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The Great Trinity Debate, Part 4: Rob Bowman on the Holy Spirit

Due to space limitations, I will focus in this round on defending the Trinitarian position that the Holy Spirit is a divine person and refuting the claim that the Holy Spirit is simply God’s power or divine force. As I see it, the question of whether the Holy Spirit is a person or God’s power is the critical issue that separates my view of the Holy Spirit from Dave’s, so it will be the focus of my argument here.

A. Common Unitarian Arguments

Before I present a positive case for my position, I will address three common arguments that Unitarians and many other anti-Trinitarians use to disprove that the Holy Spirit is a person.

1. Definition by Parallelism

A common strategy that anti-Trinitarians use to show that the Holy Spirit is not a person but is simply the power of God involves an argumentative strategy that I will call the definition-by-parallelism fallacy. The classic example in this context is the use of Luke 1:35 to prove that the Holy Spirit is simply another term for the power of God. In Luke 1:35, the angel Gabriel tells Mary that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Anthony Buzzard, for example, asserts that this text proves that “spirit and power are interchangeable terms” (Buzzard and Hunting, Doctrine of the Trinity, 228).

If this reasoning were to be followed consistently, it would lead to the conclusion that God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the gospel are all “the power of God”:

“power of God” = God the Father (Luke 22:69)
“power of God” = Christ, the Son (1 Cor. 1:24)
“power of the Most High [God]” = the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35)
“power of God” = the gospel/word of the cross (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18)

This method of handling biblical expressions like “power of God” is hermeneutically fallacious.

2. The Meaning of “Spirit”

Anti-Trinitarians often appeal to lexical evidence to prove that the word “spirit” (pneuma in Greek) denotes, not a person, but a force or energy. “The fact that ‘spirit’ and ‘breath’ are translations of the same Hebrew and Greek words point to the root meaning of spirit as God’s creative power, the energy behind His utterance” (Buzzard and Hunting, Doctrine of the Trinity, 227).

This approach to “word study” is highly problematic, as hermeneutical scholars who have brought the modern discipline of linguistics to bear on biblical studies have repeatedly explained. Words do not have some sort of irreducible “root meaning” that limits or defines its sense in every usage.

In those few occurrences in the NT where one might translate pneuma as “breath” or “wind,” the word refers metaphorically to angels (Heb. 1:7), a demon (Rev. 13:15), or to God’s Spirit (John 3:8; 2 Thess. 2:7; probably Rev. 11:11). The NT never uses pneuma to refer simply to physical breath or wind. This is worth noting, considering the fact that the word occurs 379 times in the NT.

With regard to the word “spirit” (pneuma), NT usage falls almost entirely into fairly well defined and distinct meanings. Setting aside references to the Holy Spirit, most or all other uses of the term fall into one of the following three categories:

(1) Incorporeal persons or entities (about 67 times). The NT explicitly refers to God (John 4:24), Christ (1 Cor. 15:45), angels (Heb. 1:7, 14), demons (about 54 occurrences), departed believers (Heb. 12:23, possibly 12:9), and other generic supernatural beings (Acts 23:8-9, etc.) as pneuma. This category, in which pneuma unambiguously denotes an invisible person or entity, is larger than the next two categories combined. We must consider it a real possibility, then, that pneuma when used of the Holy Spirit also may refer to a person or entity, not a force or energy.

(2) Inner aspect of human beings (about 38 times). Many people assume that references to the pneuma of human beings refer to an impersonal “life force” that energizes them, but in most if not all instances we may just as well understand the word pneuma in these texts to refer to the inner or innermost person. For example, Stephen’s prayer, “Lord Jesus, receive my pneuma” (Acts 7:59) is more likely to mean, not “take my life energy,” but “take me”! James 2:26 may mean simply that the body is dead if the inner person (pneuma) is not united to it. I must also point out that in no NT text can a human being’s pneuma refer to his power. That is, “his [or her] pneuma” (Mark 2:8, etc.), “my pneuma” (Luke 23:46, etc.), and “your pneuma” (Gal. 6:18, etc.) never mean his, her, my, or your power.

(3) Figurative uses (about 6 times). Finally, there are patently figurative uses of pneuma in reference to attitudes, such as “a pneuma of gentleness” (1 Cor. 4:21) or the exhortation to stand firm “in one pneuma, with one soul” (Phil. 1:27). These clearly do not use pneuma to mean power, force, or energy. They are figurative expressions that picture individuals guided internally by a spirit that inspires gentleness, or that picture a group of people so closely united as to function as though one spirit inhabited all of them.

In short: of the 111 (give or take) occurrences of pneuma in the NT that do not refer to the Holy Spirit, a solid majority of them clearly refer to invisible persons, beings, or entities, and all or nearly all of them are consistent with this idea. This means at the very least that the lexical argument does not prove that “Holy Spirit” denotes a divine energy or force. Indeed, the lexical evidence may actually support the view that the Holy Spirit is a person rather than a force or power.

3. No Distinct Person of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

Anti-Trinitarians commonly argue that since the OT does not reveal the Holy Spirit to be a distinct person, he cannot be one in the NT. This argument disallows any progressive revelation of the nature of God, a premise I see no reason to accept.

Actually, I think there are some indications of the personhood of the Spirit in the OT, but nothing that amounts to a clear, direct revelation of that truth (nor anything that would explicitly contradict it). The view that I hold is that the first clear revelation that the Holy Spirit was a divine person distinct from the Father came in Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-16). Prior to that discourse, some references to the Holy Spirit do imply that he is personal, and some may even hint that he is distinct from the Father or the Son, but the Upper Room Discourse contained the first direct exposition on the subject.

B. “Another Paraclete”: The Holy Spirit in John

I turn now to the task of presenting a positive case for my position, beginning with the writings of John, especially the Upper Room Discourse in John 14-16. (All biblical citations in this section are from the Gospel of John unless noted otherwise.) The starting point of the revelation of the person of the Holy Spirit is Christ’s announcement that he was leaving the world and would send in his stead “another Paraclete,” the Holy Spirit (14:16). As many scholars do, I am using the Anglicized transliteration “Paraclete” instead of choosing one of the several conventional translations for the Greek word paraklētos (Helper, Comforter, Advocate, etc.).

Let’s set the context. Jesus and his disciples are at the Last Supper, the night before Jesus died. John introduces the narrative of the Last Supper by explaining that “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world to the Father…and that he had come out from God and was going back [hupagei, “going back, returning, going home”] to God” (13:1, 3). These statements are book-ended (an inclusio) with Jesus’ statement the climax of the Discourse, just before his prayer in John 17: “I came out from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father” (16:28).

Biblical Unitarians agree that Jesus literally left this world and went to the Father in heaven. However, they deny that he literally came out of heaven from the Father. Yet this is what 13:3 and 16:28 clearly say. If the going out of the world to the Father is literal, the coming into the world from the Father in the same statements must also be literal. And in fact we know that it is literal. John even reports the disciples commenting immediately after 16:28, “Lo, now you are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech” (16:29)! The teaching of these two texts flatly contradicts Biblical Unitarianism’s view that the Son’s existence began in his human conception and birth.

The meaning of the Holy Spirit’s coming of which Jesus speaks in the Discourse sandwiched between 13:3 and 16:28 dovetails closely with what these statements say about the Son. The Son is a heavenly, divine person who came out of heaven from the Father into the world. He is about to return to heaven and his glory alongside the Father (see also 17:5). This imminent return to heaven following his death and resurrection is a major theme of the discourse (13:33, 36; 14:2-3, 12, 18-19, 25, 28; 16:5-7, 16-22).

It is in this context that Jesus reveals the coming of the Paraclete. Although Jesus will be leaving them, he will send someone in his place: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (14:16-17a). The words “another Paraclete” imply, of course, that Jesus has been a Paraclete (as John confirms explicitly in 1 John 2:1), and now he is leaving and “another” Paraclete is coming in Jesus’ place. When Jesus goes away, he “will send” the Paraclete to them (16:7). Just as the Son came “from the Father” (para tou patros, 16:28), so also the Paraclete will come “from the Father” (para tou patros, 15:26). That is, like the Son, the Paraclete is a heavenly figure who was with the Father in heaven and will be personally coming to the disciples to be with them. Since the Son was literally someone who came into the world from the Father, the Holy Spirit is also literally someone who was going to come from the Father to be with the disciples as “another” Paraclete.

The term “Paraclete” itself confirms that the Holy Spirit was someone, not just something—a divine person, not a mere force or power. The masculine noun paraklētos is a personal designation or title that denotes someone who encourages, comforts, supports, helps, defends, or otherwise stands alongside, taking the side of, someone else.

Consistent with the fact that paraklētos is a masculine noun, pronouns for which paraklētos is the grammatical antecedent are also masculine (ekeinos, 14:26; 15:26; 16:8, 14; auton, 16:7), while pronouns for which the neuter noun pneuma is the grammatical antecedent are neuter (ho, 14:17a, 26; 15:26; auto, 14:17). This means that John has not let the personhood of the Spirit trump grammatical agreement between pronoun and antecedent noun, as some scholars and apologists still claim. Nor, of course, can one extract an argument against his personhood from the neuter pronouns.

The descriptions of the Paraclete in John pervasively describe the Holy Spirit in terms that echo what the Johannine writings say about the Son, Jesus Christ. In what follows, in most cases I will simply put quotation marks around the key words (that are the same in Greek) that the texts use in reference to both the Son and the Holy Spirit.

  • The Son is a “Paraclete” (1 John 2:1); the Holy Spirit is another “Paraclete” (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).
  • The Son spoke to the disciples while he “remained” with them (14:25); the Holy Spirit will “remain” with the disciples after the Son is no longer physically with them (14:17).
  • God “gave” us the Son (3:16); the Father “will give” the Holy Spirit (14:16).
  • Unbelievers do not “receive” the Son (5:43); they also do not “receive” the Holy Spirit (14:17).
  • The world will not “see” the Son any longer, while believers will “see” him (14:19); the world does not “see” the Holy Spirit (14:17).
  • The world did not “know” the Son (1:10; 16:3) while believers do “know” the Son (10:14; 17:3; 1 John 2:3-4); the world does not “know” the Holy Spirit, while believers do “know” the Holy Spirit (14:17).
  • The Son is “the Truth” (14:6); the Holy Spirit is “the Truth” (1 John 5:6; cf. John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 John 4:6).
  • The Father “sent” the Son (e.g., 14:24; 15:21; 16:5); the Father “will send” the Holy Spirit (14:26, cf. 14:24); the Son “will send” the Holy Spirit (15:26, cf. 15:21; 16:7, cf. 16:5). Notice that in all three of the references to the “sending” of the Holy Spirit, there is in the immediate context a reference to the “sending” of the Son.
  • The Son came in the Father’s name (5:43); the Holy Spirit came in the Son’s name (14:26).
  • The Son “taught” (6:59; 7:14, 28; 8:2, 20; 18:20); the Holy Spirit “will teach” (14:26).
  • The Son told the disciples “all things” that the Father said (15:15); the Holy Spirit will remind the disciples of “all things” that the Son said (14:26).
  • The Son came “from the Father” (16:28); the Holy Spirit came “from the Father” (15:26).
  • The Son “testifies” to the truth and to himself (3:11; 4:44; 5:31; 7:7; 8:14, 18; 13:21; 18:37); the Holy Spirit “testifies” to the Son (15:26).
  • The Son will execute “judgment” of all people (5:22, 27, 30; 8:16); the Holy Spirit will prepare people by convicting the world about “judgment” (16:8, 11).
  • The Son “speaks” (e.g., 16:1, 4, 6, 33; passim); the Holy Spirit “will speak” (16:13).
  • The Son does not act or speak “on his own” (aph’ heautou, 5:19; 7:18; cf. 7:17; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10); likewise, the Holy Spirit will not speak “on his own” (aph’ heautou, 16:13). The deference of the Son to the Father is matched by the deference of the Holy Spirit to the Son.
  • The Son “speaks” what he “heard” from the Father (8:40); the Holy Spirit “will speak” what he “hears” from the Son (16:13).
  • The Son came to glorify the Father (12:28; 14:13; 15:8; 17:1, 4); the Holy Spirit came to glorify the Son (16:14).
  • The Son “will declare” all things (4:25); the Holy Spirit “will declare” the Son’s things (16:14-15).

Raymond Brown, the late Roman Catholic biblical scholar, had it right when he commented, “As another Paraclete, the Paraclete is, as it were, another Jesus” (“The Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel,” NTS 13 [1966-67]: 124).

We Trinitarians commonly point out that according to Jesus the Holy Spirit will be sent, hear, speak, teach, testify, and declare, and that these are actions of a person, not a force. And we’re right, but the argument as commonly presented is not air-tight. Non-Trinitarians can pull on a thread here or there, pointing out that biblical texts occasionally say that Scripture “speaks” or that Jesus’ miracles “testify,” and since Scripture and miracles are not persons, perhaps neither is the Holy Spirit. However, take these and the other elements of what John 14-16 says about the Holy Spirit cumulatively in the context of the narrative in which one person, the Son, is leaving and before he goes promises to send someone like him, the Holy Spirit, in his stead, and the argument really becomes irrefutable.

C. The Holy Spirit as an Actor in the Narrative in the Book of Acts

If the Upper Room Discourse is the first direct revelation of the distinct person of the Holy Spirit, we would expect to see the Holy Spirit become far more prominent in the Bible after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The lexical statistics confirm this expectation. There are less than 100 references to the Spirit in the whole OT, about 58 references to the Spirit (by whatever precise name, including Paraclete) in all four Gospels combined, 57 in just the one Book of Acts, and about 154 in the rest of the NT.

We may expect that the Holy Spirit will appear as a named actor or participant in the biblical narrative for the first time following the death and resurrection of Jesus. Specifically, we may expect to see this in Acts, our only NT writing of a narrative (historical) genre dealing with events following the death and resurrection of Jesus. This expectation is fully met in Acts, as I shall show. (All biblical citations in this section refer to Acts unless stated otherwise.)

The activity of the Holy Spirit begins in the very first sentence of the book: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (1:1-2). The words that Jesus spoke were also in some way the words of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1:16; 11:28; 21:4). This statement also establishes from the outset of the narrative that the Holy Spirit, though associated with Jesus, is not Jesus himself. Acts reflects the same narrative perspective as Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse: Jesus, who was on earth, has risen from the dead and gone to heaven, from where he sent the Holy Spirit from the Father as promised (2:33). Thus, Acts agrees that the Holy Spirit is neither Jesus nor the Father, although he is closely associated with both of them.

Luke reports that Jesus told the apostles that they would be “baptized in the Holy Spirit” (1:5), which meant that “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (1:8). In the OT, whenever a spirit—either the Spirit of the LORD or an evil spirit—would come “upon” a person, that spirit would make him act or speak (for good or ill) with bold abandon (e.g., Judg. 3:10; 11:29; 15:14; 1 Sam. 10:6; 11:6; 16:16, 23; 19:9; Joel 2:28-29). The symptoms of this experience in the period of the judges and kings resembled what we would call possession. This OT background assumed that the “spirit” was a supernatural entity of some kind, not merely a force or energy. Jesus tells the apostles that when the Holy Spirit comes upon them, they will have the power specifically to be his “witnesses” throughout the world. That is, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon them would give them a holy boldness to testify fearlessly to Jesus (4:31; 9:27, 28; 13:46; 14:3; 18:26; 19:8).

In a meeting after Jesus’ ascension, Peter began his remarks as follows: “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold through the mouth of David concerning Judas” (1:16). This is the first of several explicit references in Acts to the Holy Spirit speaking. Other books of the NT also refer to the Holy Spirit speaking (1 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 3:7-11; 10:15-17; 1 Pet. 1:11; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22), but as we shall see the evidence in the Book of Acts is especially difficult to explain away.

On Pentecost, the disciples “were filled with the Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance” (2:4). Later Peter quotes the words of Joel 2:28, “I will pour out from my Spirit upon all flesh” (2:17, 18, cf. 2:33). Anti-Trinitarians routinely ask how a person can “fill” another person, or a person be “poured out.” God, who is infinite, omnipresent being, can do these things. Paul, who also speaks of being “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), says in the same epistle that we are to be “filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19) and that Christ descended and then ascended “so that he could fill all things” (Eph. 4:10). As for being “poured out,” this is an idiom that means to give of oneself completely, and so even human beings can be said to be “poured out” (Ps. 22:14; Isa. 53:12; Phil. 2:17; 2 Tim. 4:6). This sort of language, then, does not prove that the Spirit is a force or energy.

The point about being filled with the Spirit receives some interesting confirmation in the confrontation between Peter and Ananias, when Peter asked, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…?” (5:3). The word “filled” here is the same word (plēroō) that Acts uses to express being “filled” with the Spirit. Luke presents Peter—a man who represents the church “filled with the Spirit” to speak the truth boldly (4:8, 31)—confronting a man whom Satan had “filled” to speak a lie brazenly (5:3). (The close proximity of 4:31 to 5:3 makes this connection quite solid.) Satan, of course, is a spirit, but an evil spirit—the evil spirit—and he stands in perfect contrast here to the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Holy Spirit, like Satan, is an unseen figure who participates in the narrative; both are personal spirits that seek to “fill” people to some end, either for truth or for lies.

In defending the apostolic preaching of Jesus, Peter stated, “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit that God has given to those who obey him” (5:32). Note the coherence between what Jesus told the apostles in the Upper Room Discourse (John 15:26-27) and what Peter, the leader of the apostles, says here. The Holy Spirit is a divine witness confirming the testimony of the human witnesses.

In more than one place in the narrative in Acts, Luke attributes specific statements that he quotes to the Holy Spirit:

  • “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it’” (8:12).
  • “While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them’” (10:19-20; cf. 11:12).
  • “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ …So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit…” (13:2, 4).
  • “And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles”’” (21:11).

These statements by the Holy Spirit are statements that an important figure in the narrative makes that leads to others taking specific actions, such as going places and talking to other people. In some of these statements the Holy Spirit refers to himself as “I” and “me” (10:20; 13:2). The Holy Spirit sends people and calls people to specific missions. In his narrative comments, Luke confirms that the Holy Spirit performs these actions, as when he says that Barnabas and Saul were “sent out by the Holy Spirit.”

In another passage, Luke reports:

“They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (16:6-7).

Here again, the Spirit is active in the narrative, preventing the disciples from going in the wrong direction so they will go the right way (see 16:8-10). Luke refers to the Spirit in 16:7 as “the Spirit of Jesus,” an unusual variation that makes it clear that the Holy Spirit faithfully represents Jesus’ intention or will in directing the disciples’ mission.

In the aftermath of the Jerusalem Council, the apostles and elders sent a letter to Antioch in which they wrote, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials” (15:28). Here the apostles and elders credit the Holy Spirit with being involved in their council deliberations.

Before he left Ephesus, Paul told the elders there that “the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me” (20:23). Once again, the Holy Spirit testifies and speaks. In the same speech, Paul reminded the elders that “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” of the flock (20:28). Paul thus credits the Holy Spirit with appointing people in their church ministries.

Finally, the references to the Holy Spirit at the very beginning and end of Acts (1:2; 28:25-26) have a special significance with regard to the role that the Holy Spirit plays in the book. Richard Bauckham has shown that three of the Gospels employ a literary device of mentioning toward the beginning and the end of each book the primary witness whose testimony stands prominently behind that Gospel’s narrative. Mark mentions Simon (Peter) toward the beginning and end of his Gospel (Mark 1:16; 16:7), a fact that correlates nicely with the strong tradition that Mark’s Gospel was based on Peter’s testimony. In John, the anonymous disciple “whom Jesus loved” is one of the first two disciples mentioned and the last disciple mentioned (John 1:35; 21:24). Luke also makes Simon Peter the first and last named disciple of Jesus in his Gospel (Luke 4:38; 24:34). Thus, these three Gospels, including Luke, use this literary device of an inclusio to identify the primary witness who observed the events and whose testimony is the basis for the historical narrative (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony [2008], 124-27).

Luke continues the use of this device in Acts, where the Holy Spirit appears in the narrative, not only at the very beginning and end of the book (1:2; 28:25-26), but as a participant at key points throughout the book. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost to launch the Christian movement (2:4, 17-18, 33, 38). He emboldened the apostles to maintain their witness in the face of opposition (4:8, 25, 31; 5:32). His presence emboldened Stephen as he became the first Christian witness to be martyred for his faith (7:51, 55). He directed the taking of the gospel outside the Jewish people for the first time to the Samaritans (8:15, 17) and the Ethiopian (8:29, 39). He filled the church’s archenemy Saul as part of the process of turning him into the church’s greatest missionary (9:17). He directed Peter to preach to pagan Gentiles for the first time and supernaturally validated their faith (10:19, 44-47; 11:12, 15-16; 15:8). He sent Barnabas and Saul (Paul) on the first evangelistic mission outside the region of the Promised Land (13:2, 4). He participated in the decision of the Jerusalem Council to admit Gentiles into Christian fellowship without requiring their submission to the Mosaic Law (15:28). He directed Paul’s missionary travels, preventing him from staying in Eastern Europe in order to move him in the more strategic direction of Western Europe (16:6-10). He warned Paul that he was going to be imprisoned and persecuted for his efforts (20:22-23; 21:4, 11).

Thus, from beginning to end, Luke is letting the reader know that the Holy Spirit was there, was involved as an active participant, and was a witness to the events that Luke narrates in his book. The Holy Spirit is the primary “witness” who was present during the events and whose testimony is the basis for the book’s historical narrative.

D. Conclusion: Person or Personification?

Anti-Trinitarians often argue that “personal” language for the Holy Spirit is personification, a form of figurative language in which an impersonal object or abstraction is spoken of as if it were a person. They frequently cite the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 1-9 as precedent. However, this argument ignores the genres and contexts of the different passages. Proverbs 1-9 is a highly poetic section of a book in the genre of “wisdom literature,” in which wisdom is portrayed in colorful, indisputably metaphorical terms. Thus, wisdom is a lady crying out in the streets and at the city gates (1:20-21; 8:1-3). Lady Wisdom has built a house with seven pillars, and she throws a party at her house with food, wine, and young women and invites men to come to her party rather than that of her rival, Madame Foolishness (Prov. 9)! This is not historical narrative, as is the Book of Acts. Nor is Solomon presenting wisdom as a figure that will literally be part of the young man’s own real-life story.

By contrast, the Holy Spirit in John is a real person, similar in many ways to Jesus the Son, whom Jesus promises to send from heaven after he returns there to the Father. In Acts, the Holy Spirit comes from heaven as Jesus promised and is an active participant and major witness of the events in Luke’s historical narrative. The “personification” explanation simply does not work.

We have, then, compelling evidence in the NT, especially in John and Acts, that the Holy Spirit is a divine person, distinct from the Father and the Son. This means that Unitarianism is incompatible with the NT. Given that the Holy Spirit is either God himself or an aspect of God’s being, the evidence that he is a person distinct from the Father shows that the Trinitarian understanding of the Holy Spirit best accounts for the NT teaching.

27 Responses to “The Great Trinity Debate, Part 4: Rob Bowman on the Holy Spirit”

  1. I’m pleased to see how thoroughly both sides of this debate have been presented. Thanks to both Dave and Rob for their contributions.

    I suppose it was always going to happen, but it’s a little disappointing that there’s so little acceptance of each other’s points of view; yes, the apostles preached Jesus the man, but also, yes we can call on Jesus as Lord in prayer.
    Jesus was predestined before the foundation of the earth and is the only being together with God to be immortal. This timelessness of Jesus has some impressive implications on his nature (past and present!).

    But I don’t see either Dave or Rob admitting any ground to the other in these (and many other) respects. Will we see more compromise in the conclusions perhaps?

    Also, some discussion on the implications of “what if we’re wrong” would be useful. Can a non-Trinitarian fellowship with a Trinitarian, for example?

    Thanks. Looking forward to reading some more in due course.

  2. Some thoughts on round 4 both here and here.

  3. I hope the two of you plan to interact in the comments section again as you did for the first couple of posts, because it is in the cross-examination section where your arguments are really tested. Without that interaction and testing, people on both sides are left hanging with unanswered questions. What may seem like a good point raised by side A may in fact be weak and fallacious, but if it is never addressed by side B, the audience will leave thinking it is a good point for the other side.

  4. Andrew,

    I fully agree with Dave that Jesus was a human being. Dave and I agree on some important truths: Jesus was a human being, born of a virgin, who lived a sinless life, died on the cross, rose physically from the grave on the third day, ascended into heaven, and will return personally and bodily to the earth. Of course, given that this is a debate, we are focusing on our differences.

  5. Rob, thanks for the reply.

    I appreciate this is a debate, so highlighting each other’s differing views is to be expected.

    I suppose what I mean is it would be good to see an attempt at an accommodation of each other’s views. At least with a view to clearly deducing why Scripture often seems to present evidence for two mutually exclusive theological outcomes.

    For example, it has to be accepted that in many places the Holy Spirit seems to be the means for bringing about for God’s purpose. Yet in other places it is clearly a Paraclete (Jn14:16), or at least can be manifested as such, in similar ways to Jesus (1Jn2:1).
    Why this two-fold Scripture view of the one entity? It seems to me that Dave needs to accept this personal use of the Spirit, and explain why it is used, whilst you need to accept that in some sense the Spirit as used by John is anthropomorphic, and also explain why.

    Not that I’m not enjoying the debate. But sometimes it feels as though you’re views aren’t as far apart as you’re both making out.

    Andrew

  6. Hi guys,

    I’ve been wondering when we are going to see this weeks installment of the debate?

  7. “Definition by Parallelism”
    Rob,

    When I was at university for my BA degree (religious studies major; philosophy minor), I took a course in logic and became familiar with the standard list of informal fallacies. The “definition-by-parallelism fallacy” is not on that list, for the simple reason that you’ve just made it up. Accusing your opponent of committing a fallacy that you’ve invented for the purpose of accusing him of committing a fallacy, is counter-productive and ultimately self-refuting. All it does is to demonstrate that he has not actually committed a fallacy at all, which is why you found it necessary to create one.

    Your attack on Hebraic parallelisms is novel, to say the least. You criticise Anthony Buzzard’s exegesis of Luke 1:35 and claim that his reasoning leads to untenable equivocations. Yet the examples you present (Luke 22:69; I Corinthians 1:18, 24; Romans 1:16) do not prove your claim. Epexegesis is dependent upon the presence of a conjunction (“and” in the Greek), but does your list of verses meet this requirement? Let’s take a look.

    Luke 22:69, “But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God”

    Example irrelevant; no conjunction here.

    I Corinthians 1:18, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”

    Example irrelevant; no conjunction here.

    I Corinthians 1:24, “But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God”

    Example irrelevant; the conjunction is between “power” and “wisdom”, not “Christ” and “power.”

    Luke 1:35, “The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God'”

    Perfect candidate for epexegesis; note the parallel between “Holy Spirit” and “power of the Most High” (cf. Luke 4:14 and Acts 10:38). Other possible candidates include Luke 8:2 (“evil spirits and infirmities”), Acts 5:3 (“lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back”), Acts 6:5 (“full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”), and Acts 11:24 (“full of the Holy Spirit and of faith”).

    Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek”

    Example irrelevant; no conjunction here.

    I Corinthians 1:18, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”

    Example irrelevant; no conjunction here. The Unitarian argument from Luke’s parallelism still stands unchallenged. You have misrepresented the methodology involved (presumably as a consequence of misunderstanding it) and your examples do not prove your claim.

  8. The Meaning of “Spirit”
    Rob,

    You spend 645 words discussing the meaning of pneuma, which is perfectly fine with me because my arguments about the nature of the Holy Spirit are not derived from the lexical definition of this word. So this is just an irrelevant digression as far as I’m concerned.

    You say:

    Words do not have some sort of irreducible “root meaning” that limits or defines its sense in every usage.

    I agree. We must take into account the semantic range. However, as I showed in my own Week 4 argument, the OT usage of “spirit” remains consistent and the semantic range was largely static between the OT and NT eras (despite the expansion of wisdom language in apocryphal literature). This is recognised by standard authorities, as I also demonstrated.

    Max Turner (Power from on High, Sheffield Academic Press, 2000 p.25):

    Intertestamental Judaism did not use the term Spirit as an explanation of all otherwise inexplicable manifestations of supernatural power; only certain types of event were regularly attributed to the Spirit — principally those that could be classed as manifestations of the ‘Spirit of prophecy’; namely revelation, wisdom and charismatic speech.

    F. W. Horn (Vol. 3: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, New York: Doubleday, 1996, p.264):

    A systematic itemization of the particular statements on “holy spirit” in rabbinic literature will schematize the source material. Thus, salient aspects of the rabbinic literature spanning several centuries can be listed together (Goldberg 1969; Schäfer 1972). The construction rûaḥ haqqōdeš, lit. “spirit of holiness,” implies the divine origin of the spirit. Yet this does not mean that the holy spirit was regarded as a hypostasis distinct from the divine presence (šĕkı̂nâ).

    Appealing to the root meaning is not “highly problematic”, provided that (a) we are aware of the semantic range, and (b) we understand the role of context in determining the precise nuance. Your problem is that the respective semantic ranges of ruach and pneuma do not match your theology. Nowhere do we find the Bible using these words to denote an additional person within the Godhead, nor do we find ruach or pneuma referred to as God.

    You claim that “spirit” is used metaphorically for angels in Hebrews 1:7, but this is no metaphor; “spirit” for demons or angels is common Second Temple language, reflecting a belief about the nature of these supernatural beings. John 2:8 is not a metaphor either; it’s a simile drawn from an OT idiom (see the use of ruach in Genesis 8:1; Exodus 10:13, 15:10, where it is translated “wind”). This is a common usage of the Hebrew word for “spirit.” II Thessalonians 2:8 (not 7) also recalls the OT usage, echoing Psalm 33:6 (“…by a mere word [Hebrew: “breath”] from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created”).

    Your focus on the on the NT usage is overly-restrictive and does not take into account the Second Temple context, the OT usage or the LXX evidence (Genesis 6:17, Psalm 146:4 & Isaiah 33:11 are just a few examples where pneuma is used for “breath” in the LXX). I agree that “spirit” is used as a term for a supernatural entity in the NT (this is consistent with Second Temple usage), but the metaphysics of your examples (angels, demons, departed believers, etc.) are not consistent with the way you wish to apply this word to the Holy Spirit. In every case pneuma denotes a type of being, not a person.

    Since you do not believe the Holy Spirit to be a separate being from God, there is no clear parallel for your theology here. If we used your examples we could make a good case for the Holy Spirit being the Angel of the Presence, but not for the Holy Spirit as a third person within a triune being. In short: you have actually proved that the NT usage of “spirit” as an inner aspect of a human being or a supernatural being is not suitable for Trinitarian metaphysics.

    Finally you say “the lexical argument does not prove that ‘Holy Spirit’ denotes a divine energy or force.” That’s fine with me because (a) I entirely agree, and (b) I do not use the lexical argument you’ve spent so much time criticising. Most of this section was an irrelevant digression.

  9. No Distinct Person of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
    Rob,

    You concede there is “no distinct person of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.” I agree. However, you attribute the following argument to Biblical Unitarians:

    Anti-Trinitarians commonly argue that since the OT does not reveal the Holy Spirit to be a distinct person, he cannot be one in the NT.

    This is a misrepresentation, stemming either from a misunderstanding or a flawed assumption about the way we Biblical Unitarians argue our case (I notice you did not provide any examples). Perhaps you might find some who do this, but I certainly do not claim that the Holy Spirit cannot be a distinct person just because the OT does not teach it. I argue that the absence of such teaching in the OT helps to inform our interpretation of the NT evidence. This absence does not rule out any progressive revelation of the nature of God, but it does provide an interpretive framework for NT theology.

    If the personhood of the Holy Spirit is part of a foundation doctrine (ie. the Trinity) we would expect to find it taught clearly in the OT and NT. But it is not in the OT, and even Trinitarians struggle to prove it from the NT. Why is this? Is the Trinitarian God incapable of revealing Himself properly, even through divine revelation?

    The God of Israel successfully provided His chosen people with an exhaustive Law detailing every aspect of their lives, both practical and theological. Nothing was left unwritten; nothing was left unsaid. The children of Israel received a comprehensive revelation. Yet you expect us to believe that when He reached the NT era, God somehow failed to be equally specific about His triunity! How can you explain this? It defies all logic, contradicts Scriptural precedent, and makes an absolute mockery of God’s capacity for self-revelation.

    You attempt to argue Jesus’ pre-existence from John 13:1, 3, claiming that these verses tell us he is “going back to the Father.” I don’t even need a lexicon to refute this; just pick up any half-decent Bible software, run a search on metabainō (used in verse 1) and hupagei (used in verse 3) and look at the results.

    You’ll see that “back” (in the sense of “returning”) is not an intrinsic meaning of either word and does not even fall into the semantic range. Both words intrinsically carry the sense of departure (e.g. “pass over”, go”, “depart”, “withdraw”) but not in the sense of returning to a previous location (see for example Matthew 8: 34, 11:1, 12:9, 15:29, 17:20, Luke 10:7, John 13:33, 36; 14:4, 5, 28; 15:16; 16:5, 10, 17). You claim that John 13:3 and 16:28 literally say Jesus “came out of heaven from the Father.” Oh really? Let’s check that:

    • John13:3, “Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going to God”
    • John 16:28, “I came from the Father and entered into the world, but in turn, I am leaving the world and going to the Father”

    I don’t see any reference to heaven there. Jesus doesn’t claim that he “came out of heaven from the Father.” He says he had come from God (the Father) and was going to Him. This is certainly plain speech (not figurative); but it is nevertheless idiomatic! John the Baptist himself was said to have come from God (John 1:6, “A man came, sent from God, whose name was John”) yet I’m sure you don’t believe he literally came down from heaven. So why should we believe any different when the same language is used of Jesus? “Entering into the world” doesn’t prove pre-existence either; even today, parents still refer to “bringing a child into this world” without any metaphysical implications.

    You say that “the Paraclete is a heavenly figure who was with the Father in heaven and will be personally coming to the disciples to be with them”, but where does Jesus say this? Nowhere at all. You’ve simply read it into the text, just as you did with Jesus’ pre-existence. Additionally, the Paraclete is described in the language of “sending”, not “coming” and “going”, as Jesus was. So your parallel does not succeed because it fails to demonstrate the equivalence that you claim.

    You say:

    Since the Son was literally someone who came into the world from the Father, the Holy Spirit is also literally someone who was going to come from the Father to be with the disciples as “another” Paraclete.

    But there is no “since” about it, Rob. This is a non sequitur with a fallacy of equivocation thrown in for good luck. How does “coming into the world” make the Holy Spirit a literal person? Yes, Jesus “came into the world”, but coming into the world isn’t what made him a person; being born as a human being is what made him a person! We do not derive knowledge of Jesus’ personhood from the fact that he came into the world, nor should we conclude that the Holy Spirit is a person simply because it “came from the Father.” Function is not equivalent to ontology, as I’ve demonstrated in previous weeks.

    You say that the term “Paraclete” confirms the Holy Spirit was someone, not just something; but what exactly is the reasoning here? I can refer to my daughter’s “comfort blanket” without suggesting that the blanket itself is a literal person with the ability to encourage, comfort, support, help, defend, etc. At most, the use of the term “Paraclete” might imply that the Holy Spirit was spoken of as if it was someone. But this is not the same as literal personality.

    You briefly raise some grammatical points, which as far as I can see prove nothing except that the grammatical genders of Greek pronouns are required to match their respective nouns (I am pretty sure we established this during Weeks 2 & 3). This is not evidence of literal personhood. Your “key word” parallels between Jesus and the Paraclete are exactly what I’d expect to see within a context of personification, but they don’t prove literal personhood either. Most of them could be applied to non-personal concepts and entities, such as signs from God, which can be “seen” (Genesis 17:13) “received” (Romans 4:11), “given” (II Chronicles 32:24), “shown” (Deuteronomy 13:1), and even have a “voice” (Exodus 4:8; see NET footnotes for the Hebrew idiom).

    In fact, your list isn’t even as long as the one I presented from Max Turner in Week 4 (Power from On High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts, Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), which demonstrated an extensive array of verbs associated with the Holy Spirit throughout Luke and Acts.

    You will remember that despite the extensive nature of his list and the strength of the “personal” language employed, Turner concludes Luke does not conceive of the Holy Spirit as a person and remains within the scope of the usual personification language already found in the Judaism of his day (“The ‘personal’ traits within [Luke’s] Spirit traditions rarely move beyond the types of personification of the Spirit (and of the word, the Shekinah, the name, etc.) regularly found in exclusively monotheistic Judaism”, p.42). You have given us no reason to disagree with Turner, nor have you given us any reason to conclude literal personhood from the list of parallels you’ve presented. Ultimately you’ve done little more than commit the fallacy of assuming the consequent.

    You conclude this section by claiming irrefutability on the basis of “personal” language combined with “other elements of what John 14-16 says about the Holy Spirit cumulatively in the context of the narrative in which one person, the Son, is leaving and before he goes promises to send someone like him, the Holy Spirit, in his stead.” But as we’ve seen, your argument from the sending of the Holy Spirit is logically flawed and does not prove literal personhood.

    You slip the term “someone else” into this paragraph, yet you haven’t demonstrated that Jesus was even thinking of the Paraclete as “someone else.” You refer to the “context of the narrative”, and I agree that we do have a narrative in John 14. What you forget is that within a narrative we can have a personification, and in order to have that personification we need a voice and face. That is exactly what Jesus provides in his description of the Paraclete. There is nothing “irrefutable” about your argument.

    The NT describes the Holy Spirit in language that is both personifying and non-personifying. These two types of language will cohere if we recognise that personification is the principle which unites them. This is the most natural way to harmonise the evidence. Note also that this extensive personification is limited to John and Acts; elsewhere in the NT the Holy Spirit is most frequently described in non-personifying terms.

  10. The Holy Spirit as an Actor in the Narrative in the Book of Acts
    Rob,

    You begin this section with a bait and switch:

    If the Upper Room Discourse is the first direct revelation of the distinct person of the Holy Spirit, we would expect to see the Holy Spirit become far more prominent in the Bible after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The lexical statistics confirm this expectation.

    No, we’d expect to see the Holy Spirit become more prominent in the Bible after Jesus’ death and resurrection regardless of whether or not it is a distinct person, for the simple reason that Jesus promised to send it! The lexical statistics certainly confirm this expectation, but they do not confirm the literal personhood of the Holy Spirit. What you need to do is distinguish texts that contain personhood from those that do not, but can be read in the same way.

    Thus far, you haven’t established the Holy Spirit’s personhood in Acts. Instead you quote several verses describing the Holy Spirit in terms which are not compatible with personhood. E.g. Acts 1:5, “baptised in the Holy Spirit” (can you be baptised in a person?) Note that this is not “into the Holy Spirit”, as in with the phrase “baptised into Christ.”

    You reference the OT to support your exegesis of Acts 1:8; apparently you believe the Holy Spirit possesses people and either empowers or compels them to act or speak. But your examples from the OT refer to supernatural entities, not supernatural persons. You need to make an argument from entity to personhood, demonstrating that the entity has personhood, and that this personhood is of the same kind required by Trinitarian metaphysics. You claim:

    This OT background assumed that the “spirit” was a supernatural entity of some kind, not merely a force or energy.

    No, not at all. This is just an unsubstantiated assertion. Where is the evidence for it? You haven’t presented any. In any case, Biblical Unitarians allow entity uses of “spirit”, so it seems you’re trying to preclude an argument I’m not actually presenting.

    You provide examples of the Holy Spirit “speaking”, which I already covered in my citation from Trinitarian scholar Max Turner. Unlike you, Turner does not find the evidence from Acts “especially difficult to explain away”, but dismisses it with consummate ease. You move on to the issue of the Holy Spirit “filling people” without stopping to explain how it could be repeatedly divided amongst Christians whilst still being a person (can a person be divided and shared out in portions, as the Holy Spirit was?)

    While you do well to show examples of people pouring themselves out, you never show any examples of a person pouring themselves into somebody else or filling up another person with themselves, as the Holy Spirit is said to do. Nor do you address the very obvious fact that this language is drawn from the properties of water (a point I raised later, in Week 5). Even the Greek vocabulary is different; the NT uses “ekcheo” for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and “spendomai” for the “pouring out” of literal persons. These are not equivalent terms.

    The apostles refer to the Holy Spirit as something which can “fill up”, “baptise”, “fall on”, “come upon”, and be “given.” They refer to it not as God, but as something belonging to God; an attribute and extension of His divine power and presence. None of this has anything to do with literal persons pouring themselves into other literal persons or baptising them in themselves.

    Even your example from Acts 5:3 (“Why has Satan filled your heart…?”) does not prove the point, since Peter refers to Satan filling Ananias; heart but he doesn’t say that this was achieved by Satan filling Ananias with himself. In answer to the question of how a person can “fill” another, you simply say that God “can do these things.” Well Rob, if that’s a legitimate argument we can use it to justify any belief of our choosing, however illogical, irrational, unBiblical or nonsensical. I’m afraid you’ll need something more substantial than “God can do it!”

    Throughout the rest of this section you continue your presentation of the Holy Spirit as an “actor” in the narrative of Acts, highlighting the personifying language but offering no new evidence of literal personhood and no reason for us to believe it. Luke’s depiction of the Holy Spirit (both in his Gospel and in Acts) appears to be drawn from the role of the Angel of the Presence (Exodus 23) and attributes the same characteristics:

    • “Sending” (Exodus 23:20, cf. Luke 24:49 & Acts 1:4)
    • “Keeping and leading” the church “in the Way” (Exodus 23:20, cf. Acts 10:19, 11:12, 28, 13:2, 4, 15:28, 16:6)
    • “Judging” and refusing to pardon transgression (Exodus 23:21, cf. Luke 12:10 & Acts 5:4-9)
    • “Witnessing” (Acts 5:32, 20:23; note “spirit of Jesus” as a parallel to “spirit of the Lord” in Luke 4:18, with the possessive stress of “my angel” in Exodus 23:23, and “his Holy Spirit” in Isa 63:10)

    Thus we see that the relationship of Jesus to the Spirit is analogous to the relationship of the Angel of the Yahweh to God.

    Bearing in mind that the personifying language applied to the Holy Spirit gives the superficial appearance of literal personhood, it is appropriate that you refer to the Holy Spirit as an “actor” in the narrative, since an actor’s job is to pretend to be something he is not!

    How apt.

  11. Conclusion: Person or Personification?
    Rob,

    You have previously conceded that personal language does not necessarily denote literal personhood. I agree. Hold that thought.

    You say that any argument contra the Holy Spirit’s personhood which is drawn from the wisdom literature (such as Proverbs) “ignores the genre and contexts of the different passages.” This is an interesting angle which bears closer examination.

    Firstly, you neglect to inform our readers that many of the early church fathers read Proverbs literally, believing that it possessed a dual application to Christ despite its original, non-literal context. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Arius, Origen, Athenagorus and others saw Proverbs as a source of literal statements about Christ, and drew their ontological subordinationist Christology directly from verses such as Proverbs 8:22.

    Clearly they were not dissuaded by the genre of Proverbs. Were they mistaken to interpret the text in this way? Should they have denied any connection between Proverbs and the pre-existence of Christ? Wisdom Christology is still alive and well in the work of contemporary Trinitarians such as J. P. Holding. Has he erred by reading literal concepts into a poetic genre?

    Secondly, while it is true that Proverbs is a “highly poetic book” full of symbolism, idiom and figurative language, this does not preclude the use of such terms in non-poetic genres. Even historical narratives (such as Acts) can be strewn with idioms or figures of speech without compromising their genre, while the OT is replete with the personification and anthropomorphism of everything from sin (Genesis 4:7, “sin is crouching at the door”) to heavenly bodies (Isaiah 24:23, “The full moon will be ashamed, the bright sun will be ashamed”). Personification frequently occurs outside non-poetic literature, including historical narratives. The lack of a poetic genre does not preclude personification.

    Thirdly, while you have spent a great deal of time arguing that the Holy Spirit is a person, you have done nothing to show that the Holy Spirit is actually God, let alone consubstantial with the Father and Son. This is a substantial hole in your thesis and severely undermines your brash claim that ” Unitarianism is incompatible with the NT.”

    Finally, your examples from inter-Testamental apocryphal literature demonstrate the consistency of Jewish pneumatology throughout this period, and amply support the argument I have already made on this point.

    In conclusion, I leave you with these thoughts:

    • The Holy Spirit can be divided and shared amongst people; this militates against the idea that it is a literal person
    • The Holy Spirit is frequently described as a property of God (“My Holy Sprit…”)
    • Why don’t we find the Holy Spirit consistently referred to as a person in the same way, and with the same consistency as the Father and Son?
    • Why is the Holy Spirit absent from any visions which reveal the Father and Son together in heaven?
    • Does the Holy Spirit have a name? Is it called “Yahweh”?
    • Why does the Holy Spirit never refer to itself by the use of personal pronouns, as real people do?
    • Where in the book of Acts do we find the apostles preaching that the Holy Spirit is a person, and where do we find the Jewish reaction to this novel theology?
  12. @Nick #61:

    1. Dave never quoted secondary literature without providing his own exegesis

    2. Show me how Rob is more in line with the ‘Old Roman Symbol’ and the Didache than Dave is

    3. The only claim Dave made of Waaler was that he says 1 Corinthians 8:6 is a polemic against polytheism, and Rob acknowledged this, so there was no misrepresentation; on Turner, here’s the question Turner says he’s addressing:

    The important question we must ask in each case, however, concerns the intended linguistic status of such affirmations. Is the personal language intended literally (and so to imply the Spirit is a hypostasis), or is it part of the more widespread and typically Jewish tendency to personify divine attributes, or to represent the Spirit as the extension of Yahweh’s own presence?

    Turner says the issue he’s addressing in the passage Burke quoted is whether the ‘personal language’ is to be taken literally or not. That’s precisely how Burke understood him. The fact that Turner also believes early Christianity took a Binitarian rather than a Trinitarian shape confirms this. He just doesn’t see the Holy Spirit represented as a divine person by the New Testament writers.

  13. @Nick #61:

    4. I said Rob’s description of the trinity works well for the pew sitter because the pew sitter is rarely exposed to academic commentary and so is able to be kept safely insulated from facts which would disturb their faith; which part don’t you understand?

    5. I’m sorry I used a term you didn’t know; the term ‘relevant literature’ is a general term meaning ‘the recognized academic literature which is relevant to the topic under discussion’

    6. I am not simply saying that formal creedal definitions of the Trinity are post-biblical, and of course they represent what post-apostolic Christians believed the Christian God to be, I am saying that the concept of ‘God as Trinity’ is post-biblical; Rob says that concept is is already in the Bible (that even the doctrine is ‘implicit’ in the Bible), standard scholars say no it isn’t (if you agree with me that the apostles never taught God is three persons, and that Jesus is a man appointed by God, then we have no disagreement)

    7. If you’re familiar with Dunn and Wright you’ll know both are held to be difficult to understand by laymen, and their views on the trinity have been argued as a result. If you read the links I provided you’ll see Wright having to explain himself precisely because other Trinitarians find it very difficult to understand exactly what he is saying about Jesus and the Trinity.

  14. DEFINITION BY PARALLELISM

    Dave,

    It’s time for a lesson in both logic and biblical hermeneutics.

    I had claimed that the Unitarian use of Luke 1:35 to define the Holy Spirit as the power of God commits what I called the “definition by parallelism fallacy.” You responded (comment #11 above) by claiming that there is no such fallacy and that I made it up because it wasn’t on the list of standard fallacies you studied in your university logic course. Ironically, you have stepped into a fallacy of your own, namely, the appeal to authority (and that is, of course, on many “standard lists” of fallacies!). No decent logician would ever claim to have compiled an exhaustive list of all possible fallacies. No such list exists (except in the mind of God!). The fact that a particular fallacy is missing from some or even all man-made lists of fallacies does not make the argument not a fallacy. If you will, your argument is a fallacious argument from silence (another textbook fallacy on most people’s “standard lists”). So your argument is either an appeal to authority or an appeal to silence, or both—any way you look at it, it’s fallacious!

    I’m afraid it is also fallacious to argue, as you did, that accusing a person of committing an invented fallacy demonstrates that the person committed no fallacy at all. Consider the following exchange:

    Jim: That professor’s obviously unqualified. He didn’t even mention if he has a PhD.
    Tim: Your criticism is fallacious because you committed the “contraction fallacy”—your argument uses contractions.
    Jim: There’s no such thing as a contractions fallacy. The fact that you would accuse me of a nonexistent fallacy proves that what I said was not fallacious.

    In this case, Jim is right to object to Tim’s “contraction fallacy” criticism, but Jim’s claim that Tim’s bogus criticism proves that Jim’s original argument was not fallacious is also wrong. Jim’s original argument exhibits the fallacy of arguing from silence. Thus, a misdiagnosis of the original argument does not clear it of being fallacious. Jim’s defense commits the non sequitur fallacy: it does not follow from the fact of a faulty criticism of his argument that his argument was not fallacious. Your defense of Buzzard’s argument commits the same fallacy.

    The reason why the “definition by parallelism” fallacy does not appear on “standard lists” in logic textbooks is that it is a hermeneutical fallacy specific to the study of Hebrew poetry. Naturally, you won’t find it in university logic textbooks.

    Let me remind you of Buzzard’s actual argument. He claimed that the parallelism in Luke 1:35 proved that “spirit and power are interchangeable terms” (Buzzard and Hunting, Doctrine of the Trinity, 228). Notice, he didn’t claim that these terms were synonymous just in Luke 1:35, but that from this one verse we may conclude that the two terms are “interchangeable.” By this he means that he can use “power” for “spirit” in other texts because supposedly Luke 1:35 proves they are interchangeable.

    Had Buzzard simply claimed that the two clauses of Luke 1:35, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you” and “the power of the Most High will overshadow you” were synonymous in the text at Luke 1:35, he would have been on more or less solid ground. (The qualification “more or less” is a necessary hedging, as I will explain below.) His mistake was in thinking that this parallel provided a definition of “spirit” that could then be used to limit the sense of the term in other texts to the (non-personal) power of God.

    Let’s take another example; we don’t have to go far. In Luke 1:46b-47 Mary says:

    “My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”

    This text satisfies perfectly the conditions you claimed were missing in the texts I cited as counterpoint to Buzzard’s argument. This text uses what scholars typically label Hebrew synonymous parallelism, with the second line introduced by the word “and,” just as in Luke 1:35. Moreover, this text is just ten verses later in the same book! But does this text prove that “soul” and “spirit” are interchangeable terms? No, although evidently they are used synonymously in this particular text. Oh, and by the way, could Mary plausibly mean “My power has rejoiced in God my Savior”? I don’t think so.

    Buzzard’s fundamental mistake, hermeneutically, was inferring from the fact that two particular expressions are arguably synonymous in one instance that one expression defines the other. My examples of texts that call God, Christ, and the gospel “the power of God” come into relevance here. If a text calls Christ “the power of God,” in this text “the power of God” and “Christ” are synonymous (in that they have the same referent), but one term does not define the other term. It is not necessary for each of these other texts to exhibit Hebrew parallelism or to use kai epexegetically in order for them to illustrate that “spirit” and “power” are not interchangeable terms.

    Oddly, after characterizing my criticism of Buzzard’s argument as an “attack on Hebrew parallelisms” (which of course it was not), your other “possible candidates” of what you called “epexegesis” do not involve Hebrew parallelism. Furthermore, in none of them is the second term actually epexegetical of the first, and in none of them are the two terms “interchangeable.” When Luke writes that Jesus had healed some women of “evil spirits and sicknesses” (Luke 8:2), no Hebrew parallelism is present, “sicknesses” is not another term for “evil spirits,” and Luke certainly does not mean that these two terms are always interchangeable. Luke’s descriptions of certain Christians as “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” or “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 6:5; 11:24) are also not in Hebrew parallelism, and there is no good reason to claim that “Holy Spirit” and “faith” are interchangeable. (Would that mean that “faith” and “power” are also interchangeable?) In Acts 5:3, it is the entire clause, “and to keep back some of the price of the land,” that is epexegetical of the previous clause, “to lie to the Holy Spirit.” Again, this is not Hebrew parallelism, and the epexegetical term or clause is not thereby “interchangeable” with the first term or clause, nor does one define the other. (There are other ways to lie to the Holy Spirit!)

    If we go deeper into the hermeneutical issues here, we should consider that leading scholars in the study of Hebrew poetry significantly qualify the idea of “synonymous” Hebrew parallelism. In Hebrew poetry typically characterized as “synonymous,” the parallel lines typically have closely related meanings but are usually not simply redundant in meaning. James Kugel and Robert Alter are two of the biblical scholars who have discussed this point. Kugel argues that the second line in a two-line sequence is never simply a “mere restatement” of the first line; rather, it adds to it in some way, “often particularizing, defining, or expanding the meaning” (The Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and Its History [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981], 8). Alter allows that some “static parallelism” occasionally occurs, but argues that in instances of “semantic parallelism…the characteristic movement of meaning is one of heightening or intensification…of focusing, specification, concretizing, even what could be called dramatization” (Art of Biblical Poetry [New York: Basic Books, 1985], 19-22). Here are some examples:

    “Who gives rain to the earth
    And sends water over the fields” (Job 5:10).

    “They abhor me, stand aloof from me,
    And they do not hold back from spitting in my face” (Job 30:10).

    “Make the mind of this people dull,
    and stop their ears,
    and shut their eyes…” (Isa. 6:10).

    “Look, Damascus will cease to be a city,
    And it will become a heap of ruins” (Isa. 17:1)

    “I shall put an end in the cities of Judea
    And in the streets of Jerusalem
    To the sound of gladness and joy,
    The sound of bridegroom and bride” (Jer. 7:34).

    The point is that so-called “synonymous” Hebrew parallelism is a quite fluid poetic device that can express all sorts of closely associated statements; such parallelism does not prove that corresponding elements in the parallel lines are precisely synonymous with each other or “interchangeable.”

    Now going back to Luke 1:35, the second line does not merely restate the first line but augments it. The language of the Spirit coming upon a human being was familiar from the OT, generally referring to an empowering of the individual to function as a prophet or ruler (e.g., Num. 24:2; Judg. 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 14:6; etc.; 1 Sam. 16:13 is especially relevant). The second line alludes to the cloud of God’s glory that “overshadowed” (LXX, epeskiazen, the same verb as in Luke 1:35) the tabernacle when God’s glory filled it (Ex. 40:35; note also Luke 9:34). Thus, the two lines do not simply restate the same point, but express in two different ways the action of God in the virginal conception of Christ in the womb of Mary in order to create two different, complementary allusions to OT motifs of relevance. The purpose of the second line is not to decode the first line, but to augment it with a complementary description of what will happen to Mary.

  15. THE MEANING OF “SPIRIT”

    Dave,

    You wrote:

    “You spend 645 words discussing the meaning of pneuma, which is perfectly fine with me because my arguments about the nature of the Holy Spirit are not derived from the lexical definition of this word. So this is just an irrelevant digression as far as I’m concerned.”

    Since I wrote my post on the Holy Spirit before seeing yours, I could not know with certainty which arguments you would use and which you would not. As it turned out, I did a pretty good job of anticipating and refuting your arguments (the Luke 1:35 parallelism argument; comparing the person of the Holy Spirit in the NT to the personification of wisdom in Proverbs; the objection that the Holy Spirit is not a distinct person in the OT). The fact is that the lexical argument that pneuma means force, energy, or power is extremely common among anti-Trinitarians, including Buzzard, whom I quote as an example. I remind you that I asked months ahead of time for recommendations from you of writings that exemplify your approach, and Buzzard was on your list. Kermit Zarley (“Servetus the Evangelical”) was also on your list, and he uses the same type of argument (Restitution of Jesus Christ, 521-22). It is not “an irrelevant digression” for me to respond to a popular argument advanced by some of the very sources that you recommended on the subject!

    Much of your comment merely repeats material from your own post on the Holy Spirit, so I will pass over that material. You wrote:

    “You claim that ‘spirit’ is used metaphorically for angels in Hebrews 1:7, but this is no metaphor; ‘spirit’ for demons or angels is common Second Temple language, reflecting a belief about the nature of these supernatural beings.”

    You are not engaging the point I was making. Here is what I said:

    “In those few occurrences in the NT where one might translate pneuma as ‘breath’ or ‘wind,’ the word refers metaphorically to angels (Heb. 1:7), a demon (Rev. 13:15), or to God’s Spirit (John 3:8; 2 Thess. 2:7; probably Rev. 11:11).”

    Most English translations render pneumata in Hebrews 1:7 as “winds” (ESV, NASB, NIV, NRSV); the KJV and NKJV are notable exceptions. The issue here has to do with the fact that Hebrews 1:7 is quoting Psalm 104:4, where again you will find most translations understanding rûchôt to mean “winds” but the KJV and NKJV rendering it as “spirits.”

    You also wrote: “John 2:8 is not a metaphor either; it’s a simile drawn from an OT idiom…” (you meant 3:8). I think you’re having some trouble with literary terminology here. “The pneuma blows where it wills” (John 3:8) is metaphor, not simile. Simile would involve the use of “like” or “as” to form a comparison. “The Spirit is like a wind that blows where it wills” is simile; “the Spirit (wind) blows where it wills” is metaphor.

    You wrote:

    “I agree that ‘spirit’ is used as a term for a supernatural entity in the NT (this is consistent with Second Temple usage), but the metaphysics of your examples (angels, demons, departed believers, etc.) are not consistent with the way you wish to apply this word to the Holy Spirit. In every case pneuma denotes a type of being, not a person. Since you do not believe the Holy Spirit to be a separate being from God, there is no clear parallel for your theology here. If we used your examples we could make a good case for the Holy Spirit being the Angel of the Presence, but not for the Holy Spirit as a third person within a triune being.”

    This is so awful an objection it leaves me almost speechless. By this reasoning, no term in any ancient language would be suitable to use in reference to any of the three persons, including the Greek and Hebrew words for Father and Son, because of course those terms in regular use denoted beings, not “persons” in the later special theological usage of the Trinity. In short, no ancient writer could even have gotten started talking about the persons of the Trinity, because supposedly no words existed that they could use. Such a claim simply misunderstands the way speakers use words in any language and in any period of history. Words are constantly put to use with varying nuances and new connotations or implications, and no one needs to produce a new lexicon, dictionary, or glossary before making such adaptations of language.

  16. THE SON’S RETURN TO THE FATHER

    Dave,

    You wrote (comment #13 above):

    “You attempt to argue Jesus’ pre-existence from John 13:1, 3, claiming that these verses tell us he is ‘going back to the Father.’ I don’t even need a lexicon to refute this; just pick up any half-decent Bible software, run a search on metabainō (used in verse 1) and hupagei (used in verse 3) and look at the results.”

    Since I made no claim about metabainō meaning to return or go back, your half-decent search on that word is irrelevant. And I think any discerning reader will know by now why you don’t feel the need to consult a lexicon to refute my exegesis of hupagei: at least some lexical reference works will in fact confirm my exegesis to be correct. The United Bible Societies’ Greek-English Dictionary gives as one usage of the word, “go home; go back, return.”

    You wrote:

    “You’ll see that ‘back’ (in the sense of ‘returning’) is not an intrinsic meaning of either word and does not even fall into the semantic range. Both words intrinsically carry the sense of departure (e.g. ‘pass over’, [‘]go’, ‘depart’, ‘withdraw’) but not in the sense of returning to a previous location (see for example Matthew 8: 34, 11:1, 12:9, 15:29, 17:20, Luke 10:7, John 13:33, 36; 14:4, 5, 28; 15:16; 16:5, 10, 17).”

    Your citations are selective (and in at least one instance incorrect), ignoring contrary evidence. The sense of “going home” or “returning” is evident in several other texts besides John 13:3 (Matt. 8:13; 9:6; Mark 2:11; 5:19; John 7:33; 11:8; 16:5). Several English versions render hupagei in John 13:3 as “going back” or “returning” (CEV, ESV, HCSB, NASB, NCV, NET, NIV, NLT, WEB). Notice that the NET Bible, which you have quoted frequently in this debate, agrees. You’ll have to chalk that up to the translators’ Trinitarian theological bias.

    The problem you face in John 13:1-3 is that the word hupagei, even if we translate it without nuance as simply “going,” clearly in context conveys the sense of returning. It is not some “intrinsic meaning” of the word, but its usage in the context, that makes it convey this idea. John says that Jesus knew “that he had come from God and was going to God” (John 13:3 NRSV). Even in this translation, the sense clearly is that Jesus was returning to God from whom he had come. If I tell you, “I’ve come to you from the President and I am now going to the President,” besides being impressed, you are going to understand that I am saying that I was once with the President, left him to come see you, and am now returning to him. It doesn’t matter whether we translate hupagei as “going,” “going back,” or “returning,” the sense in the context is the same.

    You wrote:

    “You claim that John 13:3 and 16:28 literally say Jesus ‘came out of heaven from the Father.’ Oh really? Let’s check that…. I don’t see any reference to heaven there. Jesus doesn’t claim that he ‘came out of heaven from the Father.’”

    Here’s what I said, Dave:

    “Biblical Unitarians agree that Jesus literally left this world and went to the Father in heaven. However, they deny that he literally came out of heaven from the Father. Yet this is what 13:3 and 16:28 clearly say. If the going out of the world to the Father is literal, the coming into the world from the Father in the same statements must also be literal.”

    You managed to avoid addressing this argument, which is the core of my objection to the Unitarian interpretation of these texts. I didn’t claim that John 13:3 or 16:28 actually uses the word “heaven,” and you know it.

    As I’m sure you also know, elsewhere in John, Jesus explicitly says, “I came down from heaven” (John 6:38; see also John 3:13, 31).

    You wrote:

    “He says he had come from God (the Father) and was going to Him. This is certainly plain speech (not figurative); but it is nevertheless idiomatic!”

    Idioms are figures of speech, Dave. They are figurative, not literal. Really, now, Dave, I’m embarrassed for you.

    You wrote:

    “John the Baptist himself was said to have come from God (John 1:6, ‘A man came, sent from God, whose name was John’) yet I’m sure you don’t believe he literally came down from heaven. So why should we believe any different when the same language is used of Jesus? ‘Entering into the world’ doesn’t prove pre-existence either; even today, parents still refer to ‘bringing a child into this world’ without any metaphysical implications.”

    All you are doing here is dancing around the problem that both John 13:3 and 16:28 present when taken as whole statements in context. If you will notice, I made nothing of the use of the word “sent,” and I wouldn’t make anything of the word by itself. John 1:6 does not, however, say that John was sent from God and then went to God; it does not say that John came from God (which is not the same thing as being “sent” from God) and then went to God; and of course no verse says that John came down from heaven. It is the synergism of the two halves of each statement that makes it clear that the statement means that the Son really did come from God the Father (in heaven) and was about to go back to God the Father (in heaven):

    John 13:3:
    he had come from God
    (literally coming from God’s presence [in heaven])
    and was going to God
    (literally going to God’s presence [in heaven])

    John 16:28:
    I came from the Father and have come into the world
    (literally coming from the Father’s presence [in heaven] into the world)
    again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father
    (literally leaving the world to go to the Father’s presence [in heaven])

    If you agree that the second half of these two statements refers to Jesus literally leaving the world and going to God the Father’s presence in heaven, then to be consistent you must agree that the first half of each statement refers to Jesus literally leaving God the Father’s presence in heaven and coming into the world.

  17. THE PERSON OF THE PARACLETE

    Dave,

    In your comment #13 above, you quoted the following sentence from me:

    “Since the Son was literally someone who came into the world from the Father, the Holy Spirit is also literally someone who was going to come from the Father to be with the disciples as ‘another’ Paraclete.”

    You then commented:

    “But there is no ‘since’ about it, Rob. This is a non sequitur with a fallacy of equivocation thrown in for good luck. How does ‘coming into the world’ make the Holy Spirit a literal person? Yes, Jesus ‘came into the world’, but coming into the world isn’t what made him a person; being born as a human being is what made him a person! We do not derive knowledge of Jesus’ personhood from the fact that he came into the world, nor should we conclude that the Holy Spirit is a person simply because it ‘came from the Father.’”

    I don’t have much patience left with your slice-and-dice approach to dealing with the arguments I have presented in this debate. Your handling of John 13:3 and 16:28, discussed in the previous comment, is one example. Your handling of my argument concerning the Paraclete is another example. I did not suggest, of course, that coming into the world is what made Jesus a person. You have not refuted my argument; once again, you have not even engaged it.

    The argument that you are trying to circumvent here has to do with the historical, narrative context in which Jesus speaks to the disciples in John 13-16 about his imminent departure from the world. That is the major theme of those four chapters. In that context, Jesus speaks repeatedly about the fact that when he departs, he will send the Paraclete in his place. The Paraclete, like Jesus, will come from the Father to be with the disciples. This Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, is “another Paraclete,” that is, another Paraclete like Jesus who will take Jesus’ place after Jesus’ departure.

    If you cannot engage the actual argument I present as a whole argument, you would be better off just ignoring it. At least then no one could say that you tried to refute it and failed.

    You wrote:

    “You say that the term ‘Paraclete’ confirms the Holy Spirit was someone, not just something; but what exactly is the reasoning here? I can refer to my daughter’s ‘comfort blanket’ without suggesting that the blanket itself is a literal person with the ability to encourage, comfort, support, help, defend, etc.”

    Again, I have to say that I am embarrassed for you when you make such statements, because they show that you simply cannot handle the evidence that confronts you. The Holy Spirit is not called “comfort” but rather “the Comforter”; not “help” but “the Helper”; not “defense” but “the Defender” (pick your translation of paraklētos). The word paraklētos is a personal noun, just as much as “savior” or “ruler” or “teacher.” And that the term refers to an actual person is evident from the context, as I explained and have explained again. On this point, you wrote:

    “At most, the use of the term ‘Paraclete’ might imply that the Holy Spirit was spoken of as if it was someone. But this is not the same as literal personality.”

    Dave, any personal term might in some context have a non-personal referent. Even a proper name well known as the name of a human being can be used as the name of an impersonal object, such as a ship (e.g., the Robert E. Lee, the Queen Mary). If you ignore context and treat such elements of the biblical teaching about the Holy Spirit in an atomistic fashion, as you have consistently done in this debate, you can trick yourself into thinking you have refuted the evidence for the personhood of the Holy Spirit. That is, you can take one element at a time, out of context, and by a “divide and conquer” method claim that because no one element by itself (the term Paraclete; the functions of speaking, witnessing, teaching, etc., etc.) proves personhood, there is no evidence of personhood. In the same way, you can trick yourself into thinking that you can refute the evidence that Satan is a real personal being. For that matter, one could use the same method and make believe that there is no solid evidence from the Bible that God is a personal being. But it’s all theological sleight-of-hand, because you are not interpreting the elements of the biblical teaching in their proper and full contexts.

    The rest of your comments on the Paraclete in John suffer from this fatal methodological flaw, already amply documented and explained, so that no further comment seems necessary.

  18. Dave,

    I will concede one valid point that you made in your comment #14 above. I agree with you that we would expect more references to the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension whether or not the Holy Spirit is a person, since Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit after his departure.

    The rest of your comment on Acts utterly fails to engage my arguments for the personhood of the Holy Spirit. You repeat the standard objections (of the “how can a person be poured out like water?” type) but make no serious attempt to address my arguments for his personhood.

    On the Holy Spirit being “poured out,” you claimed:

    “Even the Greek vocabulary is different; the NT uses ‘ekcheo’ for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and ‘spendomai’ for the ‘pouring out’ of literal persons. These are not equivalent terms.”

    The LXX uses ekcheō several times of human persons (“and pouring out my soul before the Lord,” 1 Sam. 1:15; “I am poured out like water,” Ps. 22:14 [21:15], “I poured out my soul upon me,” Ps. 42:4 [41:5]; “pour out your hearts before him,” Ps. 62:8 [61:9]; “and now my soul is poured out upon me,” Job 30:16). Jude 11 uses it in an unusual context, of wicked people who “poured themselves out to the error of Balaam.” The verb spendomai denotes the pouring out of a drink offering and so is irrelevant to the Holy Spirit. The same Hebrew verb translated “poured out” in Isaiah 32:15, ‘ārāh (“Until the Spirit is poured out upon us”) is also used in Isaiah 53:12 in reference to the Suffering Servant’s death (“he poured out himself to death”).

    Oddly, you acknowledge that the activity of the Spirit in Acts and in the OT is akin to that of other spirits that are clearly “supernatural entities,” but you dispute that these entities are personal. You also compare the Holy Spirit in Acts to the “Angel of the Presence” in Exodus 23:20-23, which seems odd unless you also think the Angel of the Presence wasn’t a person, either. You don’t say that, though, and so I’m unclear as to what you thought you were establishing by this comparison.

    All things considered, I cannot consider your comment a serious response to my treatment of the Holy Spirit in Acts.

  19. PERSON VERSUS PERSONIFICATION

    Dave,

    Your criticism that I “neglect to inform our readers that many of the early church fathers read Proverbs literally” and interpreted Wisdom in Proverbs 8 as describing the preincarnate Christ would be relevant if this might in some way hurt my case—but it doesn’t. Suppose that Wisdom in Proverbs is a person after all, specifically, the person of Christ. This would be very bad indeed for Unitarianism, since it would mean that Christ is a preexistent divine person after all, and it would negate your Exhibit A of personification that we should not take literally as referring to a person. On the other hand, how exactly would this be bad for my argument that the Holy Spirit is a person in John and Acts? Not at all! The only hypothetical downside for Trinitarian theology in taking Proverbs 8 to refer to the person of Christ would be if one understood 8:22 to mean that Wisdom was created—which I don’t. So how exactly does this help your case or hurt mine? I’m sure I don’t know!

    You emphasize that “personification frequently occurs outside non-poetic literature, including historical narratives.” You gave one example, the personification of sin in Genesis 4:7. This isn’t very convincing. Anyone who paid attention to my argument will immediately see the problem. “Sin” does not function throughout Genesis, or even in a section of Genesis, as a participant in the action. After God warns Cain about “sin crouching at the door,” we do not read about Sin showing up at Cain’s wedding, or Sin inciting Cain’s descendants to vengeance. Sin doesn’t talk, doesn’t make any decisions, and doesn’t function as the companion or agent or successor of another personal being. Sin is fleetingly personified in a statement recorded in the historical narrative, but sin is not a participant in in the historical narrative.

    In short, your rebuttal on the issue of personification completely misfires. The more examples you try to give, the more the place of the Holy Spirit in the discourse in John 13-16 and the narrative of Acts stands out in obvious contrast with such examples of literary personification.

  20. Rob,

    You make note the fact that Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit after his departure, but you fail to mention from whom he would send it.

    If the Holy Spirit is a person, but not the person of the Father, why does “he” come out of the Father? Why does Jesus say that he would send the Holy Spirit “from the Father”?

    The Spirit is said to proceed from, come out of, or flow from the Father. If the Holy Spirit is equally a person in a trinity, then why does “he”/it flow from or come out of the Father?

  21. PARTING SHOTS ON THE HOLY SPIRIT

    Dave,

    You concluded your critique of my case for the personhood of the Holy Spirit with some scatter-gun shots at the orthodox doctrine. Since these potshots do not engage the arguments I presented, I really have no obligation, from the standpoint of the debate, to respond to any of them. However, responding will serve to underscore once again the fallaciousness and weakness of your arguments for your own position.

    • “The Holy Spirit can be divided and shared amongst people; this militates against the idea that it is a literal person.”

    The Bible never refers to the Holy Spirit being “divided.” I can only guess at what text or texts you might have in mind, since you don’t cite any. Acts 2:3 says that tongues as of fire appeared to be distributed or divided and to rest on each of the disciples. This doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit was divided, but that a manifestation of the Holy Spirit was divided or distributed. I cannot even think of another text that you might have in mind.

    • “The Holy Spirit is frequently described as a property of God (‘My Holy Sprit…’ [sic])”

    The use of the possessive pronoun is hardly decisive or definitive in support of your conclusion. In order to make the argument work, you must also show that “Holy Spirit” actually denotes something impersonal. Otherwise, “my Holy Spirit” or the like is no more indicative of a non-person than “my Son” or “my Servant.”

    By the way, the expression “my Holy Spirit” never occurs in Scripture. You will find “his Holy Spirit” occurring in two passages (Isa. 63:10-11; 1 Thess. 4:8) and “your Holy Spirit” in just one passage (Ps. 51:10). The Spirit is called “my Spirit” 12 times in the OT and never in the NT except in two quotations from the OT. The Spirit is called “his [God’s] Spirit” or “your Spirit” 9 times in the OT and 3 times in the NT.

    A reasonable position would be to view references to God’s Spirit in these possessive expressions as analogous to references to God’s Word. In the OT revelation, these references to the Word of God and the Spirit of God generally can be understood as abstractions or circumlocutions for God himself, and OT language reflecting that usage carries over to some extent (not nearly as much) in the NT. However, John reveals that the divine Word is more than a circumlocution for God; it is a person distinct from the Father who is yet also himself God (a point I have defended in detail in comments to my contribution in Part 2 of this debate). Likewise, John reveals that the divine Spirit is more than a circumlocution for God; it is a person distinct from both the Father and the Word-Son. This is progressive revelation within the canon of Scripture—a principle you agreed was possible. The evidence shows it is not just possible, but actual.

    • “Why don’t we find the Holy Spirit consistently referred to as a person in the same way, and with the same consistency as the Father and Son?”

    This is just a subtle variation on the argument from silence, only instead of a literal argument from silence it is an argument from relative quietness. You are asking me to speculate as to why the Bible reveals truth the way it does, rather than simply dealing with the truth it reveals. It is enough that the Bible does reveal the Holy Spirit to be a person.

    • “Why is the Holy Spirit absent from any visions which reveal the Father and Son together in heaven?”

    I have shown this claim to be false in my response to your argument in part 4 concerning the vision of heaven in Revelation 4-5.

    • “Does the Holy Spirit have a name? Is it called ‘Yahweh’?”

    Of course the Holy Spirit has a name. Jesus said he did (Matt. 28:19). The name distinctively designating him is “Holy Spirit.” Is he Yahweh? Yes, he is the LORD (see 2 Cor. 3:16-18; cf. Acts 5:3-9). Remember, your own view concedes that the Holy Spirit is at least an aspect of God, not something separate from God. So, if the Holy Spirit is a person, he must be the LORD God.

    • “Where in the book of Acts do we find the apostles preaching that the Holy Spirit is a person, and where do we find the Jewish reaction to this novel theology?”

    There you go again, Dave, with yet another argument from silence. The focus of their preaching was on Christ, not the Holy Spirit, in keeping with the Holy Spirit’s mission (as Christ himself had stated in advance) of testifying to and glorifying the Son, not himself (John 15:26-27; 16:13-14; Acts 1:8). The Jews who opposed the Christian movement had plenty to keep them upset even if they never noticed that Christians viewed the Holy Spirit a bit differently than they did.

    • “Why does the Holy Spirit never refer to itself by the use of personal pronouns, as real people do?”

    This is another argument from silence. It turns out, though, that your question assumes as fact something that is false. The Holy Spirit in fact does refer to himself using personal pronouns: “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).

    Oops. Did you forget about this verse, Dave?

    By my count, there were five arguments from silence (or variations on that fallacy) in your closing barrage of potshots against the Trinitarian view of the Holy Spirit.

    I am more convinced than ever that the NT evidence for the personhood of the Holy Spirit poses one of the most serious difficulties for most anti-Trinitarian theologies. Certainly, your responses to the arguments I presented utterly failed to engage this evidence, and the arguments you offer against the orthodox view are fallacious and hermeneutically unsound.

  22. Charles,

    I answered your question already in my post above. I wrote:

    Just as the Son came “from the Father” (para tou patros, 16:28), so also the Paraclete will come “from the Father” (para tou patros, 15:26). That is, like the Son, the Paraclete is a heavenly figure who was with the Father in heaven and will be personally coming to the disciples to be with them.

    Far from suggesting that the Paraclete is not a person, the fact that he is said to come “from the Father” in the same context in which Jesus the Son is said to come “from the Father” is one of the many indications in the passage that cumulatively converge to show that the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, is indeed a person.

  23. How do you make the connection of the Holy Spirit coming from the Father in the same way that the Son has?

    If one wanted to know how the Son has come from the Father they should, I think, read the gospel accounts of how the Son has come into the world.

    It would seem odd, even to a Trinitarian, I think, to suggest that the Son and the Holy Spirit have from all eternity been coming forth or flowing from the Father. If so, would it not then be true, all being equal, that the Father could be said to come forth or flow from the Spirit and the Son?

    The thing is, that type of language is as foreign to Scripture as praying to the Holy Spirit is.

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