The personhood of the Holy Spirit

This is the first in a two-part series on the Holy Spirit.

One way the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation (NWT) seeks to undermine the Trinity is by consistently rendering the name “Holy Spirit” as the inanimate “holy spirit.”

The unnamed translators of the NWT often omit the article “the,” which results in stilted verses such as:

“That one [Jesus] will baptize you with holy spirit …” (Matt. 3:11).

John the Baptist “will be filled with holy spirit even from before birth” (Luke 1:15).

Mary, the mother of Jesus, “was found to be pregnant by holy spirit …” (Matt. 1:18).

As James White notes in The Forgotten Trinity, “Their intention is clear: the Watchtower society denies that the Holy Spirit is a person, hence, they desire their ‘translation’ of the Bible to communicate the idea that the Holy Spirit is an ‘it,’ a force or power.”

The Watch Tower argues that the phrase “Holy Spirit” in Greek is in the neuter gender, and it is. But Greek genders do not necessarily indicate personality, according to White. Inanimate things can have masculine and feminine genders, and personal things can have the neuter gender.

A better way to determine whether the “Holy Spirit” is personal or inanimate is the same way we seek to understand whether the Father and Son are personal. That is, does the Holy Spirit offer evidence of personhood? Does He speak, use personal pronouns, have a will, and so on?

The answer, of course, is a resounding yes.

How the Spirit refers to Himself

One of the clearest demonstrations of the Holy Spirit’s personality is His use of the personal pronoun in reference to Himself. Two examples:

Acts 10:19-20 – “While Peter was thinking about the vision, the Spirit told him, ‘Three men are here looking for you. Get up, go downstairs, and go with them with no doubts at all, because I have sent them.”

Acts 13:2 – “As they [Barnabas and Saul] were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’”

Note that the Holy Spirit speaks personally to Peter as well as to believers in the Antioch church. He sends people to fetch Peter, and He calls Barnabas and Saul to mission work. And He uses personal pronouns. These are actions of a sentient being, not an impersonal force.

Jesus also uses personal pronouns to speak of the coming Holy Spirit, telling His followers, “When the Counselor comes, the one I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father – he will testify about me” (John 15:26).

Later, Jesus again informs His disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14).

According to Jesus, the Holy Spirit arrives, guides, discerns the truth, hears and speaks, discloses future events, testifies about Jesus, and glorifies Him – all demonstrations of personhood.

The Spirit’s personal activities

In other New Testament passages, we see the Holy Spirit instruct Philip (Acts 8:29); reveal future events to Agabus (Acts 21:11); and confirm our adoption into God’s family as He cries, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6).

We see the Spirit helping us in our weaknesses and interceding on our behalf as He knows the thoughts of God (Rom. 8:26-27; 1 Cor. 2:10-11).

We see the Spirit governing as He appoints overseers to shepherd the church of God (Acts 20:28).

We see the Spirit pouring the love of God into our hearts (Rom. 5:5).

We see the Spirit sharing a name (symbolic of divine presence) with the Father and the Son (Matt. 28:19).

And we see the Spirit distributing spiritual gifts to believers (1 Cor. 12:4-11).

The Spirit further demonstrates His personality as He may be blasphemed (Matt. 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-29), resisted (Acts 7:51), grieved (Eph. 4:30), and insulted (Heb. 10:29).

These and other passages of Scripture clearly illustrate the personality of the Holy Spirit. Our Jehovah’s Witness friends should be encouraged to read the whole Bible, not just selectively sanitized NWT verses that strip the personhood of the Holy Spirit from the pages He inspired.

Next: The deity of the Holy Spirit