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One potential argument that the Holy Spirit is a person is to look at the Greek words in John 14:26, 15:26, and 16:13-14. There we see that the antecedent of the masculine ἐκεῖνος (a masculine word for “that person”) is πνεῦμα (a neuter word for “Spirit”). Hence, so the argument goes, the Spirit is a person. Unfortunately, that argument likely doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

A more fruitful approach is first to ask a question almost no one asks: how do we know that the Father is a person? How about the Son?

The answer is that the Bible presents a person as a substance that can do personal and relational things (such as speaking, thinking, feeling, acting). Something that does these personal things in relationship—like God, angels, and human beings—is a person.

How does the Holy Spirit fare up under this criteria?

1. The Spirit teaches and reminds.

John 14:26, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

1 Corinthians 2:13, “We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

2. The Spirit speaks.

Acts 8:29, “the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot.’

Acts 13:2, “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.'”

3. The Spirit makes decisions.

Acts 15:28, “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements.”

3. The Spirit can be grieved.

Ephesians 4:30, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

4. The Spirit can be outraged.

Hebrews 10:29, “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has . . . outraged the Spirit of grace?”

5. The Spirit can be lied to.

Acts 5:3, 4, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? . . . You have not lied to men but to God‘”

6. The Spirit can forbid or prevent human speech and plans.

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

7. The Spirit searches everything and comprehends God’s thoughts.

1 Corinthians 2:10-11, “the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. . . . no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”

8. The Spirit apportions spiritual gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:11, “the same Spirit . . . apportions [spiritual gifts] to each one individually as he wills.”

9. The Spirit helps us, intercedes for us, and has a mind.

Romans 8:26-27, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

10. The Spirit bears witness to believers about their adoption

Romans 8:16, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

11. The Spirit bears witness to Christ.

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

12. The Spirit glorifies Christ, takes what is Christ, and declares it to believers.

John 16:14, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”


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17 thoughts on “How Do We Know the Holy Spirit Is a Person?”

  1. steve hays says:

    I’d add that in Scripture, “spirit” isn’t just a synonym for something immaterial. In Scripture, spirits are personal agents. Intelligent beings. If that’s true even in the case of created spirits, how much more so in the case of God’s Spirit?

  2. Great points. I’m passing them on for my congregation to chew on.

    I have a question that is slightly, kind of, sort of related. A older African pastor calls me up and is looking to rent worship space for his small congregation. I’d be glad to consider it normally. But turns out his group’s theology affirms divine personhood for the Father and the Son, but denies the HS is a person. He’s described as the active power of God or something like that. What would others have done? Rented to him? Politely decline his request? I’m just curious.

    1. Wayne says:

      Steve, his teaching as you describe it is outside the sphere of an Evangelical view of the Trinity. It likely leads to all sorts of other theological problems. I would probably decline, but invite him over for dinner, discuss it, pray for him and see if the Lord uses it.

  3. Justin Smith says:

    Thank you, Charles Hodge.

  4. James Newby says:

    Further, if the Holy Spirit were some’thing’ other than relational ‘person’ in the Godhead, there would be a ‘thing’ that has co-eternity (Heb. 9:14) with God and yet is not divine. Why would relational God (say, a ‘binitarian’ God of Father and Son) need to allocate relational aspects to a non-relational ‘other’ that is not by nature relational being. I used to be a ‘binitarian’ but by the grace of God have seen the utter folly of denying the personal nature of the Holy Spirit. Thanks for a great post.

  5. taco says:

    JT: When will we see a resurgence in teaching Trinitarianism in the Church? It seems like most average church goers have a wrong understanding of it. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people use the Sabellian “3 forms of water” analogy.

  6. Coleman Ford says:

    Where was this three days ago ;-)? Thanks for pointing to Naselli on this. Very helpful!

  7. jin says:

    Another perspective to ponder on is that the Holy Spirit is the final manifestation of God’s love and willingness to be “among” us.

    1. In the Old Testament, God dwelt in the tabernacle within the midst of Israel.
    2. Jesus came as a human to be the “Immanuel” – “God with us”
    3. Now God manifests as the Holy Spirit to be “within us”

    There is a clear trend of God trying to be nearer and nearer with us. This is the Love of God wanting to be with us and wanting to be part of our lives from the beginning. I submit to you that the Holy Spirit is the final manifestation of his love to be “with us”. Therefore, the third part of His Godhead as well.

    1. Ken Abbott says:

      Perhaps I’m reading you incorrectly, jin, but it seems as though you describe a progressive modalistic manifestation of God. Yet Scripture is clear that the three Persons of the Godhead are co-equal and co-eternal. Furthermore, the Spirit is present and active in creation and in the lives of God’s people very early in the OT accounts. And the book of Hebrews maintains that the final and fullest revelation of God came in the person of Jesus Christ. The Spirit of Christ has come to indwell his people and to testify of him to them and to participate in intercession for them.

      1. jin says:

        Ken,

        Yes, Jesus Christ is the final and fullest revelation of God in person. There is no argument there. And, yes God’s Spirit has always been present since the beginning.

        All I want to do is to present a trend that shows God’s yearning to be with us. A trend that shows God coming closer and closer to us. I marvel at God’s love for us and His apparent “wanting” to be among us. I praise Him knowing that His presence now is felt through the Holy Spirit within our hearts and minds.

        1. Joe Knoslow says:

          Yep! The Bible from beginning to end speaks to a God
          who is personal. Thus, the Holy Spirit is surely personal
          and involved in intimate relationships with homo sapiens.

          1. Joe Knoslow says:

            And apart from the Bible, Christian theology, from the
            beginning, emphasized that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit
            are One and the same. This thinking was in place among
            the Gospel of John Christian community early in the first
            century.

  8. The Holy Spirit is the third person in the Trinity. He is fully God. He is eternal, omniscient, omnipresent, has a will, and can speak. He is alive. He is a person. He is not particularly visible in the Bible because His ministry is to bear witness of Jesus (John 15:26).

    Some cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses say that the Holy Spirit is nothing more than a force (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, pp. 406-407). This is false. If the Holy Spirit were merely a force, then He could not speak (Acts 13:2); He could not be grieved (Eph. 4:30); and He would not have a will (1 Cor. 12:11).

    The truth is that the Holy Spirit is a person the same as the Father and the Son are within the Trinity.

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  10. Pete says:

    Hi, I love this post – so simple but so clear. I was wondering if you have anything similar with proofs for Jesus’s divinity also? Could be useful for chats with the local JWs!

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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