One of the many popular anti-Trinitarian arguments against the personhood of the Holy Spirit has to do with the Greek word pneuma, translated “Spirit” or “spirit” depending on context. (A similar argument is used with regards to the Hebrew word ruach, but we’ll focus here on the New Testament.) Anti-Trinitarians often appeal to the etymology, or word origin, for pneuma, pointing out that it originates from a Greek verb meaning “to blow,” which doesn’t sound like a promising derivation for the name of a person. Or in a related argument, they will argue that the “root,” “basic,” or “literal” meaning of the word pneuma is “breath” or “wind,” and from there conclude that the Holy Spirit is merely an impersonal force that issues from God.
Both the argument from etymology and the argument from a word’s supposedly “basic” meaning are exegetically fallacious forms of reasoning. Biblical scholars have been warning against these “word-study” fallacies for years, but most Bible readers, whether anti-Trinitarian or Trinitarian, have not gotten the memo, so the former keep using the arguments and the latter keep being flummoxed by them. As has often been pointed out, the English word nice derives etymologically from the Latin word nescio, which meant “ignorant,” but this tells us nothing about the meaning of the word nice! Read the rest of this entry »
Perhaps the specific argument against the personhood of the Holy Spirit that I see the most appeals to the parallelism in Luke 1:35, in which Gabriel says the following to Mary:
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you….”
Anti-Trinitarians commonly argue that in this statement “the Holy Spirit” is parallel to, and therefore synonymous with, “the power of the Most High.” They conclude that this verse teaches that the Holy Spirit is the power of God, meaning, they claim, either that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force of power that in some way emanates from God or is an abstraction for the divine attribute of God’s power.
There are at least two problems with this argument. Read the rest of this entry »
A really bad argument from silence is the claim that the Holy Spirit is not a person because he is not mentioned in certain passages. Chief among the offending texts are the salutations—the opening greetings in the New Testament epistles that usually read something like “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Anti-Trinitarians commonly infer from the “absence” of the Holy Spirit in these texts that he is not a person.
Besides being an obvious argument from silence, this argument overlooks contrary evidence. The Holy Spirit is mentioned in one of the New Testament epistle salutations: Read the rest of this entry »
Another bad argument some anti-Trinitarians use is to reason that the Holy Spirit is not a person because no biblical text reports a conversation between the Holy Spirit and someone else. This argument supposedly trumps the positive evidence of the various texts that report the Holy Spirit speaking (e.g., Acts 1:16; 13:1-4; 28:25; Heb. 3:7). Yes, the anti-Trinitarian argues, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit said something, but it never reports anyone responding to the Holy Spirit; there is never any two-way communication between the Holy Spirit and someone else. The Bible reports conversations between the Father and the Son, between Jesus and the devil, and between human beings; so why, if the Holy Spirit is a person, is he never reported to have participated in a two-way conversation?
Here again, the anti-Trinitarian has manufactured an argument that seems to fit the biblical data on this narrow matter of usage, but that assumes that the Bible should present the Holy Spirit in a certain way in order to warrant readers understanding that the Holy Spirit is a person. But we have no reason to place such a demand on Scripture—which is to say, we have no reason to place such a demand on God in the way he reveals truth to us. The argument fallaciously reasons from the “silence” of the text about any conversations involving the Holy Spirit to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is not a person.
A few moments’ reflection can generate several if not many examples of other persons in the Bible for whom we happen not to have any report of them engaged in conversation. Read the rest of this entry »
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. Read the rest of this entry »
Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, and many other anti-Trinitarians raise a number of fallacious objections against the orthodox Christian belief that the Holy Spirit is a person distinct from both the Father and the Son. One such objection is that the Bible uses neuter pronouns in reference to the Holy Spirit. One can see this sometimes in English translations such as the KJV, for example in Paul’s statement, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:16 KJV). Here the English neuter pronoun “itself” translates the Greek neuter pronoun auto. The masculine pronoun “himself” would be autos, not auto. Such neuter pronouns are commonly used in New Testament references to the Holy Spirit. Many anti-Trinitarians view this usage as indicating that the Holy Spirit is impersonal, perhaps a force or energy that comes from God, or perhaps God’s immanent mode of communication and manifestation.
The objection may be properly answered in several ways, but here I simply wish to focus directly on the crucial premise of the objection, which is that the use of neuter pronouns signals an impersonal object or abstraction as the pronoun’s referent. The claim is simply and unequivocally false. For the sake of those with little or no knowledge of the biblical languages, I will explain the matter as simply and completely as possible. Fortunately, it’s really not complicated. Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Witherington III, a well-known evangelical New Testament scholar, recently posted an article on “Why Mormonism is not Christianity.” William J. Hamblin, a Mormon scholar, swiftly responded on his blog with a critique of Witherington’s six criticisms of Mormon belief. The two articles may be read here:
Ben Witherington III, “Why Mormonism Is Not Christianity—the Issue of Christology,” Patheos, 27 Aug. 2012.
Bill Hamblin, “Are Mormons Christians? Witherington Says No,” Mormon Scripture Explorations (blog), 28 Aug. 2012.
For the most part, Hamblin misses the point, as I shall explain. In fact, much of Hamblin’s response misses the context of Witherington’s six points, which are not presented as “six reasons why he believes Mormons are not Christians,” as Hamblin claims. In fact Witherington is very clear as to what the six points represent. Read the rest of this entry »
Anti-Trinitarians often accuse those who believe in the Trinity of believing the Creeds over or against or instead of simply believing the Bible. This objection assumes that the Creeds do not faithfully teach what the Bible teaches. Although Catholic and Orthodox Christians typically view the Creeds as having dogmatic authority, evangelical Protestants typically do not. We believe the Creeds inasmuch as, and insofar as, we find them in agreement with the Bible.
In what follows, I will quote in full the Nicene Creed and the Definition of Chalcedon, along with biblical citations enclosed in brackets, and with no interpretive or explanatory comments. No doubt anti-Trinitarians will object to the way some of these biblical passages are understood within the Trinitarian theological framework. Nevertheless, this exercise ought to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that the intent of the Creeds is simply to state in a formal, systematic, confessional way what its authors understood the Bible to teach about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and especially about the person of Jesus Christ as both fully God and fully human. Read the rest of this entry »
Once a year, the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature hold their annual conventions back to back, usually in the same city. This year ETS met in Providence, Rhode Island, November 19-21, and SBL is meeting in Boston, November 21-24. The Evangelical Philosophical Society, in addition to having sessions at ETS and SBL, also co-sponsors an annual apologetics conference to coincide with ETS; this year it is meeting in Smithfield, Rhode Island, November 20-22.
Attending as much of these meetings as possible has been on the must-do list for me for a few years now. Read the rest of this entry »
If you do not believe the doctrine of the Trinity, and favor another view yourself, I am going to give you some free advice. I am going to tell you exactly what you need to do in order to defend your non-Trinitarian position as a superior alternative to the Trinitarian view. I know, this is very generous of me, but in the interests of full disclosure I think it only fair to make this information available to the opponents of the doctrine of the Trinity. Read the rest of this entry »