The Nature Of The Holy Spirit
Is the Holy Spirit a Living Spirit Being in the Godhead?
What terms does the Bible use to refer to the Holy Spirit? Is the Spirit a living spirit being separate and distinct from God the Father and the Son, or is the Spirit just a power or a characteristic of God? Does the Holy Spirit possess the characteristics and do the works of Deity? Is He a Being in the Godhead?
The purpose of this study is to consider the nature of the Holy Spirit and especially whether or not the Holy Spirit is a Diving Being who possesses Deity as part of the Godhead, like God the Father and God the Son.
Our understanding of the nature of the Holy Spirit is necessarily limited.
Many things about the infinite, spiritual God are beyond our ability to understand as finite, fallible humans. Can we answer every question about the nature of the Father? If not, why should we expect to be able to answer every question about the nature of the Holy Spirit?
Often we are uncomfortable discussing the Holy Spirit, simply because we have not studied enough. We talk about the Father so often that we get used to the fact that there is much about Him we do not know. But when we have neglected studying the Holy Spirit, it bothers us to discover how little we know about Him. But there are some things we’ll never know this side of eternity (Job 26:14; 36:26; 37:5,23; 11:7-9; Isaiah 55:8,9; Deut. 29:29).
On the other hand, there are many things we can know about Deity.
Even with limited understanding, we can know that the Father and the Son exist, possess Deity, and possess the characteristics of Deity (eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, etc.). Likewise, we can determine whether or not the Holy Spirit possesses Deity and the characteristics of Deity. That is the purpose of this study.
I. The Names of the Holy Spirit
The Bible often uses interchangeable terms for things. For example:
* God is called Jehovah, Almighty, or the Most High.
* The church is called the kingdom, body, house, or bride.
* The gospel is called the New Testament, the truth, the Word of God, the will of God, or the faith.
* Christians are called children of God, disciples, saints, or priests.
* Elders are called bishops, overseers, pastors, or presbyters.
In each case the different terms emphasize different aspects of the same thing, person, or concept. Likewise, we will see that the Scriptures use a number of names interchangeably to refer to the Holy Spirit.
A. The “Holy Spirit” (or “Holy Ghost”)
Obviously this is a common expression. We will see it used repeatedly as the study proceeds.
[Psalm 51 :11; Isaiah 63:10; Matthew 3:11; 12:32; 28:19; Mark 12:36; 13:11; John 14:26; Acts 1:5,8; 2:4; 5:3,32; 8:14-19; 1 Corinthians 6:19]
B. “The Spirit of Truth” and “the Comforter”.
John 14:16,17,26; (15:26; 16:7,13) – Jesus promised to send “the Comforter” even “the Spirit of Truth” to the apostles.
But in 14:26 He calls this one He would send the “Holy Spirit.”
Hence, “Spirit of Truth” and “Comforter” here are simply other names for the Holy Spirit. This demonstrates that different terms are used for the Holy Spirit.
C. “The Spirit”
Often the Holy Spirit is called simply “the Spirit.”
Matthew 22:43 – David spoke Psalms 110:1 “in the Spirit.” But the parallel passage in Mark 12:36 says He spoke it by the Holy Spirit.
Mark 1:10 and John 1:33 – At Jesus’ baptism, “the Spirit” descended in a form like a dove. But Luke 3:22 says this was the Holy Spirit.
Luke 4:1 – Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit and led of “the Spirit.”
Acts 2:4 – The apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke with other tongues as “the Spirit” gave them utterance.
1 Corinthians 2:10 – The apostles and prophets spoke the will of God by revelation from “the Spirit.” But v13 (NKJV) and John 14:26; 16:7,13 show this was the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:7-13 – Miraculous gifts were given to men by “the Spirit,” but 12:3 shows that this was the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5 – “The Spirit” is the earnest or pledge of our inheritance given us by God. But Ephesians 1:13,14; 4:30 say that this earnest or seal is the Holy Spirit.
In these passages “the Spirit” is simply another name used to refer to the Holy Spirit.
However note that, in other contexts, “the spirit” may be identified as a spirit other than the Holy Spirit (see James 2:26; Matt. 26:41; Ephesians 4:23; etc.). The context must determine.
D. “The Spirit of God”
The Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as “the Spirit of God,” or God may refer to the Holy Spirit as “my Spirit,” or others may refer to Him as “His Spirit” (speaking in reference to God).
Matthew 3:16 says “the Spirit of God” descended on Jesus as a dove at His baptism, but remember Luke 3:22 says it was the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:17,18 quotes Joel 2:28,29 where God said “I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh.” But this was fulfilled by the coming of the Holy Spirit (vv 4,33).
1 Corinthians 2:11,12 – “The Spirit of God” revealed God’s will, but v13 (NKJV) and John 14:26 show that this refers to the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 4:30 combines the terms as the “Holy Spirit of God.”
1 Thessalonians 4:8; Psalm 51:11; and Isaiah 63:10 combine “Holy Spirit” with “My Spirit” or “His Spirit” speaking of God.
Acts 5:3,9 use Holy Spirit and “Spirit of the Lord” interchangeably.
Hence “Spirit of God,” “My Spirit” (God speaking), etc., are other names for the Holy Spirit. Question: Can you find any instance where you can prove these phrases refer to anyone other than the Holy Spirit?
[Matthew 12:18,28 with Isaiah 42:1; Matt, 12:32; Luke 4:1; Acts 10:38.]
II. A Living Spirit Being
Like other Bible words, “spirit” can have different meanings depending on context. Consider some alternative ways “spirit” may be used in the Bible. Then we will consider which of these meanings applies to the “Holy Spirit.”
A. Alternative Meanings of the Word “Spirit”
A living spirit being
“Spirit” can refer to a person or living being who possesses the characteristics of a person or living individual separate and distinct from other such beings. The Bible mentions several kinds of living beings or individuals who are spirit beings (or in some cases, like man, a spirit dwelling in a body).
* God the Father and Jesus the Son – John 4:23,24; Luke 23:46
* Angels – Hebrews 1:13,14
* Satan and demons – Matthew 8:16; 12:24,43-45; Mark 1:23-27
* Human beings – 1 Corinthians 15:35,44; James 2:26; Luke 8:55; Acts 7:59; 17:16; 1 Corinthians 2:11
Note that the spirit of each such individual being is separate and distinct from the spirits or other living beings. For example, the Father is a Being whose spirit is separate and distinct from the spirits of angels and men, etc. The spirit of each angel is separate and distinct from the spirit of the Father and from other angels, etc.
The characteristics, qualities, or attitudes possessed of expressed by a person
“Spirit” in this sense can refer to some aspect of a person’s personality disposition, nature, character, etc. Examples:
Luke 1:17 – John came in “the spirit and power of Elijah.”
Romans 11:8 – A spirit of slumber (“stupor” – ASV)
1 Corinthians 4:21; Galatians 6:1 – A spirit of meekness.
2 Timothy 1:7 – A spirit of fear contrasted to a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind.
1 Peter 3:4 – A meek and quiet spirit.
Many other examples can be given. The spirit of man is the inner man – the part that feels, wills, motivates, etc. So the real character of a man is determined by the nature or condition of his spirit. Hence, the word “spirit” came to refer to the various attitudes or qualities expressed by the spirit.
Note that each individual can have only one “spirit” in the sense that he is just one living individual being. Yet he may have many different “spirits” in the sense of qualities or attitudes. And in fact his spirit (in the latter sense) can even change as time passes.
B. The Holy Spirit as a Living Spirit Being.
Is the Holy Spirit a living spirit being separate and distinct from other spirit beings, like the Father and angels, etc.? Or is the Holy Spirit just a characteristic or an attitude possessed by God? Could the “Holy Spirit” be just a way of referring to the power, character, nature, attributes, or disposition of God?
The Holy Spirit possesses the characteristics and qualities of a living spirit Being.
Consider the following descriptions of the Holy Spirit. Would the following things properly be said of a mere characteristic or attitude? Or does this language demonstrate that the Holy Spirit is a person who possesses personal characteristics and qualities?
* He hears – John 16:13
* He can be lied to – Acts 5:3
* He makes decisions about right and wrong (like people do) – Acts 15:28
* He intercedes – Romans 8:26
* He has a mind – Romans 8:27
* He loves – Romans 15:30
* He searches – 1 Corinthians 2:10
* He knows (like the spirit of a living being knows) – 1 Corinthians 2:11
* He gives gifts – 1 Corinthians 12:8,11
* He wills – 1 Corinthians 12:11
* He grieves – Ephesians 4:30 (Isaiah 63:10)
The Holy Spirit is not just a characteristic or attitude. Rather He is a living Being who possesses the characteristics of a person.
[See also Romans 8:26,27; 1 Corinthians 12:8,11; 6:11; Matthew 12:31; Hebrews 10:29; Acts 5:9; 7:51; 8:29; 16:6,7; 13:2,4; 1 Timothy 4:1; John 15:26; 16:13; 14:26; 16:7,8; Ephesians 3:5; Revelation 22:17; Neh. 9:20]
He is referred to by masculine pronouns
This evidence may not be conclusive by itself apart from the point we just studied. But with the evidence above, it confirms the personal nature of the Spirit.
John 16:13,14 – “He,” the Spirit of Truth, will guide you into all truth, and “He” (the Spirit) will glorify Me (Jesus). (“Spirit” here is neuter in Greek, yet “He” in both cases is from a masculine demonstrative pronoun.)
Ephesians 1:13,14 – The Holy Spirit “who” is the guarantee of our inheritance (NKJV). (This is a masculine pronoun referring to the neuter “Spirit.” But note that some manuscripts here have the neuter “which” – see ASV.)
He is referred to along with the Father and the Son, who are surely living persons.
Matthew 28:19 – Jesus commands people to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Clearly the Father and Son are living spirit Beings. How could the command make sense if the Holy Spirit is just a power or characteristic, rather than a living Being like the Father and Son?
2 Corinthians 13:14 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Since Christ and God are living Beings, how would this make sense if the Holy Spirit is just an attitude or characteristic?
1 Peter 1:2 – We are elect according to the foreknowledge of the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus. The Father and Son are living spirit Beings, so the Spirit must also be. All three are here mentioned as being involved in our salvation.
Luke 3:21,22 – When Jesus was baptized, the Father spoke from heaven, and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form like a dove. This pictures the Holy Spirit as having life of Himself, like the Father and Son, and He took a separate bodily form.
These verses show the Holy Spirit to be acting jointly with other persons. Since He acts like a person along with other persons, this implies that He is a person like the other persons in the context.
[See also John 14:26; 14:16,17; 15:26; 20:21,22; Acts 1:4,5; 2:32,33; 10:38; Luke 1:35; John 3:34; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 1:21,22; Ephesians 2:18; 4:4-6]
These points taken together indicate that the Holy Spirit is a living person or being. He cannot be just a characteristic, attitude, power, or influence. (This does not deny that He possesses characteristics and attitudes. But He is more than just a character or a power. [See Rom, 15:13,19.]
He is a living being. He possesses the characteristics of a person. He is referred to by terms that imply He is a personal Being. He does works and acts like a living Being. And He is described and classified along with other personal beings. We conclude that the Holy Spirit is a living Spirit Being, not just a characteristic or a part of another Being.
III. Distinction from Other Spirit Beings
Since the Holy Spirit is a living spirit Being, we must consider next whether He is a separate and distinct individual from other spirit beings.
A. Distinct from Demons, Humans, and Angels
Satan, demons, and humans?
Obviously He is distinct from Satan, demons, and humans, since by nature He is the Holy Spirit. Satan and demons are not holy, and all humans at times are not holy. So the Holy Spirit is not a demon or human.
1 Peter 1:10-12 – Like Old Testament prophets, angels desired to look into the things that had been prophesied in the Old Testament but were not revealed till the New Testament. But the Holy Spirit sent from heaven revealed these things. Clearly the Holy Spirit is here distinguished from angels even as he is distinguished from humans.
1 Corinthians 2:10-13 – Men cannot know the things of God, but the Holy Spirit knows and reveals the things of God. But we now know that the angels also did not know the things of God till the Holy Spirit revealed them. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is not an angel as surely as He is not a man.
Furthermore, it follows from these facts that, not only is the Holy Spirit not an angel, but in fact He is above the angels, even as He is above men. [Note that the Spirit cannot possibly be an animal or plant, since they don’t even possess spirits.]
B. Distinct from the God the Father and Jesus.
Is the Holy Spirit a distinct individual from the Father and Son, or is He just another name for, or perhaps part of, the Father or Son?
The Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in the womb of Mary – Matthew 1:18,20.
Did Jesus conceive Himself in Mary’s womb? Surely not, so the Holy Spirit must be a separate and distinct person from Jesus. [Luke 1:35]
All three were present at Jesus’ baptism – Luke 3:21,22.
Jesus was on earth having been baptized. The Father spoke from heaven and acknowledged Jesus as His Son. And the Holy Spirit appeared in a bodily form like a dove. All three are present and distinguished one from the other. So the Holy Spirit is distinguished from the Father and from the Son, just as surely as the Son is distinguished from the Father.
Blasphemy against Jesus is not blasphemy against the Spirit – Matthew 12:31,32
Blasphemy against the Son would be forgiven but not so blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. But if the Holy Spirit is just another name for Jesus or just part of Jesus, then blaspheming the Holy Spirit would be blaspheming Jesus.
Baptism is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – Matthew 28:19.
The Father and the Son are separate and distinct persons. The Son is not just another name for the Father, nor just part of the Father. So likewise the Holy Spirit is not just another name for the Father or the Son, nor is He just part of the Father or the Son. The verse lists three distinct living spirit Beings.
The Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit
John 15:26; 16:7 – When Jesus was about to die and return to the Father in heaven (14:12,28; 16:7,10), He promised that afterward He would send the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles. Here you have one living individual Being sending another individual to do a work.
John 14:16,26; 15:26 – The Father also sent the Spirit. So both the Father and the Son joined in sending the Holy Spirit. But if the Son is a different Being from the Holy Spirit and as a separate Being He sent the Holy Spirit, then the Father must likewise be a separate Being who sent the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is another comforter besides Jesus – John 14:16.
In sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus sent “another” (helper). [“Another” is from a Greek word meaning “another one of the same sort.”]
But if the Holy Spirit is just another name for Jesus or for part of Jesus, then He did not send “another” comforter at all but sent the same one.
Ephesians 4:4-6 also lists the Spirit separately from the Father and the Lord (Jesus).
This passage mentions seven things of which, in God’s true plan for man’s salvation and unity, there is only one of each. But each item listed is separate and distinct from all other items listed:
The body is not the hope, the baptism is not the Lord, the faith is not the God, etc. Likewise, the one Spirit (a name for the Holy Spirit) is distinct from the one Lord (Jesus) and from the one God and Father.
2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 Peter 1:2
Both of these passages list the Holy Spirit right along with the Father and the Son. But the Father and Son are living spirit Beings separate and distinct from one another, so the Spirit must also be.
So the Holy Spirit is a living spirit Being, just as surely as the Father and Son are. But He is not the Father nor the Son, nor is He just a part of the Father and Son. Rather, He is a distinct individual. If we can understand how the Father and the Son can exist as separate individuals, then we can understand how the Holy Spirit can exist as a separate individual.
IV. Deity of the Holy Spirit
If the Holy Spirit is a living Spirit Being, but He is not the Father or the Son, then what position does He hold? What level of authority does He possess and how should we view Him?
A. He Is Not a Demon, a Human, nor an Angel.
The Holy Spirit is a living Spirit Being, but we have proved He is not a demon, a human or an angel. The only position left is that of Deity.
The Bible describes no other kinds of spirit beings other than those we have considered. Since the Holy Spirit is not any of the other kinds of beings, He must be Deity.
Further, we have learned that He is above all the other levels of beings, so this confirms that His position must be Deity. Those who believe otherwise are obligated to prove that some other level of authority exists.
B. He Is Referred to by Terms of Deity.
Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit – v3.
In so doing, he lied, not to men, but to God – v4.
Therefore, the Holy Spirit partakes of the character and nature of God, not the nature of men. He possesses Deity. Lying to Him is lying to God.
He is the “Spirit of God.”
In studying the names of the Spirit we showed passages where the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of God.” (See Matthew 3:16, cf. Luke 3:22; 1 Corinthians 2:11,12, cf. John 14:26; Ephesians 4:30). But how can He be “the Spirit of God” unless He possesses and partakes of the character and nature of God?
The spirit of a man possesses and partakes of the character and nature of man – humanity. The spirit of a demon possesses and partakes of the character and nature of demons – demonic. The spirit of an angel possesses and partakes of the character and nature of angels – angelic. It necessarily follows that the Holy Spirit could be the “Spirit of God” only if he possesses and partakes of the nature of God – Deity.
But we have already proved that the Holy Spirit is a living Spirit Being, and He is a distinct individual from the Father and the Son. So the Holy Spirit is a living Spirit Being who possesses the character and nature of Deity. He is a Being in the Godhead, just as the Father and the Son are.
C. He Possesses the Character and Does the Works of Deity.
Creation, sustaining creation, and eternal existence
Genesis 1:2 – The Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) was present at creation and was involved in it, even as were the Father and the son.
Psalms 104:30 – The context describes God’s provision for animals and the creation. He sends forth His Spirit and they are created and renewed.
Job 26:13 – By His Spirit He adorned the heavens.
[Job 33:4; 34:14,15]
Psalms 139:7-12 – In describing God as all-knowing (vv 1-6) and present everywhere, David asked, “Where can I go from your Spirit?” He then describes how the Spirit would see him everywhere.
All-knowing and source of revelation
Mark 13:11 – When inspired men spoke for God, it was not they who spoke but the Holy Spirit.
John 16:13 – He guided inspired men into all truth. He knows all and is the source of all knowledge. This is surely the work of Deity. What other being would be so described if it did not possess Deity? [14:16,17,26; 15:26; 16:7-14]
Acts 1:16 – The Holy Spirit spoke by the mouth of David. [Mark 12:36; Acts 28:25; Heb. 3:7]
1 Corinthians 2:10-14 – The Holy Spirit (v13) knows the mind of God (like a man’s spirit knows his mind) and reveals it to men.
Ephesians 3:3-5 – The Spirit made known the mystery of Christ, which had not been made known to men in earlier ages.
2 Peter 1:21 – Prophecy never came by man’s will, but holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
The message of the Scriptures is the message of God (2 Tim. 3:16). But the Holy Spirit is the Source Who had the power to reveal it.
Men acted as spokesmen or messengers, but they made clear it was not their message. They were not the source of origin of it, nor was it based on their authority. But the work of the Holy Spirit is contrasted to the work of the human teachers, in that the Spirit (along with the Father and the Son) is viewed as the source of the message and the authority behind it. This classes the Holy Spirit with Deity, not with lower beings. It attributes to the Holy Spirit the work and power of Deity.
Authority and unlimited power
Throughout the Bible, the Holy Spirit is spoken of as the source of miracles, but miracles are what prove the power of God.
Matthew 1:18-20 – Mary conceived in the virgin birth by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 1:8; 2:4,33 – The Holy Spirit came on the apostles and gave them power to speak in tongues. [10:44-46; 19:6]
Hebrews 2:3,4 – God bore witness to the message of inspired men by signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:4-11 – All miraculous powers are from the Spirit (the Holy Spirit – v3). He distributed these to men according to His own will.
Who besides Deity is spoken of like this as being the source of miracles? What man or angel could be described as distributing such powers according to his will?
Men often did the miracles, but they repeatedly denied that they were the source of the power (cf. Acts 3:12; 4:10). By the very nature and purpose of miracles, their source must be God – Deity. Yet the Holy Spirit is repeatedly spoken of as the source of the power. This is evidence of Deity.
Matthew 28:19 – All nations are commanded to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This passage places the Holy Spirit on an equal authority with the Father and Son. Baptism is in the name of all three. The name or authority of the Holy Spirit is the basis of baptism right along with the Father and Son.
To see the significance of this, would God ever command to do something in the name of the Father, the Son, and a human being or even an angel? Such is foolish to the point of blasphemy. If a thing is in the name of Deity, what significance is there in adding the name of a man or an angel?
Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 – Corinthians were divided over preachers. Paul teaches them in chap. 1-4 to emphasize Deity, not men, since men are just the messengers (3:3-11; 4:1,2). We should glory in the Lord, not in men (1:29,31; 2:5; 3:21).
To illustrate, Paul asks if he was crucified for us (v13). No, so Deity is important, not man. It would be blasphemy to exalt a man or angel as if he had died for us.
Then he asks if we are baptized in the name of Paul (v13). Again, we should glory in Deity, because we are baptized in the name of Deity. It would be blasphemy to be baptized in the name of any being that is not Deity. But we are baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit right along with the Father and Son. Therefore, the Holy Spirit possesses Deity as surely as does the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit does work and possesses a name/authority that only God can possess. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is Deity.
[Matt. 12:28; Rom. 15:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14]
Forgiveness, redemption, and sanctification
Matthew 28:19 – We are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But what is the purpose of baptism? To forgive sins! See Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3,4; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21. So the power and name of the Holy Spirit stands behind the forgiveness of our sins, right along with the Father and the Son.
But only God can forgive sins – Mark 2:5-7. Since baptism forgives sins, then to be baptized in the name of anyone other than Deity would be blasphemy! But we are baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit, as well as the Father and the Son; therefore the Holy Spirit possesses Deity. [Cf. 1 Cor. 12:13]
1 Corinthians 6:11 – Sinners are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (the Holy Spirit). So the Holy Spirit justifies from sin, but only God can justify from sin. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is God.
1 Peter 1:2 – We are elect according to the foreknowledge of the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus. Again, all three Beings are involved in our salvation. But sanctification is essential to our salvation as surely as election and the blood of Jesus. Only Deity can do this. The passage involves the Spirit in our salvation as fully as the other Beings of Deity.
Romans 15:16 – Gentiles are acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has characteristics that only Deity possesses and does works that only Deity can do. Therefore, the Holy Spirit possesses Deity as surely as the Father and the Son do.
[2 Thess. 2:13; Gal. 6:8; Eph. 2:18]
Study of the Holy Spirit shows that He is not just a force or a characteristic but is a living spirit Being who possesses personal characteristics. He is not just a different name for the Father or the Son, nor is He just some part of them, but He is a separate and distinct individual Being from each of them.
Yet He possesses characteristics and does works that can only be true of Deity. He is referred to as Deity and classified as Deity along with the Father and Son. Therefore, He is a member of the Godhead.
We can understand that the Father and the Son are separate and distinct living Spirit Beings, yet each possesses Deity and therefore each should be viewed as God. In the same way we should understand that the Holy Spirit is a third distinct individual who also possesses Deity. Hence, the God we worship consists of three separate and distinct Beings, yet together they make up the one true and living God