Posts Tagged ‘Holy Spirit’

I’d like to share a brief thought on an issue that comes up with surprising frequency. Very often, when discussing the Bible’s teachings with others, I am told that I am going about it the wrong way by trying to understand what the Bible says using my reasoning. There are many variations on this theme:

  • You can’t understand the Bible with your intellect because the Bible is spiritual.
  • You can’t understand the Bible using reason because God is beyond reason.
  • You can’t understand the Bible on your own because you need ______________ (our church, our bishops, the magisterium, a living prophet, additional scripture, the priesthood, a burning in the bosom, revelation from the Holy Spirit, our organization, our literature, etc.).

You get the idea. Suffice it to say, I’m doing it all wrong. Or so I’m told. We’re talking about the Bible, I make some point about what it’s saying in context or some such thing, and all of a sudden a penalty flag is on the field. The ref announces “Offside!” and the ball is taken by the other team. (I almost never use football analogies, so that one’s for my friends in Alabama.) Read the rest of this entry »

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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,[1] 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 »

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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 »

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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 »

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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 »

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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 »

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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 »

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Anti-Trinitarians often argue that the Holy Spirit is “missing” in many biblical passages where one might expect him to be mentioned, if the doctrine of the Trinity is true. For example, they notice that Paul’s salutations usually mention both the Father and the Son but never mention the Holy Spirit (e.g., “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” Rom. 1:7). Jesus once said, “No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27). Why didn’t Jesus mention that the Holy Spirit knew the Father and the Son? When Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not the angels in heaven, nor even the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32), why didn’t Jesus say “but only the Father and the Holy Spirit”? New Testament visions of heaven often include visions of the Father and the Son, but not of the Holy Spirit (for example, Acts 7:55-56). Examples of arguments of this type could easily be multiplied; virtually any text in the Bible that mentions the Father and the Son but not the Holy Spirit could potentially be viewed as grist for this mill.

I addressed this question in a debate with Oneness Pentecostal pastor Robert Sabin back in the early 1990s (see video below). In the rest of this post, I will go into further detail dealing with the specific biblical passages cited by anti-Trinitarians.


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