What does it mean that the Holy Spirit is a person?

The Holy Spirit is often described as different things. In each gospel he is referred to as a dove (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32)

Question:
In my pastor’s sermon last week, he mentioned that the Holy Spirit is NOT a thing, but a PERSON; that we shouldn’t refer to him as an “it” but as “he.”  Interestingly enough, the holy spirit is often depicted as a dove, likely because of the reference in John 1:32. (it’s even depicted as a dove on the book that we’re reading in our small groups!)  Why do you suppose that the Holy Spirit is likened to a dove, or often represented by a dove, if in fact he is a person and God among the trinity?

Answer:
When your pastor was describing the fact that the Holy Spirit is not a ‘thing’, but a ‘person’, he does not mean that the Holy Spirit is a human.  Jesus is the only member of the Trinity who bears that unique distinction. When we describe the Trinity we often describe this mystery as “God in three persons”.  The person of the Father, the person of the Son, and the person of the Holy Spirit.  It’s easy for us to think of a father or a son like a person, but naturally it is more difficult to think of a spirit like it has a personhood.

The Holy Spirit is described in several different ways in scripture, a dove (as you mentioned), wind, breath, or fire.  Typically we would use the third-person-impersonal ‘it’ to describe those kinds of things.  However, because the Holy Spirit is God we remember that the Spirit is personal so we don’t use an impersonal pronoun to refer to him.

The various descriptors for the Spirit in scripture are used because he is a mystery to explain.  In the book of John it doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit IS a dove, the verse uses a simile to describe what was happening at Jesus’ baptism (the translation is “LIKE a dove” or “AS a dove”).  The Spirit may have looked like a dove, but clearly there was something distinctive enough that John knew what he saw was The Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not human, but he is intimately personal.

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