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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Identity of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Could the Holy Spirit Merely Be the Personification of God's Power?

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Could the Holy Spirit Merely Be the Personification of God’s Power?

The Identity of the Holy Spirit – Question 7

There have been those who have argued that the Holy Spirit in not a distinct person from God the Father and God the Son but rather the personification of the power of God. There are a number of reasons as to why this position is put forward.

The Bible Often Personifies Non-Personal Things

The Bible often personifies non-personal things such as wisdom, sin and death, and water and blood. The following are examples of this.

Wisdom Is Often Personified in Scripture

We find that wisdom is often personified in Scripture. In fact, Jesus illustrated wisdom in this manner. We read the following in Luke.

Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children (Luke 7:35 NRSV).

In this passage wisdom is said to have children. Of course, wisdom does not have literal children. Consequently, wisdom is personified by Jesus.

Sin and Death Are Often Made Personal

Sin and death are said to “have reigned” like a king. Paul used this illustration in his letter to the Romans. He said.

Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come (Romans 5:14 ESV).

In this instance, sin and death are treated as something personal.

The Holy Spirit Is Described in Non-personal Ways

It is also true that the Holy Spirit is sometimes described in non-personal ways. The Bible describes Him as “breath that fills,” “fire that lights,” and “water that is poured out.”

The Holy Spirit Is Compared to Non-personal Realities

In addition, the Bible compares the Holy Spirit to realities that are not personal.

1. The Holy Spirit Is Compared to a Dove

The fact that the Holy Spirit appeared as a dove is supposedly another indication that He is God’s impersonal power.

As Jesus came out of the water, he saw heaven split open and the Spirit coming down to him as a dove (Mark 1:10 God’s Word).

This is used to give evidence of His non-personal nature.

2. The Holy Spirit Is Compared to Fire

The Holy Spirit is also compared to fire. John the Baptist is recorded as using this comparison when he said the following about the Holy Spirit.

“I baptize with water those who turn from their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is far greater than I am— so much greater that I am not even worthy to be his slave. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11 NLT).

The Holy Spirit will baptize people with fire.

3. The Filling of the Spirit Is Compared to Being Drunk

Scripture compares being filled with the Spirit to getting drunk. Paul wrote the following to the Ephesians.

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you (Ephesians 5:18 NLT)

Since wine is impersonal it is argued that the Spirit is impersonal also.

4. Water and Blood Are Also Personified

Water and blood, along with the spirit, are called witnesses. We read the following in the first letter from John.

For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree (1 John 5:7, 8 ESV).

Since impersonal realities are often personified in the Bible it is argued that the Holy Spirit should be seen in the same way. Instead of being a distinct person, the Holy Spirit is seen as the personification of the power or influence of God.

These arguments have convinced some that the Holy Spirit is to be considered God’s impersonal power or influence but not a genuine person.

Response to This Argument

The idea that the Bible teaches the non-personality of the Holy Spirit does not fit the facts. We can make the following responses to these claims.

1. These Are Descriptions of His Operations, Not His Character

To begin with, the various descriptions of the Holy Spirit are describing the way in which He operates – they are not making a statement about His nature. These are more poetical or descriptive statements of His operations rather than statements of His character. This needs to be understood.

Moreover, the passages in which the Holy Spirit is spoken of as a person are not poetical in nature. They are found in sections of Scripture that are either doctrinal or historical narratives. They are not poetry. There is nothing in the context of these passages that would give any idea that they are poetic.

2. The Impersonal Realities Are Well-known

Whenever impersonal realities are personified in Scripture the fact that they are impersonal is well-known to all. Nobody would confuse such things as wisdom, sin, death, or water and blood with something that is personal.

3. Sin Is Impersonal

In fact, the Bible defines sin in such a way that it is clearly impersonal. Sin is defined as lawlessness, committing acts of unbelief, and failure to do the right thing. John defined it this way in his first letter to the believers.

Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4 NKJV).

Sin, therefore, is lawlessness.

The Apostle Paul said whenever we do not act in faith, it is sinful. He wrote the following to the Romans.

But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:23 NRSV).

This is another example that sin is impersonal.

James said that if we fail to do something which we know is right we are sinning. He stated it in this manner.

Whoever knows what is right but doesn’t do it is sinning (James 4:17 God’s Word).

Sin is obviously something impersonal. The Bible makes this clear. Since Scripture nowhere indicates that the Holy Spirit is in the same category as these impersonal realities, then it should be assumed that He indeed is a distinct Person.

4. These Comparisons Say Nothing about His Personality

The comparison of the Holy Spirit to non-personal realities such as a dove, fire, and wine says nothing about His personality. That line of reasoning would say that the Lord Himself is not a genuine Person because He appeared to Moses in a burning bush. However, we read the following account in the Book of Exodus.

There an angel of the Lord appeared to him from a burning bush. Moses saw that the bush was on fire, but it was not burning up. “This is strange!” he said to himself. “I’ll go over and see why the bush isn’t burning up.” When the Lord saw Moses coming near the bush, he called him by name, and Moses answered, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:2-4 CEV)

The Lord is obviously a personal being!

In addition, fire is also applied figuratively to God Himself. In the Book of Deuteronomy we read the following.

The LORD your God is a raging fire, a God who does not tolerate rivals (Deuteronomy 4:24 God’s Word).

This does not mean that God is actually made of fire.

The same letter that tells believers they are to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” also says they are to be, “filled with God.”

And to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19 ESV).

Paul commanded believers to be filled with the God the Holy Spirit, a personal being, rather than the impersonal substance of wine. He wrote.

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you (Ephesians 5:18 NLT).

The personal Spirit of God controls believers.

5. The Holy Spirit Is Distinct from the Power of God

The Bible makes clear that the Holy Spirit is distinct from God’s power. At the announcement of Jesus’ conception, the angel Gabriel said to Mary.

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come down to you, and God’s power will come over you. So your child will be called the holy Son of God (Luke 1:35 CEV).

Here the Holy Spirit is spoken of as distinct from God’s power.

Jesus ministered in the power of the Spirit.

Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Soon he became well known throughout the surrounding country (Luke 4:14 NLT).

The idea here is that the power came from the Holy Spirit.

6. The Holy Spirit Intercedes for Believers

The Holy Spirit intercedes, or speaks to God on behalf of believers.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26 ESV).

If the Holy Spirit were merely God’s power, then God would be interceding with Himself.

7. The Holy Spirit and the Gifts

A distinction is also made between the Holy Spirit and His gifts. Paul wrote the following to the Corinthians.

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function (Romans 12:4 NRSV).

We are one body, with many parts or members.

Paul also wrote to the Corinthians.

The Spirit gives one person the ability to speak with wisdom. The same Spirit gives another person the ability to speak with knowledge (1 Corinthians 12:8 God’s Word).

It is through the Holy Spirit that these gifs are given.

Paul then concluded.

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines (1 Corinthians 12:11 TNIV).

The Holy Spirit is thus distinguished from His gifts.

8. Many Passages Would Be Nonsensical If the Holy Spirit Was Only a Power

Finally, many passages would be nonsensical if the word “power” or “influence” were substituted for the words “Holy Spirit.” For example we read.

And no doubt you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil, for God was with him (Acts 10:38 NLT).

It would be meaningless to say that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth, “with power and power.”

In the letter to the Romans it says.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13 HCSB).

Again, to have the passage read, “by the power of the power” is nonsensical.

In another example, Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

My speech and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and power... (1 Corinthians 2:4 HCSB).

To make the sentence read, “demonstration of the power and power” would also be meaningless.

From all the evidence, we thus conclude that the Holy Spirit is never described, or equated, with God’s power. Indeed, He is a personal being a member of the Godhead; the Holy Trinity.

Summary – Question 7
Could the Holy Spirit Merely Be the Personification of God’s Power?

Some people claim that the Holy Spirit is merely God’s power or the personification of God’s power. In other words, He is not a personal being but is actually the power of God. It is true that the Bible often personifies non-personal things such as wisdom, sin and death, and water and blood.

The Holy Spirit Himself is also compared to non-personal realities such as fire. Yet this does not mean that the Holy Spirit is something impersonal.

There is no basis whatsoever for making the Holy Spirit a personification of the power of God. The various comparisons of the Holy Spirit to non-personal realities refer to the way He operates, not His character or nature. Consequently, these comparisons say nothing about the character of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, Scripture is clear that the Holy Spirit is a distinct being from God the Father and God the Spirit. Indeed, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that the Holy Spirit is distinct from the power of God. In fact, Scripture never describes the Holy Spirit as God’s power.

Thus, while such impersonal realities such as wisdom, death, and water and blood are personified in Scripture there is no indication that the Holy Spirit is in the same category.

Finally, attempting to portray the Holy Spirit as merely God’s power or influence would make a number of biblical passages nonsensical. This further indicates that Scripture is not attempting to teach us that the Holy Spirit is merely God’s power personified.

In fact, He is much so more than that – He is God Himself!

Does the New Testament Depart from the Normal Rules of Grammar to Indicate the Personality of the Holy Spirit? ← Prior Section
Why Is the Holy Spirit Spoken of in the Neuter Gender? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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