Addressing the Holy Spirit

 in Prayer and Song

(This article was originally published in a booklet form which will explain some of the language employed. Copies of the booklet are still available free of charge while stocks last - see the contact link on the home page).




I have long been ambivalent on the subject of this booklet. However, my complacency was shattered when I realised that there was a fundamental flaw in the supposed typological basis for the doctrine. Further study of the Word of God has only served to deepen the certainty in my mind that it is not Scriptural at all. Indeed I now think the teaching is essentially only pious human reasoning reinforced by an undue respect for what is traditional. Whether my readers will also reach the same conclusion I do not know, but all I ask is that they search the Scriptures for themselves (see Acts 17: 11). At least then there ought to be the profit that comes from studying the Word of God, even if there might not be agreement on what it teaches.

   Now outside a certain limited ecclesiastical circle, little has been written on the subject of Christians addressing the Holy Spirit in prayer and song. For the benefit of the general reader therefore, the references which relate to the controversial history of the doctrine in that circle are relegated to the end notes. Some may see even supplying these references as raking over old ground unnecessarily, but justice demands that we do not nurture a sanitised view of the past. Sweeping things under the carpet is a worldly principle, and it is indicative of a poor spiritual state when speaking the truth is objected to (see Gal. 4: 16).[1]

   All that remains to say is that this booklet is largely a compilation of edited extracts from various authors (including the writer, who takes full responsibility for the content).


I avow, I could not tie myself to any of the ancients, nor own their authority in any way. I may learn from them (I would, I trust, gladly from any one), and own thankfully, what was given them of God. I see in Luther an energy of faith for which millions of souls ought to be thankful to God, and I can certainly say I am. I may see a clearness and recognition of the authority of scripture in Calvin, which delivered him and those he taught (yet more than Luther) from the corruptions and superstitions which had overwhelmed Christendom, and through it the minds even of most saints. But present these to me as a standard of truth—I reject them with indignation. They were not inspired. Their teachings are not the word of God. To this I hold fast tenaciously. It is the safeguard and guide of the Church and of the saints under grace at all times, and especially in these days. The gifted men I respect, when presented to me as such, would become a horror to me if they were in any way substituted for, or made to compete with, the word of God.[2]




Very few Christians take the time to examine the basis of what they believe and practise—and only a small proportion of these have the spiritual courage to challenge, let alone change, what they find to be not in keeping with Scripture. The matter of addressing the Holy Spirit is no exception to this rule. Of course it is good and proper to have respect for those who have spoken and written on a subject in the past, but for many, respect has slipped into an unhealthy subservience. We need to remember that the only ministry of any value is ministry of the Word (see Acts 6: 4)[3]. Therefore a true teacher, ministering in the Holy Spirit, will always take his hearers or readers back to the Bible. His objective is to make his students independent of himself, in that they see what he has taught as being the teaching of the Bible. Instead of just accepting what they hear or read, they search the Scriptures, and thereby get a hold of the teaching for themselves. The teacher merely points them to it. You can be sure that if ministry itself is what is used to enforce a doctrine, then the doctrine is not sound. Authority lies in the Word of God and nowhere else. When Christians begin to draw attention to anything other than Scripture, then this is a clear indication that these other things are acting as authorities in their minds[4].

As to the particular subject of this booklet, it would, of course, be absurd to deny the part that hymns and prayers to the Holy Spirit have traditionally played in the liturgy of the professing church:


It is a fact that in the oldest Christian communities singing to the Spirit and worship of the Spirit constituted an essential characteristic of the service of God and a habitual thing in the early centuries of the Christian era. Nor was this done in a formal, unintelligent manner, but with a great deal of surely estimable affection and spiritual feeling, as proved in hymns by G. Tersteegen and P. Gerhardt.[5]


However, the apparent orthodoxy of a practice or the piety of its participants is really quite irrelevant (and this applies just as much to those whose tradition is to not pray to the Holy Spirit[6] as it does to those who do). The only guide for the Christian must be the revelation that has been given from God—the Bible. This is not just a question of locating so–called ‘proof texts’, for account must also be taken of what is so often overlooked, namely that the Bible is now complete (see Col. 1: 25) and we thus have an aid to interpretation that was not available when it was being written. A complete Bible means that what is omitted takes on a significance of its own, since it gives emphasis to what is actually in Scripture. We can therefore either adhere to both the Bible’s positive and negative teaching (and also the general tenor of its presentation) or introduce our own, seemingly pious, innovations.[7]

This point leads me straight on to the subject of:


Human Reasoning


The matter of a separate address to the Holy Spirit in prayer and song is usually presented as a matter of logic: The Holy Spirit is God, and God is to be worshipped (see Rev. 22: 9), therefore the Holy Spirit should be addressed in worship.[8] However, logic itself will also conclude that logical reasoning is inadmissible when it comes to God[9]—for if God could be brought within the limitations of the human mind then He would cease to be God! In relation to deity we must always be governed by revelation and not the reasoning of our own minds.

Now it is very clear that the Holy Spirit is God in an absolute sense. He is included in the divine name of Matt. 28: 19: “make disciples of all the nations, baptising them to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”[10], while the apostle declares that the believer’s body is “[the] temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6: 19, my emphasis). Again, in Acts 5: 3, Peter charges Ananias with lying to the Holy Spirit, while in the next verse he says “Thou hast not lied to men, but to God” (v4, my emphasis). Furthermore, the Old Testament (OT) abounds with many clear references to the Spirit of God and these are a particularly striking proof of His deity. Why? Because when the Jewish reader encountered such phrases as the Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jehovah etc., he would identify the One spoken of as God Himself, but not in a distinct way as One of a trinity of three as Christians do today. The universal testimony of the OT was that God is one and this doctrine was fundamental to the Jew (see Deut. 6: 4; Ps. 71: 22; 78: 41; 86: 10; Is. 5: 19; Joel 2: 27; Zech. 14: 9). With this singularity in mind, the Jew would always identify the Spirit of God with God Himself. We, in the light of the New Testament (NT) revelation, now identify the Spirit of God as One of the Godhead, but those that lived in OT times would have no such understanding. Just as they would identify the spirit of Jacob with the man himself in Gen. 45: 27 (“And the spirit of Jacob their father revived”) so they would equate the Spirit of Jehovah with Jehovah Himself.[11] This complete identification of God with His Spirit in the OT is, in the light of NT revelation, an unassailable proof of the deity of the Holy Spirit.

Bearing all this in mind, it is often argued that not addressing the Holy Spirit robs God of worship. However, God cannot be robbed of something He has not commanded. We are to be governed by divine revelation and not human reasoning, however pious the motivation[12]. One supporter of hymns and prayers to the Holy Spirit gave the following advice:


In addition to weighing the scriptural considerations suggested above, we should ask ourselves these questions: Does this line of teaching as to the Holy Spirit enhance Him personally in our hearts? Does it enlarge our apprehension of His deity and glory? Does it increase our liberty with Him? If it does, this would confirm and commend the teaching.[13]


This all sounds fine, but where does the writer get it from? The only thing that should be used as a lever on the consciences of our brethren in Christ is Scripture, not pious reasoning. The writer (though he does not seem to realise it) is adding to Scripture. Not only that, but he is also inadvertently contradicting Scripture, for the Holy Spirit does not enhance Himself in our hearts but Christ. As the Lord Jesus said: “He” (the Spirit of truth) “shall glorify me” (John 16: 14). In the absence of clear Scriptural instruction to address the Holy Spirit, the line of teaching espoused by this brother is effectively telling God that we know better than He does. Actually, God can only be worshipped in the way he has decreed, for “God [is] a spirit, and they who worship him must” (not ought or should) “worship [him] in spirit and truth” (John 4: 24, my emphasis). Let us not imagine that “in spirit” gives us licence to ‘worship’ in any way that feels right to our own spirits. The word is “in spirit and truth” (my emphasis), and that truth not only does not exist outside of the Bible, but also must be found within it. Innovation comes from man, revelation comes from God. It is “in thy light shall we see light” (Ps. 36: 9).

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is not a ‘part’ of God as the argument about robbing God of worship implies. We have already noted that the OT testimony that God is one—He is therefore either worshipped or He is not. It is impossible for only part of Him to be worshipped[14]. He has no parts, for (and it bears repeating), God is one (see Deut. 6: 4). Furthermore, this truth is reiterated in the NT: “Hear, Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord … For he is one, and there is none other besides him” (Mark 12: 29, 32). The attempt by some to make one here mean united instead of a singularity is simply wrong. No Jew would read a Trinitarian application into Deut. 6: 4 and it is also highly significant that the Lord looked on His questioner as having spoken “intelligently” (Mark 12: 34). The Greek[15] word used for one (eiς) in vs. 29 and 32, occurs thirty or so times elsewhere in the Gospel of Mark and in every instance means one in number, that is, a singularity. On either side of the contested passage, the word one has its plain and obvious meaning: “one of the scribes” (v28) and “one of his disciples” (Mark 13: 1). None of this undermines the truth that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, and that we must distinguish them. The Lord said “I and the Father are one” (John 10: 30), but He also said “[my] Father is greater than I” (John 14: 28). This last statement is not reversible. What is true of the Father is not necessarily true of the Son. Nor is what is true of the Holy Spirit necessarily true of the Father or the Son. The Father sent the Son (see 1 John 4: 14), and both the Father and the Son are said to have sent the Holy Spirit (see John 14: 26; 16: 7), but in relation to the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is only ever the sent One, never the sender. All this demonstrates that there is clear distinction in the Godhead, but at the same time, the oneness of God remains inviolate. There appears to be a bizarre idea in some minds that NT revelation has somehow changed the nature of God, and that He is no longer one (as in the OT) but three. This is nonsense. He is what He has ever been: “for I Jehovah, change not” (Mal. 3: 6).


Approach to God


This matter of distinction in the Godhead is of critical importance when we look at how the creature is to approach His creator. Worship, song and prayer are all on the line of approach to God. Now where do I first get instruction on the line of approach in Scripture? With Cain and Abel. Both men approached God, and both knew who they were approaching. Strikingly, it is in connection with the approach of Cain not Abel that the Scripture says that he brought “an offering to Jehovah” (Gen. 4: 3, my emphasis). Yet Cain’s offering was rejected. Why? Because he ignored the divine revelation. This lesson is of critical importance and shows that the fact of the Holy Spirit being God is not, in itself, a valid argument for a response to the Holy Spirit. Why? Because approach must always be based on divine revelation. Abel offered his sacrifice “by faith” (Heb. 11: 4), and faith is a response to divine revelation (see Rom. 10: 17). Cain approached God in his own way, a way that, no doubt, seemed perfectly reasonable and respectful in his eyes, but was not, crucially, according to the mind of God.

This instruction is reinforced later on in Scripture. How was God known in Israel? As Jehovah: “And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as the Almighty God; but by my name Jehovah I was not made known to them” (Ex. 6: 3). Accordingly, there was a fresh revelation given on how God was now to be approached. In this worship, Jehovah insisted (on pain of death) that there should be no strange incense, no strange fire and no strange priests (see Exod. 30: 9; Lev. 10: 1, 2; Num. 16: 40). All was to be exactly in accordance with the divine pattern that had been shown to Moses. The lesson of this is very simple: innovation in the things of God (and particularly innovation in the way we approach God in worship) is never an option. What we might think is irrelevant. To effectively add to the Bible (the record of divine revelation) is a very serious matter—however pious the motivation. “Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Prov. 30: 6).

If we examine the NT revelation, it is clear that approach to God is generally to the Father (see John 4: 23) by the Spirit (see Eph. 6: 18; Phil. 3: 3), and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (see John 16: 23; Eph. 5: 20). This is in keeping with the revelation in the Gospels of God as Father (see Matt. 6: 1; 11: 27 etc.).[16] At first, approach was still at a distance (“Our Father who art in the heavens”—Matt. 6: 9, my emphasis), but in the epistles the words ‘in the heavens’ or ‘heavenly’ no longer appear in connection with the Father. This is because once reconciliation had been accomplished, the believer was to approach in the nearness of sonship. John’s Gospel also speaks simply of the Father for, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, it begins with the Lord as rejected (see John 1: 10, 11), and what is recorded there is thus anticipative of Christianity throughout. This is what lies behind the Lord’s words in John 4: 23: “[the] hour is coming” (Christianity, then historically future) “and now is” (as rejected by Israel, then morally present). Accordingly, He speaks of the worship of God as being the worship of the Father (see vs. 21, 23, 24)—not, note, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Indeed, despite its widespread use in Christendom, nowhere in the Bible do we find the expression ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ used as a form of address to God. Certainly Matthew 28: 19[17] is often quoted as justification for addressing God in this way, but those who do so seem unable to articulate why when challenged. Matthew 28: 18–20 is about baptism and discipleship not worship. Its outlook is clearly millennial and refers, not to Christianity, but to the setting up of the kingdom in its public form, when all the nations of the world, whether atheistic, monotheistic or polytheistic will outwardly acknowledge (in baptism) God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.[18]


To us there is One God—Preliminary Remarks


A much more relevant Scripture to consider (even though, significantly, the Holy Spirit is not mentioned) is 1 Cor. 8: 6. Not only is the setting unquestionably Christian (unlike Matt. 28: 19[19]), but, as will be seen shortly, the text itself directly asserts the Christian position. Whatever one’s view is on Matt. 28: 19, it is clear that 1 Cor. 8: 6 must take precedence in this matter.

However, before we examine the passage, we need to be clear in our minds as to the divine revelation, and to jettison any theological ideas that do not come from Scripture. It is, for example, commonplace for Christians to talk about God being revealed, but in an absolute sense this can never be so. The word reveal (Greek: apokaluptw) means to unveil. The idea conveyed is the drawing aside of a curtain to expose someone or something that was previously hidden. It therefore has particular reference to the eyes. Scripture, however, tells us that God dwells “in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen, nor is able to see” (1 Tim. 6: 16). “God [is] a spirit” (John 4: 24), and spirits cannot be seen.[20] Certainly God has made Himself known to man, but to use the word reveal in relation to God is far too strong. There remains (and always will remain) that which is not seen. John 1: 18 tells us that “No one has seen God at any time” but then goes on to say that “the only–begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [him]” (my emphasis). Declaration is a matter for the ears, not the eyes.

Again, it is frequently said that God has been revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This assertion needs careful analysis. Scripture tells us explicitly that the Father has been revealed (see Matt. 11: 27), and that the revelation of the Father is in Christ as Man (see John 14: 9). However, Scripture never says that the Son has been revealed, and, in fact, strongly implies otherwise: “no one knows who the Son is but the Father” (Luke 10: 22). Yes the Lord was prepared a body (see Heb. 10: 5) and was therefore seen, but in no sense does it follow that there was an unveiling as to His Person. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is never said to be revealed either—as noted earlier, revelation does not apply to spirits. Rather, the Holy Spirit is a revealer of what is hidden (see 1 Cor. 2: 10).

Of course, most would not argue that the Son or the Spirit have been revealed, only that in this dispensation God has been revealed to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, as a matter of plain fact, Scripture never actually says so, and certainly never uses apokaluptw in that connection. The reason is very simple: those facts, though true, are incidental to the real revelation that God would bring before us, namely that the Father has been revealed in the Son. They are necessary facts (how can, for example, the Father be seen in the Son apart from the Holy Spirit?), but they are not the revelation as such. Nor is it correct to particularly connect the truth that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit with this dispensation.[21] In this connection it is significant that the baptismal formula of Mat. 28: 19 is never once used in the book of Acts—baptism is always to the name of Jesus Christ (or similar phraseology)[22]—which either means the apostles were wilfully disobedient to their Lord’s commandment or that they understood that Matt. 28: 19 did not belong to the present time.


To us there is One God—1 Cor. 8: 6


Turning to 1 Cor. 8: 6, it makes sense to suppose that the introductory background to verse 6 is verse 5:  “For and if indeed there are [those] called gods, whether in heaven or on earth, (as there are gods many, and lords many,)”. The setting here is the idolatry of Corinth, in which the Greek deities were divided into those considered full gods and those only viewed as intermediaries or lords. In contrast to this pagan multiplicity of gods and lords, in Christianity we have: “yet to us [there is] one God, the Father, of whom all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom [are] all things, and we by him” (v6, my emphasis). Now it does not say ‘there is one God, the Father’. To have done so would have excluded the Son and the Holy Spirit from the Godhead.[23] Again, it is not said ‘there is … one Lord’ as this would have denied the Father and the Holy Spirit the exercise of universal authority. Both these statements omit the key words of the verse: “yet to us”. These words yet to us clearly indicate that this is how Christians view things. That is, the Christian viewpoint is that there is one God—the Father, and one Lord—Jesus Christ. For them, it is the Father who abides in the absoluteness of the Godhead, and for them, it is Christ who, becoming man, has taken the place and relationship of Lord. God is identified as Father and Christ is identified as Lord. Furthermore, since the words yet to us describe how Christians view things, then what we are dealing with here is what is objective or outside of ourselves. The fact that the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in this Scripture clearly indicates the subjective place He has taken. On this basis alone, worship specifically directed towards the Holy Spirit is a mistake, for worship is objective—the attention of the worshipper is directed outwards towards the deity.

None of this has anything to do with denying the deity of the Holy Spirit[24]—just as full deity[25] is not denied to the Lord Jesus by 1 Cor. 8: 6. It is simply recognising and respecting divine arrangements. As one would expect, other Scriptures are found to be entirely in accord with 1 Cor. 8: 6. For example, we are told that “no one can say, Lord Jesus, unless in [the power of the] Holy Spirit”[26] (1 Cor. 12: 3; my emphasis). Instead of directing obeisance to Himself, the Holy Spirit leads the believer’s mind into expressing subjection to Christ. I am of course aware that the expression Lord Spirit is sometimes employed in hymns, but the interpretation of the verses on which it depends (see 2 Cor. 3: 17, 18) does not stand up to any real scrutiny. However, before we can examine that passage in detail, we need to understand four features of the Greek language in which the NT was written.


New Testament Greek


(1). The Greek texts from which the NT is translated into English are either uncials or cursives. The former are written all in upper case (capitals), while the latter are written entirely in lower case (small letters). There are no exceptions[27]. Thus the texts provide no information whatsoever on whether the word spirit should have an initial capital or not in English. It follows that initial capitalisation of the word spirit is always a matter of interpretation and not translation—that is, it has nothing to do with inspiration[28]. The impact of this can be very significant. Take John 3: 6: “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”. Clearly, the translator intended something different to be conveyed in English by Spirit as over against spirit (both being pneuma). The former is the Holy Spirit, the latter is not. What the writer intended, however, can only be determined by the context.

(2). As to grammar, English has a definite article (the) and an indefinite article (a or an). NT Greek, however, has just a definite article. When the definite article is present as in ‘the Lord’, the person is in view; when it is absent as in ‘Lord’ it is characteristic.[29]


The rule is simply this, illustrated in the known form of a proposition in Greek, That whenever a word, or a combination of words, presents the object about which the mind is occupied, as objectively presented to it, the article is used; whenever a word is merely characteristic, it is not.[30]


Now whenever we read in the Greek of either the OT (the LXX) or the NT, the phrase ο κυριος (the lord—see Gen. 42: 30; the Lord—see Mat. 18: 27; 20: 8 etc.), it draws attention to the person designated. However, when the article is absent and we just have κυριοu (of lord, of Lord, of Jehovah—depending on the context)[31] as in πνευμα κυριου (Spirit of Jehovah—see Jud. 3: 10; 11: 29: Spirit of Lord—see Luke 4: 18; Acts 8: 39) the word κυριου (of Jehovah, of Lord) simply characterises the word πνευμα (Spirit), identifying it as that sort of πνευμα (Spirit).

(3). In Greek, when two nouns, Lord and Spirit, each have the definite article (the) and are linked by the verb to be (is), then (using the example of 2 Cor. 3: 17) the whole expression can be read in English either as ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit’ or equally as ‘Now the Spirit is the Lord’, This is known as a reciprocal expression. A better known example is in 1 John 3: 4: “sin is lawlessness”. In the Greek the nouns sin and lawlessness both have the article, which in English can read either as ‘sin is lawlessness’ or ‘lawlessness is sin’.

(4). Another sort of expression that we must consider is an ellipsis. This is where there is an omission of words because the context supplies the meaning. One example is in Acts 16: 33: “and was baptized, he and all his straightway”. Take that clause away from the context and read it out to a man who knows nothing of Christianity or baptism. How will he respond? He will say ‘He and all his what?’ From the passage we know it refers to the jailor’s household. The context is therefore essential for the meaning of an ellipsis.


Preliminary Remarks on 2 Corinthians 3


It is not possible to get a proper understanding of 2 Cor. 3 if it is read in isolation.[32] The following chapter begins “Therefore, having this ministry …” (2 Cor. 4: 1, my emphasis). The word therefore clearly connects “having this ministry” with chapter three. The subject of chapter three is the ministry of the covenants (the word ministry in one form or another occurring five times in the chapter).

The word Lord, critical to the understanding of chapter three, also occurs in chapter four, where we have the phrase “but Christ Jesus Lord” (v5). This verse clearly identifies Christ Jesus as Lord, and is thus in harmony with what is taught in 1 Cor. 8: 6, namely that “to us [there is] … one Lord, Jesus Christ” (my emphasis). He, and no other, has been put in the position of Lord to Christians. Thus “God has made him, this Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2: 36). Now the word Lord is employed five times in 2 Cor. 3, four of these without the article in Greek, and only one with the article (in v17).[33] In all five cases (as will be demonstrated) Lord refers to Christ, not the Holy Spirit.

With regard to the word spirit in chapter three, the context alone determines its interpretation as Spirit or spirit. The word spirit itself occurs seven times: with the article in v6 (second mention) and v18; without the article in vs 3, 6 (first mention), 8 and 17 (twice). These facts cannot be ignored and it is essential that they are taken account of in order to get an accurate understanding of chapter three.

As already said, the subject of the chapter is the ministry of the covenants and, accordingly, in v6 we read “who has also made us competent, [as] ministers of [the] new covenant; not of letter, but of spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit quickens”. There is no article before new covenant(καινης διαθηκης) in Greek. This omission of the article is a prime example of what was outlined under point 2 in the earlier discussion regarding certain principles of NT Greek. The ministry of Paul and his associates had the characteristics of the new covenant (such as the knowledge of God and the forgiveness of sins—see Jer. 31: 31–34) although it was not the actual new covenant that they ministered. (If the article had been present—the new covenant—it would have meant that the new covenant was the actual subject of their ministry).

Verses 7–16 form a parenthesis in 1 Cor. 3. In these verses the apostle turns aside to compare the ministry of condemnation and the ministry of righteousness (see v9). Thus verse 17 (“Now the Lord is the Spirit”) refers all the way back to verse 6: “Ministers of [the] new covenant; not of letter but of spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit quickens”.

Now if we capitalise the word spirit in “Now the Lord is the Spirit” (v17) this makes the Holy Spirit Lord and thus contradicts the truth of 1 Cor. 8: 6 (and 2 Cor. 4: 5), that it is Christ that is Lord.[34] Furthermore, the words “Now the Lord is the Spirit” (v17) form a reciprocal expression in Greek (see point 3 in the earlier discussion regarding certain principles of NT Greek) allowing it to be also read as ‘Now the Spirit is the Lord’. However, since both lord and spirit have definite articles, to render the verse as ‘Now the Spirit is the Lord’ would mean that the Holy Spirit is Lord to the exclusion of the Father and the Son. For these reasons, the only correct English reading can be ‘Now the Lord is the spirit’.

The question then arises ‘The spirit of what? The expression is elliptical, meaning there is an omission of words because the context supplies the meaning. If we remember that vs 7–16 are a parenthesis, then v17 follows on from v 6, and it is in v6 that we will find our answer. Thus ‘the Lord is the spirit of … the new covenant’ (see v6: “ministers of [the] new covenant; not of letter, but of spirit”).[35]


2 Corinthians 3 in More Detail


We have already seen that the word Lord occurs five times in 2 Cor. 3: once with article, and four times without the article. Ignoring for the moment the one use of the word Lord in the parenthesis of vs. 7–16, let us turn now to the final section of vs. 17, 18 and consider the four occurrences of the word Lord there.

Verse 17 continues the theme of the chapter left off in verse 6, having been interrupted by the parenthesis of vs 7–16. As previously explained, the word Lord in the first clause of v17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit”, must refer to Christ, and, accordingly, the word spirit should not be capitalised.[36] But what of the second clause “but where the Spirit of [the] Lord [is, there is] liberty”? What does this mean, and to whom does it refer? To answer these questions correctly, this second clause must not be divorced from the first clause. Why? Because the word “but” connects “where the Spirit of [the] Lord [is, there is] liberty” to ‘Now the Lord is the spirit’, and the one therefore informs our understanding of the other.

Now in the second clause, the word Lord does not have the article in the Greek, but the word Spirit does. It is, literally, ‘but where the spirit of Lord—liberty’. There being no article for Lord means the Person (the Lord) is not in view, only what bears his imprint.[37] The word spirit, however, presents more of a difficulty. The argument of Paul requires the word to be spirit, not Spirit for he is referring back to the use of the word in the first clause of v17.[38] There, as we have seen, the word must be spirit (‘Now the Lord is the spirit’). This first clause, in turn, refers back to the covenants of which the Lord is the very essence and heart (their ‘spirit’). Hence the second clause “but where the Spirit of [the] Lord [is, there is] liberty”, refers to a general state (“where”) of liberty, whose essence (‘the spirit’) is characterised by Christ (“Lord”). However, that state of liberty cannot exist apart from the practical service of the Holy Spirit, and it is this which requires the relevant word to be Spirit not spirit.[39]

This leaves us with three remaining occurrences of the word Lord, each without the article in Greek (see v16 and v18 [twice]).

Whatever the exact sense of the words “[the] Lord” in “But when it shall turn to [the] Lord, the veil is taken away” (v16), the One referred to can be no other than Christ. What is the “it”? Clearly, from vs 13, 15, the heart of the children of Israel. It is plain then that “But when it shall turn to [the] Lord, the veil is taken away” (v16) speaks of Christ as the One looked to when the nation of Israel is converted in a future day.

The same remarks apply to the words “[the] Lord” in “But we all, looking on the glory of the Lord, with unveiled face” (v18). However, the words “But we” contrasts this clause with the last clause of v17. It is not a general state like the state of “liberty” in v17 but a particular one—the Christian state in contrast with Israel. We (as Christians) look on the glory but for Israel the glory was veiled.

This brings us to the fifth and final reference to the word Lord: “Even as by [the] Lord [the] Spirit” (v18). Neither the word lord or the word spirit have the article here and are therefore entirely characteristic, that is, we are transformed in that kind of way. Now while it is true that any spiritual work within us is by the Holy Spirit, that is not the sense of this verse. The order of the words in the Greek text must not be overlooked. It is not απο πνευματος κυριου (by spirit lord) but απο κυριου πνευματος (by lord spirit), in which the prime word is lord—the word spirit being ancillary. Again, whenever you get the phrase by the Spirit elsewhere in the NT, the preposition used is different to the one employed in this verse. Here it is apo and means away from. But away from where or what? Clearly, the glory of v18, with which the word Lord, not Spirit is associated. This is a glory which in the next chapter is expressed definitively as “the glory of the Christ” (2 Cor. 4: 4). But why is the word spirit or Spirit in “even as by [the] Lord [the] Spirit”? (2 Cor. 3: 18)? For the same reason as in v17. There, when we read “the Lord is the Spirit” (v17) we asked ourselves the question, ‘The spirit of what?’ so here, when we read “even as by [the] Lord [the] Spirit” (v18), we again ask ‘The spirit of what?’. Both expressions are elliptical and if taken out of context their meaning will be obscured. However, when read in the context of the whole chapter (which, is about a contrast between old and new, letter and spirit in connection with covenant ministry), then the missing words that provide the sense are unconsciously supplied by the reader. Thus in v17, ‘the Lord is the spirit [of the old covenant]’, while in v18 we are transformed from glory to glory ‘even as [that glory radiates away from the] Lord [who is the] spirit [of the old covenant, the new covenant and the whole of Scripture]’. The Lord Jesus is the purpose and theme of the written Word and that word becomes alive in our hearts and minds when we recognise that truth (see Luke 24: 27, 32; John 5: 39). All this is, of course, by the Holy Spirit, but we must not let that fact obscure what the passage actually says.

There is thus no doctrinal basis for thinking that Lord Spirit is a title of the Holy Spirit, let alone using it as a form of address. 2 Cor. 3 is thus in total harmony with 1 Cor. 8: 6.


Peter and the Great Sheet


There is of course the historical argument that has been used to justify the use of Lord Spirit—based on the belief of many that Peter addressed the Holy Spirit in Acts 10: 14 as Lord. Now we all tend to read Scripture with certain assumptions in our minds, and those assumptions can be reinforced by the translation we use. Certainly we read of “the Spirit” in Acts 10: 19 speaking to Peter, and again in Acts 11: 12, but that, in itself, does not guarantee that the Holy Spirit was the speaker. As we have already seen, initial capitalisation of the word spirit is a matter of interpretation and not translation.[40] The “Holy Spirit” (Acts 10: 38, my emphasis), where so described, is distinctive, while “the Spirit” in v19 could conceivably refer back to the angel of God in v3 (see also v22 and compare Heb. 1: 7: “And as to the angels he says, Who makes his angels spirits and his ministers a flame of fire”)[41]. There are therefore no grounds for dogmatism in interpretation of the passage.

There is then the assumption made by many that “the Spirit” (Acts 10: 19) and “the voice” (vs 13, 15) are the same. But does this idea stand up to any kind of critical examination? I do not believe so.

In vs 13–15 we read: “And there was a voice to him, Rise, Peter, slay and eat. And Peter said, In no wise, Lord; for I have never eaten anything common or unclean. And [there was] a voice again the second time to him, What God has cleansed, do not thou make common”. The heavenly speaker is described by Luke as “a voice”. Peter responds by addressing this speaker as “Lord”. Now this title of Lord, which occurs about 100 times in Acts, is clearly applied to Christ in the majority of cases for it is He that now has that distinctive place of Lord (see Acts 2: 36; 10: 36). This is not the whole matter, however. In the OT, God was known as Jehovah (kurioς, Lord) and this is carried over into the NT in such places as Acts 2: 34; 7: 31, 33. God is addressed as Lord in Acts 2: 39; 3: 22; 17: 24 and in the prayer of Acts 4: 24–30 (not, notice, the Lord Jesus—see v30). The title is also applied to any dignity (see Acts 25: 26) and the angel of God is addressed by Cornelius as Lord in Acts 10: 4. Thus the word Lord itself does not provide us with anything conclusive that identifies the “voice”.

The key passage in determining this matter is not Luke’s historical record in Acts 10 at Caesarea, but Peter’s verbatim account in Acts 11 at Jerusalem. In the latter, Peter recounts that: “And I heard also a voice saying to me, Rise up, Peter, slay and eat. And I said, In no wise, Lord, for common or unclean has never entered into my mouth. And a voice answered the second time out of heaven, What God has cleansed, do not thou make common. And this took place thrice, and again all was drawn up into heaven” (Acts 11: 7–10). Word for word this is almost identical to the record of chapter 10—which is inexplicable if the “voice” was recognised as that of the Holy Spirit. Why? An example may make this clear.

 I am at a Bible conference, but am sitting behind a pillar and thus hidden from the view of the principal speaker. I also have a sore throat and hence my voice is hoarse. I ask a question and the main speaker answers. In the interval someone raises the same matter with the main speaker. ‘Ah!’ he responds ‘Someone raised that matter earlier’ (the main speaker says ‘someone’ because he did not recognise my voice or see my face). I now approach the main speaker and raise the same matter again. ‘Oh! It was you ‘Mr Noble’ that raised this in the discussion earlier’ he says. A few minutes later someone else raises the same matter yet again with the main speaker. How does he now respond? Does he still say ‘Someone raised this matter earlier’? No. Now that he knows my identity, he says ‘Mr Noble’ raised that matter in the conference hall’. Now this was exactly the situation with Peter. If Peter had recognised the “voice” as that of the Holy Spirit he would not have spoken of “a voice” when he recounted the matter to those in Jerusalem but would have said ‘the Holy Spirit’. The fact that he did not do so is a strong indication that that the voice, whoever it belonged to, was not that of the Holy Spirit (particularly as Peter specifically refers to the Holy Spirit later in vs. 15, 16). Indeed, a voice “out of heaven” (Acts 11: 9, my emphasis) would be more likely to bring to our minds the Man who is now in heaven (compare Acts 9: 4, 5; 22: 7–10; 26: 14–18), rather than the “Holy Ghost, sent from heaven” (1 Pet. 1: 12, my emphasis).[42] Thus Acts 10: 14 provides no basis on which to address the Holy Spirit.


The Comforter


So far we have established that while the Holy Spirit is God, for us as Christians, deity (and hence worship) is associated with the Father, and Lordship with Christ. However, though the Holy Spirit is not presented to us as Lord, He is presented to us as another Comforter—the first being Christ—and this fact is sometimes used as a further argument for addressing the Holy Spirit. Thus shortly before He went away, the Lord Jesus assured His disciples that He would “beg the Father, and he will give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever” (John 14: 16). It is important to realise that Greek has two words for another: the first (alloV) means another of the same kind or quality; the second (eteroς) another of a different kind or quality. It is the first word that is used in this verse. Now the disciples certainly conversed with the Lord and asked Him questions, and the fact that the Holy Spirit was replacing the Lord as their Comforter would, on the face of it, imply that the same sort of conversations would continue. Indeed, the fact that the Lord told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would “teach you all things” (v26) seems to further enhance the argument for questions to the Holy Spirit. The matter appears settled when we learn that the English word solicitor gives a more precise meaning to the Greek word paraklhtoV than comforter—for surely one can ask one’s solicitor questions? However, as always, we must be governed by Scripture, and not human logic.

We do not have to go outside John 14: 16 itself to see that the Greek word alloV, while meaning another of the same quality (that is, not inferior to the first), does not carry the thought of identity (hence, for example, a man and a woman, though of the same kind, are not identical). We see this in the fact that while the Lord’s time with His disciples was clearly to be limited, this very verse tells us, by contrast, that the Holy Spirit would “be with you for ever”. Again, it is clear that the Lord “in the days of his flesh” (Heb. 5: 7) could only be in one place at a time; the Holy Spirit clearly has no such limitations. Thus being of the same kind does not mean being identical, and another comforter does not mean an identical comforter.

Now the Greek word paraklhtoV (comforter) is a participle or verbal adjective, of passive signification acting as a noun derived from the verb parakalew.[43] Its meaning is one called to the side of another. This raises the question ‘Who did the calling alongside?’ If Scripture wanted to say that we were to call the Holy Spirit alongside, then it would have used the active verbal form of parakalew as the root of the participle—that is, I am the one active in doing the calling. Now the active verbal form of parakalew occurs many times in the NT and is translated as beg, entreat,beseech, exhort etc. depending on the context. However, this active verbal form is never once used in relation to the Holy Spirit. Thus you cannot argue that the word comforter implies that we can call Him alongside. Scripture leaves the matter indefinite. In John 14: 16, paraklhtoV is passive, meaning that it refers to what is done for me not what I do. My own personal view is that it is the Father and the Son that call the Holy Spirit alongside.[44]

In connection with all this, there is, one striking fact that conclusively dispenses with the idea of conversing with the Holy Spirit. In the same passage in which the Lord details the coming of the Holy Spirit as “another Comforter”, He also encourages the disciples in this very matter of asking (see John 14: 13, 14; 15: 7; 16: 23, 24, 26). If believers were meant to ask questions of the Holy Spirit, then it is in these very chapters that we would surely expect to find such instruction and encouragement. Yet not once is the Holy Spirit presented as the One to whom requests are to be made. It is always to the Father and in Christ’s name. For example, “And in that day ye shall demand nothing of me: verily, verily, I say to you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give you” (John 16: 23). Prayer, in the NT, is not to the Spirit but by or through the Spirit (see Eph. 2: 18; 6: 18; Jude 20 etc.). Indeed, the Holy Spirit even makes “intercession” on our behalf (Rom. 8: 26).

This is further borne out by the fact that while the Lord speaks of “my name” eight times in John 14–16 (see John 14: 13, 14, 26; 15: 16, 21; 16: 23, 24, 26), and though we read of the Father’s name elsewhere (John 12: 28; 17: 6, 11; etc.), the NT never once speaks of the name of the Holy Spirit distinctly as such. (Matt. 28: 19 is not an exception to this rule, for the Holy Spirit is combined with the Father and the Son under a single name). Why is this? Because the thought of name draws attention objectively to the one to whom it belongs. The Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth would “not speak from himself” (John 16: 13) for His service, as the Lord said, is to “glorify me” (v14).


The Holy Spirit and Love


This lowly service of the Holy Spirit is, in itself, used to argue for a response to Him—for surely such service exercised on our behalf would generate affection towards Him, and hence response in prayer and praise? Superficially, the reasoning appears sound, but the problem with it is that it isjust reasoning and owes nothing to the Word of God! As always, we must be governed by Scripture. What then does the Bible say about the Holy Spirit and love?

Immediately preceding John 14: 16 we have “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (v15) and the Lord continues to raise the matter of love throughout this section on the Comforter. Christ was, and is to be, the object of the disciples’ love. On this account the Father also would love the disciples (see v21). Love should be mutual—the one who loves another expects a corresponding response. However, nowhere is the Holy Spirit presented as the object of love for believers—not here or anywhere else in the NT. On looking in the Scriptures I find the love of the Father for the Son (John 3: 35; 5: 20; 10: 17; 15: 9, 10; 17: 23, 26; Col. 1: 13), and the love of the Son for the Father (John 14: 31). I find too the love of the Father for the believer (John 14: 21, 23; 2 Thess. 2; 16; 1 John 3: 1) and the love of the believer for the Father (1 John 2: 15). Likewise there is the love of God for the believer (Rom. 5: 8; 8: 39; 2 Cor. 13: 14; Eph. 2: 4; 1 John 4: 10, 11) and the love of the believer for God (Matt. 22: 37; Mark 12: 30; 1 Cor. 2: 9). So too, I find the love of the Son for the believer (John 13: 1, 34; 15: 12; Rom. 8: 35; Gal. 2: 20; Eph. 5: 2; Rev. 1: 5; 3: 9, 19) and the love of the believer for Christ (Matt. 10: 37; John 14: 15; Rom. 8: 37). There is also God’s love for man (John 3: 16). It is what is not there in Scripture that is illuminating. There is no mention of love from either the Father or the Son for the Holy Spirit. Correspondingly, there is no mention of love from the Holy Spirit to either the Father or the Son. There is also no record of the Holy Spirit’s love for the believer and correspondingly no record of the believer’s love for the Holy Spirit. These facts cannot just be ignored especially as we twice read that “God is love” (1 John 4: 8, 16) and there is no doubt that the Holy Spirit is God.

Love is rather the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5: 22, my emphasis)—one of the results of His labour. The phrase “by the love of the Spirit” in Rom. 15: 30 is not an exception, for the Greek preposition dia (by) there clearly has the sense of through, by means of. The apostle is speaking about the love that the Holy Spirit forms in us that would cause us to strive together in prayers to God—just as it is the Lord Jesus Himself that gives weight and force to the apostle’s plea (“by our Lord Jesus Christ” (v30, my emphasis). The Holy Spirit is the means, the Lord Jesus is the motive. Similarly, Paul commends the Colossians for their “love in” (not to) “[the] Spirit” (Col. 1: 8, my emphasis)—a love that is characterised by being of the Holy Spirit. Again, it is the Holy Spirit that works in the saints through God’s Word so that they are “taught of God to love one another” (1 Thess. 4: 9). Indeed, it must be so, because “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by [the] Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5: 5).


The Lord as our Model


The subjective place that the Holy Spirit has taken up is further emphasised when we consider the matter of the Lord’s pathway here. Scripture more than once presents Christ as a model for the believer: “Be my imitators, even as I also [am] of Christ … For let this mind be in you which [was] also in Christ Jesus … He that says he abides in him ought, even as he walked, himself also [so] to walk … for Christ also has suffered for you, leaving you a model that ye should follow in his steps” (1 Cor. 11: 1; Phil. 2: 5; 1 Pet. 2: 21; 1 John 2: 6). Now the Lord Jesus prayed to the Father, never the Holy Spirit, even though He did everything as Man in the power of the Spirit (see Matt. 12: 28). This is of huge significance. How can praying to the Holy Spirit be imitating Christ? It cannot. Furthermore, nowhere in the rest of the NT do we read of any instruction to converse with the Holy Spirit, nor can practical examples be found of believers doing so either.

One of the difficulties faced by advocates of prayer or hymns to the Holy Spirit is the absence of Scriptural instruction (either by precept or example) on how He should be addressed. Young or ill–established believers may not realise this, since much of what we receive as truth we have not found out for ourselves but have imbibed either knowingly or unconsciously from other Christians. By this method believers can be unwittingly schooled in doctrine through the habitual use of language which has an appearance of being Scriptural. Advocates of prayers to the Holy Spirit cannot point to the example of the Lord or refer to the apostle’s doctrine. Instead, they are forced to innovate. It is, for example, almost a universal practice to address the Holy Spirit in prayer as ‘Blessed Spirit’ despite the fact that this expression is absent from Scripture. With respect to human dignitaries we render them honour (see Rom. 13: 7) by addressing them in the terms they have laid down—how astonishing then to think that a creature would presume to address God using language of his own invention! God is not honoured by what we think to be honour, but by obedience to what He has laid down in His Word.

As we have seen previously, for the believer, Christ is the One he calls “my Lord” (John 20: 28), and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is also “our Father” (Rom. 1: 7). No form of address to the Holy Spirit, however, is anywhere furnished. Nor is there any ‘my’ or ‘our’ for the Holy Spirit. Our relationships are with the Son and with the Father (see John 14: 23). The Spirit’s service is to bear “witness with our spirit, that we are children of God” (Rom. 8: 16). Some teach that 2 Cor. 13: 14, “the communion (koinwnia) of the Holy Spirit, [be] with you all” has the sense of a communion with the Holy Spirit. This is erroneous. Certainly the saints are to be marked by communion (“ ... be with you all”), but that communion is not said to be with the Holy Spirit, but of the Holy Spirit. It is a communion characterised by Him, that is, He is the means and power of the communion, but not its object. Compare 1 John 1: 3: “our fellowship (koinwnia) [is] indeed with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (my emphasis). That apostolic fellowship, though necessarily in the power of the Holy Spirit, is not said to be with the Holy Spirit.


Response to God


Wherever you look in the NT, you find the same thread of teaching coming through, sometimes on the surface in explicit doctrine, sometimes beneath, but there nonetheless. Take the doxologies and salutations in the apostolic letters. Now the salutations given at the beginning of the Pauline epistles are effectively a greeting from God—and those who give greetings expect a response. It is for our benefit that many of these epistles do contain a record of a response delivered back to God on the part of the writer. Take Ephesians for an example: “But to him that is able to do far exceedingly above all which we ask or think, according to the power which works in us, to him be glory in the assembly in Christ Jesus unto all generations of the age of ages. Amen” (Eph. 3: 20, 21). Similar outbursts of praise are found elsewhere in Paul’s writings (see Rom. 1: 25; 9: 5; 11: 33–36; Gal. 1: 5; Phil. 4: 20; 1 Tim. 1: 17; 6: 15, 16; 2 Tim. 4: 18). God is frequently the object, the Lord Jesus less so[45], and the Holy Spirit never. Again, take ‘grace’ and ‘peace’ which are blessings described as coming from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Such blessings demand a response of thanks from the recipients, and yet though our blessings are spiritual in nature (compare 1 Cor. 12: 1; Eph. 1: 3), the Holy Spirit is nowhere presented as being the object of our gratitude.[46] Correspondingly there are no doxologies of praise to the Holy Spirit in these epistles (or indeed anywhere else in Scripture). Such omissions are striking and significant.

Again, if the Holy Spirit Himself had sent a greeting via the writer, then there would be grounds for giving a response, but no such greeting is ever given and accordingly, no such response is ever returned. This is a peculiarity of the epistles that is worth exploring further. To the Ephesians Paul gives both opening and closing greetings: “To the saints and faithful in Christ Jesus who are at Ephesus. Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and [the] Lord Jesus Christ … Peace to the brethren, and love with faith, from God [the] Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ. Grace with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruption” (Eph. 1: 1, 2; 6: 23, 24). Paul had a message to the saints, but he did not see himself as writing in isolation. There is that which he associated with his own words—what comes from God the Father[47] and the Lord Jesus Christ. Identical (or very similar) salutations are used in most of his other epistles (see Rom. 1: 7; 1 Cor. 1: 2, 3; 2 Cor. 1: 1, 2; Gal. 1: 2–5; Phil. 1: 1, 2; Col. 1: 2; 2 Thess. 1: 1, 2; 1 Tim. 1: 2; 2 Tim. 1: 1, 2; Titus 1: 4; Phm.  vs 1–3). The apostle John also uses comparable words (see 2 John vs 1–3). Indeed, wherever an epistle is explicitly said to have come from God, the same basic format is always used: the message is described as being from God our Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ. The order never varies and the wording hardly changes. This ties in very well with what we have seen from 1 Cor. 8: 6. It will also be observed that in every case, the Holy Spirit is never mentioned. The significance of this cannot be overstated, particularly when we consider that it was the Holy Spirit Himself who inspired and caused each letter to be written (see 1 Cor. 2: 13; 2 Tim. 3: 16).

Why then do the epistles never include the Holy Spirit in their opening salutations? Scripture itself furnishes us with the answer. In John 16, the Lord Jesus said that “when he is come, the Spirit of truth, he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself; but whatsoever he shall hear he shall speak” (v13, my emphasis). Of course the Holy Spirit, being God, has every right to speak from Himself, but that is not His way. He is instead the One through which these divine communications reach the Christian. Thus Paul speaks of things which “God has revealed to us by [his] Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God … that we may know the things which have been freely given to us of God” (1 Cor. 2: 10, 12). Nor does John’s expression “what the Spirit says to the assemblies” (Rev. 2: 7) in any way weaken this rule, for there the Holy Spirit speaks through John as the messenger of the One who says “I know” (v2). If the “Spirit speaks” (1 Tim. 4: 1) it is because He is conveying what He has heard. Again, the Lord says of the Spirit that “He shall glorify me, for he shall receive of mine and shall announce [it] to you” (John 16: 14). Thus the Spirit does not speak from Himself, but takes what is of Christ and conveys it to His people. In the next verse, the Lord goes on to say “All things that the Father has are mine; on account of this I have said that he” (the Spirit) “receives of mine and shall announce [it] to you” (v15). Thus the Father and the Son are associated together as being the source of divine communications, while the Holy Spirit brings them to the believer. The same principle applies in the epistles, and is why the apostle was led to omit the Holy Spirit from his salutations.


A Summary of the teaching of Scripture


Now would be an appropriate juncture to sum up what the Bible does or does not say about a direct address to the Holy Spirit in prayer and song:


  1. The Holy Spirit is God, but this is not, in itself, a reason to pray or sing to Him. Response to God must always be based on divine revelation, the record of which we have in the Bible alone. Tradition and human reasoning are irrelevant and tend to confuse rather than bring clarity. Ministry is also of no relevance, unless it is based solely and wholly on Scripture.
  2. 1 Cor. 8: 6 is a key verse in understanding how Christians ought to respond to God, namely that God is known objectively as Father, and Christ as Lord. The Holy Spirit is not mentioned because He has taken up a subjective place as the power rather than the object of our response (see Eph. 6: 18; Phil. 3: 3).
  3. Attempts to prove that 2 Cor. 3 and Acts 10 and 11 are evidence that the Holy Spirit is presented objectively are based on an unsound exegesis that conflicts with the general tenor of Scriptural teaching.
  4. The Holy Spirit is indeed another Comforter, but this does not mean that He is an identical comforter to the Lord Jesus. In His absence, the Lord encouraged His disciples to ask questions of the Father. There is no suggestion that questions were to be asked of the Holy Spirit.
  5. The Holy Spirit is never presented as the object of the believer’s love (love being the stimulus for response).
  6. As a man on earth, the Lord did everything in the power of the Holy Spirit, but not once is He recorded as addressing the Holy Spirit in prayer. In this sense (as in others) He is the model which we are to follow.
  7. Divine revelation gives us no form of words by which the Holy Spirit might be addressed. The Holy Spirit is never addressed in a doxology, and the salutations of the epistles never include Him. All this is totally in keeping with the subjective place that He has taken up in relation to the believer.


It will be noted that this summary is not based on isolated texts, but takes a holistic approach to NT revelation.


The Absent Antitype


Finally we must address the subject of typology. This is because if Scriptures are referred to in relation to the matter of a direct address to the Holy Spirit, they are almost always OT—despite the fact that the first Christians were characterised as persevering in the apostle’s doctrine (see Acts 2: 42). As we have already seen, nowhere in the record of the apostle’s doctrine (preserved principally in the epistles) is it taught, either by precept or example, that the Holy Spirit is to be addressed in our hymns or prayers. Now this is significant if we are to turn to the OT for instruction. Of course it is not impossible to find OT Scriptures that appear to be types (or pictures) of persons addressing the Holy Spirit but this on its own is not enough. In order to be regarded as genuine, a type needs an antitype—that is, a corresponding NT Scripture—or we are perfectly justified in questioning whether it is really a type at all. Interestingly, the same Greek noun (tupoς) translated type in 1 Cor. 10: 6 is used by Thomas in speaking of the mark of the nails (see John 20: 25). Without the crucifixion, the imprint would not be there. Hence, I repeat, a type must have an antitype. Now the particular antitype required for persons addressing the Holy Spirit does not exist. Of course many claims have been made about antitypes but the ‘evidence’ does not stand up to serious examination, and is utterly dependent on reading Scripture in a certain way. Nor are we talking about verses where the sense or the interpretation is beyond dispute. This is building a doctrine, not on facts, but on human interpretation of facts.

Now if the antitype in the NT does not exist, then the supposed type in the OT is spurious, and all discussion is at an end.[48] However, for the sake of completeness, we will consider a few of the more important typological claims that have been made.

Abraham’s Servant


Abraham’s servant, in bringing Rebecca to Isaac (see Gen. 24), is said to be a type of the Spirit bringing the Church to Christ—although the NT itself does not make the connection. Others have expressed doubts:


There may be a question in some minds as to whether we are to view this deeply–interesting portion of Scripture as a type of the calling out of the Church by the Holy Ghost. For myself, I feel happier in merely handling it as an illustration of that glorious work.[49]


Much is then made of the fact that Rebecca talks to the servant (see vs 18–19, 24–25, 65), a specific detail of the ‘type’ being thus said to speak of Christians addressing the Spirit. Other details, however, are overlooked. Why? For example, does v12 mean that the Holy Spirit prays to God? Or does v14 mean that the Holy Spirit is unsure of the mind of God, thereby contradicting 1 Cor. 2: 11? However pious the motives, handling Scripture in this way is not only unjust but absurd.[50]  


The Well in Numbers 21


Numbers 21: 17, “Rise up, well! Sing unto it” clearly has reference to the expectation that water would bubble up out of the ground once a well had been dug deep enough. Scripture distinguishes the pit (or well) and the water in it (see Jer. 6: 7; John 4: 11), and it is the latter that is a picture of the Holy Spirit (see John 4: 14).[51] It is not entirely clear to me whether the water or the pit (or both) is in view in Numbers 21, but, in any case, if the well is typical language, then the singing (to be consistent) must be typical language as well. Despite what some have alleged, this Scripture therefore has nothing to do with singing hymns to the Spirit, and indeed there is no warrant whatsoever for forcing very specific explanations upon the details of such OT Scriptures.

It is also important to appreciate that the Hebrew word anah translated sing in “Rise up, well! Sing unto it” is unrelated to the words for sang (shir) and song (shirah) in “Then Israel sang this song” (Num. 21: 17, my emphasis). Anah occurs several hundred times in the OT and (among other things) can be translated as heard, speak, and testify as well as sing. The most common translation, however, is answer in the sense of response. The instruction in the song (shirah) that Israel sang (shir) was therefore simply a call to respond (anah) to the well. What form this response takes is another question altogether. It could be argued that the sense is simply expressing recognition of the presence and place of the Holy Spirit.[52]


Ezekiel’s Prophecy


That Ezekiel prophesied to the wind (see Ezek. 37: 9, 10[53]) is undeniable (although it must not be overlooked that this took place in the unusual context of a vision). What this has to do with Christianity is for others to demonstrate. I am not aware of anyone who addresses the Holy Spirit as “O breath” (though this would, unlike so many others, have the advantage of being a Scriptural form of address). Ezekiel was an OT Jew and, as we have already noted, he would identify the Spirit of God with God Himself (see Ps. 139: 7) just as the spirit of a man is identified with the man (see Gen. 45: 27). Ezekiel would parallel God’s spirit with his own. Thus when God says “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes” (Ezek. 36: 27), the prophet would have Jehovah in mind both in relation to “my Spirit” and “my statutes”, rather than the Spirit distinctly. The same is probably true in Ezek. 37: 9—in addressing the wind, Ezekiel was addressing Jehovah. I say probably, because the Hebrew word translated wind may also be translated as breath or spirit, and sometimes this is impersonal. Similarly, in Revelation 11: 11 we have “after the three days and a half [the] spirit of life from God came into them”. Here the Greek noun pneuma (spirit) is not capitalised by Darby in his English translation, and could indeed be rendered breath. Now if it is not the Spirit personally that is referred to in Revelation 11: 11, why is it assumed that the Holy Spirit is referred to in Ezekiel 37: 9? Is it not more likely that the breath and the wind there are more akin to the impersonal breath of Genesis 2: 7?[54] What is abundantly clear is that none of this has anything to do with Christian worship.


Psalm 48


Psalm 48: 10, “According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth” is sometimes brought forward in combination with Matt. 28: 19, “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”—the inference being that praise is due to the Spirit distinctly since He is included in the name of God.

Connecting Christianity with Matt. 28: 19 not only overlooks the profound Jewishness of the passage, but also ignores the characteristic features of the present era. Matthew’s baptismal formula is followed by the Lord promising His disciples that he would be with them until the “completion of the age” (v20). The same phrase occurs earlier in the same Gospel (see Matt. 13: 39, 40, 49; 24: 3) and refers to the time of Christ’s public appearance in power and the ushering in of the millennium or “age to come” (Heb. 6: 5). It has nothing to do with His coming for the Church (see 1 Thess. 4: 16, 17), for when “Christ is manifested”, the Church will “be manifested with him in glory” (Col. 3: 4). The disciples in Matthew 28 are typical of those in a coming day who will be employed in the preparation for the incoming kingdom of Christ. The correspondence with John the Baptist is clear, but the scope will then have widened beyond Israel to “all the nations” (Matt. 28: 19), and the baptismal formula (which will be employed on earth after the rapture) has in view the submission of the heathen to the true nature of God. Matthew’s Gospel does not mention the ascension of Christ into glory, nor the consequent descent of the Holy Spirit to earth to permanently indwell the Church (see John 3: 13; 7: 39; 15: 26)—both these characteristic features of the present era are overlooked. In Matthew 28, Christ is presented as risen, and as having taken up kingdom power. In that context, He has promised to be with His disciples on earth until His throne is established (compare 1 Kings 2: 46). Hence the chapter has nothing to do with the present time, and thus has no bearing on how Christians should worship.

Turning to Psalm 48 itself, we find that the connection with Matthew 28 is contrived. The Hebrew word for name (shem) needs to be read in context. The simple fact is that it does not always carry the sense of identity, but can mean renown or prestige. Thus on the occasion of the building of the tower of Babel the men said: “let us make ourselves a name (shem)” (Gen. 11: 4; see also 2 Sam. 8: 13). Psalm 48 begins “Great is Jehovah …” and ends “for this God is our God for ever and ever …”—the greatness of God is before the Psalmist. That is the context of verse 10: “According to thy name” (shem), “O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth”. The sense is clearly that God’s praise is to correspond to His greatness, or, as we might put it, ‘according to thy renown, so is thy praise’. Introducing the idea of a distinct name of God into the Psalm has no warrant whatsoever, and ignores what the Psalm actually says.

It is unintelligent to take an OT Scripture like Psalm 48: 10, and use it to shape Christian doctrine and practice. Suppose it is insisted that the word name in Psalm 48: 10 means identity, then it is abundantly evident that the Psalmist would be referring to God as Jehovah, and not as Father, Son and Holy Spirit (see Ps. 20: 5, 7; 68: 4 etc.). However, leaving aside that significant problem, consider now whether it is possible that name, when taken out of its OT context and ‘interpreted’ in the light of the NT, will inevitably expand its meaning beyond Jehovah to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If it does not do this in every case, then the premise is false. Psalm 48: 10 itself is not quoted in the NT, but there is a well–known Psalm that is and can therefore definitely be interpreted in the light of Christian revelation: “I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee” (Ps. 22: 22, my emphasis). In Heb. 2: 12 these words are applied to the Lord Jesus. Now it is hardly intelligent, let alone reverent, to suggest that Christ sings to the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit[55]. Heb. 2: 12 refers to the Lord, as Man, addressing His God as v13 shows: “Behold, I and the children which God has given me”. Thus if the name of God in the NT need not refer to Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it is wholly spurious to inject such a meaning into Psalm 48: 10—particularly when that verse is not even ever quoted by NT writers.




In conclusion, it is clear that the teaching of a direct address in prayer and song to the Holy Spirit is built on an uncertain foundation, and is out of keeping with the general tenor of Scripture. The so–called ‘proof texts’ are mostly obscure, and all are capable of being understood in a different way to that which has sometimes been asserted. That the Holy Spirit is God is clear—but that in itself is insufficient reason to pray and to sing to Him. How we approach God is to be based solely on revelation, and in the present dispensation, that revelation may be summed up by 1 Cor. 8: 6: “to us [there is] one God, the Father, of whom all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom [are] all things, and we by him”.



[1] There are also no grounds for suppressing any discussion on whether the doctrine of addressing the Holy Spirit is Biblical. The excuse that it might disturb the peace of fellowship is mere human reasoning. Things need to be discussed if saints are to be established in the truth, and there is no threat from opening up the Word together in a spirit of enquiry. If debate is quashed, or only allowed if the outcome is pre–determined, then we are not far removed from the spirit of Roman Catholicism, where the teaching of ‘the church’ is paramount. It is also a very poor thing when a believer will only read what suits his taste and reinforces his pre–conceptions. Such are frequently established in a particular system of doctrine but it is often questionable whether they are established in the truth (see 2 Pet. 1: 12). The appeal that ‘these things were sorted out years ago’ is, in principle, a return to the Medieval notion that it is the ‘church’ that explains the Bible. We need to get the truth for ourselves from Scripture, and not have faith in ministry, however useful it may be.

[2] Darby, J N. Collected Writings, Stow Hill Bible & Tract Depot, volume 7 p205.

[3] Some refer to what they call ‘the ministry of the recovery’, but the term is problematic because it replaces “the word” (Acts 6: 4) with ‘the recovery’. One is infallible, the other is not. The test of a ministry associated with a spiritual revival (indeed any ministry) must always be the Word of God. Often a circular argument is in operation: the recovery is authenticated by the ministry associated with it, and the ministry is unimpeachable because of its association with the recovery!

[4] To question the rightness of addressing prayers and hymns to the Holy Spirit is seen by some as an attack on the ministry of James Taylor senior. This is precisely the problem. The issue is made to be one of ministry when in fact the issue is one of Scripture. “What does the Scripture say?” (Rom. 4: 3) is the only question that should be asked.

[5] See Zurich Letters 1955, p11.

[6] The first so–called Plymouth Brethren did not practise prayer and worship of the Holy Spirit. See for example, this 1871 explanation from a prominent teacher among the ‘Exclusives’:


O.—“Is prayer to the Holy Ghost a Scriptural thought?”

A.—“The Holy Ghost is God—a Divine person. When God, as such, without reference to the persons of the Godhead is addressed in prayer, it includes the Spirit, with the Father, and the Son. In the New Testament prayer is spoken of not as “to” but “in” the Holy Ghost. (See such passages as Eph. 6: 18; Jude 20; Rom. 8: 26–27). After redemption was accomplished, and the Lord Jesus in heaven—a Man in the glory of God—the Holy Ghost was sent down from Heaven (Acts 2). The Holy Ghost dwells in the body of the believer individually (1 Cor. 6: 19, &c.), and baptizes all believers collectively into “one body” here on earth (1 Cor. 12: 12–27), uniting them to Christ, the Head, in heaven. He is spoken of in Eph. 2: 18, as the power of our access to the Father, through Jesus, “For through him (Jesus) we both (believers from Jew and Gentile) have access by one Spirit unto the Father”. As Christians we “live in the Spirit” (Gal. 5), and “walk in the Spirit”. Hence, prayer should be “in the Spirit” also. It is not that the Holy Ghost is not worthy of all worship and prayer—He is God. But since redemption has been accomplished, God has been pleased to take a place with us, and in us, through His Spirit. This precludes the thought of the Holy Ghost being made by us the object of our prayers. Hence we find the Apostles addressing under His inspiration, the saints and assemblies of God; saluting them from the Father and the Son—the Spirit Himself being the One who, dwelling and acting in the Church, sends the salutation. This is the same in principle. It is, therefore, in Christianity, unintelligent to do so. If done in ignorance, it is one thing, but to do so when we have learned the Lord’s mind, and this grand central truth of Christianity, is quite another.” (Patterson, F G. Scripture Notes and Queries, Bible Truth Publishers 1961, p37).


J N Darby and F E Raven were also opposed:


It is not any question of Person or dignity as to the Holy Ghost that hinders His being the object addressed in prayer but the place He holds in the divine economy. (Letters of JND, Stow Hill Bible & Tract Depot, volume 2 p85).


You cannot properly address the Spirit, but this is for another reason, the Holy Ghost being the one who is in me, and so He cannot address Himself (Collected Writings G. Morrish, Volume 25, p427).


Ques: Would you say a word about the place they have taken?
FER: It is nothing new. The abstract idea of God is presented to us in the Father. Christ has taken the place of administration—one Lord. Then the Holy Spirit has taken the place of indwelling. I think we have to recognise divine Persons according to the place they have taken. For instance, we do not address prayers to the Holy Spirit for the simple reason that the Spirit of God has taken the place of indwelling.” (Raven, F.E. Ministry New Series Stow Hill Bible & Tract Depot, volume 10, pp334–335).


I think the Spirit indwelling the individual believer is an entirely distinct thought from the Spirit in the house, but I judge that the presence of the Spirit cannot be objective in its character (like Christ), or he would necessarily be an object of worship. (A letter dated 3rd August 1892 in Extracts of letters from F E Raven, G. Morrish 1908, p10).


This last reference was omitted in the 1963 edition of Raven’s letters. G Rainbow ( website) said this omission was inadvertent. A P Aris (who made me aware of the omission), said it was suppressed (pers. comm.). I suspect that neither could substantiate their claims. Raven’s letter was referred to in a Bible reading with James Taylor in 1950:


W.S.S. In one of Mr. Raven's letters, as brethren will generally know, he writes on the assumption that the Spirit is not viewed objectively and says if He were viewed objectively then He must be worshipped. I thought it was a helpful remark in view of what we understand of the truth now.

J.T. I do not see why the early brethren did not take on the thought of the Spirit of God as we have now. It was evidently not brought out at that time. I have no doubt, however, at all that if Mr Raven had what we have now he would fully agree with it, and Mr Darby as well. I fully believe that. (Taylor, J. Ministry New Series Stow Hill Bible & Tract Depot 1950, volume 70 p386).


If J Taylor did not understand why the early Brethren did not take on “the thought of the Spirit of God as we have now”, why is he so sure that they would “fully agree” with it now? Both Darby and Raven were originally in the Anglican Church in which prayers and hymns to the Holy Spirit were practised. In leaving that communion they did not continue the practise because the Bible did not teach it. Rather than “not brought out at that time”, there was a very definite abandoning of that which was (in their judgment) not supported by Scripture. J Taylor might like to think otherwise, but there is no substantial difference between what had been taught in Christendom for centuries and what was hailed as ‘new light’ among Taylor Brethren in the 1950s. In readings in Indianapolis (USA) in 1949, J Taylor made this bizarre statement (the bold italics are mine):


S.McC. I think what is in the minds of some is that in the notes of the Auckland meetings someone asked you if you would pray to the Spirit, and the reply was, ‘I would not pray to the Spirit’.

J.T. At that time, I was not clear myself about it as I have been since. If you are not clear, it is right to make it clear that you are hesitant.

S.McC. I am sure what you say is helpful, I do not think we should abide by statements made years ago and hold fast to them, saying the truth is authoritative and hold to them. There may be adjustment.

J.T. I do not think Mr Darby was as clear about that point as we are now. God has helped us and I know no one who would be more delighted than he were he here. He would be delighted, he would say, thank God. (Taylor, J. Ministry New Series Stow Hill Bible & Tract Depot 1949, volume 78 pp225–26).


This pronouncement is frankly absurd. J Taylor was not intimate with Darby and was about 12 years old when Darby died. The fact that such remarks could be made calls into question Mr Taylor’s state of mind towards the end of his life (he died in 1953), and undermines the view that he retained much ability to think through his ‘new’ ideas. That Stow Hill Bible and Tract Depot saw fit to publish such material is really inexcusable, and reflects badly on the spiritual judgment of those responsible.

[7] There is also another assertion to consider, namely that where teaching on this subject has been delivered in the power of the Spirit it is to be obeyed. Yet how do I know that it was of that character if I was not present when it was given? Am I to accept the reports of others as being authoritative? If I do, then I have abandoned the principle of being governed by the Word of God, and am on the road to popery and spiritual ruin. The onlyway to judge the character of any ministry is to test what is said or written by Scripture. Indeed, it is well–known that James Taylor’s later ministry regarding a direct address to the Holy Spirit contradicted his earlier teaching. This in itself demonstrates that ministry must always be tested by the Bible. I would go as far as to say that the matter of a direct address to the Holy Spirit would never have been able to establish itself among Taylor Brethren in the 1950s if they had not been in the process of jettisoning the concept of Scripture as the sole authority for doctrine and practise. In connection with this, R Grubb wrote the following in a prophetic letter to Taylor Brethren dated 24th February 1955:


Nor is this all. The teachings which are generally accepted amongst you, which you claim to be “divinely accredited”, are said to carry the full weight of divine authority (“Features of Authority in the Ministry” — S. McCallum). I beg of you, beloved brethren to ponder this fearful claim. It is to place your teachings on the same level as the Holy Scriptures—for, manifestly, they cannot carry more than the full weightof divine authority. Do not be deceived, brethren; God is not mocked; he will not suffer such pretension to pass unjudged.


The preface to the 1951 edition of the Little Flock hymnbook tells its own sorry tale. Ministry, not Scripture, had become the standard:


A general exercise having arisen to bring this hymn book into line with current ministry, especially to add what has been lacking, viz., songs of praise to the Holy Spirit, the compiler was asked to undertake this work.


Further details of this kind of thinking are found in Price’s published history of the 1951 hymnbook, including the following:


This led to much helpful enquiry as to the most suitable title by which the Spirit might be addressed in hymns, particularly those intended for use in the service of God (Price, G H S. The Hymn Book Revision 1951, Stow Hill Bible & Tract Depot, p8).


Sadly, the “helpful enquiry” is merely pious human reasoning. No form of address to the Holy Spirit is ever given to us in Scripture, and that ought to have stopped any speculation. However, the momentum was seemingly unstoppable, such that in 1953:


Mr A. E. Myles publicly stated in ministry that a time limit of three years must be imposed on all brethren to accept the ministry about addressing the Spirit as a separate Person of the Godhead, in praise and worship. Any who did not then comply must be withdrawn from. (Extract from an Outline of an assembly meeting held at Wallington 1956).


That this direction was taken up and carried out is evident from the examples cited in Brown, A.G., The departure from the truth after its recovery, 1970 and the Zurich Letters 1955 (see p3-5). As the latter publication states, “The test for fellowship is no longer the apostolic doctrine, in other words, God’s Word alone, but what the brethren have arrived at” (p5).

[8] The same sort of logic is applied to Rom. 8: 15: “but ye have received a spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father”. This is used by some to press the idea that the Holy Spirit is to be addressed before the Father at the Lord’s Supper, as it is He who leads us to the Father. This is human logic built on an assumption (that the Holy Spirit is to be addressed). It is not Biblical teaching.

[9] Significantly, divine revelation also teaches the same thing (see Job. 11: 7; Is. 55: 8, 9 etc.).

[10] The Bible translation used throughout is the 1890 edition by John Nelson Darby. This differs in some respects from later editions. The 1961 edition has, for example, emphasised a great many more words.

[11] It is important to distinguish between absolute names and relative names. The names the Father and the Son are absolute names (that is, they stand alone). The Son of God is a relative name as is the Spirit of God. Spirit of God, is the Spirit in relation to God. Now what is the absolute name of the Holy Spirit in contradistinction to that of the Father and the Son? Is it the Holy Spirit or is it the Spirit? From Matt. 28: 19, I judge it is the former. Now in the OT we read of the Spirit a number of times when the Holy Spirit is clearly meant, rather than other spirits. Relying on the text of the Septuagint (or LXX—see endnote 15), sometimes the Greek article is present, sometimes it is omitted. The expression Holy Spirit occurs just three times in the OT. I quote the relevant clauses: “and take not the spirit of thy holiness from me” (Ps. 51: 11), “and grieved his holy Spirit” (Is. 63: 10) and “Where is he that put his holy Spirit within him” (Is. 63: 11). While the definite articles are present in the Greek of the LXX before each of the words pneuma (spirit) and agion (holy), indicating that the Holy Spirit Himself is in view rather than the work characterised by Him, so are the relative pronouns thy or his in each case. This makes the name Holy Spirit relative and not absolute. Thus the Holy Spirit is not presented in the OT in an absolute sense in contradistinction to the Father and the Son. We have to wait until the NT for the declaration of the absolute names of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

[12] Examples of misplaced piety are Matt. 16: 22, 23 and John 13: 8.

[13] Haddad, P. (quoted on

[14] Many seem to have strayed dangerously close to tritheism in their views. Some remarks by another may be of interest here:


As the spirit of a man is to man, so, according to Paul, the Spirit of God is to God; in one sense the same, but in another sense distinct. The principle of the Christian life is not a mere impersonal power, but God Himself in a mysterious way dwelling and working in the soul. But it is God working in man to lead him to God as He is above him; hence the Spirit of God that works in him must be distinguished from God, yet not as a different being; but just as the spirit or mind of man may be distinguished from the man, and may be said to know the things of a man.” (Candlish, J. S. The work of the Holy Spirit T & T Clark p26; quoted in Bullinger, E W. The Giver and His Gifts Lamp Press, London p38).


[15] As is well-known, the NT manuscripts were written in the Greek language then prevailing. There was also a similar Greek translation of the OT available, known as the Septuagint (or LXX), and this is quoted several times in the NT.

[16] Jehovah was known as Father in the OT (see Ex. 4: 22; Is. 63: 16; Jer. 31: 9), but this was in relation to the nation of Israel as a whole rather than to individual saints.

[17] Interestingly, though this expression is found in all the surviving Greek manuscripts there is actually some doubt over its authenticity:


As to the Greek MSS. there are none beyond the fourth Century, and it seems clear that the Syrian part of the Church knew nothing of these words. Eusebius quotes this verse no less than eighteen times, and always quotes it in this form, “Go ye into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” He omits all reference to “baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” Now Eusebius, the great Ecclesiastical historian, died in 340 A.D., and his work belonged, therefore, in part to the third century. Moreover, he lived in one of the greatest Christian Libraries of that day. If the Greek MS. there contained these words it seems impossible that he could have quoted this verse eighteen times without including them. (Bullinger, E W. The Giver and His Gifts Lamp Press, London pp48–49).


[18] The name of Matt. 28: 19, and its presentation of the Godhead, must not be allowed to obscure the fact that in Christianity it is the Father’s name that is made known (see John 17: 26).  Both Scriptures (obviously) present truth, but the latter is what is characteristic of this dispensation.  

[19] As is well-known, there is no record of the Lord’s ascension in Matthew, and He is depicted as still on earth in the company of His disciples “until the completion of the age” (Matt. 28: 20). In keeping with this (compare John 7: 39), the Holy Spirit is not generally presented in Matthew’s Gospel in connection with the believer. The one exception is Matt. 10: 20 where the disciples are sent out by the Lord in service. Even here, however, it is not the Holy Spirit distinctly, but “the Spirit of your Father” (my emphasis). As Jews, the disciples would find nothing exceptional in this statement, and would regard the spirit of the Father, and the Father as one and the same.

[20] Except as they extraordinarily take on the appearance of a physical form. Thus the Holy Spirit descended “as a dove” (John 1: 32) upon the Lord Jesus at His baptism—although this would hardly fall within the correct usage of apokaluptw.

[21] We cannot be sure when the Gospel records were written or when they became widely available, but the fundamentals of the doctrine were definitely made known to the apostles before the formation of the Church (see Matt. 11: 27; 12: 32 etc.). Furthermore, the Father is certainly mentioned in connection with a company on earth after the rapture of the Church (see Rev. 14: 1), and probably also the Holy Spirit (see v13). I say probably because the word spirit could, conceivably, refer back to the angel of verse 9.

[22] The assertion that this is merely a contracted form of the full baptismal formula is utterly without foundation. The only reason that this assertion is made is because the Scriptural record would not fit in with the theological dogma without it.

[23] Nor does it say ‘there is one God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ either.

[24] The charge that not singing or praying to the Holy Spirit is effectively a denial of His deity is as cheap as it is unjust. It is of course easy to persuade unestablished souls of a particular viewpoint if the contrary opinion is dressed up in such stark and extreme terms.

[25] The expression ‘full deity’ is actually nonsensical, for deity is either deity or it is not. To talk of partial deity would be to deny deity. However, the context of 1 Cor. 8: 6 is the polytheistic worship of Corinth, which was not based on revelation, so the comment regarding the Lord against this background is valid, even if the language itself is illogical.

[26] The words “[the power of the]” are not in the original text but are supplied by the translator (in this case, J N Darby). They do, however, give the sense. There is no definite article to “Holy Spirit”, and it is therefore what is characteristic of Him, rather than the Holy Spirit personally that is in view. We might render it colloquially as ‘Holy Spirit power’.

[27] Occasionally the manuscripts written in lower case have capitals at the beginning of books or sections of books.

[28] Many have the misapprehension that the English version they hold in their hands is the Word of God. Strictly speaking, it is only a translation of the same. Inspiration belongs to the original text in Greek or Hebrew which God has seen fit to marvellously preserve down to our day largely undisputed. To have a faithful translation into English is a great blessing, but translations are not infallible. They necessarily contain the human element.

[29] The word Lord is a name or a title, and is used to qualify the word Spirit in the expression Spirit of the Lord. Now apart from the Holy Spirit, all spirits are created beings in which angels form a particular class. The initial mention in a Bible passage of an angel or a spirit in Greek is usually αγγελος or πνευμα and translates into English as an angel or a spirit. If further information is subsequently given about that particular angel or spirit, then the definite article is used in Greek (as in English) to identify him. Thus we have ο αγγελος, that is, the angel, or tο πνευμα, the spirit. For example, in the LXX of 1 Kings 19: 5, an angel (αγγελος, without the article) is introduced to us, but in verse 7 he is subsequently referred to as the angel (ο αγγελος) because the reader is familiar with which angel is meant. However, an individual angel or spirit cannot be introduced for the first time to the reader in Greek using the definite article because there are many angels and spirits (the one exception is when the Holy Spirit is distinctively meant as in Mark 1: 10, to πνευμαthe Spirit). If an angel or spirit is introduced for the first time in a passage as the angel or the spirit then a qualifying word or phrase identifying or marking out of that angel or spirit from all the rest is attached. Thus we often read of “an angel of the Lord” which in the LXX is αγγελος κυριου or “the Spirit of Jehovah” which is to πνευμα κυριου (as Greek had no distinctive word for Jehovah). In all these cases the word κυριου (of Lord or of Jehovah) never has the article in Greek as its sole purpose is to the spirit or the angel in question.

[30] See Darby, J.N. Collected Writings (On The Greek Article), Stow Hill Bible & Tract Depot, volume 13, p30.

[31] Greek had no distinctive word for Jehovah and hence uses the word κυριος.

[32] Needless to say, the chapter breaks in the Bible are not inspired and form no part of Scripture.

[33] In Greek there is no definite article for the word Lord in verse 18, “But we all, looking on the glory of the Lord …”. The only definite article is in relation to the word glory. This is not readily apparent to the reader in either the King James Version or the Darby translation.

[34] If “the Lord” in “Now the Lord is the Spirit” is the Holy Spirit, then the statement “the Lord is the Spirit” would like saying ‘Now the Spirit is the Spirit’ and thus meaningless.

[35] The meaning of the Lord (that is, Christ), being the spirit of the covenants, and thus characteristic of them, is that God has seen fit to put the stamp of Christ on both old and new covenants (as indeed the whole of Scripture). It is like a glass of water into which just a single drop of ink has been placed. The ink colours the water by permeating the whole. What the ink does for the water, Christ does for the covenants and the Scriptures. [I should also point out that since this booklet was first published correspondents of mine have drawn my attention to the following: On page 16, in consideration of 2 Cor. 3: 17, it says that the Lord is the spirit of the New Covenant, while on page 19, (also looking at verse 17) it says that the Lord is the spirit of the Old Covenant. In retrospect it may have been better to add a note to the section on page 16 that the Lord is also the spirit of the old covenant as well as the new. The comment on page 16 is made on the basis of ignoring the parenthesis of v7-16 and going back to verse 6, while the comment on page 19 is based on the content of the parenthesis. As it says later on page 19, “the Lord is the spirit of the old covenant, the new covenant and the whole of Scripture”].

[36] W Kelly comments on 2 Cor. 3: 17 as follows: “For it is an utter mistake to give “the spirit” in the first clause a capital letter, which would imply the Holy Ghost to be meant; and where would be the sense, where so much as the orthodoxy, of identifying the Lord with the Holy Ghost? To me the meaning, without doubt, is that the Lord Jesus constitutes the spirit of the forms and figures and other communications of the old covenant”. (Kelly, W. Notes on the Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians with a New Translation, G Morrish, no date p53). Accordingly (and unlike J N Darby), he gives the verse as “Now the Lord is the spirit, but where the Spirit of the Lord [is, there is] liberty” (see p7 of Kelly’s new translation).

[37] The word Lord without the article is the nature of the person characterising something else—a refinement of language which English hardly bears. However, in connection with the word God without the article, this can be expressed in English by using the word divine in such phrases as divine righteousness or divine power. Thus the expression righteousness of God means righteousness that belongs to God—His righteousness—whereas divine righteousness means righteousness characterised or bearing the stamp of God. In such phrases as divine righteousness or divine power, the nature of God characterises the righteousness or the power. Unfortunately with the word Lord no such equivalent word to divine exists in English.

[38] The presence of the article before the word “Spirit” does not in itself guarantee that the Holy Spirit is the object in the apostle’s mind. The definite article is also used when the writer is referring back to an initial mention of the subject before him (in this case, a previous mention of spirit).

[39] J N Darby was well aware of this difficulty and commented as follows in the 1871 preface to his translation of the NT:


The use of a large or small ‘s’ is of extreme difficulty in the case of the Word Spirit; not in giving it when the Holy Spirit is simply spoken of personally. There it is simple enough. But as dwelling in us, our state by it, and the Holy Spirit itself, are so blended as to make it then very difficult; because it is spoken of as our state, and then as the Holy Ghost. If it be put large, we lose the first; if small, the Spirit personally. I can only leave it with this warning, calling the attention of the reader to it. It is a blessed thought that it is so blended in power that our state is so spoken of, but if we lose the divine person, that blessing itself is lost. The reader may see, not the difficulty, for it does not exist there, but the blending of the effect and the person in Romans 8: 27.


And again in notes to Rom. 1: 4 and 8: 9:


In many cases it is impossible to put a small s or a large S rightly to the word Spirit, as the presence and power of the Holy Ghost characterize the state, and that and the state are both included … it is not merely a state, but that state which consists in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and is the absolute expression of it … Another instance of the difficulty of putting a large or small ’S’. It is clearly the state and characteristic of the believer, but it is so by the presence of the Spirit.


[40] See Noble, S D. The Darby Bible—its various editions compared, 2016, for evidence of how later editions of the Darby Bible were altered by Taylor Brethren publishers after Darby’s death, including instances of capitalisation of the word spirit. [Other alterations have also been made. Since first publication of this booklet, a correspondent has drawn attention to John 14: 17 and note c in the 1961 edition of the Darby Bible: “Objective knowledge: see Note, 1 Cor. 8: 1”. Interestingly, note c is lacking in the 1890 edition of Darby’s translation, and the other note in 1 Cor. 8: 1 has been substantially re-worked as to be almost unrecognisable. Leaving that aside, what can be made of John 14: 17 itself, where the Holy Spirit is presented as being known in an objective way (the Greek word used there is ginwskw  and means objective knowledge)? In response, it must be emphasised that this verse was addressed to the disciples, not to Christians as such. So how then, did the disciples know the Holy Spirit? By His actions in and through the Lord Jesus on earth (see Matt. 12: 28; Luke 4: 14 etc.). It was in that sense the Holy Spirit abode with them (see John 14: 17) for the Lord was abiding with them (see v 25). The Holy Spirit did not abide with them in any other sense yet, because the “may be with you for ever” (v 16) was yet future (the word be in v 16 and abide in vs. 17 and 25 are identical in Greek). So the reason the Lord gives for the objective knowledge the disciples had of the Holy Spirit was what they had seen in Himself. “Ye know him” (v 17) is in the present tense, and cannot refer to the future relationship. “Shall be in you” is future, and simply states that the One they had seen objectively in the Lord Jesus, they would also know subjectively, in the knowledge of His presence within them. The Lord had to use either ginwskw or oida in the passage, and since the word know is directly connected to what they were currently witnessing (“for he abides with you”), ginwskw was the most suitable word in the context. In a general sense, it is not wholly inappropriate for what follows (“and shall be in you”) but the indirect connection means that it is inappropriate to load too much specificity of meaning. An objective presentation of the Holy Spirit is also found in John 1: 32 where John the Baptist “beheld the Spirit” (my emphasis). However, neither Scripture affects the consistent lesson of the NT that to Christians the Holy Spirit is presented as having taken up a subjective position.]

[41] If we assume that the Holy Spirit is meant by “the Spirit” in Acts 10: 19, then we are left with the question of how the message was conveyed to Peter. Was it heard in his ears or simply in his mind? Despite popular belief, there is no biblical evidence that the Holy Spirit seeks to communicate with us as a voice ‘out of the air’. Such claims are invariably based on supposed experiences. Of course there is no doubt that the Holy Spirit does communicate with God’s people—how else would He teach them all things (see John 14: 26)? However, according to Scripture, the Holy Spirit speaks to us both through persons and through the Word (see Acts 21: 10, 11; 1 Tim. 4: 1; Heb. 3: 7; 2 Pet. 1: 21; similarly, in the reverse situation in Acts 5: 3 when Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit it was not a question of him speaking directly to the Spirit). Of course Philip’s experience in Acts 8: 29 is often brought forward as ‘proof’ of the Holy Spirit speaking without the instrumentality of persons or Scripture, but the sense of the word spirit there is far from clear. Some connect it with the Spirit of the Lord in verse 39 (which, note, is not the Holy Spirit distinctively, but only in relation to the “Lord”), while others associate it with the angel in verse 26 (compare Ps. 104: 4). There is, after all, a very close parallel in word structure between “[the] angel of [the] Lord” (Acts 8: 26) and “[the] Spirit of [the] Lord” (v39)—in both cases the words in brackets are absent in the original Greek. Of course God is recorded as speaking both in the mind (see Gen. 15: 12–21 etc.) and as a voice to the ears (see Gen. 3: 9; Exod. 3: 4 etc.), but this is never said distinctly of the Holy Spirit. Acts 10: 19 may be an exception to this rule, but it is an extremely uncertain foundation on which to base a system of doctrine. The very fact that such Scriptures are being appealed to is an indication of the paucity of the supposed ‘evidence’ for the theory being advanced.

The question might also be raised as to how practically the Holy Spirit would bring “demonstration to the world” (John 16: 8), and I would judge this would primarily be through the testimony of the Word of God (whether read or heard).  That the Holy Spirit speaks is clear (Rev. 2: 7 etc.), but Scripture consistently presents His voice as being heard indirectly. This might be through believers (see Acts 11: 28) or, more remarkably, through unbelievers (see Matt. 27: 19; John 11: 50). The Holy Spirit can also speak through circumstances, and this seems the most likely explanation of Acts 16: 6, where Paul and Silas were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia”. It could hardly be a literal voice, since then we would have to argue that Paul and Silas wilfully ignored it when “they attempted to go to Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (v7). Rev. 22: 17 (“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come”) might seem an exception to the Holy Spirit speaking indirectly, but the sense is that the yearnings of both Spirit and the bride are in unison, and that they are expressed as one. It is not said how they are expressed, but I would suggest that the Spirit speaks through the bride.

[42] The simplistic response that Peter would recognise the Lord’s voice is disproved by John’s reaction in Rev. 1: 1–18. The Father also speaks as a voice from heaven (see Matt. 3: 17; 17: 5 etc.) but not in the conversational way of Acts 10: 13–15. The use of the title Lord and the ecclesiastical nature of the issue would all point to the owner of the “voice” as being the Lord Jesus Christ.

[43] Nouns such as pistiV (faith) have a corresponding verb (pisteuw, I believe); others such as bibloV (book) do not. Thus some nouns are related to their corresponding verbs and some are not. Now the word paraklhtoV (comforter) is not a noun but a participle. A participle is a verbal adjective, meaning that it is a form of its associated verb (in this case parakalew) and may be used to describe a noun e.g. such as the participle shiningin the phrase the shining sun. The relationship between a participle and its associated verb is thus more intimate than what might exist between a noun and a verb. As paraklhtoV is employed as a noun, its English translation is one called alongside, but being actually a participle, the strictly, literal translation is called alongside in which the English word called is in the passive voice.

[44] Acts 9: 31 is the only Scripture in which the comfort of the Holy Spirit is directly referred to: “The assemblies then throughout the whole of Judaea and Galilee and Samaria had peace, being edified and walking in the fear of the Lord, and were increased through the comfort of the Holy Spirit” (my emphasis). This word (paraklhsiς) is found 28 more times in the NT including Luke 2:25; Rom. 15: 4; 2 Cor. 1: 3–7 and Heb. 6: 18. In Acts 9: 31, the sense is probably the encouragement that comes from an awareness that God is with the saints. It is surely to be accompanied by that unspoken appreciation in the soul of the Holy Spirit’s service (compare endnote 52). Thanks, if audible, would be expressed to God.

[45] Space precludes us dealing with the subject of prayer and worship of the Lord Jesus Christ in any depth.  However, far from it being unintelligent for the Christian to speak to the Lord directly, the first Corinthian epistle was addressed to “all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”, (1 Cor. 1: 2). Later we read that the faithful believer is to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart”, (2 Tim. 2: 22). Indeed, the Christian begins his career by calling upon the name of the Lord to be saved, (Acts 2: 21; Rom. 10: 13). No one doubts that when Peter speaks of invoking the Father, (1 Pet. 1: 17), he means addressing the Father, yet this is the same Greek verb (epikalew) that is translated “call” in the other Scriptures referenced. There are also numerous instances in the NT where the Lord is recorded as being addressed directly (see Acts 7: 59, 60; 9: 5, 10–17; 22: 10; 2 Cor. 12: 8 etc.).

[46] Furthermore, if we examine those epistles without explicit salutations from God, the doxologies there do not elicit a recorded response to the Holy Spirit either (see Heb. 13: 20, 21; 1 Pet. 5: 10, 11; 2 Pet. 3: 18; Jude v 24, 25).

[47] Incidentally, the expression ‘God the Son’ is not found in Scripture, nor ‘God the Spirit’. You might ask why, since both (on the basis of Scripture) are God. The answer is simple: 1 Cor. 8: 6: “yet to us [there is] one God, the Father”. That, as we have seen, is the Christian position as taught in Scripture. It may well be that ‘God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit’ is a common expression among Christians, but, in reality, it is verging on Tritheism. Nor does 1 Cor. 8: 6 teach a form of Unitarianism. Unitarianism is a denial of the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and 1 Cor. 8: 6 does neither. 1 Cor. 8: 6 is a simple statement of the fact that to us (Christians), God is viewed as Father, while the Lord Jesus is Lord. Other Scriptures bear this out. For example: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all” (Eph. 4: 5, 6; my emphasis).

[48] John 10: 35 (“and the scripture cannot be broken”) has sometimes been quoted in this connection, as if this gives legitimacy and authority to the specific interpretation placed upon certain OT Scriptures. Certainly the force of a Scripture cannot be dismissed or ignored, but you do have to get the interpretation right in the first place. Perhaps more than any other book, the Bible has suffered from fanciful ‘explanations’ of its content that owe more to imagination than divine teaching. It matters little whether these come from false and evil teachers or naïve and well–meaning enthusiasts, for the effect is the same: we lose the message that God desires to convey to us.

[49] See Mackintosh, C H. Genesis to Deuteronomy Notes on the Pentateuch, Loizeaux Bros, p103.

[50] Some Christians read printed ministry without an open Bible, and thus are easily taken in by statements that, on a superficial level, seem credible. The same statements are then repeated in Bible readings without there ever being a critical examination of their veracity.

[51] See Simmonds, G W. Dialogues on the Holy Spirit and on Separation, 1968 pp4–7 where the subject is dealt with more fully.

[52] The singing referred to in Numbers 21 has not always been taken to be literal singing by Taylor Brethren or by James Taylor himself. For instance in ministry given in 1908 the singing was viewed figuratively:


J.N.H. How do you sing unto it? J.T. It is a question of recognition; the Spirit now becomes recognised in your soul. W.H.C. You give the Spirit His place. J.T. That is it, and His full place. If you sing to a person, you give that person his full place. The answer to the springing well is Canaan. (Taylor, J. Ministry New Series Stow Hill Bible & Tract Depot, volume 2 pp237–238).


C A Coates took a similar view:


We should remember that if it is possible to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, it is also possible to please and cheer Him by our hearty appreciation of His presence, and of all that it may mean to us. The blessedness of the Well will only be realised by those who know how to value it, and who encourage it to “Rise up” (Coates, C A. An outline of the book of Numbers, Stow Hill Bible & Tract Depot, p286).


Coates died in 1945, shortly before the introduction of prayers and hymns to the Holy Spirit among Taylor Brethren.

[53] The additional claim that in Ezekiel 2: 2 the prophet addressed the Holy Spirit is erroneous. The One speaking in both verses 1 and 2, is the same as He who spoke in Ezekiel 1: 26-28, and is clearly Jehovah. The words “when he spoke unto me” in verse 2 refer back to Jehovah, not the Spirit. The sense is that the Spirit entered the prophet when Jehovah spoke to the prophet.

[54] In Genesis 2: 7 the Hebrew word for breath is neshamah, while in Ezekiel 37: 9, the word is ruach. Both are used together in Gen. 7: 22, where Darby has a note in his translation: “Lit. ‘breath of spirit of life’. Robert Young translates Gen. 7: 22 as “all in whose nostrils is breath of a living spirit”. Ruach appears to have a wider range of meaning than neshamah (for example, ruach in Genesis 8: 1 clearly means a physical wind).

[55] Or indeed, that in this context, the Lord declares the name of God to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In declaring “thy name” (Heb. 2: 12), the sense is that He makes God known to His brethren, and for the Hebrew Christians, this would be God as Father (see John 17: 26; Heb. 12: 9).