The Holy Spirit is here clearly referred to in the masculine gender, using the masculine pronoun "he." This makes the Holy Spirit appear like a living personality.
The translators were forced to do this to be grammatically correct, since "Comforter" or "Helper" (parakletos) is a masculine noun. However, we teach that the Holy Spirit is an inanimate, impersonal power—a force—that is directed and used by a personal God. In other words, "he" is shown doing activities that should really be ascribed to people or persons.
Even though English does not have masculine, feminine, and neuter nouns in the way that languages like Greek do, we still refer to a ship as "she," and ascribe actions and personalities to "her," even though a ship does not technically have a gender. What using the masculine pronoun does is cause the Holy Spirit to appear as if it is doing things as people or as God would do.
The argument put forth by Trinitarians is that the Holy Spirit could hardly do these things unless it were a personality with the powers to do them. Such an argument seems pretty strong until one begins to look at other parts of the Bible concerned with similar concepts. For instance,
If the foot shall say, "Because I am not of the hand, I am not of the body;" is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, "Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body;" is it therefore not of the body? (I Corinthians 12:15-16)
When was the last time your foot talked? When did your ear last speak? Never! Paul personified the foot and the ear. He used his license as a writer to give personal traits to the foot and ear, so they could "speak." Why? He used it as a teaching vehicle to give us insight and understanding, in this case, of how all the parts of the body work together. They cooperate with one another so that the whole body can accomplish its work. But, in reality, the foot does not talk, and neither does the ear.
Would anyone in his right mind say that the heavens actually rejoice (Psalm 96:11-12) or "give ear" (Deuteronomy 32:1)? Or that the mountains and forests sing (Isaiah 44:23)? Or that the trees clap hands (Isaiah 55:12)—hands they do not even have? Psalm 98:8 says, "Let the rivers clap their hands"! Writers often do this to give us a grasp of what they are trying to get across.
Therefore, it is risky business to claim that the Holy Spirit is a person on the basis of verses that say that the Spirit speaks, or because it is referred to in the masculine gender. Things that are clearly inanimate or impersonal are described in much the same way throughout the entirety of the Bible.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit
Romans 8:14 refers to those who are "led," not dragged, forced, imposed upon or imputed to. Paul's comments supplement what Jesus says in John 16:13, as some of the verbs in this sentence demonstrate that free moral agency on our part is still involved. "Guide," "speak," and "tell" show that God has chosen to persuade rather than force us. In addition, they give the distinct impression that the followers and hearers will need to do something on their own.
They will have to make choices, pay attention to what is said or written, and set their wills and follow through on their choices in order to accompany and learn from the Guide. Without these, they will not produce fruit because they are doing insufficient or the wrong activities.
A teacher cannot impose knowledge, understanding, and wisdom upon a student. The student must cooperate in the process. Without this, little or no fruit is produced. The Bible shows the Spirit of God as influencing, suggesting, and, if we choose to permit it, dominating—perhaps even controlling—our lives. This is good because God is good, and if we will yield, the fruit of His Spirit will be produced in our lives.
Are we aware that a divine influence is drawing us away from the corrupting passions and vanities of this world? Are we conscious of a desire to yield to that influence and be conducted along the path of holiness and life? Do we resist, or do we follow cheerfully and energetically, mortifying pride, subduing passion, destroying lust, stifling talebearing, humbling ambition, and annihilating the love of the wealth and fashions of this world?
God will not lead us astray. Our real love, joy, and peace consist only in yielding ourselves entirely to Him and being willing to be guided and influenced by His unseen hand. To be led by the Spirit is to choose voluntarily and consciously to submit to the Word of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit
No man - by scholarship, human reason, or intelligence - can comprehend the whole truth of God apart from the Holy Spirit. Only by the intervention of the Spirit are we called to understand it. God, by divine revelation through the help of the Spirit, opens our minds to the "mysteries" of the truth, allowing us to discern what is truly vital to our salvation.
Martin G. Collins
The Holy Spirit
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing John 16:13: