The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Who is the Holy Spirit, Really?

Trivially irrelevant. Not least because the same chapter involves the Spirit bearing witness of Jesus (so not personally Jesus, no more than the blood and the water are personally Jesus though Jesus came in water and in blood), and yet on par with God bearing witness that He has borne witness concerning His Son. But the Trinity is implied elsewhere in the scriptures, in ways and terms not much different in meaning from the spurious Johannine comma. After all, even the comma doesn’t use the term Trinity (or even the term “Son”), and yet you recognize that’s what it’s talking about: three distinct Persons in heaven that are not merely “one” in personal cooperation!

(I’m always amused when non-trinitarians bring up the comma acknowledging it’s talking about the Trinity: they would be more consistent if they interpreted it as non-trinitarian as well as spurious.)

Doxologies are on the same par as prayers, and doxologies including the Holy Spirit as well as the Persons of the Father and the Son happen a lot.

But your observation is pointless, because you wouldn’t count any such evidence even if you saw it: you would just reckon the prayer was praying to the Son or to the Father and calling one or the other “the Holy Spirit” or similar titles. And even if the Christians praying to the Holy Spirit included prayer to the Father and to the Son as well, that wouldn’t be any different in principle than a doxology to the Father, Son, and Spirit, or baptising in the name of the Father of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, or any other religious reference to the Father and to the Son (as distinct persons) plus the Holy Spirit. And you know those happen with some frequency across many types of NT scripture, so whatever ways you disregard the Spirit as being a third distinct Person there you would apply to the prayer per se, too.

We can test that theory if you want: a number of the doxologies are prayers calling upon Jesus and God along with the Holy Spirit to bless people in various ways. You don’t think those count as prayers to the Holy Spirit even though they’re prayers to the Father and to the Son as distinct persons, because…?

(If it comes to that, your observation is pointless in another way, too, because you acknowledge people pray to Jesus, even as God, but you deny Jesus is the self-existent God Most High. Other unitarians take much the same evidence, along with the personal distinctions of the Spirit which you don’t recognize, and conclude the Holy Spirit is another high-ranking creature like Jesus, maybe the second creature created by God.)

St. Paul in 2 Thess 3:5 prays that “the Lord” may direct the hearts of his readers “into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ”. The Greek syntax certainly indicates two distinct persons for God and Christ; but it would be very unusual stylistically for St. Paul to redundantly refer to one person directing believers to that same person (i.e. that the Father may direct our hearts to love of the Father, or that Christ may direct our hearts to the steadfastness of Christ.)

In 2 Cor 13:14, Paul blesses his readers with the salutation, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”

In the doxology of Eph 1:2-14, the Father is praised for choosing us (3-6), the Son is praised for dying for us (7-12), and the Spirit is praised for sealing us (13-14).

Rom 1:1-4; Rom 8:9-17: each set of verses distinguishes not only the Son in comparison to the Father (or God) but also the Spirit.

2 Cor 1:21-22: ditto (although admittedly more vaguely)

Heb 9:14: ditto

1 Pet 3:18-19 (if the grammar reads “in whom”); 4:14: ditto

In all these cases the grammar and/or the context indicates that three (not only two) persons are being spoken of.

Now, I’m not going to say that there is as much evidence about the distinct personhood of the Holy Spirit as there is even about the most-high deity of the Son (of which there is a ton). The scriptures talk a lot about the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit or other names of that sort and usually those can be identified simply enough as God in such a way that a unitarian (or a modalist for that matter) could just call them a reference to God the Father (even though some unitarians recognize the personal distinction of the HS and so don’t identify Him with God Most High). And when it seems obvious the Spirit of Christ is being talked about, someone might say that’s only Jesus personally.

But I think there’s enough testimony to indicate, as you yourself agree in your own way, that the Spirit is singular (not two spirits one of the Father and one of the Son) and yet also the (singular) personal spirit of two distinct persons (the Father and the Son).

And I think there’s enough testimony to indicate that the spirit of the Father is God Most High – as again you yourself agree in your own way.

Putting those two ideas together, though, gives us a single personal spirit of God Most High, Who alone should be religiously worshiped, which is the spirit of two distinct persons, Father and Son, with the Son being personally and religiously worshiped along with the Father, with at least the Father clearly being God Most High Who alone should be religious worshiped – the religious worship of any lesser lord or god being idolatry.

That isn’t trinitarianism yet, but it’s a position which someone cannot consistently hold while also complaining about the idea of God being a single deity of multiple persons. Which thus opens up at least binitarianism (two distinct persons of God, Father and Son) without even going into high Christology evidence about Jesus specifically!

And once that composite position is held, the only step from it to trinitarianism would be acknowledging and accepting evidence of the personal distinction of the Spirit with the persons of the Father and the Son. For which there is some weighty scriptural evidence: enough so that some unitarians take the route of the Spirit being a distinct person who thus cannot be God Most High regardless of what the scriptures indicate along that line instead.

GosLuke doesn’t actually say Jesus is begotten as the Son of God by the Holy Spirit, but the language of the angel there is admittedly a bit vague. “He will be called the Son of Most High, and Lord the God will give [Jesus] the throne of his father David… Holy spirit {pneuma hagion} will come upon you, and the power of Most High will overshadow you, and for that reason the begotten-in-you-thing holy shall be called Son of God {huios theou}.”

I have purposefully left out the usual English direct articles in that translation to show on one hand why some people who absolutely insist on direct articles might argue for a lesser Christology and/or Pneumatology there; and on the other hand to show that God Most High doesn’t always get addressed using direct articles in Greek. :wink: So the lack of a direct article in Greek doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but those lacks often get cited as theological evidence anyway – since, to be fair, a lack could mean something significant.

Anyway, grammatically Gabriel doesn’t have to be saying that the Holy Spirit and the Most High are two distinct Persons – the Most High could be a poetic repetition for talking about the Holy Spirit and vice versa – but neither does it count against trinitarian theism since on one hand the Holy Spirit is after all also the one and only God Most High, and on the other hand Gabriel says God the Most High is Who begets Jesus so that Jesus will be called Son of the Most High (not Son of the Holy Spirit, even though the Holy Spirit probably equals the power overshadowing Mary) and thus also Son of God.

Of course, there is no direct article for “the spirit” there, which for someone who goes to extremely picky lengths about the importance of a lack of a direct article when Jesus is being called God (even when being called God occasionally with a direct article), seems kind of odd. :wink:

But your closing salutation from the same epistle involves two persons being invoked as two persons for religious blessing (the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God) plus the fellowship of the Holy Spirit {tou hagiou pneumatos} (not fellowship in the Holy Spirit though you cited it like that). Things like that are why Christians (including some unitarians) propose some third individual, and why Christians (including some unitarians) regard the Holy Spirit as divine even when they deny the Lord Jesus Christ (who is invoked religiously for blessings along with God the Father, even in front of God the Father) is divine.

No; but that’s a pointer toward the filioque for western trinitarians.

Since you agree we’re supposed to pray to the Son and, beyond that, even worship the Son, calling attention to the limited direct prayer to the Son after the Ascension only highlights that the evidence on this doesn’t rest on such minimal examples. Nor would small evidence toward worshiping the Spirit along with the Father and the Son.

This is exactly like non-universalists saying the term “universalism” or “universal salvation” doesn’t appear in the Bible, therefore that counts as evidence universal salvation or universalism is false.

You acknowledge the singularity of the spirit as far as you can without acknowledging the Son to also be self-existently God Most High; by the same proportion blasphemy against the spirit of the Father must be blasphemy against the spirit of the Son. (And Jesus didn’t say that He wasn’t concerned about blasphemy against Himself, only that there was a distinction of forgiveness between blaspheming the Son of Man and blaspheming the Holy Spirit.)

But by the same token if trinitarian theism is true, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit has to be something other than simply blaspheming against God in any Person, or blasphemy against the Son of Man would also count as being under a special ban; nor can appeals to the two natures of Christ get around that, as though someone could blaspheme the human nature of Christ and not the divine nature!

So I’m not counting that testimony pro or con in any direction.

I agree; and it’s a point the NT authors (and Jesus by report) pick up on and apply to Jesus: a visible YHWH claiming to be YHWH personally Who alone should be worshiped and yet somehow distinct from an invisible YHWH and working in conjunction with that YHWH, is highly involved in a lot of famous and obscure OT stories. (There’s even at least one vision, maybe two, of seeing three YHWHs!)

However, the position you’re talking about which is a kind of modalism where there aren’t distinct persons of YHWH after all, is undercut (even in the OT) by the relation of one person to another, YHWH visible to YHWH invisible in the OT, Jesus to the Father in the NT. Though obviously there is an utter ton more of such interpersonal relationship evidences in the NT, at least between the Father and the Son. (Less obviously and less frequently between the Father and the Son and the Spirit.)

It does illustrate how historically some parties recognized the high divinity claims but had to work around the multiple person claims; and some parties recognized the multiple person claims (sometimes including the Spirit, sometimes not) and had to work around the divinity claims; and some parties recognized the high divinity and the distinct personhood claims for two or all three of the Persons.

And I will point out here as I point out to fellow trinitarians of Calv or Arm persuasions (except the other way around): any Christian universalist ought to be familiar as such with how scriptural testimony on one hand assures about God’s intention to save all sinners from sin, and on the other hand assures about God’s originally persistent action to success in saving whomever He intends to save from sin, and how if one denies a particular doctrine (universal salvation) one has to get around one or the other gospel assurance – but we put together the evidence they each affirm and get the result they deny (and which most of us once denied).

Once again, I came to recognize and accept the scriptural case for universal salvation over against apparently strong difficulties even in the scriptures themselves, because I was already (and increasingly) familiar with the scriptural case for trinitarian theism over against apparently strong difficulties even in the scriptures themselves.

In other words, I tell fellow trinitarians that if we can put the evidence together despite difficulties in doing so and arrive at trinitarian theism, we can do it for the gospel assurances, too, and arrive at universal salvation despite difficulties.

So I tell fellow Christian universalists the same thing: if we can put the evidence together despite difficulties in doing so and arrive at Christian universalism, we can do it for the multiple persons of God Most High, too, and arrive at trinitarian Christian theism despite difficulties.

Our training and experience in one ought to make it easier to arrive at the other.

Nevertheless, there are unitarians who do believe in the full divinity of the Spirit and yet not the full divinity of the Son; but typically like Paidion they don’t believe in the Spirit is a distinct Person.

Relatedly, like Paidion, I don’t see anyone in this thread yet denying the full divinity of the Spirit, and I don’t recall running into any Christian on the forum who denied the full divinity of the Spirit. (Maybe Patricia? – she seems to be thinking of the spirit as simply a way of describing companionship, between persons in God and between the Father and the Son.)

Of course there are unitarians who deny the full divinity of the Spirit, where they acknowledge testimony of the Spirit being a distinct personal entity. We don’t seem to have any such here (unless perhaps Patricia is one). Those who regard the Spirit as impersonal power still tend to think of it as impersonally but fully divine.

I do think where someone affirms the full divinity of the Spirit, and also that the Spirit is (as testified in scripture) the Spirit of the Son as well as the Spirit of the Father, while affirming distinction of the Persons of the Son and the Father, they’re somewhat unconsciously affirming trinitarianism after all, but if they realized that they’d either switch some positions (denying the spirit is really singularly the spirit of the Son as well as of the Father for example) or come to consciously affirm the Trinity.

I’m okay with the term if used as a contrast between the one and only self-existent God Most High and any lesser lords or gods.

On the other hand, it is precisely from my rejection of degrees of divinity in that sense (as if a lesser lord could theoretically level up to being a God Most High or something like that), that I’m very uncomfortable about theosis language and traditions. At the same time, if theosis proponents qualify themselves that creatures aren’t changed into the self-existent reality (or into multiple self-existent realities), then I could get behind the idea of degrees-of-lesser-divinity so to speak.

I agree with Dave about that being a great line. :slight_smile:

That depends on whether doxologies count as worship, and on whether baptism counts as worship. I tend to think they do, and I’m pretty sure I’m in agreement with even most non-trinitarian traditions on this!

But even so, I acknowledge there’s a lot less said about (or in) worshiping the Spirit along with the Father and the Son in the scriptures, than about worshiping the Son along with the Father (including in doxologies which don’t mention the Spirit).

My three guesses about that from within an ortho-trin position (and I admit they are educated guesses), are (1) introducing Christological worship was a difficult enough step that God saw fit not to introduce a lot of Pneumatological worship early, too; and (2) even though the Spirit is fully God self-existent, God does not self-exist by the action of the Spirit but by the actions of the Persons of the Father and the Son per se, and so we’re expected to direct our worship primarily to the Persons personally responsible for actively grounding all existence. (Which has some topical connections to the filioque, the idea that the Spirit proceeds also from the Son not only from the Father alone.) Also (3), the 3rd Person tends to be more transparent to us because His purpose in being given to us is to facilitate a relationship with the Father and with the Son.

But those are only guesses, though I’d say guess #3 has more scriptural evidence pointing in its direction.

Except you deny the Son is the one and only self-existent ground of all existence like the Father. So no, not at all exactly like the Father, in very important regards. But you do recognize the language is supposed to mean exactly like the Father in being {ho theos} (as the Hebraist says the Father calls the Son without any modifiers in that same chapter, though you deny that) and the creator of heaven and earth and the angels, and inherently immortal unlike any created thing (as that same chapter of Hebrews goes on to say), and identified with YHWH Who alone should be worshiped (as that same first chapter of Hebrews indicates).

And yet you’re willing to pray to (“to address”) and religiously worship a person who is not fully divine after all on your theological account.

But I allow I can see a difference in thinking the scriptures indicate God expects, encourages, and ultimately requires religious worship and prayer to a person which is not fully divine (the Son); and so therefore such divinely commissioned and required idolatry being safer thereby than trying to worship a fully divine person that you don’t think exists as such and so risking bad idolatry.

My problem, and the problem of trinitarians (and I would suppose modalists in their own way), is that divinely sanctioned ultimate idolatry is radically inconsistent with the repeatedly testified divine stress (sometimes by Jesus as YHWH in the OT via NT reference) against religiously worshiping less than God Most High Himself.

(Even the Hebraist in chapter 1 is probably talking about rebel angels, previously idolized, eventually coming to worship the Son thanks to the Father. Trinitarians don’t think God substitutes bad idolatry with good idolatry.)

Let me try to clarify that I do respect non-trinitarians (Christian or otherwise) refusing trinitarianism out of concern for avoiding idolatry. :slight_smile:

So I respect your concern to avoid accidentally (or intentionally?!) idolizing something by refusing to worship the Holy Spirit as a distinct Person, Paidion.

But then that very respect crashes up against your insistence on worshiping less than God Most High by religiously worshiping a Son you don’t think is God Most High.

I hereby lodge, cheerfully, my usual and boring, evangelical monotheist universalist protest. (I’m an EMU!)
That’s it! :smiley:

I misunderstand God in my way;
My neighbor misunderstands God is his/her way;
God understands us both, in love, perfectly!

(with thanks to Sherman)

I want to say that it is refreshing to be among Christians having a theological debate without having to worry about anyone playing the “Hell card”:

“You believe WHAT? Buddy, you’re going to Hell.”

Yes, in such heated encounters with non-universalist believers, I have observed a phenomenon I like to call the “Universalism litmus test.” It goes like this. Frustrated with the direction of the argument, the non–Universalist believer will blurt out something outrageous like this: “If Universalism were true, I would go out every night, get drunk, and have sex with all of the women I could.” That of course deserves the reply, “You are believing for the wrong reasons and thus have failed the Universalism litmus test.”

Perhaps because the Spirit’s principal ministry is to impel the worship of the Father through the Son. Thus St Basil of Caesarea in the fourth century:

And again:

Basil’s argument depends on an apprehension that genuine personal knowledge of the Father occurs within the divine life of the Trinity. It’s not something that we can acquire by our own efforts, either by investigating creation or studying Scripture. This knowledge is personal, sacramental, mystical and can only be received and enjoyed in the Holy Spirit. Only God can bring us to knowledge of himself and he does so by giving himself to us by the Spirit. If the Spirit is not God, but rather a creature, he cannot bring us to know God as Jesus knows God. Only through God can we see God.

Hence it really doesn’t matter whether we find examples in the NT of worship of the Spirit. Sure, it might make the resolution of the debate easier, but it in no way detracts from the divinity of the Spirit.

Just want to jump in and say thanks. I’ve been reading all the discussion here though I’m kind of in over my head. Fr. Aiden, Paidion, Jason, Sherman, et al – I really appreciate reading what everybody has to say. :smiley: (And I’ll try to read those links you gave me, Fr. Aiden – only maybe not until the end of the month. I just hope I can understand them. :wink: Jason, I very much appreciate your exegesis here. Thanks!

PS When I say “in over my head,” I mean that I have nothing to offer the discussion just now because you all having gone way past anything I might have been able to contribute :wink: – not that any of you have been unclear.

I would really appreciate a little clarity on the use of the words ‘divine’ and ‘divinity’, at least as they are commonly used on this Forum. I’m always a little confused as to whether it means co-eternal, or omnipresent, or omnipotent, or what exactly.
Can a person pray to ‘God’? Or ask ‘God’ for forgiveness? Or should we direct ourselves to one of the different personalities?
Well of course there’s a lot more that I’m confused about, but I would be happy for now to know about ‘divine-ness’.
Thanks. Not trying to start a brawl, just a clarification of terms.

Dave, speaking as a trinitarian: When I pray to “God,” I always mean the Father: trinitarian Christians pray to God the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. “God” here functions almost like a personal name.

When I say something like: the Father and Jesus are both God or the Spirit is God or the trinitarian persons are equally divine, I signify by “God” the divine nature or being. Here “God” is functioning more like a common noun.

Does that clarify?

Thanks Fr. Kimel.

I know that this is an OLD thread, but somehow I never followed it until tonight!
I would like to clarify something, Jason, concerning your statement that I insist “on worshiping less than God Most High by religiously worshiping a Son I don’t think is God Most High.”

Whereas, it is true that I don’t think the Son is “God Most High”, for “God Most High” denotes the Father alone and not a complex, three-part Being called “The Trinity.” However the fact that the Son is not one of Three in such a complex, does NOT imply that the Son is LESS DIVINE than God Most High.

No, the Son is no less divine than the Father, because the Father begat Him. Just as your son is no less human than you are, because YOU begat him. However, just as a human father has a position in the family which is different from that of his son (the father has authority). So the Heavenly Father has a position of authority regarding His Son. Jesus made this clear in His statements that follow:

John 5:30 "I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

John 8:28 Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father has taught me, I speak these things.

The question should not be who is the Holy Spirit, but what is the Holy Spirit.
As I see it, the Holy Spirit is the very persons of the Father and of the Son which they can extend to any place in the Universe. Our “spirits” are confined to our bodies, but Their spirit exists everywhere.