The Watchtower and the Holy Spirit (Part 1)
Updated: Jun 11, 2021
"The holy spirit is God’s power in action, his active force. God sends out his spirit by projecting his energy to any place to accomplish his will" (from the article ("What is the Holy Spirit?" on the Jehovah's Witness' official website)
"The Bible's use of "holy spirit" indicates that it is a controlled force that Jehovah God uses to accomplish a variety of his purposes. To a certain extent, it can be likened to electricity, a force that can be adapted to perform a great variety of operations" (From the Watchtower booklet "Should you believe in the trinity?", page 20)
Anywhere you find a mention of the Holy Spirit in Watchtower teaching, you will find Him described in these terms. An impersonal force, an invisible power, but definitely not a person. They can't possibly deny that the Holy Spirit (whatever he/it is) plays a pivotal role in the Bible (especially in the New Testament), and that whatever the Spirit is, it is involved significantly in the work of God, the lives of believers and the building of the early church (although, of course, they would not use that term).
But in order to refute the doctrine of the Trinity, they will jump through hoops in an attempt to deny the person-hood of the Holy Spirit. The true and full Gospel is dependent on God's triune nature and the co-operative work of the three persons of the Godhead. So in order to fully understand many central doctrines of Christianity, it is necessary to be able to explain and defend this teaching.
In this post, and in part 2 of this series, I will briefly examine some of the objections that the Watchtower raises in their literature, then in further posts I will examine some of the biblical evidence for the truth of the Holy Spirit's deity, as well as His personhood. As you will see, some of their objections don't make much sense, and much of their referencing on the subject (either from the Bible or from various theological resources) is at best misguided and, in some cases, completely dishonest.
The Spirit has no name
"The Bible gives the names of Jehovah God and of his Son, Jesus Christ; yet, nowhere does it name the holy spirit" (from their article "What is the Holy Spirit?")
Although this objection seems to carry some weight with Jehovah's Witnesses, it doesn't really mean anything. The majority of the angels that appeared in the bible (eg Matthew 28:1-2, Luke 1:11, Acts 8:26, Acts 1:10-11) were not named, but these are clearly not impersonal forces. The same could be said of the majority of non-human personalities that appear in the pages of scripture, such as the unclean spirits Jesus cast out of many victims (eg Mark 1:23-26), and the Captain of the Lord's Armies (Joshua 5:13-15). And that is not to mention the many hundreds of un-named ordinary people we meet in the bible. To argue that something/someone is not a person just because we aren't provided their name seems somewhat desperate.
Other non-living things in the bible are personified
The argument here is that on occasion, things that are clearly not people are sometimes personified- for example, in Romans 5:14 and 5:21 sin and death are said to 'reign', and in Luke 7:35 'wisdom' is said to have children. (It is interesting that in their own literature they use this example of 'wisdom' as an example of something that is personified but is clearly not a person, considering in other places they try to argue that 'wisdom' in Proverbs 8 is actually Jesus.... see here for a discussion of this argument).
It is clear that we occasionally see personification in the bible, particularly in the Psalms and Proverbs. But this is just begging the question. Their argument seems to be
1- We often see references to personal characteristics and attributes of the Holy Spirit
2 - Sometimes things that are obviously not people are personified in the bible
3 - Therefore, we can be sure that the Holy Spirit is not a person because sometimes we see personification in the bible.
This is blatant circular reasoning- using this argument you could say that anyone at all in the bible is not a person. ("Yes, I know it says that Jesus was born, and He spoke, and He was angry, and that He had compassion, and that he felt hunger and fatigue- but you see, we often see things that are not people being personified in the bible, and that's just what we see with Jesus")!
In the next post I'll examine the Watchtower's appeal to the Greek language, as well as their references to church history, and some of the sources that they cite in their literature.