Is the Holy Spirit Just an Impersonal Force?: 21 Bible Verses on The Spirit’s Personhood and Divinity

Paul Maxwell, Ph.D.

Paul Maxwell, Ph.D., writes about theology, mental health, marketing, and fitness. Paul has been writing on PaulMaxwell.co for over a decade.

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Is the Holy Spirit really a person? Or is he just an impersonal emanation of God himself? Is saying “The Spirit of God” the same as saying “The spirit of Frank?”

It’s important for us to understand that the Spirit is God, and why he is his own person. When I first became a Christian, the personhood and divinity of the Holy Spirit always seemed the most elusive to me. For a long time, if someone had told me that the Holy Spirit was just an impersonal emanation of God, that would seem reasonable to me. I would have believed that the Holy Spirit was as identical to the Father as my spirit is to my own identity as a human being.

So, I thought Christians might be edified to know that we can know exactly why we believe that the Spirit is both God and a Trinitarian person.

Why the Holy Spirit is called is “Holy”

First of all, why is he called “The Holy Spirit?”

The theologian Herman Bavinck explains this well when he writes in his Reformed Dogmatics (4:277): “He [the Spirit] is called ‘holy’ because he himself exists in a special relation to God and because he puts all things in a special relation to God.” We see this in John 14:26: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and make you remember all that I have told you.” (John 14:6)

What it Means that He “Proceeds”

Traditional Christian orthodoxy has spoken of the Spirit as “proceeding” from the Father and Son. While Christians traditionally reject the notion that the Spirit is an impersonal emanation from God (more below), we do believe that the Spirit is a personal emanation from God. That’s what “Spirit” means in Hebrew, as Bavinck once again notes: “He [the Spirit] owes this name to his special mode of subsistence: ‘spirit’ actually means ‘wind,’ ‘breath.’ The Holy Spirit is the breath of the Almighty (Job 33:4), the breath of his mouth (Ps 33:6).”

(Job 33:4): “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”

(Psalm 33:6): “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.”

The Holy Spirit is a Person

Though the Spirit does emanate from God, he is very much himself God (again, more below). And yet, before we can meaningfully call the Spirit “God,” we must first establish his personhood so that there is someone to whom we can apply this divine name.

The Bible often speaks of The Holy Spirit in the following ways:

  • The Holy Spirit is spoken of as a person

  • The Holy Spirit has practical capabilities

  • The Holy Spirit is coordinated (not conflated with) the Father and the Son

Each of these qualities directly conveys the unique personhood of the Holy Spirit, distinct from the Father and Son, as the Bible verses below indicate.

The Holy Spirit is spoken of as a person

(John 15:26): “But when the Helper (παρακλητος) comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me”

(John 16:13-14): “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

(John 14:16-17): “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”

The Holy Spirit has practical capabilities

(Acts 13:2) (audible speech): “While they 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.’”

(1 Cor. 2:10-11) (searching): “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God”

(Acts 15:28-29) (judging): “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality”

(John 16:13) (teaching): “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

(Acts 13:2) (revelation): “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’”

(1 Cor. 12:11) (empowering): “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

(Romans 8:27) (interceding): “And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

The Holy Spirit is coordinated with Father and Son

(Matt. 28:19) (coordinated in salvation): “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

(1 Cor. 12:4-6) (coordinated in empowerment): “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone”

(2 Cor. 13:13) (coordinated in fellowship): “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

The Holy Spirit is God

The person of the Spirit is not merely a person—he is a member of the Trinity. He is God himself. One of the ways Scripture clearly teaches this is by treating him as God, calling him God, and attributing exclusively divine qualities to him.

(Heb. 9:14) (eternality) “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

(Ps. 139:7) (omnipresence): Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

(1 Cor. 2:10-11) (omniscience): “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God”

These three attributes, coordinated—the personal capacities of the Holy Spirit, his individuality from the Father and the Son, and his divine attributes—are the reason the church confesses the Holy Spirit as a member of the Trinity, and not as an impersonal emanation of the Father or as an archangel.

More than that, there are indirect proofs of the Holy Spirit’s divinity in Scripture:

(Matt. 12:31-32) (to blaspheme is unpardonable): “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

(Zech. 12:10) (He is the author of our prayers) “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”

(Romans 8:15-16) (He brings us into divine fellowship) “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

Conclusion

The Holy Spirit is the breath of God. The Holy Spirit is a specific person who can act, think, and move by his own agency. And he is God himself. It’s important for us to know this as we pray, teach, and live the Christian life.

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