Is the Holy Spirit a "mere influence?"

Posted Jan 03, 2011 by Bobby B in The Spirit of God

It is of special interest to note that many SDA trinitarians, when arguing the separate and distinct personality of the Holy Spirit, generally create a "straw-man" by defining the Spirit as "a mere influence" and then arguing AGAINST that straw-man definition.  Thus, when the definition of a "mere influence"  is effectively torn down  in the minds of many, so is any alternate interpretation, or understanding.  This tactic, although common among SDA's, is by no means new.   The following are a few  illustrative  SDA quotations:

All emphasis supplied.

“If He [the Holy Spirit] is a divine person, and we think of Him as an impersonal influence, we are robbing a divine person of the deference, honor, and love that is His due. Again, if the Holy Spirit is a mere influence or power, we shall try to get hold of and use it. But if we recognize Him as a person, we shall study how to yield to Him, that He may use us.”  (LeRoy Froom, The Coming of the Comforter, p. 40.)

"A mere influence, or energy, or power would hardly be spoken of as telling Paul and his as associates  what to do and where to go. It takes a person to do that."  (Review and Herald, August 10, 1961, The Holy  Spirit—Person  Divine, By  R.  R.  Bietz,  President Pacific  Union  Conference)

"Those early Adventist writers who expressed themselves on the subject agreed on certain fundamental issues. Christ was consistently regarded as subordinate to the Father and the Holy Spirit as a mere influence."  (The Arian or Anti-Trinitarian Views Presented in Seventh-day Adventist Literature and the Ellen G. White Answer,  Erwin Roy Gane)

"The Holy Spirit is a Person, not a mere influence or an ethereal "it." He can be grieved."  (1888 Reexamined, Wieland and Short)

"The Holy Spirit has personality. He strives (Gen. 6:3), teaches (Luke 12:12), convicts (John 16:8), directs church affairs (Acts 13:2), helps and intercedes (Rom. 8:26), inspires (2 Peter 1:21), and sanctifies (1 Peter 1:2). These activities cannot be performed by a mere power, influence, or attribute of God. Only a person can do them."  (Seventh-day Adventist's Believe... p. 60)

"Even  though  it  is  impossible  for  a  human  being  to  understand fully  the Holy Spirit's nature, enough is revealed in Scripture for us to be  sure that He  is not merely God's  influence, but a person."  "Although the gender of the word  translated "Spirit"  is  neuter,  the Greek  masculine  personal  pronoun  is  used  to  refer  to  Him.  Even though  He  does  not  possess  gender  in  the  human  sense,  the  Holy Spirit is not  "it," but "He." When we speak about Him or  to Him we must  remember  that He  is  a Person,  not merely  an influence. (See John  15:26.)"  (SDA Adult SS quarterly, 1995, June 25)

"Only a person can be grieved; a mere influence cannot be grieved."  (Vance Ferrell, Defending the Godhead, p. 127)

"Divergent Adventist Theologies Proposed by Conservative Adventists Some Adventists who do  take Scripture seriously nevertheless introduce divergent views.  (1)  God. A number of Adventists in different parts of the world are dissatisfied with  the doctrine of  the trinity.  Their views also affect the doctrine of the Holy Spirit who is then seen only as an impersonal power which comes forth from God."  ( Refections — A BRI Newsletter, April 2004, Ekkehardt Mueller, BRI)

It is of particular interest that this straw man argument regarding the Holy Spirit defined as a "mere influence" is nothing new for Trinitarian defenders.  The following article is a classic example of the same way back in 1881.


R. MOODY, in a sermon delivered in the Metropolitan Tabernacle on November 20, on the subject of the Holy Spirit, commenced by saying:—

Before I knew better, I thought that the Spirit was an attribute of God, an influence going out from God; but as I became acquainted with my Bible I found He was a Person as much as the Father or the Son; and whenever Christ speaks of the Spirit, He speaks of Him as "He" or "Him." If He were a mere influence, you would not call it a person: you would not say "He " or "Him."

In John we read: "Even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." There are a good many other; passages; but I only call your attention to this one. Whenever Christ speaks of Him, He speaks of Him in that way.

We draw attention to these remarks because they illustrate the position of the generality of individuals who believe in the Personality of the Holy Ghost, by which is meant a belief that the Holy Ghost is a Person outside of the Father and the Son.

We of the New Church believe in the Personality of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, we do not believe that the Holy Spirit is to be regarded as Impersonal, but as existing in and emanating from the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The phrase used by Mr. Moody, "mere influence," does not, so far as we are aware, properly describe the view held by anybody. That the Holy Spirit is not a Separate Person from the Lord Jesus Christ may be evident from the fact that the Lord "breathed on His disciples, saying, Receive ye the Holy Spirit," and from the promise that He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Granted that the pronouns "He" and "Him" are properly applied to the Holy Spirit, it does not necessarily follow that the Holy Spirit is a Separate Person from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the Divine Proceeding flowing from the Lord Jesus. We think that Mr. Moody amply proves this in the sermon from which we have quoted the opening words; for he again and again uses the term " Holy Spirit" as equivalent to the "Spirit of God" and the "Spirit of Christ." For instance, Mr. Moody, referring to Rom. viii.—

There are two dwelling-places for the Spirit of God to dwell in. Where does He dwell now? "Ye are the temples for the Holy Ghost." In John xiv. 16, 17, it is said, "He dwelleth with you. He does not only come to visit us, but He abideth with us.

So, again, in 1 Cor. ii. 10 Mr. Moody interpolates the word "Holy " before the word "Spirit" in the passage, "God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit," plainly showing that here, as elsewhere, he understands that the Scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit is not a Person in the sense of being separate from the Person of the one living and true God.

However strongly people may argue for the doctrine of the separate Personality of the Holy Spirit, when they begin to preach about the practical work of that Spirit they almost invariably show that they believe in the Spirit and power of Jesus Christ.

Errors.—All errors spring up in the neighborhood of some truth; they grow round about it, and for the most part derive their strength from such contiguity.—Binney.