For almost two thousand years, the Christian faith has been plagued by a false doctrine about the godhead. How does the Bible describe the Holy Spirit?
Question: I’ve been reading your magazine and watching your telecasts for a while, and I’ve noticed that you don’t seem to talk about the Holy Spirit as a person. Why not? What is the Holy Spirit, if not a third person in a divine Trinity?
Answer: The Apostle John gives insight into the nature of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Setting aside any preconceived notions, we see here two beings. John reveals that the One known as the Word became Jesus Christ (John 1:14), and it was through Jesus that everything was made (John 1:3; Colossians 1:15–18). The Holy Spirit is never mentioned as a part of this Family.
Many professing Christians simply assume that the Bible shows the Holy Spirit as a person. Yet the writers of the New Testament made no such assumption, as we can see in how they started several of their epistles with greetings on behalf of God the Father and Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; James 1:1; etc.). If the Holy Spirit were a person like the Father and the Son, we can be sure that person wouldn’t be absent from those greetings.
But how, then, should we understand John 14:16–17, which tells us, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you”?
The word translated “Helper” (“Comforter” in the King James Version) comes from the Greek parakletos or paraklete. Nouns in Greek are gendered—masculine, feminine, or neuter. A noun’s gender does not impute actual gender to the object—a table is not itself male or female simply because of its noun and pronoun. The noun parakletos is masculine, so most English translations translate its pronoun as the masculine “He”—though “It” would be both grammatically and doctrinally acceptable.
However, even with the pronoun “It,” some readers infer that the passage is talking about a person. They are neglecting the common literary device known as personification, in which personal or human characteristics are attributed to non-human things.
Does the Bible ever do this? The answer is an emphatic yes! See Proverbs 8:1–3: “Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice? She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, beside the way, where the paths meet. She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entrance of the doors.” Now, does anyone think wisdom is a person? Of course not, unless “Wisdom” happens to be someone’s name.
Consider, too, that Scripture describes the Holy Spirit as being poured out (Acts 10:45) and as the power of God (Luke 1:35; Romans 15:13). It is also described metaphorically as wind (Acts 2:2–4; John 20:22) and water (John 7:37–39). These would be odd descriptions of a divine person, but very naturally describe the flow of God’s powerful Spirit.
When Jesus said that He would send the Helper (John 14:16–17), He finished the thought in the next verse: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” The Holy Spirit is the power that flows out from God the Father and Jesus Christ. It is the agent through which Christ would come to them, and why Paul could proclaim, “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). It is the Spirit of truth that will guide us into truth (John 16:13–14), just as wisdom instructs us (Proverbs 9:1–6).
Yes indeed, the one and only true God of the Bible did so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16)! And that very God gave true Christians His Spirit—His very power—through which they can live His way in preparation for that everlasting life to come.
For more information, see our free booklet John 3:16: Hidden Truths of the Golden Verse.