Jehovah’s witnesses go to extraordinary lengths to deny that the Holy Spirit could possibly be God, and even deny that He is a person, instead portraying Him as an “impersonal active force”. In the first part of this series (which you can read here ) I introduced just a few of their objections. I will now examine their appeals to the Greek language and church history, then in the next post we will look at the biblical proof of the Holy Spirit’s divinity and personhood.
The appeal to language
The Watchtower literature frequently makes appeals to Greek language or grammar in an attempt to support their teaching. These attempts are generally based on either a poor understanding of Greek, or (perhaps more likely) a deliberate attempt to distort the truth. At this point though, I will say that almost every Jehovah’s Witness I have ever spoken to face to face has been pleasant, friendly, open and genuine. Unfortunately, they trust implicitly in an organisation that is routinely deceitful and manipulative- it is this organisation that provides them with the information they will use in your conversations with them.
In the case of the Greek grammar surrounding the representation of the Holy Spirit, the Watchtower’s position is as follows-
“The Greek word for spirit is in itself neuter in gender and is properly referred to, therefore, by the neuter pronoun in English because it does not have personality.” (See their response to a reader’s question here)
As in many languages, it’s true that Greek nouns have a ‘gender’, (masculine, feminine, and neuter) but that doesn’t always mean a literal gender- rather it is a way of gramatically grouping different nouns together, and governs how different rules apply to them. So, the word “woman” is indeed a ‘feminine noun’, and the word “man” is indeed a masculine noun. But, the word for ‘death’ is masculine and that certainly doesn’t mean death is a man. The word for sea/lake is feminine, but of course you wouldn’t say the sea was a woman. Even more significantly, the word for ‘Child’ is neuter, but surely nobody would deny that a child was a person.
The word ‘spirit’ in Greek is a neuter noun, but that has no bearing on whether or not the Spirit could actually be a person, and even a cursory look at the basics of Greek grammar will tell you so.
Appeals to Church History
As well as distortions of the language to defend their position on the Trinity, the Watchtower writers often sift through church history and draw misleading conclusions by misrepresenting the whole picture. They will generally take a quote from an early church father completely out of context, and then misinterpret that quote and/or misrepresent that church father’s views, and finally conclude that nobody in the early church believed in the Trinity/deity of Jesus/personality of the Holy Spirit etc. They will usually not even tell you where the quote is taken from, making it difficult for you to look it up to find the context. However, thanks to the internet it is now quite easy to trace the quotes and get the bigger picture.
There are plenty of examples but let’s just stick with one. In their article “Identifying the Holy Spirit” (which can be found on their website here) they quote Gregory of Nazianus, who lived from around 329-390 AD. Their article says –
However, this view was not held during the first few centuries of our Common Era. To illustrate: Some three centuries after the death of Jesus Christ’s apostles, Gregory of Nazianzus wrote: “Some assume that [the holy spirit] is a power (energeia), some a creature, some that he is God, some cannot decide which of these.”
This is a quote from Gregory’s “Theological Orations 5: On the Holy Spirit” (which you can read here if you are interested). The first thing that jumped out at me was that he said “Some” a total of four times in this very short statement….. all he is doing is telling us what some believe about the Holy Spirit. That tells us nothing about what other people believe, or what the general beliefs of the church might have been, or even about what Gregory himself believes. It just tells you what “some” believed.
What the Watchtower fail to point out is that Gregory did in fact personally believe that the Holy Spirit was in fact God. Later in the very same letter (in section 28 – page 124 if you are checking against the link I posted above) Gregory wrote
“Such is my position, then, with regard to these questions. I hope it will always be my position, and that of whoever is dear to me; to worship the Father as God, the Son as God, and the Holy Spirit as God, three individualities, one divinity, undivided in honour and glory and essence and kingdom”
I honestly don’t think Gregory could have been clearer about his views on the doctrine of the Trinity and his dedication to it. Yet the Watchtower happily ignore this, and instead pull a quote from another section of the same letter, utterly misrepresent what he was saying, and then conclude that nobody on the early church believed in the deity of the Spirit.
They will point out, quite accurately, that the full teaching of the Holy Spirit and the doctrine of the Trinity took time to develop, and that the understanding the we currently hold of these things did not just appear fully formed the moment Jesus ascended to heaven. But the ancient world and the early church worked very differently to our world. Ideas took a long time to form. The church was a scattered, persecuted minority, copies of any sections of the bible were very rare, many people couldn’t even read, there were no organised theological schools and the communication of ideas between communities was very slow. However, when these ideas did begin to take shape, they took shape as a result of an in depth reading and study of the scriptures. It is not that external teachings were laid on top of the bible to introduce new ideas- rather, difficult concepts in God’s sacred word were gradually understood. (It is also interesting to note that Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves hold to doctrines and teachings that would have been utterly alien to the early church, and only surfaced in the last 150 years or so, especially their teaching the Jesus is actually the Archangel Micheal…. so, it’s ironic that they are unwilling to believe teachings that came to be accepted by the early 4th Century, but are happy to accept an idea that only came into existence in the 19th Century).
Any time you see their literature citing early church fathers or other theologians, I would encourage you to find the source and check the context yourself… You’ll usually find they aren’t telling the whole story.
In the next post, I’ll be examining the biblical evidence for the personhood and divinity of the Holy Spirit.