Anti-Trinitarians often employ a number of objections to the personhood of the Holy Spirit that are examples of fallacious arguments from silence. An argument from silence infers from the fact that something is not said that it is being denied, or that it is not true. Arguments from silence seem ubiquitous in religious discourse. However, in order for the silence of a particular text or act of speech to be the basis for any conclusion, we must know that the writer or speaker would have known the point at issue and would have said something about it on that specific occasion if he did. In short, we need to know a lot more than what we usually know about what is in an author or speaker’s mind and what his or her intentions and concerns were. Arguments from silence typically ignore evidence contrary to the assumptions that the person making the argument brings to the subject.

Arguments from silence pertaining to the personhood of the Holy Spirit are perhaps the most common types of arguments used by anti-Trinitarians on this issue. I will address two such arguments here, saving others for later installments.

 

No Name

Anti-Trinitarians routinely argue that the Holy Spirit must not be a person because the Bible never attributes a personal name to him, as it does to the Son (“Jesus”). This is a clear instance of an argument from silence. To support the belief that the Holy Spirit is impersonal, the argument depends on knowing that (a) the Holy Spirit would have a personal name if he were a person, (b) biblical writers would know that personal name for the Holy Spirit if he had one, and (c) they would tell us that personal name if they knew it. Those are a lot of assumptions, for which no evidence can be provided.

It is true that the Son of God has a personal name—Jesus. But he existed as a divine person before he had that name (John 1:1-18; 8:58; 17:5; etc.). So this isn’t much of a precedent, since the Holy Spirit has not become a physical, human being and evidently never will do so.

One may grant that Holy Spirit isn’t a proper name as we would understand it. That is, Holy Spirit isn’t a proper name in the same way that Jesus, Thomas, John, Mary, and Elizabeth are proper names. However, I can think of no reason why the Holy Spirit would need to have a proper name of this sort. The argument from silence presupposes that every person must have such a proper name, but this claim needs to be proven or the argument has no foundation.

In biblical parlance, on the other hand, the term “Holy Spirit” is a name; that is, it is a recognizable designation that distinguishes him from Jesus the Son, from the Father, and from angelic and demonic spirits. Thus the Bible refers to each of the following as a “name” (Greek, onoma): “Father” (Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2; John 17:1, 5, 11, 21, 24, 25); “Christ” (Matt. 24:5; 1 Pet. 4:14, 16); “Jew” (Rom. 2:17); “Lord” (Phil. 2:9-11; cf. Eph. 1:21); “Son” (Heb. 1:4-5); “Word of God” (Rev. 19:13); and “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16).

In any case, the Bible explicitly refers to “Holy Spirit” as a name when it quotes Jesus as saying, “Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). A careful study of Matthew 28:19, I have argued, shows that “Holy Spirit” is one of three names in this text, denoting three distinct persons.

 

No “Face”

Some Jehovah’s Witnesses have suggested that a point against the Holy Spirit being a person is that the Bible never refers to the Holy Spirit having a “face” (prosōpon, a word that sometimes is even paraphrased with the word “person,” as in Gal. 1:22 ESV; 1 Thess. 2:17 ESV, NRSV). The word occurs just 76 times in the New Testament, a fact that calls into question whether one would have any right to expect this particular word to be used in connection with the Holy Spirit as a person.

The fallaciousness of the argument is rather easily illustrated. The New Testament never uses the word prosōpon in reference to any of the demons or unclean spirits. Yet Jehovah’s Witnesses and most other anti-Trinitarians recognize that in New Testament teaching the demons are personal beings, not impersonal forces. I also could not find any New Testament texts using prosōpon in reference to women or children; hopefully we can all agree that this bit of linguistic trivia does not call into question the personhood of women and children!

It is highly doubtful that the New Testament writers had a handbook on their desk (as a matter of fact, they probably didn’t have desks at all!) that included such instructions as, “When referring to persons, be sure to throw in the word prosōpon once or twice so your readers will know they are persons and not forces.”

The argument that the absence of the word prosōpon somehow indicates that the Holy Spirit is not a person is a particularly bad argument.

 

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This entry was posted on Friday, March 15th, 2013 at 9:13 pm and is filed under Biblical studies, Jehovah's Witnesses, New Testament, Trinity. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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