Those who are well acquainted with the kingdom of the cults are very much aware that every cult organization contradicts one or more of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. The essential doctrines of the Christian faith that are most often and intentionally under attack are: the deity of Jesus, the atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the triune nature of God, justification by faith, and the authority of the Bible. In the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses this would also include the personhood of the Holy Spirit.
According to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the Holy Spirit is not a person, as historic Christianity has always taught, but a force. The online glossary of the Jehovah’s Witnesses website defines the Holy Spirit as:
“The invisible energizing force that God puts into action to accomplish his will. It is holy because it comes from Jehovah, who is clean and righteous to the highest degree, and because it is God’s means to accomplish what is holy.”1
In other words, the Holy Spirit is simply “God’s active force.”2 But is this true? Does the Bible and reason lead to a belief in the impersonal nature of the Holy Spirit? This article will investigate the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ claim of the impersonal nature of the Holy Spirit and see if it can biblically and logically hold its ground. Better yet, let’s also see if their claim can hold its ground in the face of their own Bible translation: The New World Translation. If the New World Translation, alongside our Holy Bible, affirms the personhood of the Holy Spirit, then the Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine of the impersonal nature of the Holy Spirit collapses under its own weight.
Jehovah’s Witnesses’ first argument against the personhood of the Holy Spirit, which they would also consider to be their strongest argument against the personhood of the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit “is spoken of as ‘filling people’, they can be ‘baptized’ with it; and they can be ‘anointed’ with it. None of these expressions would be appropriate if the Holy Spirit were a person” 3 Unfortunately, this anonymous writer failed to explain why the use of these expressions are inappropriate if the Holy Spirit is a person. We are expected to assume the writer has made a rational case against the personhood of the Holy Spirit, however, that will not suffice. Further elaboration is required in order to establish a sound case against the personal nature of the Holy Spirit.
Why isn’t it possible for the Holy Spirit, as a person, to perform acts such as filling, baptizing, and anointing individual believers with Himself? In Christianity, the Holy Spirit is omnipresent (everywhere present) due to His very nature being God. God is omnipresent, and since the Holy Spirit is by nature God, then the Holy Spirit is omnipresent. It is therefore not a problem for the Holy Spirit, as a person, to perform acts of filling, baptizing, and anointing individual believers with Himself since the Holy Spirit is not spatially limited (i.e. a physical body).
Interestingly, the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not seem to take in consideration that even Jehovah (God) also fills all things, but yet is Himself a person. In Ephesians 4:6b God is …”who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (NKJV Bible) In this verse we are told by the apostle Paul that God is in all believers in Jesus Christ. How? Through the Holy Spirit who is by very nature God. Even the New World Translation attests to this, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (NWT) How is it possible for Jehovah God to be in all (believers) and yet be a person? Could it be because Jehovah God is simultaneously a person and omnipresent? Of course it is. Thus, the Holy Spirit, who can perform the acts of filling, baptizing, and anointing individual believers is also simultaneously a person and omnipresent.
Another argument Jehovah’s Witnesses use against the personhood of the Holy Spirit is the personification argument. This argument posited by the Jehovah’s Witnesses states that when we read in the Bible of the Holy Spirit “speaking”, “hearing”, “bearing witness”, “teaching” or being called our “helper”, these are mere personifications; not to be taken literally. 4 Granted, it is true that the Bible does use personifications in certain instances. For example, Luke 7:35 speaks of wisdom having children, “But wisdom is justified by all her children.” Obviously, wisdom cannot bear children because wisdom is just a word, not a person. Another example is Romans 5:14, 21 which speaks of sin, death, and grace reigning. Again, it is obvious that sin, death, and grace are not personal entities, only words. Can this argument, therefore, rationally stand its ground? Three traits that can be ascribed to persons are the ability to: speak, teach, and bear witness.
In Acts 13:2 we read, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Jehovah’s Witnesses will argue that in cases where the Holy Spirit is said to be speaking, this “was done through angels or humans.”5 In this verse, however, it is not the case. The subject is the Holy Spirit and the action performed by the subject is the action of speaking. Nothing in this verse tells us the act of speaking was done through either an angel or human. The Holy Spirit spoke to certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen (verse 1). After the time of prayer and fasting, these prophets and teachers obeyed the Holy Spirit’s command and laid hands on Barnabas and Saul (Paul), prayed for them and sent them on their way (verse 3). Therefore, since there was no mediator to convey the message to set aside Paul and Barnabas for the assigned mission work, we can rationally conclude that the Holy Spirit spoke directly to the prophets and teachers. This is only possible if the Holy Spirit is a person.
In John 14:26 it states, “ But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” In the New World Translation it basically says the same thing, “But the helper, the holy spirit, which the Father will send in my name, that one will teach you all things and bring back to your minds all the things I told you.” (NWT)
So what comes with being able to teach? To be able to teach, one must: a. have a mind; b. have knowledge which require a mind; and c. have the ability to intelligently communicate knowledge. Can an impersonal entity, such as a force, possess mind, knowledge, and communication skills? No, absolutely not, but a person can. In the New World Translation, Jesus states, “….that one will teach you all things and bring back to your minds all the things I told you.” demonstrating that human persons have minds. In order to be able to bring any teaching of knowledge back to one’s remembrance, one must have a mind in order to do so. Hence, only persons have minds which can and do possess knowledge and thus can teach. The Holy Spirit is able to teach–which requires a mind and knowledge–therefore, the Holy Spirit must be a person.
Lastly, in the New World Translation, John 15:26 states, “ When the helper comes that I will send you from the Father, the spirit of the truth, which comes from the Father, that one will bear witness about me” What is it to bear witness of someone? To bear witness is to affirm or ascribe to a person’s character or philosophy of life as is the case of the Holy Spirit concerning Jesus here in John 15:26. Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit will bear witness to His (Jesus) character and teachings.
Can a force bear witness of anyone? No, but a person can. In Exodus 20:16 of the Ten Commandments, it says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Who is being commanded not to bear false witness against their neighbor? Human persons. Human persons are commanded not to bear false witness against their fellow human person. Only persons have the ability to either bear true or false witness against their neighbor; which indicates that a person can be either moral or immoral. To bear true witness is moral and to bear false witness is immoral. What kind of witness does the Holy Spirit bears about Jesus? The Holy Spirit bears true witness to the person and teachings of Jesus Christ because the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. (John 16:13) Since the Holy Spirit truthfully bears witness to the person and teachings of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is not only a person, but a moral person, and not just a moral person, but a perfectly moral person because the Holy Spirit is God and God is the only one who is morally perfect.
The final argument that Jehovah’s Witnesses use in opposition to the personhood of the Holy Spirit is that since the Holy Spirit does not have a personal name, then the Holy Spirit is not a person. They indirectly imply this argument by saying, “the Holy Scriptures tell us the personal name of the Father–Jehovah. They inform us that the Son is Jesus Christ. But nowhere in the Scriptures is a personal name applied to the Holy Spirit.” 6 First off, a much needed correction is to be made: Jesus Christ is not His personal name. Jesus is His personal name and Christ means “anointed one” or “Messiah”. Thus, the personal name of the Son of God is Jesus, who is the Messiah. With that said, let us continue.
Is this argument set forth by the Jehovah’s Witnesses rational and thus, valid? No, this argument is actually irrational because it implies that personhood does not exist unless one has a personal name and that is just not the case. In actuality, this form of reasoning runs into a lot of problems and absurdities. Think about it. How many people do you know have given personal names to things like animals and cars? Clara may call her dog Rex and Bill may call his car Betsy, but is Rex the dog and Betsy the car now considered persons because they possess personal names? Of course not. That would be absurd!
Being a person entails more than just having a personal name. Descriptively, a person is one who has mind, will, and emotions. The Holy Spirit has a mind (Romans 8:27), will (I Corinth. 12:11), and emotions (Eph. 4:30). An impersonal force– whether active or not–does not and cannot possess the personal qualities of mind, will, and emotions. These personal qualities are only reserved and possessed by personal beings.
Furthermore, this line of reasoning also creates an unpleasant moral conflict for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses are ardently pro-life and thus opposes abortion; which is a wonderful thing. The moral conflict for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, comes into play when applying their line of reasoning concerning personal name equaling personhood to the issue of abortion. The problem is as follows:
If one is not a person unless they have a personal name, then abortion becomes perfectly justifiable. Why? because an unborn baby does not possess a legal personal name. This personal name is not legalized until the baby is born and the personal name is printed on the birth certificate. Parents can and do name their unborn babies in advance all the time, but that personal name is useless and therefore meaningless until the baby is born and the personal name is printed on the birth certificate. Abortion would be perfectly justifiable until the baby is born and named, if we were to apply the Jehovah’s Witnesses line of reasoning concerning personal name equaling personhood. This would of course be morally horrific and I’m sure Jehovah’s Witnesses would agree. So if we cannot apply this line of reasoning to abortion (and we shouldn’t), then there is no rational reason to apply this line of reasoning when it applies to the argument opposing the personhood of the Holy Spirit. It is not a rational or realistic argument against the personhood of the Holy Spirit and it therefore should be undoubtedly rejected.
The Holy Spirit is a Person
We can conclude that the Holy Spirit is indeed a person. Through the testimony of the Bible and sound reason, there should be no doubt that the Holy Spirit consists of the traits and attributes of personhood. Unlike a force, the Holy Spirit–like any other person–has a mind, which gives Him the ability to speak and teach. He (the Holy Spirit) has a will, which gives Him the ability to willfully choose to set aside people for ministry work. The Holy Spirit has emotions and can be grieved, which only a person can express.
Despite the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ claim of the Bible using personified language, when it comes to the Holy Spirit speaking, teaching, and bearing witness, we have seen this to be an irrational position to take. Both our Bible and the Jehovah’s Witness bible–the New World Translation–along with the tools of logic and rationality shows that this is not and cannot be personified language, but literal language which articulates that the Holy Spirit is in fact a person, and not a force.
We have seen that even though the Holy Spirit fills, baptize, and anoint believers of Jesus Christ, He (the Holy Spirit) can still be a person because God, as a person, also fills believers with Himself. This is affirmed both in our Bible and the New World Translation. Unfortunately, the Jehovah’s Witnesses fail to give an explanation of why these expressions of actions by the Holy Spirit are deemed inappropriate. They seem to assume we will just mindlessly accept their presupposition without question; but thinking individuals like us cannot allow these claims to go unquestioned. We require them to clarify their claim in order to better understand the argument they are setting forth.
Finally, we have seen that it is logically absurd and even morally dangerous to argue that the Holy Spirit is not a person due to Him lacking a personal name. We saw how absurd it was because no one would say a dog named Rex or a car named Betsy is a person due to it having a personal name. Further, we saw how this line of reasoning puts the Jehovah’s Witnesses in a moral dilemma. If reasoned that one is not a person until they have a personal name, then abortion becomes justifiable since a baby does not legally receive their personal name until the baby is born. Thus, termination of the baby in the mother’s womb would not be wrong. Jehovah’s Witnesses would find this to be horrific since they are pro-life.
The Holy Spirit is a person. He is by very nature God Himself as the third person of the Holy Trinity. He is, as God is, omnipresent, omniscience, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the bible and because of Him we have the blessing of reading about the person and ways of God. He seals us as Christians for the day of redemption. (Eph. 4:30) He gives us spiritual gifts as He wills for service in the church; locally and worldwide (I Corinth. 12:4-11) and so much more. This is the person: The Holy Spirit of God.
(1) Watchtower Bible & Tract Society: Holy Spirit. Glossary, https://www.jw.org/en/library/books/bible-glossary/holy-spirit/ Accessed 3 December 2020.
(2) Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, Reasoning from the Scriptures (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc.), p. 380.
(3) Ibid., p. 380.
(4) Ibid., p. 380.
(5) Ibid., p. 380.
(6) Ibid., p. 407.
The term “God” isn’t even a personal name necessarily and many times God is referred to as “spirit”.