How does the Bible describe the Holy Spirit? Does it describe the Holy Spirit as a person, a member of a Trinity? Let’s look at what the Bible teaches.
If the Holy Spirit is a person, why is the Holy Spirit not included when Paul, Peter and John sent greetings to the churches? Why is the Trinity doctrine not taught in the Bible?
The word, “person” has had different meanings over the course of time. The New World Encyclopedia notes, “Tertullian started to use the expression of ‘three persons’ (tres personae in Latin). The Latin word persona in the days of Tertullian never meant a self-conscious individual person, which is what is usually meant by the modern English word ‘person.’ In those days, it only meant legal ownership or a mask used at the theater. Thus three distinct persons are still of one substance (una substantia in Latin). It was in this context that Tertullian also used the word trinitas” (key word “Trinity”). In the Trinity doctrine, a “person” is like a personality or “mask.”
Additionally, “the word Trinity is not found in the Bible, and though used by Tertullian in the last decade of the 2nd century, it did not find a place formally in the theology of the church till the 4th century” (New Bible Dictionary, 1982, “Trinity”).
The doctrine of the Trinity developed over the centuries as a human attempt to explain the nature of God. But what does the true source of all right doctrine tell us about the nature of the Holy Spirit?
How the Bible refers to the Holy Spirit
As we turn to the Scriptures, we will see that the Holy Spirit of God is the power of God and is not (as erroneously taught and believed by many) a person—a member of a “Trinity.” The Holy Spirit is the powerful means by which the two members of the Godhead revealed in the Bible—God the Father and Jesus Christ, the Son of God—project Their will, Their influence, Their nature and Their creative power throughout the universe, including affecting the minds of human beings.
The Bible refers to the Holy Spirit as a “gift” that God will “pour out” on people (Acts 2:38; Acts 2:17). This is language appropriate to use in describing a thing, rather than a person. However, these analogies do not of and by themselves prove or disprove that the Holy Spirit is not a person. The proof comes from many other scriptures in the Bible.
While both the Father and Christ are worshipped as the two eternal Beings of the Godhead (John 4:23-24; John 20:28; Hebrews 1:6), there is no instance in the Bible of the Holy Spirit being worshipped. This is appropriate, since the Holy Spirit is not a person, but the power of the two Beings: God the Father and Jesus Christ, the Son of God. They share a common Spirit and nature (Ephesians 4:4; John 10:30).
If the Holy Spirit were a person, the apostle Paul certainly disrespected and snubbed “Him” by omitting the Holy Spirit in his typical greetings to the churches. He mentions the Father and the Son (Jesus Christ) in his greetings but consistently omits the Holy Spirit (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2; 1 Timothy 1:1-2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 1:3). The apostles Peter and John also greeted the brethren in some of their epistles in the name of God the Father and Jesus Christ, similarly not mentioning the Holy Spirit—quite a disrespectful snub if the Holy Spirit is also a person (2 Peter 1:2; 2 John 1:3).
Here’s another puzzle for someone who believes the Spirit is a person. Jesus prayed to the Father (John 17:1), but His mother Mary was pregnant with Him as a result of the Holy Spirit: “She was found with child of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). That would make the Holy Spirit the “father” of Jesus, if the Holy Spirit were a person. This potential confusion of understanding is quite easily avoided by realizing that the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is not a person but the power by which the Father gave human life to Jesus in the womb of Mary.
Grammar and translation issues
There are instances in English translations of the Bible where the pronouns “He” and “His” are used to refer to the Holy Spirit, but this is a matter of grammar and translation, not of biblical teaching. In many languages, such as Spanish and Greek, nouns have gender. They are grammatically either feminine or masculine or neuter, whether or not they refer to living things that are female or male.
For example, in Spanish, a door is la puerta. In the Spanish language, this is a “feminine” noun, and it is appropriate to refer to a door by the use of a feminine pronoun (ella, which is equivalent to the English pronoun she). But in English translation, door is grammatically referred to as “it,” since a door is not a female or male person, but a thing.
A similar situation exists in the Greek language—the language in which the New Testament was originally written. Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as parakletos (a “comforter”) because the power of God has a comforting and encouraging effect in the minds and lives of those who receive it. In the Greek language parakletos is a masculine noun. Therefore, in Greek, a masculine pronoun is appropriate in referring to parakletos.
The translators of the King James Bible carried this grammatical arrangement over into the English in a number of places, such as John 14:16. Thus, in the English translation, the Holy Spirit is referred to as “He.” However, this is no more evidence that the Holy Spirit is a person than the use, in Spanish, of the feminine pronoun ella (she) to refer to a door is evidence that a door is a female person. Again, these are matters of grammar and translation, not of biblical theology.
Words added in 1 John 5
Finally, we note that some people are confused by the English wording of 1 John 5:6-8. In the King James and New King James Versions, these verses appear to refer to the Holy Spirit as one member of a three-person “Trinity.” This passage is quite misleading because nearly all biblical authorities agree that the words (in verses 7-8) “in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth” were not a part of the original text that the apostle John wrote, but were instead added much later (perhaps in an attempt to buttress the doctrine of the Trinity). Most modern English translations do not include these words.
In light of this, we should take note of two things. First, the fact that this nonbiblical addition is the only clear statement of the Trinity highlights the weakness of the Trinity doctrine. It isn’t taught elsewhere in the Scriptures. Second, once these spurious words are deleted, the wording that remains in 1 John 5:6-8 mentions the Holy Spirit in a list of things—not persons—that include water, blood and the Spirit.
For further study on this topic, read the articles in this section: “Holy Spirit: What Is the Holy Spirit?”