Related Verses: 2 Sam. 23:2, 3; Acts 5:1-4; Rom. 8:26, 27; 1 Cor. 12:11, 28
Leading Question: In traditional language Christians speak of the first member of the Trinity (Father), second member (Son), and third member (Spirit) as if they could be put in order of importance. Why is it important to sort out the functions of each of the three?
Note: There was a time in the early Adventist experience when neither the Son nor the Spirit were accorded full divine status. LeRoy Froom reports that in the 1890s, R. A. Underwood gave several campmeeting presentations on the topic of the Holy Spirit as “A Person of the Godhead.” “But the ministers by vote asked him not to speak further on the subject.” – LeRoy Froom, Movement of Destiny (RH, 1971), 266. Do we know or can we imagine why there is resistance to seeing the Spirit as fully God?
Several passages in Scripture suggest that God and Spirit can be used in close proximity to each other, indeed, as virtually interchangeable as far as Divine status is concerned:
David: 2 Sam. 23:2, 3. In “David’s Last Words” (2 Sam. 23), David declares the “The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; his word was on my tongue” (23:2), but follows immediately with a parallel line in 23:3: “The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me.” That parallelism suggests that Spirit and God could be used interchangeably.
Peter: Acts 5:1-4. In confronting Ananias and Sapphira about their lies, Peter declared to Ananias, “How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?” (vs. 3). Then in verse 4 Peter continues: “You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” Clearly Peter uses Spirit and God as interchangeable references.
Paul: Rom. 8:26, 27. This passage is sufficiently tantalizing that we should look at both verses carefully:
Romans 8:26, 27: In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the heart knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (NASB)
Some might be tempted to see a tension between the role of the Spirit on our behalf and his role in the divine realm where he intercedes for us, as if the Father needed some convincing. But the passage can be seen as one that simply encourages the saints, reminding them that with the Spirit we are in good hands because the Father knows what the mind of the Spirit is.
Paul: 1 Cor. 12:11, 28. In 1 Cor. 12, Paul lists the gifts of the Spirit in verse 11, but then in verse 28 says that it is God who gives the gifts. Thus he uses the words interchangeably.
In the early Christian church it took several centuries before the doctrine of the Trinity could be described in terms that the main body of believers could accept it. How crucial is it that today we affirm those hard-fought battles? Early Adventists who scoffed at the idea of a creedal faith, also scoffed at the idea of the Trinity. In 1852, James White went into print with the phrase, “that old trinitarian absurdity.” Yet in an 1876 article in the Review and Herald in which he was arguing that the Seventh Day Baptists and Seventh-day Adventists should not intrude on each other’s work because they were so very similar, he stated: “The S.D. Adventists hold the divinity of Christ so nearly with the trinitarian, that we apprehend no trial here” (The Review and Herald, October 12, 1876).
The textual history of the so-called Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7-8) indicates how tempting it was for believers to make the biblical passage more explicitly trinitarian. The difference can be seen in the King James Version when compared with the New Revised Standard Version. The words in the KJV which reflects the late edition are here placed in italics:
1 John 5:7, 8: For there are three that bear record [in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth,] the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. (KJV)
1 John 5:7, 8: There are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree. (NRSV)
Question: What gain is there in pressing the issue of the personality of the Holy Spirit? Is there a perceived threat from mysticism if the church does not maintain the belief in the personhood of the Holy Spirit?
From the standard Sabbath School lesson guide, this quotation from Ellen White concludes this lesson on the Divinity of the Holy Spirit:
It is not essential for us to be able to define just what the Holy Spirit is. Christ tells us that the Spirit is the Comforter, “the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father.” It is plainly declared regarding the Holy Spirit that, in His work of guiding men into all truth, “He shall not speak of Himself.” John 15:26; 16:13. [51/52]
The nature of the Holy Spirit is a mystery. Men cannot explain it, because the Lord has not revealed it to them. Men having fanciful views may bring together passages of Scripture and put a human construction on them, but the acceptance of these views will not strengthen the church. Regarding such mysteries, which are too deep for human understanding, silence is golden.” – The Acts of the Apostles (1911), 51, 52