Holy Spirit in Christianity

For the majority of Christian denominations, the Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, is the third person of the Trinity: the Triune God manifested as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; each entity itself being God. Nontrinitarian Christians, who reject the doctrine of the Trinity, differ significantly from mainstream Christianity in their beliefs about the Holy Spirit. In Christian theologypneumatology refers to the study of the Holy Spirit. Due to Christianity’s historical relationship with Judaism, theologians often identify the Holy Spirit with the concept of the Ruach Hakodesh in Jewish scripture, in the belief Jesus (who was Jewish) was expanding upon these Jewish concepts. Similar names, and ideas, include the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God), Ruach YHWH (Spirit of Yahweh), and the Ruach Hakmah (Spirit of Wisdom). In the New Testament it is identified with the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Truth, the Paraclete and the Holy Spirit.

The New Testament details a close relationship between the Holy Spirit and Jesus during his earthly life and ministry. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke and the Nicene Creed state that Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove during his baptism, and in his Farewell Discourse after the Last Supper Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples after his departure.

The Holy Spirit is referred to as “the Lord, the Giver of Life” in the Nicene Creed, which summarises several key beliefs held by many Christian denominations. The participation of the Holy Spirit in the tripartite nature of conversion is apparent in Jesus’ final post-resurrection instruction to his disciples at the end of the Gospel of Matthew (28:19): “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Since the first century, Christians have also called upon God with the trinitarian formula “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” in prayer, absolution and benediction. In the book of the Acts of the Apostles the arrival of the Holy Spirit happens fifty days after the resurrection of the Christ, and is celebrated in Christendom with the feast of Pentecost.

Holy Spirit Dove Window Church Window Stained Glass

Holy Spirit

Etymology and usage

The Koine Greek word pneûma (πνεῦμα, pneuma) is found around 385 times in the New Testament, with some scholars differing by three to nine occurrences. Pneuma appears 105 times in the four canonical gospels, 69 times in the Acts of the Apostles, 161 times in the Pauline epistles, and 50 times elsewhere. These usages vary: in 133 cases, it refers to “spirit” in a general sense and in 153 cases to “spiritual”. Around 93 times, the reference to the Holy Spirit, sometimes under the name pneuma and sometimes explicitly as the pneûma tò Hagion (ΠνεῦματὸἍγιον). (In a few cases it is also simply used generically to mean wind or life.) It was generally translated into the Vulgate as Spiritus and Spiritus Sanctus.

The English terms “Holy Ghost” and “Holy Spirit” are complete synonyms: one derives from the Old English gast and the other from the Latin loanword spiritus. Like pneuma, they both refer to the breath, to its animating power, and to the soul. The Old English term is shared by all other Germanic languages (compare, e.g., the German Geist) and is older, but the King James Bible used both interchangeably, and 20th-century translations of the Bible overwhelmingly prefer “Holy Spirit”, probably because the general English term “ghost” has increasingly come to refer only to the spirit of a dead person.

Names

Jewish Bible

Source:

  • וְר֣וּחַ קָדְשׁ֑וֹ (Ruah qadesow) – And His Holy Spirit (Isaiah 63:10)
  • וְר֣וּחַ קָ֝דְשְׁךָ֗ (Ruah qadseḵa) – And Thy Holy Spirit (Psalms 51:11)
  • וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים (Ruah Elohim) – And the Spirit of God (Genesis 1:2)
  • נִשְׁמַת־ר֨וּחַ חַיִּ֜ים (Nismat Ruah hayyim) – The Breath of the Spirit of Life (Genesis 7:22)
  • ר֣וּחַ יְהוָ֑ה (Ruah YHWH) – Spirit of YHWH (Isaiah 11:2)
  • ר֧וּחַ חָכְמָ֣ה וּבִינָ֗ה (Ruach hakmah ubinah) – Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding (Isaiah 11:2)
  • ר֤וּחַ עֵצָה֙ וּגְבוּרָ֔ה (Ruah esah ugeburah) – Spirit of Counsel and Might (Isaiah 11:2)
  • ר֥וּחַ דַּ֖עַת וְיִרְאַ֥ת יְהוָֽה (Ruah daat weyirat YHWH) – Spirit of Knowledge and Fear of YHWH (Isaiah 11:2)

New Testament

  • πνεύματος ἁγίου (Pneumatos Hagiou) – Holy Spirit (Mt 1, 18)
  • πνεύματι θεοῦ (Pneumati Theou) – Spirit of God (Mt 12,28)
  • ὁ παράκλητος (Ho Paraclētos) – The Comforter, cf. Paraclete John 14:26 (Jn 16,7)
  • πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας (Pneuma tēs Alētheias) – Spirit of Truth (Jn 16, 13)
  • Πνεῦμα Χριστοῦ (Pneuma Christou) – Spirit of Christ (1 Pt, 11)

Depending on context:

  • πνεῦμα (Pneuma) – Spirit (Jn 3,8)
  • Πνεύματος (Pneumatos) – Spirit (Jn 3,8)

Biblical portrayal

Old Testament

What the Hebrew Bible calls “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Elohim” is called in the Talmud and Midrash “Holy Spirit” (ruacḥ ha-kodesh). Although the expression “Holy Spirit” occurs in Ps. 51:11 and in Isa. 63:10–11, it had not yet acquired quite the same meaning which was attached to it in rabbinical literature: in the latter it is equivalent to the expression “Spirit of the Lord”. In Gen.1:2 God’s spirit hovered over the form of lifeless matter, thereby making the Creation possible. Although the ruach ha-kodesh may be named instead of God, it was conceived of as being something distinct; and, like everything earthly that comes from heaven, the ruach ha-kodesh is composed of light and fire. The most characteristic sign of the presence of the ruach ha-kodesh is the gift of prophecy. The use of the word “ruach” (Hebrew: “breath”, or “wind”) in the phrase ruach ha-kodesh seems to suggest that Judaic authorities believed the Holy Spirit was a kind of communication medium like the wind. The spirit talks sometimes with a masculine and sometimes with a feminine voice; the word ruacḥ is both masculine and feminine.

New Testament

The term Holy Spirit appears at least 90 times in the New Testament. The sacredness of the Holy Spirit to Christians is affirmed in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 12:30–32, Mark 3:28–30 and Luke 12:8–10) which proclaim that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin. The participation of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity is suggested in Jesus’ final post-Resurrection instruction to his disciples at the end of the Gospel of Matthew (28:19): “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

Synoptic Gospels

The Holy Spirit is mentioned by all three authors of the synoptic Gospels. Most of the references are by the author of the Gospel of Luke; this emphasis is continued by the same author in the Book of Acts.

The Holy Spirit does not simply appear for the first time at Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus, but is present in the Gospel of Luke (in 1–2) prior to the birth of Jesus. In Luke 1:15, John the Baptist was said to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” prior to birth, and the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary in Luke 1:35. In Luke 3:16 John the Baptist stated that Jesus baptized not with water but with the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus during his baptism in the Jordan River. In Luke 11:13 Jesus provided assurances that God the Father would “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him”.

Mark 13:11 specifically refers to the power of the Holy Spirit to act and speak through the disciples of Jesus in time of need: “be not anxious beforehand what ye shall speak: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye; for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 10:20 refers to the same act of speaking through the disciples, but uses the term “Spirit of your Father”.

The sacredness of the Holy Spirit to Christians is affirmed in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 12:30–32, Mark 3:28–30 and Luke 12:8–10) which proclaim that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin.

Luke–Acts

Together, Luke–Acts contain over half of the references in the New Testament to the Holy Spirit although this author wrote approximately 25% of the content of the New Testament.

Acts of the Apostles

The Acts of the Apostles has sometimes been called the “Book of the Holy Spirit” or the “Acts of the Holy Spirit”. Of the seventy or so occurrences of the word Pneuma in Acts, fifty-five refer to the Holy Spirit.

From the start, in Acts 1:2, the reader is reminded that the ministry of Jesus, while he was on earth, was carried out through the power of the Holy Spirit and that the “acts of the apostles” continue the acts of Jesus and are also facilitated by the Holy Spirit. Acts presents the Holy Spirit as the “life principle” of the early Church and provides five separate and dramatic instances of its outpouring on believers in 2:1–4, 4:28–31, 8:15–17, 10:44 and 19:6.

References to the Holy Spirit appear throughout Acts, for example Acts 1:5 and 8 stating towards the beginning: “For John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit … ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you” referring to the fulfillment of the prophecy of John the Baptist in Luke 3:16: “he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit”.

Johannine literature

Three separate terms, namely Holy SpiritSpirit of Truth and Paraclete are used in the Johannine writings. The “Spirit of Truth” is used in John 14:17, 15:26 and 16:13. The First Epistle of John then contrasts this with the “spirit of error” in 1 John 4:6. 1 John 4:1–6 provides the separation between spirits “that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God” and those who in error refuse it—an indication of their being evil spirits.

In John 14:26 Jesus states: “But the Comforter, [even] the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things”. The identity of the “Comforter” has been the subject of debate among theologians, who have proposed multiple theories on the matter.

Pauline Epistles

The Holy Spirit plays a key role in the Pauline epistles; and the Apostle Paul’s pneumatology is closely connected to his theology and Christology, to the point of being almost inseparable from them.

The First Epistle to the Thessalonians, which was likely the first of Paul’s letters, introduces a characterization of the Holy Spirit in 1:6 and 4:8 which is found throughout his epistles. In 1 Thessalonians 1:6 Paul refers to the imitation of Christ (and himself) and states: “And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit”, whose source is identified in 1 Thessalonians 4:8 as “God, who giveth his Holy Spirit unto you”.

These two themes of receiving the Spirit “like Christ” and God being the source of the Spirit persist in Pauline letters as the characterization of the relationship of Christians with God. For Paul the imitation of Christ involves readiness to be shaped by the Holy Spirit, as in Romans 8:4 and 8:11: “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, he that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”

The First Epistle to the Thessalonians also refers to the power of the Holy Spirit in 1:5, a theme also found in other Pauline letters.

Jesus and the Holy Spirit

In the Farewell Discourse Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples after his departure,[14] depiction from the Maesta by Duccio, 1308–1311.

In the Farewell Discourse Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples after his departure, depiction from the Maesta by Duccio, 1308–1311.

The New Testament details a close relationship between the Holy Spirit and Jesus during his earthly life and ministry. The Apostles’ Creed echoes the statements in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, stating that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of Mary.

Specific New Testament references to the interaction of Jesus and the Holy Spirit during his earthly life, and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit during his ministry include:

  • “Spirit without measure” having been given to Jesus in John 3:34, referring to the word spoken by Jesus (Rhema) being the words of God.
  • Baptism of Jesus, with the Holy Spirit descending on him as a dove in Matthew 3:13–17, Mark 1:9–11 and Luke 3:21–23
  • Temptation of Jesus, in Matthew 4:1 the Holy Spirit led Jesus to the desert to be tempted
  • The Spirit casting out demons (Matthew 12:28), in Exorcising the blind and mute man miracle
  • Rejoice the Spirit in Luke 10:21 where seventy disciples are sent out by Jesus
  • Acts 1:2 states that until his death and resurrection, Jesus “had given commandment through the Holy Spirit unto the apostles”
  • Referring to the sacrifice of Jesus to be crucified out of obedience to the father, Hebrews 9:14 states that Jesus “through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God”

In his Farewell Discourse to his disciples, Jesus promised that he would “send the Holy Spirit” to them after his departure, in John 15:26 stating: “whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth … shall bear witness of me”.

Mainstream doctrines

See also: Pneumatology (Christianity)

The theology of spirits is called pneumatology. The Holy Spirit is referred to as the Lord and Giver of Life in the Nicene creed. He is The Creator Spirit, present before the creation of the universe and through his power everything was made in Jesus Christ, by God the Father. Christian hymns such as Veni Creator Spiritus reflects this belief.

In early Christianity, the concept of salvation was closely related to the invocation of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and since the first century, Christians have called upon God with the name “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” in prayer, baptism, communion, exorcism, hymn-singing, preaching, confession, absolution and benediction This is reflected in the saying: “Before there was a ‘doctrine’ of the Trinity, Christian prayer invoked the Holy Trinity”

For the majority of Christian denominations, the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and is Almighty God. The Holy Spirit is understood to be one of the three persons of the Trinity. As such he is personal and also fully God, co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and Son of God. He is different from the Father and the Son in that he proceeds from the Father (and, according to Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants, from the Father and the Son) as described in the Nicene Creed. The Triune God is thus manifested as three Persons (Greek hypostases), in One Divine Being (Greek: Ousia), called the Godhead (from Old English: Godhood), the Divine Essence of God.

In the New Testament, by the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, while maintaining her virginity. The Holy Spirit descended over Jesus in a corporeal way, as a dove, at the time of his baptism, and a voice from Heaven was heard: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” He is the Sanctifier of souls, the Helper, Comforter, the Giver of graces, he who leads souls to the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit is credited with inspiring believers and allowing for them to interpret all the sacred scripture and leads prophets, both in Old Testament and New Testament. Christians receive the Fruits of the Holy Spirit by means of his mercy and grace.

God the Holy Spirit

Main articles: God in Christianity and Nontrinitarianism

Trinity

A depiction of the Trinity consisting of God the Holy Spirit along with God the Father and God the Son (Jesus)

In a similar way, the Latin treatise De Trinitate (On the Trinity) of Saint Augustine of Hippo affirms: “For as the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, which no one doubts to be said in respect to substance, yet we do not say that the very Supreme Trinity itself is three Gods, but one God… But position, and condition, and places, and times, are not said to be in God properly, but metaphorically and through similitudes… And as respects action (or making), perhaps it may be said most truly of God alone, for God alone makes and Himself is not made. Nor is He liable to passions as far as belongs to that substance whereby He is God… So the Father is omnipotent, the Son omnipotent, and the Holy Spirit is omnipotent; yet not three omnipotents, but one omnipotent… Whatever, therefore, is spoken of God in respect to Himself, is both spoken singly of each Person, that is, of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and together of the Trinity itself, not plurally but in the singular.”The Christian doctrine of the Trinity includes the concept of God the Holy Spirit, along with God the Son and God the Father. Theologian Vladimir Lossky has argued that while in the act of the Incarnation, God the Son became manifest as the Son of God, the same did not take place for God the Holy Spirit which remained unrevealed. Yet, as in 1 Corinthians 6:19, God the Spirit continues to dwell in bodies of the faithful.

In Christian theology the Holy Spirit is believed to perform specific divine functions in the life of the Christian or the church. The action of the Holy Spirit is seen as an essential part of the bringing of the person to the Christian faith. The new believer is “born again of the Spirit”. The Holy Spirit enables Christian life by dwelling in the individual believers and enables them to live a righteous and faithful life. The Holy Spirit also acts as comforter or Paraclete, one who intercedes, or supports or acts as an advocate, particularly in times of trial. And he acts to convince the unredeemed person both of the sinfulness of their actions, and of their moral standing as sinners before God. Another faculty of the Holy Spirit is the inspiration and interpretation of scripture. The Holy Spirit both inspires the writing of the scriptures and interprets them to the Christian and the church.

Procession of the Holy Spirit

In John 15:26 Jesus says of the Holy Spirit: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” In 325, the First Council of Nicaea, being the first ecumenical council, ended its Creed with the words “and in the Holy Spirit”. In 381, the First Council of Constantinople, being the second ecumenical council, expanded the Creed and stated that Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father” (ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον). This phrase was based on John 15:26 (ὃ παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται). In 451, the Council of Chalcedon, being the fourth ecumenical council, affirmed the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. In the same time, the question of procession of the Holy Spirit was addressed by various Christian theologians, expressing diverse views and using different terminology, thus initiating the debate that became focused on the Filioque clause.

In 589, the Third Council of Toledo in its third canon officially accepted the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son (“a Patre et Filio procedere”). During the next few centuries, two distinctive schools of thought were gradually shaped, Eastern and Western. Eastern theologians were teaching that Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only (notion referred as monoprocessionism), while Western theologians were teaching that Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (notion referred as filioquism). Debates and controversies between two sides became the main point of difference within the Christian pneumatology.

Fruit and Gifts of the Spirit

Leave a Reply

Scroll Up
%d bloggers like this: