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
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing John 16:8: