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Is the Holy Spirit a Person or Thing?

Is the Holy Spirit a Person or Thing?

Is the Holy Spirit a Person or Thing?
Is the Holy Spirit a Person or Thing?

The Holy Spirit has sometimes been called the “forgotten” member of the Trinity. We automatically think of the Father when we think of God, and Jesus Christ is our Savior and Lord. All too often, though, little attention is given to the Spirit.

There is a sad reality to this assessment, because first, the Spirit is God and thus deserves our utmost focus, and second, he is a precious gift to believers, providing vital resources for us to live the spiritual life. Not only is it he who gives us spiritual life (John 3:5–8), it is also he who nurtures us spiritually, giving us the ability to mature in godliness (Romans 8:1–16; Galatians 5:16–25). We dare not neglect him, for to do so is to miss out on so much that God intends for us. As we will see in the next three chapters, the Spirit has been sent to work for our benefit in amazing ways.


Person and Power

As we get to know the Spirit better, we must first acknowledge him as a person. Throughout church history, several Christian groups have denied this fact, e.g., Socinians (a thoroughly heretical group that denied most of the faith’s foundational truths), and Unitarians (who deny God’s Trinitarian nature). These have understood the Spirit as a way of referring to the power of God—an impersonal thing rather than a personal being.

It is true that the Spirit is closely associated with God’s power. When Gabriel told Mary she was going to bear a baby—Messiah—even though she was a virgin, he explained, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). Paul wrote, “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4 NASB; see also Micah 3:8). The Spirit was responsible for empowering Jesus during his life on earth (Luke 4:14; see also Acts 10:38).

However, this does not mean that “the Holy Spirit equals God’s power.” Rather, and significantly, the Holy Spirit himself is a channel of God’s power. It is precisely this power that is made available to weak people like us so that we can do what God calls us to do and be what God calls us to be (Acts 1:8; Romans 8:26; 15:13; Ephesians 3:16).

Is the Holy Spirit a Person or Thing?
Is the Holy Spirit a Person or Thing?

How the Spirit Is Revealed As a Person

A number of lines of biblical evidence show that the Spirit is a person.
First, by definition a person is a being with intelligence, emotion, and will. The Spirit has all three: Paul refers to the “mind of the Spirit” (Romans 8:27, intelligence); he reminds us that the Spirit can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30, emotion); and he says that the Spirit distributes spiritual gifts “just as he determines” (1 Corinthians 12:11, will).

Second, the Spirit performs the kinds of actions a person performs. For example, as Paul was spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Spirit was directing him as to where he should and should not go (Acts 16:6–10). The Spirit intercedes or prays for Christians (Romans 8:26). He does miraculous works (Acts 8:39).

Third, the grammar of John 16:13–14 is worth noting. Normally, a pronoun matches in gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter) the noun it replaces. The Greek noun translated “spirit” is pneuma (which is neuter). Yet John (recording Jesus’ words) uses the masculine pronoun (he) twice:

When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. (The non-italicized masculine pronouns are implied in the verbs.)

Normal usage of the language did not include a personal identification for spirit, but John recorded what technically was grammatically incorrect in order to be theologically correct in clarifying that the Spirit is a person, not a thing.

This is important practically because we cannot have a personal relationship with a thing, only with another person. Being a Christian means we are in a personal relationship with the triune God—three persons in one divine essence. As is true of any relationship that matters to us, we should want to nurture our relationship with God the Father and with God the Son and with God the Spirit.

For instance, even though there are no biblical examples, I believe it is theologically correct and spiritually vital that we talk to the Spirit (pray)—ask him for his help and ask him to do what God has promised he will do for us through his Spirit. In the next two chapters, we also will see that we are to live by, be led by, and follow the Spirit (Galatians 5:16–25). All of this implies a healthy and growing personal relationship with the Holy Spirit.


How the Spirit Is Revealed As God

As we acknowledge the Spirit’s personhood, we also must acknowledge his deity—he is fully God, equal in every way with the Father and the Son.
For one thing, he has the attributes that make God God. For example, Psalm 139:7 seems to assume his omnipresence: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” As we have seen, he is the channel of God’s power, implying his omnipotence. His full title—Holy Spirit—assumes the divine attribute of holiness.

Further, the Spirit does what God does. He was involved in creation (Genesis 1:2; Psalm 104:30; this also implies omnipotence). He inspired Scripture (2 Samuel 23:2; 2 Peter 1:21). He gives life (John 6:64).
Also, the Spirit is mentioned equally with the Father and Son in, for instance, the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19; see also 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 Peter 1:2).

Therefore, not only do we need to nurture our relationship with the Holy Spirit because he is a person, we also need to worship and adore him because he is God.

Is the Holy Spirit a Person or Thing?
Is the Holy Spirit a Person or Thing?


Many Christians refer to the Holy Spirit with the pronoun it, as in, “The Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost—it gave the Christians great power to witness for Jesus.” Although probably or usually not intentional, this is essentially a denial of his personhood. Even worse, this could be taken as demeaning of the Spirit, like with the frustrated child who, agitated with her younger brother, demands of her mom, “Tell IT to leave me alone!” Let’s discipline ourselves to refer to the Spirit with personal pronouns: he, him, his.

NASB New American Standard Bible

Aaron, D. (2012) Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, pp. 122–126.

Is the Holy Spirit a Person or Thing?

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