By Jeffery Schwehm
The Holy Spirit is a Person
The Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit. The scriptural evidence they give to say that the Holy Spirit is not a person is as follows:
“As for the “Holy Spirit,” the so-called third Person of the Trinity, we have already seen that this is not a person but God’s active force. John the Baptizer said that Jesus would baptize with holy spirit, even as John had been baptizing with water. Hence, in the same way that water is not a person, holy spirit is not a person. (Matthew 3:11) What John foretold was fulfilled when, following the death and resurrection of Jesus, holy spirit was poured out on his followers gathered in Jerusalem. The Bible says: “They all became filled with holy spirit.” (Acts 2:4) Were they “filled” with a person? No, but they were filled with God’s active force.”- You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth page 40
However, the JWs will admit that anyone in the Bible who is depicted has having an intellect and will is a person. They say this in their discussion about the person of God when they say on page 36 of the book You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth, that God exhibits intelligence and, therefore, this along with him having a body makes God a person.
If the Holy Spirit is a person, we would expect for the Bible to describe and attribute to the Holy Spirit those qualities and abilities that we would expect a person to have such as intellect (the ability to know), emotion (the ability to feel) and will (the ability to choose). An impersonal active force, however, would not have these capabilities. Notice how the actions of the Holy Spirit are described even in the New World Translation:
“But when they are leading you along to deliver you up, do not be anxious before-hand about what to speak; but whatever is given you in that hour, speak this, for you are not the ones speaking, but the holy spirit is.”-Mark 13:11
“Thus says the holy spirit, ‘The man to whom this girdle belongs the Jews will bind in this manner in Jerusalem and deliver into the hands of people of the nations.”- Acts 21:11
“Moreover, the holy spirit also bears witness to us,”-Hebrews 10:15
After I read these scriptures, I wondered how an impersonal force can speak or bear witness as in a courtroom. Notice the next examples from the New World Translation:
“As they were publicly ministering to Jehovah and fasting, the holy spirit said: “Of all persons set Barnabas and Saul apart for me for the work to which I have called them.”-Acts 13:2
“For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things.” Acts 15:28
“Moreover, they went through Phrygia and the country of Galatia, because they were forbidden by the holy spirit to speak the word in the [district of] Asia.-Acts 16:6
“Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own [Son].-Acts 20:28
After I read these scriptures, I wondered how an impersonal force can choose individuals, choose not to add further burdens to others, forbid the apostles from going to Asia, and even choose overseers in the local congregations in Ephesus. These are all examples of what a person would do who has intellect (the ability to know) and will (the ability to choose). Notice the next scripture from the New World Translation:
“Also, do not be grieving God’s holy spirit, with which you have been sealed for a day of releasing by ransom.”-Hebrews 10:29
After reading this scripture, I wondered how an impersonal force could feel grieved. Here was another example of the Holy Spirit having the emotional attribute (the ability to feel) of a person.
In short, there are many references to the Holy Spirit as a person, even in the JWs own New World Translation of the Bible. The JWs response to this would be to say that the inspired writers are merely using the literary technique of personification which is that they are giving the attributes of personhood to a thing whereas a more correct understanding of scripture would be to realize that the holy spirit is merely a force belonging to God that is no more a person than the natural forces of fire and water.
At this point, I was rather confused as to which perspective was most correct. It seemed that I was at an impasse as both the JWs and the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians could both point to scriptures which appeared to support their very different points of view. However, I was impressed by the number of scriptures that the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians could cite in support of the Holy Spirit being a person.
What I wanted to know now, was how Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants came to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is God, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, using the Bible.
The Holy Spirit is God!
During our discussion on the Divinity of Christ, I gave examples of how the New Testament writers applied Old Testament scriptures that the Jews applied to Jehovah (or Yahweh) and now applied these to Christ. These examples went a long way in helping me to see how Christians, Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic could come to the conclusion using the Bible that Jesus is God by nature because according to the writers of the New Testament, Jesus has all of the qualities of God the Father while being a separate person from God the Father. I wondered, if there were any examples of this relating to the Holy Spirit. With the help of the JWs own New World Translation of the Bible and the book The Trinity: Evidence and Issues by Dr. Robert Morey, I found some examples that proved to be very troubling for me.
In Acts 28:25-27, St. Paul is speaking to the Jewish people of the city of Rome about the Gospel of Jesus. In his last words to them, the following is said according to the New World Translation:
“The holy spirit aptly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your forefathers, saying, ‘Go to this people and say: “By hearing, you will hear but by no means understand; and, looking you will look but by no means see.” For the heart of this people has grown unreceptive, and with their ears they have heard without response, and they have shut their eyes; that they should never see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn back, and I should heal them.”
In the 1984 Reference Edition of the New World Translation, it has a cross-reference to the book of Isaiah chapter 6. Notice who Isaiah says is speaking these words:
“And I began to hear the voice of Jehovah saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And proceeded to say: “Here I am! Send me.” And he went on to say: “Go, and you must say to this people, ‘Hear again and again, O men, but do not understand; and see again and again, but do not get any knowledge.’ Make the heart of this people unreceptive, and make their very ears unresponsive, and past their very eyes together, that they may not see with their eyes and with their ears they many not hear, and that their own heart may not understand and that they may not actually turn back and get healing for themselves.”-Isaiah 6:8-10 New World Translation
So, in addition to St. Paul saying that the Holy Spirit speaks which in and of itself seems to indicate that the Holy Spirit is a person, St. Paul attributes the words of Jehovah from the book of Isaiah as coming from the Holy Spirit. I found this troubling because how can an impersonal force speak and, furthermore, how can an impersonal force speak as if it is Almighty God, Jehovah, Himself?
In another example of this, the writer of the book of Hebrews says that the Holy Spirit bears witness to us as in a courtroom about the New Covenant that Jehovah wishes to make with his faithful people. Here is what it says in the New World Translation:
Moreover, the holy spirit also bears witness to us, for after it has said: “ ‘This is the covenant that I shall covenant toward them after those days,’ says Jehovah. ‘I will put my laws in their hearts, and in their minds I shall write them.’ ” [it says afterward] “And I shall by no means call their sins and their lawless deeds to mind anymore.”-Hebrews 10: 15-17
Notice the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that the holy spirit bears witness to us. How can an impersonal force bear witness to someone? In addition, the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us in verse 17 that the holy spirit (which the JWs’ Bible refers to with the impersonal pronoun “it”) will no longer hold the sins of the people to account anymore. The questions now are how can an impersonal force do that and is the writer of the book of Hebrews giving some power to the Holy Spirit that would in the minds of the JWs belong only to Jehovah, whom they consider Almighty God?
Well, when I looked at the cross-reference to Hebrews 10:17 in the 1984 Reference Edition of the JWs’ New World Translation, it references the book of Jeremiah chapter 31: 34 which says:
“And they will no more teach each one his companion and each one his brother,’ saying, ‘Know Jehovah!’ for they will all know me, from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them,’ is the utterance of Jehovah. “For I shall forgive their error, and their sin I shall remember no more.”-Jeremiah 31:34 New World Translation
So, the writer of the book of Hebrews appears to be saying that it is the Holy Spirit who will forgive the sins of the people and it appears as though He is quoting from a passage in Jeremiah which says that it is Jehovah, Almighty God, who will forgive the sins of the people. Thus, I believed that an argument could be made that the writer of the book of Hebrews is equating the Holy Spirit as a person with the same qualities as God the Father!
It was at this point that I was beginning to see the way in which someone could accept the doctrine of the Trinity as a dogma that could be derived from Sacred Scripture. And, I also began to realize that in many respects, the JWs did not really understand what the Trinity doctrine actually confessed about the nature of God.