What is the "Holy Spirit"?

The Meaning of the Word “Spirit”

In English copies of the Bible, the word "spirit" occurs about 823 times. It’s first occurrence is Genesis 1:2. "Spirit" occurs most often in the Old Testament book Isaiah and the New Testament book Acts. The Hebrew word translated "spirit" or "breath" is ruach. The Greek word is pneuma.

Regarding the English word "spirit" THE ROOTS OF ENGLISH, page 229 says: "[Latin SPIRARE, to breathe." Thus it equals both the Hebrew (RUACH) and Greek (PNEUMA) for "breath." The phrase "spirit of God" is reasonably rendered "Breath of God" or "Wind of God." The word "spirit" has taken on a corporeal tone like the word "ghost." Likely, if the word PNEUMA had been rendered "breath" or "wind" in English the Holy Spirit would not have developed so strongly in English as a Person part of the Trinitarian Godhead. Some translators actually do render RUACH as "wind" in Genesis 1:2. (NJB: a divine wind)

Note the parallels between spirit and breath (wind) in poetic verses. Psalm 18:10, "Yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind (RUACH / PNEUMA)." (KJV, ASV, JPS, NEB) Psalm 33:6: "By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath (RUACH / PNEUMA) of his mouth." (KJV, NJB) Psalm 104:30: "Thou sendest forth thy spirit (RUACH / PNEUMA), they are created." [NJB: you give breath]

The Spirit of God as the Mind of god

Paul quotes Isaiah 40:13 from the LXX at 1 Corinthians 2:16 using the exact phrasing: "’For who has come to know the mind [Grk = noun] of the Lord?’ But we have the mind [noun] of Christ." The Hebrew version uses not "mind" but "Spirit [ruwach]." (Compare KJV, NAS, NIV, etc) Would this not indicate, in harmony with Paul, that the Jews in rendering the Hebrew to Greek thought the Spirit to be "mind"? In Isaiah the context of Yahweh’s creative power (i.e. the Spirit) is explained (verse 26): "Who brings out their host by number? By greatness of His Might, for that He is strong in power [dynamic energy]." In Hebrew here the word "power" is from KOWACH meaning "force." (Strong’s # 3581) Since this is unseen it is an "invisible force" like wind or breath emanating from the Mind of The God.

What "the spirit of God" is can be understood by comparing it to the "spirit of man." Many score times does the Bible speak of man’s inner attributes or disposition of mind which may be vented by his breath such as in anger. This "spirit" is not another person but part and parcel of the person himself. Thus, the "spirit of God" is also that inner attribute of the Divine Mind which the Creator can project from Himself to accomplish His will. The two cannot be separated. Thus, if a person sin against the spirit of God it is the same as sinning against God. (Numbers 12:1-16; Acts 5:1-4) If one blaspheme the spirit of God it is the same as blaspheming God, but not necessarily the Son. (Matthew 12:31, 32)

To explain what the spirit is consider the following:

Thus, originally, or in the beginning of material creation, there were two Gods: the only-begotten God as the instrument of creation facing toward The Absolute Being, the Unbegotten God. (John 1:1, 18)


What do scholars and Bible commentaries have to say about the subject of the "holy spirit"? Consider several:

The New Catholic Encyclopedia: "The O[ld] T[estament] clearly does not envisage God's spirit as a person . . . God's spirit is simply God's power. If it is sometimes represented as being distinct from God, it is because the breath of Yahweh acts exteriorly. ... The majority of N[ew] T[estament] texts reveal God's spirit as something, not someone; this is especially seen in the parallelism between the spirit and the power of God. ... On the whole, the New Testament, like the Old, speaks of the spirit as a divine energy or power. ... Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find any clear indication of a Third Person."

The New Catholic Encyclopedia admits: "The majority of N[ew] T[estament] texts reveal God's spirit as something, not someone; this is especially seen in the parallelism between the spirit and the power of God." (1967, Vol. XIII, p. 575) It also reports: "The Apologists [Greek Christian writers of the second century] spoke too haltingly of the Spirit; with a measure of anticipation, one might say too impersonally."-Vol. XIV, p. 296.

Catholic theologian Edmund Fortman: "The Jews never regarded the spirit as a person; nor is there any solid evidence that any Old Testament writer held this view. . . . The Holy Spirit is usually presented in the Synoptics [Gospels] and in Acts as a divine force or power. ... Although this spirit is often described in personal terms, it seems quite clear that the sacred writers [of the Hebrew Scriptures] never conceived or presented this spirit as a distinct person." (The Triune God)

The words of church historian Neander --- of whom McClintock and Strong's Cyclopædia describes as, "Universally conceded to be by far the greatest of ecclesiastical historians" --- wrote: "In A.D. 380, great indistinctness prevailed among the different parties respecting this dogma so that a contemporary could say, 'Some of our theologians regard the holy spirit simply as a mode of divine operation; others as a creature of God; others as God himself; others again, say that they know not which of the opinions to accept from their reverence for Holy Writ, which says nothing upon the subject.'"

THE DICTIONARY OF NEW TESTAMENT THEOLOGY (Vol 3, pp. 689-701) -- "Spirit ... denotes dynamic movement of the air. ... ‘Holy Spirit’ denotes supernatural POWER. ... This is nowhere more clearly evident than in Acts where the Spirit is presented as an almost tangible FORCE, visible if not in itself, certainly in its affects. ... For the first Christians, the Spirit was most characteristically a divine POWER manifesting itself in inspired utterance. ... The Spirit was evidently experienced as a numinous POWER pervading the early community and giving its early leadership an aura of authority which could not be withstood. (Acts 5:1-10) ... It is important to realize that for Paul too the Spirit is a divine POWER."

"The Holy Spirit is a DYNAMIS [power] and is expressly so called in Lk (24.49) ["Look, I am sending forth upon you that which is promised by my Father. You, though, abide in the city until you become clothed with power from on high."] and DYNAMIS HYPSISTOU, Lk (1.35) ["Holy spirit will come upon you, and power of the Most High will over shadow you."]. ... In some pass. the Holy Spirit is rhetorically represented as a Person." (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, page 522) (Compare Ac 1.11; 5.11, 55)

Theological Workbook of the Old Testament, Vol 2, page 836-7: "The basic idea of RUAH (Grk pneuma) is ‘air in motion.’ ... "’The RUAH spirit of God is in my nostrils.’ (Job 27.3) ... The ‘breath’ of God may be a strong wind. (Is 40.7) ... His ‘spirit’ may indicate no more than active power. (Is 40.13)"

Regarding Personification

Regarding the masculine gender PARAKLETO(S, N) [Paraclete, Comforter, Helper] --- The dictionary defines "personify" as, "to think or speak of a thing has having life or personality ... as, we personify a ship by referring to it as ‘she’." This personification of abstractions or powers is shown from Genesis 4:7 The New English Bible (NE) says: "Sin is a demon crouching at the door." Proverbs chs 1 and 8 compare Wisdom (SOPHIA) to a woman. Jesus says: "Wisdom is vindicated by all her children." (Luke 7:35 RSV) Paul has "sin" and "death" as kings who "rule" and possess "desires." (Romans 5:14, 21; 6:12) He has the "higher powers" as "she." (Romans 13:3, 4)

Does patience work and is it a she? James 1:4, "But let patience have HER perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."

Can you "lie" against the truth? James 3:14, "But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth."

Unlike English many languages have verbs with gender. Though PARAKLETOS is masculine, PNEUMA (Spirit) is not, it is neuter, or "it." This is seen in Romans 8:16 where the United Bible Societies’ interlinear renders: "Itself (AUTO) the spirit witnesses with the spirit of us," or, "the spirit itself bears witness." The Catholic New American Bible admits this regarding John 14.17: "The Greek word for 'Spirit' is neuter, and while we use personal pronouns in English ('he,' 'his,' 'him'), most Greek MSS [manuscripts] employ 'it.'"

Other abstractions are given personality. Note the Nazarene at John 3.8: "The wind [PNEUMA, neuter "spirit"] blows where it chooses [wishes, wills, pleases]." Compare 1 John 5:6-8: "There are three that testify [John 15:26] the spirit, and the water and the blood."

When Jesus speaks of the neuter PNEUMA as a masculine PARAKLETOS is he using a "metaphor" (RIEU), "similitude" (UBSint), "figure of speech" (NASB), "proverbs" (KJV), "parables" (KNX), or "comparisons" (NWT) and not literally? (John 16:25, 29)

Do you agree with the Nazarene? Is the Sender "greater" than the one sent? "A slave is not greater than his master, nor is one that is sent forth greater than the one that sent him." (John 13:16) Is the Holy Spirit "sent" or not? (John 14:26)

Jesus also compares the holy Pneuma to the "finger of God" not a person but a digit of the Almighty. (Matthew 12:24-29; Luke 12:15-23)

Is the Holy Spirit Ever Called “God”?

Regarding the holy spirit speaking in Acts 13.1-4:

Note the context, for the first verse mentions "prophets and teachers" in the Antioch ecclesia. Then following this it states: "The holy spirit said: 'Separate to me Barnabas and Paul.'" Does it not seem that the one who really spoke would be one of the prophets? So "the God of our Lord" used His own power and influence (the holy spirit) to speak through such prophet?

The work THE PEOPLE'S NEW TESTAMENT WITH NOTES (B. W. Johnson), page 470, footnote #2: "The Holy Spirit said. By an inspiration given to some one of these prophets." This is consistent with examples in the OT where the NT says the spirit said something when it was the prophet. Note Jeremiah 31:31-33 and Hebrews 10:15, 16: "Moreover the holy spirit also bears witness to us, for after it has said: 'This is the covenant ... "

The Holy Spirit -- holy Pneuma -- is not a person but the force and pressure of God’s mind as He wills something to be accomplished.

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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