What Is The Holy Spirit?

Week 3 of 7 in our count to Pentecost, and I suppose that I should define what I mean when I talk about the Holy Spirit before I go any farther in this study. Since I don’t believe the doctrine of the Trinity, which is part of so many Christian belief systems, I feel I need to explain my beliefs to avoid confusion the deeper we go into studying the Holy Spirit.

I grew up in a church that teaches that the Holy Spirit is the power of God and the part of Him that communicates with our spirits rather than a third person in a Trinity. The Godhead consists of two Beings – God the Father and The Word who became Jesus Christ. As I’ve studied the topic for myself, this has become my belief as well.

Relationship

One of the core principles of the doctrine of the Trinity is that it cannot be understood. One scholar says, “the Trinity is still largely incomprehensible to the mind of man. Perhaps the chief reason for this is that the Trinity is a-logical, or beyond logic.” Proponents of the Trinity get around this problem by saying we shouldn’t try to fully understand God anyway because He is so far above us. This sounds good at first — after all the Lord’s judgements are “unsearchable” and “His ways past finding out” (Rom. 11:33). But I find it hard think that the God who wants a close personal relationship with each of His people would make the most basic fact of His nature so hard for us to grasp.

And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3)

In John 17 Jesus defines eternal life as a relationship between a human being, God the Father, and Jesus Christ. It seems simple, and indeed it is supposed to. (Incidentally, if the Holy Spirit is a third person, why isn’t He mentioned here?) Our relationship with God and His Son are central to our faith, and as such this concept must be easy enough for even a child to understand. That’s not to say there is not depth to Christianity, but Christianity is intended to be a religion that makes sense and is accessible for everyone.

But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (2 Cor. 11:3)

Simply the exclusion of the Holy Spirit from so many verses that talk about the Godhead should be sufficient reason to pause and re-examine its as a doctrine. Take the example of the apostles’ opening remarks in all their letters, which focus on the Father and the Son and only once include mention of the Spirit: Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1-2; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1-2; Philippians 1:1-2; Colossians 1:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2; 1 Timothy 1:1-2; 2 Timothy 1:1-2; Titus 1:1; Philemon 1:1-3; Hebrews 1:1-4; James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1-2 (this verse is the exception. It mentions “sanctification of the Spirit”); 2 Peter 1:1-2; 1 John 1:1-3; 2 John 1:3; Jude 1:1-2.

Power of God

So if the Bible doesn’t talk about the Holy Spirit as a distinct person in the triune one God, how is the Holy Spirit described? Firstly, it is called the power of God.

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

The gospels speak of Jesus “being filled with the Holy Spirit” and moving forward with His ministry “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:1, 14). Similarly, Paul said he preached the gospel of Christ “in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” (Rom. 15:19). Power is also given to each member of the body through the Spirit:

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all (1 Cor. 12:7)

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim. 1:7)

This verse in 2 Timothy provides a perfect transition into a second aspect of the Spirit.

Essence of God

In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, it mentions that people have a spirit (G4151 pneuma — here speaking of “the vital spirit or life, the principle of life residing in man”), a soul (G5590 psuche — “the immaterial part of man held in common with animals”), and a body (G4983 soma — corporeal body). It is that spiritual part of man which makes it possible to communicate with the corresponding Spirit of God.

But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (1 Cor. 2:9-12)

1 Corinthians 2 is key to understanding how God communicates with and works a change inside us. It describes God using the Holy Spirit to teach us and to give us His mind so that we can begin to understand His mysteries. His Spirit works with and alters our spirits so that we can have a relationship with Him.

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.  And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Rom. 8:9-11)

This idea of God enlightening our spirits with His Spirit is not isolated to the New Testament. Job 32:8 says, “But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding.” Interestingly, Strong’s dictionary says Hebrew word neshamah (H5367), translated “breath” in this version can also mean “spirit.” Being made in God’s image, man has a spirit just like God has a Spirit as well as being a Spirit.

Translations and History Stuff

Part of the confusion regarding whether or not the Holy Spirit is a distinct personage come from a few key translation errors. One is in 1 John, where a phrase was added to the original manuscripts. For more about that, see this article.

For there are three that bear witness [in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness] on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one. (1 John 5:7-8, brackets added)

Another verse that apparently supports the idea of the Trinity is Matthew 28:19, which reads, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” My dad tells me there are secondary sources suggesting this may have been an addition as well, but I’m afraid I don’t know details. However, this verse does bring us to the issue of word gender in Greek.

Like several modern languages, nouns and pronouns in Greek have genders — masculine, feminine, or neuter. The word for Spirit is pneuma (G4151). It is singular and gender neutral, and so the pronouns used to refer to it are gender-neutral as well. The Spirit is an “it” rather than a “he.” However, this becomes a bit more complicated in John 14 through 16 where the Holy Spirit is referred to as “comforter.”

The word “comforter” is from parakletos (G3875), which is gender masculine. Since the pronoun gender must agree with the gender of its noun, reading the Greek text will show you masculine pronouns used to refer to the Holy Spirit. However, since parakletos is being used of the Spirit — which is the gender neutral pneuma — it is still correct to translate the masculine pronouns into the English as “it” rather than “he.”

To use a modern example, the French word for book is livre, which is a masculine noun. So in the sentence, “J’ai acheté un livre pour que je puisse le lire,” the pronoun referring to book is masculine. However, we don’t translate it into English as “I bought a book so I could read him.”

There is also a historical basis for recognizing that the Trinity was an idea developed after the Biblical texts were canonized rather than an established teaching of the early church. It’s too lengthy a topic for this post, but here’s a good jumping-off point if you’re curious.

I hope this post has been helpful in some way. Even if you don’t agree with me about this doctrine, at least now you’ll know where I’m coming from when I write about the Holy Spirit.

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