Q. I know God and Jesus have taken human form before, and I was wondering, has the Holy Spirit ever done so? I don’t remember any passages where He does, but are there any?
(This is the second part of a question whose first part is answered in this post.)
I’m not aware of any biblical passages that describe the Holy Spirit taking on human form quite the way Jesus did in his incarnation, or the way God the Father did on several occasions in the Old Testament when He appeared as the “angel of the LORD” (that is, “the angel of Yahweh”). In some of those episodes, the so-called “angel” is identified directly with Yahweh. For example, after the angel of the LORD’s very first appearance in the Old Testament, to Hagar, we read that she “gave this name to Yahweh who had spoken to her: ‘You are the God who sees me.’”
However, there are at least a couple of places in the Bible where the Holy Spirit appears in material form. Luke tells us in his gospel that when Jesus was baptized, “the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.” And Luke tells us in Acts that “what seemed to be tongues of fire” came to rest on each of the disciples as they were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
Beyond this, there are three very intriguing occasions in the Old Testament when the Holy Spirit is said to put on the body of an existing human being as if it were clothing, in order to speak and act on earth.
Before I discuss these places, I need to say a word about Hebrew grammar so that I can quote from the original language without being misunderstood. The word for “Spirit” in Hebrew is feminine. This doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is a woman (biologically female), any more than the masculine pronouns that are used conventionally in Hebrew and Greek (and typically in English) for the first person of the Trinity, whom Jesus taught us to call “Father,” mean that this person is a man (biologically male). Rather, “Spirit” in Hebrew is feminine because it’s the same word as “wind,” and natural forces (sun, fire, wind, etc.) are conventionally feminine in Hebrew. But the Holy Spirit is a person, not a thing, and so the Spirit should definitely be given a personal pronoun, not an impersonal one (“it”). For this reason, when translating directly from the Hebrew, I say “she,” “her,” and “herself” for the Spirit.
Now here are the places in the Bible where the Holy Spirit is said to put on the body of an existing human being.
First, in the book of Judges, after God called Gideon to deliver the ancient Israelites from Midianite domination, “the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon” and he gathered an army to fight. The Hebrew text says literally, “The Spirit of Yahweh clothed herself with Gideon.” The text is saying that the Spirit put on Gideon as if he were a garment, in order to be the one who was really acting to bring victory and liberation in this situation.
The next episode took place when David was living in Ziklag after he’d had to flee from Saul. Some men from the tribes of Benjamin and Judah came to him there and offered to join him. David couldn’t be sure whether they were sincere or whether they were trying to trick him and turn him over to Saul. So he told them, “if you have come to betray me . . . may the God of our ancestors see it and judge you!” In response to this challenge, which really amounted to a curse if the men were insincere, “the Spirit came on Amasai,” who would become one of David’s most trusted commanders, and he made an impassioned poetic protest of their loyalty and sincerity:
“We are yours, David!
We are with you, son of Jesse!
Success, success to you,
and success to those who help you,
for your God will help you.”
Once again, the Hebrew text reads literally, “The Spirit clothed herself with Amasai.”
Finally, some centuries later in the kingdom of Judah, when the formerly godly king Joash began to worship idols, “the Spirit of God came on Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest” and he warned the people that they would not prosper because they had forsaken Yahweh. In this instance as well, the Hebrew text says that “the Spirit of Elohim clothed herself with Zechariah.”
So although the Holy Spirit has apparently never taken on human form in the sense of appearing on earth as if human, on three occasions the Spirit has put on the body of an existing human being as if it were clothing, in order to speak and act to bring deliverance, affirmation, or judgment in a situation.
8 thoughts on “Has the Holy Spirit ever taken on human form?”
This is very interesting about the Holy Spirit “putting in the body” of a human or“the Spirit of Elohim clothed herself with Zechariah.” It makes me think about Isaih 61:1a “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” and 61:3 “the bestow on them…a garment of praise…” Are these examples totally different or similar? Thank you.
In Isaiah it’s not the same expression of “the Spirit clothed herself” with a person, but the idea is certainly the same in the first instance, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” In the second instance, the garment is praise, rather than the Spirit, but this is an effect of the Spirit’s work.
What about when 3 men came to Abraham in Genesis 18? Was that a representation of the trinity, thus one of the three representing the Holy Spirit?
The narrative in Genesis identifies the two men who continued on to Sodom as “angels” and the man who remained to speak with Abraham as “the Lord.” So I don’t think we can identify these three men individually with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the visit of the three men was certainly a theophany or appearance of God, and all three persons of the Trinity do everything together, so the Holy Spirit was present in the men. Just not individually in a single human form, I would say.
You’re aware that the Spirit is given masculine pronouns in Scripture, right? Why the insistence on feminine pronouns?
In this post I give clear reasons for why, “when translating directly from the Hebrew, I say ‘she,’ ‘her,’ and ‘herself’ for the Spirit.” It is true that it is a common practice in English Bibles to use masculine pronouns for the Spirit, but I think it is too strong to say that “the Spirit is given masculine pronouns in Scripture” as if there were a rule requiring that. The original readers of the Scriptures in Hebrew would have encountered the Spirit being treated the same as any other grammatically feminine subject. I want to give today’s readers a window into that usage.