The Personality of the Spirit, and How we Know

Name and Place for Tuesday, December 23 (’14)


Orthodox Trinitarian theology teaches that the Holy Spirit is God himself, a personal being, and not just a force or way in which God presents himself at certain times. The Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son, but with the full integrity and attributes of deity. I’ve had to tell my 8th grade students not to refer to the Holy Spirit as “it,” but as “he.” Like the Nicene Creed says in its section on the Spirit:

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

0830815368mIn his book on the doctrine of the Spirit (check it out here: The Holy Spirit), Sinclair Ferguson raises the question of whether we can determine from the Old Testament alone that the Holy Spirit is a personal subsistence of God, distinct from the Father and Son. Don’t let “personal subsistence” scare you; he is just asking if Old Testament revelation by itself is enough for us to arrive at the conclusion that God is one being in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. He answers like this (emphasis mine):

“The wisest approach to this question is to break it down into its fundamental parts by asking:

(1) Is the activity of the Spirit [in the OT] divine activity? The answer is certainly affirmative.

(2) Is the activity of the Spirit personal [i.e., as opposed to an impersonal force] activity? Again, the answer is, surely, affirmative. The Spirit directs the people of God. It is axiomatic [goes without saying] that only a personal Spirit could engage in high-level rational activity in relationship to other persons.

This brings us to the third and crucial question:

(3) Is the activity of the Spirit hypostatically distinct? The action of the Spirit in creation, Exodus and kingdom-governing is certainly both personal and divine; but is the Spirit merely a mode of God’s being – the divine viewed from the perspective of his immanence in the created order in distinction from his transcendent self-sufficiency – and thus akin to such expressions as ‘the arm of the Lord’? Are we to think of God’s Spirit, therefore, as extension rather than hypostatization? Or can we, on the basis of ‘good and necessary consequence’ from the Old Testament, go a stage further?

It should be axiomatic in all Christian theology that the Holy Spirit (as indeed the Father) is fully revealed to us only in and through Jesus Christ. This much is already anticipated under the old covenant. It is recognized that there is a partial character about the work of the Spirit which will reach its fullness only in the Messiah (Is. 11:1ff), and therefore in the inner and widespread experience of the Spirit (Ezk. 36:25-27; Joel 2:28ff.). We therefore ought to expect a strong element of the enigmatic about the Old Testament witness to the Spirit parallel to what the authors of messianic prophecy discovered in their own prophecies about Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10-11). Only through the revelation of the Spirit in the Messiah does the enigmatic testimony of the Old Testament come into its true light, so that the Spirit’s activity is seen to have been more than merely an extension of the presence of God.”

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