Trinitarian Spirit: New Testament

We the same indicators in the New Testament that we saw in the Old. Just as we saw in the Old, the New warns against grieving or blaspheming the Spirit, which would took to be somewhat ambivalent evidence of the separate Spirit’s individual personhood. But the New Testament disambiguates that issue—and of course, that should project light back into how we read the Old Testament evidence itself.


One common proof that the Spirit is “person” is the רוּחַ/ruach in the Old Testament, or πνεῦμα/pneuma in the New Testament can be blasphemed, grieved, or troubled. In the same fashion, Paul warns, “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live” (Eph 4:30). But we’ve seen, from the Old Testament usage, that this doesn’t necessarily imply a separate person.


Another common “proof” for the person of the Spirit is that he can be blasphemed (Matt 12:31–32; Mark 3:28–29; Luke 12:10). Once against, this doesn’t imply separate personality. Indeed, various things can be blasphemed, such as the way of truth (2 Pet 2:2) or whatever opponents don’t understand (Jude 10).

Of course, the key objects of blasphemy in the Scriptures are persons: God (1 Sam 3:13; Ezek 20:27; Rom 2:24). But then, in the same context, John speaks of blaspheming God, “the name,” and God’s dwelling (Rev 13:5-6). Other places also speak of blaspheming “the name” (Lev 24:11, 16; Jas 2:7). This I think implicitly refers to “person.” So what should we make of blaspheming the Spirit as an indicator that this necessarily implies “person.”

Well, Mark’s reference doesn’t do much to settle the matter: “I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences” (Mark 3:28–29). But Matthew and Luke parallel that blasphemy with blaspheming the Son. Luke warns, “Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Luke 12:10). Matthew’s statement is more expansive: “So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come” (Matt 12:31–32).

All in all, it looks like reference to blaspheming the Spirit does indeed point toward seeing the Spirit as “person.”

Object of Worship

But we don’t need to rely on the somewhat less than decisive notes about blaspheming and grieving the Spirit to confess with certainty that the Spirit is a “person,” the third person in the Trinity. John Frame notes that the Spirit is an object of worship alongside the Father and the Son.1John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013), 923–24. And I would add, we do not worship the Father and the Son in the power of the Spirit, we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Personified Wisdom of God

As Isaiah looked forward to messianic times, to a righteous branch from the stump of Jessie, he prophesied that “the רוּחַ\ruach of the Lord will rest on him, the רוּחַ\ruach of wisdom and understanding, the רוּחַ\ruach of counsel and might, the רוּחַ\ruach of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isa 11:2). Here it could be taken in the sense of the “spirit,” much like we would say the “power of the Lord.”

The Spirit is not only the spirit of the Father or the spirit of the Son in the way we might speak of “the spirit of Churchill,” let alone “the spirit of the times”; we’re speaking of the Spirit as third member of the Trinitarian godhead coming not only to empower the church, but also to inform its witness (John 14:17, 26; 15:26; 16:13, 15)—and that gets us to person-language.

So we find Luke telling us that nobody “could stand against the wisdom and the πνεῦμα/pneuma with which Stephen spoke” (Acts 6:10). Likewise, Paul rejected the standards of Graeco-Roman rhetoric, insisting, “Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 2:4).

Speaks in the First Person

The Holy Spirit speaks in the first person (Acts 10:19–20; 13:2), and not only as the prophets do as spokesmen. While Peter was “puzzling over the vision” of a sheet full of unclean animals let down from heaven, “the Holy Spirit said to him, ‘Three men have come looking for you. Get up, go downstairs, and go with them without hesitation. Don’t worry, for I have sent them’” (Acts 10:19–20). And in the same way, the church at Antioch sent out the first Christian missionaries after “the Holy Spirit said, ‘Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2).

The same principle is in play when John exhorts his readers, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God” (Rev 2:7). There it’s the Spirit speaking, although the “I” would be the Christ who, with the Father and the Spirit, existing and working in complete Trinitarian harmony.

Baptismal Formula

Holy Spirit descending like a dove, St. Peter’s Basilica

The person of the Spirit shows up in the baptismal formula: We baptize people in the personal name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (2 Cor 13:14). And I would add that we don’t baptize in the names of the Father and Son by the power of the Spirit, we baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit.


Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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