Is the Holy Spirit a Person?

The personhood of the Holy Spirit is something many Christians assume. Because we are well used to the idea of the Trinity being a group of three persons, many people come to the texts of scripture with an a priori assumption that the Holy Spirit is person, and that wherever the Spirit of God is mentioned, that is understood to refer to a distinct person from the Father and the Son.

Others, on the other hand, have questioned this doctrine. Rather than approaching scripture with an assumption about the Spirit’s personhood, some have come to the scriptures viewing it as an open question, and have chosen to articulate what they understand of the scriptural data differently. Rather than seeing the Holy Spirit as a distinct person they suggest that the Holy Spirit is better understood as God’s active presence or power. They note that God is spirit, and therefore the mere etymology of “Holy Spirit” can fairly be taken as applicable to the one God, the Father. Also, the fact that the Spirit is never given distinct worship along with the Father and the Son, and that often in New Testament epistles simply a couplet of persons is mentioned (For example “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Cor 1:3 NKJV) are both pointed to supporting the idea that the Spirit is not a distinct person at all.

It must be admitted that the absence of distinct worship for the Holy Spirit and some of the other things these people point to do not seem to be what we would expect if the scriptures taught a co-equal Trinity of three persons, of which the Spirit is one.

There is, however, good scriptural reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is a person- such strong evidence, in fact, that while the point is never explicitly stated, it can be considered a necessary conclusion from what we are told in scripture. I would ask those who question the personhood of the Spirit to weigh these scriptural arguments objectively and ask themselves if there is really any room left for doubting that the Holy Spirit is a third distinct person in light of the following propositions:

Firstly, the Holy Spirit being sent by the Son indicates that the Son has authority over the Holy Spirit. This means that the Holy Spirit cannot be the Father, for if the Holy Spirit were the Father, or some aspect of His action, or some part of Him, then the Son could not have any authority over the Spirit, since “God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3). But if the Spirit were the Father, that statement would be untrue. Since the Father is the head of Christ, and is His God (Rev 3:12), Christ is under the authority and Godhood of the Father, not the other way around. If even part or some aspect of God were under the authority of the Son, statements such as that ‘God is the head of Christ’ would be untrue because in fact only part of God would be the head of Christ, while part would be under His headship, which is obviously absurd.

For the Spirit then to be under the authority of Christ would require that the Spirit is a distinct individual from the Father; and for the Spirit to be sent by the Son, is to show the Spirit to be under the authority of the Son, just as the Son being sent by the Father shows His own subordination to the Father. That the Spirit is sent by the Son (and thus under the headship of the Son) is seen clearly in two passages of scripture:

“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” (John 15:26 NKJV)

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7) NKJV)

Thus the Spirit must be understood as a distinct person from the Father, since He is under the authority of the Son, while the Father is not, but is rather the God of His Son.

Secondly, along similar lines, the Spirit is also sent by the Father. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26 NKJV). This language shows that the Spirit is not merely the presence or activity of the Father, or a part of Him, since one does not “send” themself. That the Spirit is sent by God, and by His Son, shows that the Spirit is a distinct individual from the Father and the Son, Who is under the authority of both.

Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is said to intercede for believers:

“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27 NKJV)

Here we must consider what ‘interceding’ is. In the Greek, the term actually indicates praying for another. To intercede for someone is to make requests for them to another. Being an intercessor involves taking on an intermediary role between two parties, which requires being distinct from those two parties- one by definition cannot intercede for themself. The Spirit’s intercessions are between us and God, as the Spirit assists us in praying to God. This then shows that the Spirit is not merely an aspect or part of God, or God’s active presence, but is a really distinct individual from the one God, the Father.

All in all, these arguments require us to understand the Spirit as being a person. A person by definition is a rational individual. That the Spirit is under the authority of both God and His Son demonstrates that the Spirit is a distinct individual, as does His intercession on our behalf. That the Spirit is rational is clear from His knowing, speaking, and interceding throughout scripture. It is then an important and scripturally inescapable conclusion that the Holy Spirit is a person, distinct from both the persons of God and His Son.

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