This article first appeared in the Practical Apologetics column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 19, number 4 (July-August 1997). For further information about the Christian Research Journal, click here.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19).
One of the most frequently asked questions on the Bible Answer Man broadcast this past December was, “What is meant when we affirm that the Holy Spirit is in us? Does it mean the Holy Spirit is physically located inside of our physical bodies?”
One caller believed this is precisely what Scripture teaches. “First Corinthians 6:19 says the Holy Spirit is in me. That means He is inside my physical body. In means in.”
She then added, “The Holy Spirit is everywhere. Surely you must know about the omnipresence of the Holy Spirit. Everywhere means everywhere.”
“Does everywhere include unbelievers?” I asked.
“No!” she replied emphatically. “He’s everywhere except in unbelievers.”
I explained to her that to ask where the Holy Spirit is is to confuse categories. When we speak of the Holy Spirit, we speak of who and what, not where in the physical sense. To ask spatial questions concerning a Being who is Spirit and does not have location in space is analogous to asking what the color blue tastes like.
First, it should be pointed out that Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit is not a material or physical being. In the Gospel of John, Jesus clearly communicates that “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Contrary to the assertions of contemporary teachers such as Benny Hinn, the Holy Spirit does not have arms and legs. To ascribe physical qualities to a purely spiritual being is illogical and contradictory.
Furthermore, when Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit being omnipresent or present everywhere (Ps. 139:1-10), it is not communicating that the Holy Spirit is physically distributed throughout the universe, but that the Holy Spirit is present (with all His fullness) in every part of creation; that is, the Holy Spirit exerts direct causal influence everywhere in space and time. Thus Scripture teaches God’s creative and sustaining relationship to the cosmos rather than His physical location in the cosmos.
To speak of God’s “whereness” in terms of His physical location in the world rather than His relationship to the world has more in common with the panentheism of heretical process theology (currently popular in liberal circles) than with classical Christian theism. Panentheism holds that God is intrinsically “in” the world while classical theism holds that God properly exists outside of time and space, as One who “inhabiteth eternity” (Isa. 57:15, KJV). Nonetheless, nothing in time and space exists apart from God’s nonspatial and nontemporal presence, for “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
The danger of ascribing physical location to the Person of the Holy Spirit is that it logically implies that the Holy Spirit is by nature a material being. When 1 Corinthians 6:19 says the Holy Spirit is in you, it is describing a personal relationship rather than a physical location. Thus to say that the Holy Spirit is in you is not to point out where the Holy Spirit is physically located, but rather to point out that we have come into a special, intimate, personal relationship with Him through repentance. Similarly, when Jesus says, “the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:38), He is not speaking of physical location but intimacy of relationship.
In addition, it should be noted that the preposition in has a variety of meanings. When I say that I am “in hot water,” I am using a figure of speech to describe my relationship to trouble, not to my daily shower. Likewise, when I say that my loved ones will always be “in my heart,” I am using a figure of speech to describe a relationship of love. While having a loved one in your heart pales by comparison to having the Holy Spirit in you, in both cases a personal relationship rather than a physical location is being described.
To deny that the Holy Spirit is spatially locatable within us is not to deny that He is actively locatable within us, working redemptively within the deepest part of our beings to conform us into the image of Christ. Far from detracting from our nearness to the Holy Spirit, the classical Christian view intensifies the intimacy of our special relationship to the Creator as well as the benefits of our redemption.
Finally, the great dedicatory prayer of King Solomon (1 Kings 8) reveals the futility of believing that the infinite Holy Spirit can be physically contained in any finite space, let alone the human body. Indeed, Solomon exclaimed, “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (v. 27). Like Solomon, the apostle Paul affirmed that God “does not live in temples built by hands” (Acts 17:24).