The Spirit Of Jesus Christ

I recently received a series of emails from someone who was not pleased with what they read on my blog. They felt the need to tell me how wrong and deceived I am for not believing in “God Jesus” – yes that was their exact words. After writing a response in which I used a number of passages from the book of Acts to show that the apostle Peter did not believe about Jesus what this person believed, I received more emails, one in which the only response to what I had written was to quote Acts 16:7 and to give what I suppose they thought was an exegesis of this verse:

Acts 16:7  And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.

When you die, can you send the spirit of Troy back and either allow or prevent things from happening to the brethern? Only God has the power and the capability to do so!

I really love it when people challenge me like this. Often it will cause me to examine something in Scripture that I had never really thought much about before. And so this email stirred me to enquire as to how this and related passages can be understood within the framework of my Biblical Unitarian beliefs. When confronted with challenges like this I always try to seek for the simplest solution possible rather than going for more complicated explanations. 

Before I delve into the subject at hand, I want to note how telling this person’s email response is. It is clear that this person believes that Jesus is God because of their constant use of “God Jesus” or sometimes “Jesus God” when referring to Jesus. I don’t know if they believe in the Trinity since they never mentioned the word, although they did mention the “Holy Father God” once. What is telling is that this person believes Jesus is God and that the Bible teaches this, yet the only passage they could come up with from the book of Acts to substantiate this was Acts 16:7. But how can this be? If it is true that the apostles and the early believers and the authors of the NT all believed that Jesus was God, one would not need to hunt for verses here and there, which merely imply this great truth, but the pages of the NT would be replete with overt affirmations declaring it, just as they are regarding the Father’s deity. Yet this is not what we find. Instead, supposed proof-texts for the deity of Jesus are always non-explicit, ambiguous in nature and far and few between. Indeed, every such proof-text is capable not only of alternative interpretations but of contextually better interpretations.

The Passages

Here are the only four passages which speak of either the ‘spirit’ of Jesus, of Jesus Christ, or of Christ.

  1. Acts 16:7  –  spirit of Jesus
  2. Rom. 8:9  –  spirit of Christ
  3. Phil. 1:19  –  spirit of Jesus Christ
  4. 1 Pet. 1:11  –  spirit of Christ

What exactly is being communicated by these expressions? My anonymous email interlocutor’s point seems to be that Jesus can’t be simply a human being if such things are said of him. But let’s see what some trinitarian commentators say about these unusual phrases. On Rom. 8:9 the Cambridge Bible comments regarding “the Spirit of Christ” :

The phrase is indeed remarkable, just after the words “the Spirit of God” ; it at least indicates St. Paul’s view of  the Divine majesty of Messiah.

Barnes says this:

He (Paul) regarded “the Spirit” as equally the Spirit of God and of Christ, as proceeding from both; and thus evidently believed that there is a union of nature between the Father and the Son. Such language could never be used except on the supposition that the Father and Son are one; that is, that Christ is divine.

William Godbey’s commentary states:

Here we have a beautiful and lucid affirmation of the divine unity. “Spirit” occurring three times in this verse. First, He is the Holy Spirit; in the second place, the Spirit of the Father; and in the third instance, the Spirit of the Son, and identical throughout, illustrating clearly the identity of the three persons constituting the Godhead, and the identity of the Spirit of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Robert Haldane, in his commentary on Romans wrote:

The same Spirit that is called the Spirit of God in the preceding part of the sentence, is in this latter part called the Spirit of Christ, because Christ having, by virtue of his sacrifice, obtained the Spirit for his people, sends Him into their hearts, John 16:7. Christ, then, who sends the Holy Spirit, must be God.

Regarding 1 Peter 1:11 Joseph Benson wrote:

The Holy Spirit, as a Spirit of prophecy communicated to them by Christ, who therefore then existed, and that not as a creature, for no creature can give the Holy Ghost but a person properly divine. Here then we learn that the inspiration of the Jewish prophets was derived from Christ; it was his Spirit which spoke in them.

Coffman’s commentary on Acts 16:7 states emphatically:

The Spirit of Jesus is here recognized as exactly the same as the Spirit of God, indicating forcefully that the full deity and godhead of Jesus Christ was fully accepted and received by the Christians at the mid-point of the first century.

After reading these comments I simple have to ask the question: How do these biblical expressions lead to the conclusions reached by these commentators, i.e. that Christ must be divine or God? None of these expositors offers any reason for reaching this conclusion, except maybe Benson, who says that “no creature can give the Holy Ghost but a person properly divine.” But this itself is an unfounded premise, a mere assertion, for which he offers no Scriptural evidence. In fact all of these comments are simply that – mere assertions, based solely on the presupposition of Trinitarianism.

Not only that, but it seems to me that these unusual expressions actually work against the trinitarian doctrine. In all of the above comments the point is made that the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus (of Christ or of Jesus Christ) are equivalent. Yet in the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is as much distinct from Christ as Christ is from the Father. There is to be no “confounding of the persons” according to the orthodox creed. But what are these expositors doing if not confounding the persons of the Son and the Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is a divine person in his own right, distinct from the Father and the Son, then how can the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Christ be the same thing. If anything, these expressions might lend support to the Oneness doctrine or Sabellianism, where Jesus just is the Father and the Spirit, but are certainly  no support for the Trinity doctrine.

 Now to be fair, some trinitarian commentators do not follow the line of reasoning of the commentators I quoted above. A number of them see the expressions regarding the ‘spirit of Christ’ as prooftexts for the ‘orthodox’ doctrine of the procession of the Spirit from both the Father and the Son. Hence the spirit of Christ means the spirit that is from Christ. This procession is supposed to be an ‘eternal’ procession. But any fair-minded reader of Scripture would have to acknowledge that such a concept is found no where in it’s pages. While it is true that the ‘of‘ in the phrase ‘spirit of Christ’ (or of Jesus or of Jesus Christ) should best be understood as ‘from‘, at least in three of the four verses, it is not true that this has anything to do with the concept of an eternal procession of the Spirit from the Son, as asserted in Western Christian orthodoxy, as we shall see.

The Messiah Sends The Spirit

In the upper room discourse in John chapters 14-17, Jesus tells his disciples of the holy spirit, which he refers to (and likely personifies) as the ‘helper‘ (Gr. parakletos – one who comes alongside to assist). He says much about this promised gift of the Father, but some of what he says may be confusing. For instance, he first says {14:25-26} that the Father will send this promised gift in his i.e. Jesus’ name, probably meaning ‘in place of Jesus,’ for he had told them he was going to the Father. Next he says {15:26} that he himself will send the spirit from the Father (for he will be with the Father when he sends it) and that the spirit is that which goes forth from the Father. Once again, in 16:7, he reiterates that he himself will send the spirit to his disciples.

So who was it that sent the promised holy spirit upon the waiting disciples on the day of Pentecost, the Father or Jesus the Messiah? The answer can be found in Acts 2:33 :

Exalted to the right hand of God, he (Jesus) has received from the Father the promised holy spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

So we see that the man Jesus of Nazareth, having been exalted to God’s right hand, received the promised holy spirit from the Father and then poured it out upon the waiting disciples. What this tells us is that God, who is the Father, is the ultimate source of the holy spirit, but that it is through Jesus that the spirit is actually given to believers. The Apostle Paul agrees with this assessment:

He (God our Savior) saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the holy spirit, which he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. . . Titus 3:5-6

The Father, who is God, is the primary source of the holy spirit, for the spirit belongs to him and is his gift to us. The exalted Jesus is the secondary source, for it is through him that the Father’s gift is actually poured out upon men. Therefore the spirit can be said to be both from God and from Jesus the Messiah.

The Ablative Genitive

In koine Greek, as in other languages, the genitive case is used to indicate the relationship of one noun to another. This is usually expressed in English by the word ‘of.’ There are various kinds of relationship that can be denoted by the genitive noun, such as possession, attribution and ablation. The only way to know what type of relationship is being expressed in any given genitive construction is by the context of the passage in which it is found.

I want to show that in many cases, where in our English bibles the genitive relationship is expressed by the word ‘of,’ it is better to understand that relationship as ‘from.’ Lets look at some genitive constructions in the NT to demonstrate this assertion.

  • righteousness of God – Rom. 3:21-22  –  The relationship between God and righteousness could be taken as possessive i.e. the righteousness which God has; or attributive i.e. a righteous God; or ablative i.e. a righteousness from God. We can gain help from the wider context of the book of Romans to ascertain what kind of relationship Paul envisioned between God and righteousness in Rom. 3:21. In Rom. 5:15-17 righteousness is said to be a gift which men receive from God. We can go to the wider context of other of Paul’s letters also. In Phil. 3:9 Paul states plainly that righteousness comes from God (ten ek theou dikaiosynen). Therefore the phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ actually means ‘the righteousness that comes from God.’
  • bread of God – John 6:32-33  –  The genitive construction here cannot denote possession, i.e. it is not bread that belongs to God. Neither can it be attributive, i.e. bread is not a quality of God. The only possible relationship between God and the bread that makes sense is ablation, i.e. the bread that comes from God, and in fact, this is precisely what the context says in v. 32.
  • promise of God – Rom. 4:20  –  This is clearly meant to be an ablative genitive. The verse speaks of the promise which came to Abraham from God.
  • law of Moses – This example is especially pertinent to our four verses regarding the ‘spirit of Christ’ (or ‘of Jesus’ or ‘of Jesus Christ’). The relationship of Moses to the law is not one of possession or attribution, but of ablation. When the Bible speaks of the “law of Moses” it is really the law of God that is being referenced. The law came ultimately from God but through Moses {Lev. 26:46; John 1:17}. The Scriptures plainly present the law as coming from God yet it is at times referred to as the “law of Moses.” Therefore the phrase ‘law of Moses’ actually means ‘the law which God gave through Moses,’ or simply ‘the law which came through Moses.’

The relevance of this information to the phrase ‘spirit of Christ’ should be obvious – ‘spirit of Christ’ must mean ‘the spirit which came from God through Christ’ or simply ‘the spirit which came through Christ.’ So let’s go through our four passages to see how this fits.

Acts 16:7 –  The commentators quoted above are correct to point out that ‘the spirit of Jesus’ is equivalent to ‘the holy spirit’ in v. 6, for, as we have seen, the holy spirit comes to believers through Jesus. What else could it possibly mean? Is it a possessive genitive, i.e. the spirit that belongs to Jesus? In trinitarian theology does the second person of the Trinity possess the third person of the Trinity? Is it to be understood as attributive, i.e. is the holy spirit an innate quality or attribute of Jesus? Should this genitive be regarded as appositional i.e. the spirit which is Jesus? While a Oneness believer may like this option it is certainly more than a trinitarian would want to assert. In the context of the book of Acts, we have already seen, in 2:33, that the exalted man Jesus of Nazareth {see 2:22 & 32} received the promised holy spirit from God and poured it out on the believers. Yet nowhere in the context of the book of Acts is Jesus ever regarded as the holy spirit. Therefore the context demands us to understand the genitive construction in Acts 16:7 as ablative i.e. the spirit from (or through) Jesus.

Philippians 1:19  –  In the context of this passage their is no mention of the holy spirit or spirit of God in apposition to the phrase “the spirit of Jesus Christ.” Still it is reasonable to assume this expression to be referring to the gift of the spirit which God has given through Jesus the Messiah to believers. “The spirit of Jesus Christ” denotes the fact that the spirit we have received is from Jesus Christ, who received it from God with the intention of imparting it to us.

Romans 8:9 –  Once again it is correct to assume that ‘the spirit of God’ and ‘the spirit of Christ’ are referring to the same thing in this verse. In fact this verse is even more clear than the previous ones. The spirit is ultimately from God but comes to us through Christ. If anyone does not have the spirit which comes to us from God through Christ, he does not belong to Christ. However, there is an alternative way to understand this expression in this verse.

There is a bad habit that Christians have when reading the Bible that must be broken. That is, assuming that every time you see the word ‘spirit’ it refers to the holy spirit or to a spirit being such as an angel or demon. The Hebrew word ruach and the Greek word pneuma both have a wide semantic range and it cannot just automatically be assumed that these words always refer to the holy spirit or a spirit being. One sense that pneuma carries in the NT is that of a prevailing disposition or frame of mind which becomes the distinguishing characteristic of a person. This sense can be seen in these verses: Lk. 1:17; Rom. 1:4; 11:8; 1 Cor. 2:12(?); 2 Cor. 4:13; Eph. 1:17; 4:23; 1 Tim. 1:7; 1 Pet. 3:4. These are the more obvious verses in which ‘spirit’ carries this meaning, but to this list I would add some less obvious ones: Rom. 8:15 and Gal. 4:6. I believe these two passages are saying the same thing, so that the phrases “the spirit of sonship” and “the spirit of His son” are synonymous. This is referring to the fact that when a person believes in the Lord Jesus he receives from God a prevailing disposition of sonship, wherein he has complete confidence that God is his Father on an personal level (which enables him to cry out to God, “Abba, Father). This is different than the mindset of Jews before the coming of Messiah. Though they would have affirmed the fatherhood of God in regard to the nation, i.e. Israel, they would not have had the confidence to address God as Father on a personal level. This is a distinctive of those who have received the ‘spirit of sonship’ through faith in Messiah, the son of God. I experienced this very thing when I first turned to the Lord. One day I knew myself to be estranged from God and the next day I was able to regard God as my Father and myself  as his child.

So ‘the spirit of Christ’ in this verse would mean the prevailing frame of mind of Christ which characterized his life i.e. his keen  awareness of his sonship in relation to God. If any one does not have this same ‘spirit of Christ’ then he is not ‘of him.’

1 Peter 1:11 –  Here the holy spirit is probably once again being referred to as the ‘spirit of Christ.’ Again this would mean the holy spirit which comes from God through Christ. Of course, here the phrase was used anachronistically, for the holy spirit was not yet the ‘spirit of Christ’ at the time the prophets predicted the sufferings of Messiah. Peter is speaking from his present perspective (i.e. after Messiah has been exalted) and retrospectively calls the holy spirit ‘the spirit of Christ.’ It is also interesting to see that the NIV Study Bible’s (1985) comment on this verse agrees:

Spirit of Christ.   The Holy Spirit is called this because Christ sent him (see Jn 16:7) . . .

However, there is another possible way to understand the phrase here. ‘Spirit of Christ’ could be referring to the fact that some prophets who predicted the sufferings of Messiah did so in the first person, as if they were Messiah i.e the spirit of Messiah was in them { See Ps. 22 & 69; Is. 50:4-9}. In this sense the word ‘spirit’ would mean something like frame of mind. David and Isaiah, in these passages, spoke as if they had the frame of mind of the coming future Messiah, as if they were him and were themselves experiencing his future rejection and sufferings.

Does Christ’s Sending Of The Spirit Necessitate His Being God

We must now answer the assertion of some of the commentators cited earlier in this article. Some of them rightly observe that the holy spirit is called ‘the spirit of Christ’ because the spirit is from Christ. Robert Haldane’s comment is worth repeating here:

The same Spirit that is called the Spirit of God . . . is . . . called the Spirit of Christ, because Christ having, by virtue of his sacrifice, obtained the Spirit for his people, sends Him into their hearts, John 16:7.

He gets it exactly right that Messiah, having received the promised holy spirit from God, then poured it out upon his people, according to Acts 2:33, which is the fulfillment of his promise in John 16:7. However, he then goes on to say:

Christ, then, who sends the Holy Spirit, must be God.

But does this second claim necessarily follow from the first? I don’t see any reason why it should. Barnes, though, agrees with Haldane, asserting: “Such language could never be used except on the supposition that . . . Christ is divine.” But this is a non-sequitur and is simply an assumption on the part of these expositors. They offer no scriptural argument for this assumption, just a mere assertion. But why should one assume this? Why should we assume that an exalted human being could not participate in the sending of the spirit, if God has willed it to be so. It seems to me that one of the reasons upon which this assumption is grounded is the presupposition that the holy spirit is a divine person as well. In other words, these expositors are working under the presupposition of trinitarianism, and under that belief it would be impossible for anyone but a divine person to send the holy spirit, another divine person. For them, the idea that a human person, no matter how exalted, could be tasked with sending a divine person is unthinkable. But if one does not have trinitarianism as a presupposition then there really is no problem. If the holy spirit is not a divine person but rather an anointing, a gift of power from God, then who are we to say that God cannot entrust this gift to an exalted man of his choosing, to be the agent through whom this spirit is given to other men. But is there any biblical evidence that God would entrust such a divine gift to a man? Yes there is.

In the theologies of trinitarianism and oneness Jesus is assumed to be God. With this assumption in mind, all of Christ’s redemptive works are viewed as something that only a divine person can accomplish. While it is acknowledged that Christ is also human, due to the incarnation, it is really his divinity which is credited with his salvific acts. Jesus is seen in these theologies to be the God-man, not just a man, and his work really only has value because of his divine nature. But is this what scripture teaches? Not at all! In very key passages of scripture, which speak of different aspects of Jesus’ redemptive acts, we find something quite telling – we find an explicit mention of his humanity but complete silence as to a divine nature.

  • His miraculous works – Acts 2:22
  • His rulership over the world – Acts 17:31
  • His sacrificial death – Rom. 5:15-19; 1 Tim 2:5; Heb. 2:5-17
  • His agency in mans resurrection – 1 Cor. 15:21
  • His mediatorship – 1 Tim. 2:5
  • His priesthood – Heb. 5:1, 4-5

Now it is plain to see from these passages that the efficacy of Messiah’s salvific acts is not reliant upon his being divine, but rather upon his being human. Even if one assumes Jesus to be more than human he at least has to admit that Jesus’ humanity is at the forefront in relation to his redemptive work.

Even in the one clear passage which tells us that Christ received the promised holy spirit from God and then poured it out on the believers {Acts 2:33}, his humanity is explicitly stated, but there is no mention of a supposed divinity.  The apostle Peter refers to “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God” {v. 22}. He then goes on to tell of how he was put to death but how God raised him from the dead. He quotes a passage from Ps. 16 and shows how it refers to Messiah’s resurrection. Then in v. 32 he says, “God has raised this Jesus to life.”  Peter says “this Jesus” because he is referring back to the last mention of Jesus in v. 22 – “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God.” The next verse tells us that this Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God, and  “exalted to the right hand of God, . . . has received from the Father the promised holy spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” What is conspicuously absent from Peter’s message is any mention of a divine nature in this man Jesus of Nazareth. Peter goes on to say that it is this same Jesus of Nazareth, the man, whom God has appointed to be Lord and Messiah {v.36}.

Therefore the assertion made by the expositors quoted above, as well as by my email interlocutor, is found to be baseless in light of what scripture says. It is categorically untrue that one must be ontologically divine in order to be involved in sending the spirit of God to men.

Author: Troy Salinger

I am 60 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 37 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 41 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

4 thoughts on “The Spirit Of Jesus Christ”

  1. it is strange also that this specific verse with Yeshua mentioned is only found in the alexandrian codex , not textus receptus, bizantyne or even sinaiticus.

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  2. “Should this genitive be regarded as appositional i.e. the spirit which is Jesus?”
    While I agree with your stance that Jesus is not the holy spirit, I’m not sure that we can definitively say that the holy spirit is in view in Acts 16:7. In Corinthians 15, Paul tells us that Jesus became a life giving spirit and Jesus tells us that at the resurrection we will be like the angels (who are spiritual being). Now, Acts 16:7 could be read as the power of God preventing Paul from entering Bithynia; however, I don’t think we can 100% say that Jesus himself did not appear to Paul and prevent him from entering Bithynia. When Jesus appears to Paul at his conversion, we could imagine that Jesus appeared in a spiritual form to Paul. Could this just be another instance of Jesus doing so? I admit, this would be a more fantastical reading of the text, but the book of Acts is full of fantastical occurrences (I’m looking at you handkerchief that heals people).

    On an unrelated note “righteousness is said to be a gift which men receive from God. We can go to the wider context of other of Paul’s letters also. In Phil. 3:9 Paul states plainly that righteousness comes from God”
    Taking this a step further, we know that righteousness comes by faith and that by faith we believe in God and his promises. So, does it not follow that faith and belief are also gifts from God?
    – Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
    – But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.

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    1. I’m sorry but I missed your comment and just now discovered it. I tend to view Acts 16:6 -7 as a prophet speaking by the holy spirit telling Paul not to go into those specific areas. I see 13:1-2 in the same way i.e. a prophet spoke the words of v. 2 by the spirit.

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