The Holy Spirit and Metaphor

Felix Taylor posted Garner Ted Armstrong’s interaction with John Ankerberg (see Guess What I found on Right now, I want to comment on their discussion about the Trinity, specifically their disagreement over the Holy Spirit.

According to Armstrong, the Holy Spirit is not a person. Rather, it’s God’s power, or a force. Like most Christians, Ankerberg disagrees, for he views the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity.

Armstrong’s argument is that there are passages of Scripture that treat the Spirit as an inanimate object. For example, Acts 10:45 says that God poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles. “Can you pour out a person?,” Garner Ted asks.

What’s interesting about this tape is that Ankerberg doesn’t always respond directly to Armstrong–with him being present, that is. Rather, the show frequently cuts to a sort of mini-documentary that summarizes and critiques Armstrong’s argument. Well, one of those mini-documentaries says that the New Testament is using figurative language when it presents the Holy Spirit with inanimate characteristics. John 10:9 calls Jesus a “door,” after all, and he’s still a person!

Ironically, Armstrongites have done the exact same thing with passages that portray the Holy Spirit as personal: they assert that those are figurative. I once asked an Armstrongite member of my family, “What do you do with the passages that present the Holy Spirit as speaking? Don’t they imply that the Spirit is a person? A person speaks!” He responded, “So it says the Holy Spirit is speaking. Big deal! Proverbs 1:20 says wisdom cries out in the streets! And we all know that wisdom’s not a person. The Bible uses personification!”

Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is. Ankerberg, Walter Martin, and their ilk make it a test of orthodoxy to believe in the full Trinity. Armstrongites, on the other hand, act like they’re better than everyone else because they see the Holy Spirit as a force. Why’s it important, either way?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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6 Responses to The Holy Spirit and Metaphor

  1. FT says:


    As a firm trinitarian,it does make a gigantic revolutional difference. Only a trinitarian perspective articulates sooo brightly the gospel of grace. All other perspectives whether Unitarian, Bitheism, Arianism, Oneness Pentecostalism (modalism)and so on distort and pervert the gospel of grace.

    Oh by the way Acts 13:2 discusses the Holy Spirit saying “me and I”. Things that are not conscious nor personal are not “mes” or “Is” To assert otherwise is a bit of a stretch.


  2. James Pate says:

    Yeah, and I noticed that even Ted was using that kind of personal language for the Holy Spirit.

    But how does believing the Holy Spirit is a force distort the Gospel of grace?


  3. Anonymous says:

    I think trying to label or even name it puts it or him or that living thing in a box, which is impossible. I used to agonize over not being able to fully understand it until not so long ago. I don’t think you can call it a person or just call it a force. God is not a person and neither is that Holy spirit. I think it is much bigger than what we can imagine it to be but when it is with you, however that exactly happens, it is powerful and living, it comes from God and is a part of God and a part of me by the grace of God. I am satisfied with that. I am now satisfied with a lot of things I don’t fully understand.
    And as a side note…I hardly think GTA or HWA or any of their followers can show they had much or any of the Holy Spirit or understanding of it by the way they acted.
    Aunt C.


  4. AggieAtheist says:

    Why’s it so important? It’s not — unless you’re trying to start up your very own tithe farm, and you have to come up with a more truthier true gawd than all the rest.

    “Big deal! Proverbs 1:20 says wisdom cries out in the streets! And we all know that wisdom’s not a person!”

    According the Gnostics, Wisdom is personified by Sophia. Juuuuuuuust thought I’d throw that into the mix. As if things weren’t confused enough already. 😉


  5. James Pate says:

    Hi Aunt C. You kind of remind me there of Paul Tillich, who said God was above being a person.


  6. James Pate says:

    Hi Aggie.

    That’s an important point you make about sophia. I wonder if other sources treat sophia as personal. I even wonder if the Bible sees wisdom as a personal being in Proverbs. I’ve always heard the logos of John 1 equated with sophia, and we know the logos was a personal being (in John).

    BTW, I clicked on your name, and that took me to Armstrong Survivor’s site. Have you taken up permanent residence there?


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