How do we know the Holy Spirit is a Person?
This article by Justin Taylor first appeared at the Gospel Coalition website.
One potential argument that the Holy Spirit is a person is to look at the Greek words in John 14:26, 15:26, and 16:13-14. There we see that the antecedent of the masculine ?κε?νος (a masculine word for “that person”) is πνε?μα (a neuter word for “Spirit”). Hence, so the argument goes, the Spirit is a person. Unfortunately, that argument likely doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
A more fruitful approach is first to ask a question almost no one asks: how do we know that the Father is a person? How about the Son?
The answer is that the Bible presents a person as a substance that can do personal and relational things (such as speaking, thinking, feeling, acting). Something that does these personal things in relationship—like God, angels, and human beings—is a person.
How does the Holy Spirit fare up under this criteria?
1. The Spirit teaches and reminds.
John 14:26, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."
1 Corinthians 2:13, “We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual."
2. The Spirit speaks.
Acts 8:29, “the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot.’
Acts 13:2, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'”
3. The Spirit makes decisions.
Acts 15:28, “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements.”
4. The Spirit can be grieved.
Ephesians 4:30, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
5. The Spirit can be outraged.
Hebrews 10:29, “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has . . . outraged the Spirit of grace?”
6. The Spirit can be lied to.
Acts 5:3, 4, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? . . . You have not lied to men but to God‘”
7. The Spirit can forbid or prevent human speech and plans.
Acts 16:6-7, “they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”
8. The Spirit searches everything and comprehends God’s thoughts.
1 Corinthians 2:10-11, “the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. . . . no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
9. The Spirit apportions spiritual gifts.
1 Corinthians 12:11, “the same Spirit . . . apportions [spiritual gifts] to each one individually as he wills.”
10. The Spirit helps us, intercedes for us, and has a mind.
Romans 8:26-27, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
11. The Spirit bears witness to believers about their adoption
Romans 8:16, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
12. The Spirit bears witness to Christ.
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me."
13. The Spirit glorifies Christ, takes what is Christ, and declares it to believers.
John 16:14, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds.