QUESTION: Who is the Holy Spirit? How is he related to the Father and the Son? Is the Holy Spirit a divine person, one of the three persons of the Trinity?

ANSWER: I have addressed this issue in chapter one of my larger book on the Holy Spirit, Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit (College Press, 2007). This chapter is called “The Person of the Holy Spirit.” In it I establish three basic facts. According to the Bible, (1) the Holy Spirit is a person in the full and true sense of the word; (2) He is a divine person who is to be worshiped; and (3) He is a distinct divine person, one of three distinct persons of whom the Trinity is composed.

This essay gives what I have written on the second fact, that the Holy Spirit is a DIVINE person (see pp. 36-40 in the book). The Spirit’s deity is manifested by the following lines of biblical evidence.

Several NT texts refer to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in ways that support their unity and equality and thus the deity of the Holy Spirit. The best known and most commonly used text is Matt. 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The one name unites the three persons. The phrase “into the name of” can mean generally “into a relationship with,” which in this context would be a saving relationship in which all three persons of the Trinity participate. In the Greek world the phrase was used specifically as an accounting term for the entry of an item into the list of one’s owned assets. Thus the phrase means that in accepting God’s salvation a person becomes the “property” equally of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit and surrenders to their shared lordship. This is difficult to understand if the Spirit is not divine in the same way as are the Father and the Son are divine.

Another trinitarian text is the blessing of 2 Cor. 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you.” This expresses our continuing dependence on all three persons.

Another text that parallels the three is 1 Cor. 12:4-6, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.” Here all three persons of the Trinity are equally involved in the bestowing of what we call “spiritual gifts.”

These three texts together show that there is no one proper order for listing the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. We usually use this order because of the influence of the baptismal text, and as a result we usually speak of the Holy Spirit as “the third person of the Trinity.” In view of these last two texts, however, we can see that this order is more traditional than normative. As we can see, in 1 Cor. 12:4-6 the Spirit is actually mentioned first; and in the three texts God (the Father) is placed in all three positions.

Other trinitarian texts include Eph. 4:4-6, where “one Spirit,” “one Lord,” and “one God and Father” are each included in the seven basic doctrines that unite believers. Also relevant are 2 Cor. 1:21-22, “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge”; and 1 Peter 1:2, which says we are chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood.” These latter two texts again involve all three persons of the Trinity in the work of salvation.

One text that should not be cited to support the Trinity and therefore the deity of the Spirit is 1 John 5:7 in the KJV, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (see also the NKJV). Most modern translations omit this verse because it is a clear case of a very late addition to the text of the Bible; it is present in no early or even moderately early Greek manuscripts of the NT.


Another biblical basis for affirming the Spirit’s deity is the fact that he is said to possess divine attributes. Hebrews 9:14 speaks of him as “the eternal Spirit.” According to 1 Tim. 6:16, only God “possesses immortality,” i.e., is inherently eternal (see Psalm 90:2).

Also, 1 Cor. 2:10-11 presents the Holy Spirit as omniscient or all-knowing, since the content of his mind is the same as the content of the Father’s mind: “For the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.” Isaiah 40:13-14 suggests that “the Spirit of the LORD” by nature knows all there is to know: “Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or as His counselor has informed Him? With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge and informed Him of the way of understanding?”

Psalm 139:7-10 clearly involves the Spirit of God in divine omnipresence: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.” Also, the fact that the Holy Spirit simultaneously indwells all immersed believers worldwide shows that his essence is not limited by space, which is the very presupposition of omnipresence. (His indwelling is more than his omnipresence, however.)

Though the Bible does not explicitly attribute omnipotence to the Spirit, it does say that he performs works of such great power that we normally think of them as things that only God can do. A main example is creation (Gen. 1:2; Ps. 104:30); another is raising the dead (Rom. 8:11). Creation and resurrection are the two masterworks in God’s repertoire of omnipotence (Romans 4:17), and the Spirit does both. He is the Spirit of power (Micah 3:8; Zech. 4:6; Acts 1:8; Rom. 15:13, 19).


Jesus teaches that the worst sin anyone can commit is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, since it is the only sin that “never has forgiveness” (Mark 3:29). His full statement is thus: “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt. 12:31-32; see Luke 12:10). This is incomprehensible if the Holy Spirit is not divine, since blasphemy against the Son of Man—Jesus, God the Son—can be forgiven. Surely blasphemy against the Spirit can be worse than this only if the Spirit is also divine.


Finally, we believe the Holy Spirit is divine because the Bible specifically speaks of him as God. When the Apostle Peter addresses Ananias’ deceit in Acts 5:1-4, he asks him, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit . . . ?” He then characterizes this lie thus: “You have not lied to men but to God.” Thus Peter specifically equates the Holy Spirit with God; lying to the Spirit is the same as lying to God.

Another such text is 1 Cor. 3:16, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Using the analogy or type of the OT temple as the literal locale of the Shekinah glory, the visible manifestation of God to the Jews (Exod. 40:34-38), Paul says the church is God’s temple, God’s dwelling-place today; and we are indwelt specifically by “the Spirit of God.” See also Eph. 2:22, “You also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” The same applies to the body of the individual believer (1 Cor. 6:19).

The Bible identifies the Holy Spirit as God in a very dramatic way when OT events and sayings of which Yahweh (the LORD) is the subject are in the NT attributed to the Holy Spirit. One such NT text is Acts 28:25-27, where Paul directly cites Isaiah 6:8-10. Whereas Paul says, “the Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet,” the OT text clearly places the quoted words in the mouth of Yahweh (the LORD). The same is true of Heb. 10:15-17 and Jer. 31:31-34. Hebrews says that in these words “the Holy Spirit also testifies to us,” while Jeremiah clearly shows that they are the declaration of Yahweh (the LORD). Based on these texts, Rene Pache says, “The Spirit is therefore undeniably God Himself” (The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, 16-17). John F. Walvoord agrees: “The title of Jehovah, reserved in Scripture for the true God, is therefore used of the Holy Spirit” (The Holy Spirit, 12).

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  1. What are we to make of groups that affirm that the Holy Spirit is not a part of the trinity but is rather an extension of the power of the Father? Seems to me that they end up at some type of hybrid modalism? Obviously denying Christ’s divinity carries with it perilous consequences with regards to salvation but what of doing the same with the Spirit?

    • I consider the denial of the distinct personhood of the Holy Spirit as a serious false doctrine, but I cannot see in Scripture the same requirements for accepting it as a condition for salvation that are found regarding the distinct personhood and deity of Jesus. You are right that there is a shadow of modalism here. I do consider holding to this false doctrine as disqualifying anyone from being a church teacher or leader. I would also consider attempts to teach this doctrine to others as disruption of the unity of the church. Usually, any group that holds to such a doctrine has other more serious issues that qualify it as a cult (e.g., Mormonism, original Armstrongism).

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