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Acts 2:17 (ESV):

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;

Someone recently brought up this verse (among others) in an answer that argues against the personhood of the Holy Spirit. To be honest, I don't find the answer's argument particularly that convincing, given that there is no explicit deductive argument connecting the dots in a logical manner. Instead, the answer attempts to make its case by way of posing rhetorical questions, in the hope that they are too hard to be answered.

Question: How can the Holy Spirit simultaneously be a person and "pourable"? Are the two attributes compatible or incompatible?

To clarify: I'm interested in answers that either (1) show logically how 'pourability' precludes 'personhood' or (2) show how both attributes are perfectly compatible.


Related questions:

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This argument about the Holy Spirit being "pourable" is specious because it is based on an idiom with which we are unfamiliar. Note the following that discusses other people being "poured out":

  • Lam 2:19 - Arise, cry out in the night from the first watch of the night. Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord.
  • Ps 22;14 - I [= David] am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed. My heart is like wax; it melts away within me.
  • Job 30:16 - And now my soul is poured out within me; days of affliction grip me.
  • Phil 2:17 - But even if I [= Paul] am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.
  • 2 Tim 4:6 - For I [= Paul] am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.

By the argument of the OP, if the the Holy Spirit is impersonal because He can be poured out, then Paul, David and job are impersonal.

Being poured out is an allusion to one of the rituals in the ancient Israelite temple service.

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The Holy Spirit is a person in Scripture. He also is not subject to physical limitations. When you use the term "pourable" you must realize that it is a spiritual term. It indicates the intention of filling a vessel. The believer is the vessel that is filled with the Holy Spirit.

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  • Precise and succinct Aug 29 at 14:30
  • @LevanGigineishvili I must agree. +1.
    – Xeno
    Aug 29 at 15:50
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H. Spirit is not a material thing to pour or to blow (John 3:8), all those expressions are metaphors and symbols standing for spiritual realities and phenomena. It is the same as to ask how is David the Psalmist a person if he says to be poured out like water (Psalm 11:14), or how Federer can be a man when sports journal writes about him winning title that "Federer soared", he must have had wings to do so.

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How can the Holy Spirit be a person if He (or it) can be 'poured out' according to Acts 2:17?

As a person, the Holy Spirit can only be poured out metaphorically. In another sense, the Holy Spirit functions as an unction, 1 Samuel 16:

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah

In this unction representation, the Holy Spirit can be poured out spiritually, Acts 2:

17 And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;

How can the Holy Spirit simultaneously be a person and "pourable"?

As a person, the Holy Spirit is pourable only metaphorically.

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What is the Spirit of God, which God will pour out? How many are called "Spirits of God"?

Rev. 5:6 NKJV
6And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
(Holy Bible: New King James Version. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982.)

How many are called "Spirits of God"? John said, "seven".

What are the seven Spirits of God?

Isa. 11:2 NKJV
2The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.
(Holy Bible: New King James Version. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982.)

What are the seven Spirits of God? Isaiah said, "The Spirit of the LORD". And what else? Isaiah said, "wisdom." What else? Isaiah said, "understanding". What else? Isaiah said, "counsel". What else? Isaiah said, "might". And? Isaiah said, "knowledge". And lastly? Isaiah said, "fear of the LORD". Each one is the Holy Spirit.

Do these each refer to persons? What is the Holy Spirit?

Luke 1:35 NKJV
35And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
(Holy Bible: New King James Version. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982.)

What is the Holy Spirit? Gabriel said, "the power of the Highest". 

Hence, the Holy Spirit is attributed to seven Spirits of God, which are the power of God, and does not refer to a literal person. If we are going to consider that the Holy Spirit is a person, then each of the seven Spirits of God should be counted as persons.

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  • I appreciate the edit and removed the down-vote. I would still like to see an explicit connection to Acts 2:17 though. Are you saying that the Holy Spirit is a substance composed of seven discrete parts? How is that compatible with the Spirit of God being pourable? How do you make sense of 'pourability' if the Holy Spirit consists of seven discrete parts? Apr 27 at 18:53
  • I'll try to make an explicit connection to Acts 2:17. For now, in terms of being composed of seven parts, it's more so divided into seven kinds of powers, which can be distributed as needed, separately or all at once, as is the case of our Lord Jesus (Rev. 3:1).
    – carsonfel
    Apr 27 at 19:20
  • How does one then explain 2 Samuel 23? "The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; his word was on my tongue." This text is referring to the Spirit as a person! This is but one of many texts that describe the Holy spirit as a being within the Godhead.
    – Adam
    Apr 27 at 20:06
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    And earlier...Ezekiel ch 3 "Then the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet. He spoke to me and said: "Go, shut yourself inside your house."
    – Adam
    Apr 27 at 20:17
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    @Adam All of my responses have been on-topic, but it's clear that we won't be able to resolve this matter in this way. v32 shows the Holy Spirit as being different from God, so the conclusion that you have drawn in haste based on v3-4 is incorrect. Jesus explains in John 13:20 that receiving the one sent is equivalent to receiving the one who sent them. Produce for me even a single biblical verse where the Holy Spirit is called "God".
    – carsonfel
    May 1 at 21:28
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Figure of Speech, Metaphor

The metaphor of pouring or flow of liquid, rainfall or spring is used to show the abundant quantity of something. Nothing of such process and metaphor contradicts the nature of God's Spirit. A spirit, holy or demonic, good or bad is by definition a person or personal entity. BDAG3 lexicon on έκχέω:

① cause to be emitted in quantity, pour out

ⓐ of liquids: water D 7:3. αἷμα ἐ. shed blood =commit a murder (αἷμα 2a) Ac 22:20; Ro 3:15 (Is 59:7; Ps 13:3); Rv 16:6; GJs 23:3 (1 Km 25:31); cp. AcPl Ha 11, 8. αἷμα ἐκχυννόμενον (Jos., Ant. 19, 94 αἷμα πολὺ ἐκκεχυμένον) Mt 23:35; cp. Lk 11:50; in the cultic sense pour out (cp. Lev 4:7), esp. of Jesus’ death (Orig., C. Cels. 8, 42, 33) 1 Cl 7:4. αἷμα ἐ. περὶ πολλῶν εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν blood shed for (the benefit of) many, for the forgiveness of sins Mt 26:28 (w. purpose indicated by εἰς as Lucian, Tim. 5 εἰς εὐεργεσίαν); αἷ. ἐ. ὑπὲρ πολλῶν Mk 14:24; cp. Lk 22:20. Wine ἐκχεῖται is spilled (out) (cp. Gen 38:9) Mt 9:17; cp. Mk 2:22 v.l.; cp. Lk 5:37; ἐ. φιάλην, as we say, pour out a bowl (i.e. its contents) Rv 16:1ff, 8, 10, 12, 17.

ⓑ of solid objects (Lev 4:12) ἐξεχύθη πάντα τὰ σπλάγχνα all his bowels gushed out Ac 1:18 (cp. Quint. Smyrn. 8, 302 ἔγκατα πάντʼ ἐχύθησαν; 9, 190; 2 Km 20:10; Jos., Bell. 7, 453; AcThom 33 [Aa II/2, 150, 19]). Of coins scatter on the ground J 2:15.

② cause to fully experience, pour out fig. ext. of 1 (cp. Lycophron 110 πόθον; Ps.-Demetr., Eloc. 134 τοῦ λόγου τὴν χάριν; Aelian, NA 7, 23 θυμόν; τὴν ὀργήν PsSol 2:24; ψυχὴν εἰς θάνατον 16:2; Philo, Spec. Leg. 1, 37 of light; Jos., Ant. 6, 271 φόνον) of the Holy Spirit which, acc. to Joel’s prophecy, is to pour down on people like rain (Jo 2:23; cp. 1QS 4:21): pour out (Iren. 5, 12, 2 [Harv II 351, 2]) Ac 2:33. ἐπί τινα (after Jo 3:1) 2:17f; 10:45; Tit 3:6; B 1:3; 1 Cl 46:6. The ref. to the Holy Spirit has perh. brought the idea of outpouring into Ro 5:5 ἡ ἀγάπη τ. θεοῦ ἐκκέχυται ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ἡμῶν διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου τοῦ δοθέντος ἡμῖν. But gener., whatever comes from above is connected w. this verb (Ps 44:3 χάρις; Sir 18:11 ἔλεος; Hos 5:10 ἐπʼ αὐτοὺς ἐκχεῶ ὡς ὕδωρ τὸ ὅρμημά μου; Philo, Aet. M. 147 ἄνωθεν ἐ.; TestLevi 18:5; ἐκχεῖσθαι … ὁ λόγος ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν οἰκουμένην Orig., C. Cels. 6, 78, 26).

③ to give oneself totally in commitment, give oneself up to, dedicate oneself, pass. (Polyb. 31, 25, 4 εἰς ἑταίρας; Plut., Anton. 21, 1; Philo, Op. M. 80; TestReub 1:6; εἰς πράγματα ἀφροδισίακα Hippol., Ref. 4, 19, 2) w. dat. (Alciphron 3, 34, 1 τῷ γέλωτι) τῇ πλάνῃ τ. Βαλαάμ Jd 11. λίαν ἐ. ἀγαπῶν ὑμᾶς I am totally consumed w. affection for you = my affection for you streams out of me. IPhld 5:1.—M-M. TW.

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  • A spirit, holy or demonic, good or bad is by definition a person or personal entity - so what or who is the spirit of Christ? 1 Pet 1:11
    – steveowen
    Aug 6 at 4:02
  • @user48152 it is the same Holy Spirit of God. Acts 16:7
    – Michael16
    Aug 6 at 7:16
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The Holy Spirit is clearly a person. He is distinct in character yet a full member of the trinity. He is God. How could you even suggest to think He is not God? When Jesus was baptized by John the baptist In the Jordan river the voice from heaven was obviously God the Father because He says "This is my Son". The next thing that happens is the Holy Spirit descends like a dove. He is acting in another capacity as God. God the Father speaks and God the Holy Spirit descends. There is no other obvious way to interpret this passage.

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  • The Bible never once uses the term "God the Holy Spirit." It is no more Biblical than it would be to say "Paul the Spirit" after reading 1 Corinthians 5:3 and learning that Paul would be in Corinth "in spirit" while he was "absent in body." One's spirit does not have a separate existence from his body, which would be dead without it. The belief that the spirit is its own being, apart from one's 'person', is spiritualistic. Check your dictionary on the word "spiritualism". It was God the Father's own omnipresent spirit that rested in dove-like form above Jesus at his baptism.
    – Polyhat
    Aug 29 at 15:30
  • The Bible also never uses the word Bible. Doesn't mean a thing. Many things in the bible may not be worded the way you would like them. I think I will stick with the bible usage of words. Dictionaries can be wrong. They are fine for secondary reference but not inspired like the bible.
    – Rick
    4 hours ago
  • Actually, the Greek word "biblios/biblion" (βιβλίον) is in the Bible; see e.g. Rev. 5:8. But the term "God the Holy Spirit" is decidedly NOT in the Bible. The Bible teaches plainly that we have only one God, not three gods, and that the ONLY God is "the Father." (See 1 Cor. 8:6; John 17:1-3; 1 Tim. 2:5, etc.) If, therefore, the only God is the Father, where does that leave those who think the Holy Spirit is God yet not the Father?
    – Polyhat
    3 hours ago
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The Holy Spirit is one of three "persons" in the Godhead (Deity), but this term "person" that is used to address the Holy Spirit originated in a time when the word had a dramatically different meaning than what is most commonly suggested by the word today. It does not refer to either a "being" or a "hypostasis."

Today's dictionary may include a mention of the etymology (word history) of the word which looks something like this:

ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French persone, from Latin persona ‘actor's mask, character in a play,’ later ‘human being.’

If we go back to an early dictionary, therefore, to see this word nearer to its original usage, we find the following from Webster's 1828 Dictionary.

Definitions from Webster's 1828 Dictionary
PERSON, n. per'sn. [L. persona; said to be compounded of per, through or by, and sonus, sound; a Latin word signifying primarily a mask used by actors on the stage.]

1. An individual human being consisting of body and soul. We apply the word to living beings only, possessed of a rational nature; the body when dead is not called a person. It is applied alike to a man, woman or child.
* A person is a thinking intelligent being.

2. A man, woman or child, considered as opposed to things, or distinct from them.
* A zeal for persons is far more easy to be perverted, than a zeal for things.

3. A human being, considered with respect to the living body or corporeal existence only.
* The form of her person is elegant.
* You'll find her person difficult to gain.
* The rebels maintained the fight for a small time, and for their persons showed no want of courage.

4. A human being, indefinitely; one; a man.
* Let a person's attainments be never so great, he should remember he is frail and imperfect.

5. A human being represented in dialogue, fiction, or on the state; character.
* A player appears in the person of king Lear.
* These tables, Cicero pronounced under the person of Crassus, were of more use and authority than all the books of the philosophers.
6. Character of office.
* How different is the same man from himself, as he sustains the person of a magistrate and that of a friend.
7. In grammar, the nominative to a verb; the agent that performs or the patient that suffers any thing affirmed by a verb; as, I write; he is smitten; she is beloved; the rain descends in torrents. I, thou or you, he, she or it, are called the first, second and third persons. Hence we apply the word person to the termination or modified form of the verb used in connection with the persons; as the first or the third person of the verb; the verb is in the second person.

8. In law, an artificial person, is a corporation or body politic.
* In person, by one's self; with bodily presence; not be representative.
* The king in person visits all around.

It is evident that in the era in which the Holy Spirit was first called a "person" was a time in which the only sense of meaning that could have been applied was the sixth sense shown above, that of "character of office." The first five senses of meaning can only be properly applied to humans, and neither of the last two would be appropriate either.

The example given for this role, or "character of office" shows that a single being can be more than one person.

How different is the same man from himself, as he sustains the person of a magistrate and that of a friend.

Following this usage, a single man might easily be three persons, relating to others in the person of a son, a husband, and a father. Obviously, this could expand to more than this. Each of these are roles that a single individual can fill.

Understanding word meanings properly often forms the basis for a solid foundation in understanding the theologies upon which those words are based. This is an important part of hermeneutics that is sometimes neglected. We often take for granted that we know what a word means--but it is quite possible that in the passage of time, as the language evolves, it has changed, as is the case with "person."

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