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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Identity of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Is There a Difference between the Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost?

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Is There a Difference between the Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost?

The Identity of the Holy Spirit – Question 31

When we read the New Testament, in the King James Version of the Bible, we find the Spirit of God variously referred to as the “Holy Spirit” and the “Holy Ghost.” Is there a reason that these two different designations are used? Is it speaking of two different personalities, or is it referring to two different aspects of the one Spirit? Why do we find the two different terms?

There Is Only One Holy Spirit

Actually, these verses refer to the one Holy Spirit. There is no theological reason why the Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as the Holy Ghost. The reason we find the differences has to do with the English language at that time. In Tudor, or Elizabethan English, the word “ghost” simply meant “spirit” at that time in history.

Why the Difference in Translation?

The reason for the difference is found in the story behind the translation of the King James Bible. When the New Testament was translated from Greek into English it was done by different committees. One of the committees consistently translated the Greek words hagion pneuma as “Holy Spirit” while the other committee translated it as “Holy Ghost.” When the translation was completed these differences remained.

Thus, you have the Spirit of God referred to as both the Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost – yet there is no distinction between the two.

It Has Been Corrected by Modern Translations

Modern translations have corrected this inconsistency and have uniformly translated the phrase hagion pneuma as Holy Spirit.

The English word “ghost” has taken on a different meaning in our present day. Indeed, it is not always equated with the word “spirit.” Therefore it is not wise to use the term in modern translations because it conjures up a different meaning to the reader.

It Has Become Part of Church Language

Interestingly, although modern English translations have replaced the outdated term “ghost” with “spirit” some of the liturgy of the church still uses the term.

For example, in the Communion exhortation of the Book of Common Prayer there is a phrase that reads, “He may receive the benefits of absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice, to the quieting of his conscience.”

Consequently, the word still remains part of the language of the church though it is hopelessly outdated. We simply do not use the term “ghost” today in the same way.

Summary – Question 31
Is There a Difference between the Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost?

When one reads the Bible in the King James translation they will find that the third Person of the Trinity is sometimes referred to as the “Holy Spirit” while other times as the “Holy Ghost.” We should not assume that it is referring to two different personages.

In Tudor, or Elizabethan, English the words “ghost” and “spirit” meant the same thing. Thus, some ancient translations of Scripture, including the King James Version, have the terms Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost referring to the Spirit of God. Yet there was no difference in meaning at that time.

The reason that both terms were used in the King James translation has to do with the various committees that translated the New Testament. One group consistently used Holy Ghost, while another used Holy Spirit for the same Greek words which referred to the Spirit of God. The inconsistency was not corrected.

Modern versions have corrected this inconsistency with the term Spirit replacing the outdated term ghost. However, some church liturgy still retains this ancient outdated term.

In sum, there is only one Holy Spirit. He is not a “ghost” in the modern sense of the term.

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