Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is neither a person nor God. So says the Watchtower Society. Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal “active force” used by God to accomplish His will in the world. 

The Holy Spirit is compared to electricity by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Much like electricity can be used to perform a variety of operations, the Holy Spirit, described as God’s impersonal force, is utilized by God to accomplish a multitude of tasks. This impersonal force supposedly enabled Jesus to heal the sick and raise the dead. This same power is available to Christians, enabling them to endure trials of faith and do things they could not otherwise do. 

The Watchtower states that the Holy Spirit is not a person because it is said to fill multiple individuals simultaneously. This suggests that the Holy Spirit is a force rather than a person, as it would be impossible for one person to fill thousands of people simultaneously. It is not feasible for a person to be divided in such a manner.

Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that if the Holy Spirit were a person, He would possess a personal name, similar to the Father and the Son. Scripture reveals that the Father is referred to as Jehovah, while the Son is identified as Jesus. However, there is no mention in Scripture of the Holy Spirit being assigned a personal name. Consequently, it can be inferred that the Holy Spirit does not possess personhood akin to the Father and the Son.

The Watchtower acknowledges that certain verses indicate that the Holy Spirit speaks to people, which may imply a personality. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses explain that it is actually God who speaks, while the Holy Spirit acts as a means of transmitting God’s message to people on earth, comparable to how radio waves carry signals. From this perspective, the Holy Spirit is simply God’s active force that He uses to communicate with human beings. 

Although the Holy Spirit is not a person, the Watchtower Society suggests that this active force of God is often personified in Scripture. This is similar to other things personified in Scripture. They use Genesis 4:7 as an example: “Sin is crouching at the door.” This verse personifies sin as a being crouching at Cain’s door, ready to attack. However, it is clear that sin is not a person. In this verse, sin is simply being personified, just as the Holy Spirit is personified in the New Testament. 

In consideration of these factors, the Watchtower Society asserts that the Holy Spirit should not be regarded as a person. Instead, the Spirit is seen as a dynamic force utilized by God to carry out His intentions on earth. 

Biblical Assessment of the Watchtower View

The Bible demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is both God and a person—the third person of the Trinity. Scripture indeed indicates that: (1) the Holy Spirit is God; (2) the Holy Spirit possesses all the attributes of personality; (3) the works of the Holy Spirit authenticate His personality; (4) the Holy Spirit is treated as a person; (5) the argument of “lack of a name” is false; and (6) the argument of “the filling of many people” is false. Let’s delve into these concepts in more detail. 

The Holy Spirit is God

We know that the Holy Spirit is God because Acts 5:3 indicates that lying to the Holy Spirit and lying to God are virtually the same thing. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is called “Lord” in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18. The Holy Spirit is often identified with Yahweh (Numbers 24:2-4, 12-13; Acts 7:51; Acts 28:25-27; 1 Corinthians 2:12; Hebrews 3:7-9; 10:15-17; 2 Peter 1:21) and spoken of as divine (Matthew 12:32; Mark 3:29; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; Ephesians 2:22). The Holy Spirit is also often referred to as the “Spirit of God,” indicating His full deity (Genesis 1:2; Exodus 31:3; Numbers 24:2; 1 Samuel 10:10; 11:6; 19:20; 19:23; 2 Chronicles 15:1; 24:20; Job 33:4; Ezekiel 11:24; Romans 8:9; 8:14; 1 Corinthians 2:11, 14; 3:16; 6:11; 7:40; 1 Peter 4:14; 1 John 4:2).

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit possesses all the attributes of deity, such as being present everywhere (omnipresence—Psalm 139:7), having all knowledge (omniscience—1 Corinthians 2:10), being all-powerful (omnipotence—Romans 15:19), being holy (John 16:7-14), and being eternal (Hebrews 9:14). These divine attributes can only be possessed by God.

Moreover, the Holy Spirit performs actions that are exclusive to God. He was involved in the creation of the universe (Genesis 1:2-3; Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30; Isaiah 40:12-14), conceived Christ within Mary’s womb (Luke 1:35), and divinely inspired the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).

The Holy Spirit Has All the Attributes of Personality

It has long been recognized that the three essential attributes of personality are mind, emotions, and will. A force does not possess these attributes. If it can be demonstrated that the Holy Spirit possesses a mind, emotions, and a will, the idea that the Holy Spirit is merely a “force” crumbles like a house of cards.

The Holy Spirit Has a Mind. The Holy Spirit’s intellect is seen in 1 Corinthians 2:10 where we are told that “the Spirit searches all things” (see also Isaiah 11:2; Ephesians 1:17). The Greek word for search means to “thoroughly investigate a matter.” We are also told in 1 Corinthians 2:11 that the Holy Spirit “comprehends the thoughts of God.” How can the Spirit “comprehend” the thoughts of God if the Spirit does not have a mind? A force does not comprehend things. Thought processes require a mind.

Romans 8:27 states that just as the Holy Spirit comprehends the thoughts of God, so does God the Father know “what is the mind of the Spirit.” In this verse, the word “mind” means “way of thinking, mindset, aim, aspiration, striving.” Unlike a mere force like electricity, the Holy Spirit possesses a distinct way of thinking and a mindset.

The Holy Spirit Has Emotions. In Ephesians 4:30, we are cautioned against grieving the Holy Spirit of God. Grief is a feeling and is not something a force can experience. Grief, in this context, is an emotion that the Holy Spirit feels due to the sinful actions of the Corinthian believers.

The Holy Spirit Has a Will. The Holy Spirit, as a person, distributes spiritual gifts “to each one individually as he wills,” as stated by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:11. The phrase “he wills” in this verse indicates that the Holy Spirit makes deliberate decisions based on His own choice. Unlike a force, the Holy Spirit has a personal will.

Such facts prove that the Watchtower’s claim that the Holy Spirit is merely “personified” in Scripture is incorrect. It is interesting to note that the Holy Spirit refers to Himself using personal pronouns in the New Testament. For example, in Acts 13:2, it is written, “And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (emphasis added). The Holy Spirit uses the words “Me” and “I” to refer to Himself. Mere personifications do not—indeed, cannot—exhibit this behavior. 

The Holy Spirit’s Works Confirm His Personality 

Besides having the attributes of personality, the Holy Spirit is seen doing many things in Scripture that only a person can do. For instance, the Holy Spirit instructs believers (John 14:26), bears witness (John 15:26), guides believers (Romans 8:14), appoints individuals to service (Acts 13:4), issues commands to believers (Acts 8:29), restrains sin (Genesis 6:3), intercedes (prays) for believers (Romans 8:26), and communicates with people (John 15:26; 2 Peter 1:21). 

The Holy Spirit is Treated as a Person

Scripture presents the Holy Spirit in a manner that would be illogical if He were not a person. Believers are encouraged, for example, not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). If the Holy Spirit were merely a force, akin to electricity, why would there be concern about causing Him grief?

In Acts 5:3 we see that Ananias and Sapphira were guilty of lying to the Holy Spirit. It would make no sense to think of the Holy Spirit as a force, for you cannot lie to a force or a thing. Just imagine the perplexed reactions you would receive if you confessed in church that you had lied to the electricity in your house that morning and sought forgiveness for it. You can only lie to a person. 

Scripture also depicts believers as following the guidance and directives of the Holy Spirit. We previously noted how Paul and Barnabas obeyed the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2). Likewise, Peter obeyed the Holy Spirit when he visited Cornelius’ home to preach the gospel (Acts 10). We cannot “obey” a mere force. To illustrate, it would be nonsensical to expect electricity to give a command that should be followed.

The Lack of a Personal Name

The argument of the Watchtower that the Holy Spirit is not a person because He is not given a name is false. In Scripture, spiritual beings are not always named. For example, evil spirits are rarely named in Scripture, but are rather identified by their character. Words like “unclean” and “wicked” are used to describe them (see Matthew 12:45). Similarly, the Holy Spirit is identified primarily by His attribute of holiness. Therefore, claiming that the Holy Spirit is not a person based on the lack of a name is flawed reasoning.

It is most revealing that the Holy Spirit is related to the name of the other persons of the Trinity in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Just as the Father and the Son are persons, the Holy Spirit is also a person. All three are referred to by the same name.

The Holy Spirit Fills Many Persons

The Watchtower’s argument that the Holy Spirit cannot be a person because He “fills” many people is false. Ephesians 3:19 speaks of God filling all the believers in Ephesus. Likewise, Ephesians 4:10 speaks of Christ filling all things, and Ephesians 1:23 speaks of Christ as the one who “fills all in all.” The ability of God and Christ to fill all things does not negate their identity as persons. In the same way, the fact that the Holy Spirit can “fill” numerous people does not prove that He is not a person. This line of reasoning is seriously flawed.

In view of the above facts, we can summarize the biblical view of the Holy Spirit as follows:

1. The Holy Spirit is God.

2. The Holy Spirit is a person, just as the Father and Jesus are persons.

3. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. 

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I invite you to consult either my comprehensive treatment of Jehovah’s Witness theology, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Jehovah’s Witnesses, or my much smaller but still-thorough treatment, The 10 Most Important Things You Can Say to a Jehovah’s Witness.

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