Jehovah's Witnesses and the Wholly Other, Holy Spirit
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society teaches that the Holy Spirit is God's active force on the earth today. If this statement is taken alone, most Christians might agree to it. However, along with the above statement, the Watchtower also teaches that the Holy Spirit is not a person, but only a force, comparable to "wind or radio beams."1A Biblical examination of their arguments shows that they are twisting the facts to validate this heresy.
Upon studying various years of Watchtower publications,one can see five key arguments used to teach their aberrant views on the Holy Spirit:
1- No name
2- Use of neuter pronouns
3- Historical Arguments
4- Impersonal references
"The Holy Scriptures tell us the personal name of the Father-Jehovah. They inform us that the Son is Jesus Christ. But no wherein the Scriptures is a personal name applied to the holy spirit."2This quotation from the Watchtower is correct that the Holy Spirit does not have a personal name recorded in Scripture. However, this does not mean that He is not a person. If this were a valid argument, then one could suppose that a newborn child is not a person until he/she is named. In addition, Scripture does not record personal names for most of the demons it mentions, who are, nevertheless, personal. A name does not imply personality or impersonality. Therefore, the lack of a name for the Holy Spirit does not prove impersonality. The Watchtower admits that the Greek word for spirit (pneuma) is used of the demons.3Why would these nameless beings called "spirits" be persons, and the nameless Holy Spirit not be a person? The Watchtower argument is flawed.
Use of Neuter Pronouns:
"Nowhere do we read of Jehovah God and Jesus as being referred to by neuter pronouns, which is the case in regard to the holy spirit. 'It is the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot obtain that Spirit, because it does not see it or recognize it; you recognize it because it stays with you and is within you.' (John 14:16,17, AT; Acts 2:33). 4This is further borne out by the frequent lack of the definite article before holy spirit, such as at Acts 2:4 (NW): 'And they all became filled with holy spirit.'"5Sometimes, as here, the Watchtower will refer to the Greek text to prove their point. Since very few people know Greek, they are unable to know if the arguments are true or not.
In Greek and English, words are either masculine, feminine or neuter. The Watchtower states that since the Bible uses neuter pronouns to describe the Holy Spirit, He must be an it and not a He. They would be correct to say that Spirit (pneuma) in Greek is a neuter form. However, the neuter in Greek does not imply personhood or non-personhood. For example, the word in Greek translated "demon" (daimonion) is also neuter. Demons are persons, though the Greek word is neuter. Also,the Greek word for child is neuter. In Greek, the personal pronoun must match the gender of the object it is referring to. Therefore, the Holy Spirit has neuter pronouns. However, scholars translate the Greek neuter pronouns as the English masculine pronoun "He" in the above verses to keep with the rules of English.
Even if the above was not true, at times, the Bible does use masculine personal pronouns for the Holy Spirit. In John 16:13 the demonstrative pronoun "that one" (ekeino) is used in the masculine to refer to the Holy Spirit. This may seem to conflict with the rule given above about the pronoun agreeing in gender with the noun. However, this is a figure of speech called heterosis. Heterosis is the use of one gender in the place of another to emphasize something. What Jesus is emphasizing here is that the Holy Spirit is a person.
The second part of the Watchtower's argument above is that the frequent lack of the definite article before Holy Spirit indicates that He is not a person. Their New World Translation renders Acts 2:4 as"filled with holy spirit" instead of "filled with the Holy Spirit"as in most all other versions. The reason given is that the Greek text does not have a definite article before Holy Spirit. Again, the Watchtower misrepresents the rules of Greek grammar. Not only do they misrepresent Greek rules, they also contradict themselves in other Watchtower books.The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, published by the Watchtower, argues that nouns without a definite article in the Greek should be translated with the English indefinite article (p. 1139). If they were consistent, they would have to translate Acts 2:4 as "filled with a holy spirit" which would give them even further problems identifying the Holy Spirit.
Greek words without the definite article can be translated with the English definite article. In Greek, the definite article usually meant that the word it modified was the subject of the sentence.In English, that is not true. In John 1:1 we read "In the beginning was the word," (NASB). The Greek text does not have an article before "beginning"because it considers "word" as the subject. However, because of the way English grammar works, we translate it definite: "the beginning."
"Not until the fourth century C.E. did the teaching that the holy spirit was a person and part of the 'Godhead' become official church dogma. Early church 'fathers' did not so teach." 6Even if this were true, it would not prove anything. What the Watchtower wants to do, is say that since early church fathers did not teach that the Holy Spirit is a person, then the doctrine was a later development.If the doctrine was a later development, then it could not have its source in the Bible. This is an argument from silence. The lack of early writings on this subject would not prove that it is not Biblical. God's revelation of truth is established in the Bible, and man's comprehension of that truth can be incomplete, and subject to growth. The Watchtower's argument that to be biblically true a doctrine must have been taught frequently by early church leaders is simply not valid. The weight of the arguments need to fall solely on Biblical evidence.
The early Church fathers believed that the Holy Spirit is a person, although not much was said about this subject in early writings. Most of the Church fathers' writings were against heresies. Since no significant heretical movements denying the personality of the Holy Spirit arose before the fourth century, earlier church fathers had little to say on the subject. 7Occasionally, some early fathers did mention that the Holy Spirit is a person. Tertullian lived from 155-220 A.D., and said that the Holy Spirit is a person. Hippolytus taught around 215 A.D. that "He [the Spirit] too is a person," (Kelly p. 113).
On the day of Pentecost its [the Holy Spirit's] operation was accompanied by a 'noise just like that of a rushing stiff breeze' and by visible 'tongues as if of fire' sitting on the heads of each of the 120 Christian disciples into whom it came, to fill them and make them talk with languages that they had never learned. (Acts 2:1-16) Like the wind or like radio beams, God's active force was unseen, but what it produced was seeable and hearable.8
The Watchtower often cites passages such as these and reasons that a person cannot possibly do what is described here. "A comparison of Bible texts that refer to the holy spirit shows that it is spoken of as 'filling' people; they can be 'baptized' with it; and they can be 'anointed' with it. (Luke 1:41; Matt. 3:11; Acts 10:38) None of these expressions would be appropriate if the holy spirit were a person." 9
First of all, the word translated with in Matt.3:11, "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire," (NASB) maybe correctly translated in, with, or by. Even the Watchtower translates the identical word as by in 1 Cor. 12:13: "For truly by one spirit we were all baptized." (NWT).
Can a person perform such acts as described above? Yes. The first quote from Acts 2 described the Holy Spirit as a "noise just like that of a rushing stiff breeze." It is common in the Bible for the activity of God to be compared to acts of nature. For example, when God acted it was often compared to thunder. 2 Samuel 22:14 says "from heaven Jehovah began to thunder," (NWT).
Another Watchtower argument above is that a person could not fill people or things, only a substance can. However, the Watchtower's own New World Translation renders Jeremiah 23:24 as "is it not the heavens and the earth that I myself [Jehovah] fill?" This is not teaching that Jehovah can just go anywhere in the heavens or earth, but that He actually fills the space. If Jehovah is a person and "fills" everything, then why can not the Holy Spirit have this same ability? Also, Jesus is said to have "ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things,"(Eph. 4:10, NASB). (NWT renders Eph. 4:10 as "give fullness to all things." The Greek word for fill is the same in Acts 2:2 as it is in Ephesians 4:10.) True, a normal person can not perform most of the functions that the Watchtower uses to disprove the personality of the Holy Spirit. However,if the person is God, as is the Holy Spirit, then He can perform these functions in the same way as the Father and the Son.
The Watchtower does admit that there are Bible passages that speak of the Holy Spirit in personal terms. However, they teach that these are merely "personifications." Personification is the attributing of personal characteristics to inanimate objects for effect. They fail to understand that personifications are used for a specific purpose in writing. An author will use a personification to drive home a point vividly. For example, the Watchtower is correct to point out a personification in Romans 5:17 that says "by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man." Death is personified by the word reign. An impersonal object such as death cannot actually perform action such as reign. What we need to ask here is, what is this personification telling us, or what is the authors point? The answer is that death is described as being absolute and complete in a person's life. When a king reigns, his edicts are taken as absolute, with no questions asked. Death is colorfully described by likening it to the power of a king. When death speaks, its rule is final, no questions asked.
If the Holy Spirit were truly not a person, why would He be spoken of with personification? One must wonder at this point what the authors of scripture were trying to graphically illustrate by referring to the Holy Spirit as a person. Some scriptures that the Watchtower uses to explain personifications are, "Isaiah said that certain rebels 'made God's holy spirit feel hurt.' (Isaiah 63:10) Paul said it could be 'grieved.' (Ephesians 4:30) And a number of scriptures say that the holy spirit teaches,guides, speaks, and bears witness. (John 14:26; 16:13, 14; 1 John 5:7,8)." 10 One must wonder why these authors are using personification if the Holy Spirit were not a person? Are they trying to say that man's offenses against God are so bad that it makes God's active force feel emotion? Or maybe one should understand them plainly, as giving every reason to accept that the Holy Spirit is a person? If there are no other reasons to think that the Holy Spirit is not a person, maybe these statements should be taken at face value.
The first question that must be asked when wanting to know if the Holy Spirit is a person is. What is a person? A person has a mind. The Holy Spirit has a mind because 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 describes Him as having thoughts. A person has emotions. As pointed out earlier,the Holy Spirit is described as having the emotion of being grieved. A person has a will. In 1 Corinthians 12:11, the Holy Spirit is said to give gifts to each person "just as He wills." The Bible also records instances where people treat the Holy Spirit as a person. For example, Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit in Acts 5:3. It would make no sense here to believe that the Holy Spirit was not a person. How would someone lie to a force like wind or radio waves? This is unthinkable and illogical. Christian theologian Millard Erickson points out that "the Holy Spirit engages in moral actions and ministries which can be performed only by a person. Among these activities are teaching, regenerating, searching, speaking, interceding, commanding, testifying, guiding, illuminating, revealing." 11 Whenever the Watchtower attacks the personality of the Holy Spirit, it is never completely clear what it is they are saying He is not. They claim that Jehovah is a person,12 but they do not describe exactly what this means. If they did enumerate the qualifications for personhood, then it could be seen that the Holy Spirit is a person.
To support its doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the Watchtower twists scripture, misrepresents rules of Greek grammar, and misrepresents historical teaching. After examining the above discussions, one can see that the Watchtower uses fallacious reasoning and deceptive tactics to promote its heresy. If one knows what a person is, and observes the characteristics of the Holy Spirit in the Bible, the result is obvious. The Holy Spirit can be nothing less than a person.
1 "Overseers in Apocalyptic Times," The Watchtower, January 15, 1958, pp. 42-3.
2 Reasoning From the Scriptures, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1989, pp. 406-7.
3 Insight on the Scriptures, NewYork: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1989, pp. 612.
4 AT stands for "The Complete Bible - An American Translation" by J.M. Powis Smith and Edgar J. Goodspeed. © 1939; the Society refers to the edition printed in 1951.
5 "The Scriptures, Reason and the Trinity,"The Watchtower, 1 Jan. 1953, pp. 23-4.
7 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, California: Harper Row, 1978, p. 252.
8 "Overseers in Apocalyptic Times," pp.42-3.
10 "The Scriptures and the Holy Spirit," The Watchtower, January 15, 1991 pp. 3-4.
11 Erickson, Millard J., Christian Theology, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985, p. 862.