Isn’t the Holy Spirit an “it”?

(The following study is adapted from the site Adventist Defense League with the permission of the author Edwin M. Cotto. You can click here to see the original article). This response is the latest addition to the series of articles done on Ellen White and her understanding of Godhead [See: Did Ellen White believe in a Three person Godhead].

Because the bible sometimes refers to the Holy Spirit with the third person singular pronoun “it,” to our opponents, this means that the Holy Spirit is not a personal being as is God the Father and Jesus Christ. Here are some of the verses they will point to:

John 1:32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.

1 Peter 1:11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.

Some of our Adventist brethren will also point to some of the writings of Sister White, like to the following quote:

"The Lord Jesus acts through the Holy Spirit; for it is His representative." -Messages to Young People, 55

Hence the claim that the Holy Spirit is merely an active force, or something to that effect.

Those who reason this way should consider a couple of points. First, the Dictionary tells us that the word “it” can also refer to living beings, even human beings:

Webster’s II Dictionary
It: pron. – Used to refer to non-human entity, an animal or human being of unknown sex, a group of persons, or an abstraction.

Have you ever said to a brand new mom, “… it’s so cute!”? Or have you ever said, “that group won the super-bowl, it’s the best of them all!”? Or how about… “tag! Your it!”?

As funny as these examples may be, even the dictionary uses some of these to explain this word:
The Newbury House Dictionary of American English
It: pron. Third person singular pronoun… 7: to be “it”: in children’s games, to be the one who chases or finds others: In tag, children take turn being “it.”

Now let’s give some bible examples of the word “it” being used to refer to living, active people. In the first definition above, we read, “Used to refer to… a group of people.” Notice this verse:

Jeremiah 5:15 Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel, saith the LORD: it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language thou knowest not, neither understandest what they say.

Isaiah 26:15 Thou hast increased the nation, O LORD, thou hast increased the nation: thou art glorified: thou hadst removed it far unto all the ends of the earth.

Notice the following:

Luke 8:28-29 (28) When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not. (29) (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.)

Here we have the case where Jesus met a man possessed by an evil spirit. Luke acknowledges that it is alive, active and intelligent, yet refers to him as an “it.” But notice the following two verses:

Luke 8:30-31
(30) And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him.
(31) And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep.

Here we notice something important. The “it” is a Legion of many spirits, and not just one. As in the verses above, we here have yet another example of the word “it” referring to “a group of persons.”

So we gather that the word “it” can be used to refer to living, intelligent human beings, either of a group of people, kids, or infants.

Now we will show a bible example of “it” being used for a single individual:

Luke 9:38-39
(38) And, behold, a man of the company cried out, saying, Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son: for he is mine only child.
(39) And, lo, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth again, and bruising him hardly departeth from him.

The child of this man was possessed by “a” spirit, and, knowing that it is a real, living spirit, refers to it with this pronoun.

Now in Luke 8:28-29, we noticed that the spirit is referred to an “it,” yet in verse 30, Jesus applies to it a pronoun… “And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? ...”

This same thing is done to the Holy Spirit. Although the bible uses the word “it” to refer to him, Jesus applied at least four pronouns when referring to him:

John 14:17
(17) 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.

Note: It was already proven that Jesus is not the promised comforter spoken of here. See the section called “Is the comforter Jesus himself?”

For our Adventist brethren, Ellen White also applies such pronouns to the Holy Spirit:

The Holy Spirit, sent from heaven by the benevolence of infinite love, takes the things of God and reveals them to every soul that has an implicit faith in Christ. By His power the vital truths upon which the salvation of the soul depends are impressed upon the mind, and the way of life is made so plain that none need err therein.” –Christ’s Object Lessons, page 113.

And she is clear that the Holy Spirit is a personal, living being, and not just an It:

“We need to realize that the Holy Spirit, who is as much a person as God is a person, is walking through these grounds.” -Manuscript 66, 1899. (From a talk to the students at the Avondale School.)

“The Holy Spirit is a person, for He beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God. When this witness is borne, it carries with it its own evidence. At such times we believe and are sure that we are the children of God.

The Holy Spirit has a personality, else He could not bear witness to our spirits and with our spirits that we are the children of God. He must also be a divine person, else He could not search out the secrets which lie hidden in the mind of God. "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." -Manuscript 20, 1906.” -Evangelism, page 616-617.

We can not base our beliefs merely on the word “it,” since it can be used in various ways. Just because an infant, a child, or a group of people can be referred to with the word “it,” does not mean they are not self-living, intelligent, personal beings. The same must be applied to the Holy Spirit, especially in the light of what has been revealed about him in the sections above. The Holy Spirit is a personal, eternal being. He is part of the heavenly Godhead, being called “God” himself in scripture.