Category: Columns

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.
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How prosperity preachers abuse the Bible

Following are a few examples of Scriptures prosperity preachers twist to promote their health-and-wealth gospel. A more complete treatment is available in The Apologist’s Tool Kit, available at

Prov. 6:2 – You have been trapped by the words of your lips – ensnared by the words of your mouth.

Word of Faith leaders quote this verse to illustrate that our words have power. If we speak positively, we get positive results. But if we speak “negative confessions,” we get negative results.

In truth, this proverb teaches nothing of the kind. Solomon simply points out that whenever you enter into an agreement with someone, you are honor-bound to fulfill it. Nowhere does Scripture teach that our words create reality.

Matt. 9:29Then He touched their eyes, saying, “Let it be done according to your faith!”

Referring to this passage, Joyce Meyer remarks, “The Bible says it will be unto us as we believe. That principle works in the negative as well as the positive. We can receive by fear as well as by faith.”

But a simple reading of Matt. 9:27-31 shows that the two blind men express their faith in Jesus – not faith in their faith or faith in their healing. Jesus asks them point blank: “Do you believe that I can do this?” They reply, “Yes, Lord.”

Mark 11:22-23 – Jesus replied to them, “Have faith in God. I assure you: If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.”

Several Word-Faith leaders insist that a more proper translation of verse 22 is, “Have the God kind of faith,” or, “Have the faith of God.” They twist this verse to support their view that God has faith; further, God used “faith substance” to create the universe. “Cut God open,” says Creflo Dollar, “and you’d see nothing but faith.”

But Greek scholars like A.T. Robertson assure us that the Faith preachers’ interpretation is faulty. “It is not the faith that God has,” he writes, “but the faith of which God is the object.”

Hank Hanegraaff writes, “The Bible makes it clear … that God could never be a faith being. If God had to have faith, He would be dependent upon something outside of Himself for knowledge or power. And that is clearly unthinkable.”

Rom. 4:17 – As it is written: I have made you the father of many nations. He believed in God, who gives life to the dead and calls things into existence that do not exist.

Joel Osteen uses this verse to support the notion that our words have creative power. “Scripture tells us that we are to ‘call the things that are not as if they already were,’” he says. We must conceive them in our minds, believe them, and speak them out. “You’ve got to give life to your faith by speaking it out,” he says.

Is that really what the apostle Paul means in this verse? Of course not. Abraham does not believe in himself, in his faith, or in his own power to create reality. Abraham believes in God. And it is God who gives life to the dead and calls things into existence that do not exist.

2 Peter 1:4 – By these [God’s divine power, knowledge of Him, glory and goodness] He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature …

Kenneth Copeland explains, “Now, Peter said by exceeding great and precious promises you become partakers of the divine nature. All right, are we gods? We are a class of gods!”

But this is not at all what Peter means, as the context makes clear. Verses 5-11 describe a moral transformation that Jesus produces in Christians, so that they overcome evil desires with goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.

Prosperity preachers also cite passages such as Ex. 4:16 (Moses serves as “God” to pharaoh); Ex. 21-22 (the Israelite judges are called elohim, or gods); John 10:31-39 (Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6, in which the judges are called gods); and 2 Cor. 4:4 (Satan is the god of this age) to bolster their claim that humans are little gods.

None of these passages ascribes deity to human beings or to Satan. Rather, they describe people or angelic beings that are granted limited authority for a period of time under the sovereign hand of God. Believers are “sons” of the Most High, not by nature but by adoption (Gal. 4:5-8).

The bankruptcy of the prosperity gospel

Leaders of the word-faith movement, also known as the prosperity gospel, say they place a high value on Scripture. Unfortunately, their unique interpretation of God’s Word leads to unbiblical conclusions about God’s design for the Christian life.

A case in point: 3 John 2, which reads: “Dear friend, I pray that you may prosper in every way and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.”

As prosperity preachers like Kenneth Copeland and Joel Osteen would have you believe, this verse expresses the divine view that every child of God should enjoy financial blessing and perfect health. But is that what the passage really means?

Hardly. In the first place, the Greek word translated “prosper” means “to go well,” not to become rich. Secondly, John uses a common greeting to address his friend, Gaius, similar to salutations we place in modern-day letters.

As Gordon Fee writes in The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels, “This combination of wishing for ‘things to go well’ and for the recipient’s ‘good health’ was the standard form of greeting in a personal letter in antiquity. To extend John’s wish for Gaius to refer to financial and material prosperity for all Christians is totally foreign to the text.”
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Does Ecclesiastes teach soul sleep?

Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the so-called intermediate state, the conscious existence of the soul/spirit between death and resurrection.

Their governing organization, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, teaches that the soul dies with the body and goes to “hell,” which it defines as mankind’s common grave. As the Watch Tower website states, “Scripturally, death is a state of nonexistence. The dead have no awareness, no feelings, no thoughts.”

Faithful JWs, of course, look forward to a future resurrection, at which time they populate the millennial kingdom and, if they persevere, live forever in paradise on earth.

They often focus on Old Testament passages to support their doctrine of soul sleep. Ecclesiastes 9:5 is one example: “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing at all, nor do they have any more reward, because all memory of them is forgotten” (New World Translation).

While several other passages in Ecclesiastes acknowledge the inevitability of death, this verse seems to say there is no conscious afterlife. Can this possibly be true?
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The gates of Hades

After Simon Peter makes his famous declaration that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus tells the apostle, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:16, 18 NIV).

Jesus’ reference to “this rock” has been the subject of much debate. The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares,“ The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the ‘rock’ of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him the shepherd of the whole flock …” In other words, Christ named Peter the first in an unbroken line of popes.

Other interpreters say Jesus meant that He will build His church:

  • On Himself (Jesus is “this rock”)
  • On Peter’s profession of faith, or
  • On the life and teachings of Jesus as revealed in the apostolic record

The third view has much to commend it. Christ’s life and teachings are the foundation of the church. Ephesians 2:20 tells us Jesus is the cornerstone of the church. The prophets and apostles are the foundation as the bearers of God’s revealed truth preserved in the Scriptures.

As Michael F. Ross writes in Christian Research Journal, “Peter became ‘the rock’ not as an individual with an office, but as the leader of the apostolic band of men who received and recorded New Testament revelation…. The New Testament knows no Head but Jesus Christ.”

But there’s even more going on here, particularly with respect to Jesus’ reference to “the gates of Hades.”
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