When describing God, the language of the Bible is not merely truthful but careful. For instance, biblical descriptions of the Holy Spirit in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek always use a personal pronoun. The Bible never refers to God’s Spirit as an “it,” as if the Spirit is merely an impersonal object.
Such care for language is evident in Genesis 1:2, where the Hebrew word for “spirit” (ruach) is grammatically feminine. And though in the New Testament, the Greek word for “spirit” (pneuma) is neuter, it is still a personal pronoun, implying that the Holy Spirit not only transcends gender but also possesses personhood. So in contrast to popular notions that speak of God’s Spirit in abstract terms, the Bible speaks most clearly of the Holy Spirit as a personal deity.
An impersonal deity, a mere force of energy, is incapable of loving us. Such an impersonal energy is emotionless, feeling neither joy nor grief about our lives. But in Ephesians 4:30, we read that the Holy Spirit is grieved by our unwholesome talk, among other sins. And in 1 Corinthians 12:11, the Holy Spirit personally determines the distribution of gifts among believers for the common good of the church. In each of these biblical verses, the Holy Spirit is portrayed as a thinking, feeling, choosing Being—a true personality.
The personality of the Holy Spirit is typically manifested through actions. The Bible shows the Holy Spirit acts in this world by creating (Genesis 1:2), empowering (Zechariah 4:6), guiding (Romans 8:14), comforting (John 14:26), convicting (John 16:8), teaching (John 16:13), restraining (Isaiah 59:19), and commanding people (Acts 8:29)—all of which require intelligence, emotion, and will. Other Scriptures indicate that the Holy Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3), another relational behavior that implies the Spirit is a person.
Regardless of these biblical evidences, some people continue to believe that the Holy Spirit is simply a convenient term to indicate God’s activity. While describing the Holy Spirit as being active is certainly consistent with the biblical revelation of the Spirit’s personality, descriptions such as Comforter, Encourager, Healer, etc., when relied upon alone, are detrimental to our building a sound biblical theology about the nature of God, since any abstract, depersonalizing, reductionist notion of the Holy Spirit undermines the doctrine of the Trinity. So whether one obscures or denies the personhood of the Spirit, the result is the same—the existence of the Trinity is undermined and the personal triune God of biblical Christianity fades away.
Why the Loss of the Doctrine of the Trinity Is a Problem
The disappearance of the doctrine of the personal triune God is a problem, for the personhood of the Holy Spirit is a necessary truth of the whole gospel and should constitute a part of the theological legacy we leave for future generations. But these days the doctrine of the Trinity is again being questioned, though the church has repeatedly through the centuries affirmed the existence of the Trinity and the personhood of the Holy Spirit through historic church councils and creeds.
So just as the Bible is not merely truthful but careful in its use of language, our learning what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit is essential for our careful articulation of the whole gospel.
Today when you hear the Spirit’s gentle voice in your life, listen carefully and ask God to guide your thoughts, words, and actions. Through the person of the Holy Spirit, you can be a living testimony of the gospel and a worker for Christ in this world.
What is Christian doctrine? And do words such as eschatology, sanctification, and atonement really have anything to do with our everyday, going-to-class, working, hanging-out-with-friends lives?
Christian doctrines begin as interpretations of the Bible. Throughout the history of the church, Christians have preserved what they believe the Bible teaches. They form doctrines so that they may remember what other Christians have historically believed about God, humanity, and God’s mission in this world.
These days it’s no less important than in ages past for us to understand Christian doctrine. So we’re offering you brief posts about what Christians have historically believed are the core teachings of the Bible. We hope you find that these historic teachings not only broaden your understanding of Christianity but also deepen your love of God.
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Laura Li-Barbour.