Thursday, April 22, 2010

God is a Person

Every so often I come upon Christian networks [blogs] or listen to commentaries or debates on whether or not the God of the Bible [aka. YHWH of the OT] is a “Person” or a “spiritual being” — as if there is any real difference in the simple meaning of the word “person” [one individual being, in other words, a person(1)] as it is used throughout the scriptures in relation to YHWH God.

This whole debate is a product of the deeply ingrained and grammatically incomprehensible Trinitarian doctrine, which some of its most famous exponents, such as the German theological Karl Rahner in his The Trinity [1970, pp 113-14], teach as “the one God [of the Jewish-Christian Shema, Deu 6.4; Mar 12.29] subsisting [existing] as three distinct persons [hypostasis]…the Father, the Son, the Spirit…hence these ‘three’ are not the same ‘one’”. This doctrine is a product of the ancient Catholic creedal statements composed during the 4th-6th centuries first under the pagan, turned Christian sympathizer, Roman Emperor Constantine.

Apart from the fact that such Trinitarian statements have obvious theological holes, I’d like to argue from scripture [and not from Catholic creeds] why YHWH, the God and Father of our lord Messiah Jesus, is not a “What” [an essence, ousia] but one “Who”!

Similar to His creatures, YHWH is described in the Bible as having a “soul” [Lev 26.11, 30; Zech 11.8; Isa 1.14; Jer 32.41] and a “spirit” [Gen 6.3; Isa 42:1; Neh 9.30]. The word often translated “soul” comes from the Hebrew nephesh, a “feminine noun [that] is used 753 times in the Old Testament and has a broad range of meanings. Most of its uses fall into these categories:

• breath, literally or figuratively (Jer 15:9);
• the inner being with its thoughts and emotions (Jdg 10:16; Pro 14:10; Eze 25:6);
• and by extension, the whole person (Gen 12:5; Lev 4:2; Eze 18:4).”

Now the word translated “spirit” is likewise a “feminine noun [which also signifies breath and wind]. The word is used to refer to the "Spirit of God" or "the LORD"…properly referred to as the Holy Spirit (Psa 51:11; 106:33; Isa 63:10-11).”[2] The point is that these words are expressive of the whole person of God [cp. Deu 26.16; Joshua 10.39].

When scripture describes YHWH in such terms it should communicate to the reader that we are dealing with one single personal being, and not some non-personal “spiritual nature” — certainly not one “what” or one “essence.”

It is important to define God as a “Person.” We must not represent the God of the Bible as one What. The developed doctrine of the Trinity led to non-biblical, philosophical language of nature, being, substance and redefinition of “persons” as found in the creeds.

The Holy Spirit is the spirit of the particular individual whose name is YHWH. It is not some “third…distinct person existing within the One Godhead” composed of “the Father and the Son” — thus making up “the one [triune] God”.

Scripture tells us that although YHWH is described as a “spiritual being”, He is also said to have this spirit within Him. This concept may be confusing for some since Jesus tells us that “God is spirit” [John 4.24]. So we must keep in mind that the spirit of God [an expression of His character, mind and Person] is the one and the same Person of God.

In other words, while “God is spirit”, God also has a spirit that is said to work and communicate to us [cp. John 14.15f.]. This is parallel to the Johannine saying that “God is love” [1 John 4.8] or “God is light” [1 John 1.5]. Again, these are qualities that are perfectly expressed and manifested in the one personal God.

“But God has revealed [His promise, purpose, plan, gospel etc.] to us through the spirit, for the spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so [in the same manner] the things of God no one has known, except the Spirit of God. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit that is from God, in order that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God.” 1Cor 2.10-13[3]

The first thing to note in this passage is the personal quality that is given to “the spirit of man…who” is said to be “in him”. This example is in turn contrasted with that of “the Spirit of God” Who is the one “who knows and searches the deep things of God”. This makes sense only within the Hebraic thinking of the Bible writers who see both “the spirit” and “the man” [in this instance] as representative of the one whole, human person. The same can be said for God in this passage. God's spirit as an extension of His Person!

The same idea is also present in the NT when the Apostle Paul prays “that the God of peace Himself…keep your whole spirit and soul and body” holy until the coming of the lord Jesus Christ [1Thess 5.23].
Spirit, soul, and body represent the entirety of [a human person]. It seems unlikely that this is a tripartite division of human nature into body, soul, and spirit, where ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ would refer to different parts; more likely Paul is simply using several terms for emphasis. For similar ways of expressing the totality of [a human person] see Matt. 10:28; Mark 12:30; 1 Cor. 7:34.”[4]
When it comes to the infinite, “self-existing” person Who is God [Ex 3.14], His qualities are likewise infinite and varied [wisdom, prudence, word, etc.] yet, they remain expressive of the one Personal God. These personifications should not be confused with distinct persons.

The Biblical God is not an abstract idea, never an essence, as pagan religions would like us to believe [leading to the aberrant Trinitarian concept of the “triune nature of God”]. God is a Personal Being described by singular personal pronouns. Yet it is clear that just because YHWH God is described as having a “soul” and “spirit” [hence described as a “Person”, in the secular and biblical sense of the words] He is unlike His creatures in so far as God is not a human being, animal nor an angelic spirit.

Nonetheless, YHWH, the God and Father of our lord Messiah Jesus, is one Person!
Thousands of singular personal pronouns describe Him, not it, as a singular Person.
“YHWH, the God of the breath of all flesh…In His hand is the life of every living thing and breath of all mankind…For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry, for the spirit would grow faint before Me, and the breath of life that I made.” Num 27.16; Job 12.10; Isa 57.16


[1] See Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

[2] All quotes from nephesh & ruach found in The WordStudy Dictionary.

[3] Revised English Version by Spirit & Truth Fellowship International.

[4] ESV Study Bible.

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