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.