In this section, I intend to examine the NT data relative to the Holy Spirit-- traditionally considered to be an agent within the Trinity. I will focus on several specific issues:
One of the major challenges will be the relative paucity of the data (relative to Jesus) concerning this Person. This is somewhat predictable from the descriptions of the operations of the Spirit:
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. (John 16.13ff)
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. (I Peter 1.10ff)Notice that the Holy Spirit has/had a very Christo-centric ministry. (Interestingly, Christ had a 'Patri-centric' ministry--cf. LPJG:102.) If one of his main functions was to 'reveal the things of Christ,' then we would EXPECT much more biblical data on Jesus than we would on the Holy Spirit. (There is certainly enough data to put together an adequate view of the Spirit, for there are several key beliefs in the Judeo-Christian system that depend CRITICALLY on the attributes and operations of the Spirit.)
In the case of the Holy Spirit, we have a different 'problem' than we had with the Son of God. Whereas in the case of Jesus, whose DISTINCTION from the Father was obvious, the OPPOSITE will be the case with the Spirit--He will be perhaps difficult to distinguish from the Father.
Also, in the case of Jesus, His personality was not really under question; but, in the case of the Holy Spirit, we will perhaps have to be sure to cover the 'Personal agent vs. Impersonal Force of God' question in more detail.
The "good news" is that, due to the close association of the Father and the Spirit, we won't have to put too much attention to the DEITY of the Spirit--the battles in pneumatology are fought elsewhere.
The Personality/Consciousness/Agency of the Holy Spirit
The first point we need to make here is a methodological one: what method and criteria are we to use to 'decide' if the "Holy Spirit" textual phenomena in the NT more accurately describe a personal agent OR an impersonal force?
Bickersteth says it this way (BTT:124):
Now if, altogether apart from this investigation, you had been asked to name those qualities which evidence personal existence, you would have been quite content to answer: Show me that which has mind, and affection, and will, which can act, and speak, and direct; and that sentient, loving, determining agent, speaker and ruler, must possess personality, or personality cannot exist.
But it MAY be a bit more complex than that--in my opinion. To invoke 'Christian Skepticism' we are going to have to find possible alternate understandings of these passages perhaps.
It just won't be as simple as finding a text or two in which personal traits are ascribed to the Spirit(!), for two reasons:
Well, it seems a little obvious that we have to AT LEAST make sure personal characteristics are ascribed to the Spirit (a la Bickersteth), and to see how extensive these are. So, let's start by listing some of the data points ascribing personal/agency attributes to the Spirit.
This issue concerns the Greek term for 'Spirit'--pneuma. Strictly speaking, as a neuter noun it SHOULD be referred to by NEUTER pronouns (e.g. 'it' instead of 'he' or 'she'). But there are a number of passages in which the masculine pronouns (sometimes EMPHATICALLY masculine pronouns--cf. Jn 14.26) are used in referring to the Spirit, giving more support to a "Personal Agency" understanding of Him, than to an "Impersonal Force" understanding.
Let's just note a few of these:
The point of this is that the Spirit is said to be a 'replacement' of some 'equality' to the departed Christ--indicating some type of personal intimacy with His followers:
This evidence supports the contention that the Spirit was understood to be a personal agent--He is referred to with OTHER personal agents in co-ordinate statements. There is NOTHING in these passages to suggest that the Spirit, unlike the Father and the Son in the statements, is NOT to be considered a personal Agent as they.
SUMMARY: The term "Holy Spirit" and "Spirit of God" (and parallel terms) appears in a wide variety of statements in the NT. In many of these statements and contexts, this term APPEARS to be denoting a fully conscious/fully personal/fully alive agent. This Agent is said to speak, warn, reveal, predict, teach, remind, enable, help, witness, testify, encourage, counsel, know, and pray. This Agent is apparently invested with active authority over the mission of God--leading, selecting workers for tasks, selecting workers for positions of authority, dispatching workers, evaluating situations, making decisions about distribution of spiritual gifts, 'steering' and directing. Even though the grammar would predict otherwise, this Agent is referred to by non-neuter personal pronouns in several situations (i.e. 'he'). Human interactions with this agent are best categorized as "inter-personal"--we can lie to the Spirit, resist Him, test Him, grieve Him (notice the inner emotional capacity of the Spirit), blaspheme Him. Christ seems to view the Spirit as a 'suitable', non-localized replacement for His earthly, localized presence among the disciples. Finally, the Spirit is used in co-ordinate statements with the other Divine Personal Agents (i.e. Father, Son) in such a way as to suggest the possession of Personality/Consciousness.
It should be noted at this point (prior to really analyzing the probability that the Spirit is simply a personification of an influence/operation of the Father) that the above data points are surprisingly extensive, varied, and consistent. Most personifications are not this robust nor are maintained so pervasively throughout the breadth of literature (e.g. 'love' in I Cor 13--it is rarely used in such a personified way elsewhere). This will create a strong presumption in favor of the impersonal passages being derivative upon the personal--AND NOT VICE VERSA. In other words, it is beginning to look like it makes more sense to understand passages like "poured out the Spirit" as referring to the operations of the Personal Agent the Spirit, than it is to take "grieve not the Holy Spirit" as a personification of God's power...but more on this later.
The Distinction from God the Father
This is the area that we need to be the most diligent in thinking carefully. We will find many, many passages in which God the Father acts THROUGH the agency of the Spirit (e.g. Acts 4.25: "You (the Father) spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant David..."), and these passages may suggest to us that the Spirit is nothing more than a 'localized extension' of God (mystically speaking), much like the 'hand of the Lord' (Acts 11.21: The Lord's hand was with them,).
Now, let me hasten to add that cases of INSTRUMENTAL AGENCY (i.e. the Father doing something through the Spirit as His instrument) do not necessarily constitute evidence for the 'identity' of the Father and Spirit, since PERSONAL AGENCY (i.e. the Father having the Person the Spirit do something under His direction) would be expressed in the same linguistic form.
What this means for our study is that we will need to find passages in which we CANNOT replace the "Sprit"-term with the "God the Father" term, and the passage STILL retain its meaning and force.
Let's look at several types of data in this regard.
There are, of course, many such passages--a few of which I will cite below.
Notice that this ONLY shows a distinction between the Sender and the "Sendee"--it makes no claims about the personality of the Sendee (e.g. God sent His voice and sent His word--but THEY are not Personal Agents--but they ARE DISTINCT from the Father) NOR about the deity of the "Sendee" (e.g. God sent angels to do His bidding, but they, although personal, are NOT deity). We have given strong evidence in the section above for the PERSONALITY of the Spirit; we will produce data for the DEITY of the Spirit later. All we have to do in this section is show that the Spirit is DISTINCT "enough" from the Father to be appropriately called an 'Agent'.
If the Spirit WERE not a Person, but rather a simple alternate designation for some influence of God, we WOULD NOT expect to find the following kinds of passages, in which BOTH the Spirit AND the possible influences are co-ordinately named:
We must conclude on the basis of the data, that the term 'Spirit of God' is NOT a metonymy for the 'Power of God' or the 'love of God'.
Note especially that the "Father sends/gives/pours out/etc. the Spirit" passages (above) make absolutely NO practical sense--"the Father sends/gives/pours out/etc. the Father"?! The terms are simply NOT EVEN CLOSE to being identical in referent.
In addition to the 'dispatching' verses above, compare:
In addition to the above, we might add the passages in which God calls the Spirit 'his Spirit'. Certainly, the word 'God' or 'Father' cannot be substituted in these texts either!
The point is this: the literary and linguistic usage of the terms for the Spirit of God demonstrate that they are neither uses of metonymy nor circumlocutions for God. Somehow, those terms (e.g. Spirit of God, Holy Spirit) refer to "something" DISTINCT from God the Father (in some meaningful sense).
The evidence here we have to deal with concerns the implications of those passages that refer to the Holy Spirit as being the "Spirit of Jesus", the "Spirit of Christ", or "Spirit of the Son". Although these passages are probably good supports for the deity of Christ, our intent is to recognize that this differentiation between the "Spirit of Christ" and "the Spirit of God" indicates some kind of distinction between the Spirit and the Father. In other words, if the Spirit is said to be 'of Christ'--who was OBVIOUSLY distinct from the Father--then we have good grounds for understanding that the Spirit which is BOTH 'of Christ' AND 'of God' is DISTINCT FROM BOTH OF THEM!
Although these passages seem 'odd' to us (and will be examined more closely when we look at relations between the multiple Agents in the Godhead), they certainly lend weight to the thesis that the Spirit is distinct from the Father.
I find it especially suggestive that the phrases "THE Holy Spirit" and "THE Spirit" became the standard designators for the Spirit of God. Jesus and the early church consistently refer to this Agent under these names, INSTEAD of names that might have indicated a literary device (e.g. synecdoche--part for the whole). Compare the approximate frequencies:
[Note: this data is consistent with OT data as well. In the OT we have approximately 82 texts which use the "The" terms, and only 17 that use the "my/his" terms.]
It is difficult to account for this pervasive and stylized usage WITHOUT assuming that those inside redemptive history experienced this Agent as a distinct personal entity--separate from God the Father.
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.NOTICE: The Spirit 'hears' things from the Father--this is clearly personal interaction (just like Christ in John 12.49; 3.32; 7.16ff; 8.38).
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.NOTICE: The Spirit PRAYS TO THE FATHER!--You cannot get more personal interaction than that! And, the Father knows the 'mind of the Spirit'--there is a strong statement of personal relationship and distinction--one Mind knowing another Mind!
but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.NOTICE: The Spirit searches the 'deep things of God'--sorta the reciprocal personal relation we saw in Romans 8! The Spirit knows the thoughts of God--again, a strong cognitive-aspect relationship between two Knowers.
Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."NOTICE: The Spirit PRAYS TO the Father--"calling out, 'Father.'" Prayer is intensely interpersonal.
For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.NOTICE: Access to the Father is NOT access TO the Spirit, but THROUGH the Spirit. The two are highly distinct. Other passages that talk about 'through the Spirit' are generally referring to an action of God TOWARD US--in other words, God does 'something' THROUGH the Spirit. In such passages, one could argue that the Spirit was simply an instrumental agency of God (not necessarily a distinct agent). But in THIS PASSAGE, the direction is from US to God--and there is NO WAY the Holy Spirit can be considered an 'extension' of us! Hence, it provides evidence for a distinction between the Father (the 'Accessed') and the Spirit ('the means of accessing').
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God![NOTICE: This passage is similar to the above, in that the direction is TOWARDS the Father. It might be argued that this is another of the 'Spirit of Christ' passages (so that the Spirit COULD be seen as an 'extension' of Christ, perhaps), but the OT practice of 'washing/cleansing' the sacrifices (used in NT 'spiritual' cases--cf. Romans 15.16) is probably the backdrop here. This would mean that the Spirit in this passage was a MEANS of 'reaching' the Father, and therefore DISTINCT from the Father.
SUMMARY: We have examined the linguistic data about the Spirit of God and conclude that the textual references to the Spirit are NOT cases of metonymy, synecdoche, or personification--that they DO indicate an Agent that is distinct from God the Father. This can be seen in the active distinctions portrayed in the passages in which the Father sends or gives the Spirit, and attempted substitutions of God/Father terms for Spirit terms render most passages silly, useless, or senseless. The link between the Spirit and Jesus Christ also indicates a structural distinction between the Father and the Spirit. Linguistic patterns of referring to the Spirit under the individualistic terms like 'the Spirit' or 'the Holy Spirit'--as opposed to possible synecdochal terms like "my Spirit" or "His Spirit" seems to indicate an awareness on the part of the Biblical writers of a 'real' distinction between the Father and the Spirit.
Indeed, this distinction is seen most clearly in those passages which illustrate the Spirit in personal interaction with the Father--obviously far beyond the possibilities of metonymy and personification. He prays to the Father, knows the Father, listens to the Father, calls out to the Father, brings us to the Father, and lifted up the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to the Father.