Personhood of the Holy Spirit

An idea common among liberal theologians today is that the Holy Spirit is merely a force or an influence emanating from God. He is not, in their view, a person distinct from the Father and the Son. Yet numerous Biblical arguments, which theologians of the past have stated fully and with great force, establish His personhood.

The Holy Spirit has personal attributes (1).

He has a will capable of directing His activities (1 Cor. 12:11). He possesses wisdom (Isa. 11:2) and power (Isa. 11:2; Micah 2:7; 3:8; Eph. 3:16). He can create (Job 32:4; Psa. 104:30). Many functions of the Spirit—such as teaching (John 14:26; Luke 12:12; 1 Cor. 2:13; 1 John 2:27), testifying (John 15:26; 1 Pet. 1:11), and guidance (John 16:13; Gal. 5:18; 2 Pet. 1:21)—are by nature personal activity rather than impersonal influence.

The New Testament often credits the Spirit with speech (Acts 13:2, 4; Rom. 8:26-27; 1 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 3:7; 9:8; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22; 22:17), which is a competence of persons. The Spirit speaks not only to man, but also to the glorified Christ (2).

16 I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.

17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. . . .

Revelation 22:16-17

Moreover, the Spirit speaks to the Father.

26 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.

27 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

"He that searcheth" is implicitly God—specifically, as the context (Rom. 8:14-15) reveals, God the Father. If the Spirit has dialogue with the Father and the Son individually, He must be a person separate from both.

The passage just quoted is especially important to our case, because it says that the Spirit has a mind (v. 27). Mind is a property of no conceivable entity except a person.

The Holy Spirit reacts like a person in His dealings with men (3).

Men can tempt Him (Acts 5:9), grieve Him (Eph. 4:30), or vex Him (Isa. 63:10).

At Jesus' baptism, the Holy Spirit descended from the Father to the Son (4).

13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?

15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

16 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:

17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Matthew 3:13-17

The Spirit, in this dovelike embodiment, spatially differentiated Himself both from the Father in heaven above and from Jesus in the water below. The ceremony therefore pictures the three as persons of separate identity.

At the Last Supper, Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as a person (5).

Never before had Jesus said much about the Spirit, but now He spoke at length about the Spirit's future ministry on the earth. He began by saying,

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever.

John 14:16

"Comforter" means "one called alongside to give aid" (6). A mere influence cannot answer a summons, for it has no ability to hear. Moreover, a mere influence cannot provide comfort, for comfort is a ministration of one person to another. Jesus said that the Spirit would be "another Comforter"—that is, another Comforter like Himself. He was hardly granting them a satisfactory substitute for Himself if the comforter to come was not even a person.

Jesus said, moreover, that the Holy Spirit would be sent by the Father.

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

Yet the Spirit would not be sent by the Father alone, as might be said of some virtue belonging to the Father, but also by the Son.

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

The Spirit must therefore be a third person obedient to both the Son and the Father.

Also at the Last Supper, Jesus chose a masculine pronoun to indicate the Holy Spirit.

The pronoun was ekeinos, a masculine demonstrative meaning "that one" (7).

8 And when he is come, he ["ekeinos" (8)] will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: . . . .

14 He ["ekeinos" (9)] shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.

John 16:8, 14

The use of masculine reference for the Holy Spirit cautions the reader that although the Greek word "spirit" is neuter (10), the Holy Spirit is not a thing but a person. Occasionally in his translation of Jesus' words on this occasion, John resorts to a construction obviously designed to override the misleading gender of the word "spirit."

Howbeit when he ["ekeinos" (11)], the Spirit [neuter noun] of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

John 16:13

The Holy Spirit referred to Himself in the first person (12).

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

Acts 13:2

If the Holy Spirit designated Himself "me" and "I," so conferring a personal identity upon Himself, we can hardly justify treating Him as something less than a person.

Deity of the Holy Spirit

The arguments are also numerous that the Holy Spirit is divine.

The Holy Spirit has authority in Himself (13).

When giving final words of counsel to the elders of Ephesus, Paul said,

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

Acts 20:28

Ultimate authority over the church, to set up one leader or remove another, belongs to God.

The Holy Spirit may be blasphemed (14).

But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.

Mark 3:29

Blasphemy is to besmirch or belittle the august person of God. Abusive words directed at anyone or anything other than God do not count as blasphemy. Therefore, if it is blasphemy to speak ill of the Holy Spirit, He must be divine.

The Holy Spirit is expressly called God (15).

When Peter discovered that a man and his wife had deceived the church, he said,

3 . . . Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?

4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.

Acts 5:3-4

First, Peter said that Ananias had lied to the Holy Ghost (v. 3). Then, he said that the man had lied to God (v. 5). In Peter's mind, the concepts "Holy Ghost" and "God" were evidently two sides of an equation.

Paul does not explicitly state that the Holy Spirit is God, but he calls Him "Lord," a name he would not concede to anything subdivine.

17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18


  1. John Owen, The Holy Spirit: His Gifts and Power, ed. George Burder (repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1954), 47-50. John Owen was a great preacher and scholar during the Puritan era. This work is the most rewarding of the classic treatises on the Holy Spirit.
  2. Most conservative commentators agree that the Spirit and the Bride are addressing Jesus. See Robert Govett, Govett on Revelation, 2 vols., originally, The Apocalypse: Expounded by Scripture, 4 vols. (London: n.p., 1861; repr., Miami Springs, Fla.: Conley & Schoettle Publishing Co., 1981), 2:536-538; Joseph A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Exposition of the Book of Revelation (n.p.: C. C. Cook, 1900; repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1987), 524-525; Henry M. Morris, The Revelation Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Wheaton Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers; San Diego, Calif.: Creation-Life Publishers, 1983), 482.
  3. Owen, 51-52.
  4. Ibid., 45-47.
  5. Ibid., 50.
  6. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 623.
  7. Arndt and Gingrich, 238-239; W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, reprinted in, An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, by W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984), 1077.
  8. George Ricker Berry, Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (n.p., 1897; repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1981), 396.
  9. Ibid., 397.
  10. Ibid., 391-397; Vine, 1077.
  11. Berry, 397.
  12. Owen, 50-51.
  13. Ibid., 51.
  14. Ibid., 52-53.
  15. Ibid., 53-54.