Is the Holy Spirit God?

Paul Enns
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The deity of the Holy Spirit is inextricably bound up with the doctrine of the Trinity. A denial of one is a denial of the other. Conversely, belief in the Trinity necessitates a belief in the deity of the Holy Spirit.

Divine Titles of the Spirit

The title Spirit of God evidences His relationship to the Father and the Son and also affirms His deity. “When He is called ‘the Spirit of God,’ that means that He is the very Person of God. First Corinthians 2:11 clearly shows that as man and his spirit make one and the same being, so God and His Spirit are only one.”[1]

Probably in most instances when the term Spirit of God is used, it is a reference to the Holy Spirit rather than the Father; similarly, when the term Spirit of Christ is used it is usually a reference to the Holy Spirit. The reason for this is that if the Father were intended, it would be most normal to use God, Lord, and so forth; if Christ were intended, it would be most normal to use the name Jesus Christ. For example, in Romans 8:9–11 all members of the Trinity are mentioned: “Spirit of God dwells in you” (v. 9); “Christ is in you” (v. 10); “Spirit of Him [Father] who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you” (v. 11). It seems fairly clear that “Spirit of God” is a reference to the Holy Spirit rather than to Christ or the Father. From Romans 8:9 and 8:13–14 it is further seen that “Spirit” and “Spirit of God” are synonyms and a reference to the third person of the Trinity.[2] A similar example can be seen in Acts 16:6–7 where “Holy Spirit” (v. 6) and “Spirit of Jesus” (v. 7) are synonyms. Ephesians 4:4 states there is only one Spirit, indicating the above proposition is true.

This chart is adapted from the information in John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958), 10–12.

Divine Attributes of the Spirit

Life (Rom. 8:2). Life is an attribute of deity (Josh. 3:10; John 1:4; 14:6; 1 Tim. 3:15). As the Father and the Son have life in themselves, so the Holy Spirit has life in Himself.

Omniscience (1 Cor. 2:10–12). Someone other than man must know about God. The spirit of man (the human spirit) knows the things pertaining to humanity; the Holy Spirit knows about God. The Holy Spirit searches the depths of God (1 Cor. 2:10); the same term depth (Gk. bathos) is used of the knowledge of God. It is unfathomable to man, but God the Holy Spirit knows the otherwise unsearchable and unfathomable (Rom. 11:33).

Omnipotence (Job 33:4). The omnipotence of the Holy Spirit is seen in creation. In Genesis 1:2 the Holy Spirit is seen hovering over creation as a hen over its young; the Holy Spirit gave life to creation.[3]

Omnipresence (Ps. 139:7–10; John 14:17). In Psalm 139 David exclaims that He cannot flee from the presence of the Holy Spirit; if he ascends to heaven, He is there; if he descends into the depths of the earth, the Spirit is there also. Even if he could fly away swiftly, he could not escape the presence of the Spirit. The omnipresence of the Spirit is also taught in John 14:17 where Christ taught the disciples that the Spirit would indwell them all, an affirmation of the Spirit’s omnipresence.

Eternity (Heb. 9:14). The Holy Spirit is called the Eternal Spirit in this passage. Through the Eternal Spirit Christ offered Himself without blemish to God. Just as the Holy Spirit had a part in the birth of Christ (Luke 1:35), in the same way He also had a part in the death of Christ.[4]

Holiness (cf. Matt. 12:32). One important aspect of deity is that God is holy, entirely set apart and separated from sin and sinners. The most common name for the Spirit is Holy Spirit, indicating that the third person of the Trinity also possesses this transcendent attribute of deity.

Love (Gal. 5:22). The Holy Spirit is love and produces love in the child of God. If He did not possess love as a primary attribute He could not produce love in the believer.

Truth (John 14:17). The Holy Spirit is termed the “Spirit of truth” in John 14:17 and 15:26. Just as Christ was the truth ( John 14:6) so the Spirit is the truth and leads people into the truth through the Scriptures.[5]

The chart “Attributes of the Triune God” reveals the unity and the equality of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit exhibits the same attributes of deity as the Father and the Son.

Divine Works of the Spirit

The works of the Holy Spirit give evidence of His deity.

Creation (Gen. 1:2). Several Scripture passages affirm that the Holy Spirit was involved in the work of creation. Genesis 1:2 indicates that the Spirit brooded over creation, bringing it to life. In Psalm 104:24–26 the psalmist describes the creation, and in verse 30 he indicates how God created: “You send forth Your Spirit, they are created.” Job 26:13 expands the creation of God to the heavens; the Holy Spirit created not only the earth but also the heavens.[6] (See also previous discussion.)

Generating Christ (Matt. 1:20). The overshadowing of Mary by the Holy Spirit assured a sinless humanity of Christ. Christ in His deity is eternal, but the Holy Spirit begat the sinless human nature of Christ.

He brought the humanity of Christ into being. It is too often assumed that Mary the mother of Christ contributed His humanity and that the Holy Spirit contributed His deity; but a moment’s reflection would disclose that the deity of Christ was His own from all eternity and therefore was not originated at the time of His birth. He became incarnate when His eternal Person took on the human form. . . . The Spirit caused the humanity of Christ to originate and that is His act of generation.[7]

Inspiration of Scripture (2 Peter 1:21). There is an analogy between the Holy Spirit’s generating Christ’s humanity and the Spirit’s superintending the writers of Scripture; just as the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, guaranteeing the sinlessness of Christ’s humanity, so the Holy Spirit superintended the human writers to guarantee an inerrant Scripture. By analogy, a denial of one necessitates a denial of the other.

The writers of Scripture were carried along by the Holy Spirit, guaranteeing the inspiration of the books of Scripture. The Spirit’s work in inspiration is analogous to the Father’s work (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16).

“The Holy Spirit is love and produces love in the child of God.”

Regeneration (Titus 3:5). To regenerate means to give life. The Holy Spirit causes the new birth; He is its author. Regeneration by the Holy Spirit is the spiritual counterpart of human reproduction in the physical realm. Human generation produces human life; spiritual regeneration produces spiritual life. The Holy Spirit produces the new birth, but He does it through the instrumentality of the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23). The same truth is taught in John 3:6 where Jesus indicates the Holy Spirit produces the new birth in that He regenerates the person.

Intercession (Rom. 8:26). Christ is an intercessor for believers, but so is the Holy Spirit. (See previous discussion on this verse.)

Sanctification (2 Thess. 2:13). There are three aspects of sanctification, the first being positional: “the setting apart which occurs when by the Holy Spirit the one who believes is joined unto Christ and thus comes to be in Christ.”[8] (Cf. 1 Cor. 1:30; Heb. 10:14–15; 1 Peter 1:2.)

Helping saints (John 14:16). In this text Jesus promised the disciples “another Helper.” Helper is the Greek word parakleton, which comes from two words, “alongside” and “called,” hence, “one called alongside to help.” In 1 John 2:1 the Lord Jesus is called the sinning saint’s Paraclete (“Advocate” in most versions). The Holy Spirit is “another of the same kind” as Christ, a Helper who is called alongside to help the believer. The Holy Spirit’s work as the believer’s Paraclete (Helper) demands His deity since His work is the same as Christ’s in His role as Paraclete.

It becomes apparent that the works of the Holy Spirit indicate His deity—His oneness within the Godhead, together with the Father and the Son.

Divine Procession of the Spirit

The relationship of the Holy Spirit to the other members of the Trinity is expressed by the term procession, indicating the Holy Spirit came forth from both the Father and the Son.

The Constantinople Creed affirmed this doctrine in A.D. 381. The filioque (“and from the Son”) phrase was added at the synod of Toledo in A.D. 589 to affirm the equality of the Son, based on John 15:26, which affirmed that both Christ and the Father sent the Spirit. This statement combated the heresy that depreciated the person of Christ.

There are several indicators suggesting the doctrine of the procession of the Spirit. All designations such as “Spirit of God” affirm the procession of the Spirit in that He is the Spirit from God. The present tense of John 15:26 (“proceeds”) is used to understand the eternality of the relationship. Hence, the Holy Spirit is spoken of as eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. The eternal procession of the Spirit seems to be affirmed by Psalm 104:30, which indicates the Holy Spirit came forth from the Father in the Old Testament economy. The Greek Orthodox church understood the “eternal procession” as beginning with the incarnation of Christ (both occurred at the same time).[9]

A word of caution should be issued. The procession of the Holy Spirit does not indicate the subordination of the Spirit to the other members of the Trinity. J. Oliver Buswell discusses the problem and notes that this very term was understood by some in the ancient church that the Holy Spirit was a “quasi-dependent being.” Buswell rejects the term, considering it a hindrance.[10]

[1] Rene Pache, The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit (Chicago: Moody, 1954), 14.

[2] These statements are tautological, repetitious of an idea.

[3] Keil remarks, “Raqeph in the Piel is applied to the hovering and brooding of a bird over its young, to warm them, and develop their vital powers (Deut. 32:11). In such a way as this the Spirit of God moved upon the deep, which had received at its creation the germs of all life, to fill them with vital energy by His breath of life.” C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, 25 vols. (repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 1:49.

[4] There is a problem in the interpretation of this passage in that it is not entirely clear whether pneuma refers to the Holy Spirit or whether it is a reference to the human spirit of Christ. Although either is possible, most scholars argue in favor of the Holy Spirit.

[5] There is an abnormal emphasis on experience today among Christians. Although Christianity is experiential it should also be recognized that the Holy Spirit will never lead a believer into an “experience” that is contrary to the Word of God. A spiritu- al experience is only valid insofar as it agrees with the Word of God. See Faith Mis- guided: Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism by Arthur L. Johnson (Chicago: Moody, 1988).

[6] The NASB translation is “by His breath.” The Hebrew word ruach may be tran- slated “Spirit,” “breath,” or “wind.” Some passages like Job 26:13 are more difficult to settle, although the context usually determines which option is meant.

[7] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Dallas: Dallas Seminary, 1948), 6:33.

[8] Ibid., 6:45–46.

[9] Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, 14.

[10] J. Oliver Buswell Jr., A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962), 1:119.

For Further Reading:

The Moody Handbook of Theology

by Paul Enns

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