The hand, arm, power, breath, spirit and word of a human being are not persons or different personalities as such. Neither are the various aspects of God. The spirit of YHWH is literally YHWH himself. Anthony Buzzard puts it this way:
“The spirit of God was not a different Person from God Himself, any more than the ‘spirit of Elijah’ (2 Kings 2:15) meant a person other than Elijah.”
That has also been and continues to be the orthodox Jewish understanding of the spirit of God. Orthodox Judaism disavows any notion that God’s spirit is a person or individual with an independent personality from that of the Father. The Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period indicates:
Just as “spirit” was considered the essence of human life, so analogously the term “spirit” was used of the presence, activity and power of God.
If we say that aspects of God are “persons,” then how many “persons” might we find? How many shall we serve? To the people of the Bible, God’s power or spirit are no more separate from the Father than are his “eyes” which are on the righteous, or his “ears” which are open to their cry (Ps. 34:15).
His people of old find that there is a personality in the spirit of God. However, it is the personality of the Father. If people resist the outstretched hand of God they have resisted God himself (Isa. 14:27). If they grieve his spirit, they have grieved him (Isa. 63:10; Eph. 4:30). To cause anguish to the heart or spirit of someone is to grieve the one whose heart or spirit it is. When people have grieved God’s heart or his spirit, it is the Father himself that they have offended.
There is only one throne (Isa. 6:1). To say that God’s spirit or any other aspect of him is a separate person from the Father is to say that the one on the throne is not the only one who is God. It is to say that there is another God-person who is with him; another who is like him. Again, that violates his first priority:
For I am God, and there is no one else; I am God, and there is no one like me (Isa. 46:9).
The spirit of God is not another who is “like” the Father — it is the Father in action. Again, he speaks to that matter in Isaiah the 40th chapter. Rhetorically, he asks:
“To whom then will you compare me? Who is my equal?” says the Holy One (Isa. 40:25).
There is no one who is his equal; no one with whom to compare him. It is not “they” who are God. It is him. He is God and he alone.
There is no throne for the “hand of God”
or the “power of God.” There is no
throne for the “spirit of God.”
God’s Spirit Has No Personal Name
We also see that the spirit of God is not another person from the Father in that it has no personal name. Just as our various features and exercises of our powers as human beings do not have personal names, neither do his. They are the “hand of the LORD” (Isa. 66:14); “his holy arm” (Isa. 52:10); “his mighty power” (Ps. 106:8). His spirit is “the spirit of God” (2 Chron. 15:1); “the spirit of the LORD” (2 Sam. 23:2) or “his holy spirit” (Isa. 63:10, 11).
The Bible never says that terms like “spirit of God,” “holy spirit,” “the holy spirit,” etc. are proper/personal names. No one in the Bible ever treated those terms as though they were. The word “holy” is an adjective modifying the noun “spirit.” That identifies the nature of the spirit that God has: It is holy! When the definite article is added, it points us to God’s spirit as being one often referenced and at the same time unique.
In “YHWH,” God himself has a personal name. Likewise, human beings, including the Messiah, have personal names. Even angels of God are known by name (Luke 1:19; Jude 1:9). Theologians who in the centuries after the Bible was written began construing God’s spirit as a separate person of Deity from the Father, were left with the peculiar problem that the new “God-person” had no proper name. It was difficult to envision a nameless God. The problem was never adequately resolved and the tendency became to just treat words like “holy spirit,” etc. as though they somehow were a name for this supposed additional person of Deity.
One Amazing Almighty
He who lives in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will declare of the LORD, “He is my refuge, my fortress; my God in whom I trust” (Ps. 91:1, 2).
There is only one who is Most High — one who is Almighty. The psalmist tells us, “He is my refuge.” If the Father is truly almighty, then he can do all things by his own power. While he uses his angels and human emissaries in his work with humanity, he needs no other as God. With the Father alone, all things are possible. If not, then he isn’t truly almighty.
In the Bible, it is never the almighty “two” or “three” who are God — it is the almighty “one.” The Father himself has an “arm” which he stretches out to his people. He has his own immeasurable power, his own spirit, hand, breath. What is it that needs to be done by God that he cannot do for himself? There is an absolute singularity in the omnipotence of God. It is the Father that we are limiting when we think that his spirit is another person of Deity.
A striking example of the fact that the spirit of God is the Father in action is found in the opening of Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew writes that Jesus was begotten in Mary by God’s spirit (Matt. 1:18, 20). To the people of the Bible, that is one and the same as saying that God fathered this child by the extension of his own miraculous power. What has been done by God’s spirit has literally been done by the Father himself. Hence, Jesus never says that a “person” by the name of the “Holy Spirit” was his Father. Rather, he affirms that he is the son of God (Matt. 16:16, 17).
Who then is everywhere present? Notice David’s words:
O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you know my thoughts from afar (Ps. 139:1, 2).
Who is it who knows when David sits and when he rises? Who is it who knows his thoughts from afar? It is the LORD. The omnipresence of God is not achieved by his sending another person of Deity called “The Spirit.” Rather, it is by the literal presence of the Father himself.
[8.] It is recognized, of course, that aspects or attributes of God are at times personified. For example, God’s wisdom is personified as a woman in Proverbs 8:1ff. Ruach is typically translated in the Septuagint by pneuma.
[9.] Anthony Buzzard, Jesus was not a Trinitarian (Morrow, GA: Restoration Fellowship, 2007), 152.
[10.] “Holy Spirit,” Jacob Neusner, William Scott Green editors, Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 298.
[11.] Of course, human beings are made in the “likeness of God” (Gen. 5:1) and therefore like him in some respects. That remains the case even after Adam’s disobedience (1 Cor. 11:7). After the Messiah is born, he is the perfect human image of God (2 Cor. 4:4). Nevertheless, in a still greater sense, the true God is in a class by himself. In that regard, there is no one like him.
[12.] It is typical in our Christian translations to find “Spirit” capitalized when referring to the spirit of God, thus implying a separate person is intended. However, there were no upper/lower case distinctions in ancient biblical Hebrew or Greek and it is purely the translator’s decision to capitalize. Translators typically do not capitalize other words which reference aspects of God (hand, arm, etc.). Doing so with the word “spirit” reflects a widespread bias in support of the post-biblical Trinitarian tradition of the spirit of God as being a separate person from the Father. When “spirit” is used with reference to the spirit of God, the King James Version has instances in which it is not capitalized (e.g. Gen. 6:3; Num. 11:29; Isa. 11:2; Micah 3:8). The NRSV and certain others tend not to capitalize spirit when translating the Hebrew Bible. The best Jewish versions of course do not capitalize the word spirit when referring to the spirit of God.
[13.] The reference in Matthew 28:19 does not present “Father,” “Son” or “Holy Spirit” in themselves as being proper/personal names. My point is that the Father and the Son do have personal names whereas the spirit of God does not.