Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (part 1)

June 25, 2012     Time: 00:19:45

We have completed our section on the Doctrine of Christ. We looked at the person of Christ and the work of Christ – his atoning death and resurrection from the dead.


Question: People will sometimes say if you argue for the resurrection as a historical fact that you are assuming the inspiration of the Gospels. Can you address the difference between the Gospels being historical documents versus the question of whether they are inspired?

Answer: This is an excellent point because people often misunderstand this. They think that you are assuming the reliability of the Bible in order to prove the reliability of the Bible and therefore you are caught in a vicious circle. It is important to understand that insofar that we approach this issue in the domain of apologetics, as opposed to theology, we are not assuming the inspiration or inerrancy or reliability of these New Testament documents. The people who work on this professionally – professional New Testament historians – don’t have those kind of presuppositions. They just approach this in the same way that you would approach the writings of other ancient historians like Thucydides, Herodotus, Suetonius or someone like that. They then ask, “How reliable are these documents about this man Jesus of Nazareth?” The three facts that I shared with you that constitute the data to be explained in the first step of the case for the resurrection – namely, the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances and the origin of the disciples belief in Jesus’ resurrection – are established historically without assuming the inerrancy or the inspiration of the Scripture. That is why those facts are stated in the way that I did. I did not attempt to defend how many angels were at the tomb, the name and numbers of the women at the tomb, the order of the appearances – all of those are secondary and extraneous details that historians can debate about. But the vast majority of them concur on those three facts as I stated them on the basis simply of ordinary canons of historical research.

Question: (inaudible)

Answer: I will repeat the question: “How well accepted, within the historical community, are the six criteria that Behan McCullagh uses in justifying historical descriptions and that I appeal to?” I think these are fairly typical. I could not give you a sort of survey but I think these kinds of things are typical in inferring to the best explanation and are really very parallel to what is used in science as well in assessing scientific hypotheses. Things like explanatory power, explanatory scope, and degree of ad hoc-ness are very commonly accepted criteria for assessing hypotheses that are competing for being the best explanation. I don’t think there is much controversy with respect to those criteria. At least I have never encountered that.

That brings to a close the Doctrine of Christ. What we want to move to now is a new section called the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. As I said, this brings us to the third person of the Trinity.

[Dr. Craig mentions the outline for this section of the class and he is going to start on the first point “I. Introduction”]


The Holy Spirit has rightly been called the forgotten person of the Trinity. When you look at the post-apostolic fathers – those who immediately followed the apostles – what you discover is that some of them appear to have almost been Binitarians instead of Trinitarians. That is to say, they talk about the Father and the Son who has proceeded from the Father and there is virtually nothing, or very little, about the person of the Holy Spirit. Thereafter the Christological disputes that we have talked about in this class came to dominate theological debate in the church and therefore focused attention on the second person of the Trinity to the neglect of the third person.[1] So, for example, in the Apostles’ Creed, all it has about the Holy Spirit is one line that says “I believe in the Holy Spirit” and that’s it. The Nicene Creed is even more curt in what it says about the third person of the Trinity. After the long confession in the Nicene Creed about the second person of the Trinity, it then adds at the tail end “and in the Holy Spirit” and that is all.

Even today, I think, we often find the Holy Spirit neglected by contemporary theologians. I remember when I was in seminary, in my sequence of courses in systematic theology, there was one class that was required in the systematic theology sequence entitled, “God, Man and Christ.” Now, think about that for a minute: “God, Man and Christ.” You sort of have here a surrogate trinity in the place of the orthodox Trinity in which man has replaced the Holy Spirit. You have God the Father, you have Christ, but then you have man thrown in instead and there really wasn’t any special section devoted to the person of the Holy Spirit.

So the person of the Holy Spirit has often been neglected but is now, I think as a result of the modern Pentecostal movement and the rise of the Charismatic movement throughout the world, finally beginning to receive this sort of attention that he deserves.

Person of the Holy Spirit

Let’s talk about the person of the Holy Spirit.

Third Person of the Trinity

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. As such, he is co-equal with God the Father and God the Son. He is referred to as God in the Scriptures. For example, in Acts 5:3-4; this is the story of Ananias and Sapphira:

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”

So in verse 3 Peter says to Ananias, “Why have you lied to the Holy Spirit” and then in verse 4, “You have not lied to men but to God” thereby equating the Holy Spirit with God.

The Holy Spirit is not the ghost of Jesus as the old expression “the Holy Ghost” might lead one to mistakenly infer. He is not the spirit or the ghost of Jesus that follows Jesus. He is the third person of the Trinity co-equal with the Father and the Son. As such, the Holy Spirit is a person, not an “it.” Very often, people will refer to the Holy Spirit using the neuter pronoun “it” which is a mistake just as much as referring to Jim or Cindy as “it” would be a mistake. The Holy Spirit is a person, not an “it”; he is not an impersonal force. He is a “who” not a “which.” So we should refer to him using personal pronouns.

Let me give you some examples that show his personhood. Acts 13:2, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” Here the Holy Spirit is speaking in the first person to these folks. He is clearly a person and not just some sort of an impersonal force. Or look at the teachings of Jesus on the Holy Spirit as recorded in the Gospel of John – John 14 and John 16. In John 14:15-17 and John 14:25-26, Jesus says,[2]

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. . . . These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

Now turning over to John 16:7-15:

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Here, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as a Counselor who is going to come and help to teach the disciples. It is very interesting that John actually violates Greek grammar in order to emphasis the personhood of the Holy Spirit. How does he do that? The word “spirit” in Greek is neuter – to pneuma. That doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit is neutral, that he is not a person, any more than in German if you said das mädchen, “the girl”, means that girls are neuter. It is just that in Greek it has a neuter pronoun for the word “spirit.” But John uses the masculine pronoun for referring back to the Holy Spirit. Instead of saying “when the Spirit comes, it will guide you in all truth” he says “He will guide you.” He uses the masculine pronoun even though it has a neuter antecedent – which is actually violating grammar – in order to emphasis that we are talking here about a person who is going to be in us and with us and guiding us.

Finally, Romans 8:26-27. Here Paul describes the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our prayer lives. He says,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Here the personal intercessory ministry of the Holy Spirit is described in our prayer life. Paul even speaks of “the mind” of the Spirit that is known by the Father. So clearly, we are talking here about a person and not some sort of an “it” or a force.

So the Holy Spirit is a personal being and he is God. And the point I also want to make is, nevertheless, he is distinct from the Father and the Son. He is not the Father or the Son. Matthew 28:19 is one of those trinitarian verses in the New Testament where all three persons are mentioned: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Here you have this baptismal formula that includes all three of the persons of the Godhead – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.[3] We also find this in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. 2 Corinthians 13:14 – this is Paul’s benediction at the close of that letter. He says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Here again you have all three persons mentioned – the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Father and then the Holy Spirit.

So the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity co-equal with God the Father and God the Son. He is God the Spirit.


Question: We talk about God the Father and Christ the Son so it is sort of easy to picture personhood with them. It is a little different with the Spirit. What would you say are the basic elements of personhood – what makes something a person?

Answer: That is a really good question. Without wanting to get too philosophical, I think that self-consciousness would be a necessary and probably sufficient condition for personhood. To be a self-conscious agent who is able to act in a free way, to make free decisions, would be a person. So, in saying he is the third person of the Trinity, we mean that the Holy Spirit is a self-conscious agent who acts freely. We will see that he also has all of the attributes of God, so this is no ordinary person. He is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and has all of the rest of these superlative attributes so he is a very special person. But minimally, at least, personhood, I think, would require that you be a self-conscious agent endowed with free will.

Question: You said that the creed only says that “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Doesn’t it go on to say “the Lord and giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son” – so it is more expansive.

Answer: Not the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed starts off “I believe in God the Father Almighty” and then “and in his Son . . . and in his Holy Spirit” and then comes the anathemas of the Arians, “but as for those who say there was once when he was not” and so forth. Maybe in a later creed it has more development. I did see recently reading the church history of an early church historian named Socrates who wrote just after Eusebius, he includes a number of early creeds that these non-Niceans were formulating as alternatives to Nicea and it was very interesting that they did include rather extensive statements about the Holy Spirit, which was quite a surprise to me. So I think probably Nicea’s curtness about the Holy Spirit was just due to the fact that the focus of the attention was on the Son and making sure that these Arian heretics were excluded because they did not think the Son and the Father were of the same substance or essence. The Holy Spirit just wasn’t an issue. But the fact that these non-Nicean creeds that were formulated do include extensive statements about the Holy Spirit suggests that the church wasn’t unaware of the importance of the Holy Spirit but it just wasn’t the focus at Nicea.

Question: Are you going to mention any of the passages where the Holy Spirit appears in the Old Testament?

Answer: Yes, we will talk about that later.

I think that brings us to a nice breaking point here. We’ve seen that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and next time we will talk about how he possesses the attributes of deity and then we will look at his relationship to Christ, the second person of the Trinity.[4]


[1] 5:07

[2] 10:01

[3] 15:02

[4] Total Running Time: 19:45 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)