The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Who is the Holy Spirit, Really?

Is the HS an impersonal force, as I believe the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach? Do we identify the HS with wisdom, as personified in Proverbs 1:21-33 and 8:1-9:6? When Jesus told the three linked parables of the Good Shepherd, the Woman seeking her lost coin, and the Prodigal Son (AKA The Good Father), is one of these characters meant to represent the HS?

I suspect that many of us struggle with what to do with the HS. We know the HS is our guide and helper, conforming us to the image of Christ, but are we to worship the HS? Is the HS God? Or perhaps the HS is synonymous with the Father (of whom we’re told that He is Spirit)? What do you think? Maybe we can enlighten one another and help one another think this through.

Well wisdom is usually identified with the Messiah, the Logos who Paul calls the Wisdom of God, though the connection of the Incarnation with Mary joins her with Christ in a deep manner as the first Christian etc (the importance of term and title Theotokos was all about and speaking to the importance of the Incarnation - for what was not assumed was not healed), but it is still Christ the Word who is the Wisdom of God. The Holy Spirit is the Counsellor promised to the Church to guide her in all truth, the Spirit of the Son, of Christ and also called the Spirit of the Father. It I He animates us and our Christian life and growth, uniting us to Christ and in Him (Lord. Jesus) bringing us to and into the Father, drawing humanity into the Triune Life of God and to express that love to each and out into creation and back again.

He the Holy Spirit has guided the Church through the controversies and divisions even from the beginning working through the life of the Church as promised to keep, clarity and guide in all truth (where the Church the pillar and foundation of truth). Out of the messy controversies which lead to Ecumenical Councils as well as before were challenges called precision on terms and and deeper thought into what the apostolic message and Gospel declared the clarity was through this perhaps messy but living and free process the truth clarified and affirmed as a whole (rather then other Councils, often driven by more politically powerful groups at the time, for example the Arians).

So to the extent it needs or can described it is, in the Nicene Creed and the Councils and liturgy and worship, there is still much mystery but is God, whole is Being and Reality so we shouldn’t expect to be able to describe exactly, even less prior to completion of the resurrection, apart from what is revealed understood through the Church.

Of course such an answer won’t be acceptable or enough for many, but I suggest both were the answer such as we are able to answer it is found, through the debates, thought and resolution were these questions were raised in depth and through the Church’s acceptance of it and integration into worship, based the promise of the guidance of the Holy Spirit within the Church which is the foundation and pillar of truth as St Paul said. Within those wide parameters prayerful reflection and thought can seek out and put forward more developed theologies into it, founded on that revealed reality.

For what it’s worth and as no doubt inadequately as I’ve put it I hope it helps a little.

What follows is an email which I sent to an acquaintance, an email that largely deals with the character of the Holy Spirit:

Thank you for your reply, Brother S----

You are correct that our relationship with God is the most important thing. Yet I think our understanding of the character of God is related to that relationship. So it is important to understand the Son of God as having been begotten as the Father’s first act as I indicated in my last email. But it is also important to understand where the Spirit of God comes in. Jesus said to his disciples:

If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)

HOW will the Father and the Son make their dwelling with those who love Jesus and who keep His word? I suggest it is “by means of their Holy Spirit.” The Father and the Son are so united into one that they share the same Spirit. They can extend their Personality or “Spirit” anywhere in the universe, especially into the hearts of the faithful.

I suggest that the Holy Spirit is not a third divine person, but yet is personal—the very persons of the Father and the Son. Consider the following scripture, where Paul refers to Jesus as “The Lord” and then states that He IS the Spirit:

But their minds [those of the Jews] were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:14-18)

The second-century Christian writer, Justin Martyr affirmed in his “Apology ch. 33” (written to the Emperor Titus Ælius Adrianus Antoninun Pius Augustus Cæsar) that the Spirit is none other than the Logos (“the Word” John 1:1, a reference to the Son of God) Himself:

It is wrong, therefore to understand the Spirit and the Power of God as anything else but the Logos, who is also the first-born of God…That the prophets are inspired by no other than the divine Logos, even you, as I fancy, will grant.

Why do you suppose Jesus said? “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the advocate [or ‘encourager’ or ‘comforter’ or ‘helper’, that is, the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him [or ‘it’] to you.” (John 16:7)

If the Spirit were a third divine Person, then why did Jesus have to go away before the Spirit could come? Could the reason be that Jesus Himself was the Spirit, but as long as He was living in a human body, His Spirit or Personality was confined to that body. But after God raised Him from the dead, He had a spiritual body that could go through closed doors (John 20:19). It was the same body, but a changed body. He still had the wounds which He received when He was crucified, but He now had “put on immortality”(1 Cor 15). Now his Spirit or divine Personality could be extended anywhere in the universe. So He and his Father could make their dwelling with their disciples, by extending their Personality into the hearts of the children of God.

It is interesting that Justin Martyr in his dialogue with Trypho both spoke of the Spirit of God. Clearly Trypho wasn’t thinking of another Person besides God, since he was Jewish, probably a Pharisee. And it becomes clear that Justin didn’t either. Justin had been trying to show Trypho from Hebrew prophecies that Jesus was the Son of God, and could therefore be called “God” in the sense that He was divine and begotten by God. At one point Justin asked Trypho this very interesting question:

Do you think that any other one is said to be worthy of worship and called “Lord” and “God” in the Scriptures, besides the Maker of all, and Christ [Messiah] , who by so many Scriptures was proved to you to have become man?

Trypho replied, “How can we admit this, when we have instituted so great an inquiry as to whether there is any other than the Father alone?” (Dialogue Ch 58)

If Justin had been a Trinitarian, this would have been the perfect moment to have introduces the Holy Spirit as a third divine Person who was worthy of worship and who could be called “God”. But instead he said:

“I must ask you this also, that I may know whether or not you are of a different opinion from that which you admitted some time ago.”

It seems that Trypho had been changing his opinions quite often during their dialogue, and that was the reason Justin had asked the question.

It is also the case that the Trinity is nowhere found in the Bible except in 1 John 5:7 of the King James Bible and related translations.
For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. (1 John 5:7 NKJV)

1 John 5:7 is known as “the Johannine Comma”. It doesn’t occur in any Greek manuscript prior to the ninth century. Here you can find some more information about the passage and how it got into 1 John:

So I hope you understand why I am not a Trinitarian. The Trinitarian view of God was almost unknown prior to the fourth century, but during that century it was taught by people such men as Jerome and Augustine, and thus it spread throughout all of Christendom.

In conclusion, I wish to say that I came to believe that the Holy Spirit is not a third divine Individual, but yet is personal. The Spirit is the very Persons of the Father and the Son. Perhaps it is for this reason that there is no record in the New Testament of any Christian praying to the Holy Spirit.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and participation in the Holy Spirit be with you. (2Co 13:14)

Thanks Grant, and Don! A lot to think about there. :slight_smile:

My understanding of the Spirit is that He/She/It is like the third party in any relationship. When a husband and wife seek marriage counseling, they will inevitably be told by the counselor that there is a third entity involved- the relationship itself.

Since God is all about relationship, the Spirit is the cornerstone of the Trinity. The Spirit exists as the relationship between the Father and the Son. And the Spirit exists as the relationship between each of us and God.

I believe the Spirit has a unique quality of “betweenness”. Between us and God, and between all people. No matter what is said or done, the Spirit delivers to us the appropriate word or deed to affect the outcome God wills.

To the extent that I allow the Spirit to dwell in me, it is like having a metaphysical force field surrounding me as I walk through life.

Thanks, Trey. So is the Spirit, to you, a person – or not?

I understand the Spirit as a Presence that can be better understood by us human folks as a Person. The Spirit is the omni in all those omnis used to describe God’s attributes.

I liked the way, in The Shack, where the Spirit was a person but not quite really, as when the main character looked directly at her, she wasn’t really there but when he looked at her peripherally, she was there.

Is the HS an impersonal force, as I believe the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach?

If the HS is a person then shouldn’t he be Jesus father?

Good topic, Cindy, thank you, and I am glad to learn from the replies that have been posted by NightRevan, Paidion and Trey. I think the Holy Spirit is very personal, working in each of us uniquely to will and to act according to God’s good purpose. Paul’s teaching on wisdom in 1 Cor 1 and 2 is wonderful to meditate on and strongly links the Spirit of God to the wisdom of God. And I agree that HS is identified with wisdom in the Proverbs you cited; thank you for sending me there for refreshment.

As for what to do with the HS, for me this is the Christian struggle and joy of everyday life. I know that Jesus promised to never forsake me, but I also know from experience that He does let me go my own way. I had a serious bout with pride, but the Lord pretty much brought me down to less than nothing and then encouraged me, and it was during this time that I really began to seek an understanding of the unity of the HS. This is the time that I also began to pray for others, including others with whom I had doctrinal or other differences, using as my example Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1 which is such a strong and beautiful prayer. Imagine if all over the world the church prayed every day for each other to be filled with the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in order that we may know our glorious Father better!

I do not believe we are to worship the HS, mainly because while the HS is a gift from God, the HS does not make us God, if that makes sense. We are to be made the righteousness of God, but not God. It seems that if taken too far, one could begin to worship people (or people could be demanded to be worshipped) who were thought to be very Spirit-filled, but the Scriptures have examples against this (e.g., in Acts 10 Cornelius fell at Peter’s feet in reverence, but Peter made him get up and said “Stand up, I am only a man myself.”) Instead, we worship God who is Spirit, and we worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. I have heard some prayers directed to HS, and I thought it was a bit unusual, but perhaps it is not much different from prayers to God asking to fill or empower us by His Spirit; I really don’t know.

Looking forward to more discussion on the topic.


Thanks, Patty. :slight_smile: It’s lovely to see your reply here.

And Steve, and Trey – I wrote out a response to you earlier today but then the whole site seems to have gone down and I couldn’t even retrieve my reply after I pushed send (which I usually can do by pushing the “back” arrow) :frowning:

So here we go . . . I shall try again.

Trey, I did go that way (seeing the Spirit as the love between the Father and Son), but that didn’t seem quite complete somehow – to me anyway. Sarayu (Young’s name for the HS in “The Shack” – for those who might not know or remember) seems like an actual person to me in his writing, and I took his portrayal of her being difficult to perceive as being indicative of her mysterious nature. According to scripture, “Sarayu” is capable of being grieved, can be blasphemed and offended by that, is a teacher, and more. This for me didn’t seem to fit the HS AS the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. It makes the HS a person, I think, but that causes other problems for my ponderer to ponder.

Steve, unless I’m mistaken, at least some of the great creeds affirm that the HS is a person distinct from the Father. Yet you have a good point. I’ve thought about that many times. If God the Father is spirit and the HS is spirit, then what’s the difference? Why do we even need the HS? What is the Spirit’s niche? How is there any difference between the HS and the Father? Of course, Jesus said “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” yet we still need Jesus and see him as a person. I think that somewhere the creeds say that the Father and/or the Son generate the Spirit as a gift for one another. I know [tag]JasonPratt[/tag] mentions this in his STTH (which anyone can download as a PDF from the link he has in his signature line). It does seem to me though that even if this is the case, the Spirit has to have a discrete (distinct) personhood in order to have the characteristics given by scripture.

So I’m still kind of up in the air here. UR fit into my mind like a long-lost and vital engine part. It made my theology work soooo much better. Not so many clunks and coughs and sputters. I’d really love to understand the HS better – I mean in a way that I just KNOW is right. And I feel there’s something missing that would tie things together perfectly but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Patty, that’s a good point about worshiping the HS and praying to the HS. I’ve wondered about that too. Logically, it seems to me that if we worship the Father and the Father is God; we worship the Son and the Son is God; then we would worship the Spirit (if we’re Trinitarian) as the Spirit, too, is God. It seems strange to do so, though. We pray to the Father in Jesus’ name (as Jesus instructed us to do). But I think probably all of us have prayed to Jesus (even in Jesus’ name! :laughing: ) and many of us have at some time or other said in our hearts, “Holy Spirit, give me wisdom!” or some-such. Is that wrong? I don’t think so. It would make more sense to me logically though, to say that praying to the HS is wrong (than to say worshiping the HS is wrong) as we’ve clearly been told to pray to the Father in Jesus’ name. If that’s the case, I suppose it would also be wrong to pray to Jesus.

So yeah – lots of pondering going on. I appreciate all ya’ll pondering with me. :slight_smile:

I do heavily stress the idea of the 3rd Person being the gift of God, between the self-begetting/self-begotten Persons, and to all rational creatures. But I don’t think the Big Three Creeds talk about the purpose being a gift, though some later creeds might. I don’t know.

The AthCreed, following (apparently) Augustine’s polish of the Chalcedonian distinctions (which Cappadochian fathers like our Gregory Nyssus would have had a strong hand in distinguishing), only says the Spirit isn’t (in effect, not in these exact words) God self-begetting nor God self-begotten but distinctively God proceeding. The filioque, over which Eastern and Western Catholicism have long split, adds (which I agree) that the Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as from the Father.

(I do understand what the EOx were concerned to avoid by denying this, though: that the Son would be thus treated equivalently to the Father. The RCs and the EOx have kind-of mended fences on this, with the EOx agreeing the Son does give the Spirit and so the Spirit proceeds in that sense, but I think they still deny the Spirit is generated ontologically by the-Father-and-the-Son in their particular relationship with one another. Not sure how hard the RCC wants to insist on that in turn.)

From the practical perspective of the ancient trinitarian Fathers, the point was to try to keep all the canonical testimony in the theological account, with an eye toward worship: are Christians supposed to religiously worship the “Holy Spirit” or not (the scriptures seem to affirm so) and if so, why? This issue, though with different answers, also seems to have been the practical point of contention for non-trinitarian dissent from the central ‘orthodox’ party. (Intertrinitarian dissent typically focused either on how to regard the relation of the two natures of Christ, or else on proper authority claims by contemporary people: how much authority does the Roman bishop have; can people who betrayed the church be admitted back in, and if so is that a decision anyone less than Christ Himself can legitimately make within proper authoritative boundaries; etc.)

I need to stress that this is my own opinion but heavily based on scripture but I am convinced of it. I believe the Spirit is simply God himself.
The scriptures state clearly that God IS spirit. Not that he is a spirit, but he is all spirit. All spirit is God and all life is God’s spirit. He apportions a part of himself to every form of life including us and when something dies, that portion of spirit returns to himself.
So if God IS Spirit then why does he need another spirit. He is all sufficient, he wouldn’t.
John 5 Jesus states that no man has seen or heard directly from the Father. He also states that when we see him we see the Father, because he is the only physical reflection of the Father we have ever seen. He was with him in the beginning and all things were made through him. So God is spirit within us and not a 3rd being. I don’t believe in the trinity so there is no need in my opinion for a 3rd expression when the first one already exists and lives within us now. We hear God speaking to us because the portion of his spirit already enlivening us recognizes itself. That’s my thoughts on the matter.


Good point, Watchman!


So why propose some third divine Individual?

I have concluded that the spirit is the extension of the personalities of the Father and the Son.
Jesus said that He and the Father would make their dwelling with anyone who loves Him and keeps His word (John 14:23).
Would not the Father and the Son making their dwelling with us constitute the spirit of God?
There is no record in the entire New Testament of any Christian worshipping or praying to Anyone other than the Father and the Son.
Indeed there is only one instance of anyone addressing the Son after His ascension: namely Stephen when he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

We read in the New Testament of “the spirit of God” and also of “the spirit of Jesus”. But do we ever read of “the spirit of the Spirit”?

Just some more pondering Cindy.
In relation to the question of whether it could be wrong to pray to Jesus - people talked to Jesus and asked him for many things while he was on earth. He was quite happy for people to do this. Why would it be different now?

You have a point Craig, and I certainly ought to have been clearer in what I was trying to say. It’s not actually that I meant to say we ought not pray to Jesus, but more that if we do pray to Jesus, it follows (I think) that we could also pray to the Spirit. We do pray to the Spirit in any case, many of us, though we may not think of it that way. It’s not at all uncommon to hear a pastor praying, “Holy Spirit, fill this place,” etc. The HS is our helper – our Ezer – and as such, naturally a recipient of our prayers for help, or more specifically, our requests for guidance and understanding. Just as you pointed out, people asked Jesus to do things for them while He physically walked the earth, and that is technically what a prayer is. We do tend to label all our communications with God, including our listening to Him, as prayer. This sort of back and forth at some point grades over into worship, IMO. I don’t think there’s a specific dividing line where I could say "This is prayer; here it crosses over into companionable conversation; but just right at this juncture it has morphed into worship. It’s an interesting topic to me.

People worshiped Jesus during His incarnation here and He defended them for doing it (“If these were silent the rocks would cry out”). I think it follows logically that if the HS is the third member of the Trinity, the HS is an appropriate recipient of worship as well. Or perhaps more to the point, when we worship God, we ARE worshiping the Trinity (assuming we’re Trinitarians and that Trinitarianism is correct). It might be interesting to start a topic to discuss the nature of worship. I’m tempted to start talking about that here, but I think the discussion of who the HS is deserves to be continued so I’ll resist. :wink:

Yes, I agree with every thing you wrote in the above quote. Jesus was and is the Son of God, and is an appropriate object of worship. Also, iff God is a Trinity, then worship of any of its members would be appropritate. (Is the Trinity an “it” or a “He”?)

But “there’s the rub”! Is God a Trinity? Nowhere does the Bible teach it. Nowhere in the Bible does the word “God” refer to a Trinity, but most of the time refers to the Father alone, and sometimes to the Son.

If the HS is a person then shouldn’t he be Jesus father?

Ok Steve i’ll answer the question. Yes if the Holy Spirit is really a person then yes He s/b Jesus father. Who does Jesus call his Father?

In the OT the Holy Spirit was called the Spirit of God. “Of God” which sounds like the Spirit is God’s Spirit. Therefore i think the Spirit sounds like an extension or influence of God.


I think you’re right to say that the Spirit is from the Father – just like the Son is from the Father. To me though, scripture is clear that the Holy Spirit is a person just as Jesus is a person. Blasphemy against the Son or against the Father will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven in this age or the age to come. Why are the Father and the Son so defensive of the Spirit if the Spirit is just another name for God the Father? It makes no sense to me at all. Jesus talks about His Father clearly. Why would He suddenly start calling Him by a different name? The Spirit is called the helper – the Ezer, the Paraclete. The church is to be the sanctuary of the HS, the family of God the Father, the bride of Christ. Why not call the Spirit the Father if there’s no difference? Why foster confusion?

Definitely I appreciate your point of view. The Spirit is mysterious, ambiguous, and I would like to know more about who this mystery person is. Like I said before (I think) I did wonder at one point whether there even WAS a HS (apart from the Father), but it really looks to me in scripture that the intent is to show us a distinct person rather than an aspect of the Father. In one sense, Jesus is an aspect of the Father, yet He has a particular function in the Trinity and is clearly a distinct person. The function (toward us) of the HS is to be our teacher and our helper. Fathers do that yes, but that’s something Paul could have said and didn’t. God teaches us through His Spirit who is also called the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of truth and whom I do believe to be a person. So while I understand why you think as you do and I don’t have a problem with that, I can’t really go there. It’s just not what I see as truth at this point.

One could also ask, "Why not call the Spirit Jesus if there’s no difference?
Well… actually Paul did call the Lord (Jesus) the Spirit!

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2Cor 3:17)

Also, I don’t think anyone is saying that there’s no difference. All they are saying is that the Spirit is not a different Individual from the Father and the Son. The difference is that the Father, in some sense, resides in Heaven, and so does Jesus, sitting at His right hand.
But Jesus and His Father can extend their spirit (personality) anywhere in the universe, and especially in the hearts of Jesus’ disciples (John 14:23). That extension is the Holy Spirit

Blasphemy against the Son or against the Father will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven in this age or the age to come. Why are the Father and the Son so defensive of the Spirit if the Spirit is just another name for God the Father? It makes no sense to me at all. Jesus talks about His Father clearly. Why would He suddenly start calling Him by a different name? The Spirit is called the helper –

Good points Cindy! I thought my thought about why wouldn’t the HS be Jesus father was strong but yours is just as strong. A little perplexing i think. :bulb: