How Can the Holy Spirit be “Poured Out?”

QUESTION:

If the Holy Spirit is a Person, as Trinitarians claim, and not an impersonal force, as Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, how can it be said (as in Acts 10:45) that the Holy Spirit is “poured out?” Can you “pour out” a person?

ANSWER:

Acts 10:45 is in the context of the conversion of Cornelius, the first Gentile (non-Jew) to become a Christian. During Peter’s preaching, the Holy Spirit fell upon the listening Gentiles as evidenced by their praising God and speaking in tongues. In response to seeing this, verse 45 states of the Jewish believers who were present to witness this event, “And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.”

In discussing the doctrine of the Trinity with Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses will often ask how a person can be “poured out.” They will often use this phrase as an argument that the Spirit is not a Person, because – according to them – it makes no sense to speak of a person as being “poured out.” However, this phrase was used several times in Scripture of persons, and apparently had a metaphorical or idiomatic meaning that first century Jews would have understood. See, for example,

Job 30:16 “And now my soul is poured out within me; days of affliction have taken hold of me.”

Psalm 22:14 “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;”

Philippians 2:17 “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”

2 Timothy 4:6 “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.”

If Job, David and Paul were all persons and were said to be “poured out,” what reason could there be to believe that the Holy Spirit could not be a person and also be “poured out?”

Indeed, the idea of “pouring” is metaphorical even if we were to regard the Holy Spirit as being a force. One does not “pour” gravity or electricity or the wind. Are Jehovah’s Witnesses saying that the Holy Spirit is a liquid?