. This is a result of failing to acknowledge the usage of the words within the context of the surrounding words. The New Testament writers used masculine pronouns alongside neuter pronouns when speaking about the Spirit of God. It is these masculine pronouns that are found in Bibles than do not change the Greek text.

The Lord Jesus Christ when describing the Holy Spirit used both the masculine and the neuter pronouns. He said to His disciples, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me” (John 15:26). The word “Comforter” is from the masculine pronoun ‘parakletos’. Therefore it is obvious from the wording in both the English and the Greek, that the verse is constructed in such a way so that we would not fail to understand that the Holy Spirit is an “He” rather than an “it”.

Jesus promised His disciples, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever” (John 14:6). Firstly, we must notice that the Father is given the personal pronoun “He” and understood to be a person, then it goes without saying that when the Spirit is given the same personal pronoun we must be truthful with the text and describe Him as a person also. Secondly, Jesus used the word “another” (Gk. allon) meaning “another of the same kind”. The Lord was the Comforter while He was on earth, but He said He would send another Comforter after the Resurrection. It is clear that Jesus spoke of the Spirit in the same terms as Himself. If He was not an impersonal thing or influence then the Holy Spirit cannot be.

“These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:25-26). Again in these verses Jesus uses the masculine term ‘parakletos’ which cannot be translated any other way than in describing a living personality. Such personality (personhood) is definitely part of the nature of the Holy Spirit. These verses also tell us something more about the person of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is a person who has the ability to speak (we shall see later that this is true also of the Spirit), and the Comforter can both teach and remind. To be able to do such things He has to be a person.

The same masculine terminology is used again in John 16:13-14, “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you”. Guide, speak, hear, show (reveal), glorify, all such activities can only be performed by a person. A “thing” or an “influence” cannot achieve this. It is not possible for a force like electricity to speak to us, reveal the truth, or glorify the Lord. The Holy Spirit of God is a personal being just as much as the Father and the Son are persons in their own right.

We learn from the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit thinks. Only an intelligent being is capable of knowledge. A computer, or any other manmade piece of equipment may have inbuilt intelligence (programmed), but it cannot think for itself. The Holy Spirit, as God, is omniscient. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:27, “And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God”. This same description of knowledge / thought can be seen in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11, “But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 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 the Spirit of God”. These verses teach us that He has the power of knowledge.

So we see that only an intelligent being can guide, teach, speak, and know things. It is also true that only a living being can be grieved by the rebellion of man. “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). Lifeless things cannot be grieved by man’s sin. Even the animal kingdom can feel hurt when man mistreats one of its number, but should we place the Holy Spirit of God below that of animals by announcing that He is in fact only an influence?

The Holy Spirit is capable of making decisions. This reveals that as a person He has a will. The Scriptures record that the Holy Spirit said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2). Here we see that He is able to speak and make His will known from an informed choice. The same power of choice is seen again in Acts 16:6-7, “Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not”. Even with regards to the manifestations of the Spirit we learn that they are a matter of His personal choice, “all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will” (1 Corinthians 12:11).

Jesus told us something of the Holy Spirit’s ministry when He came into the world. In John 16:8 He says, “when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment”. How can a “thing” convict anyone of sin? It is through His convicting work that He draws lost souls to Christ.

Paul informs us that the Holy Spirit prays for the Church, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” True prayer must begin in the heart. Since a “thing” or an “influence” does not have a heart it is incapable of prayer, and therefore incapable of emotion or feeling. We have no other choice but to accept that the Holy Spirit is a person.

We have briefly seen that He is able to speak with men as an intelligent being. The Bible gives us numerous accounts of the Holy Spirit speaking. In Acts 8:29 and 10:19-20 we read, “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot … While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.” Both Philip and Peter obeyed the voice they heard. The apostle Paul made it plain in Acts 28:25 that the Holy Spirit was responsible for speaking to the Old Testament prophets, “Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers”. These words are clear enough to convince anyone that the Holy Spirit is a real person who can speak meaningful words as He communicates with other intelligent beings. The book of Revelation on several occasions reveals that the Holy Spirit speaks even in the last days (Revelation 2:7,11,17,29, 3:6,13,22). At the close of the book we find written, “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come” (Revelation 22:17). If the Church (the bride of Christ) which is made up of persons can call others to salvation, then we must not reject the fact that the Holy Spirit can also – therefore He must be a person. Not only does the Holy Spirit speak to the Church, but He can speak through individual believers by giving them exactly the right words to answer in difficult situations, “But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” (Matthew 10:19-20).

We know that both the Father and Jesus love us. Therefore we understand them to be persons because of that emotion, yet the apostle Paul informs us that love can be expressed by the Spirit too, “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit…..” (Romans 15:30). This should not surprise us since the spiritual fruit called ‘love’ is produced in our hearts by the same Holy Spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22).

If the Holy Spirit was not a person why would Jesus say in Matthew 12:32, “whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come”, indicating that the Spirit can be offended beyond the possibility of forgiveness? Surely a ‘thing’ cannot be offended to this extent? Jesus makes it clear that He as a person can be blasphemed against yet be forgiven, but such blasphemy against the Spirit can never be forgiven. It is very interesting here that Jesus actually puts the Holy Spirit above Himself in this regard. How could He do that with an impersonal force or influence? This same thought is carried through into Hebrews 3:7-10, “Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear His voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.” As a person He can be blasphemed against, offended, and grieved, “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30). On top of this He can be lied to, “Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost” (Acts 5:2). In fact Peter sees the Holy Spirit as being equal with God, “thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (:4). This person called the Holy Spirit can be resisted, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51)

We have to conclude even with these few Scripture (for there are many more) that the Holy Spirit of God cannot be thought of as an influence, a thing, or a force. He is an equal member of the Trinity and declared to be a person with a name by the Lord Jesus Christ – “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19) – He is a distinct person of the Godhead clearly revealed as such in the Word of God.