The Watchtower teach that the Holy Spirit is nothing more than God’s ‘active force’, and have marshalled a number of arguments to deny both the personhood and the divinity of the Holy Spirit, some of which have been dealt with in the first two posts in this series (part 1, and part 2).
In this post, rather than dealing with any more of the attacks on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, we will be examining the biblical evidence to support teaching that the He is in fact a person as well as fully God.
The bible is a book with multiple genres and styles. It isn’t just a narrative or factual account (like a biography or a newspaper article). Rather it contains poetry, history, letters, biography, and wisdom literature. And within each of these, there are subsections that need to be interpreted with different rules. The most fundamental rule of interpreting the bible is to first establish the intended message of the author. For example, if you read the gospels they are generally a narrative about Jesus’ life (a biography), but then within this there are times when we don’t take everything we read literally, but rather we look at the context and interpret what we read according to different rules. So, when we read about Jesus healing a leper or speaking in a syngagogue, we look at these as an account of real events and interpret them accordingly. However, when Jesus tells a parable (which is always clearly indicated in the text) we realise he isn’t telling us about something that happened, but he is rather giving us wisdom and teaching in the form of a story that we need to interpret in order to see what He was trying to teach us. But in John 15 where Jesus says “I am the true vine” we don’t think that he had grapes sprouting of him, and when he called Himself “The Door” in John 10 we don’t imagine him with hinges. Rather, we recognise that he is using metaphor to teach us important truths about himself in ways that are memorable and powerful. Similarly, when we read Isaiah 40:31 (“Those who wait on the Lord…. will soar on wings like eagles…”) we don’t for a moment imagine that once someone becomes a Christian they should start growing feathers.
In an attempt to support their claim that the Holy Spirit is nothing more than some kind of impersonal force, the Watchtower writers try to blur the lines of context and genre around passages that include the Holy Spirit to try to explain away certain things that He does. In spite of their best efforts, it isn’t difficult to see how misleading this is.
In Acts 13 we read about a group of prophets and teachers at Antioch. Paul and Barnabas, who were part of this church, are commissioned for their first missionary journey.
‘While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them”. Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off’
So look at these verses. The Holy Spirit speaks directly and clearly to the disciples- so He gives commands which they respond to. And this is not just a private vision or experience that was later related to the rest of the group, it clearly says that He spoke to all of them while they were worshipping. He also uses a first person pronoun “for me“. From the fact that He selected these two men, He had a mission in mind for them, and He acted to instigate this mission, we clearly see that He has a mind, intentions, a will, and is capable of planning and acting independently. It would be hard to make it any clearer that this is a distinct person. And this happened in the middle of a narrative, with no indication that it is to be read as anything other than a real life event.
Although I won’t fully unpack them at length there are many other indications that the Spirit has all the attributes of a person – He can be lied to (Acts 5), which indicates again that He has a mind (how on earth could you lie to an impersonal force like electricity?), He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30), meaning that He has emotions and reacts to people, He can be lied to (Acts 5), He apportions gifts (1 Corinthians 12) meaning that He chooses and intentionally distributes things to individuals, He comforts, guides and teaches believers (John chapters 14 and 16)…. the list goes on and on. We are not dealing with an isolated and vague reference here. The New Testament is filled with references to the Holy Spirit freely and consciously thinking, planning, working, and interacting with believers. It takes a great deal of mental acrobatics and willful self-deception to see all of this and still insist that He is an impersonal force.
It is necessary to keep in mind (as the Watchtower repeatedly point out) that the Old Testament references to the Spirit are far from clear as regards to His personality. However, all this shows is that at that point in God’s unfolding plan of salvation the Spirit had not been as fully revealed. It is an argument from silence to assert that the scarcity of Old Testament evidence to his personality in any way disproves what the New Testament so clearly reveals.
In the final post on this series we will be examining the biblical evidence for the deity of the Holy Spirit.