By Larry White

     Romans 10:17, the verse reads: "So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God." The sad reality for many people is that faith often comes by hearing, but hearing by preconceived ideas.

    Simple trusting faith will take God at his word and will let the truth he reads therein determine the content of what he believes. Preconception and prejudice will come to the word and seek to make it say what is already a foregone conclusion or what is most comfortable to the person seeking to justify what he believes.

   This preconception is what one will find, I believe, when you seriously consider the arguments for a metonymical usage of the words "Holy Spirit" by those who believe the Holy Spirit does not dwell in the heart of the Christian.

   Metonymy is the language trope or figure which uses the name of one thing for that of another associated with or suggested by it. The term is from Greek. meta (change) and onyma (name) and so means to change the name of something in a sentence.

Two such usages in the Bible that are familiar are: hearing Moses and the prophets used for hearing what they wrote (Lk..16.29), and drinking the cup of the Lord used for drinking what is in the cup (1Cor.10:21).

   Some teachers are now saying that when Paul says in Romans 8:9 that you are "in the spirit if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you", he is using the term "Spirit of God" as a metonym for something closely associated with the Spirit. What that something is, is surmised to be the word of God.

So what is being said here is that the Holy Spirit doesn't dwell in the heart of the Christian but that what the Holy Spirit has caused to be written down, does.

   Letís look at the figure of Metonymy. A metonym, when taken literally must be impossible. For example, one cannot drink a cup; that is impossible, therefore it must mean something else. For the White House to say anything to us is impossible, therefore something else is meant. Now, when the sentence is impossible and we realize something else has to be meant, we look for something generally recognized to be closely associated with the word and then substitute that thing in our minds when we read the figure; thus you have Metonymy. The only reason we might think the writer is using a metonymic figure is because we can't conceive of what the writer says happening literally.

   Now  we can see why some teachers think that Paul is using metonymy in Rom.8:9; because they don't believe the Spirit of God can dwell in the heart, they think it's impossible.

   Some of these thinkers have continued "logically" and concluded that the Apostles didnít have the Spirit dwelling in them, because thatís impossible; nor did Jesus have the Spirit of God, despite what John the Baptist witnessed of him (Jno.1:32). A few are now saying that the Spirit didn't even come on the day of Pentecost regardless of what Luke says (Acts 2:3-4) nor has he ever left Heaven at all (and so contradicting Peter in 1Pet.1:12), because, you see all this is impossible; the writers must mean something else.

   And so, with a wave of the magic wand of Metonymy, everything becomes perfectly natural, clinically verifiable; logically compatible and humanly believable. Once you've bought this conclusion, I doubt if there is one verse in the whole Bible that mentions the Holy Spirit, that means the Holy Spirit. They just explain the Spirit away.
   But why do they think it's impossible? Does the Bible say anywhere that it is impossible for the Spirit of God to dwell in the heart of a man?

   No. Actually the Bible assumes the possibility. Galatians 4:6 ďand because ye are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his son into your hearts crying Abba, Father" Tell me, isn't this believable? Is there anything impossible in this verse? Has God sent forth his word into our hearts, and does the word cry Abba?

   By the way, that word "sent forth" (exapesteilen) or commission, is used eleven times in the New Testament and is always used in reference to a person or persons. God doesn't commission his word, he commissions his Son (v.4) and the Holy Spirit (v.6) who are both persons. But still, why do some Bible teachers think it's impossible?

   Because of invalid categorical syllogisms.


Another word for it is "human reasoning". They think that all humans having deity dwelling in them have to be divine and human, i.e. more than human, which is their major premise. A case in point, or minor premise, they say, is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth was a man, i.e. human, but he had deity, the second person of the Godhead, dwelling within him. Therefore, in conclusion, that made Jesus of Nazareth, the man, more than human.

   The next step is to apply this to the Christian. If the Holy Spirit (or deity) dwells in the Christian, that makes the Christian more than human, actually deity incarnate, which is suppose to be an obviously unacceptable conclusion.

   However there are some things wrong with this argument. The first of which, is that it doesn't show that the Holy Spirit dwelling in the Christian is impossible, the very point we need for a metonymic usage of the term "Spirit of God". If it is not impossible for the Spirit of God to dwell in the heart of a Christian, then there is no reason to say that Paul was using metonymy when he said that the Spirit dwells in us. We should simply believe what the Bible says.

   Other problems are with the syllogism itself. The major premise is invalid, because it cannot be supported that every person in whom deity dwells is of necessity more than human. If they wanted to prove that, then the premise should read: All persons in whom deity is incarnate are both divine and human, i.e. more than human. Then, I think, the argument might make sense, but only if the premise could be supported.

   The argument, as it stands, equates the indwelling of the Holy Spirit with the incarnation of Jesus, something, to my knowledge, no one in the history of religious thought has ever believed or held as a viable explanation of the indwelling.

   By the phrase, ďmore than human", they leave unspoken a hidden assumption; that assumption being that when deity dwells in a man, their spirits must both meld together into one person and become a unity.

   This azure assumption is built upon yet another assumption; that being that Jesus, when he became incarnate, somehow united his spirit with a human spirit. Neither of these ideas can be found in the Bible. And thus when their argument is stated openly, what you have is this: someone thinks that when Jesus was incarnated he not only came in the flesh, (1Jno.4:2) but that he also became one with a human spirit, and then this teacher concludes by some intellectual leap, that therefore if the Holy Spirit should dwell in the heart of a Christian he can only do so by becoming incarnate and so melding together into one spirit with that individual.

   None of this is necessary. The Bible nowhere suggests that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit must be an incarnation. When Jesus was incarnated he became a finite being. He could be hunted down, located, seen and killed - he wasn't omnipresent. When the Spirit of God dwells in the Christian, he doesn't take upon himself flesh and blood and become incarnate and finite. The Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian's heart, (Gal.4:6) which is his inner man, (Eph.3:16-17) his immaterial part (2Cor.4:16-18).  The reason he can do this, which will also answer many of the objections to the fact that he personally dwells in us, is that he is spirit and not material.

    How much space does the Spirit of God take up inside the believerís heart? A physical question; the answer is, None. A spirit has no physical substance (Lk.24:39), therefore does not take up space; neither is the believer's heart a physical thing.

   How can he dwell in me and in you at the same time? Another physical objection. The answer is, Easy.  Since the Spirit isn't physical, he is not limited by space or time. He can be anywhere and everywhere in the universe at any given instant (Psa.139:6-12). In modern terms we would say that he is Non-local.

   Now those who don't believe this think that a literal indwelling of the Holy Spirit necessitates that he be in one human heart only and in no other place in the universe. This is so because of a carnal way of looking at the indwelling, of viewing God and of understanding the human heart.

   I had one man who believed this finally admit to me that he didn't believe God was omnipresent. He had to admit that he thought that God was in a certain locality in the universe and could be traveled to and visited. He then had to admit that God had a physical beginning and ending. At least he was consistent. If you donít accept the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in you personally then you'll sooner or later accept the idea that God is a physical being who inhabits one finite, space-time place called Heaven and nowhere else. You will in effect become carnally minded. And since you'll be a mere man at this point,  you'll exalt your human reasoning ability above what God's word actually says and eventually that will destroy your faith.

   For many reasons like David in Psalms 139, such knowledge is too wonderful for us, and we have trouble attaining unto it. But just because we have trouble understanding the Spirit's omnipresence and his indwelling, that's no justification for not believing what God has told us; and more damning yet, for explaining away his words from the minds of his children when we stand before God's people in Christís church and teach our unbelief.

   Any argument that tries to explain the indwelling of the Holy Spirit using the incarnation of Jesus is invalid - they are not parallel. These so called logical arguments and the tampering with the word of God to explain away the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are mere human reasoning; verbal fig leaves sewn together to hide naked unbelief.

   The only reason for thinking Paul uses metonymy when he says the Spirit of God dwells in our hearts is because you believe it is literally impossible, and the only reason you believe it is impossible is based upon your human reasoning.

   Can anyone show me any other reason? 

   Don't give me a syllogism - give me a scripture.


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