My responses to a Jehovah's Witnesses

The personhood and divinity of the Holy Spirit and praying to Jesus

"Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." -- Luke 24:27

Excerpts from an email exchange with a Jehovah's Witness

Recently a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses and I exchanged a lot of email messages about beliefs and doctrines. These pages contain questions he asked me and my responses. In essence, this is a blog of our conversations. There will be some overlapping of material since the email conversation occasionally circled back to the same concepts.

One of the sad things about our email exchanges is that my Jehovah's Witness friend rarely asked me a follow-up question. So we had very few real "conversations" in which we discussed anything in-depth.

Jehovah's Witness question: Would you like to know the truth about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?
My answer: I'm not sure what you mean by "the truth about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." There is a question I'd like to ask in return: Why don't you accept what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit? For instance, It's my understanding that Jehovah's Witnesses believe the Holy Spirit is not a person.

Doesn't that contrast starkly with what Christ-followers have said through the centuries? They have affirmed that the Holy Spirit is Yahweh Himself as the third person of a triune God. Why do they say that?

Well, time and again, the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit as having characteristics or qualities which a real person has. The Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit doing things that real persons do. How the Holy Spirit is described in Scripture goes far beyond a mere influence or a "force." That's even emphasized by the pronoun that English Bible translations use for the Holy Spirit. It's always the personal "he" rather than the impersonal "i," which would be needed in the case of an impersonal force or influence.

Look at how the Holy Spirit is described in Scripture:
  1. The Holy Spirit speaks.
    "The Spirit clearly says . . ." -- 1 Timothy 4:1
    "The Spirit told Philip, 'Go to that chariot . . . .'" -- Acts 8:29
    "While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, 'Simon, three men . . .'" Acts 10:19
    "The Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart . . . " -- Acts 13:2
  2. The Holy Spirit actively teaches.
    "The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things" -- John 14:26
  3. The Holy Spirit gives testimony.
    "The Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me" -- John 14:26
  4. The Holy Spirit guides, hears, speaks, and tells.
    "When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you. . . He will speak only what He hears and He will tell you what is yet to come" -- John 16:13 (look at all those personal persons in that passage; there's no "it" among them)
  5. The Holy Spirit forbids.
    "Having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the Word . . . the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them" -- Acts 16:6-7
  6. The Holy Spirit intercedes or prays.
    "The Spirit Himself intercedes for us . . . The Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will" -- Romans 8:26-27
All six of these characteristics point to the Holy Spirit being a person. Does "wind" or "influence" or a "force" do these things?

That's not all. There are more characteristics of the Holy Spirit that demonstrate His personhood.
  1. The Holy Spirit has a mind.
    "He knows the mind of the Spirit" -- Romans 8:27
  2. The Holy Spirit has active knowledge.
    "The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God" -- 1 Corinthians 1:10. Would an "active force" be said to search all things?
  3. The Holy Spirit possesses affection.
    "by the love of the Spirit" -- Romans 15:30. Would an "active force" be said to love?
  4. The Holy Spirit has a will.
    "He gives them to each one, just as He determines" 1 Corinthians 12:11. Could an "active force" or influence make decisions like this Scripture describes?
Don't these last four characteristics signify that the Holy Spirit possesses intelligence and personality? For instance, have you ever known an impersonal force that "loved" something or someone?

Then, there is the fact that Scripture says the Holy Spirit can suffer personal slights and injuries. Can an impersonal force be offended in the following ways?
  1. The Holy Spirit can be grieved.
    "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God" -- Ephesians 4:30
  2. The Holy Spirit can be blasphemed.
    "The blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven" -- Matthew 12:31-32
  3. The Holy Spirit can be insulted.
    "who has insulted the Spirit of grace" -- Hebrews 10:29
  4. The Holy Spirit can be lied to.
    "You have lied to the Holy Spirit" -- Acts 5:3
  5. The Holy Spirit can be resisted.
    "You always resist the Holy Spirit" -- Acts 7:51
One could possibly say that one or two of these do not constitute proof of the personality of the Holy Spirit. But when you look at all of them together, that long list of 15 items becomes evidence that could be admitted in a court of law. Look again at all the ways the Bible describes the Holy Spirit. In light of this list, doesn't it seem ludicrous to say the Holy Spirit is simply an impersonal influence or force?
Jehovah's Witness question: If Jesus was God, don't you think we would be able to pray directly to Jesus?
My answer: Good question. The answer is simple. We can. In practice, here's how I explain prayer: We pray to the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. However, since Yahweh is one God manifested in three persons, praying to Jesus or the Holy Spirit is perfectly acceptable.

It's been often said that there are three ways to determine whether we have Biblical authority to do something:
  1. Scriptures give a direct command
  2. Scripture gives examples we can emulate or follow
  3. By inference or deduction
As regards whether prayers can be addressed to Jesus, the Scriptures provide us with authority through all three of these ways: commands, examples, and inferences. Again, I'm not saying believers must address prayers to Jesus, but I'm trying to respond to your point that if Jesus were God, we could pray directly to Him.

In Acts 8:22 Peter tells Simon the sorcerer to pray to the Lord (a word used over and over again in the New Testament to refer to Jesus). Paul in Ephesians 5:19 exhorts believers to "sing and make music in your heart to the Lord." Isn't singing often a type of prayer?

The Bible gives examples of prayers said to Jesus. A very clear one is Stephen's dying prayer in Acts 7:59. There's also the request from Simon the Sorcerer to Peter in Acts 8:24. Acts 1:24 records a prayer addressed to "Lord." I believe that the Jehovah's Witnesses will agree that Lord is a title for Jesus. So, isn't that prayer being addressed to Jesus?

In Romans 1:8, Paul says, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ." If he's thanking God "through" Jesus Christ, doesn't that mean he's praying to Jesus? Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:8, "Three times I pleaded with the Lord." The Bible even closes with a prayer to Jesus: "Come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20).

Then, there are various places in Scripture where one can deduce that prayers are being said to Jesus. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul addresses those "who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." When we read "on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ," wouldn't it be normal for us to infer that prayers are being addressed to Jesus? Hebrews 7:25 says, "Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood." If Jesus is the permanent priest, wouldn't it be proper for us to infer that it is through Him (and thus praying to Him) that we must therefore approach God's throne?

In John 14:6, Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Isn't there an inference in those words that we must come into the Father's presence through Jesus, the Way?
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