Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost?
I recently had a person ask me, “Are the Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost two different beings? You get the Holy Spirit when you are saved, but you get the Holy Ghost when you speak in tongues, right?”
This question highlights how much confusion there is about the ministry of the Spirit in general and, within that confusion, the significant amount of it that is caused by misunderstood or poor terminology.
Though the questioner raised several points needing clarification, I want to speak to the terms “Holy Ghost” and “Holy Spirit.” A word of warning; this may rattle some deified tradition, but to me, accuracy is always more important than maintaining the status quo.
You have probably noticed that modern English Bible translations do not use the term “Holy Ghost;” and that for good reason. The King James Version (KJV) was translated originally in the year 1611; this version used the terms Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost interchangeably in the New Testament and used the term Holy Spirit soley in the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament–which was written in Hebrew, the term ruach (meaning spirit/Spirit, breath or wind) is translated as “Spirit/spirit.” The only time you’ll find the word “ghost” in the KJV Old Testament is the phrase “give/gave up the ghost”, speaking of someone dying. This phrase is a 1611-era figure of speech that is substituted by the translators for the actual Hebrew verb, gava, which means to die or breath your last breath. There is absolutely no usage of the word “ghost” in the Hebrew Old Testament.
In the New Testament–which was written in Greek, the term pneuma (also literally meaning spirit/Spirit, breath or wind) is used exclusively to speak of God’s invisible Spirit, the third Person of the trinity.
The Greek word for “ghost” is phantasma, meaning “ghostly apparition.” Phantasma is used twice in the Greek New Testament–both times speaking of being frightened by what the Disciples thought was at first sight a “ghostly apparition”, namely Jesus walking towards them on the water (see Matt 14:26 and Mark 6:49). They were literally afraid of what they thought was an unholy ghost!
Though the KJV inconsistently renders pneuma as both Ghost and Spirit, the original is clearly, consistently intended to read as “Holy Spirit”. No place is this more evident than in Acts 2:4, where the KJV translates the one word, pneuma, as both Ghost and Spirit within the same verse! This perhaps demonstrates the superstition of the era in which this version was translated, but also our need for modern, reliable Bible translations and scholarship.
I am not intending to blast the KJV as being full of errors or hurt those who have been strengthened by reading God’s Word in this translation. I am trying to clear up a 400 year old misunderstanding that has potentially caused many to fear the ministry of the Paraclete who desires to help us, not scare us.
There is definitively no usage of “Holy Ghost” in the original Hebrew or Greek Bibles. Simply put, biblically, there is no such being as the Holy Ghost. Both the Hebrew term ruach and Greek term pneuma are rightly translated as Spirit, not Ghost in modern English translations.
Both the biblical terms for spirit center around life and action, not death and fear–as phantasma, or ghost, implies. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Life, not the spirit of death, a phantasm or phantom.
I pray that our practice of sometimes holding tradition over truth will be challenged–because in this case, the mistranslation of Ghost has likely encouraged many to have additional superstitious fears about a ghostly apparition instead of desiring the Holy Spirit’s practical, desperately needed ministry.
So how about letting the term “Holy Ghost” give up the ghost?