Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Holy Spirit: An "It" or a "He"?

At church this morning, the Pastor Emeritus was preaching.  He said a couple of times in his sermon that the Holy Spirit is a “he,” not an “it,” and that to call the Holy Spirit an “it” is to denigrate the Holy Spirit.

This stood out to me.  I grew up in Armstrongism, which maintained that the Holy Spirit is an “it”—-not the third person of the Trinity, but rather God’s power.  I’m not sure to whom exactly the Pastor Emeritus was responding this morning.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses regard the Holy Spirit as an “it,” so maybe he was responding to them.  Regarding Armstrongism, it does not have the fame that it had in the past, but its offshoots have their TV and radio programs and publications, which do get out, so the Pastor Emeritus could be responding to something he heard from one or more of those outlets.  Or, since the Pastor Emeritus is in his nineties, perhaps he remembers when Armstrongism was in its prime, and its view on the Holy Spirit is still in his mind.

I have a couple of books about the Holy Spirit that I will read someday.  One is Michael Welker’s God the Spirit, and the other is Jurgen Moltmann’s The Spirit of Life.  I’m curious as to when exactly the Holy Spirit came to be regarded as a person.  I am doubtful that the Spirit of the Lord was regarded as a person in the Hebrew Bible, for my understanding is that the Hebrew Bible does not regard the God of Israel as multiple persons in one being.  There, the Holy Spirit could be God’s power.

In the New Testament, things may be more complex.  Who exactly indwells the believer: Christ or the Holy Spirit?  I see both.  That makes sense if the Holy Spirit is Christ’s power: Christ dwells in believers through his power, the Holy Spirit.  At the same time, I am hesitant to deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.  There are times when the Holy Spirit does personal things, and I suppose that one could come back and say those are personifications—-that the Holy Spirit is an “it” but is being described in personal terms.  But how can an impersonal force intercede for believers, as Romans 8 says the Spirit does?  Moreover, the Holy Spirit can be blasphemed.  Can a non-personal force be blasphemed?  Maybe: perhaps all sorts of things can be cursed.

I’ll stop here.

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