The Nature Of The Holy Spirit
By Paul Ferguson
By way of introduction we should comment that there is no difference between the Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost since they are both translations of the same Greek word (pneuma) which, in a nonreligious sense, meant wind, breath, breeze, etc.
If one were to take the time to analyze every use of the Greek and Hebrew words for “spirit” (pneuma and ruach) in the Bible, he would not just find one meaning for the words but five different meanings. They are as follows:
1. An attitude or frame of mind (the “spirit of meekness” Eph 6:1)
2. An agency or influence
3. A spiritual being or essence (what something is)
4. The seat of psychological reaction and consciousness
5. Enthusiasm, courage, strength (“neither was there spirit in them anymore” Jos. 5:1, “When he had eaten, his spirit came again.” I Sam. 30:12)
Many who read the Bible believe that every time the word “spirit” is used in connection with God it is speaking of the third person of the trinity. This is not true at all. This belief is a great source of error and confusion. Actually the verse may be referring to any of these five uses. In the next few lines I shall be discussing three of the more important uses of this word.
“God is a Spirit (spiritual being)” St. John 4:24.
He is like the wind: we can hear and feel Him, but cannot see Him, except in the face of Jesus Christ. It is this aspect of God we are referring to in our United Pentecostal manual when we speak of God as not having parts. This is God’s nature which we cannot see. – We use the words “parts”, “body”, “image” etc. to describe the visible, revealed aspects of God.
Sometimes, in place of “God”, our Lord is called “the Spirit”:
“The same God worketh all in all.” I Cor. 12:6
“The selfsame spirit divideth.” I Cor. 12:11
Thus when Trinitarians tell us that the Spirit “wills, teaches, speaks, moves, loves, etc.” they tell us nothing we do not already believe; because, this is simply another way of saying God “wills, teaches, speaks, moves, loves, etc. It in no way teaches the
Spirit is a person separate from God. Certainly the Spirit is a person; He is God.
The “Holy Ghost” is a term used in other cases to describe the essence of God or “that which differentiates God from that which is not God”, in other words; His divine nature. In this respect the Holy Ghost is “the Spirit of God”. God can’t be separated from His Spirit or divine nature anymore than I can be separated from my human nature.
The Holy Ghost is actually the Spirit (spiritual essence) of the Father. Notice these verses: “Father” Matthew 10:20
“Not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.” Mark 13:11
In the sense of being a spiritual essence or nature, the Spirit can be “poured out”, “descend’, ‘come down upon”, or “fall on” a person; or it can be withdrawn (Ps. 51:11). What God is made of is like the wind: “it bloweth where it listeth”.
The fact that the Spirit can be “sent” (Ps. 104:30) does not mean that the Spirit is a separate person any more than God sending light, truth, mercy, his voice, etc. (Ps. 43:3, 57:3, 68:33) means that these things are separate persons from God. “Sent” in reference to the Spirit merely means that God manifests His special spiritual influence in a given location. In deed, if one believes in an omnipresent God, this is the only possible conclusion.
“And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.” (Eph. 4:30)
“A woman grieved in spirit.” Isa. 54:6
“His spirit was troubled.” Gen. 41:8
“His spirit came again and he revived.” Jg. 15:13
This use of the word “spirit” portrays all of God’s inner awareness and feelings. In Eph. 4:30 we are not sealed by literal paper and wax seals but by the fact that God regards us inwardly as His own chosen people; and consequently, will keep us from the day of wrath if we “grieve not the Ho1ySpiritwhereby we are sealed.” Eph. 4:30
“By His Spirit hath He garnished the heavens.” Job 26:13
“Not by might (human might), not by power, but by my Spirit” Zech. 4:6
“Spirit” in these verses is used to specify the “means by which God does whatever He does. In John, the sixteenth chapter, “the comforter” is the agency by which God will aid the church. It is God’s power helping us.
It will be objected that if the word “spirit” in this chapter is used in the sense of “power” or “agency”, then the masculine pronoun he would not have been used with it. Actually the word “spirit” remains neuter throughout the entire chapter. The neuter definite article (“the”) is always used with the word for “spirit”. Cf. “the Spirit itself” Rom. 8:16
The “he” and “himself” of these chapters (14-16) refer to the Greek word translated “comforter” (ho parakletos) which is a masculine noun; and therefore, must have masculine pronouns used with it. Many words in Greek which would normally take “it” in English must take “hell in Greek, e. g. agaraios (marketplace). So the fact that “comforter” is masculine does not mean that it cannot be God’s power.
When Christ spoke of the Comforter (John 14:16, 17) He spoke of His own Spirit! The Comforter is the Spirit of Truth (v. 17). Who is Truth? Jesus plainly said, “I am … the truth. II (v. 6) If Jesus is truth, then the Spirit of Truth is the Spirit of Jesus.
This is why He could say, “I will come unto you” (v. 18). When He spoke of “another Comforter”, He was referring to the fact that His bodily presence would soon be taken away from them (v. 28); but that He would come unto them through His Spirit and dwell in their hearts, comforting them inwardly.
When He said the Father would send the Holy Spirit, He was speaking of Divinity. Thus He sent His own Spirit: for he said, “Whom I will send unto you” (15:26). In another verse, it is the Father who sends the Spirit (14:26). When He said He would send the Spirit He was speaking as God and not man.
In John 16:13 the Spirit is spoken of as if it is controlled by God. “For He shall not speak of Himself; but what He shall hear that shall He speak” God controls His Spirit in the same way I control my body and spirit (Prov. 16:32), but they are not separate persons from me.
God’s Spirit, in this sense, is the same thing to God as my body is to me. My body is the means by which I do everything I do. Just as my brain sends out mess ages which are “heard” and obeyed by my body, so God’s eternal wisdom completely directs and controls the agency by which He does things: His eternal power.
“Of Himself” in this verse cannot mean “about Himself” since the Spirit inspired the Bible and certainly speaks about Himself in it. Actually Jesus used this expression concerning Himself (St. John 5:19). Now Jesus spoke a great deal “about” Himself; so, He must have meant that He (His flesh) did not speak independently or apart from divine revelation. Thus divine power or agency does not speak or act of itself like a separate person would, but it is under the complete control and direction of divine wisdom.
We do not mean to imply that the Spirit is always an impersonal being, as some claim we do; but certainly the words does have non-personal meanings.
This approach to John 16:13 is the only one which does justice to the deity of the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is interpreted to be passively controlled by another alleged person in the Godhead, it is hard to see how He can be co-equal with them. It is far better to take this usage of the word spirit in John 16:13 as “the power of God” than to sacrifice the deity of the Holy Spirit. Macedonius, an ancient 5th century heretic used this and other passages to show that the Holy Spirit was a created being. The fact that “Spirit” in this particular passage IS an agency does not mean that “spirit” cannot also refer to a person. “Spirit” is often simply another title God has, and God is a person.
When we choose one “pet” definition to read into all cases, we meet with exegetical disaster. It is our belief that Trinitarian scholars have, for the most part, failed to see the richness and diversity of meaning in the word “spirit”; and that it has been their downfall.
This article “The Nature of the Holy Spirit” by Paul Ferguson is excerpted from his book God in Christ Jesus, 1981.