“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.”
These texts are probably the strongest in the Bible to suggest that the Holy Spirit is a separate person from the Father and Son because it is personified by saying, he shall “speak” what “he shall hear.” Yet, these texts do not require a conclusion that contradicts the rest of the testimony of Scripture on the Holy Spirit. In the immediate context of this statement are several statements by Jesus that contradict the idea that the Holy Spirit is a separate person from the Father and Son. Jesus began His discourse on this subject in John 14 at the last supper. When asked to explain Himself regarding the Comforter Jesus answered, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). Jesus explained that the Comforter is the indwelling presence of both the Father and the Son.
Later in this discourse Jesus said, “He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father” (John 15:23, 24). In this discourse Jesus repeatedly spoke of both Himself and His Father. Then, He spoke of the Holy Spirit in this way, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (John 15:26). Here the Comforter is said to proceed from the Father. The word “proceedeth” is in the present tense both in English and in the original Greek, which indicates an action that is ongoing. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father in a continual, ongoing process. This shows that the Father is the source of the Holy Spirit. It is His own personal Spirit, which He gave to His Son, who also shares it with us.
The gender of the original Greek words in John 15:26 is interesting. “But when the Comforter [masculine] is come, whom [masculine] I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit [neuter] of truth, which [neuter] proceedeth from the Father, he [masculine] shall testify of me” (John 15:26). The phrase, “even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father” is a parenthetical thought included in this verse as an explanation of the identity of the Comforter. This explanation includes a neuter pronoun referring to the Holy Spirit (“which” instead of “whom.”) This may seem insignificant since John was just following the rules of Greek grammar that dictate that a pronoun must agree with its antecedent (“Spirit” in this case) in number and gender. Yet, there are times when Bible writers broke the rules of Greek grammar when speaking of actual persons.
John wrote, “And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb [αρνιον – neuter] stood on the mount Sion, and with him [αυτου – masculine] an hundred forty and four thousand, having his [αυτου – masculine] Father’s name written in their foreheads” (Revelation 14:1). Here John broke the rules of Greek grammar and referred to the Lamb using masculine pronouns even though the word “Lamb” is neuter in Greek.
John was not the only Bible writer to break the rules of Greek grammar to demonstrate the literal personality of the one represented by a pronoun. Mark wrote, “And he took the damsel [παιδιου – neuter] by the hand, and said unto her [αυτη – feminine], Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise” (Mark 5:41). For more examples like these, read Matthew 2:13, 14, 20, 21; Luke 1:59, 80; 2:21.
There was biblical precedent for John to have broken the rules of Greek grammar when referring to the Holy Spirit to give it personality by using masculine pronouns in reference to it. But he never did this! (There are places where it may appear that masculine pronouns refer to the neuter word Spirit, but in every case they actually refer to the masculine word ‘Comforter.’) In all places where John was actually using pronouns to refer to the Spirit, he used neuter pronouns even when masculine pronouns were used for the masculine word Comforter in the immediate context. The same is true for all of the other NT Bible writers. It would appear that none of these men understood the Holy Spirit to be an actual separate person from the Father and Son.
A few verses later Jesus said, “And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me” (John 16:3). Again, Jesus reinforced the truth that those who rebel against God rebel against both the Father and the Son. Jesus spoke as if He had no knowledge of any third divine person.
A couple verses later Jesus said, “But now I go my way to him that sent me;… I go to my Father” (John 16:5, 10). Jesus knew that He would be leaving soon and would be reunited with His Father who sent Him. He did not expect to be reunited with any third divine person called the Holy Spirit. Christ’s words while He was here indicate that He did not believe God to be a trinity of persons.
In the immediate context before John 16:13, Jesus explained that the Comforter is the indwelling presence of both the Father and the Son (John 14:23). He later said, “…my Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), a truth incompatible with the trinity doctrine. In this discourse Jesus repeatedly spoke of both Himself and His Father (John 15:23, 24; 16:3, 5). Then, He spoke of the Holy Spirit in this way, “…the Comforter… proceedeth from the Father” (John 15:26). Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as the personal possession of God, the Father (His own Spirit), which He gave to His Son who also shares it with us. Because the Spirit is the spiritual presence of both the Father and Son apart from their physical presence, it is natural for it to be personified. This can be done to demonstrate that the Spirit is more than just an impersonal force. Jesus referred to Himself as “he,” “him,” etc. (John 5:19, 20). It is reasonable that in John 16:13 Jesus was emphasizing the personality of the Holy Spirit as opposed to an impersonal force, rather than trying to convince His hearers that the Holy Spirit is a literal third divine person. This understanding harmonizes with the large amount of non-trinitarian statements Jesus made in the immediate context of John 16:13. It is dangerous to come to a conclusion that disagrees with the context. Context is king!
A few verses later, Jesus said, “For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father. His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God” (John 16:27-30).
Here Jesus informed His disciples that He was sent by His Father and soon would return to His Father. He did not mention returning to a third person. It may be argued that the Holy Spirit is a Spirit being that is in every place at once, and therefore wherever Jesus would go He would be with the Holy Spirit. Yet, the following verse disqualifies that argument. Jesus said, “Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me” (John 16:32). Here Jesus claimed that even when He was left alone by humans there was someone with Him, and the one with Him was His Father. Jesus knew that His Father was physically in heaven (Matthew 7:21; 10:32), yet He claimed that His Father was with Him and even living inside of Him (John 14:10). Jesus claimed that the Spirit living in Him and dwelling with Him was not some third divine person but rather His Father.
Right after saying these words, Jesus “lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father… this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). This verse is completely incompatible with the idea that God is made up of a trinity of persons. Jesus said that life eternal is dependent upon knowing only two persons, the Father and His Son. If the Holy Spirit is a third divine person, it is not necessary to know him, and Jesus spoke as if even He did not know him.
In His closing prayer after this discourse Jesus said, “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are… That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:11, 21-23).
Here Jesus spoke of the oneness we can have with Him and His Father, and He left out any mention of the Holy Spirit as a third person participating in this oneness.
The immediate context of Christ’s words in John 16:13 demonstrate over and over again that Jesus did not believe that the Holy Spirit is a third separate person. This fact demands that we must understand John 16:13 in a way that harmonizes with the truth that the Father and the Son are the only divine persons involved in our salvation. Throughout His ministry Jesus taught that God is His Father and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father rather than a separate individual. As an example, when Jesus was accused of casting out devils by the prince of the devils, He said, “…if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you” (Matthew 12:28). Luke recorded this statement, “…if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you” (Luke 11:20).
Here we find that Jesus used the term “the Spirit of God” interchangeably with “the finger of God.” Jesus understood the Spirit of God to be an extension of the Father that “proceedeth from the Father” (John 15:26).
If the only testimony we had from the Bible was John 16:13 it could possibly be concluded that Jesus was teaching that the Holy Spirit is a third separate individual from the Father and the Son. But, we have the benefit of the immediate context of these words, and we are forced to interpret these words in a way that is in harmony with the rest of Scripture, which clearly indicates that the Holy Spirit is the personal spiritual presence of the Father and Son.