Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Brief Proof of the Holy Spirit's Personhood

by Hiram R. Díaz III

§ I. Introduction

Among those who oppose the Trinity, there are some who argue that the Holy Spirit is not a Divine Person co-equal with the Father and the Son but is, instead, a force identified with the Father’s, as well as the Son’s, activity in the world. Problematically, however, the Scriptures repeatedly attribute activities to the Spirit of God that are personal in nature. Some of the key Scriptural texts that explicitly attribute personal activity to the Holy Spirit have been dealt with elsewhere,1 and, therefore, will not be examined here. Instead, we will be examining a very brief exchange between the Lord Jesus Christ and his opponents in which the Personhood of the Holy Spirit is a logically necessary consequence of Christ’s argumentation.

§ II. An Unclean Spirit vs. The Holy Spirit

In the Synoptic Gospels, it is thrice reported that Christ was accused of casting out demons by the power of the devil. Let us read these reports and then examine their meaning and what their meaning necessarily implies.
Matthew 12:22-32 
Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 
Mark 3:22-30

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 
Luke 11:14-23 
Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebub. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

In Matthew and Mark, the Lord Jesus’ work is said to have spurred some of the people to ask “Can this be the Son of David?” Luke does not record the people asking this question, but his report is in agreement with what was occurring in this context, for in it our Lord, God’s anointed King, is destroying the kingdom of Satan. Christ is the Stronger Man who binds the strong man (i.e. devil) and plunders his (i.e. the devil’s) house. Christ does this by the “finger of God” (Luke 11:20), which is to say “the Spirit of God” (Matt 12:28 )/ “the Holy Spirit” (Mark 3:29).

Contextually, therefore, there are two spirits, corresponding to two kingdoms, in diametrical opposition to one another. The devil is identified as “an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:30), “the prince of demons” (Matt 12:24, Mark 3:22, & Luke 11:15), and is implicitly identified by Christ as a personal entity in Luke 11:24-26. 

Speaking of what occurs after demons are exorcised from unbelievers, the Lord Jesus declares –
When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.
What is clear from these texts is that spirits are not forces but immaterial, self-conscious, morally accountable persons. They differentiate themselves from others (e.g. humans2 and other spirits), and exercise volition as regards various activities (e.g. deciding whether or not to inhabit a lost person's body).

Rather than performing miracles by the unclean spirit Beelzebub, the Lord Jesus Christ reveals that it is by the Spirit of God the he (Christ) “casts out demons” (Matt 12:28 & Luke 11:20). It is blasphemous, therefore, to attribute Jesus’ miracles to the an unclean spirit. Those who attribute the work of God to the devil are guilty of the unforgivable sin. The enemies of Christ are identifying the Holy Spirit as the unclean spirit Beelzebub, i.e. an unclean, immaterial, self-conscious, morally accountable person. The Holy Spirit is not a force, therefore, but an immaterial, self-conscious, and morally accountable person. Christ affirms that the Spirit of God is a person, not a force like electricity.

§ III. Implications of Christ’s Pneumatology

The language used by the Lord Jesus here is significant in a number of ways. Firstly, Christ’s contrasting of the Spirit of God and Beelzebub indicates that his hearers also understood that the Spirit of God was a distinct person, and not a force/power like electricity. Unitarians who assume that the Jewish people did not view the Holy Spirit as a distinct person are hereby shown to be wrong. Secondly, by identifying the Spirit of God as “the finger of God,” Jesus implies that Old Testament passages regarding “the finger of God” should be understood as referring to the Holy Spirit, which is to say a distinct divine person. 

The phrase “finger of God” shows us precisely three times in the Old Testament. We encounter the phrase in the following passages –
Exodus 8:19 – Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.
Exodus 31:18 – And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.
Deuteronomy 9:10 – And the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and on them were all the words that the LORD had spoken with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly.
The Holy Spirit inscribes the law of God (Exo 31:18 & Deut 9:10) and performs miracles (Exo 8:19), and does so specifically in relation to the deliverance of God’s people from the kingdom of Pharaoh. Christ’s identification of the Holy Spirit as the finger of God is rich with meaning, then, drawing our attention to God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt by the hand of his unique prophet.3 Christ’s working of miracles and his deliverance of prophetic utterances by “the finger of God” should have been noticed by his enemies as the fulfillment of prophecy regarding the prophet like Moses whom Yahweh would raise up.4 They, however, completely failed to see this truth.

Thirdly, while the Lord Jesus ascribes divine power and personhood to the Holy Spirit, he does not identify the Spirit of God as the Father. This is evident from his declaration that
...every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.5
Note the distinctions here between the Father and the Son and the Spirit. While the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit may all be blasphemed against, it is only blasphemy of the Holy Spirit that is unforgivable. Consequently, if blasphemy against the Father is forgivable, then the Father cannot be the Holy Spirit. Likewise, if blasphemy against the Son is forgivable, then the Son cannot be the Holy Spirit. This is not only a refutation of unitarianism proper, but also of the heresy of modalism/oneness theology.

§ IV. Conclusion

Given the context of the Lord Jesus’ interaction with those who claimed he was working miracles by the power of the devil, we see clearly that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force. The Holy Spirit is a person, but he is neither the Father nor the Son. Furthermore, we see that the Holy Spirit is neither greater nor lesser than the Father and the Son in honor, dignity, and authority, for blasphemy against him incurs an eternal punishment from which no one can deliver. Lastly, we see that the Spirit of God is God, for the sin of blasphemy may be committed against the Father, the Son, or himself, implying that these Three persons occupy a distinct ontological category excluding all others.


2 Scripture, in fact, refers to men as “spirits” in Heb 12:9 & 12:23, further underscoring the personal nature of spirit, in contradiction to the unitarian belief in spirit as an impersonal force.
3 cf. Num 12:6-8.
4 cf. Deut 18:15-22.
5 Matt 12:31-332.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Did Paul Identify Jesus as the Angel of the Lord?

by Michael R. Burgos Jr.


I have labored elsewhere to demonstrate the robust proto-trinitarianism within the OT, particularly as it relates to the divine angel. Given the trajectory of the work, there remains a significant need for continued research into how the proto-trinitarianism of the OT was integrated by the Holy Spirit into the NT. I have already considered the prologue of the fourth gospel, Jude 1:5, and 1st Cor. 10:1-5 in this regard. In this article, I turned my attention to Galatians 4:14 in order to answer the question, "Did Paul identify Jesus as the Angel of the Lord?" 

4:14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 
4:14 καὶ τὸν πειρασμὸν ὑμῶν ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου οὐκ ἐξουθενήσατε οὐδὲ ἐξεπτύσατε, ἀλλ᾽ ὡς ἄγγελον θεοῦ ἐδέξασθέ με, ὡς χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν.
Translators have supplied the referent for the Galatians' “trial.” Paul’s condition was the “illness of the flesh” mentioned in v. 13, and what is here described their “the trial in my flesh” (ton peirasmon tē sarki mou). The term peirasmos may be translated either “trial,” “test,” or “temptation” as directed by the context.1 Temptations are either internal or external. Internal temptations are brought about when one is “lured and enticed by his own desire.”2 External temptations occur from without, when an agent does the tempting as in Jesus’ temptation in the desert.3 In this case, the Galatians were placed under a burden due to Paul’s illness, and instead of entertaining the temptation to reject him, they treated this situation as a trial and an opportunity to bless the apostle.

“You did not scorn or despise me” (ouk exouthenēsate oude exeptusate). 
When Paul was among the Galatians, they did not “scorn” him. The verb exoutheneō is translated variously: “treat with contempt,”4 “to reject,”5 “to despise,”6 “to have no standing,”7 “to be of no account.”8 It is defined as “to shown one’s by one’s attitude or manner of treatment that an entity has no merit of worth, disdain.”9 The accompanying term translated “despise,” ekptyō is a hapax. The term originally referred to the act of spitting upon someone as a means of expressing contempt, or to ward off demons or sickness.10 Etymologically, the term is a compound word comprised of ek meaning “from” or “out of” and ptyō which refers to the act of spiting. Thus the term is literally, “to spit out.”11 Over time this term came to take a figurative meaning, referring to the act of loathing or disdaining someone so as to spurn them. Some interpreters push the term back to its former meaning so as to identify Paul’s “illness of the flesh” as a form of epilepsy, which is said to have been a product of demon possession.12 However, such an interpretation rests on speculation. The only thing the text implies is that this illness is a fleshly (i.e., bodily) ailment and that it potentially could have turned off the Galatians such that they despised him.

“But received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus” (all’ hōs angelon Theou edezasthe me, hōs Christon Iēsoun). 

Instead of despising Paul because of his illness of the flesh, the Galatians did him “no wrong” (v. 13) and received him. The adversative conjunction alla confirms an intended contrast. Paul is reminding the Galatians of their former hospitality in the hope that they will remember who he is, and how they loved each other. 



What Paul meant by “received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus” is of considerable debate. The first question is whether the anarthrous hōs angelon Theou should be understood definitely (i.e., "as the angel of God") or indefinitely (i.e., “as an angel of God"). Wallace has argued that the essentially synonymous phrase angelos Kuriou be rendered definitely throughout the NT as though it always refers to a particular angel.13 This viewpoint is not derived from a grammatical or lexical basis, but from his assumption that the angel of the LORD in the OT is the same as the angel of the Lord in the NT. Wallace concluded that the Angel of the Lord in the OT and NT is an agent who represents Yahweh and not Yahweh himself.14


There is however, a substantial reason for distinguishing the Angel of the LORD in the OT from lesser angels in the NT. The angel of the LORD is none other than the God the Son. The appellation “angel” does not indicate the particular ontology of a subject either in the OT or NT, but identifies one’s function as a messenger.15 In fact, God himself is identified as an “angel.”16 The angel of the LORD is identified as God/Yahweh himself consistently throughout the entirety of the OT.17 So too, a trinitarian relationship is depicted in the OT between the divine angel and his Father. 

Indeed, the biblical authors make every effort to communicate that we should not understand the angel of the LORD as an created agent. Take for instance the sending of God’s angel in Exodus 23:20-33. There, God warns his covenant people saying, “do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him” (v. 21). Yahweh commands the Israelites to “obey his voice and do all that I say” (v. 22), and calls the angel “the LORD your God,” saying, “You shall serve the LORD your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you” (v. 25). The third person verb translated “he will bless” (ūberak) implies a personal distinction between the angel and Yahweh, while the phrase, “the LORD your God” identifies the angel as fully God. Consider also Zechariah’s courtroom vision in Zec. 3:1-5. There, the angel of the LORD is identified as Yahweh and yet distinct from Yahweh by the writer:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?

The presence of the unique divine angel throughout the OT cannot be explained by means of a created agent without obliterating any meaningful way of upholding the prohibitions against idolatry.18 

The angel of the LORD is so frequently identified as the key salvific actor in the OT, if the angel is a creature, there would be no legitimate means to distinguish God from his agent. The angel of the LORD was understood by the OT people of God as completely unique and equal with God.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A Look at Three Passages Oneness Pentecostals Use to Demonstrate Jesus is the Father


by Michael R. Burgos Jr., Ph.D.

Oneness Pentecostals have attempted to marshal evidence that “Jesus is the Father” by appealing to only a handful of biblical texts. This attempt itself divulges the weakness of the Oneness assertion since out of the entirety of the NT, Oneness Pentecostals can find less than half a dozen texts which teach the foundational assertion of their Christology. The classic text Oneness adherents point to is Isaiah 9:6. I have written on this text at length elsewhere,1 demonstrating that the phrase “eternal father” (Heb. avi ab) no more identifies the Messiah as God the Father than say, the biblical names Abijam (“father of light”) or Abigail (“father of joy”). Rather, the appellation “father of eternity” is intended to characterize the Son of God as having something Oneness Pentecostals deny, namely, an eternal existence.

The second most utilized of these “Jesus is the Father” texts is John 14:6-18. The difficulty Oneness adherents face with this text is twofold: First, in order to understand this passage to teach that Jesus is the Father, one would have to atomize the text and divorce it from the balance of the NT. Take for instance the parable of the wicked tenants in Luke 20:9-18; Matt. 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12. In this parable Jesus depicts himself as one who is numerically and personally distinct both in terms of his sending and death. Second, in order to derive the notion that “Jesus is the Father” from John 14, one would have to omit those many portions of the chapter which explicitly depict Jesus as being personally distinct from the Father. 

For example, in v. 2 Jesus states that he will go and prepare a place for his disciples at his Father’s house, in v. 12 Jesus states again that he is going to his Father, in v. 13 Jesus states that the Father will be glorified in the Son, and in v. 16 Jesus states that he will ask the Father for another helper, namely, the precious Holy Spirit. How then do orthodox interpreters understand statements like, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9)? Historically, Christians have understood this text to indicate the fact that Jesus is the perfect and final Revealer of God. This is why John characterizes the Son as God the Word. So too, this is precisely the same reason why the author of Hebrews depicts the Son as God as the perfect revelation of God to man and the exact imprint of the Father’s nature.2 Hence, a consistent interpretation of John 14 indicates that Philip needed no other revelation of the Father since Jesus is the co-equal God who makes the Father known.3

The other main passage utilized by Oneness adherents is 1 John 3:1-5. V. 2 states, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Similarly, v. 5 states, “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” Oneness interpreters argue that because the immediate antecedent is God the Father (vv. 1-2), this subsequently implies that the Father (i.e., Jesus) appeared to take away sins. However, the means by which one determines the subject of a pronoun is are the pronoun’s antecedent or postcedent. The pronoun in 3:2 is linked topically and contextually to the pronouns in 2:28-29:
And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
That the subject of 2:28-29 is Jesus the Son is clear since v. 18 begins a section on antichrists and those who deny Jesus Christ and by implication, deny the Father. The verb phaneroō occurs nine times in this epistle and every single time it refers to the Son.4 Additionally, the statement in v. 25, “And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life” undoubtedly refers to the many places wherein Jesus promised eternal life to those who believed in both himself and the one who sent him.5 Moreover, while the Son of God is the indirect antecedent in chapter 2, and he is the immediate postcedent in v. 8. In v. 8 phaneroō is again applied to the Son. Thus, a more consistent reading recognizes that John did not imply that Jesus is the Father, but that John assumed his readers would know better than to conflate the identity of the Father and Son. 

In conclusion, the few NT passages Oneness Pentecostals call upon to demonstrate that “Jesus is the Father” demonstrate only a flawed hermeneutic. The only exegetical method which affords the Oneness reading of these texts is the one which presupposes Oneness Pentecostalism from the outset.


1 Against Oneness Pentecostalism: An Exegetical-Theological Critique, 2nd Ed., (Winchester: Church Militant Pub., 2016), 98-101.
2 Heb. 1:1-3. 
3 John 5:28; 1:18 resp. 
4 1 John 1:2; 2:19; 2:28; 3:2; 3:5; 3:8; 4:9. 
5 John 3:15; 3:36; 5:24; 12:44; 20:31; cf. John 17:5; 1 John 5:9-13.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought [Review]

by Hiram R. Diaz III



Church history is a subject that, sadly, many Protestants fail to study. This is not only problematic given the propensity of heretics to distort that history,1 but it also can be a hindrance to our present day theological systematizing. The situation isn’t helped by the many pressing time constraints placed upon us by our other, admittedly, more important duties. Not many have the time to read through the entirety of ancient church fathers in a way that can inform our defense of the truth against heretics, as well as provide us with a robust and thought-provoking theological starting point for our study of systematics.

If the job has been done, moreover, why try to reinvent the wheel? Patristic scholars have produced many works in this field, secondary sources that have undergone the scrutiny of other patristic scholars and have held their own as trustworthy guides to understanding the fathers. Khaled Anatolios, a leading Athanasian scholar, has produced not only a clear and concise biography of Athanasius, but an equally concise and clear explanation of his theological system in his work Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought. In it, Anatolios expertly demonstrates the consistency, coherence, and brilliance of Athanasius’ system of theology, deriving his conclusions not from a single text, nor from a simplistic word study limited to a select few texts written by Athanasius, but from the entirety of Athanasius’ corpus.

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Light of the Mind: St. Augustine's Theory of Knowledge [Review]


by Hiram R. Diaz III



How sensory experience relates to the acquisition of knowledge, especially of universals and absolutes, has always been a major problem in philosophy. Is there a place for the senses in our acquisition of knowledge? If so, then what is that role? If all that we know is reducible to basic sensory experiences, then can we know what is definitionally supra-sensible (i.e. God)? Indeed, can we believe in supra-sensible realities at all if our knowledge is entirely derived from our sensory experiences? Contrariwise, if all knowledge is not derived from sensory experience, then do the senses play any role in the acquisition of knowledge? If they do, then what exactly is that role? 


These questions might seem to be abstruse and impractical, but they are of direct relevance to the Christian life. No one understood this better, perhaps, than St. Augustine. The bishop of Hippo’s writing often touches upon the subject of epistemology and its spiritual significance (e.g. Concerning the Teacher & The Confessions of St. Augustine). However, given the scope of Augustine’s canon, as well as its depth, coming to a fully-orbed understanding of the bishop’s epistemology can prove to be a difficult task for most non-academics. 

Ronald H. Nash’s The Light of the Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge helpfully provides those interested in the subject of Augustinian epistemology with an in-depth yet accessible presentation of Augustine’s theory of knowledge. Citing from a wide variety of primary sources, Nash explains the bishop’s hierarchy of epistemological sources, ranging from sensory experience to the contemplation of God. Nash also resolves the apparent contradiction between Augustine’s early rejection of sensory experience as a means of acquiring knowledge in books like Against the Academics and Concerning the Teacher, and his positive remarks concerning sensory experience as a source of knowledge in other places throughout his corpus. 

Given the importance that epistemology plays in the realms of our quotidian affairs as well as the highest academic pursuits, The Light of the Mind is a good introduction to the well thought out epistemology of one of the church’s brightest theological minds. Whether or not Augustine achieves his goal of tying together sensory perception and the contemplation of God is up to the reader to decide. Yet what can be agreed upon by all sides is that the bishop’s efforts are worthy of examination and consideration. Nash has, therefore, done the church a great favor by systematizing the bishop’s thoughts, from many primary sources, in a single, accessible, and short volume. It is well worth a serious read.