Who or what is the Holy Spirit?
Some of our historic confessions make very specific claims abou the Holy Spirit. For example:
In the Apostle’s Creed we declare simply that:
I believe in the Holy Spirit.
When we recite the Nicene
Creed we declare:
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.'
In the Church of England’s Thirty Nine Articles of Religion we affirm that:
'There is but one living and true God... in this unity of godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power and eternity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.' (Article 1)
'The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty and glory, with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.' (Article 5)
Creed says much more
about the Holy Spirit but in large part is asserting that the Spirit is fully
a divine person.
Thus our historic confessions make two specific claims:
- the Holy Spirit is a person; and
- the Holy Spirit is God, divine.
These assertions rule out some alternative, non-Christian views. The Holy Spirit is not, as some would claim, an impersonal spiritual force. The Holy Spirit is not a creature – that is created by God.
But are these claims justifiable from Scripture? Part of the reason for beginning with these formal statements of faith is because there is no such concise statement in the Bible. But does the Bible support them, or undermine them?
Can we use human language and concepts of God?
When we talk about the Holy Spirit as a person we are not describing
a super-human being. Rather we are using a concept that we
have some understanding of, that is the idea of ‘person’ and
using this to talk about God. Some people would say that this
is wrong, that we cannot talk about God in human language.
Nevertheless it is clear that in the Bible God talks about
Himself in human language and therefore that language is an
effective, God-given, means for us to talk about God. Moreover
as C.S.Lewis noted in his book Miracles "If
God exists at all it is not unreasonable to suppose that we are
less unlike Him than anything else we know.” Therefore,
it is perfectly reasonable for us to use human language in relation
to God and to use human concepts, such as ‘person’.
We are not trying to say that God is like us, rather that our
very understanding of personhood derives from the fact that we
are made in the image of God.
The personhood of the Holy Spirit is seen in the Bible in three ways.
First, the Holy Spirit is spoken of with the personal pronoun. For example in John chapter 16 verse 13 we read Jesus saying:
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
The Holy Spirit is not described as it, but as he; “He will guide”, “He will speak”. This phenomenon is found throughout the New Testament.
Second, the Holy Spirit performs personal tasks. This can also be seen from the words of Jesus in John 16; the Holy Spirit guides and speaks. We also see the Spirit speaking in Ezekiel 3.24, and elsewhere comforting and encouraging. Thus, things the Holy Spirit does are spoken of in personal terms.
Third, the Holy Spirit acts in personal relationships. Take for example the Grace;
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. We have the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, it is a personal relationship.
All this does not mean that the Holy Spirit has a body or bodily parts. Rather, we are asserting that in as much as our personhood derives from the fact that we are made in the image of God we can rightly assert in accordance with the self-revelation of God that the Holy Spirit is a person.