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

Don Stewart :: Why Do Some Argue That the Holy Spirit Is an Impersonal Force?

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Why Do Some Argue That the Holy Spirit Is an Impersonal Force?

The Identity of the Holy Spirit – Question 9

There have been those who argue that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force or influence. They reject the idea that He is a Person. Sometimes they argue from Scripture while other times they apply so-called logical arguments. However all of the arguments that given to prove the non-personality of the Holy Spirit are all based upon a number of misconceptions. We can make the following observations.

Some Reasons for Misconceptions about the Identity of the Holy Spirit

There are a number of reasons as to why some people have misconceptions concerning the personality of the Holy Spirit. It is important that we have a correct understanding of the issues involved in order to clear up these misconceptions. This means we need to understand exactly what the Bible does say, or does not say, with respect to the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Some of the most common misconceptions are as follows.

1. The Personality of the Holy Spirit Is Wrongly Compared to Human Personality

The reason that many people believe that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force is because they have the wrong starting point. They view the Holy Spirit from a human perspective to determine whether or not He is personal. The reverse should be true. We should derive our view of personality from God; not from any view of ourselves.

The argument often goes like this: Since humans are finite, it is assumed that the Holy Spirit must be finite. Since human personality is limited, it is often assumed that for the Holy Spirit to have personality He too, must be limited.

However, this does not follow. While perfect personality does not exist in human beings, it does so with God. Humankind was made in the image of God therefore any study of personality must begin with God – not with humans. Our personalities are limited and sinful, while God is infinite and perfect. Therefore, human beings should not be the absolute standard to judge what is and is not true personality. We should look to God for that standard.

2. The Word “person” Is an Inadequate Term to Describe God’s Nature

One of the main problems having to do with the study of the Holy Spirit centers around the English word “person.” The word does not do justice to all that is involved with God’s nature. Everyone admits the word person is inadequate to describe what we mean when we speak of God’s nature. The problem is there is no better word to describe what we call personality, or personhood. Therefore the word “person” will have to do.

A simple definition of a person is as follows: A person is one when speaking says, “I,” when spoken to is called “you,” and when spoken of is called “his” or “her.” With this definition in mind, the Holy Spirit clearly qualifies under the definition of a person.

3. The Word Spirit Can Be Translated “wind”

The Holy Spirit is spoken in Scripture as being the “Spirit of God.” The word translated Spirit can also be translated “breath” or “wind” which implies an unseen impersonal force. This has caused some people to wrongly assume that the Spirit of God is something impersonal. However this does not mean that the Holy Spirit is merely “the breath of God.” The context must determine whether the writer is speaking poetically of the work of God, or whether he is speaking of the nature or character of the Holy Spirit.

The Scripture uses the symbol of the wind to describe the invisible way that the Holy Spirit words or acts. It does not use it to imply that He is some impersonal influence or force.

4. The Holy Spirit Is Symbolized by Impersonal Objects

Impersonal objects such as wind, water, fire, and oil symbolize the Holy Spirit. Some conclude that this means the Holy Spirit Himself is impersonal. Yet the Scripture also gives many similar symbols for God the Father and God the Son. For example, God is compared to fire.

For our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29 KJV).

Though this symbol is used of God, nobody assumes God is to be equated with fire.

Jesus Christ is symbolized as a rock. Paul wrote the following to the Corinthians.

And all of them drank the same miraculous water. For they all drank from the miraculous rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4 NLT).

Again, nobody argues that Jesus is an impersonal being because He is compared to a rock.

In fact, Jesus compared Himself to a gate.

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture (John 10:9 NIV).

Jesus is not claiming to be an actual gate!

Consequently, these usages do not mean that God is made of fire, or that Jesus is a rock or a door. These are ways of symbolizing the work of God – they are not descriptions of His basic nature. Likewise, the similar symbols which are used of the Holy Spirit do not negate His personality. They are describing how He works.

5. The Holy Spirit Has No Body or Shape

The Holy Spirit has no body or shape. Therefore, He is assumed to be impersonal. Yet personality is not in any way connected with possessing some physical form. Personality is based upon intelligence, feeling, and will. It is not based upon whether or not a body is involved. Neither God, nor angels, have any physical form yet they are personal beings. Therefore, one does not need some type of physical or corporeal form to be considered personal.

6. The Work of the Holy Spirit Is Invisible

The work of God the Holy Spirit is invisible. This, to some, implies a non-personal entity. The fact, however, that the Holy Spirit is invisible does not mean He is less than a person. According to Jesus Christ, God the Father is also invisible. He said “God is Spirit” (John 4:24). Yet God the Father is a personal being. A personal entity does not have to be visible to our eyes.

7. It Is Harder to Relate to the Invisible Spirit of God

It is true that we have a harder time relating to the personality of the Holy Spirit than to God the Father and God the Son. The titles “Father” and “Son” generate feelings of personality to us while the title “Holy Spirit” is a bit harder to relate. Nevertheless the Scripture clearly teaches that the Holy Spirit is a person, despite the fact that He is invisible and has no physical form.

8. There Is a False Belief That There Is a Divine Spirit in Every Human

There is also the popular idea that within each human being there resides some type of “divine spirit.” This is particularly true of good people. The impression is then given that the Holy Spirit is merely a name for this higher faculty of human personality. This being the case, the unique personality of the Holy Spirit is denied. Yet the Bible does not teach that there is some divine spirit with each and every human being.

9. Though Personal, the Holy Spirit Does Not Have a Relationship with Humanity

While the Scripture does use impersonal objects to describe the Father and the Son, nearly all the descriptions of the Holy Spirit are from impersonal symbols. There, however, is one exception – Counselor.

The Holy Spirit is never spoken of as a King, warrior, or Judge – as is true of God the Father. It is important to realize why He is never described in such a manner. When human beings think of other persons they think of someone different from themselves. A person is someone whom we can have a conversation with. The Holy Spirit is a Person and He converses with God the Father and God the Son.

However, as far as humanity is concerned, the Holy Spirit does not act the same as other persons. He speaks to us, but we never directly speak to Him. In fact, there is only one passage in the entire Scripture that may possibly speak of someone addressing the Holy Spirit. This is found in Ezekiel. It says.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live” (Ezekiel 37:9 NIV).

While this may indicate addressing the Spirit of God directly, this is a highly symbolic passage and may not be a reference to the Holy Spirit.

When we deal with the Holy Spirit it is to deal with God the Father through Jesus Christ. We do not deal with Him apart from the Father and the Son. We do not have fellowship, or a relationship, with the Holy Spirit alone. Why? Because His job is to speak about Jesus – it is never to speak about Himself. While the Holy Spirit is as much of a person as God the Father and God the Son, as far as dealing with humanity is concerned, there is no direct personal relationship. He is the God-appointed means by which we reach the Father and the Son.

In sum, we can say that each of the arguments used to deny the personality of the Holy Spirit falls flat. Indeed, the Scripture is clear with respect to the personality of the Holy Spirit; He is truly a personal being.

Summary – Question 9
Why Do Some Argue That the Holy Spirit Is an Impersonal Force?

While the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is a personal being, He is considered to be a mere influence or power by some people. There are for a number of reasons.

For one thing, the limitations of human personality are projected upon the Holy Spirit. Since we are limited it is wrongfully assumed that the Holy Spirit must also be limited.

The fact that the Holy Spirit is not visible also adds to the idea that He is impersonal. Yet personality does not have to be linked with visibility. God the Father is invisible yet He is personal.

Moreover, the Bible uses impersonal objects to symbolize the Holy Spirit. Yet Scripture also uses such symbols to describe God the Father and God the Son; both of who are personal.

There is also the thought that there is some sort of divine spirit that resides inside every human being. Some mistakenly assume this is the Holy Spirit. Scripture teaches no such thing.

Finally, it must be understood that the Holy Spirit does not have a personal relationship with humanity. While there are instances where the Holy Spirit has spoken to humans, there is no clear record in Scripture of anyone ever directly addressing the Him. His ministry is to bring people to Jesus Christ – He does not speak of Himself.

All attempts to make the Holy Spirit an impersonal force or influence do not take into account all the evidence. It is clear from Scripture that the Holy Spirit is a Person – the Third Person of the Trinity.

Why Is the Holy Spirit Spoken of in the Neuter Gender? ← Prior Section
What Do We Learn About The Nature Of The Spirit Of God From The Old Testament? Next Section →
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