The Bible’s Viewpoint
Is the Holy Spirit a Person?
WHAT is God’s holy spirit? In its opening words, the Bible speaks of the holy spirit—also rendered “God’s active force”—as “moving to and fro over the surface of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) In the account of Jesus’ baptism, while God is described as being in “the heavens,” the holy spirit appears “descending like a dove” upon Jesus. (Matthew 3:16, 17) Additionally, Jesus spoke of the holy spirit as a “helper.”—John 14:16.
These and other Bible passages have led some to conclude that the holy spirit is a person, just as God, Jesus, and the angels are individual spirit persons. In fact, for centuries some of the most influential religions of Christendom have attributed personality to the holy spirit. Despite this long-standing doctrine, many church members remain confused, and some even disagree with their religious leaders. For instance, according to a recent survey, 61 percent of those interviewed believe that God’s spirit is “a symbol of God’s presence or power but is not a living entity.” What, though, does the Bible say?
What the Bible Says
An honest Bible reader cannot help but conclude that the holy spirit differs from official church descriptions of it as a person. Consider the following Bible accounts.
1. When Mary, the mother of Jesus, visited her cousin Elizabeth, the Bible says that the unborn child in Elizabeth’s womb leaped, “and Elizabeth was filled with holy spirit.” (Luke 1:41) Is it reasonable that a person would be “filled” with another person?
2. When John the Baptizer spoke to his disciples about Jesus as the one who would succeed him, John said: “I, for my part, baptize you with water . . . , but the one coming after me is stronger than I am, whose sandals I am not fit to take off. That one will baptize you people with holy spirit.” (Matthew 3:11) John could hardly have been referring to the holy spirit as a person when he spoke of baptizing people with it.
3. While visiting a Roman army officer and his family, the apostle Peter spoke of Jesus as having been anointed by God “with holy spirit and power.” (Acts 10:38) Shortly afterward, “the holy spirit fell upon” the army officer’s household. The account says that many were amazed “because the free gift of the holy spirit was being poured out also upon people of the nations.” (Acts 10:44, 45) Here again, the terms used are inconsistent with the idea of the holy spirit being a person.
It is not unusual for God’s Word to personify things that are not a person. These include wisdom, discernment, sin, death, and undeserved kindness. (Proverbs 8:1–9:6; Romans 5:14, 17, 21; 6:12) Jesus himself said that “wisdom is proved righteous by all its children,” or its good results. (Luke 7:35) Clearly, wisdom is not a person that has literal children! Likewise, the holy spirit is not a person simply because in some instances it is personified.
What Is the Holy Spirit?
In the Bible, God’s holy spirit is identified as God’s power in action. Hence, an accurate translation of the Bible’s Hebrew text refers to God’s spirit as “God’s active force.” (Genesis 1:2) This concept is well supported throughout the Bible.—Micah 3:8; Luke 1:35; Acts 10:38.
Contrary to popular belief, God is not present everywhere at all times. Rather, he dwells in the spirit realm, in an “established place of dwelling,” or residence. (1 Kings 8:39; 2 Chronicles 6:39) The Scriptures also refer to a specific place where God lives and has his “throne.” (1 Kings 22:19; Isaiah 6:1; Daniel 7:9; Revelation 4:1-3) However, from his “established place of dwelling,” he can use his active force to reach out into every corner of both the spirit realm and the physical realm.—Psalm 139:7.
Back in 1879, Bible scholar Charles L. Ives aptly illustrated God’s ability to exercise his power from a fixed location. He wrote: “For example, we say, ‘Open the shutters, and let the sun come into the room.’ We mean, not the real, bodily sun, but the solar ray, that which proceeds from the sun.” Similarly, God has no need to travel to the locations where he intends to use his active force. He simply employs his holy spirit, which can reach to the extremities of creation. Seeing the holy spirit for what it is—God’s powerful active force—can give you confidence that Jehovah will fulfill his promises.
HAVE YOU WONDERED?
▪ Does the Bible teach that the holy spirit is a person?—Acts 10:44, 45.
▪ What is the holy spirit?—Genesis 1:2.
▪ How far-reaching is God’s holy spirit?—Psalm 139:7.