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11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Cor 12:11 ESV)

28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. (1 Cor 12:28 ESV)

Who distributes spiritual gifts? God or the Holy Spirit?


Related: What can we learn about the relationship between "God" and "the Spirit of God" ontologically from 1 Corinthians 2:6-16?

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The answer to this question depends on one's theology, whether Arian, trinitarian, Unitarian, or otherwise.

Some trinitarians make the parallelism between the detailed work of the Holy Spirit distributing gifts in 1 Cor 12:3-13 and v 28 as an evidence that the Holy Spirit is a person with sentience and discretion. That is, V28 can say "God" because the Holy Spirit is God.

Some Non-trinitarians explain this by saying that the Holy Spirit is simply the influence of God (and/or Jesus depending on their pre-suppositions) that works in and on people in the ways described. That is, V28 can say God because the references in V3-13 to the Holy Spirit are just the way God works.

Now, I do not intend to argue for or against these positions in this question and it cannot be decided on the basis of this text alone. The above positions depend on much other material elsewhere in Scripture.

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  • +1 Also, some unitarian Christians hold that 'Holy Spirit' can mean either the influence, presence, or gift of God, or a synonym for 'God', and that we can tell based on context which is meant. Apr 25 at 19:58
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Both.

Disclaimer: I have a very unorthodox view of the Holy Spirit. I mean that by both the standards of "orthodox" Christians and even Unitarians. And my view isn't really comprehensible, either by others or myself. So here we go.

We start with Genesis 1:2.

[Genesis 1:1-2] In the beginning of God's preparing the heavens and the earth -- the earth hath existed waste and void, and darkness is on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God[וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים] fluttering[מְרַחֶ֖פֶת] on the face of the waters, (YLT)

I like how Young's Literal Translation renders מְרַחֶ֖פֶת(see Strong's H7363) as "fluttering". The word appears in two other places in the Hebrew Bible, which are Deuteronomy 32:11 and Jeremiah 23:9. In the former, the word is used to describe how God, like an eagle that flutters above her young to care for them, spreads her wings over them to catch them if they should fall, watched, cared for, and instructed Jacob. This is clearly a personal action, one performed by an animate entity. And in the other occurrence in Jeremiah 23:9, מְרַחֶ֖פֶת is translated as "shake" or "tremble". Essentially, the word refers to a sort of energized, quivering motion, and in the case of Deuteronomy 32:11, one that is intimate. I believe the word is being used in such a manner in Genesis 1:2. Ruach Elohim[וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים] is energized, in a quivering motion above the face of the dark, chaotic waters; like an eagle intimately fluttering over her young, the Spirit flutters over the deep abyss, ready to transform it and create an ordered reality. It is the Spirit that does this, and yet, it is God who prepares the universe(outer space, atmosphere, and land, according to ancient Hebrew cosmology), as we are told in Genesis 1:1. Indeed, God has operated His invigorated Spirit so as to bring order into the dark, turbulent cosmos. What is this Spirit of God? Well, the Hebrew word for "spirit", ר֫וּחַ(see Strong's H7307), pronounced ruach, is quite a word, to say the least. It has various uses. It can refer to wind, breath, cool air, a blast, a vital, animating force, a supernatural, immaterial being, or even someone's mood, disposition, or mind! Indeed, quite a word! If I could summarize what the word ר֫וּחַ refers to in one expression, it would be this; that which is insubstantial, that is, without visible or concrete form, but can be felt, perceived, or discerned, whether directly or indirectly(through its effects).

So, what is the Ruach Elohim[וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים], or Spirit of God? Can we really answer that question? Perhaps not in any distinct, definite way, no matter how each of us would like to. Should that surprise any of us? Is God so simple and straightforward that He can be comprehended in His entirety? Or is God infinitely more complex than anything we could ever understand, that is, unfathomable and ungraspable? I think so.

Now take a look at this:

Luke 11:20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Matthew 12:28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

It is the exact same situation, and Jesus calls God's Spirit His "finger". How is the Spirit of God ... His finger? This analogy teaches us a lot about God's Spirit.

Someone's finger is an extension of them; of their being. If I touch you with my finger, I don't say that my finger touched you(even though that is literally what happened); I say that I touched you. Is my finger literally me? No. And yet, it represents my entirety. Why? Because it is an extension of me; an important part of me. Now say my wife tells me to put some dirty laundry in the washer, and I pick up the laundry with my hands and stuff it in the washer with my hands. I don't say to her, "my hands picked up the laundry." I say to her, "I picked up the laundry." The work of my hands IS the work of me because my hands ARE me. My hands are an extension of me, and thus they represent my totality, even though they aren't identical to my totality. What my hands do is what I do. If you are in the presence of any of my body parts, you are in the presence of me. If you are touched by any of my body parts, you are touched by me. To be in the presence of an extension of my totality is to be in the presence of my totality. If you are touched by an extension of my totality, you are touched by my totality. However, I don't say that my finger(or arm, or any extension of me) is an entirely distinct conscious entity who is fully me but also not me simultaneously. That's nonsense and logically impossible(I'm looking at you Trinitarians =)).

This is why Jesus could say stuff like this:

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in their midst."

Jesus is not literally in our midst when we are gathered in His name! He is in Heaven, and has yet to return! And yet, here Jesus is telling us that He IS in our midst when we are gathered in His name. How is this possible? Through His Spirit, His Ruach(ר֫וּחַ). It IS Him; His essence, His presence, a fundamental part of His very being/totality/entirety. It is an extension of Jesus, one that can reach a group of believers no matter where they are in the world, such that He is, essentially, in their very presence, and they in His! Christ's Spirit is extended, that is, stretched forth by Him, so that His people can feel His presence and become empowered by it to perform all sorts of works, receive all sorts of gifts, bear all sorts of fruits, etc. And, of course, we can FEEL God's Spirit; His essence or presence. Remember, the word ruach(ר֫וּחַ) denotes something insubstantial that can be felt or perceived. God's Spirit is not something imperceptible or indiscernible. We can feel Jesus' presence with us when we gather in His name. We can feel God's Spirit dwelling in us when we walk with Him and live by His commands and principles, and reflect His image, Christ, in our day-to-day lives. Christ's Spirit is very personal. It is not simply a "force" or "energy" or "power".

And it is why John could say things like this:

1 John 4:15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

Does the Almighty, Sovereign Creator of the Universe literally abide in us? No, of course not. But also He does, according to John. How?

1 Corinthians 6:19–20 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

To have God's Spirit within us is to have God within us because the Spirit is "from God"; it is His presence, His essence, His breath. We can feel it! How would I describe the Holy Spirit? As the DNA of God, an extension of His eternal being, that God uses to accomplish all He wills, and that He imprints on His creation in various manners. He imprints His Spirit on His people so that they have different gifts such as gifts of healing or prophecy or speaking in tounges, teaching, evangelising, etc.(see Romans 12:6-8, 1 Peter 4:10). And He imprints His Spirit on His people so that they can bear certain fruits, such as love, peace, kindness, etc.(see Galatians 5:22-23). And so it is both the Spirit and God that gives gifts to believers and bears fruit through them.

Because the Holy Spirit is God's "DNA", an extension of His very being, His fundamental essence, anything that can be attributed to the Holy Spirit can be attributed to God, and vice versa. This should include "apportioning", "distributing", and "willing".

And so my answer to your question would be ... the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts because God distributes spiritual gifts, and God distributes spiritual gifts because the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit "wills" insofar as God wills, and God wills insofar as the Holy Spirit wills. The Holy Spirit is grieved insofar as God is grieved(see Ephesians 4:29-32). And we lie to God because we lie to the Holy Spirit(Acts 5:1-5). This does not make the Holy Spirit a conscious entity distinct from God but also fully God simultaneously, as the Trinity doctrine asserts.

Perhaps my interpretation is not satisfying enough. That makes sense. People aren't usually satisfied by things they don't fully understand. It's very easy to say that the Holy Spirit is a person because we understand what a "person" is; we want to say that the Holy Spirit is a person because we want to understand the Holy Spirit. Contrariwise, it's very easy to say that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal "force" or "power", because we understand what forces and powers are; we want to say that the Holy Spirit is just a force or power because we want to understand the Holy Spirit. That's why 99% of people fall into one of two camps; the "Holy Spirit is a person" camp or the "Holy Spirit is an impersonal force/energy" camp. I suggest that God is vastly more complex than anything we can imagine, such that it is impossible to simply reduce the Holy Spirit to either a "person" or "force". But hey, that's just me.

Hope this helps! Have a good day! :)

P.S. I believe the Holy Spirit can be referred to by either an impersonal pronoun(it) or a personal pronoun(he). I choose not to refer the the Spirit as a "he" because it automatically makes people assume I am a Trinitarian. However, I have no problem with others calling the Holy Spirit a "he". I think referring to the Holy Spirit as an "it" or "he" is justifiable.

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    The traditional Trinitarian view is that the divine nature has only one faculty of mind, so the Spirit does not have a distinct consciousness from the Father and Son. I suspect you might actually be closer to standard Nicene Trinitarianism than you think you are.
    – curiousdannii
    May 1 at 12:18
  • "so the Spirit does not have a distinct consciousness from the Father and Son" But the Father has a distinct consciousness from the Son... If they didn't, then every time Jesus prayed to His Father, He would have been praying to Himself, and He would have heard and answered His own prayer. The Father and Son are clearly distinct conscious entities. However, I do not believe the Spirit is. That's why the Spirit is never called saviour, never prayed to, never worshipped, and why we're never told to put faith in or love the Spirit. All of these are true of both the Father and Son, however.
    – Rajesh
    May 2 at 14:44
  • Aren't you a Chalcedonian? Jesus Christ has two nature, divine and human, and the human nature is complete which means it includes a human mind. But the divine nature of the Son does not have a distinct mind from the Father.
    – curiousdannii
    May 2 at 21:00
  • "and the human nature is complete which means it includes a human mind. But the divine nature of the Son does not have a distinct mind from the Father" So, the divine nature of the Son is identical to the Father in terms of consciousness? How is that possible? That would mean Jesus was simultaneously praying to Himself and not praying to Himself... that's logically impossible. The Father and Son are obviously two different persons, not the same persons(that goes for divine nature too). "Aren't you a Chalcedonian" No, I'm not. Being a Chalcedonian isn't the only way to believe Jesus is God.
    – Rajesh
    May 2 at 21:03
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    The hermeneutical cycle means that our beliefs are always influencing our exegesis, and vice versa. And when you're starting out by saying you have an unorthodox view of the HS, you might as well make it clear that you also have an unorthodox view of Christ and probably the whole Trinity, at least then no one will be surprised. I'd encourage you to do some more reading on the other positions though. It does seem like you have misunderstood the traditional view. It's not good for any answer to misrepresent any view, as this one does.
    – curiousdannii
    May 2 at 21:36
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To borrow from a biblical metaphor used throughout scripture (John 15:5) To me this is like asking: "What causes the branches of a tree to grow and flourish ? Is it the tree or the tree's sap ?"

When put into the context of this biblical metaphor the issue with the question should be obvious. The "sap" is part of the tree and not separate from it. And like wise the Holy spirit is part of God and not separate from him.

See the definition below for the role and function of "tree sap" and think about this in the context of Jesus teaching on him as the "vine" and us as the "branches":

What is tree sap ? (https://www.thetreecenter.com/what-is-tree-sap/) Filled with nutrients and minerals, sap is the blood of a tree. It carries energy out into the branches when new buds are forming to nourish and support their growth.

For me the biblical parable of "the tree of life" has always been the best way to understand humanities relationship/connection with God the father and also the function of the Holy Spirit in connecting us to him through Jesus. Even aside from Jesus very overt references to this symbology there are countless scriptural references I could use here going all the way back to Adam / Eve in the garden. Moses and the burning bush (tree filled with the holy spirit), Jakobs sons being referred to as "boughs" (meaning primary branches).

The way most theological discussions of the holy spirit describe it has always seemed to me unnecessarily over complicated. It has taken quite a simple principle and twisted it in weird ways that make it almost impossible to mentally understand.

For me God is spirit. (John 4:24, 2 Cor 3:17) And his spirit is "Holy" (Isaiah 6:3, Lev 19:2). Pure undefiled and perfect. Pure life and love in its absolute perfect form. This is what God "IS". The Holy spirit is his essence and life force - it is him. In just the same way as a physical animal has blood (the life of the flesh is in the blood) and a tree has sap. The "quality" of the blood/sap/spirit determines the health.

Though we have physical bodies - in the spiritual realm our physical bodies have potential to act as a "temple" or "vessel" or "branch" where Gods holy spirit can connect and flow into and through and the gifts of the spirit come when this connection to Gods spirit is established and flows. For me I have always envisioned this relationship a little like the below picture. Sorry for the child like quality I drew it in a couple of minutes in paint :P

Diagram: Father / Son / Holy Spirit / Church

enter image description here

Jesus connects us to God the father. He is the "head" and the spirit flows down without limit. From there the spirit branches and extends out to the "boughs". The primary branches of "the body of christ" all the way out to the smaller branches and tips. (Romans 11:16, )(Psalm 133:2) The Boughs would have been the apostles after his resurrection - today it is the leaders and pastors of annointed churches - and from there it continues to branch down to the members of those churches creating a networked branching structure .... just like a tree.

To Go back to the original question who distributes the spiritual gifts God or the Holy Spirit ?

God does - through his holy spirit. :)

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  • Thanks. Its a topic I always found especially frustrating/confusing as a christian growing up. So if I managed to make the answer simple to understand - I am pleased :)
    – Marshall
    Apr 26 at 13:36
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Both.

By analogy, it is the same to ask, "do we get suntan from the sun-disc or from the rays of the sun-disc?", because it is impossible for the Father to act unless with and through His Son and His Holy Spirit.

To give another analogy, if Duma’s famous three musketeers, Athos, Portos and Aramis decide to engage enemy in a battle, they will fight together, the same holds with the Persons of the Holy Trinity, with a difference that the musketeers can also act separately, whereas divine activity of the Persons of the Trinity is one and simultaneous activity, always and essentially. That is to say, it is not a matter of choice, but a matter of a theological, essential/natural necessity. So that if - let us amuse ourselves by those funny fancies! - the Father will decide to let His Logos and Spirit have a break from works and sweat to work alone, without Them, He will find this utterly impossible. That’s why They say together “let Us create” (Gen. 1:26), and that “By Word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the Spirit of His mouth” (Psalm 33:6), as also only about Spirit in Psalm 104:30 "You send Your Spirit and they are created"; thus, both Logos and the Spirit are necessary means for the Father to create anything, which Word and which Spirit the Christian exegetes since John the Evangelist duly understand as distinct divine Persons, i.e. Persons in the very Godhead and distinct both from Each Other and from the Person of the Father. And after all that Scriptural evidence, is not it an utter absurdity to say that the Lord could create heavens and its starry host without His Logos and Spirit? And if it is an absurdity indeed, then the Three divine Persons are necessarily creating together, and as Creators They cannot be part of the created order of reality, all Three being Uncreated, and Uncreated=God.

Actually, when we have established beyond any reasonable doubt that God simply cannot act without His Logos and Spirit, then the question is whether Logos and Holy Spirit are Persons? With Logos it is regarded to be more clear than with the Spirit, so there appeared even a Christian heresy of "pneumatomachoi" (the "Spirit-fighters") as early as in 3rd-4th centuries. But this less clarity is only apparent. Even the wording in this passage 1 Cor. 12:11 "the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills", shows it crystal clear that Spirit can be but Person, for only Person can will and distribute anything at will. And in so many other passages the Holy Spirit is referred to as Person, like, for instance, in Acts 15:28-30 ("It pleased both Holy Spirit and us", for who can be pleased but person?), or 1 Cor. 2:10, where Spirit is said "to search the deep things of God", who can search but person? And many such, but why not to use Ockham's razor, for the point was made with a sufficient clarity.

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