[Editor’s note: This is a rather long question with a fairly short answer.  See below]


When we say to an anti-Trinitarian that the Holy Spirit is a person because in the scriptures we find personal characteristics they say that the personality of the Holy Spirit is not allegorical or symbolic. They say that the scriptures present an allegorical way to present the Spirit and so it is not a person but only an impersonal force presented like a person in an allegorical way.  Could you have a look at their argumentation below and give to me your response?  Thank you very much.
“” Some scriptural passages seem to describe the Holy Spirit as apparently engaging in personal activity. Does this mean that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person?

While at first this might seem to indicate as much, it doesn’t really prove that at all. In the languages of Bible times, nonpersonal things were sometimes described in personal ways and as having personlike activities.

For example, in Genesis 4:10 God says to Cain: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.” Here Abel’s shed blood is described as having a “voice” that “cries out” from the ground. Yet clearly this is figurative language, as blood has no voice and cannot speak.

Similarly, in the book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified as calling aloud and crying out (Proverbs 1:20-21). Proverbs 8 describes wisdom as crying out, standing on a high hill, calling to men, speaking, having lips and a mouth, loving and being loved, having children and having accompanied and rejoiced with God. Yet obviously wisdom is not a person and does none of these things in a literal sense!

Likewise, Psalms 65:13 describes valleys shouting for joy and singing. Psalms 96:11-12 attributes emotions to the heavens, earth and fields. Psalms 98:8 says the rivers clap their hands. Psalms 148:4-5 describes the skies and rain praising God.

Isaiah 3:26 says the gates of the city of Jerusalem will lament and mourn. Isaiah 14:8 speaks of cypress trees rejoicing and cedar trees talking. Isaiah 35:1 ascribes emotions to the wilderness and says the desert will rejoice. Isaiah 44:23 and Isaiah 49:13 describe mountains, forests, trees and the heavens singing.

Isaiah 55:12 says that hills will break into singing and trees will clap their hands. In Habakkuk 2:11 stones and timbers are described as talking to each other.

We find similar personifications of nonpersonal things in the New Testament as well. Matthew 11:19 speaks of wisdom having children. Romans 6 says that sin enslaves and reigns over human beings (Romans 6:6; Romans 6:12; Romans 6:16). In Romans 10:6 righteousness is described as speaking. In 1 John 5:8 water and blood are said to testify and agree.

Yet clearly none of these things happen literally. At times the Bible similarly applies such figurative language to the Holy Spirit, ascribing activity to it as though it were a person. Yet the Bible also describes the Holy Spirit in ways that clearly show it is not a person.

The majority of New Testament texts reveal God’s spirit as something, not someone; this is especially seen in the parallelism between the spirit and the power of God. When a quasi-personal activity is ascribed to God’s spirit, e.g., speaking, hindering, desiring, dwelling (Acts 8:29; Acts 16:7; Romans 8:9), one is not justified in concluding immediately that in these passages God’s spirit is regarded as a Person; the same expressions are used also in regard to rhetorically personified things or abstract ideas.

Thus we see that in some cases where the Holy Spirit is described in a personal activity, we should understand this as God using the Holy Spirit as the power or agency through which He acts.

Consider, for example, that if a man’s hand takes hold of a book and lifts it, we can say the man lifted the book. This does not make the hand a separate person. Nor does it mean that the hand is the man. The hand is merely part of, or an extension of, the man. And it is the agency through which the man is acting. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is the agency through which God—Father or Son or both—acts. “”


This is not an unreasonable point these people make.  It is not a completely biased attack as so many criticisms of Christianity are.  Yet, the case for this is weak if we look at the Bible.  Although there are some situations in which Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit that calling it a personification works (and the examples below from the OT are examples of personification), there are at least as many for which calling it a personification is downright silly.

For an example of a reference to the Holy Spirit where personification is not a crazy idea, I would use John 16:13.  “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”  The use here is not completely like the use of “wisdom” in Proverbs, which is clearly a personification.  I would say that it is not unreasonable to think that John 16:13 might be a personification, although I do not believe that this is the most likely interpretation.

However, consider an example for which personification simply does not work.  In Matthew 28:19 the disciples are told to baptize the disciples that they make of all nations, “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  It is beyond awkward, approaching ludicrous to imply that the Son of the Holy Spirit are a personification here.  Baptize in the name of a personification?  OK, maybe, but not likely, but when the Son and the Spirit are used equally with the Father, then personification simply does not work at all.  Another example is John 1:1, followed by John 1:14.  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was God.”  and “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  Again, the Word who became flesh and lived among us is absolutely and without question a reference to the person Jesus of Nazareth.  Then, when we go back to Matthew 28:19, that the Holy Spirit is a person is unambiguous.

So, the argument this person makes is not outrageous, but given the sum of passages, it simply does not work.  The Holy Spirit is a “person.”  He is not a personification of a quality.

John Oakes

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