Holy Spirit

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Part of the series on
History of Christianity

Christian theology
The Trinity:
God the Father
Christ the Son
The Holy Spirit

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Related faiths:
Abrahamic religions

The Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, in Trinitarian Christian belief, is God, the third Person of the Holy Trinity; the word "Spirit" commonly translates the Greek New Testament word pneuma.


Christian views of the Holy Spirit

In mainstream Christianity, the Holy Spirit is one person of the Trinity, co-equal with the Father and the Son (Jesus).

Christians believe it is the Holy Spirit who leads people to faith in Jesus and the one who gives them the ability to lead a Christian life. The Spirit dwells inside every true Christian, each one's body being His temple (First Epistle to the Corinthians 3:16). He is depicted as a 'Counsellor' or 'Helper' (paraclete in Greek), guiding them in the way of the truth. The 'Fruit of the Spirit' (i.e. the result of His work) is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22). The Spirit is also believed to give gifts (i.e. abilities) to Christians. These include the charismatic gifts such as prophecy, tongues, healing, and knowledge. (Some Christians, whose view is known as cessationism, believe these gifts were given only in New Testament times.) Christians agree almost universally that certain more mundane "spiritual gifts" are still in effect today, including the gifts of ministry, teaching, giving, leadership, and mercy (see, e.g. Romans 12:6-8). In some sects of Christianity, the experience of the Holy Spirit is referred to as being anointed. In the African American Gospel music tradition, the experience of the Holy Spirit is referred to as 'getting happy'.

Christians believe that it was the Holy Spirit whom Jesus mentioned as the promised "Comforter" (i.e. "strengthener", "fortifier") in John 14:26. After his resurrection, Christ told his disciples that they would be "baptized with the Holy Ghost", and would receive power from this event (Acts 1:4-8); a promise that was fulfilled in the events recounted in the second chapter of Acts. On the first Pentecost, Jesus' disciples were gathered in Jerusalem when a mighty wind was heard and tongues of fire appeared over their heads. A multilingual crowd heard the disciples speaking, and each of them heard them speaking in his or her native language. The Christian movement called Pentecostalism derives its name from these events.

The Pentecostal movement places special emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit, and especially on the gifts mentioned above, believing that they are still given today. Many Pentecostals believe in a 'Baptism of the Holy Spirit', in which the Spirit's power is received by the Christian in a new way. Some Pentecostal sects hold that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the one sure sign of Christianity in a person, or conversely, that until a person has experienced this baptism of the Holy Spirit, they cannot be certain of their salvation.

According to dispensationalism, we are now living in the Age of the Spirit. The Old Testament period, under this view, may be called the Age of the Father; the period covered by the Gospels, the Age of the Son; from Pentecost until the second advent of Christ, the Age of the Spirit.

While most Christians think of the person of the Holy Spirit as being a He or It, Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists, and others, believe that the Holy Spirit is a feminine Motherly Being, deriving this from the Hebrew language, rather than Greek or Latin. They also believe that ancient (and modern) Goddesses, and the veneration of Mary by Catholics, are derived from this truth. The Jews believe that the Holy Spirit and the Shekinah (both of which are feminine words in the Hebrew) are one and the same, though they do not generally believe in Her individual Personhood. This feminine aspect of the Holy Spirit is a prominent feature in the Jewish Kabbalah. The late Lois Roden, former president of the Branch organization, began teaching this aspect of the Spirit beginning in 1977. Thus Branch believers see a Family in heaven, whose family image is clearly seen on earth.

In the Gospel of John

In John's Gospel of the New Testament, the emphasis is placed not upon what the Holy Spirit did for Jesus, but upon Jesus giving the Spirit to His disciples. This "Higher" Christology, which was the most influential in the later development of Trinitarian doctrine, sees Jesus as a sacrificial lamb, and as coming among men in order to grant the Spirit of God to humanity.

Although the language used to describe Jesus' receiving of the Spirit in John's Gospel is a parallel to accounts in other Gospels, nevertheless, John reports this with the aim in view of showing that Jesus is specially in possession of the Spirit for the purpose of granting the Spirit to His followers, uniting them with Himself, and in Himself also uniting them with the Father. (See Raymond Brown, "The Gospel According to John", chapter on Pneumatology). In John, the gift of the Spirit is equivalent to eternal life, knowledge of God, power to obey, and communion with one another and with the Father.

"Holy Spirit" or "Holy Ghost"

Holy Ghost was the common name for the Holy Spirit in English prior to the 20th century. It is the name used in the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Version of the Bible, and is still used by those who prefer more traditional language, or whose religious vocabulary is largely informed by the King James Bible — many Anglicans, conservative Pentecostal groups, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and various others.

In 1901 the American Standard Version of the Bible translated the name as Holy Spirit, as had the English Revised Version of 1881-1885 upon which it was based. Almost all modern English translations have followed suit as the word ghost has lost its old meaning of the spirit or soul that is inside man and come to be identified almost exclusively with the concept of disembodied spirits, usually of the dead, which may "haunt" the living, an idea far from that intended by the King James translators.

Missing image
The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove in the stained glass window behind the Cathedra Petri in St Peter's Basilica, Rome

Depiction in art

The Holy Spirit is often depicted as a dove, based on the account of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus in the form of a dove when He was baptized in the Jordan. The book of Acts describes the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles at Pentecost in the form of a wind and tongues of fire resting over the apostles' heads. Based on the imagery in that account, the Holy Spirit is sometimes symbolized by a flame of fire.

Non-Trinitarian Christian views

In the belief of many nontrinitarian sects — Unitarians and Jehovah's Witnesses, for instance — the holy spirit is God's spirit or God's active force, and not an actual person. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the Holy Spirit is considered a third and individual member of the Godhead, a different being from the Father and the Son, having a body of spirit (whereas the Father and the Son are believed to be resurrected individuals having immortalized bodies of flesh and bone).

Rastafarian view of the Holy Spirit

As a group that evolved out of Christianity, the Rastafari movement has its own unique interpretation of both the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit. They believe it is Haile Selassie who embodies both God the Father and God the son, while the Holy Spirit is to be found within Rasta believers (see ' I and i'), and within every human being. Rastas also believe that the true church is the human body, and that it is this church which contains the Holy Spirit.

Other views

Several scriptures of Vedic (Hindu) tradition describe that God is present in the heart as the supreme witness, Paramatman (as per 1 Cor. 3:16, sura 50:16 and sura 6:60 of Qur'an) - Vedanta Sutra 1.2.11, Katha Upanishad 1.3.1, Chandogya Upanishad 8.1.1 and other Upanishads. Bhagavad Gita, a summary of Upanishads, has many verses about Paramatman. Several are:

10.20: "I am the Supersoul, O Arjuna, seated in the hearts of all living entities. I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings."

15.15: "I am seated in everyones heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas, I am to be known. Indeed, I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas."

18.61: "The Supreme Lord is situated in everyones heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy."

(quotes from Bhagavad_Gita_As_It_Is by A.C._Bhaktivedanta_Swami_Prabhupada)

See also

External links

 de:Heiliger Geist
 es:Espritu Santo
 fi:Pyh Henki
 ga:An Spiorad Naomh
 nl:Heilige Geest
 pl:Duch Święty
 pt:Esprito Santo (religio)
 sr:Свети Дух
 sv:Den Helige Ande

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