In this part we will shift gears from the usual focus on defending the deity of Jesus Christ. We will look at the Person of the Holy Spirit. According to the Trinity, the One Being of God exists in Three co-equal, co-eternal persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Most of the debate over trinitarianism and unitarianism centers on the Person of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Indeed, most of the heat of trinitarianism is in its insistence that the very God Who created the universe took upon Himself flesh and lived as the God-Man historically known as Jesus of Nazareth. Much ink has been spilled arguing over whether a transcendent God can condescend so as to die at the hand of His own creatures. The issue of the Holy Spirit is often an afterthought. Perhaps, this is by design, for as Jesus said, the Holy Spirit “shall not speak of Himself” (Joh 16:13)!
Yes, Virginia, there really is a Holy Spirit!
Every student of the Bible understands the deity and personhood of the Father. They would also acknowledge the personhood of the Son, but not everyone acknowledges His deity. The issue of the Holy Spirit is virtually the reverse of that of the Son. Most people recognize the “deity” of the Holy Spirit at least in the fact that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from God,” but some would deny that the Holy Spirit is a Person. Proving that the Holy Spirit is a separate and distinct Person is a subtile, yet important factor in defending the Trinity against unitarian attacks.
The first line of proving the personhood of the Holy Spirit is proving that the Holy Spirit “exists.” Well, of course the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the Bible, but if the Holy Spirit is distinguished from the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit “exists” separately from both. We will look at some verses that list all three individually.
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:”
— Matthew 28:19
Notice that “the name” is singular, yet there are three Persons listed that share that one “name.” The Father is listed first (as expected), then the Son follows, and finally, the Holy Spirit (or “Holy Ghost”). Notice that the Holy Spirit is not listed next to the Father as if the Spirit were tied to the Person of the Father. The Son is “sandwiched” in between the Father and the Holy Spirit. This command that Jesus Christ gave His disciples not only demonstrates His own deity in sharing the divine singular name with the Father, but also shows that the Holy Spirit exists distinctly from both the Father and the Son.
“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
— Matthew 3:16-17
“Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,
And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.”
— Luke 3:21-22
The baptism of Jesus Christ revealed that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit exist simultaneously. Jesus was present at the event as the incarnate Son of God, “the Spirit of God” came down from heaven “like a dove” and rested upon Jesus in some bright, visible form. While the Spirit was visibly on Jesus (on earth), a voice came from heaven saying that Jesus was His Son, obviously indicating that the voice was of the Father. All three Persons are there and all doing different things and manifesting themselves in different ways.
“Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.” — 1 Corinthians 12:3-6
This passage by the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians is a very powerful statement that shows the unity and the distinction of the three Persons of God! First, Paul delineates the Holy Spirit twice from Jesus and also says that “Jesus is the Lord.” This statement (“Jesus is the Lord”) is significant to help us understand who is being referenced as “the Lord” in the next part so that we are not tempted to allow all three parallel statements that follow to refer to the same Person as a unitarian would prefer.
Verses 4-6 provide three parallel statements of how each Person of God works in the church. The Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts, The Lord (Jesus Christ) denotes offices, and God (the Father) determines the various outputs through His direction of all things. Once again, not only are the Persons distinguished from one another, but the Son is listed in between the Father and the Spirit, providing not only a case for the deity of the Son, but also the separate existence of the Holy Spirit!
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.”
— 2 Corinthians 13:14
Unlike two of our passages above, the Son is not listed in between the Father and the Spirit, but such demonstrates that the Persons are just assumed to be co-equal and can be listed in any order.
“For through him [Jesus Christ] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.”
— Ephesians 2:18
In this context of the verse above, the him is Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus Christ said in John 14:6 that He is the only Way to the Father, here Jesus Christ is again the way or the channel to the Father. However, the Spirit is also mentioned in association with this access to the Father. The Spirit is the One by (or in) whom we have access to the Father. Jesus Christ is clearly the One Who provides the satisfaction for the Father on our behalf through His work on the Cross. Then, the Holy Spirit is the One Who convicts us of sin and draws us to the truth of Christ; therefore, both Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are necessary to “access” the Father. The Holy Spirit must exist but be distinct from the Father.
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” — Ephesians 4:4-6
Above is yet another trinitarian passage that lists all three Persons of the Godhead. It also happens to sandwich Jesus Christ in between the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit is the One Who calls, the Lord (Jesus Christ) is the One around whom the one faith is centered, and the Father is the One Who oversees everything and is the target of salvation.
“But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost,
Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”
— Jude 20-21
The Apostle Jude demonstrates the Trinity by mentioning that the Holy Spirit is the One who bears prayers. He is the channel and power in Whom prayers to the Father are made. Then, it is the Father (as commonly called “God”) who bestows love. The Son, Jesus Christ, through His cross work is the One Who gives the divine mercy and is the hope of eternal life.
“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” — Romans 8:26-27
Here, the Apostle Paul makes some very interesting statements. He says that the Spirit has a “mind” and the Spirit “intercedes” to God for the saints. Obviously, if someone intercedes on your behalf, that someone is a third party between you and the One for whom intercession happens. If the Spirit takes your requests that you cannot utter to the Father, the Spirit exists as a distinct Person! The One Who “searches the heart” is the Yahweh of the Old Testament (1Ch 28:9; Psa 44:21; Jer 17:10) Who is the recipient of this intercession. The recipient of this intercession must be the Father! The Father knows “the mind of the Spirit,” and the mind of the Spirit knows our minds even when we cannot express our needs correctly!
Like Son Like Spirit
You have likely heard the phrase “Like father, like son” to explain how a son learns from his father and picks up traits from his father. In Hebrew culture, a son is also someone who represents his father. We will also see how the Holy Spirit is similar to the Son. If, indeed, the Holy Spirit is similar to the Son in certain ways, then the Holy Spirit–like the Son–is a distinct Person.
John 5:23 is a verse that we have seen earlier that makes a strong case for the deity of Jesus Christ. If the Son should receive the same honor as the Father, He must be God; otherwise, we have a contradiction between what Jesus says here and what God said about how we should treat Him apart from His creation. However, we will look at this verse again and focus on a different part of it.
“That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.”
— John 5:23
Jesus said that the Father sent Him. Many unitarians believe that Jesus could not be God if the Father sends him, because somehow to be sent implies an inferiority to the one sending you. However, for the Father to send the Son does not mean that the Son is inferior in His being and thus a creation, but rather the Son voluntarily submitted Himself to be obedient to the Father and to the law for the purpose of redemption, as Philippians 2:5-11 has shown. Being sent denotes a role–whether voluntary or involuntary–not a property of being.
There are many other verses where Jesus declares that the Father sent Him. Jesus also told His disciples that He sends them similarly to how He was sent:
“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”
— John 20:21
Jesus and His disciples were all persons, obviously. How does the Holy Spirit fit into this paradigm? First, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the “Comforter” or parakletos in the Greek. This term means “called along side.” However, the Holy Spirit is not the only parakletos. In fact, Jesus calls Himself a parakletos!
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;”
— John 14:16
Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “another Comforter” because this Comforter will replace Jesus when He is gone into heaven. Indeed, they both execute the same role of parakletos to the point that the triune plan is not to have both performing this role at the same time:
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.”
— John 16:7
As long as Jesus was bodily on the earth, the Holy Spirit would not be operational as parakletos. When Jesus would leave, He could send the Holy Spirit to be the parakletos in His stead. One would think that if the role of God’s parakletos is to comfort by being “called along side” that this role is definitively personal. It should follow, then, that if such a correlation exists between the Son as parakletos and the Holy Spirit as “another parakletos” to fill the gap left by the Son, that the Holy Spirit would also have to be a Person!
Now, we will focus on the fact that the Holy Spirit is sent, just as the Son is sent. What is important to note is that the Holy Spirit is sent by both the Father and the Son!
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”
— John 14:26
“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:”
— John 15:26
Not only do we see a perfect synergy between the Father and the Son in sending the Holy Spirit, but like the Son is sent, so the Holy Spirit is sent to fulfill the same personal role of parakletos! Thus, if the Son is a Person distinct from the Father, the Holy Spirit is also a Person and also distinct from the Father!
Now, if the above is not enough to prove the distinct personality of the Holy Spirit, what if the Holy Spirit also sends others, just like the Holy Spirit Himself is also sent?!
“So they [Barnabas and Saul], being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.”
— Acts 13:4
Thus far, we see a chain of senders and sent ones:
- The Father sends the Son
- The Father and Son both send the Holy Spirit
- The Son sends His disciples
- The Holy Spirit sends the Son’s disciples
Upon what basis, then, are we to believe that one of these entities that, not only is sent, but also sends others, is not a Person?!
If it quacks like a duck…
If you hear a quack, you assume it came from a duck and not just the wind. Likewise, if something exhibits the characteristics of a person, you could reason inductively that personal actions demonstrate a person who acts. If the Bible distinguishes the Holy Spirit from the Father, yet ascribes characteristics and actions that only a person can do, one can reasonably conclude that the Holy Spirit is a Person. The following is a list of personal characteristics and actions of the Holy Spirit:
- He speaks to people:
- “…it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost…” (Mar 13:11)
- “…he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak…” (Joh 16:13)
- “…the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake…” (Act 1:16)
- “…the Holy Spirit said…” (Act 13:2)
- “…Thus saith the Holy Ghost…” (Act 21:11)
- “…Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet…” (Act 28:25)
- “…as the Holy Ghost saith…” (Heb 3:7)
- He hears:
- “…whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak…” (John 16:13)
- He forbids people:
- “…and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost…” (Act 16:6)
- He testifies to people:
- “…the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying…” (Act 20:23)
- “…the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us…” (Heb 10:15)
- He assigns roles to people:
- “…the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers…” (Act 20:28)
- He teaches people:
- “…the Holy Ghost shall teach you…” (Luk 12:12)
- “…which the Holy Ghost teacheth…” (1Co 2:13)
- He can reason:
- “…it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us…” (Act 15:28)
- He can be blasphemed against, just like the Son:
- “…but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost…” (Mat 12:31)
- “…whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost…” (Mat 12:32)
- “…he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost…” (Mar 3:29)
- He can be lied to, as to God:
- “…to lie to the Holy Ghost…thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” (Act 5:3-4)
- He gives gifts according to His will:
- “…dividing [gifts] to every man severally as he will.” (1Co 12:11)
With all these actions and attributes clearly personal, including reason and will, it is the unitarian who denies the personality of the Holy Spirit that has a gargantuan amount of explaining to do! Indeed, to explain away all the above verses as denoting an entity or force rather than a distinct Person requires a hefty dose of pure gnosticism…and very little Biblical discernment. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all clearly specified as “God,” yet they are clearly distinguished from one another in Person and role. The threefold cord of the Trinity is not quickly broken!