Volume 47 - Issue 3

Is the Holy Spirit Really a “Person”—with a Distinct Personality?

By John Jefferson Davis


The purpose of this article is to help the reader conceptualize and imagine the Holy Spirit as a real person with a distinct and knowable personality—a person of the Trinity more accessible to our faith, reading of Scripture, and worship. Factors in church history tending to marginalize the Holy Spirit in the life of the church are identified. Biblical texts dealing with the names, images, words, and actions of the Holy Spirit are expounded to put the distinct personality of the Holy Spirit into sharper focus.

“God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me; and God the Son I can quite understand; but the Holy Spirit is a gray, oblong blur.” This statement by a seminary student to his professor1 expresses a difficulty felt by many Christians throughout history. We believe, or at least try to believe in the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but the personality of the third person of the Trinity often seems like a “gray, oblong blur.”

Part of this problem seems to be built into biblical revelation itself. Unlike father and son, which are familiar to us in our human experience, and which are easy to visualize, “spirit” or “Spirit” seems more abstract and vaguer. Human fathers and sons—our analogies for Father and Son in the Trinity—have physical bodies, and concrete appearances and behaviors that we can see. The Holy Spirit—unlike Jesus—never assumed a human body. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is revealed in the images of light, water, wind, fire, and dove that are impersonal rather than personal.

This article’s purpose is to help make the Holy Spirit seem less like a “gray, oblong blur” and more like a real person with a distinct and knowable personality—a person of the Trinity more accessible to our faith, our reading of Scripture, and our worship. First, I identify various factors in church history tending to marginalize the Holy Spirit in the life of the church. Then I present biblical texts dealing with the names, images, words, and actions of the Holy Spirit to put the distinct personality of the Holy Spirit into sharper focus.

1. Barriers to Appreciating the Personality of the Spirit: Church History

The first factor to be considered is the Arian controversy and the long and fierce battles in the fourth century over the deity of Christ. The defense of the deity of Christ was a watershed in the life of the church and vital to its very identity, but unfortunately, the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit were overshadowed, becoming virtual afterthoughts in Christian faith. The original creed of Nicea of 325 strongly affirms the deity of Christ as “God from God, Light from Light … begotten not created, of the same essence (homoousion) as the Father … Who for us men and for our salvation came down and was incarnate, becoming human.”

The only mention of the Holy Spirit is the single line, “And [we believe] in the Holy Spirit,” with no reference to the deity, personality, or work of the Spirit. Only in the expanded form of the creed of 381, which is now generally known as the Nicene Creed, is more attention given to the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity is here confessed as “the Lord and life-giver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who is worshiped and glorified together with the Father and Son, Who spoke through the prophets.”2 Even with this addition, the creed speaks more clearly about the Spirit’s work in the past (“spoke by the prophets”) than about the Spirit’s present work in the believer’s Christian experience. The creed points to correct belief, not to spiritual experience, as the essential mark of Christian identity.

The second factor is the growth of the practice of infant baptism in the post-Constantinian church. By about AD 600, there were fewer adult conversions in Western Europe, and fewer people joining the church through adult baptism.3 In the New Testament, the predominant way a person became a Christian was through a conscious conversion experience. The convert heard a message that included the promise of receiving the “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38) after repenting and being baptized. In the New Testament and early Christian church, receiving the gift was a conscious experience. Adult converts were consciously aware of receiving a “gift”; they felt something. The disciples on the day of Pentecost (2:4), the apostle Paul after his conversion (9:17–18), the household of Cornelius (10:45–46), and the disciples in Ephesus (19:2–6) all had some form of conscious awareness that they had received the promised gift. In the very nature of the case, infants receiving water baptism are unlikely to experience or remember such experiences of the Spirit.

Another aspect of infant baptism tending to inhibit awareness of the Spirit was the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, common teaching of both Catholic and Orthodox churches. The baptized infant was believed to be born again or regenerated by the act of water baptism performed by the priest. The stain of original sin was presumably washed away. For an adult like Nicodemus in conversation with Jesus (John 3), the language of being born again could be connected with conscious experiences later experienced in conversion—but not so for an infant. The baptized infant, having been “made a Christian” by this ritual act, did not yet show evidence of conversion or life change. The growing practice of infant baptism produced a generally diminished awareness of the Holy Spirit among baptized Christians. Diminished experience fostered diminished expectations of such experiences, and diminished expectations in turn reinforced diminished personal experiences of the Spirit.

The third and fourth contributing factors to the diminishing awareness of the Holy Spirit were the related trends of clericalism and cessationism. Beginning in the third and later centuries, the leadership of worship was increasingly under the control of the ordained clergy, who alone could consecrate the sacred elements in the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. The laity’s exercise of spiritual gifts in worship (1 Cor 12, 14) was declining. Gifts such as tongues and prophecy, so prominent in the Montanist movement in the latter half of the second century, were perceived by many bishops as divisive and possibly heretical, and their use was discouraged.4

This reaction to the Montanist movement reinforced the trend toward clerical control of the worship services, and also contributed to cessationism—the belief that manifestations of the Spirit such as prophecy, tongues, and miracles were limited to the apostolic age, and were no longer to be expected as a continuing part of church life. The manifestation of such charismatic gifts did in fact appear to diminish in many churches beginning in the fourth century, but were documented as late as the eighth century.5 Nevertheless, cessationist beliefs were dominant throughout the medieval and early modern periods, not being effectively challenged until the remarkable Pentecostal revivals of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.6 These cessationist beliefs lowered expectations of conscious experiences of the Holy Spirit, and for centuries functioned as self-fulfilling prophecies.

Fifth, the modern Pentecostal revivals have raised awareness of the Spirit but unfortunately have also contributed to negative perceptions of the Spirit. Pentecostal teachings concerning the baptism in the Holy Spirit have been the source of much controversy and church division.7 Some believers have been discouraged from seeking further encounters with the Holy Spirit by emotional excesses they may have witnessed at Pentecostal gatherings. Jonathan Edwards offers wise counsel based on his observations during the Great Awakening: to “distinguish the good from the bad, and not judge the whole by a part.”8 Edwards was saying, so to speak, “Don’t throw the baby (the Holy Spirit) out with the bath water (works of the flesh).”

Sixth, one could mention the linguistic baggage that has accumulated around the Holy Spirit. Archaic language such as the “Holy Ghost” can conjure up images of Casper the Ghost or Halloween spirits rather than the biblical heavenly dove. Even the word “holy” for some might trigger negative associations of “holy rollers” and the excesses of exuberant piety. The word “spirit” itself may for some have associations with Eastern and New Age religions, or with being “spiritual but not religious.” And sadly, a common way of misreferring to the Holy Spirit as “it” rather than the personal “he” can be heard in the churches as well as the general culture. This need to refocus and clarify the full and distinct personality of the Holy Spirit is the task of the following section.

2. Sharpening Our Focus: The Holy Spirit’s Distinct Personality

In addition to the historical factors identified above, there are two important obstacles to understanding the Holy Spirit in personal terms. (1) Unlike the Father and the Son, the Spirit does not seem to appear in Scripture with a human face. (2) The images associated with the Spirit—water, wind, fire, light, dove—are impersonal or subpersonal. Such images do not obviously suggest the attributes of self-awareness, intelligence, emotion, and will that we normally associate with persons. Each of these obstacles needs to be examined in turn.

As to the first, it does not seem that the Scriptures encourage us to imagine the Holy Spirit with a human face. In our relationships with others, a person’s face is the most distinct expression of their identity and personality. Father and Son we can easily imagine with human faces, because we are familiar with the faces of human fathers and sons. Scripture speaks of God’s “face” shining on us in the Aaronic benediction (Num 6:25–26). On the other hand, creatures such as lobsters or insects that do not have human-like faces, are very difficult to see as human or to imagine as the partners in an emotionally satisfying personal relationship. Animals such as dogs (“Lassie”), cats (“Felix”), and monkeys (“Curious George”), whose faces are more similar to human faces, are easier to imagine as having human-like emotions. We can more easily form personal attachments to them. In forming a lasting relationship to a person, we need to “put a name and a face together,” and our problem with the Holy Spirit is that both the name and the face of the Spirit seem vague and abstract.

With the Son, to imagine a human face for Jesus is even possible, because the eternal Son took on a human face and a human body in the miracle of the incarnation. Even though the Gospels do not give us a description of Jesus’s physical appearance, they do emphatically teach his full humanity; consequently we can know without doubt that God did reveal himself through the human face of Jesus. Jesus said to Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). But in the case of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity did not become incarnate, did not have a human body, and could not be seen in the form of a visible face.

A contemporary analogy and a biblical resource can help us deal with this obstacle. Two are worth exploring: (1) the analogy of the voices of our electronic personal assistants that do manifest intelligence, dynamic interaction, and conjure up human faces in our imagination; and (2) the implications of the particular name of the Holy Spirit revealed in the Gospel of John, the Paraclete—the Defense Attorney and Helper sent to us by Jesus and the Father (John 14:16–27; 16:5–15).

As to the first, consider Siri or Echo or some other personal assistant, or the GPS apps on our smartphones that can tell us “turn right in 100 feet.” Siri does not have a human body, but we hear a human voice, and on that basis we can imagine a human face with that voice. Siri is a form of artificial intelligence, created by human agents, embodied, so to speak, not in carbon-based biological bodies like ours, but in code and algorithms stored on servers. Siri not only has a distinctive voice that we recognize, but also seems to have a distinct personality we can relate to over time, and which can learn about us through our continuing interactions. The point here is that personality is not necessarily limited to human bodies like ours; the key is intelligence, voice, and interactivity. To that extent, our electronic assistants are helpers like the Holy Spirit, imparting wisdom and guidance. We are led by our GPS software, as we are led by the Spirit. In both cases we are justified in imagining our helpers having human-like faces and distinct personalities.

The most important reason for seeing the Holy Spirit with a human face is the name of the Holy Spirit found only in the Gospel and First Epistle of John: the Paraclete (ὁ παράκλητος). The related verbal form παρακαλέω means “to call [καλέω] alongside’ [παρά], to be at someone’s side to help them. This Greek word has a variety of connotations and has been translated variously in English versions of the Bible as “Counselor,” “Comforter,” “Advocate,” or “Helper.”9 No single word expresses the variety of the activities that the Spirit is said to do. But whether Counselor, Comforter, Advocate, Helper, or something else is the best translation, all these terms are personal and evoke the human faces of the people who come alongside us to help us in our times of need.

In the Johannine farewell addresses, Jesus teaches his disciples that after his departure he will send them another Counselor (or Comforter/Advocate/Helper) to be with them forever (John 14:16). The implication of another is that Jesus was the first Paraclete to his disciples; the coming Holy Spirit will be the successor. The Paraclete will live with them and be in them (14:17). In fact, the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit—all three persons of the Trinity—will come and make their home in them (14:23). The implication here is clearly that of companionship: just as Jesus was present physically with his close disciples during his earthly ministry as their close companion and friend, so Jesus will continue to be their companion and friend, through the mediation of the Paraclete/Spirit.

The Paraclete will teach them and remind them of the truths that Jesus taught (John 14:26). Again, the presence of Jesus as teacher will be continued by the Spirit in a different form when Jesus is no longer physically present. By the Spirit Jesus will give the disciples peace and comfort (14:27) when they are experiencing fear and persecution for their witness to him. The Paraclete will testify about the true identity of Jesus (15:26), continuing the disciples’ witness to Jesus begun during his earthly ministry, giving them the words to say when they are called to stand before governors and kings (cf. Matt 10:20). The Paraclete/Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, empowering the disciple’s witness to produce repentance from sin and true conversion (John 16:8; cf. Acts 2:37, “they were cut to the heart”; 1 Thess 1:5, “our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction”).

In his first epistle, John writes that if a believer sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ the Righteous One (1 John 2:1). What Jesus does—interceding with God for believers—the Spirit/Paraclete also does. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with wisdom and deep emotion, with groans that words cannot express (Rom 8:26). The Paraclete is heard by the Father, for the Spirit intercedes for us in agreement with the will of God (Rom 8:27).

Jesus’s teaching about the personality of the Spirit as Paraclete can be summarized by saying that the Holy Spirit/Paraclete is the continuing Representative or Deputy of the presence, peace, pedagogy, and power of the face and person of Jesus. The Spirit is like the alter ego or a twin brother of Jesus. He represents Jesus and makes him spiritually present to us. The disciples literally saw the human face of Christ when they were with him during the days of his earthly ministry. The Holy Spirit continues to make the face and presence of Christ real and vivid in their memory and experience: Jesus is still with them by his Spirit. The actions of the earthly Jesus with a human face are now continued by the Holy Spirit with the spiritual face of the Helper sent by Jesus to be his continuing presence with them. The terms that best encompass the variety of ministries performed by the Spirit/Paraclete are Advocate, Helper, Comforter, and Counselor, explored below.

The second major obstacle to thinking of the Spirit in personal terms is the nature of the images of the Spirit found in Scripture itself. The Holy Spirit is revealed in the images of water, wind, fire, and dove. Unlike father and son, these images seem to imply that the third person of the Trinity is impersonal or subpersonal. Water, wind, fire, and doves do not have the traits of (human) intelligence, self-consciousness, emotions, and will that we associate with human persons.

Two sets of distinctions can help to overcome this obstacle: (1) a distinction between personal status and personal actions; and (2) a distinction between intrinsic (or essential) qualities and accidental (or non-essential) qualities. Let us consider each of these in turn.

First of all, terms such as wind, fire, water, and dove are statements not about the personal status of the Holy Spirit, but rather about the personal actions and qualities of the Holy Spirit. The same is the case for the Father and the Son. When God is described as a “rock” or as a “consuming fire,” this does not mean that God is impersonal, but rather that God is a solid foundation for the believer (rock) and a holy God whose nature is antithetical to all sin (consuming fire). And when Jesus, the incarnate Son, is pictured as “Lion of Judah” or “Lamb of God” or “true Vine,” this does not mean that Jesus the Son is impersonal. Rather, Christ is portrayed with the strength and kingliness of a lion, the gentleness and purity of a sacrificial lamb, and the life-giving fruitfulness of the vine.

This understanding of wind, fire, water, and dove as personal action descriptors rather than personal status descriptors is consistent with the variety of biblical statements that clearly attribute personal status to the Spirit: mind, emotion, and will.10 The Holy Spirit calls and commissions Paul and Barnabas to missionary service. As the church at Antioch was worshiping, the Holy Spirit says, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). The Holy Spirit gives power and conviction to Paul’s preaching of the gospel (1 Thess 1:5) and specifically directs Paul and his companions on the second missionary journey (Acts 16:7: “they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to”). The Holy Spirit reminds the disciples of Jesus’s teachings and illuminates these teachings with deeper understanding (John 14:26).

The Holy Spirit guides believers, who as sons (and daughters) of God are led by the Spirit (Rom 8:14) in their daily lives. The Holy Spirit inspires sincere verbal confessions of “Jesus is Lord” in genuine conversion experiences (1 Cor 12:3). The Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts to believers as he determines (1 Cor 12:11). The Spirit prays for and with believers, in accordance with the will of God, who knows the mind of the Spirit (Rom 8:27). The Holy Spirit has emotions and can be grieved by the sins of believers (Eph 4:30). The Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts (Rom 5:5) and imparts joy (Luke 10:21; Rom 14:17), which is intrinsic to the being of God and a mark of God’s favor and presence (Ps 16:11).

The images of wind, fire, water, and dove, then, are properly understood to refer to the actions and qualities of the person of the Holy Spirit/Paraclete. Like wind, the Spirit is invisible, but has powerful effects; like wind, the Spirit is mysterious, unpredictable, and uncontainable; like wind, the Spirit is a source of renewable energy and can bring a sense of refreshment and renewal. Like fire, the Spirit imparts the warmth of God’s love, the purity of God’s holiness, and the light and understanding of God’s truth. The Spirit is like refreshing, life-giving water, which Christ gives his people to drink (1 Cor 12:13: “we were all given the one Spirit to drink”; cf. John 7:37–39). Like a dove,11 the Spirit/Paraclete is harmless, life-affirming, and a sign of God’s covenant of peace and new creation (cf. Gen 8:8–12, after the Flood; Matt 3:16–17, Jesus’s baptism as beloved Son/Second Adam).

Next, consider examples of the second set of distinctions between intrinsic (or essential) and accidental qualities. The images of God as “rock” or “fire” convey essential qualities of God’s personal character. God is by very nature like a rock in his eternal self-existence, stability, and unwavering faithfulness to his covenant promises and people. God is by very nature like fire in his immutable sin-burning holiness and in the warmth of his love. On the other hand, some images or emblems of human organizations or sports teams are arbitrary and conventional, with no intrinsic connection to the people on that team. For example, the emblem of the NFL football team the Chicago Bears does not imply that the players are not persons or human beings—they just happen to have a strong and aggressive animal for a mascot! Their team name is an identity marker that makes it easier to distinguish one team among others in its class.

By contrast, the images of the Holy Spirit are not arbitrary or accidental. The Holy Spirit/Paraclete is intrinsically powerful, energetic, unpredictable, refreshing, warm, life-giving, and illuminator and teacher of God’s truth. The biblical images of the Spirit are both identity markers of the Spirit, and descriptors of the Spirit’s personal qualities and redemptive work.

As we draw this article toward a conclusion, consider a thought experiment to make the images of the Holy Spirit more personal. First, recall various ways that Paraclete has been translated in the English versions of the Bible: “Advocate” (NIV, NLT); “Counselor” (CSB, RSV); “Helper” (ESV, NASB); and “Comforter” (KJV, ASV).12 These could be seen as job descriptions of the Spirit/Paraclete. These actions—advocating or interceding, counseling, helping, comforting or encouraging—are all actions of a personal agent, not some impersonal force. These are all actions of Jesus on earth. Now the Spirit, the Alter Ego or Envoy or Deputy who represents Jesus, is sent by Jesus from heaven to continue his ministry on earth. These actions of the Spirit are very positive, caring, and helpful, and so should reinforce positive associations and images in our mind when we think about the Holy Spirit.

Next recall images of the Spirit and the personal actions and qualities they represent: wind (new energy, sense of refreshment); fire (warmth of God’s love, comfort); water (life, fruitfulness, growth); dove (peacefulness, harmlessness). Remember that these are not statements about personal status, but rather statements about personal actions and qualities. The personal Spirit/Paraclete in his role as Advocate, Counselor, Helper, or Comforter acts not only with competence, but also with a bedside manner that brings new strength and refreshment, the warmth of God’s love, and peace to those who are being helped.

In thinking about the Holy Spirit, the images of tongues of fire at Pentecost and the dove descending at Jesus’s baptism tend to fill our imagination; and the Johannine Paraclete is at the margins. The point of this thought experiment is to place the Holy Spirit as Helper (or Advocate/Counselor/Comforter) at the center of our biblically informed imagination, with the personal qualities around that center. Our imaginations need to be retrained to see, spiritually, the Holy Spirit/Paraclete with a very personal, human-like face.13

The final step is to connect these biblical job descriptions of the Spirit/Paraclete with vocations or professions in our modern world. As an example of Advocate, think of the best lawyer that has ever served you—one not only highly competent in the law but very personable in manner. For Counselor, think of the best counselor or therapist you ever have experienced: knowledgeable, wise, patient, highly empathic, a good listener. For Helper, take as an example the best nurse who has ever helped you.14 This nurse is well-trained medically; attentive, patient, and kind; a good listener; constantly at your bedside, even helping you with your medications; and advocating for your best interests with the doctor and hospital staff. Can you remember such a nurse? Can you still see the nurse’s face in your mind’s eye, and perhaps even remember their name? Then, by way of analogy, begin a new way of seeing the Holy Spirit: a real person; a real Helper and Friend, with a smiling “face” that brings us encouragement and hope in our times of weakness and distress!

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you.…

The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Num 6:25–26)

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor 13:14)

3. Postscript

The argument that there is biblical justification for thinking of the Holy Spirit as having a human-like face may seem contrary to the commandment against making graven images (Exod 20:4). Several replies can be offered to this objection. First of all, the biblical teaching that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26–27) implies that human beings reflect the nature of God. There is real correspondence and analogy between the natures of God and man. This correspondence does not exclude the body and visible form. In the Old Testament, the God of Israel never becomes incarnate in a human body, but the prophet Ezekiel, in his vision of the heavenly throne room, sees seated above the throne a figure like that of a man (Ezek 1:26). Human forms have distinct faces. And though the God of the Old Testament did not manifest during the Old Covenant in a physical body, his favorable presence is signified, as previously discussed, in facial imagery: “The Lord make his face shine upon you … and give you peace” (Num 6:25–26).

The second and perhaps most powerful theological basis for thinking of God—and by implication, the Holy Spirit—as being revealed through face is the incarnation itself. The Son of God assumed a complete human nature and had a real human body with a recognizable face.15 Even though the Gospels do not give a description of Jesus’s physical appearance, his disciples saw his face throughout his ministry, and surely remembered it after his ascension to heaven. Before his departure Jesus promised the disciples that he would send another Counselor/Paraclete to be with them forever (John 14:16). The word “another” implies that this Spirit/Paraclete will be with them as Jesus himself was, continuing his redemptive work, and causing them to remember the face of Jesus and his teachings. The God of both the Old and New Covenants chose to manifest grace and peace through a shining, glorious face. And so it is fitting that we think of the distinct personhood of all three co-equal persons of the Trinity, who all impart grace, comfort and peace to us, with the help of such facial imagery.

[1] Quoted in Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 5–6.

[2] Cited from John H. Leith, ed., Creeds of the Churches, revised ed. (Richmond, VA: John Knox, 1973), 31, 33.

[3] On historical developments regarding infant baptism, see Thomas M. Finn, Early Christian Baptism and the Catechumenate, 2 vols. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), and J. D. C. Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West (London: SPCK, 1965).

[4] On the Montanist movement, see David F. Wright, “Why Were the Montanists Condemned?” Themelios 2 (1976): 15–22; W. H. C. Frend, “Montanism: a Movement of Prophecy and Regional Identity in the Early Church,” BJRL 70.3 (1988): 25–34; for primary sources, see Ronald Heine, The Montanist Oracles and Testimonia (Macon, GA: Mercer University, 1989).

[5] On the history of cessationism, see Jon Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 189–201. In their important study of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the early church, Kilian McDonnell and George T. Montague, Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Evidence from the First Eight Centuries (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991), demonstrate that conscious experiences of the reception of the Holy Spirit in the baptism of adults, including experiences of speaking in tongues and prophecy, were still present in the post-Constantinian churches, and in the Syrian Orthodox churches, as late as the eighth century.

[6] In the last one hundred years, movements associated with the Pentecostal revivals have been the most rapidly growing segments of global Christianity. Over the period 1910–2010 the various renewal groups (classical Pentecostals, charismatics in various denominations, and independent Pentecostal churches) grew at nearly four times the growth rate of both Christianity and the world’s population; and between 2010 and 2025 are projected to grow twice as fast as both. Todd M. Johnson, “Counting Pentecostals Worldwide,” Pneuma 36 (2014): 280.

[7] It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the exegetical and theological issues related to the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” For a Pentecostal view, see Ralph M. Riggs, “Baptism in the Holy Spirit … Initial Physical Evidence,” in The Spirit Himself (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1949), 79–89; for the view that the “baptism” is an initial experience at conversion, see F. D. Bruner, A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 290–94, on 1 Cor 12:13.

[8] Jonathan Edwards, “A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, reprint ed. (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1974), 1:371.

[9] For discussion of the variety of scholarly interpretations of παράκλητος, see “Additional Note F: The Paraclete,” in Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 662–66. Johannes Behm writes, “No single word can provide an adequate rendering.… ‘Helper’ is perhaps the best, though the basic concept and sustaining religious idea is that of ‘advocate’” (“παράκλητος,” in TDNT 5:814).

[10] On the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit, see John Jefferson Davis, Handbook of Basic Bible Texts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 38–39; Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), 95–98; and Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 784–86, “The Personality of the Holy Spirit.”

[11] Significantly, the Spirit is manifested in the form of a dove—not as a predatory bird like a hawk or eagle that lives by hunting and killing other animals, or as a vulture that feeds on the dead. A dove is gentle and does not inspire fear; we have no fear of being attacked by a dove!

[12] Some scholars have questioned whether “Comforter” as a translation of παράκλητος is well supported in the biblical and extrabiblical literature. However, the related verb παρακαλέω, which can mean “comfort” or “encourage” is used in 2 Cor 1:4b, 7:6b, and 1 Thess 3:2 in connection with Paul’s ministry. See also the use of Παρακαλεῖτε in Isaiah 40:1 LXX: “‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says God.” In Isaiah 61:1, quoted by Jesus in his sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:18), the Servant of the Lord is anointed by the Spirit to preach good news to the poor. This good news includes speaking comfort to those who mourn (Isa 61:2). Jesus, as the Servant of the Lord, fulfills this promise and brings comfort to his disciples (“Let not your hearts be troubled,” John 14:1) who are troubled and saddened by the prospect of his departure from them. Jesus promises to send another Comforter (John 14:16) who will continue to do as a spiritual presence what Jesus did in his physical presence. We could conclude that the ministry of the Spirit to bring comfort to those who are sad, depressed, or mourning losses is an essential aspect of pastoral ministry.

[13] In Ezekiel’s vision of God’s heavenly throne, the prophet sees a figure high above the throne, “a figure like that of a man,” who appeared from the waist up “like glowing metal … like fire, and brilliant light surrounded him” (Ezek 1:26–28). God is portrayed in very guarded terms as “like that of a man” with a “waist”—i.e., as having a bodily form, and hence, by implication, a face—though this is not stated explicitly. In John’s vision of the heavenly throne, he sees Christ the Lamb standing in the center of the throne, sharing it with God (Rev 5:6). Since the Spirit/Paraclete is a co-equal and co-eternal person of the Trinity, might we not be justified in believing that the Spirit also is sharing the heavenly throne with the Father and the Son? And that the radiant light that Ezekiel sees surrounding the throne is the glory and light of the Holy Spirit? And to push even further—might we be justified in seeing, through the eyes of faith, the enthroned Holy Spirit/Paraclete with a form “like that of a man”—with a face—surrounded by the (Pentecostal) tongues of fire, with outstretched arms sending upon us the dove that enables us to cry out “Abba, Father!” as beloved sons and daughters?!

[14] Significantly, for nineteen years in a row, the Gallup Poll has found that nurses are the most trusted professional in the United States: “Nurses Top List of Most Honest and Ethical Professionals: Gallup,” Staffing Industry Analysts, 13 January 2021,

[15] The incarnation was the central theological justification offered by John of Damascus (On the Divine Images) for the Orthodox use of icons during the iconoclastic controversy in the eighth century.

John Jefferson Davis

John Jefferson Davis is senior professor of systematic theology and Christian ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts.

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