We have discussed elsewhere how the concept of YHWH as a “trinity” of three “co-equal persons” (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) does not do justice to the Biblical data. Behind the pagan accretions, it has echoes of some Hebraic ideas, but not combined in a way that best fits the overall picture. So, if the Son is not YHWH Himself incarnate but is His Word fleshed out as the Second Adam with the image of Elohim fully restored, then where does that leave the Holy Spirit?
The best way to come to conclusions is to scrutinize the pure, plain Scriptural data, rather than starting from dogma (which could be biased) and trying to prove it from this verse or that. So how is the Holy Spirit actually presented in Holy Scripture? Let’s make a thorough study so we don’t miss anything.
Let’s take a step back and look at how the Scriptures use the term “spirit” (Hebrew, ruaH) in general, since it does have a “secular” sense as well, just as in English we can speak of “team spirit” or say, “That girl has spirit!” If we understand this, it may help us get a better sense of what the “Holy Spirit” is.
The most basic meaning of ruaH is “breath”. (Isa. 42:5) In some of the very earliest theology, Iyov said, “The Spirit of Elohim has made me; the breath of El Shaddai has given me life.” (Job 33:4; cf. Ezekiel 37:14) Genesis 2:7 gives us a clue as to how: it says, “YHWH Elohim formed man…and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” Iyov also equated the spirit of Elohim being within him with there being breath in his nostrils. (27:3) Solomon recognized that no one has power to hold onto his spirit when it is his time to die. (Qoh./Eccles. 8:8) It returns to Elohim, who gave it. (12:7)
In verb form, it means to smell (Gen. 8:21), and is related to the word for “aroma” (reaH) –particularly to breathe in deeply, enjoy a fragrance (Lev. 26:31), and accept what someone offers. (1 Samuel 26:19; Amos 5:21) Related to this, it speaks of the ability to quickly perceive or judge based on an odor as opposed to what one sees or hears (Isaiah 11:3), like when we can tell that food has gone bad with just one whiff. ReaH is often paired with niHoaH (pleasing, satisfying, soothing, calming)—something that settles someone down after He has been enraged. So it includes a strong emotional element.
For one’s spirit to rise up indicates fierce anger. (Eccles./Qoh. 10:4) Anguish of spirit kept the enslaved Israelites from listening to Moses. (Ex. 6:9) Asaf and David felt that their spirits were overwhelmed (Psalm 77:3; 142:3; 143:4) and therefore failing (143:7). Hannah had a sorrowful spirit. (1 Sam. 1:15; compare Isaiah 54:6) Pharaoh’s spirit was troubled by a dream (Gen. 41:8; compare Daniel 2:1; 7:15; Yochanan 13:21; Acts 17:16), probably literally disrupting his breathing pattern. Ezekiel spoke of bitterness within himself as “heat of spirit”. (Ez. 3:14) Someone can be “fervent in spirit”. (Acts 18:25; Romans 12:11) Yeshua became “extremely gladdened in spirit” (Luke 10:21) at his students’ success. But he sighed deeply in his spirit (Mark 8:12) when fed up with people who had little, dare we say, spiritual perceptiveness; we would call him “exasperated”, which is literally “having run out of breath”.
The spirit is often associated with the “heart” (e.g., Psalm 78:8; Ezek. 21:7)—used metaphorically as a person’s innermost passions which set the tone for his words (Isa. 59:13) and actions. (Mat. 12:38; 15:18, 19) The “spirit in his belly” might constrain someone to speak what filled his mind. (Job 32:18) When Moshe’s spirit was provoked, he spoke inadvisedly (Psalm 106:32-33), while one with a “faithful spirit” knows how to restrain his speech. (Prov. 11:13) One who rules his own spirit is counted mightier than one who conquers a city. (Prov. 16:32; 25:28) A haughty spirit leads to calamity, for it is reckless. (Prov. 16:18) A “hasty spirit” is contrasted with being slow to anger (literally “long-nostriled”!) (Prov. 14:29) When two of his disciples were indeed be hasty about judgment, Yeshua told them, “You don’t realize what kind of spirit you have.” (Luke 9:55)
A “spirit of jealousy” can come over a husband (Num. 5:14)—as an overwhelming, almost obsessive sense that something is not right. Israel was even misled by a “spirit of whoredom”. (Hosea 4:12; 5:4) So not every spirit is a positive one. (1 Yochanan 4:1) One’s spirit can turn against Elohim (Job 15:13), being “hardened” like an obstinate heart (Deut. 2:30). Some have spirits full of deceit (Psalm 32:2). We are therefore warned, “take heed to your spirit”. (Mal. 2:15) YHWH wants to use it to search out one’s motives (Prov. 20:27) with the lamp of His Torah. (Prov.6:23) “Soul” and “spirit” work in tandem (Luke 1:46-47), but YHWH’s living word can even distinguish between these, sorting out what are just passing thoughts and what our actual intentions are. (Hebrews 4:12)
A “broken heart” produces a humble and “contrite spirit” with which YHWH is able to work. (Psalm 34:18; 51:17; Prov. 29:23; Isa. 57:15; 66:2; Mat. 5:3) A “meek [teachable] and quiet spirit…is of great value to YHWH.” (1 Peter 3:4) David prays, “renew a correct spirit in my innermost part” when asking YHWH to create a clean heart for him. (Psalm 51:10) After He does, one must then in turn restore others who slip in a “spirit of meekness”, remembering our own potential to fall. (Gal. 6:1)
In these cases, one’s spirit refers to his attitude. A “spirit of faith” (2 Cor. 4:13) is the disposition to believe. When those around him were fearful, Caleb had a “different spirit” about him, which impressed YHWH. (Num. 14:24) Seeking YHWH with one’s spirit (Isa. 26:9) seems to mean doing it enthusiastically.
The spirit in man (put there by YHWH, Zekh. 12:1) is paralleled with inspiration from Him (Job 32:8) to be generous, for example. (Ex. 35:21) The spirits of even pagan kings were “stirred up by… Elohim” (1 Chron. 5:26) to carry out His judgment (Cf. 2 Chron. 21:16; Jer. 51:11) or end His people’s exile. (2 Chron. 36:22; Ezra 1:1) He “raised up the spirits” of others to rebuild His Temple. (Ezra 1:5)
The queen of Sheba had “no more spirit in her” (1 Kings 10:5) when she saw Solomon’s magnificence. This does not mean she died, but she lost all motivation to try to compete with his reputation. Iyov said YHWH’s “attacks” “drank up his spirit” (Job 6:4), i.e., sapping him of the will to live. The human spirit can be “broken” by a misused tongue (Prov. 15:4) or a wounded heart. (15:13) YHWH holds back His anger to spare the human spirit from fainting away. (Isa. 48:16)
Jacob’s spirit revived when he saw evidence that Joseph was still alive. (Gen. 45:27) I.e., he cheered up, or again had the will to live and renewed enthusiasm about life. Samson’s spirit was revived when he drank water after having fought to the point of exhaustion. (Judges 15:19) Similarly, one man’s spirit “came back” when he was given food again after three days without. (1 Sam. 30:12) Someone actually raised from the dead was described in the same way. (Luke 8:55) We too can, by generous love, refresh one another’s spirits. (2 Cor. 7:13) This can keep them going, pushing on through infirmity (Prov. 18:14)
The Spirit of Elohim
Now how do we apply all of these understandings of “spirit” when we are talking about YHWH?
One time Paul gave what he admitted was his opinion, but said he thought he had the “spirit of Elohim”. (1 Cor. 7:40) In this context, it means he was confident that he was at least operating by the same principles as YHWH does. He knew that a “spirit of fear” does not come from YHWH, who instead gives us a spirit of “power, love, and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) The prophets assumed no one was capable of directing or influencing YHWH’s spirit with their own advice. (Isa. 40:13) So here, “spirit” would seem to refer to His intent and motive, decided upon before He acts.
But there are other ways this phrase “spirit of Elohim” is used. As we saw above, “spirit” is related to the word for “smell” or “perceive”—that is, to sense or “feel” something tangible yet not solid, like wind. In fact, another “everyday” use of the word ruaH does refer to wind or a breeze (e.g., Isaiah 40:7). Ezekiel often tells of “the spirit” picking him up and moving him elsewhere (8:3; 11:1, 24; compare Revelation 17:3; 21:10), and the meaning of ruaH that best fits that context is a strong wind. (Ez. 2:2; 3:12, 14; 8:3; 37:1; 43:5) Possibly in anticipation of the whirlwind that carried him away later, a fellow prophet was afraid “the spirit of Elohim” would carry Eliyahu away to where he could not find him. (1 Kings 18:12) This seems to speak of a gust that greatly exceeded ordinary wind. (Compare Acts 8:39.)
The very first usage of the phrase “Spirit of Elohim” (Genesis 1:2) may even be meant in this sense. The term “Elohim” can mean something “of magnificent proportion”—e.g., extraordinarily-sized mountains (Psalm 36:6), as in English someone might (irreverently or not) say, “That was a god-awful storm!” What was acting on the yet-unorganized creation may have been such an extremely mighty wind.
Metaphorically, then, spirit is something powerful and perceptible but not concrete or easily measurable. So the analogy Yeshua made between wind and those “born of [YHWH’s] spirit” was perfectly fitting. (Yochanan 3:8)
Similarly, ruaH elohim can mean an “outstanding empowerment” with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, or even craftsmanship (Ex. 35:31) This seems to be what Pharaoh meant when he said there was a “spirit of elohim” within Joseph. (Gen. 41:38) He recognized an extraordinary ability in him to solve problems. Now this was a pagan king’s idea, so we might not want to base our theology on his opinion. (Compare Daniel 4:8) Yet the concept of YHWH’s spirit being put into a person, giving him wisdom (Gen. 41:38; Num. 27:18), is upheld by many other Scriptures.
YHWH’s “good spirit” gives insight. (Neh. 9:20) He placed a “spirit of wisdom” (skill in putting knowledge to practical use) in some people to enable them to make the high priest’s holy garments (Ex. 28:3) and the articles of the Tabernacle which Moshe had been shown in a vision on Mount Sinai. (Ex. 31:3) Such a spirit revealed the same patterns in heaven to David so he could design a larger-scale temple that also portrayed them. (1 Chron. 28:12)
Over and over in the book of Judges, “the Spirit came upon” one person after another, and they ruled Israel and/or battled its enemies successfully. (3:10, etc.; Isa. 42:1) Sometimes it empowered people to do normally-impossible things. (Judges 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14, etc.) His spirit can arouse something that makes an oncoming enemy flee, if we are revering Him properly. (Isa. 59:19) In more ordinary (but just as important) situations, YHWH’s spirit “strives” with humanity to get us to change. (Gen. 6:3) It can drive us to want justice (1 Shm. 11:6) or be loyal. (1 Chron. 12:18) Once when he heard some shocking news about a gross injustice, the spirit of YHWH came upon Sha’ul and filled him with anger. (1 Sam. 11:6) We don’t usually think of anger being a “fruit of the spirit” (see Galatians 5:22-23), but sometimes it is a necessary manifestation. The spirit can fill a man with power to make His people aware of their errors so they can change. (Micah 3:8) His spirit testified against Israel through the prophets (Neh. 9:30). In general it remains among Israel because of the covenant made when we left Egypt (Haggai 2:5), but, in one of the scariest prospects, is said to depart from an individual if he commits certain kinds of sins. (1 Samuel 16:14; Psalm 51)
The spirit leads people to go to particular places to carry out YHWH’s purposes (Mat. 4:1; Luke 2:27; 4:1, 14; Acts 8:29; 11:12; 16:7)—or not to go to other places. (Acts 16:6) YHWH put His spirit within Moshe to help him lead our whole nation on the way to the Promised Land. (Isaiah 63:11, 14)
But he was told that some of that spirit could be taken from him and placed on others to share the burden of the work (Num. 11:17)—of rendering judicial decisions in particular. But some additional results were that they could prophesy (Num. 11:26), as seen on other occasions when Elohim’s spirit came upon people. (Num. 24:2; 1 Shm. 10:6, 10; 2 Chron. 24:20) Pouring out one’s spirit is paralleled with making one’s words known (Prov. 1:23); prophecy is making YHWH’s words known. (Joel 2:28). This term “pouring out”, when applied to YHWH’s spirit, is connected with blessing, the restoration of the lost fruitfulness of the Land of Israel, and bringing our people back to righteousness (Isa. 32:13-18; 44:3) and back into YHWH’s favor. (Ezek. 39:29 and the more familiar Z’kharyah 12:10)
We see another example of this “sharing of spirit” in 2 Kings 2:9, when Elisha asked for a double portion of the spirit that was in Eliyahu. This was granted, as recognized by those around him (2:15), and we can review the record and see that one way this was manifested is that he was empowered to do exactly twice as many miracles as Eliyahu had done in his lifetime—the final one being after Elisha’s death, by means of the beneficiary touching his bones! (2 Kings 13:21) Centuries later, Yochanan’s parents were also told that (even with no direct contact with the man) their son would operate “in the spirit and power of Eliyahu” (Luke 1:17)—i.e., doing the things Mal’akhi said Eliyahu would be sent to do (4:5-6) with the same attitude and the same motive. The spirit of both men had the same source—YHWH—and that spirit increased more and more within Yochanan. (Luke 1:80)
These “sharings of spirit” provide a precedent for understanding Yeshua’s “breathing on” his disciples and enabling them to receive the same spirit of holiness that filled him. (Yochanan 20:22) This was in addition to the neshamat Hayim (living soul) that YHWH initially breathed into all humankind (Genesis 2:7); it was a special endowment of empowerment from YHWH.
The Spirit and Spirits
Thus far we have seen the Spirit expressed as certain abilities or characteristics with which YHWH invests people. But the term “spirit” can speak of the numinous realm as well.
Some spirits are paralleled with angels. (Acts 23:9) Other spirits exist which frighten people, much like what folks think of as ghosts today. (Iyov/Job 4:15; Mat. 14:26; Luke 24:37-39) Some such evil or unclean spirits (Mark 1:23, etc.) can inhabit or possess/take control of people’s bodies. Some chalk this up to mere epilepsy, but these go far beyond that, for they override people’s normal brains and voices. (Mat. 9:32; 12:22; 15:22; 17:18, Luke 9:39; Acts 19:15, etc.) The history of where at least some of these came from is found in 1 Hanokh/Enoch 15. (Compare Mat. 12:43) By YHWH’s spirit, Yeshua expelled many of these (Mat. 12:28) and ultimately defeated their prince, who was called “the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience”. (Ephesians 2:2)
These are not the focus here, except to note, interestingly, that YHWH will consume the wicked one “by the spirit [i.e., breath or words] of his mouth.” (2 Thess. 2:8) But these types of spirits are individual beings as contrasted with the kind of “evil spirit” that came over King Sha’ul, causing him to suspect and fear David; that was a foul mood that could be alleviated by his soothing music. (1 Sam. 16:14-23) It was not a demon as such like the “lying spirit” that shows up in 1 Kings 22:21. It was more like the “evil spirit” that YHWH sent between two parties, causing them to attack one another, not us. (Judges 9:23)
Moshe appeals to YHWH as the “Elohim of the spirits of all flesh” (Numbers 16:22) to ask Him to distinguish between one man and another when He was judging the whole nation for the sins of only some of them. Individual human spirits each warrant different treatment. And those whose lives are carried over into the age to come are called “the spirits of just men made perfect.” (Hebrews 12:23) Thus spirits can refer to individual lives that are distinct from one another.
Can this usage of “spirit” as a separate living being be applied to YHWH?
After talking many times about a ruaH as wind, Ezekiel throws us a loop and says this ruaH speaks to him (3:24) and tells him what to say. (11:5). Does this mean it takes on a life of its own as separate from YHWH, who sends it forth? Let us investigate the details and find out.
When it is Holy in Particular
On one occasion when we are told the Holy Spirit “said” something, it was this: “Set apart unto me Barnabas and Sha’ul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2) The specific term “holy” means “set apart for a particular task” or “dedicated to one distinct use and that alone”, so the act of setting them apart is what made this spirit that came from YHWH one of holiness in particular, as contrasted with the “spirit of truth” or the “spirit of wisdom and understanding”, in this case. I.e., it was the “spirit of setting apart”. (Compare Acts 20:28)
What the Spirit “says” often takes the form of prophecy (Acts 21:11). YHWH is said to have repeatedly warned His people by His spirit that He put within His prophets. (Neh. 9:30; compare Micah 3:8; Zekh. 7:12) The result of the Spirit’s coming upon people suddenly was often that they prophesied in a way they previously could not. (1 Sam. 19:20-23; Luke 1:41, 67) This, too, is part of what makes the results holy—that is, different from what is ordinary.
One such prophecy was that Yochanan ben Z’kharYah would be filled would be filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he was still in his mother’s womb. (1:15) He was a Nazir(ite), which means he was called to a special degree of holiness. (Num. 6:2-8) Only on his watch did the Holy Spirit ever take a visible form (Yochanan 1:33), other than the tongues of fire over the recipients’ heads at Shavuoth in Acts 2, when, as he predicted, they were “immersed with the Holy Spirit and with fire”. (Luke 3:16; Acts 1:5).
But while He did extraordinary things to get their attention, the onlookers were challenged to repent so they too could receive the same filling. (2:38) These people were set apart, but did not want to remain the only ones in that category. Holiness is not always exclusive. Moshe wanted others to have the same spirit of prophecy that he had. (Numbers 11:29) And YHWH wants us to become holy like He is (Lev. 11:44; 19:2), so He gives the same spirit that is in Himself to those who make themselves available conduits through obedience. (Acts 5:32)
He “provided [His] good spirit to instruct” our ancestors in the wilderness (Neh. 9:20). How did He do that? Through Moshe, the human channel for that instruction. David said YHWH’s spirit spoke through him simply because YHWH’s word was on his tongue. (2 Sam. 23:2) YHWH equates putting His spirit on us with putting His words in our mouths to pass on to our children. (Isa. 59:21; Micah 2:7) This is not so spectacular, but it is the form He most often uses, so that we too can be involved in the process.
It must be noted that there is no difference between “Holy Spirit” and “Holy Ghost” in the Greek New Testament, despite the distinction some translations make. But I was surprised to find that the precise phrase “Holy Spirit” appears in the Hebrew Scriptures only three times as such:
-Ps 51:11 “Cast me not away from Your presence, and do not take Your holy spirit from me.” -Isa 63:10, 11 "But they rebelled, and vexed His holy spirit; therefore he turned on them to become their enemy, and he fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, His people: ‘Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is He who put His holy spirit within him?’”
But there are many other allusions to it that use slightly-different phraseology.
YHWH’s Spirit by Many Names
Many times it simply says “the spirit”. This can cause some confusion if we do not look closely at what is being said. A contrast between “letter and spirit” (Romans 2:29; 7:6) is misconstrued to say the Torah is in opposition to YHWH’s spirit: e.g., “The letter kills, but the Spirit brings life.” (2 Cor. 3:6) What is actually being described here is limiting oneself to a literal command when the attitude (spirit) behind the words can and should be carried over into other contexts not directly addressed in the command but to which an analogous action of a different kind, but with the same motivation, can be applied. The “letter” can sometimes seem “old” or “worn out”, a tedious, mundane routine, as contrasted with a fresh insight into its underlying intent that shows us how the same principle can fit in a “new” context. Instead of discarding the Torah as obsolete, the spirit of the Torah actually expands its scope, giving us new horizons on how to live it out, allowing the “word to become flesh” again in our own lives.
Y’hoshua had “the spirit” in him (Num. 27:18). Here the antecedent was that Moses was asking YHWH, as “the Elohim of the spirits of all flesh”, to select a successor whom He knew could be a suitable, effective shepherd to Israel. (27:16) So was it “the spirit of shepherding” that was in Y’hoshua? In context, yes. Later Moses described Y’hoshua as having a “spirit of wisdom” (Deut. 34:9) imparted when Moses had laid his hands on him. “Wisdom” in Hebrew often means “skill”, and that fits what is needed to shepherd such a flock. So is there a difference between the spirit of shepherding and that of wisdom?
Or is the “Spirit of truth” a different entity? (Yochanan 14:17) No. “The spirit is truth.” (1 Yoch. 5:6) This is just a way of emphasizing one aspect of the multi-faceted empowerment that the Holy Spirit brings. The “spirit of truth” that we must discern from the “spirit of error” (1 Yoch. 4:6) refers to prevailing philosophies and ideologies, “winds of doctrine” which we have to test to see if they are really from YHWH. (4:1)
From Isaiah 11:2 is derived the idea of “Seven spirits” of YHWH: “The Spirit of YHWH shall rest on him [Messiah]—the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of YHWH.” (See Revelation 3:1; 4:5)
But these are not a “septinity”—seven different beings who each specialize in that area of skill; that would be a pagan pantheon, wherein all the gods have a division of labor. (Rev. 1:4 speaks of a different group of seven spirits “before the throne”, i.e., not YHWH.) Rather, they are special anointings YHWH gives us to operate in these particular areas, and Yeshua excelled in them all (Rev. 5:6), for he had an unbroken connection to YHWH, unlike the rest of us, whose DNA is still tainted by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The distinctions in terminology clarify which aspect of His nature was being highlighted, according to the need of the moment. One way to wrap our minds around the name He revealed to Moshe (“Ehyeh asher Ehyeh”) is, “I will be whatever I need to be.” (Ex. 3:14)
Is the Holy Spirit a Separate “Person”?
One passage often used to prove that the Holy Spirit is a “separate person” distinct from the Father is Acts 5:3-4, which is typically translated, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Ghost…? … You have not lied to men, but to God.” And then again in verse 9, “How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?”
The last phrase can be rendered “put the spirit…to the test”—not necessarily in a volitional sense as suggested by the translation “tempt”. And “lie to the holy spirit” is better translated “[deliberately] misrepresent the spirit of holiness” (i.e., pretend you are more holy than you really are in order to be recognized like others who really donated all they said they were donating). The lying to Elohim rather than to humans (alone or primarily) was another, though certainly related, issue. That is in the dative case, while the former form of “lying” is in the accusative, and thus the “to” is out of place there.
Similarly, the slant of “personality” is suggested in the common translation of Ephesians 4:30 as “Do not grieve the holy Spirit of Elohim, by which you are sealed unto the day of redemption.” But the accusative case is again used here. The precedent for this concept is found in Isaiah 63:10, which states, “But they rebelled and vexed His holy spirit...” This Hebrew word translated “vexed” can also mean “grieved”, “hurt”, or “frustrated”, so Paul was probably alluding directly to this. But the term specifically means to “stretch, wrest, or twist”, so carrying it back over to Ephesians, “grieving” the holy spirit could mean to change the shape of what others perceive holiness to be—by suppressing, hampering, restricting, limiting, or stifling its effect, any of which would be done if you were to “let…unwholesome word[s] proceed out of your mouth” (which is the direct context, per Ephesians 4:29).
Another challenging statement by the Apostles, on the question of what formerly-Gentile believers would need to do before being admitted to fellowship, is “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to not lay on you a greater burden than these essential things.” (Acts 15:28) For it to “seem good” to the spirit seems to require an element of personality, doesn’t it?
But the same author cites the Holy Spirit as having said through the prophet (Acts 28:25-26) something that in the original text the prophet says YHWH Himself told him to say. (Isaiah 6:9) So for the Holy Spirit to speak through him simply constituted his saying what YHWH told him to say. The added element of the spirit in the speaking may be an important detail, for he preserved the spirit (in this case, the integrity) of what he was supposed to say, in the right attitude, but it does not mean there had to be another personality involved. The word for “seem good” also means to “fit with”; i.e., it was “in agreement with the spirit of holiness” for these people to make certain crucial distinctions, eating only kosher food and separating themselves from unholy practices, so that they could eat at the same table with the Jews while they kept learning about and then adopting more Torah practices. (Acts 15:19-21).
So it is not necessary to separate the Spirit from the Father who directs His spirit where He wishes. While Yeshua was present, it was through the Holy Spirit that he instructed the leaders he had chosen. (Acts 1:2) Now the Father sends the spirit in Yeshua’s name to instruct us and remind us of the things he said (Yoch. 14:26) so we can accurately bear witness. (Acts 1:8)
Might “the spirit said” be a figure of speech like “All the evidence says that there is an economic recession coming soon”? “The evidence” isn’t a living, breathing creature, but it does “tell” us something, as a “spirit of wisdom and revelation” certainly would.
But didn’t Yeshua call the spirit “he”? “When the Helper has come, whom I will send unto you from the Father--the Spirit of truth, which proceeds forth from the Father--he shall testify of me.” (John 15:26)
Does the original text really say “he” as opposed to “it”? Yes, but the antecedent is therefore not “spirit”, but the other subject of the sentence--“help(er)/ comfort(er)” (parakletos), which is indeed masculine in Greek. But many non-personal things have a gender in Greek (as in other languages). I.e., grammatically, masculine does not necessarily refer to a living thing with a gender. It is ambiguous at best. Also, “spirit” itself is neuter in Greek (pneuma), but feminine in Hebrew. So we really would have to use the pronoun “it” to cover both “helper” and “spirit” since he says they are one and the same.
Does the rest of Scripture tell us that the spirit is something that acts on its own? Rather, Yeshua says the spirit will instruct us as to what to say when we are summoned to testify on his behalf. (Luke 12:12; compare Acts 10:19; 11:12; Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13,22; 14:13) Parakletos is also used of Yeshua himself as “an advocate with the Father”. (1 Yoch. 2:1) Like Yeshua (Yochanan 5:19, 30), this spirit does “not speak from itself”, but is itself directed in what to “say”. The spirit is not the focus, but sheds light on what YHWH is pointing us to. (Yochanan 16:13-15) It is something given by YHWH: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:13) And again, “the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from Elohim.” (1 Cor. 6:19) It is the “means of assistance”, the “help” He provides.
The personality issue is also called into question when we look at another salient passage: “When his mother Miryam was espoused to Yosef, before they came together, she was found [to be] with child of the Holy Spirit.” (Mat. 1:18; Heb. versions, “from the Holy Spirit”) Thus if the Holy Spirit was a separate “person” of the trinity, then it would not be “God the Father” who was Yeshua’s father, but “God the Holy Spirit”. This makes it glaringly obvious that the “trinity” paradigm does not fit all the Scriptural data. Yeshua tells us that what will enable us to speak the right words at the right time is “the spirit of your Father”. (Mat. 10:20) So there is not meant to be a dichotomy between the Father and His spirit.
Miryam was told, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow (envelop) you, and for that reason the holy one born of you shall be called ‘Son of Elohim’.” (Luke 1:35) This aspect of His spirit is beyond our understanding, like the contrast drawn in the familiar Z’kharyah 4:6—“’Not by might (military strength or force), not by power (human strength or wealth), but by My spirit’, says YHWH...” But somehow the spirit of holiness produced a holy son. Divine holiness begot a holy human being, for Yeshua was indeed in a separate category not seen among men since the unfallen Adam. Whatever the physical mechanism, His spirit is the instrument He will use for this purpose.
We see a similar construct in, “My Elohim shall supply all your need…through Messiah Yeshua” (Philippians 4:19) “…through whom, after you believed, you also were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise…” (Ephesians 1:13) Here Yeshua is the means YHWH uses to supply our needs, but he is also the one who seals us with the spirit that YHWH provided. (1Thessalonians 4:8 speaks of “Elohim, who has also given unto us his holy spirit.”) Thus YHWH is the One who supplies what we need, the One who loved the world so much that He gave His Son. (Yoch. 3:16) Likewise, when YHWH tells us what He will accomplish “by the spirit which He has given us” (e.g., Zech. 4:6; 1 John 3:24), YHWH is the Actor, the spirit is the means, and the method He chooses differs according to each need. (1 Corinthians 12:4, 9)
Thus there is no grammatical evidence of the holy spirit being a separate “person” from YHWH. Instead, it seems to include assistance of any kind (sometimes to a special degree) “sent” by YHWH and by Yeshua, as something over which he is given some jurisdiction—so they are not “co-equal”. As Yeshua is subordinate to the Father, the spirit is somehow subject to Yeshua, though Yeshua operated in that spirit as well, so a hierarchy is not the best way to describe this relationship. But Yeshua could not “pour it out” to us (with no physical limitations) until it was given to him by the Father. (Yoch. 16:7; Acts 2:33) For that He had to wait until he was with the Father, from whom that help proceeds (Yoch. 7:39; 15:26), “guiding us into all truth” and “informing us of things to come”. (Yoch. 16:13) He was in a better position to share it after he was promoted to his higher position and authority (Philippians 2:9).
But though the spirit may not be a person as such, it is certainly personal, for every one of the examples we have found throughout Scripture reflects YHWH’s personal involvement with and direct intervention for individuals (or groups of individuals who are seeking Him in unity).
Is There a Better Way to Define It?
To avoid such misunderstanding, should we then always render “holy spirit” as “spirit of holiness” instead—one more of those many ways the one spirit of Elohim is manifested? (Ephesians 2:18; 4:4)
When we read it this way, it resolves many questions about what it is: It is in this spirit of holiness that our conscience (which warns us away from sinning) is able to function. (Romans 9:1) The Kingdom is expressed as “righteousness and peace and joy in the spirit of holiness.” (Romans 14:17) .
Yet there is one place it is actually translated “spirit of holiness” in traditional English versions: Yeshua was “declared to be the Son of Elohim with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” (Romans 1:4) Is this grammatically different in Greek from the usual way of saying “Holy Spirit”? Yes, in fact, it is. “Holiness” there, as in English, is a noun rather than an adjective. So in other contexts, ruaH haQodesh could be rendered “spirit of what is holy”. But while Greek often makes finer philosophical distinctions, the Hebrew source phrase would be the same, and the same form, qodesh, can be translated either as a noun (sanctuary, or holy place) or an adjective (“holy arm”, “holy hill”, “holy oil”, etc.) because in actuality it is a participle (“being holy” or “that which is holy”--literally, “the oil that is [being] dedicated”, etc.). We might even translate it “the Spirit of the One who is holy”, though “the Holy One of Israel” usually appears in the form Qadosh, the true adjective form.
Hebrew is not a language of abstracts like Greek, and so all of these conceptual understandings—influence, intervention, involvement, etc.—are grounded in tangible terms like “wind” and “breath”, and take on whatever nuance the context calls for.
Dr. Stephen Pidgeon describes the Holy Spirit as an “impetus”—which would fit with a “fresh breath of air” or “wind in our wings”. For example, having one’s spirit stirred up is equated in Haggai 1:14 with being granted the motivation to do some very hard work. In Ezekiel’s vision, “the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels”. (1:20, 21) I.e., the motivating force—what caused them to move. Thus “motivation” might apply as another broad-brushed meaning of “spirit”, including YHWH’s spirit: He provides us with a special measure of motivation to do whatever He has called us to do.
But is that all that the “Holy Spirit” is? I never like to be a minimalist when it comes to things YHWH does. When Sha’ul had the spirit come upon him, he was “changed into another man”. (1 Sam. 10:6) A change of spirit sounds a lot like being “born again”, and Yeshua was indeed speaking about wind when he described this concept to Nicodemus. Alternately, he used the phrase “born of the spirit” in the same context. (Yochanan 3) It may be not unlike what we call “a second wind” which enables us to get up again after “having the wind knocked out of us” and keep going with a difficult, challenging task.
But it seems to be more than that. YHWH also says He will “put a new spirit within" us (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26) where the old human spirit (again, paralleling the “heart”) has been marred or compromised (e.g., a “seared conscience”), when He puts His own spirit in us. (36:27) We are then “strengthened with might by His spirit in the inner man.” (Ephesians 3:16) Yeshua said YHWH wants us to worship Him in spirit and in truth (reality), i.e. from our innermost core, and wherever one goes, in contrast with just worshipping in a temple in a particular location (Yoch. 4:23-24), each of our bodies now serving as His mobile temples. (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19) Paul similarly spoke of “serving Elohim in spirit.” (Romans 1:9)
But wouldn’t you know it? Ezekiel threw another monkey-wrench into his discussion of the new spirit YHWH would put in us, when he told Israel to “make a new heart and a new spirit for yourself”! (Ezek. 18:31) Is it to our shame that YHWH has to put this in us, when a willing spirit should have been enough to generate repentance and revival in our own hearts?
When He created Adam, YHWH “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” (Gen. 2:7) Since Adam fell, his descendants had only been in his own image (Gen 5:3), no longer sharing fully in Elohim’s image as Adam initially had. (Gen. 5:1) So while the spirit may be willing, the weakened flesh can hinder it. (Mat. 26:41) And our own spirits can also be wrong. YHWH chides “foolish prophets who walk after their own spirit, while having failed to see (any vision from Him).” (Ezek. 13:3)
But now that there was again a man in YHWH’s image, whose spiritual perception was complete (Mark 2:8) since he never lost his connection with the Father and thus was given the spirit “without measure” (Yochanan 3:34), Yeshua’s restored-race “seed” (1 Yochanan 3:9) could be spread to people who recognized that they needed a “spirit transplant”. This is a spirit that really needs to be shared. It can be passed on to others by the hands of those who have already received it. (Acts 8:17; 9:17)
One result of YHWH’s pouring out His spirit on us is that He will no longer have to hide His face from us. (Ezek. 39:29) His “seed” being in us is said to be what keeps us from sin. (1 Yoch. 3:9) In this regard, “That which is born of flesh is flesh; that which is born of spirit is spirit.” (Yoch. 3:6) Though it has nothing to do with physical seed yet, this spiritual “seed” is the “downpayment” for the restored body that will join it as the second stage and make us complete persons again—in Elohim’s image again, no longer just Adam’s. As a classic song says, “Adam’s likeness now efface; stamp thine image in its place. Second Adam from above, reinstate us in thy love.”
But even now, “if Messiah is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness. Moreover, if the spirit of Him who raised Yeshua from the dead is within you, then He who raised Messiah…will also give life to your mortal bodies through His spirit” (Rom. 8:10-11), as the first-fruits of more to come. (8:23; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5) That whole chapter is well worth studying in depth; it is life-changing. It explains how through the spirit we can harness the flesh, so its downhill tendencies will not control us and it can still be useful for holy purposes. (8:13; compare Eph. 5:9; Gal. 5:16, 22-23; 6:8)
Yeshua said, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no benefit. The words I speak…are spirit [effective], and they are life.” (Yochanan 6:63; cf. Galatians 3:3; Philippians 3:3) Some of the results are having our hearts filled with hope and love. (Romans 5:5; 15:13) Through the spirit we can obey the truth and thus even purify our souls. (1 Peter 1:22) But we have to be careful to choose this path, because the spirit can be quenched if our thoughts or actions do not allow it the space to flow freely. (Zech. 6:8; 1 Thess. 5:19)
We can “walk in the flesh” (which in Hebraic usage means following our natural inclinations or operating only in our unaided and thus insufficient muscular strength—hence the term “flesh”) or we can “walk in the spirit” (Romans 8:4-9; compare Isa. 31:3), motivated or aided by the Spirit of Elohim and the spirit of Messiah, who give us the raw materials to form that new heart in ourselves, as Ezekiel said we must.
That spirit can also supersede another fleshly weakness: that of not knowing “how to pray as we ought”, for by getting in synch with the spirit that is from YHWH and therefore “knows His mind”, our own hearts can understand (1 Cor. 2:9-14) and pray according to His will in ways far deeper than our sin-damaged brains could ever comprehend (Rom. 8:26-27; 1 Cor. 14:14-15). This way we can still accomplish what is needed “on earth as it is in heaven”. And even the “spirit of our minds” can be renewed as well. (Ephesians 4:23; Romans 12:2) Paul called the spirit the ability to actually change, as contrasted with mere (theoretical) words of conventional human wisdom (1 Cor. 2:4, 13) which were so common in the Greco-Roman world of his day, and still are.
Another effect of the spirit of holiness is boldness to go on proclaiming YHWH’s word when men threaten us. (Acts 4:31) In Stephen’s case, “No one was able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke.” (Acts 6:10) He said the problem was that his accusers were resisting the spirit of holiness just as their ancestors had also done. (Acts 7:51) So this was far from the only time that spirit was available; it was not something new, but it now had a purified channel by which to flow more widely and effectively, and if we habitually allow it free rein, its flow through us can, like the effect of aerobic activity on our blood vessels (again, breathing!), make the conduit even cleaner with use.
The Spirit of Messiah
But what is that ”spirit of Messiah” referred to above? (Rom. 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11) It certainly refers to having the same attitude he had/has. But the “spirit of Messiah” can also be a source of unseen supply in otherwise-impossible circumstances. (Philippians 1:19) And the root meaning of the word “Messiah” is “anointing”. Indeed, when David had been anointed as king, the spirit of YHWH came upon him “from that day forward”. (1 Sam. 16:13) The same spirit was put upon the Messiah when YHWH anointed him to speak in a way that brings encouragement and liberty. (Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:16-21)
The apostles described Yeshua as “one whom Elohim had anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power”. (Acts 10:38) He “grew strong in spirit and Elohim’s favor was on him.” (Luke 2:40) Ultimately, it was “through the eternal spirit” that he was able to offer himself to Elohim without blemish and thereby cleanse us as well (Heb. 9:14), passing that spiritual life-breath on to others. (Yochanan 5:21, 26)
Yeshua, as the “second Adam”, is to us a “life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45), undoing the effects the first Adam still has on us, for that spirit flows through all of his “spiritual descendants” just as the poison from the fruit flows through the bodies of all who descended from the man who ate it. Thus YHWH has “sent the spirit of His son [Messiah] into our hearts, crying ‘Abba!’” (Gal. 4:6) Since he is the firstborn son, we share in the same relationship to YHWH through partaking of his. (Rom. 8:29; Hebrews 2:10)
The result of someone’s willingly receiving this spirit from Yeshua is that “rivers of living water” (which Hebraically means that which can purify what has been defiled) will flow “out of his innermost being.” (Yochanan 7:37-39) Thus the outpouring from YHWH continues from us as extensions of Yeshua.
Is the spirit of Messiah any different from the Spirit of Elohim? Not ultimately, for both operated through the prophets. (1 Peter 1:11; Rev. 19:10) And the spirit YHWH “gives” us to one degree or another seems to be presented as distinct from Him only for descriptive purposes, to clarify our understanding of different aspects of His work. Some disciples of Yochanan functioned well without even knowing there was such a thing as a Holy Spirit, but when they were invited to receive it, in conjunction with immersion in Yeshua’s name, it did add new dimensions to their relationship with YHWH. (Acts 19:1-8) That is a door we always want to keep open.
YHWH Himself will one day serve as “a spirit of judgment to those who sit in judgment.” (Isa. 28:6) YHWH’s spirit being among us is thus synonymous with He Himself being with us. (Haggai 2:4-5) When the spirit “speaks” through someone, it puts YHWH’s own words on one’s tongue (2 Shm. 23:2) So in that sense YHWH’s spirit is YHWH. His spirit is simply paralleled with Himself again in Isa. 30:1 and 48:16, but it is not presented as being one third of Him.
“YHWH IS spirit” (Yoch. 4:23-24); One can no sooner flee from YHWH’s spirit than from His face or presence. (Psalm 139:7) “The spirit that indwells us is jealous” (James 4:5), and this is a characteristic of YHWH Himself (Exodus 20:5, et al), since we rightfully belong to Him. So why make Him even more jealous by dividing His glory between two entities when they are really one? (Isaiah 42:8)
“Adonai YHWH and His spirit have sent me.” (Isa. 48:16) Which was it? It was both. The Hebrew sense could also just as well be rendered, “Adonai YHWH—His spirit, that is—has sent me.” No need for an elaborate theology with various levels of hierarchy as in Gnosticism (Galatians 4:3, 9; 1 Timothy 1:4; Titus 3:9), or even a division of labor as a “trinity” would suggest; we deal directly with YHWH alone, with only Yeshua as mediator (who due to our present circumstances directs YHWH’s spirit toward us in the right measure). For in whatever way YHWH wants to empower us, it is all His doing.
The “fierce east wind” by which He opened the way for us to escape bondage (Exodus 14:21) could just as correctly be translated “prevailing ancient spirit”, and either way, there would be no contradiction, because YHWH is the One who accomplished our deliverance.
“For YHWH is that spirit, and where the spirit of YHWH is, there is liberty, and we all…are being changed into the same likeness, from one degree of importance to another, the source altogether being YHWH’s spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:17-18)
“That Spirit” should, for practical purposes, be seen as YHWH’s working purposefully, vigorously, and emphatically in whatever way is specifically needed for each individual circumstance. “The very same spirit accomplishes all of these things, distributing [empowerment] to each one personally as He sees fit.” (1 Corinthians 12:11)
We who were once no material for the Kingdom have been made holy by the spirit of our Elohim. (1 Cor. 6:10-11) There you see it all converging with no need to distinguish the spirit of holiness from the spirit of Elohim; it is all YHWH’s work. And we too, being joined to His spirit, become “one spirit”—with Him and with one another (6:17), for being of “one spirit” means “having one mind” or attitude and working toward one purpose. (Philippians 1:27) Even if separated physically by many miles, we can be “with [one another] in spirit”. (Col. 2:5)
So we come full circle. Once we are re-connected with YHWH through His spirit which makes us alive again, it is (practically) as if we were never separated from Him—or from one another—even though we were. And it is YHWH Himself who reveals, by means of this spirit, the additional things He has in store for us, which we could never understand without this “in-spiration”. (1 Cor. 2:10)
In simplest terms, the Holy Spirit seems to be whatever means YHWH uses, like an invisible but powerful wind, to intervene against the evil influences in the world and give people the right attitude and motivation to carry out His goals for the world. We could also describe His spirit as His direct, personal attention to and focused influence on each of us to accomplish His purposes in us. He expands or throttles the degree of the manifestation according to the situation’s need, but we can also restrict the degree to which His presence is revealed if we limit the expression of what He has put into us. May we not do so by either over- or under-defining it.
Yet “the wind blows wherever it is determined to” (Yochanan 3:8), and, this side of our renewed bodies, the spirit will always be somewhat of a mystery to us all, though that need not prevent it from operating effectively through us. Though we can study its many aspects like this, it is not ultimately an academic matter; it is how YHWH’s life is brought into this chaotic world, just as it was at creation. So let us not stifle it by letting our understandings of this aspect of His work in this world become a source of contention among those on whom He wishes to move with that spirit. Rather, let us be certain that we put ourselves in the position to be moved, and help one another get “down-wind” of Him too so we can all “catch the wind” together.
And that may not be as difficult as you think. The Holy Spirit is too important to ignore or to miss, so YHWH willingly “gives the holy spirit to those who ask.” (Luke 11:13) So…ask!