Three Common Objections to the Personhood of the Holy Spirit

Author Tim Barnett Published on 09/01/2016

In my last post, I outlined a straightforward and concise argument for why Christians believe the Holy Spirit is a person. Namely, I demonstrated from Scripture that the Holy Spirit has a will, a mind, and emotions. Since these are the attributes of persons, not impersonal forces, it is better to understand the Holy Spirit as a person.

Let’s now turn to the three objections that were offered to me in response to my case.

The Holy Spirit language Is a Personification

My Witness guests did not attempt to deal with the specific texts that I presented; rather, they dismissed these verses as personifications. A personification is when personal qualities are attributed to something impersonal. They admitted that some passages appear to portray the Holy Spirit as a person, but said this is merely a literary device.

There are many problems with this response. First, it is a blanket assertion that ignores the specific context of the personhood passages. This response does not even attempt to honestly exegete each passage.

Second, it assumes what needs to be proved. When a Jehovah’s Witness comes to a straightforward personhood passage (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:11; Rom. 8:27; and Eph. 4:30), they assert that it must be a personification. But how do they know it’s a personification? Because they have already assumed the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force. This is reasoning in a circle. Jehovah’s Witnesses need to show that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force before they can even begin talking about supposed personifications. But this is exactly what they cannot do.

Third, there are many instances that cannot be explained away by a personification. For example, what does it mean to grieve (Eph. 4:30), or to blaspheme (Matt. 12:32), or to lie to (Acts 5:3), a personified impersonal force? In addition, the Holy Spirit speaks to individuals at historical events. For example, in a meeting at the church at Antioch, the Holy Spirit says, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). This is the Holy Spirit using person pronouns of Himself. It appears the Spirit thought Himself to be a person, not a personification.

The Holy Spirit Lacks a Name

My Witness guests were adamant that if the Holy Spirit is a person, then He would have a name. They stated, “Since no name is mentioned, the Holy Spirit is not a person.”

This is a deeply fallacious argument. Just because the Holy Spirit is not given a personal name in the New Testament, that does not mean He isn’t a person. Spiritual beings are not usually named in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t persons. For example, at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit (Luke 4:31–36). Notice that this demon is both unnamed and a person. Furthermore, spirits are routinely identified by a particular characteristic. This was an unclean spirit.

In the same way, the Holy Spirit is identified by His chief characteristic: holiness. If the Holy Spirit can’t be a person because we don’t know His personal name, then all the angels and demons in the Bible who are unnamed can’t be persons either.

The Holy Spirit Fills People

My Witness guests offered one last argument. If people are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit cannot be a person. “How can one person be filled with another person?” they asked. “It makes more sense to be filled with an impersonal force.”

Again, this argument is demonstrably false. As already discussed, undisputed spiritual persons, like unclean spirits, have the ability to enter into human persons. This doesn’t disqualify them as persons, so why would it disqualify the Holy Spirit?

Moreover, our personal God is said to fill things. If God’s presence can fill the temple (2 Chron. 5:14), or fill the whole earth (Num. 14:21), then why is it so hard to believe that the Holy Spirit could fill believers? In fact, Paul calls our bodies the “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19).

These responses were very instructive. Rather than address explicit texts raised against their view, the Jehovah’s Witnesses I spoke to relied on circular reasoning and demonstrably false argumentation. The Watchtower position that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force simply cannot be supported by the testimony of Scripture.