“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

I told you about the conference I recently attended at West Canon Baptist Church. While there I picked up a copy of the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal (volume 16, 2011) which was being given out to participants. One of the articles was written by Andrew David Naselli and Philip R. Gons titled “Prooftexting the Personality of the Holy Spirit: An Analysis of the Masculine Demonstrative Pronouns in John 14:26, 15:26, and 16:13-14.” Sounds like a journal article title doesn’t it? The article is an update by Gons of a paper that Naselli presented at an ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) conference in 2010.

A standard argument for the personality of the Holy Spirit has been that John (the writer of the Gospel of John) uses a masculine pronoun when referring to the Holy Spirit which goes against the grammar of the Greek. The word for spirit in Greek is neuter so a pronoun referring to spirit should also be neuter but because John wants to emphasize the personality of the Holy Spirit he intentionally uses a masculine pronoun. How prevalent is this view? Naselli offers “a chronological sampling of about 110 (!) notable adherents—some more nuanced than others.” (67) The names include numerous denominations (Reformed, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic) and languages (English, French, German and Dutch). I won’t give all 110 names but here are some of them: Martin Chemnitz, Francis Turretin, John Owen, B.F. Wescott, Charles Hodge, Herman Bavinck, R.A. Torrey, A.T. Robertson, Arthur Pink, Louis Berkhof, John Walvoord, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Anthony Hoekema, Charles Ryrie, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Raymond Brown, Leon Morris, George Ladd, C.K. Barrett, Yves Congar, Donald Guthrie, Millard Erickson, J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, D.A. Carson, Wayne Grudem, Thomas F. Torrance, S. Lewis Johnson, Gary Burge, John Frame, John MacArthur, Norman Geisler, Colin Kruse, Andrew T. Lincoln, Grant Osborne, and John Piper. This is quite a list and considering Naselli is a Research Manager for D.A. Carson his inclusion in the list is notable. I should note that present during Naselli’s original presentation at the ETS conference was Grant Osborne. After the presentation Osborne said he found Naselli’s position more persuasive than the position he had advocated. You can find the account of this here.

With such an impressive array of defenders to the traditional view what does Naselli offer to replace it and does it jeopardize the personality of the Holy Spirit? On the later question we can quickly answer that Naselli does not in any way question the personality of the Holy Spirit. He opens his essay by noting that “[s]ometimes well-intentioned people argue for the right thing the wrong way.” (65) What Naselli is questioning, then, is not the personality of the Holy Spirit but merely one argument used to establish it.

The counter argument is simple (the passage under consideration is John 14:26): “The common argument is invalid because the antecedent of the masculine ἐκεῖνος is not the neuter πνεῦμα but the masculine παράκλητος.” (79) For my non-Greek readers what he is saying here is that the pronoun “he” refers not back to “spirit” (which is neuter) but to “helper” (which is masculine). This view is not as novel as you might think. The earliest advocate they are aware of is Leonard Woods (1774-1854). In addition to Woods we find Kenneth Wuest, Daniel Wallace, Rodney Whitacre, Andreas Kӧstenberger, Andrew Malone and Graham Cole. Naselli relies heavily on the work of Daniel Wallace in an article, “Greek Grammar and the Personality of the Holy Spirit,” (BBR 13, 2003) and his book Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (pp. 331-32). Naselli responds to a couple of objections to his view which are basically that paraclete is too far removed from the pronoun to work. This is especially true in John 16 where the words are separated by six verses or 69 words. He responds, in part, that “function rather than proximity is the determiner.” (87)

Naselli ends his essay by saying, “The gender of the nouns and pronouns in these chapters neither supports nor challenges the doctrine of the Spirit’s personality. It is time to put this erroneous argument to rest once and for all.” (89)