The Spirit of God

by A.E. Knoch

GOD IS SPIRIT. God is Light. God is Love. His power, His effulgence, and His affection are revealed in speech suited to an infant's lips, yet so deep is its significance that all the sages cannot fathom it. Only to those whose hearts and heads bow before His illumined love does He reveal the simple secrets of His being. Only those who worship His word and its microscopic perfections are initiated into the mysteries of the Deity. Love rejoices, light illumines, spirit vitalizes. Life, illumination and love are the heritage of all who have been vivified by His holy spirit.

The following accurate translations manifest a difference between these marvelous statements concerning God which it is impossible to reproduce in current English. When we say that God is Light, it is clear that we are speaking figuratively. The light by means of which these words are visible is not God, but it is like God. It is a figure of God. God is not some bright sun-star, shedding its rays through the universe. The light of the sun and the stars together illustrate the great truth that He is Light.

In like manner, we may not take the truth that God is Love literally, for He is more than an abstract quality, though it is the most precious of all. The figurative force of these two truths is effectually manifested in the original text by the presence of the substantive is. In Greek the verb to be, in its various forms, is not usually necessary to state a fact, but it must be used to enforce a figure. Its omission tells us that we are to take the assertion literally. In the original these three statements appear as follows:

1 John 1:  5  THE GOD LIGHT IS

The last statement differs from the others in omitting IS. It records a fact, not a figure. Hence we come to the definite conclusion that God is, literally, SPIRIT. He is not merely like SPIRIT, but is SPIRIT. When we reflect that this is probably the only actual definition of the Deity found in revelation, the momentous nature of this statement begins to be apparent. It is worthy of our highest efforts and most earnest endeavors to obtain some apprehension of its import.

We repeat, in order that we may enforce the statement, God [is] Spirit. This is the only actual assertion concerning His essence that we have. Light and love are figures; this is a fact. In the original Greek this distinction is indicated by the absence of the verb is. The substantive is not necessary in a literal statement. If it were a figure the Greek would read as in the figurative assertions that "God is Light" (1 John 1:5) and "God is Love" (1 John 4:8). Not so with spirit. This is no figure. The Greek has it "God spirit." It is not one of His "attributes." It is not one of His assumptions. He is Spirit.

The absence of the substantive cannot be expressed in translation. This is a lamentable weakness in the English language, for it leads to seeming contradictions in some of the most fundamental truths. One example will suffice. We are distinctly told that all [is] out of God (Rom.11:36). There is no verb here. Yet we are just as definitely told that everyone who is not doing righteousness and who is not loving his brother (1 John 3:10) and those who are not hearing God's declarations are not out of God (John 8:47). He who is doing sin is out of the Slanderer (1 John 3:8). The substantive occurs in the Greek in the latter passages. It is sheer human speculation to ignore the facts of the original and say that the first is not a fact, but a hyperbole. It is intelligent faith to acknowledge rather that the first is an absolute truth, and the other statements are figurative. They are true only in a subordinate sense, which does not at all infringe on the only rational and revealed foundation of the universe--all out of God.

Let no one misjudge these assertions. These statements are based on the evidence of the Greek text, not on private opinion. When we say that "God is Light" is not literal, we do not wish to shock sensitive spirits, but to express what everyone really believes. They acknowledge it whenever they give the matter thought. When we enter a dark room and press the electric light button, the darkness is replaced by light. This is not God, but it is like Him. When the sun rises in the morning and sheds its welcome beams on the earth, we should not fall down and worship the light. But we should adore Him Who is like the light, and Who, by the bold figure of metonymy, calls Himself Light.

So also with that brightest and most blessed affirmation which can be uttered by the human tongue or inscribed by mortal pen. God is not literal love, a feeling, an emotion, though this is the happiest in human experience. Even as light pervades His whole creation, so love illumines all His creatures in varying degrees. We enjoy it and are delighted by it, but we do not deify it. We do not worship a quality. We do not adore an abstract, impersonal thing. But we do adore Him Whom it reveals, Who is so like it that, in a forceful figure, He calls Himself by the delectable name of Love.

While the statement "God [is] spirit" is a fact, there is a faded figure in the word "spirit." In both Hebrew and Greek it is used literally for a blast of air as well as for the invisible, intangible power of life, action, and intelligence, which is denoted by the word "spirit." The Hebrew ruch is often used of the wind. Yet it is translated hundreds of times "spirit" and occasionally mistranslated "breath." This tells us that air in motion is the best illustration, in the material sphere, of metaphysical spirit.


One of the greatest hindrances to progress in things divine is the use of an unscriptural or extra-scriptural vocabulary. One word, which intrudes into this discussion, finds no place in God's revelation, but it seems to be essential to theology. This is the term "personality." An orthodox creed must affirm "the personality of the Holy Spirit." The statement in itself is quite correct, but, as is usually the case with human amendments to the inspired oracles, the implications are false. The Holy Spirit is a Person, but it is not a distinct personality from God Himself. No other spirit has two personalities. God is spirit. He is called by this appellation when attention is diverted from His deity to His operations in creation and salvation. But He is not two spirits.

There are many instances in which the spirit of God is identified with the Deity in His operations. These may not always prove their identity, for an agent may be merged in the One for Whom He acts. There is one example, however, which cannot be misconstrued, which clearly shows that the Father and the holy spirit must be one and the same "personality." We refer to the generation of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

The vital question, "What think ye of Christ--whose Son is He?" ought to find a clear and accurate answer from everyone who believes in Him. Yet Christendom is actually in a quandary on this important point. If we say, with Peter, "Thou art the Son of the living God," or tell, with John, of the Only Begotten of the Father, we seem to deny the explicit accounts of His birth by holy spirit. Believing this, we seem to be continually at variance with a multitude of passages which proclaim Him in deed and in truth the Father's only Son.

How many Fathers did Christ have? We read that Mary was found pregnant by holy spirit (Matt.1:18). Joseph is assured that that which is being generated in her is of holy spirit (Matt.1: 20). The messenger of the annunciation said that "Holy spirit shall be coming on you, and the power of the Most High shall be overshadowing you; wherefore the Holy One Who is being generated also, shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). Is it not evident that, if generation by holy spirit made Him the Son of God, then God and this holy spirit must be a single "personality?"

The problem becomes more complex when we examine the formal statement of His generation more closely. It is in the form of a Hebrew parallelism. His conception was not only by spirit but by power. The power of the Most High overshadowed her. It is stated thus:

Holy spirit will be coming on you
And the power of the Most High
will be overshadowing You.

As the Most High must be identified with the Father rather than the spirit, we find that the most explicit announcement which we have of His paternity gives us to understand (if we hold the doctrine of the trinity) that He had two Fathers! But the divine deduction is different, for we read,

Wherefore, also, that Holy One
Who is being generated shall
be called the Son of God.

He is not the Son of Gods, but of God. He is not the product of three persons but of two. He had one Father, God.

Hebrew parallelism is a marvelous literary device for preserving God's revelation to mankind. The meaning of many a word is fixed by its synonym in a couplet. The sense of scores of passages are saved by the presence of a parallel line. In the repetition before us, "coming on" is clearly equivalent to "overshadowing." Similarly, "holy spirit" is "the power of the Most High." Here we have a definition of holy spirit by God Himself. It is worthy of the closest consideration. The holy spirit is not the Most High, but the power of the Most High. The relation between God and His spirit is not that of two distinct personalities, but that of power to the one whose it is. Christ was begotten by power. That power was the holy spirit of the Most High.

The discovery of a "discrepancy" in the sacred text is a great temptation to discredit the divine record and declare such of it as does not seem to suit our conceptions spurious and uninspired. But when we examine the manuscript evidence for these passages we find that there is not the slightest ground for discrimination. Not only are all the manuscripts and versions agreed in retaining these statements as given, but the early fathers afford the fullest proof of their authenticity. If we would cut out the Spirit's place in His conception, we must also expunge the Father's.

How often do we read that God was His Father! He was the Only Begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). The Jews sought the more to kill Him because He said His own Father is God (John 5:18). Nothing is more readily proven than that the Deity is the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Indeed, for those who read this treatise it is unnecessary to produce any evidence, for it not only pervades the sacred word but has been inscribed on their hearts. God and the holy spirit are His Father, hence they are one "Person," and not two. The Scriptures know no dual deity such as exists in the minds of many who worship Him.

This does not deny "the personality of the Holy Spirit." It establishes it. Yet why cling to such man-made phrases, made to frighten timid spirits into a forced assent to a theological speculation? It should be stated more explicitly: "the distinct personality of the holy spirit," for this is what it usually implies. In this form the intelligent saint can see that it is in direct conflict with the facts of Scripture and has not a single solid statement to support it. Only a few ignorant inferences can be found which even seem to suggest that God and His spirit are distinct "Persons."

Strange as it may seem, this very absence of evidence has been appealed to as the strongest pillar to prop it up. We are told that it is one of those truths which must be apprehended, for it cannot be fully comprehended. It cannot be illustrated even from the Scriptures. All that can be done is to give the statements of God's word and base our faith on these. But when these statements are set forth, we find that our faith is not to be based on straightforward facts, but on futile inferences. Almost all the passages produced prove the deity of the holy spirit or they prove His "personality," but not one of them shows that it is a distinct deity from God the Father.

The same theological dilemma confronts those who teach the new birth. The spirit is never spoken of as their Father, yet they are begotten by the spirit. Is not he who begets the father of the one who is begotten? It can hardly be that they have two fathers. Who then is the One Who regenerates those who enter the kingdom? The holy spirit is God's spirit, not another "Person."

From the human, philosophical, standpoint, absolute deity is difficult to be definite. Only the spirit of God knows God. We are entirely dependent on revelation for our information. The popular supposition that the possession of divine "attributes" distinguishes the deity is most deceptive. All of God's creatures have some minute measure of His qualities. These mark them as His, not Him. Take the single attribute of power. What living thing does not have it in some degree? He differs from them in the magnitude of His might. Theirs is limited, His is infinite. So with all His attributes. His knowledge is uncircumscribed, His wisdom knows no bounds, His love no limits.

We are told that the Holy Spirit is eternal (Heb.9:14). Of course, this should read eonian, but let us grant that it has its philosophical meaning of "without beginning or end." This is certainly true of God's own spirit. Yet it is no proof that it is a distinct personality. Christ offered Himself flawless to God through this spirit. We know that this was the will of God.

The "omnipresence" of the spirit is another argument. Psalm 139:7 reads, "Whither shall I go from Thy spirit?" But there is far more reason to believe that there is only One Who is in all places, by His spirit, than even to imagine that two distinct Persons are everywhere. There is nothing in the Scriptures to cause us to believe it. It is sheer credulity.

The "omnipotence" of the spirit is given as a reason for a distinct personality. The passage produced is Luke 1:35, in which "the Holy Ghost" is paralleled by "the power of the Highest." Why not go on and deduce the further fact that, under the circumstances, these must be identical? The holy spirit is "the power of the Most High." As we have already shown, if these are distinct "persons," then we must face the absurd conclusion that Christ was begotten by two distinct "personalities."

We are told that the spirit is "omniscient," for "when he, the spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:12,13). If we are to really reason out the distinct personality of the holy spirit from this passage, we must prove that God is not "omniscient." Then, indeed, they must be two persons. But, if they are One, as indeed they are, then this is an argument in favor of their identity.

In the same way, every passage which proves the deity of the holy spirit also proves its identity with God. Ananias, in a single act, lied to the Holy Ghost and to God (Acts 5:3,4). The holy spirit was the active factor in creation (Job 33:4; Psa.104: 30). It alone imparts life (John 6:63; Gen.2:7; Rom.8:11). It is the Author of the inspired Scriptures (2 Peter 1:21). All of this proves deity indeed, but in no case is there any call for a double deity.

Much is made of the plural form of the word "God" in Hebrew. If Elohim means gods and the Holy Ghost is a distinct personality from God, then our versions certainly should translate Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning Gods created the heavens and the earth," Why did they not do it? Because, we are told, in some mysterious, transcendental, inexplicable way, these distinct plural "personalities" are one. They should also translate Deuteronomy 6:4: "Jehovah, our Gods, is one Jehovah."

No one, I suppose, would defend such a translation. Yet this meaning is supported by the argument that "one" means a "compound unity." Such passages as "one day" (Gen.1:5), "one [river]" (Gen. 2:11), "one rib" (Gen.2:21) are given in proof! In what sense was the first day a "compound unity?" Was it split up into several days? The reason advanced is, because it was one of seven! Such a reason refutes itself. In the same sense Elohim must be One of many gods. But it does not prove that Elohim is many gods. If that is all that is meant, it certainly changes our idea of Jewish monotheism. Deuteronomy 6:4 should then read Jehovah, our Gods, is one of many Jehovahs! We will soon have a complete pantheon instead of monotheism!

The Hebrew word echad, here used, is translated one probably seven hundred times, and it means one in every occurrence. We read that the earth was of one language and one speech (Gen.11:1). Shall we explain this to mean several? Unless we force figurative usage into a literal statement, we will never find any evidence that Jehovah is more than one God. Malachi did not seem to entertain any idea of the pluralities in the word one when he wrote "Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us?" (Mal.2:10).

A strengthened form of echad is supposed to indicate absolute unity. It has the same radical or root letters, chd, as the word ONE. It is yachid, and is the equivalent of our word "only." But anyone can see that in Hebrew, as in English, the existence of the word only does not prove that one means a plurality. Indeed, the superficial evidence points the other way, for only is used in a figurative sense of Isaac, who had a brother, Esau. "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac" might give color to the idea that this word is a "compound unity!" Though there be gods many, for us there is one God, the Father!

Moreover, in Hebrew, Elohim is construed as singular. In Genesis 1:1 the word create is not plural. It does not read "Elohim create" but "Elohim creates." The word is bara, HE- CREATES, not baru, THEY-CREATE. This is repeated thousands of times, so that, while the form is plural, the sense is not, when used of the deity. There are some words like this in English.

At some more opportune occasion we may investigate the Hebrew plural. We will find that, in quite a few cases, it does not agree with our idea of plurality. I would not insult my readers by stating that they were two-faced. Yet, if I were speaking Hebrew, I would be compelled to speak of their faces panim, and I would mean nothing worse than their features. Our translators never speak of the faces of God, yet so it is in Hebrew. In the meanwhile, we can avoid a point which demands some scholarship and which some must take on our authority (which we dislike), by going to the Greek, in which the word God is in the singular.

Judaism is not the only "monotheistic" faith. This great truth, though so doggedly denied by orthodox Christianity, is repeated in the later revelations given to the apostle Paul for the nations. The accurate, concise Greek allows no loopholes for us to escape the truth. The context makes the theory of many gods in one absolutely untenable.

Here is the inspired explanation of the so-called "godhead." May it sink so deeply into our hearts that it will replace all the nebulous nothings which refuse to bow before it! "There are many gods and many lords, nevertheless to us there is one God, the Father, out of Who all is, and we for Him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom all is, and we through Him" (1 Cor.8:5,6). There is no need to insist that one does not mean several here, for it is in contrast with many. Moreover, the oneness is personal, not characteristic.

Much truth is hidden from the English reader because we cannot distinguish the gender of the word one. Indeed, there almost seems a contradiction between the statement "I and My Father are one" and the passage here quoted. We might "reason" that, since there is one God, and our Lord is one with Him, then He is one of the one God[s] here referred to. This, however, is excluded by the following statement that He is the one Lord. But all is clear when we know that Christ is one (hen, indefinite gender) with the Father, in things, but here God is one (heis, masculine) in His individuality, or personality."

Happily, the English word one usually represents this Greek word, so that it is hardly necessary to appeal to a concordance to establish its force. It also stands for other Greek words, properly translated other, different, any, this, but these are rare aberrations. If one means more than one, what havoc would be wrought! All unity would be gone. The unity of the spirit would be shattered. The Scriptures would countenance many bodies, many spirits, many expectations, many Lords, many faiths, many baptisms, and many gods. Alas, all of this is found in Christendom, for this is the fruit of its apostasy. But it is not found in the word. The spirit's unity can be realized only where a single one of each is recognized and a plurality is repudiated.

A favorite text for proving a plurality of gods is found in the first chapter of Genesis: "Let us make man" (Gen.1:26). How weak this inference is may be seen from the following passages, which have precisely the same form of the Hebrew word as well as the same usage.

Gen.   1:26 God said, let us make man
Judges 13:  8 Manoah said...How shall we do to him?
2 Sam. 16:20 Then said Absalom...give counsel among you what we shall do.
2 Kings   6:15 And his servant shall we do?
2 Chron. 20:12 [Jehoshaphat said] neither know we what to do

In each case one person uses the plural form we. Does it prove that they themselves are composed of several personalities? Were Manoah and Absalom and Elisha's servant and Jehoshaphat each a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde? Or were they simply speaking for others as well as themselves? Were these necessarily in their rank? How many kings did Jehoshaphat include in the plural pronoun we? Only one.

God associates His creatures with Him in redemption. We ourselves are marvelously graced in this regard. Yet this does not give us a place in the so-called "Godhead." He had agents in creation also. In Hebrews 1:10, we read, "Thou, Lord, in accord with sovereignties, dost found the earth." The word here translated "sovereignties" is usually rendered "beginning." But it is plural, and, as such, is translated "principalities" elsewhere, in the Authorized Version. Adam was not the first of God's creatures. In view of His creation, Elohim said to His executive, "We will make man..." The use of the plural pronoun by deity does not prove that there is a pantheon, but that He deigns to work through and with others. All else is unfounded and futile inference.

Trinity pervades false religions: unity is the test of the true. The Mohammedans have a trinity of mediators, for they canonize Moses and Jesus and Mohammed. They acknowledge a trinity of prophets. Christianity recognizes three gods, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But the Scriptures repudiate both of these trinities. Moses and Mohammed have no right to be listed with our Saviour. There is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom all is. So also there is one God, the Father, out of Whom all is. The Son is the channel, not the source of all. The spirit is not a distinct personality from God Himself. He is spirit. That is His essence, and apart from His holy spirit, He has no personality. The Scriptures present no pantheon. There is one God.


I suppose no one separates the spirit of Christ from Christ Himself, as is done with the spirit of God. Indeed, immediately after the apostle says "if anyone has not Christ's spirit, he is none of His," he adds, "if Christ is in you," and thus identifies Christ with His spirit (Rom.8:9,10). It is Christ's spiritual presence. We all recognize the fact that Christ Himself is not present in flesh. That is reserved for the future. That will vivify our flesh. Since the spirit of Christ is not a distinct personality from Christ, and as it operates in closest accord with the spirit of God, there is no valid ground for dividing God and His spirit into two distinct deities.

The spirit of Christ in the ancient prophets acted as a person. It testified beforehand to the sufferings and the glories that lay before Him at His coming (1 Peter 1:11). Shall we, therefore, reason that this is another divine Person, and add a new god to the Christian pantheon? If not, then we must also acknowledge that God and His spirit are identical, and that God operates as Christ does today, by the power of His spirit.

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