Ephesians 5:18:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, [ESV]
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; [KJV]
and be not drunk with wine, in which is dissoluteness, but be filled in the Spirit, [YLT]

Some readings of Ephesians 5:18 understand the Spirit as analogous to a kind of "liquid spiritual substance" that one could be filled with, similar to how one is filled with physical wine, which is mentioned for comparison purposes in the same verse. Others interpret that the Spirit of God has personhood/sentience (possibly based on other passages, e.g. here and here).

Question: if we assume as a premise that the Spirit is a person, then how can we make sense of the phrase "filled with the Spirit"? How can someone be "more filled" or "less filled" with the Spirit if the Spirit is a single, indivisible person? Or should we see the Spirit as both a sentient person and a divisible substance?

Related: Is Numbers 11:17-25 evidence that the Holy Spirit is a distributable, fragmentable substance?

  • 2
    @user48152 - I appreciate that the original wording of this question was unnecessarily provocative, but it would be far better to suggest an edit than to target the author and other contributors over differences of interpretation. Do consider the Code of Conduct and expected behaviour on SE as solid guidelines for responding to others.
    – Steve can help
    Apr 16, 2021 at 13:52
  • The sense is do not be under the influence of strong wine but under the influence of the spirit. Oct 29, 2021 at 11:22
  • Jesus is in the midst wherever two or three are gathered in his name: Does that make Him divisible? God fills all in all: Is God not one? Oct 29, 2021 at 11:33

5 Answers 5


Exactly the same question could be asked of other instances where we meet the same idea.

  • Luke 1:17 - And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
  • 2 Kings 2:15 - The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, "The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha."
  • Col 2:5 - For although I (Paul] am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, and I delight to see your orderly condition and firm faith in Christ.
  • 1 Cor 5:3, 4 - Although I [Paul] am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, and I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of the Lord Jesus
  • 2 Kings 5:26 - But Elisha questioned him, “Did not my spirit go with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you?

In these verses, the Holy Spirit is never mentioned nor implied. However, we have the "spirit of Paul", the "spirit of Elisha", the "spirit of Elijah", the "power of the Lord Jesus", etc.

The fact that a person's spirit can "go with someone" does not imply that the person lacks personhood, sentience, or is spiritually divisible as the above examples demonstrate. Thus, in the above examples, people were to meet in the spirit of a person, that is, to act as if the person were present and decide as the person would decide matters, and in keeping with the person's will.

The same applies to the Holy Spirit - the fact that we "have the Spirit" means that we act "according to the Spirit":

Rom 8:5 - Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh; but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

Rom 8:9 - You, however, are controlled not by the flesh, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.

Gal 5:25 - Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk in step with the Spirit.

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    That’s an interesting observation, you’re saying that the spirit Elijah was referring to was not his own personal spirit but the spirit that guided him (HS), which he called his own. This parallels how mystics practice astral projection, a familiar spirit tied by a “silver cord” communicates with the person at the location of the body while the spirit is traveling in real time elsewhere. They also claim that if the silver cord is severed the person’s body dies, just to create the illusion that it’s the person’s spirit that is projecting. Interesting so a double portion was of the HS not Elijah Apr 16, 2021 at 12:09
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    @NihilSineDeo - In the same way that people talked about "My Lord" = Jesus) and "My God" (= the Father), they can also say "My Spirit" (= the Holy Spirit).
    – Dottard
    Apr 16, 2021 at 20:22
  • @Dottard. My spirit = Holy Spirit? Oct 28, 2021 at 19:29

Here's the same issue with the temple:

27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! 28 Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. (1 Kings 8:27–29, ESV)

This extends to Paul's statement:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (1 Cor. 6:19, NAS)

To be filled the the Holy Spirit is like how the wind fills a sail on a boat. In Greek wind, breath, and spirit are the same word. Thus, that is the picture they would make for being filled with the Spirit.


Metaphorical Language

This is a metaphor, like that used by David, "I am poured out like water" (Psalm 22:14). If David can be "poured out," then so can the Holy Spirit be poured out, or fill something. The personality of the Spirit is clearly and unequivocally expressed in the New Testament; e.g. "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you everything, and will bring to remembrance everything that I have said to you" (John 14:26). Or, "He will not speak from himself, but will speak whatever he hears; and the things that are to come, he will decare to you." Or, "It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no further burden upon you except these necessary things" (Acts 15:28). If the spoken "Word of God" (by nature an impersonal metaphor) can be a person (John 1:14; Revelation 19:13), then so can the Holy Spirit be personal, whilst being known by a metaphorical, or anthropomorphic name.

'Filled' as 'Completely under the influence of'

Notice that in St. Paul's example, you don't need to be 'filled' with wine, but 'drunk.' Thus the comparison could be interpreted as one of degrees of influence. Alcohol always influences someone, but when they are drunk, we call it 'under the influence' in a noticable way - more 'fully' so. Similarly, the Holy Spirit may create more fruit in a more co-operative soul, thus, 'filling' it, in the sense that that person's life is marked more by the will of the Spirit, than his own will: and when something is 'taken over' in this way, we call it 'filled.'

  • "This is a metaphor, like that used by David, "I am poured out like water"" That's a simile. Apr 16, 2021 at 22:09
  • I meant that "I am poured out" is a metaphor. Apr 16, 2021 at 22:19

Of all the spiritual mysteries, perhaps the Holy Spirit is the most impenetrable. Through parables and analogies, Jesus teaches many spiritual truths and makes them accessible to our human mind:

  • Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.” —Matthew 13:34-35

But when asked about the Holy Spirit, Jesus' answer suggests that human words and earthly comparisons are insufficient to capture the reality:

  • The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it is coming from and where it is going; so is everyone who has been born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus responded and said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you people do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? —John 3:8-12

That Spirit is Person is clear from the Scripture, for Spirit has will (John 3:8), consideration (Acts 15:28), knowledge (1 Cor. 2:10), He supplicates on our behalf (Romans 8:26), He speaks (1 Tim. 4:1) etc. all that being personal features.

Now, the question must be put so: given the Spirit is Person, how can He be said to fill humans to a more or less extent?

One can bring an analogy: I was a pro-tennis player, loving Bjorn Borg, trying to imitate him in all and be like him. Gradually I was more and more filled with Borg: first having imitated only his tennis movements; then also his demeanor on court; next also some other less noticeable features of his character. And one time my coach told me: "Oh, you are so filled by Borg, I almost stumbled calling you Bjorn instead of Levan!" Now, isn't Bjorn Borg a person? Yes, He is.

Similarly, the Holy Spirit is Person, but as Borg has features, so also the Holy Spirit has features - wisdom, love, mercifulness, truthfulness, justice etc., for "there are different gifts, but the same Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:4). Thus, human can get more and more saturated by Spirit, bearing His multiple fruits (Galatians 5:22-23), even infinitely so. Spirit is God (Acts 5:4), and only God has Spirit in actual infinity, like God Jesus Christ (John 3:34) and God the Father, but we possess Him in potential and processual-gradual infinity, for which reason unlike the Father and the Son, we grow "from glory to glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

  • @Down-voter Down-voter, my dear anonymous, where have you been? Have missed you! Any reason for your anonymous action? It will be nice of you if you embellish your precious "-" with some reasonable grounds, I guess you must possess them amply. Oct 26, 2021 at 20:48

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