Continuing our examination of the essential characteristics or attributes of God:
It is difficult for us as human beings who think in terms of being in one place at any one time in the world, to comprehend how someone could be everywhere at the same time, i.e., ubiquitous or all-pervasive. Yet this is precisely how the activities of the Holy Spirit are described in scripture. He is in everything and is everywhere. For example, in Psalm 139 verses 7-8, the Psalmist refers to the Spirit of God being present in all places, and that no one is able to avoid His grasp, irrespective of location. A. F. Kirkpatrick suggests, ‘escape would be impossible if he wished it’.1 Even more perplexing for the Psalmist was the fact that ‘wherever he went, (he) would find himself confronted with a God who was already there’.2 When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, we are told that ‘they were all filled with the Holy Spirit’, Acts 2. 4 NKJV. This was not simply a diffusion of the Spirit, but an indwelling of each one of them by the omnipresent Holy Spirit. Similarly, Paul emphasizes this omnipresence when he refers to the baptism of believers into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. As Fred Cundick points out, ‘The Spirit must be in every locality to perform this ministry’.3
Today we live in a world dominated by the Internet, which, for some people, is omniscient. But that would be to invest in man something that is germane to God alone. And scripture makes it abundantly clear that it is the Spirit of God who knows all things, and there is nothing in the divine being of God that the Holy Spirit does not know, 1 Cor. 2. 10-11, or, as the ESV translates verse 11b, ‘So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God’. This enables the Holy Spirit to reveal all things and thereby teach all things, John 14. 26. The closing doxology of Romans chapters 9 to 11 has been described ‘as an eloquent expression of wonder and adoration before the mystery of God’s ways, the majesty of His mercy and wisdom’.4 This again highlights the fact, as in 1 Corinthians chapter 2 verse 10, that God is inscrutable to the natural man. In other words, this verse ‘suggests the limit of divine profundity that is barred to humans except with divine assistance’.5
The one thing that we as human beings are constantly prone to is change, whether in ourselves or in the world in which we live. As finite creatures subject to these almost daily challenges, the idea of immutability seems to be very much removed from us. Yet in the divine realm, immutability is an important attribute of God. In the Old Testament, God declares His immutability by way of contrast with Israel’s constant tendency to change allegiance, Mal. 3. 6-7. The Psalmist too is conscious of the immutability of God by way of contrast to things that are considered to be permanent in the creation yet which will ultimately perish, Ps. 102. 25-28; Heb. 1. 10-12. God remains and is always the same; hence, God the Father is not subject to change as are the heavenly bodies in the universe.6 This is also applicable to our Lord as evident from Hebrews chapter 13 verse 8. So, if God the Father and the Lord Jesus are immutable, then it must follow that the Holy Spirit is likewise immutable.
Clearly, that the Holy Spirit is God in His own right without any qualification. The unequivocal statement made by the Lord in Matthew chapter 28 verse 19 that the disciples were to baptize converts ‘in the name (singular) of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’ NKJV, provides support for teaching that the Holy Spirit is also part of the Holy Trinity.
It is easy to accept God the Father as a person. Similarly, because of the incarnation, we speak about the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. But what about the Holy Spirit? Does the Bible teach that the Holy Spirit is more than an impersonal force, influence or power? Is it scripturally correct to speak about the Holy Spirit as being a real person, that is, having the essential characteristics of personality? To answer this question, we need to consider what actually constitutes personality, and whether the Bible does reveal the Holy Spirit to be a person.
One definition of ‘personality’ is that it is a combination of an individual’s thoughts, characteristics, behaviours, attitudes, ideas and habits. It is essentially an individual’s characteristic way of behaving across a wide range of situations. It could also be defined as the totality of an individual’s behavioural and emotional tendencies, or as the socialist John J Macionis defines it, ‘the constant pattern of thinking, feeling and acting’.7 So personality has to do with mind, feelings and will, which are the essential constituents of a person as distinct from a thing, or an abstraction. Turning then to the Bible we find that it does confirm the Holy Spirit to be a person not just merely an impersonal force.
The Holy Spirit spoke through David’s writings in the Old Testament, i.e., David acted as His spokesman, Acts 1. 16. He also speaks, as in the prompting of Philip to engage with the Ethiopian eunuch, 8. 29, and forbids individuals from preaching as in the case of Paul and his fellow workers in Asia, 16. 6. This ability to communicate must reflect behaviour appropriate to personality.
In an important section of John’s Gospel, Jesus makes provision for His disciples to be taught after His departure. The teacher is identified by Him as the Holy Spirit, John 14. 26, who would be sent by the Father in the name of His Son. Later in his First Letter, the apostle John highlights the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit again so that ‘you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything – and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you – abide in him’, 1 John 2. 27. The ability to teach highlights intelligence as well as mindset thus again reflecting personality.8
Not only does Jesus make provision for His disciples after His departure, but He describes the Holy Spirit as another ‘Comforter’ (or ‘Counsellor’), John 14. 16, i.e., ‘another Comforter of the same type’. This presupposes that the new Comforter would act in the same way towards the disciples, thus, again, reflecting the traits of personality. According to Peter, one can lie to the Holy Spirit, Acts 5. 3, and, according to Paul, it is possible to grieve and quench the Holy Spirit, Eph. 4. 30; 1 Thess. 5. 19. If the Holy Spirit was merely an impersonal force, both Peter’s and Paul’s statements would be nonsense! However, what they both confirm is that the Holy Spirit has feelings, which again reflect personality. The above verses represent only a tiny number of biblical references that could be used in support of the argument that the Holy Spirit is a person in all the senses of that word.
A concern for some Christians is why, in our English translations of certain verses in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is referred to as ‘itself’ rather than ‘himself’, e.g., Rom. 8. 16, 26, e.g., KJV. This has to do with the rules of Greek grammar in that the word ‘spirit’ is neuter in Greek, so for an accurate translation, the appropriate English pronoun should be used, which, in the case of Romans chapter 8 verses 16, 26, would be ‘itself’, because ‘itself’ is a neuter pronoun. Curiously, the King James Version reverses this grammatical trend in its translation of John chapter 16 verses 13-14 – the use of the English pronouns ‘he’, ‘him’ etc., in certain other parts of the same narrative is, however, grammatically justified on the grounds that the word ‘Comforter’ is masculine in Greek so accordingly takes masculine pronouns.
Well what do we make of all this? It was the Reformer Martin Luther who once asserted, ‘What is theology, but grammar applied to the text’.9 Accepting that compliance with the rules of Greek grammar are important, we should never lose sight of the fact, however, that in biblical exegesis it is the context that overrides other considerations. Thus, whether we agree or disagree with how a particular translation has handled this particular matter, the clear and unequivocal teaching of scripture is that the Holy Spirit is a person. Whenever, therefore, we are dealing with this subject, we should always reverently, and with a deep sense of awe and wonder, refer to the Holy Spirit as that glorious third person of the Holy Trinity.
In terms, then, we believe absolutely in the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit.
A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, pg. 787.
Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-150, Word Biblical Commentary, pg. 328.
Fred Cundick, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit – Treasury of Bible Doctrine, John Heading and Cyril Hocking (ed.), pg. 223.
Charles Cranfield, Romans, The International Critical Commentary, T&T Clark, pg. 589.
Robert Jewitt, Romans, Hermenia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, pg. 716.
Note the comments of the Jewish philosopher Philo, ‘Every created thing must necessarily undergo change, for this is its property, even as unchangeableness is the property of God’ (Allegorical Interpretation 2.33).
John J Macionis, Sociology, Pearson Education, 13th edition.
Note also Romans chapter 8 verses 26-27
Walter A. Elwell (ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker, pg. 613.</p
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