The Holy Spirit of God

 What It Is Not: The Third Person of the Trinity

 What It Is Not: Another Name For God The Giver

 The Spirit of God

 The Spirit of Jesus

 Some Misunderstood Verses

 Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

 Try the Spirits

What It Is Not:
 The Third Person of the Trinity

There has been much misunderstanding about the Holy Spirit. The King James and some other versions of the Bible most often use the phrase "Holy Ghost" but the word "ghost" carries different connotations today, and most Christians generally prefer "Holy Spirit." Most of mainstream Christendom believes that the Holy Spirit is a person, specifically the third person of the Trinity. I deal with the Trinity in relation to Who is Messiah in a Closer Look article. Historically the belief in the Holy Spirit as the third person was adopted even later that the belief that Jesus was God. The deity of Christ became official doctrine in 325, while the Holy Spirit was not established as the third person of the Trinity until 381.

Most Christians think of the Holy Spirit as a person, partly because it is used with personal pronouns, such as "He," "Him" and "Who" in most English Bibles. The words "he" and "him" are used because the Greek pronouns are masculine in gender. Greek, like many other languages, assigns gender to many inanimate objects, so the use of a masculine pronoun does not automatically make the noun a person. Since we don't assign gender to inanimate objects in English, the masculine pronouns would be translated as "it" unless it was assumed that a person is referred to, as in the case of the Holy Spirit.  Yet even in the King James Version, Romans 8:16 refers to "the spirit itself." And the word translated "who" can also be translated "which," as it is in a number of verses referring to "the spirit."

Grammar aside, the Bible nowhere presents the Holy Spirit as a person (see the few passages where it seems to be, below.). For one thing, it is never given a proper name. God's proper name is given as Yahweh, and His Son's name is Jesus. But the holy spirit is simply called the holy spirit. The epistles frequently include greetings from the Father and the Son. However, never do they give greetings "from the Holy Spirit." Jesus instructed his disciples to pray to the Father, and to do it in his name. He told them to ask God to send His Holy Spirit, but never are we told to pray to the Holy Spirit, and "ask him to come into our hearts" as many do today.  Why would these things be so if the Holy Spirit were a co-equal, co-eternal person?

The spirit is called a gift that was poured out (Acts 10:45), and we are baptized in it (Acts 1:5). One cannot pour out a person, or be baptized in a person. The spirit is described as the Spirit of God or the Spirit of Christ. Furthermore, Matthew 11:27 says that no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son. If the Holy Spirit were a third co-equal, co-eternal person, he would know the Father and the Son the same way they know each other. That would make this statement false. Mark 13:32 says that no man knows the hour of Christ's return, not even the Son, but only the Father. Paul wrote, "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ..." (II Timothy 4:1). John wrote in his first epistle that a person is antichrist if he denies the Father and the Son (I John 2:22-23). In his second epistle he wrote, "He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son" (II John 9).  Revelation 22:1-3 refers twice to “the throne of God and of the lamb.” If the Holy Spirit is a third co-equal person, why is there no mention of him in verses like these?

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What It Is Not:
Another Name For God The Giver

The words "Holy Spirit" are generally capitalized in most writing, since they are understood to mean a person. The ministry with which I was involved believed that the holy spirit was not the third person of the Trinity, but they had an equally erroneous definition. They taught that The Holy Spirit (with capital letters and the definite article) is simply another name for God, the Giver of His Gift, while holy spirit (with lower case letters and no "the") was His gift, which He first gave on Pentecost. Like the Trinitarian definition, this view of the holy spirit is read into Scriptures rather than being derived from them. Capitalizing "holy" and "spirit" or "ghost" in the English is a relatively recent device, which was not used in the earliest English translations. There was also no capitalization in the Greek or Hebrew texts, so basing a difference in meaning on whether it is capitalized or not is forcing an interpretation on the Scriptures which has no foundation.

In actuality, it doesn't make much difference whether the phrase is capitalized, and even other Biblical Unitarians (those who believe God is one person and not a trinity) vary as to whether they capitalize it or not. Personally, I used to most often choose not to capitalize "holy spirit" to emphasize that it is not a person. But more recently I've leaned toward capitalizing phrases like "His Holy Spirit" the same way I would capitalize "His Word." But this is a matter of choice, not of doctrine.

In addition, the article "the" is used sometimes and not others, and does not define a distinction as I was taught. One can introduce the subject as "Holy Spirit" and then refer back to it as the Holy Spirit. In grammar this is called anaphoric use of the article. In the same way I could say an angel appears, and then refer to him as the angel. There are a number of verses where the definite article is used, but clearly referring to the gift and not to God, while Matthew 1:18 and Luke 1:35 state that Jesus Christ was conceived by "holy spirit" (no article in the Greek). The idea that "The Holy Spirit" means God and "holy spirit" means His gift has no Biblical foundation.

There are some other cases where the article appears in English but not in Greek, such as Matthew 3:11, as well as all the other verses in which John's baptism is contrasted with baptism "with [the] Holy Ghost" (no “the” in Greek).  John the Baptist being "filled with [the] Holy Ghost from his mother's womb" is another example, as well as several references to being filled with [the] holy spirit in Acts. In these cases it is true that the Greek reads "filled with holy spirit" (no article) and the word "the" is added in English.  These were seen as examples of “holy spirit” (no article) indicating God’s Gift.  However there are a number of instances where the article does appear in the Greek, yet it is plainly referring to the gift of holy spirit, not to God Himself.

For example, when Jesus was baptized, it says that "the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him" (Luke 3:22). The Greek uses definite articles before both words, i.e., "the holy the spirit." This form was supposed to indicate God the Giver according to my former belief system, but it is clearly not God Himself Who descended in bodily shape like a dove. Likewise, John 14:26 specifically refers to God's gift, but uses the double article in Greek: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy the Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." Use of the definite article when it is referring to God's gift can also be seen in Acts 10:44, 47; 11:15; 15:8; 19:6 as well as Ephesians 1:13 (literally, "sealed with the holy the spirit of promise") and I Thessalonians 4:8 (literally, "...God, who hath also given unto us his the holy the Spirit." Notice the double usage of "the" along with the pronoun "his").

John 7:39 uses both "the spirit" and "holy ghost" (no article) referring to the same thing.  “But this spake he of the Spirit, [article appears in the Greek] which they that believe on him should receive: for [the] Holy Ghost [KJV has "the Holy Ghost," but there is no article in the Greek] was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”  You can also see the same gift referred to, both with and without the article, in Acts 8:17-19.

Acts 8:

17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received [the] Holy Ghost. [no article in Greek]

18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy the Ghost [double article in Greek] was given, he offered them money,

19 Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive [the] Holy Ghost. [no article in Greek] [see NASB]

 

So you can see that "holy spirit" and "the holy spirit" are interchangeable; there is no difference in meaning between the two phrases.  In addition, the term Holy Spirit is more than just another name for God, as we shall see.

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The Spirit of God

According to the doctrine I used to hold to, the gift of holy spirit was the "incorruptible seed" which gave me eternal life. It also included the God-given ability to walk in power. It was given by God, but once He gave it to me it was part of me, and I could do with it as I chose. Thus the emphasis was on "me" and "my" spirit, instead of on "God" and "His" spirit. There were said to be a number of different "usages" of the word pneuma, the Greek word for spirit. Interestingly, hardly anyone in that organization ever looked at how the Hebrew word for spirit, ruach, was used in the Old Testament. If they had, perhaps a simpler, more straightforward understanding of the Spirit of God would have been seen.

The words for "spirit" in both Greek and Hebrew do have a number of different meanings, but all relate to the basic idea of an invisible force or influence. In the Closer Look article, The Three Parts of Man Fallacy, we looked at the difference between soul and spirit, and the Hebrew words used for each. There we saw that the breath (or spirit) of life is the unseen force that makes man a living soul. The word can also be used to refer to literal breath, as well as literal wind, or it can mean the "spirit of man" (Ecclesiastes 3:21; Zechariah 12:1) which is used interchangeably with "soul" and basically means one's self. For example, When Job says "I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul" (Job 7:11), they are both ways of referring to the anguish in the inner depths of his being. It is also parallel to the word "heart." For example, Psalm 77:6 - "I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search." Also Psalm 143:4, "Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate." (See also Exodus 35:21; Deuteronomy 2:30; Psalm 34:18; 51:10,17 and others).

Just as the spirit of man refers to the man's inner self, or his heart or mind, in a similar manner God's inner self, heart, or mind is called the spirit of God, or the spirit of the Lord. For example, in Genesis 6:3 God says, "My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh".  Isaiah 63:10 refers to rebellion "grieving God's spirit."  To say, "my spirit shall not always strive" is equivalent to saying "I will not always strive." To say rebellion grieves God's spirit is another way of saying that it grieves God.  Kegan Chandler, in his book, The God of Jesus in Light of Christian Dogma (McDonough, GA: Restoration Fellowship, 2016, p. 504), writes:

To therefore think of “the spirit of God” or “the Holy Spirit” primarily as God’s personal influence or presence is helpful.  While God is described as occupying a throne in heaven (Dan 7:9), we read that the heavens cannot contain Him (I Kings 8:27).  Though His dwelling place is in another realm, God is able to be elsewhere via his spirit, or presence, which fills the universe and also indwells his servants.  This influence is characterized in various ways in the Scriptures.  It is described as God’s “hand” (Ezek 3:14), or even God’s own “breath” (Ps 104:29, Jn 3:38).  In Zechariah 7:12 we read about “the words which the LORD of hosts had sent through his spirit.”  It is through this extension of spiritual energy that God reaches out and affects the world from his throne room.

The spirit of God, being His heart and mind, can be described as having the same qualities of God Himself. But this does not make it a separate person, nor is “The Spirit” simply another name for God. It is a way of referring to Him indirectly by referring to His heart or mind.  Paul's explanation in I Corinthians 2 clarifies this, by comparing the spirit of God with the spirit of man.

I Corinthians 2:
10 But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so no man knoweth the things of God, but the Spirit of God.
[see NASB]

So the Spirit of God is not a separate person from God, any more than a man’s spirit is a separate person from the man.  Isaiah 40:13 says "Who has directed the spirit of the LORD, or has instructed Him as His counselor?"  Paul quotes this verse in his epistles and uses the word “mind”

Romans 11:

34 Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?

I Corinthians 2:

16: "For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel Him?" [see NASB]

God's spirit also refers to His presence. Psalm 51:10 refers to man's spirit, and in the next verse, David linked God's spirit with His presence: "Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me."  Psalm 139:7 also connects God's spirit with his presence. "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?"  The very first occurrence of spirit, in fact, illustrates that God was present in His creation. Genesis 1:2 reads, "...the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

There are many references to God putting His Spirit on people for particular purposes.

I Samuel 10:

10 And when they came thither to the hill, behold, a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.


I Samuel 11:
6 And the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard those tidings, and his anger was kindled greatly. 

 

Exodus 31:
3 And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,

 

6b …and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee; [see NASB]

 

This power is an extension of God’s power, and thus an extension of God Himself, but not a separate person from God.  The Spirit of God has been called an "impersonal force" by some, mainly as a response to the Trinitarian belief that it is a person. However, this may not be the best word to use. It is more than an abstract power, since it is the operational presence and power of God. It is His heart and personality as communicated to His creation. Alan Richardson, in his Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (London: SCM Press, 1958, p. 120), describes the Holy Spirit like this:

 

To ask whether in the New Testament the spirit is a person in the modern sense of the word would be like asking whether the spirit of Elijah is a person. The Spirit of God is of course personal; it is God's dunamis [power] in action. But the Holy Spirit is not a person, existing independently of God; it is a way of speaking about God's personally acting in history, or of the Risen Christ's personally acting in the life and witness of the Church. The New Testament (and indeed patristic thought generally) nowhere represents the Spirit, any more than the wisdom of God, as having independent personality.

 

Throughout the Old Testament the Spirit of the Lord, or the Spirit of God, was a source of power, inspiration, or communication between God and His creation.  God dwells in the heavens, and His Spirit is the part of Him that interacts with His creation.  In the Synoptic Gospels we see no difference in how the Holy Spirit works.  Jesus said He cast out demons by the spirit of God (Matthew 12:28), and in a parallel verse says he cast them out with the finger of God (Luke 11:20).  The Holy Spirit was in fact the power of God by which He created the life of Jesus in the womb of Mary (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35).  His very existence was generated by the Holy Spirit.  In the Gospel of John, however, we read of something that indicates that there would be a difference, which we will deal with next. 

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The Spirit of Jesus

In John 7:38-39 Jesus said, "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)"  There was certainly Holy Spirit before this point.  Jesus worked miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit.  But John said that the Holy Spirit had not yet been given.  This tells us that the Holy Spirit that came on the day of Pentecost was somehow different.  Furthermore, it says that it would be connected with Jesus being glorified.

I was once taught that Old Testament believers had the holy spirit "upon" them, while believers after Pentecost had holy spirit "in" them. But this does not hold true upon closer examination. Joseph was called "a man in whom the spirit of God is" in Genesis 41:38, and Joshua was called that in Numbers 27:18. God's ministers were said to be filled with God's spirit in Exodus 28:3; 31:3; and 35:31. And Isaiah 63:11 reads, "Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him?" On the other hand, we saw that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts was a foretaste of God's promise to "pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts 2:17). And Peter specifically states in I Peter 4:14 that, "the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you." Therefore the distinction between "spirit in" and "spirit upon" has no Biblical basis. But does this mean the Holy Spirit after Pentecost was no different than it was before?

When Jesus ascended into heaven he did not leave his followers without comfort and guidance. In John chapters 14-16 Jesus gave his most comprehensive teaching about the coming Holy Spirit. He said it would be a substitute for him, and would be their helper and comforter, and would be with them forever. It would bring to their remembrance everything that he had said to them, and teach them things that they were not yet able to bear at the time he was speaking. It would testify about Christ and convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. It would succor and strengthen them, and enable them to live a Christ-like life.

Jesus said that God would give them "another" comforter, namely the spirit of truth. It is "another" comforter because it would comfort them the way he had done when he was with them. It is through the spirit that Jesus said he would come to them and abide with them.

John 14:
20 At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.
21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
22 Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?
23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.
25 These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you.
26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
[see NASB]

Just as God the Father dwells in the heavens and interacts with His creation via His Holy Spirit, so now Jesus, seated at the Father’s right hand, interacts with believers in whom the Holy Spirit dwells.  The spirit is called the parakletos (paraklete, helper, comforter, advocate).   The following is from an article by Sean Finnegan, A Unitarian View of the Holy Spirit, which can be viewed on the website, 21st Century Reformation.

Our Lord explained the coming presence of the parakletos (paraklete, comforter, helper, advocate). The chain of events would be {1} the disciple demonstrates love for Jesus by keeping his commandments (John 14.15) {2} Jesus will ask the Father to send the paraklete (John 14.16; 15.26; 16.7) {3} the paraklete will be sent in Jesus’ name to abide in the believer forever (John 14.16, 26). The paraklete is “the spirit of truth” (John 14.17), which will teach the disciples all things and bring to their remembrance all that Jesus has said (John 14.26), testify about Jesus (John 15.26), be more advantageous to the saint than the presence of Christ on earth (John 16.7), convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16.8-11), guide them into all truth by speaking only what “he” hears (John 16.13), and disclose Christ to the disciple (John 16.14-15).

Jesus told his disciples that the Comforter, the Paraklete, would come to them.  He also told them that he would come to them.  Both are true.  He came to them by way of the Holy Spirit, the Paraklete.  The spirit of the risen Christ is the Holy Spirit that the believers received.  Finnegan continues:

Therefore, we conclude that the spirit is not a person but the projection of a person—the risen Christ—within the heart of the believer. Christ is the one “who searches the minds and hearts” (Revelation 2.23). He is the head of the body (Colossians 1.18) who is able to cause “the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4.16). The risen Christ is with us always (Matthew 28.20) and in the midst of two or three gathered in his name (Matthew 18.20). Yet at the same time, he is still a man (1 Timothy 2.5) seated at the right hand of God (Mark 16.19; Hebrews 12.2; etc.) in heavenly places (Ephesians 1.20; 1 Peter 3.22; etc.). So how can Christ be intimately involved in working within his church even while he is in heaven? As the disciples asked, how could he disclose himself to them without the world seeing him (John 14.22)? Christ is present through the spirit. The spirit which proceeds from the Father connects Christ to his body like a nervous system—making him aware of what is going on and allowing him to coordinate his body. The spirit fully represents Christ and so to me the spirit is Christ in me.

“…These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised him from the dead and seated him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1.19-23)

Therefore, the holy spirit is God in action (as we have seen from the OT and the Synoptics) PLUS the new added “comforting” aspects (presented in John) distributed under the auspices of the Father by the ascended Messiah in order to benefit the Church by allowing Christ to dwell within each believer.

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Some Misunderstood Verses

While the vast majority of references to the Holy Spirit can be seen to fit this definition, there are some verses which speak of it in terms which could seem to be referring to a person. Jesus refers to speaking against the Holy Spirit in Matthew 12:31-32, Paul in  Ephesians 4:30 speaks of grieving the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is said to speak in Revelation 2:17; 14:13; and 22:17. Throughout Acts, the Spirit speaks, moves, and guides the believers as well. It is verses like these that Trinitarians use to prove that the Holy Spirit is a person. They are also why Bullinger, Wierwille and others thought that one "usage" of the term "Holy Spirit" must be a name or title for God Himself. But the Holy Spirit, being the power and presence of God, is an extension of Himself.  So all of His characteristics, all of His actions, all of His words and will, are attributed to His Spirit.

Just as the spirit of Elijah is not a separate person from Elijah, to grieve a person’s spirit is to grieve that person.  In II Samuel 13:39, the KJV reads, “And the soul of king David longed to go forth unto Absalom…” but in the Septuagint, it uses the word pneuma (spirit) and so the RSV renders it, “And the spirit of the king longed to go forth to Absalom…”  The spirit of the king is not a separate person from the king; likewise the spirit of God is not a separate person from God.

Thus, to speak against the Holy Spirit is to speak against God, especially with reference to His working in the peoples' presence (which is the context of the Lord's warning about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit). When God speaks through His Holy Spirit, it is said that the spirit speaks. In the same way you could say that a person's voice speaks words, and it is understood that you mean that it is the person who is speaking. But nowhere does the Bible speak of "God the Holy Spirit" whether in the Trinitarian sense or in the sense that it is a name or title for God.

Acts 5:3-4 is often used to prove that the Holy Spirit is God. Ananias is said to have lied to the Holy Spirit in verse 3, and it is equated with lying to God in verse 4. The Holy Spirit refers to the power and authority of God, which in this instance was invested in Peter. Just as "grieving the Holy Spirit" is another way of saying "grieving God," saying he "lied to the Holy Spirit" is another way of saying he lied to God. This is showing the connection between God and His Spirit which was working in Peter and the other apostles.

To lie to the apostles who speak for God is equivalent to lying to God, as Paul says, "He therefore that despiseth this, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit" (I Thessalonians 4:8). This is similar to the statement by Moses in Exodus 16:8, that "your murmurings are not against us, but against the LORD." This did not make Moses and Aaron God, any more than the apostles were God when they spoke on His behalf. But the Holy Spirit, as well as those in whom God's Spirit worked, represented God. When Ananias lied to the apostles, he lied to God's Holy Spirit working in and through them, and therefore he lied to God.

 

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Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

There are a few references in the Gospels to something called “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” and it is commonly called the “unforgiveable sin.” The first mention of it is in Matthew.

Matthew 12:

31  Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.

32  And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. [see NASB]

 

This has been misunderstood to some degree, with many different opinions and conjecture about what the unforgiveable sin, or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, actually is.  The context tells us a lot.  It tells of Jesus’ miracles and healing, and casting out demons.  He did these things by the authority that God gave him, as it said in chapter 9.  He specifically says here that he does it by the spirit of God, and that it shows that the Kingdom of God has come upon them (Matthew 12:28).  It is in that context that he says blasphemy against the Son would be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would not.  If the Holy Spirit was the co-equal Third Person of the Trinity, this would make no sense.  But in the context it is saying that while you may speak against the human “person” of Jesus, speaking against the power and authority of God that he exercised, especially in light of His Kingdom, will not be forgiven.  In other words, it is another way of saying that if you reject the Gospel of the Kingdom (which is inspired by God’s Holy Spirit) you will not be forgiven, which it says plainly elsewhere in Scripture.

 

Mark 3:

28  Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme:

29  But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:

30  Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit. [see NASB]

Here we are told why Jesus said what he said.  It was because they said that the miracles he did were done by an unclean spirit.  In the ministry I was involved with, the common understanding was that the unforgivable sin meant being “born again of the wrong seed.”  But that was based on much conjecture, built on a fundamental misunderstanding of what the genuine New Birth really is.  And in addition, it missed the very context of the verse in Mark, which says that Jesus mentioned the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit “Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.”  So the context obviously indicates that it has to do with not recognizing the true source of Jesus’ power and authority, with which he cast out demons.

F. F. Bruce writes, in Hard Sayings of Jesus,

What if one were to repent of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?  Is there no forgiveness for the person who repents of this sin?  The answer seems to be that the nature of this sin is such that one does not repent of it, because those who commit it and persist in it do not know that they are sinning….If some people looked at the relief which [Jesus] was bringing to the bodies and minds of men and women and maintained that he was doing so with the help of their great spiritual oppressor, the prince of demons, then their eyes were so tightly closed to the light that for them light had become darkness and good had become evil.  The light is there for those who will accept it, but if some refuse the light, where else can they hope to receive illumination?

Luke has the reference to the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in a different context, in chapter 12.

Luke 12:

8  Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God:

9  But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.

10  And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.

11  And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say:

12  For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say. [see NASB]

In this context the reference to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is between the reference to denying him, and the reference to the spirit’s role in enabling his disciples to confess him before rulers.  This implies, as Bruce writes, that “…blasphemy against the spirit in this context is tantamount to apostasy, the deliberate and decisive repudiation of Jesus as Lord.  This is not the only New Testament passage which warns against the irremediable evil of apostasy: another well-known example is Hebrews 6:4-6, where it is said to be impossible to renew apostates to repentance, since they have repudiated the only way of salvation.”

So putting both references together, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is to deny that Jesus is who he said he was (the Messiah, the Son of God) and to deny the power and authority that he had, and thus to reject everything God was doing in and through Christ.  That is why it is unforgivable—because the only way to salvation is through the Messiah, and he has been rejected.  They deliberately shut their eyes to the light, and call good evil and evil good.

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Try the Spirits

The holy spirit is closely associated with the words of Jesus (See The Spirit and the Word).  The words that a person speaks are an indicator of what sort of "spirit" he has. If he has the spirit of Christ, his words will sound like those of Christ. This is one way to tell whether a person who seems to be "spiritual" and manifests supernatural power is really showing forth God's Holy Spirit or a counterfeit. Jesus warned us that there would be many counterfeit signs and wonders which we should watch out for (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22). He specifically said that there would be people who seem to be Christians, and even consider themselves to be Christians, but in fact are not.

Matthew 7:
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
[see NASB]

I used to think these verses referred to people who just talked about Jesus but didn't follow through in their actions. But it is even more than that. The people he refers to will also include ones who even did mighty works in Jesus' name – prophesied, cast out demons, etc. – but were not in fact doing the will of God. This tells us that doing these mighty works is not an indication that one is "saved" or even in a right relationship with the Lord. How does one determine if he is doing God's will then? The next verse tells us. "Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock..." (Matthew 7:24). In order to have a right relationship with God and His Son, you must hear and do his sayings. Doing mighty works without the right foundation of the words of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of the Kingdom, is building your house on the sand. It will not stand.

If a person is showing forth "signs and wonders" and not speaking the same Gospel as Jesus, he should be suspect. I was taught that speaking in tongues was the "positive proof" that you have the "right stuff." Yet many Christians who speak in tongues, and even work miracles, do not have a true Biblical understanding of the Gospel message. They believe that Jesus is God in the flesh, that the Kingdom is fulfilled now, that they will go to heaven when they die, or that the Kingdom Gospel has been set aside in favor of a new and different gospel.  If for no other reason the modern Pentecostal movement should be regarded with suspicion, and we should heed the warning in I John 4:1, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world."

But there is also good reason to regard it not only with suspicion, but with absolute distrust.  When one studies carefully the Biblical teaching on speaking in tongues, it becomes clear that there are vast differences between the New Testament gift of languages and the modern phenomenon that is called speaking in tongues.  The Bible describes a supernatural ability to speak in real foreign languages that could be understood by others and therefore functioned as a sign to unbelievers.  The modern phenomenon is rarely if ever understood or interpreted, and is most often used as a private prayer language.  The emphasis in the New Testament was for the gift, like all of the gifts of the spirit, to be used for the edification of the Church.  In contrast, the modern phenomenon is said to be for the purpose of building up oneself.  This subject is studied in detail in a Closer Look article called Speaking in Tongues.   

Besides the gift of languages (tongues) and the other gifts listed in I Corinthians 12:8-11, there are a few other lists of gifts of the spirit, and they include much more than just the nine listed there.  Verses 27-31 lists apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healings, helps, governments, and finally tongues.  Romans 12:4-8 lists prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhorting, giving, ruling, and showing mercy.  These may not seem to have the same significance, but the context identifies them as gifts that different members of the Body have, just as those in I CorinthiansEphesians 4:7-13 lists five ways of ministering that are gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers; while I Peter 4:10-11 refers to the gifts of speaking as the oracles of God, and ministering with God-given ability.  A Christian’s spiritual gift determines his position or function in the Body of Christ.

While I do not deny that miracles and supernatural healing still can occur, they are extremely overemphasized by many Christians, and are not the primary or normal activity of the Holy Spirit. The normal working involves growth and change of heart, which God is more interested in accomplishing in a believer. It is this growth, not "operating manifestations," which produces the fruit of the spirit. As the Word of God, which is the heart of God, grows in a believer, the attributes of God become more and more evident in his life. Then a person realizes love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance, which are called the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. This is another way to tell if someone demonstrating power is genuine or not. Jesus said that we shall know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16,20).

These are the attributes of Christ-like character that we must develop by cultivating the seed that is implanted in us, and cooperating with the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us. By doing this, we develop the godly heart that Jesus said would be necessary in order to enter the Kingdom of God. It is all by the power of God and not by our own ability, so that we have nothing to boast about. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us" (II Corinthians 4:7).

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Mark Clarke
E-mail: mclarke@godskingdomfirst.org