Pillar Journal

The Names of the Spirit

Here we want to give attention to three designations for this divine person, two used primarily in the Old Testament and the other almost entirely in the New Testament.

At times the Bible gives to the Spirit names or titles related to works he does or graces he gives, such as the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of holiness, the Spirit of life, the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of faith, the Spirit of grace, and the Spirit of glory.1Spirit of wisdom: Ex. 28:3; Deut. 34:9; Isa. 11:2; Eph. 1:17. Truth: John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 John 4:6. Holiness: Rom. 1:4. Life: Rom. 8:2. Adoption: Rom. 8:15. Faith: 2 Cor. 4:13. Grace: Heb. 10:29. Glory: 1 Pet. 4:14. He is the Comforter or Advocate.2Comforter or Advocate (paraklētos): John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7. Although these titles teach us things about the Holy Spirit, they pertain more directly to his works than his nature. Some names speak of the Spirit’s close relationship to God’s Son. He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the Son, and the Spirit of Jesus Christ.3Spirit of Christ: Rom. 8:9; 1 Pet. 1:11. Spirit of the Son: Gal. 4:6. Spirit of Jesus Christ: Phil. 1:19. The unique expression “Spirit of Jesus” (Acts 16:7) appears in several early uncial manuscripts, but not in the Majority Text.

Here we want to give attention to three designations for this divine person, two used primarily in the Old Testament and the other almost entirely in the New Testament.

1. The Spirit of God or the Spirit of the Lord. These are his predominant names in the Old Testament, also occurring several times in the New, for a total of about sixty times. Of course, God is spirit in his divine nature (Isa. 31:3; John 4:24). Charles Hodge (1797–1878) wrote that spirit communicates “invisible power” and thus “immaterial, invisible agents.”4Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), 1:522. All three persons of the Trinity share this same spiritual essence; they are invisible, intelligent, and alive without the limitations, needs, or complexities of a physical body.5On God’s spirituality, see RST, 1:606–22 (chap. 32).

How then is the third person of the Trinity distinctly called “the Spirit of God” if God in the whole Trinity is spirit? The word spirit often refers to the wind that blows or the breath we breathe. This is mysterious, but the Bible implies that the Spirit is like the breath of God—the living, energetic, personal, intelligent, dynamic life of God. Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) wrote, “The Holy Spirit is the breath of the Almighty (Job 33:4), the breath of his mouth (Ps. 33:6). Jesus compares him to the wind (John 3:8) and ‘breathes’ him upon his disciples (John 20:22).”6Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003–2008), 2:277.

Owen connected the idea of breath to the abiding, living presence of a person, “as the vital breath of a man has a continual emanation from him, and yet is never separated utterly from his person.”7Owen, Pneumatologia, in Works, 3:55. The eternal procession of the Spirit of God from the Father and the Son is a matter properly discussed under the doctrine of the Trinity.8On the procession of the Spirit, see RST, 1:915–17, 940–44. It suffices to say here that the name “Spirit of God” teaches us that the Spirit is the living and life-giving presence of God, invisible and yet personal and powerful in his being and operations. Calvin wrote, “Through him we come into communion with God, so that we in a way feel his life-giving power toward us.”9Calvin, Institutes, 1.13.14. If we desire God’s life and nurturing presence, we should seek the Spirit of God from the Father.

2. The Holy Spirit. This name appears only three times in the Old Testament (Ps. 51:11; Isa. 63:10–11). However, it dominates the New Testament descriptions of the Spirit, appearing ninety-four times. With the coming of Christ, the Spirit of God became known to us preeminently as the Holy Spirit.

As with spirituality, holiness is an attribute of God that pertains to the whole Trinity. The holiness of God is his majesty and moral excellence that sets him above all things and against all sin for the sake of his glory.10On the holiness of God, see RST, 1:566–82 (chap. 30). Ferguson writes that the word holy emphasizes “the ‘otherness’ of the Spirit’s being.”11Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 16. Owen wrote about the Spirit, “This is the foundation of his being called ‘Holy,’ even the eternal glorious holiness of his nature.”12Owen, Pneumatologia, in Works, 3:56. Holiness sets the Holy Spirit apart from all that is not God, as Exodus 15:11 says: “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” Since the Spirit is holy, we should always relate to him with fear, awe, wonder, and reverence.

He is called the Holy Spirit because both his nature and his work are holy. Antonius Thysius (1565–1640) said, “He is called also Holy Spirit (Isaiah 63:10) and Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30) because of his nature, office, and effect.”13Johannes Polyander, Antonius Walaeus, Antonius Thysius, and Andreas Rivetus, Synopsis Purioris Theologiae, Synopsis of a Purer Theology: Latin Text and English Translation, vol. 1, Disputations 1–23, trans. Riemer A. Faber, ed. Dolf te Velde, Rein Ferwerda, Willem J. van Asselt, William den Boer, and Riemer A. Faber, Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions: Texts and Sources (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 9.3 (230). Negatively, he is called the Holy Spirit because he implacably opposes the unclean spirits of this world. To slander the Spirit’s work as being of the Devil is to blaspheme the Spirit, for it accuses the Holy Spirit of being an unholy spirit (Mark 3:29–30).14Owen, Pneumatologia, in Works, 3:56. His very name, as Smeaton wrote, sets him in “antithesis to every unholy spirit, whether human or Satanic.”15Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, 101. Consequently, those indwelt by the Holy Spirit must separate themselves from the sins and false worship promoted by the unclean spirits of this world (2 Cor. 6:14–17). As one in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, a Christian who gives himself to uncleanness and worldliness provokes God to jealousy (James 4:4–5).

The Spirit’s greatest work of holiness is the sanctification of God’s people. Martin Luther (1483–1546) summarized the Apostles’ Creed when he said, “I believe in God the Father, who created me; I believe in God the Son, who redeemed me; I believe in the Holy Spirit, who makes me holy.”16The Large Catechism (2.7), in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, trans. Charles Arand et al. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 432. See also the Heidelberg Catechism (LD 8, Q. 24), in The Three Forms of Unity, 75. Francis Turretin (1623–1687) wrote that the Spirit is “called Holy by way of eminence” both “subjectively (because he is most holy)” and “efficiently (because he sanctifies us).”17Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., 3 vols. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1992–1997), 3.30 (1:303). Perhaps this is the reason why he is preeminently called the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. With the finished work of Christ, the old covenant emphasis on outward, ceremonial holiness has been replaced by the new covenant emphasis on inward, moral sanctification. Smeaton said that the frequent joining of the word Holy to the Spirit “gives us a nearer view of the Spirit’s special work in connection with man’s salvation.”18Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, 101.

This is the great display of the Spirit’s holiness throughout redemptive history: he makes God’s people holy. Perkins said, “The third person [of the
Trinity] is called holy, because besides the holiness of nature His office is to sanctify the church of God.”19Perkins, An Exposition of the Symbol, in Works, 5:305. Thus also James Ussher: “Why is he called the Holy Spirit? Not only because of his essential holiness as God; for so the Father and the Son are also infinitely holy as he: but because he is the author and worker of all holiness in men, and the sanctifier of God’s children. Why, does not the Father and the Son sanctify also? Yes verily: but they do it by him: and because he does immediately sanctify, therefore he hath the title of Holy.” A Body of Divinity, ed. Michael Nevarr (Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground, 2007), 3rd head (75). That is the thrust of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 6:19–20: “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” We dare not claim the Spirit as our own while living in unrepented sin. On the contrary, knowing the Holy Spirit should greatly increase our sorrow over sin, humility before God, meekness with men, and zeal to pursue practical holiness in every area of life. He is the Holy Spirit.

Excerpt by
Reformed Systematic Theology, Volume 3: Spirit and Salvation
Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley