Genesis 1:1-2, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
Being a Trinitarian creed, the Apostles’ Creed concludes with a section on the Holy Spirit, the unity of the church, the forgiveness of our sins through faith in Christ, and more. In question and answer 53, the Heidelberg Catechism begins its exposition of this third section of the creed, examining what Christians believe about the Holy Spirit.
When we confess that we “believe in the Holy Spirit,” the catechism reminds us that the first thing we are confessing is our conviction “that the Spirit, with the Father and the Son, is eternal God” (A. 53). Genesis 1:1–2 is one of the proof texts for the deity of the Holy Spirit. As we see in this passage, the Spirit was present at the beginning, before the universe was made. He was the power that hovered over the watery chaos and the One who, through the agency of the Son and according to the Father’s plan, brought order and established all created things (John 1:3). That the Holy Spirit possesses the fullness of deity is clear from His presence at creation as well as in passages that equate Him with God. Acts 5:3–4, for example, identifies lying to the Holy Spirit as equivalent to lying to God Himself. Matthew 28:18–20 puts the Holy Spirit at the same level as God the Father and God the Son by revealing our baptism into the one name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Scripture teaches us that although the Holy Spirit is fully God, the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. There is one God. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. But the Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. We see this distinction of persons who share one divine essence in Jesus’ description of the outpouring of the Spirit. In John 14:15–17, Jesus promises to send to His people One distinct from both the Father and the Son. This One is “another Helper,” namely, the Holy Spirit. Thus, we have the basis for the procession of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son not because He possesses an inferior essence; rather, His distinction lies in His procession from the Father and the Son. The Father is unbegotten, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, not made, and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son.
We do not totally understand what it means for the Father to be unbegotten,the Son to be begotten, and the Spirit to proceed. As Augustine once said, we use these terms not because we can define them fully but in order that we might not have to remain silent about the personal distinctions within the Godhead. Our theological statements convey real truth, but they do not exhaust the totality of who God is.
God the Holy Spirit, Copyright (2021), Ligonier Ministries.