What Is the Holy Spirit?

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The Bible’s answer

The holy spirit is God’s power in action, his active force. (Micah 3:8;Luke 1:35) God sends out his spirit by projecting his energy to any place to accomplish his will.—Psalm 104:30; 139:7.

In the Bible, the word “spirit” is translated from the Hebrew word ru′ach and the Greek word pneu′ma. Most often, those words refer to God’s active force, or holy spirit. (Genesis 1:2) However, the Bible also uses those words in other senses:

  • Breath.—Habakkuk 2:19; Revelation 13:15.

  • Wind.—Genesis 8:1; John 3:8.

  • The vital, or animating, force in living creatures.—Job 34:14, 15.

  • A person’s disposition or attitude.—Numbers 14:24.

  • Spirit persons, including God and the angels.—1 Kings 22:21; John 4:24.

These meanings all share the sense of something invisible to humans that produces visible effects. Similarly, the spirit of God, “like the wind, is invisible, immaterial and powerful.”—An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W. E. Vine.

The Bible also refers to God’s holy spirit as his “hands” or “fingers.” (Psalm 8:3; 19:1; Luke 11:20; compare Matthew 12:28.) Just as a craftsman uses his hands and fingers to do his work, God has used his spirit to produce such results as the following:

  • The universe.—Psalm 33:6; Isaiah 66:1, 2.

  • The Bible.—2 Peter 1:20, 21.

  • The miracles performed by his ancient servants and their zealous preaching.—Luke 4:18; Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.

  • The fine qualities displayed by people who obey him.—Galatians 5:22, 23.

The holy spirit is not a person

By referring to God’s spirit as his “hands,” “fingers,” or “breath,” the Bible shows that the holy spirit is not a person. (Exodus 15:8, 10) A craftsman’s hands cannot function independent of his mind and body; likewise, God’s holy spirit operates only as he directs it. (Luke 11:13) The Bible also compares God’s spirit to water and associates it with such things as faith and knowledge. These comparisons all point to the impersonal nature of the holy spirit.—Isaiah 44:3; Acts 6:5;2 Corinthians 6:6.

The Bible gives the names of Jehovah God and of his Son, Jesus Christ; yet, nowhere does it name the holy spirit. (Isaiah 42:8; Luke 1:31) When the Christian martyr Stephen was given a miraculous heavenly vision, he saw only two persons, not three. The Bible says: “He, being full of holy spirit, gazed into heaven and caught sight of God’s glory and of Jesus standing at God’s right hand.” (Acts 7:55) The holy spirit was God’s power in action, enabling Stephen to see the vision.

Misconceptions about the holy spirit

Misconception: The “Holy Ghost,” or holy spirit, is a person and is part of the Trinity, as stated at 1 John 5:7, 8 in the King James version of the Bible.

Fact: The King James version of the Bible includes at 1 John 5:7, 8the words “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth.” However, researchers have found that those words were not written by the apostle John and so do not belong in the Bible. Professor Bruce M. Metzger wrote: “That these words are spurious and have no right to stand in the New Testament is certain.”—A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament.

Misconception: The Bible personifies the holy spirit, and this proves that it is a person.

Fact: The Scriptures do at times personify the holy spirit, but this does not prove that the holy spirit is a person. The Bible also personifies wisdom, death, and sin. (Proverbs 1:20; Romans 5:17, 21) For example, wisdom is said to have “works” and “children,” and sin is depicted as seducing, killing, and working out covetousness.—Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:35; Romans 7:8, 11.

Similarly, when the apostle John quoted Jesus, he personified the holy spirit as a “helper” (paraclete) that would give evidence, guide, speak, hear, declare, glorify, and receive. He used masculine personal pronouns such as “he” or “him” when referring to that “helper.” (John 16:7-15) However, he did so because the Greek word for “helper” (pa·ra′kle·tos) is a masculine noun and requires a masculine pronoun according to the rules of Greek grammar. When John referred to the holy spirit using the neuter noun pneu′ma, he used the genderless pronoun “it.”—John 14:16, 17.

Misconception: Baptism in the name of the holy spirit proves that it is a person.

Fact: The Bible sometimes uses “name” to stand for power or authority. (Deuteronomy 18:5, 19-22; Esther 8:10) This is similar to its use in the English expression “in the name of the law,” which does not mean that the law is a person. A person who is baptized “in the name of ” the holy spirit recognizes the power and role of the holy spirit in accomplishing God’s will.—Matthew 28:19.

Misconception: Jesus’ apostles and other early disciples believed that the holy spirit was a person.

Fact: The Bible does not say that, nor does history. The Encyclopædia Britannica states: “The definition that the Holy Spirit was a distinct divine Person . . . came at the Council of Constantinople in ad 381.” This was over 250 years after the last of the apostles had died.

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