Trinitarian Spirit: Old Testament

Trinitarian faith is a rock-bottom commitment that we should keep in mind even while we focus on the peculiar work one of the three persons in the Godhead. I’ll make no attempt here to provide a fully developed discourse on the Trinity, but we must insist that we join all the church everywhere in the testimony that we worship about one God eternally existing in three persons.

Three Persons

Popular theology with a Pentecostal or charismatic bent often ends up sounding like we’re talking about an impersonal energy supply rather than the third person of the Trinitarian Godhead. But we need to remember we’re talking about a what orthodox Christianity identifies as one of the “persons” of the Godhead. What are the personal qualities we see attributed to the Holy Spirit? Against any tendency to view the Spirit as an impersonal force or means of access to power, we insist on recognizing that the Scriptures teach us that the Holy Spirit is indeed a person in the Godhead, and thus the Godhead is indeed a Trinity.

Old Testament

Hypostasizing רוּחַ/ruach

Some suggest that Isaiah’s description of a time of restoration hints at the personality of the Spirit: “Look! The name of Yahweh comes from afar, burning with his anger and heaviness of cloud. His lips are full of indignation, and his tongue is like a devouring fire. And his רוּחַ/ruach is like an overflowing river; it reaches up to the neck to shake the nations with the sieve of worthlessness; and a bridle that leads astray is on the jawbones of the people” (Isa 30:27–28, LEB). But notice that Isaiah hypothesizes Yahweh’s “name,” “lips,” “tongue,” and “ruach.” Given that string, which ruach concludes, I think it unlikely that this provides evidence for seeing God’s ruach as a person; we certainly wouldn’t say that of God’s “name,” “lips,” or “tongue.” Observing the parallels of God’s agency in these two verses, might well say “his spirit” rather than “his Spirit.”


The same ambivalence applies to Isaiah’s note about how Israel “rebelled against [the Lord] and grieved his Holy Spirit” (Isa 63:10). Some treat this as an Old Testament notice that the ruach is a person, because only a person can be grieved; however, I think of expressions like “broke her heart” or even “turned my stomach.”

Like the divine Spirit/spirit mentioned in this verse, the human spirit can also be troubled or grieved (1 Sam 1:15; Isa 54:6; Dan 2:1, 3)—and that includes the incarnate Son’s spirit (John 11:33; 13:21). Likewise, the human heart can be grieved, troubled, or hardened (Gen 6:6; 41:8; 2 Kgs 6:11; Mark 3:5; 2 Cor 2:4). And the human soul can be troubled, grieved, or terrified (Job 30:25; Ps 6:3)—and that includes the incarnate Son (John 12:27). Indeed, even the “bowels” can be troubled, restless, or in torment (Job 30:27; Lam 1:20; 2:11). We wouldn’t want to extrapolate from those expressions that being grieved or troubled indicates that the spirit, heart, soul, or even stomach indicates “person.”

Nonetheless, given that this is the “Holy Spirit” rather than just “the spirit of God,” I would say we are talking about person, third person of the Trinity.

Being Patient

Again, we see same ambivalence when Micah asks, “Will the Lord’s רוּחַ/ruach have patience with such behavior?” (Micah 2:7). This might be read as the third person of the Trinity showing patience; however, it’s also possible to see this is a mental faculty of a person, that is, the Father’s “spirit.”

Giving Rest

There are a couple Old Testament references makes clearer reference to a “person.” When Isaiah looked back to God’s faithful track record throughout all Israel’s history, he described the the results of the exodus in these terms: “As with cattle going down into a peaceful valley, the רוּחַ\ruach of the Lord gave them rest. You led your people, Lord, and gained a magnificent reputation” (Isa 63:14). On the one hand, we might view this a totally synonymous parallelism that speaks of the first person of the Trinity in both parts of the parallel; however, we might also read this as parallelism talking of the Godhead’s involvement in deliverance, mentioning the third person and then the first person of the Trinity.


Finally, one Old Testament text looks very much like reference to a person: Speaking about the wilderness experience, Nehemiah says, “You sent your good רוּחַ\ruach to instruct them, and you did not stop giving them manna from heaven or water for their thirst” (Neh 9:20). Indeed, this sounds very much like New Testament language about the Lord sending messengers, whether the prophets (Ezek 2:3; John 1:33), or his angels (Gen 24:7, 40; Exod 23:20; 33:2; 1 Che 21:12; Dan 6:22; Luke 1:10; Acts 12:11; Rev 22:16).

Even more apropos are New Testament mentions of the Father sending the Son (John 5:27; 10:36; 1 John 4:14) and the Father (John 14:26; Gal 4:6) or the Son sending the Spirit (John 15:26). So we’ll look at those in the next blog: “Trinitarian Spirit: New Testament.” And because we read the Scriptures as a single canon, we’ll allow what we learn from the clearer revelation of the New Testament to shine its light back onto what we read about the Spirit in the Old Testament.


Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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