3. "Impersonal" Attributes

The Holy Spirit: Person or "Force"

Part 1: Personal Attributes
Part 2: Historical Evidence
Part 3: "Impersonal" Attributes

Part 3: "Impersonal" Attributes

Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain that because the Holy Spirit is described by some "impe­rsonal" adjectives, He must be an impersonal force. Both logic and biblical usage refute such a conclusion. The following headings indicate qualities of the Holy Spirit cited by the Watchtower organization as proofs of their view.

Given and taken away – a gift

The Bible is clear that the Holy Spirit can be given and taken away (Neh 9:20; Ps 51:11, etc. — though perhaps taken only in the OT). But Is 9:6 says: “Unto us a Son is given.” In Jn 3:16, the Father gave His only begotten Son. Christians are partakers of, or sharers of, that Christ which is given (Heb 3:14): does this mean that Christ is a substance to be shared? He is taken up into Heaven. Eph 4:8 tells us that Jesus gave gifts to m­en, and the Greek indicates these gifts were teachers. I won’t multiply examples. Being “given” or “taken” doesn’t make something a thing rather than a person.

Poured out (Is 32:15; Acts 2:17)

Paul, too, is poured out, as a drink offering (Phili 2:17, 2 Tim 4:6). Jesus Christ on the Cross is poured out like water (Ps 22:14). The ungodly are poured out in their greed for error (Jude 11). All remained persons while this occurred. Pouring out describes an event, not something’s nature. Indeed, if Spirit (whatever spirit may be) is literally poured, then God could be literally poured, since God, a person, is Spirit. Like so much of what is to follow, this example fails to understand the function of poetic usage or figures of speech.

Baptized with (Mt 3:11, Mk 1:8)

If one is baptized with water, and with the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit must be like water -- a thing, not a being. Such is the reasoning. Alas, if we extend such logic, this is what we have: And since all who were baptized into Christ (as into water), were baptized into His death (as in water - Rom 6:3), then Christ and death must be of the same nature. Well, that’s not a happy conclusion, is it. Since water is not a person (though personified, 1 Jn 5:8), the Holy Spirit is not a person? Since death is not a person (though it is personified, as in Rev 6:8, 20:13), Jesus is not a person? Again: All who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ (Gal 3:27); since one cannot be baptized into a person, nor clothed with a person, therefore Jesus is not a person. The fallacy is self-evident. Even a cursory reading of the text makes it clear: Matthew doesn’t compare, but rather contrasts water and the Spirit - that dif­ference is the point of the passage.

The problem lies in a failure to understand the figures of speech. In 1 Jn 5:8, water and blood are per­soni­fied. Does this prove or require that the Holy Spirit is also a personification? By that logic, God could be a personification, since He is paired with a "personified" Holy Spirit.

Falls upon

The word used to describe the falling of the Holy Spirit here, epipipto*, is used of people certainly five times out of its 13 NT uses (Mk 3:10; Lk 15:20; Jn 13:25; Acts 20:10, 37), and five times of things (fear, a trance, mist, reproaches). The remaining three uses speak of the Holy Spirit. Clearly, there is no evidence of the "thingness" of the Holy Spirit in the fact that He falls upon men. [*Note the difference between 'falling upon' (epipipto) and ‘falling from' (pi­pto – cf. the fallen angel in Rev 9). Pipto is always a physi­cal fall. Analysis shows pipto constantly used to describe a mishap, judgment, or one's being operated upon, cata­stro­phically; epipipto is active, a doing. Taking in its plainest meaning, the Bible has the star fallen from heaven in Rev 8-9, falling as the result of catastrophic judgment.]

Fills (Ex 31:3; Jg 14:6; Acts 2:4; Eph 5:18)

Eph 3:19 says we may be “filled with all the fullness of God." (Vine's says this passage means, "God, in the completeness of His being" — "Full­ness", p. 259. Thayer's [pleroma, #4138, 1., p. 519] says: "filled with the pre­sence, power, agency, riches of God and of Christ.") One is filled not with the fullness He gives, but with the fullness that He is — it is God with whom one is filled, here. And Jesus Christ fills all in all (Eph 1:23; cf. 4:10, where Jesus again fills all things). What, then? Since filling, neither the Father nor Jesus are persons?

Jesus is a "lamb," and "the light," a "door," "bread," "a vine," "a rock," and many other things. Is he too some sort of “active force” of salvation? It is absurd.

"In" people (Num 27:18)

Christ is in Christians (Col 1:27); God is in Christians (1 Jn 4:15) and works in us (Phili 2:13). Demons go into victims, yet remain persons. Satan goes into Judas, and the Antichrist, yet remains a person. Clear?

"The Spirit has no voice — not recorded"

Methuselah is not recorded as ever having spoken.. Therefore he is not a person but a force? There’s a huge danger of reasoning backwards from a conclusion – of looking to prove yourself right, regardless of the evidence. Let’s prove that Methuselah was not a person, but a force: Well, Methuselah (whose name means “his death shall bring”) sired Lamech ("despairing"), as the Holy Spirit (“breath”) sired Jesus ("salvation of Yahweh"). Ah! Death brings Despair, and Breath brings Salvation! We must be on the right track! Methuselah was "born" to Enoch, in the same sense that the Holy Spirit "proceeds" from the Father (Jn 15:26). Hm. Oh! Enoch never died (Heb 11:5), as the Father God is immortal! Therefore Methuselah must be a force, as the Holy Spirit is a force!

Sloppy logic aside, the simple fact is that the Spirit does speak, with a voice, complete with quotation marks: Heb 10:15; Acts 10:19, 13:2; Jer 31:31; Eze 2:1-3, 3:24, ch. 8, 11, 43, 44, and so on. If such speech from the Spirit is poetic usage, what of the angel in Acts 10:4? – is this personification, too? If not, why not? In Prov 8, where personified Wisdom speaks of herself, this is clearly poetic usage: Proverbs is a book of poetry, Acts is a book of history. In the numerous passages where the Holy Spirit speaks, the context is literal, not figura­tive: He does not "search the streets looking into windows," or live in a "house with seven pillars."

the Spirit "speaks" only in the same way that Balaam's ass speaks

The miracle is not that the ass speaks (birds ‘speak’), but that it speaks with self-identity. In a miracu­lous way, the ass becomes an individual, who refers to itself with personal pronouns, from its own point of view. When it speaks, it has the three necessary elements of identity: will or volition, reason, and emotion. If God can turn clay into a person, I suppose He can turn an ass into a person, even if for a short time only. If angels and demons, and God Himself, can be per­sons, without physical bodies, then a "body," human or not, is not required to be a person. Human beings are not the only beings who are persons.

No personal name

"Melchizedek" – that is, King of Righteousness – is a title. He has no personal nametherefore he must not be a person, but a force? Pharaoh, in Exodus, is given no nametherefore he is a force? Obviously, fallacious: argument from silence. We do not know that the Spirit doesn’t have a personal name; we know only that we are not told His name. Silence on this point constitutes no evidence against His personhood. No spirit (having will, intelligence, and emotion, and so a person) is given a personal name in the Bible. The one apparent exception, "Legion," isn’t a personal name, but rather a group des­cription, and is declared to be just that, "for we are many." A few angels Gabriel and Michaelare named. Some false gods (fallen angels) are identified: Satan, Moloch, Baal, Beelzebub, Beliel, Mammon, and so on, but these are not names, but descrip­tions, i.e., Adver­sary, King, Lord, Lord of Flies. So, that the Holy Spirit is not given a separate name is moot — biblically, no "spirit" is named . . . not even the Logos was named, by a name, before NT times.

Just as unclean spirits are called by the adjective "un­clean," yet are persons, so the Holy Spirit is specified by the adjective "Holy." Mk 3:29-30 makes a direct contrast between unclean spirits and the Holy Spirit. This passage also compares the person of Satan (or is he too a personification?) with the Holy Spirit: the blasphemer and He who is blasphemed. Which is more reasonable, to compare God and Satan, or God and gravity? personal evil spirits with a cosmic force, or with another person? The Bible speaks for itself: God is not compared with weather, but with demonic false-god persons. Remember the Biblical injunction against improper mixing . . . wool and cotton, donkey and ox, sowing together two dif­ferent types of seed (Deut 22); or new wine in old skins, new patch on old cloth. The Bible is consistent, and does sow, or yoke, or weave, or compare, like with like, person with personwho differ not in kind (people, as moral agents), but in character (good or evil).

A seeming exception is where metaphor is used, as in Rom 8, where one walks in sin or in the Spirit. But since no one is saying that sin is a force, it is certainly clear that it is "sin" that’s being used figuratively, whether as a force or as a person. Here, it is really right or wrong behavior that are being compared — the power of sin and the power of God.)

Does the Spirit have a name? Yes. Jehovah - the name of the Triune God. He has as much a private name, or not, as the Father. Jehovah is the particular name that God – whether Father or Holy Spirit – is given. There are many titles given to each, but only one, and the same, personal name. The word for ‘name’, onoma, is used about 230 times in the NT — and (with three or four cases where it refers to a place) every time without exception it is used of a person. Whether the term refers to the literal name of an individual, or to the power, authority, character and will of that person, is not pertinent: biblical usage is of only people or places. Mt 28:19 says to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. No place is mentioned in this verse. The Father and Jesus are persons, each with the same autho­rity or name, since it is in the same, singular, name of the Father and of the Son that we are sent. The Holy Spirit has that same power, authority, character and will. He is not a place; the Father and the Son are persons; therefore context demands…. What?

"Not in visions of heaven"

Again, argument from silence is a logical fallacy and does constitutes no sort of proof, positive or negative. However, the posi­tive assertion that the Holy Spirit never appears in a vision of heaven would be refuted by citing only one instance, and without strain I have found three.

a. Witness

The first heavenly appearance of the Spirit is Job 16:19: “Surely even now my witness is in heaven, and my advocate is on high” (v. 21 tells us this witness, or advocate, is not God the Father, who is being pleaded with.) So, someone is bearing witness in heaven. Who? Scripture explains scripture. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16). Oh. “And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD…’” (Heb 10:15 – notice that the "He" who said this is the Holy Spirit, who is called the LORD). “And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth” (1 Jn 5:6). This is not a visionary appearance . . . it is literal: Job's Witness is in heaven, and on high, his "Advocate" (LXX - Parakletos, also Helper”).

b. Glory

[Glory and Spirit]

The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Glory (1P 4:14), and in Eze 43:2-6 is explicitly called the Glory of God:

“And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east, and His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory, like the appearance of the vision which I saw. . . . And the glory of the LORD came into the temple by way of the gate…. The Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple. Then I heard Him [‘One’] speaking to me from the temple, while a man stood beside me.[v 18-19] ...A­nd He said to me, ‘Son of man, thus says the Lord GOD, "These are the ordinances..." says the Lord GOD.’”

First, check the translation against the Hebrew . . . you will find that the NKJ is accurate. Notice that "glory" is the subject which does the speaking, and "of God" is the adjective. It is the glory that is speaking – the Spirit as distinct from the Father, for whom He speaks, and whose message He relays. Throughout these chapters, the Glory is distinct from the Lord GOD Father, yet called Jehovah. The Trinity explains this; but we do not call the radio by the announcer's name. Even messengers in the Bible, who speak for some important per­son, are not called by that person's name. This is not an ambiguous point.

Steven explicitly sees, in his vision, the Glory of God. “But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the Glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55).” We are not told what the Glory looked like to Steven – just that he saw it, in heaven; and Eze tells us the Glory of God is the Spirit. Steven's vision of heaven is of the Trinity. (That Steven is both filled with the HS, and sees Him, should be no objection. We are, after all, speaking of spirit.)

Eze 1:28-2:2 says: “Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the bright­ness all around [the Throned Man]. This [brightness] was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. . . . And He [the Glory of the LORD, i.e., the Spirit] said to me, ‘Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you.’ And the Spirit en­tered me when He spoke to me, and set me on my feet; and I heard Him who spoke to me.”

You’ll have noticed that I identify "He" as the Holy Spirit — this under­standing is proved by 3:24, “Then the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet, and spoke with me and said to me. . .” Any potential ambiguity of the first passage is cleared up in the second. 3:27 says, “But when I [the Holy Spirit] speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’” (In 3:13, it is either a new speaker, the LORD, or the same speaker, the Holy Spirit, who is the LORD. In either case, the Holy Spirit Himself is speaking, as a person, with a voice.) Translations will vary, here, to draw out or obscure this reading. Each reader must bring a good-faith effort to understand the passage. I see the interpretation that I’ve given as the most fair-minded.


All this goes to show that the Spirit is represented in vision by the rainbow. We know this from above, where the “I [glory] who will speak” of 2:1 (Who looks like a rainbow) is the “He [Spirit] spoke to me” of 2:2. We also know the Glory is the Spirit from Eze 3:22-24: “Then the hand of the LORD was upon me there, and He said to me, ‘Arise, go out into the plain, and there I shall talk with you.’ So I arose . . . and behold, the glory of the LORD stood there, like the glory [of 1:28] which I saw by the River Chebar; and I fell on my face. Then the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet, and spoke with me...” What then is it that meets and speaks with Ezekiel? It is the same Glory, the same Rainbow Bright­ness, the same Spirit, in each case. I don’t know what the glory of the LORD looks like; but I know it is represented in vi­sions by a rainbow. And in Ezekiel the glory of the LORD is identical to the Holy Spirit.

So, does the Holy Spirit appear in visions of Heaven? Again: “And there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. ...and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” (Rev 4:3, 5.) Again, Rev 10:1 says, “And I say still another, mighty Angel [Jesus] coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud.” Who is it who ascended into heaven clothed with a cloud? Did the angels say He would return, in just this same manner? (Acts 1:11) The manner of his departing was physical­ly, in plain sight, on a public mountain, with clouds. And He comes again with the rainbow, symbol of the Holy Spirit, the Glory of God. Again, Rev 1:7 tells us how Jesus is returning – with clouds, and every eye will see Him, and they who pierced Him, and all the tribes, will mourn (Zech 12:10 & 14:4).

Continuing with Rev 4:5: “And a rainbow [cf. Eze 1:28] was on His head, his face was like the sun [cf. Rev 1:16], and His feet like pillars of fire [Ex 13:21 etc. — the pillar of fire is always linked with the direct presence of God]. And He had a lit­tle book open in His hand” - [v. 9 says, 'Take and eat it.' Eze 3:1 tells us it is God who instructs the prophets to eat little books].

Rainbows appear in only three places in the Bible: Gen, Eze, and Rev; Gen is literal; Eze and Rev are symbolic of God's Glory. We know that the rainbow in Rev refers to the Glory of the Lord, because, again, scrip­ture explains scripture: the only explanation of the symbol of a rainbow in a vision is given in Eze. No scripture is of private interpre­tation: I don't decide what it means; I am taught true meaning by rightly dividing the whole word of God. Given this, I take the symbol of the physical rainbow to represent God’s covenant to preserve mankind from extinction, and the visionary symbol to represent the Spirit’s covenant to preserve mankind from damnation.

c. Seven Spirits

Rev 1:4-5 says: grace from Him who is and was and is to come [the Father], and grace from the seven Spirits who are before His throne [the Holy Spirit] and grace from Jesus Christ [the Son]. “The Seven Spirits of the Lord” can be a confusing phrase, since it suggests not one Holy Spirit, but seven. But recalling that seven is the biblical number of perfection, consider Is 11:2, where we have an insight: “The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and under­standing, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of know­l­edge and of the fear of the Lord.” These paired aspects signify the power and roll of Jesus in his mission: as Prophet he has wisdom and understanding – knowing correction action, having discernment. As High Priest he has counsel and might – power in words and in works. As King he has knowledge and fear of the Lord – practical information and the humility to use it wisely. These six spirits are under the auspices of the first: the Spirit of the LORD that rests upon Him.

Analysis & conclusion of Part Three

Perhaps one would object to the Holy Spirit's personality because of the imagery that is used of Him. But if he like clothing is ‘put on from on high’ (Lk 24:49), just so do we put on Christ (Gal 3:37). If He is a dove, Jesus is a lamb. If He is given as a pledge (2 Cor 1:22), Jesus is taken in shares (Heb 3:14). If He is like tongues of fire (Acts 2:3), Jesus is the Word of God (Jn 1:1). As He is typified by oil (Zech 4:1-14), so Jesus is typified by blood. As He is the seal of the believer (2 Cor 1:22), Jesus is the Promise of God (Acts 13:23). As He is living waters (Jn 7:37-39; Eze 36:25-27), Jesus is the Bread of Life (Jn 6:35). As He is likened after the wind (Jn 3:8), in this same way is Jesus the Light of the world (Jn 9:5).

Poetic language has a purpose: if poetry has light dancing down the mountain side, then the concrete meaning is that light shone in the clear air. If the wind tenderly caressed the swelling leaves, then a springtime breeze gently blew. If it is poetry to say that the Holy Spirit was grieved, what is the concrete meaning? – that God is grieved? If it is a figure of speech to say the Holy Spirit speaks, explicitly, with words, is the concrete meaning that God spoke? What form is shown by such shadow? If these are "personifica­tions," what is their purpose, and is that purpose met? To pretend to honor logic, yet to shirk these questions, is simply disin­genuous.

In a book of poetry, like Proverbs, there is much personifica­tion, as of Wisdom in the first 9 chapters, who is female (Prov 8:1), and lives with Prudence (v. 12) — her sister, no doubt. We would expect personifica­tion in a book of poetry. But Jesus Christ was not reciting poetry in Jn 16, where He calls the Holy Spirit "He" — Jesus was teach­ing theo­logy. The Holy Spirit is universally given attributes of individua­lity, in the Bible. Is any other "force" in the Bible described with such a complete and wide-ranging array of personal attributes? We have seen the answer.

That so many metaphors ("seven spirits" and "a rainbow" and "glory"; He "pours" and "fills" and is "in") are used of the Spirit is understand­able when we remember how illusive the Spirit is: He breathes where He so desires (Jn 3:8); and the ungodly cannot discern the things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:14). The death of Gen 2:17 is the immediate separation of mankind from intimate communion with the Spirit of God; it is also the promise of eventual physical death, as separation from the body; it is also the warning of possible eternal death, the second death – the separation in Hell from God. Since the days of Eden, mankind has been alienated from the Holy Spririe, and this separation in itself accounts for the need of metaphor: we see through a glass, darkly, and not yet face to face.



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