THE HOLY SPIRIT (Part 1: The Third Person of the Godhead)

The Holy Spirit may be one of the most debated topics within the churches of Christ, and often stirs debate within the denominational world, even among the same denominations. The Holy Spirit permeates the scriptures from the beginning of the Bible in the first chapter to the last book in the last chapter of the Holy Writ. In between, there are over three hundred and fifty references to the Holy Spirit. Such study into the nature and person of the Holy Ghost remains necessary because the ignorance, confusion, and misconceptions, regarding the subject has spiraled into several false teachings such as the direct operation of the Holy Spirit and modern miracles.

Many individuals imagine the Holy Spirit as some mysterious ghostly character that stands separate and independent in nature to the Father and the Son; the Spirit is not an “it” but rather a “He.” Paul wrote, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). The Godhead is the trinity, and the trinity is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these three are one (Matt. 28:19, 1 John 5:7-8). They exist as three properties of the same element. Consider how the Bible describes the Spirit and the name of the Spirit in relation to His character.

The Bible identifies the third person of the Godhead predominantly as the “Holy Ghost” or “Holy Spirit.” The word “Holy” signals His absolute moral perfection. He infinitely possesses all that is good; and He is absolutely removed from all that is evil. The word “Holy” means sacred, set apart, which explains that the ‘Holy’ Spirit of God is set apart and sacred from the spirit of man. The Holy Spirit shares the eternal and omnipotent qualities with the Father and the Son, showing the Godhead to be unified in divine nature.

The word “Ghost” or “Spirit” came from the Greek word πνεῦμα/pneuma [pnyoo’-mah] meaning a breath, a current of air, soul, immortal nature (Strong’s Greek Lexicon). It should be noted that the KJV translates pneuma as “Ghost” instead of “Spirit” when used with “Holy.” Most modern translations like the ASV and NKJV used the term “Spirit.” The variation derived from how the word “Ghost” was used and what it implied in 1611 when the KJV was written.

The word “ghost” in 1611 conveyed much the same meaning as the word “spirit” does today. In 1611, the word “ghost” implied a guest that came to the aide of another for a specified limit in time. The word indicated that the “Holy Ghost” would not remain with man in the same form/aide as He did in the first century forever, which the Scripture reflected (1 Cor. 13:10).

By 1901, when the ASV translation was made, the word “ghost” had lost its earlier meaning and had acquired the significance of a spook or specter, thus no longer indicating the connotation of the Greek word for spirit (pneuma). In both cases, the name was meant to describe the entity of God that dwelt with man in a specific form for a time and then departed from that form.

The Holy Spirit worked through the vessels of the apostles providing them with the miraculous gifts to testify that what they preached emanated from God (Heb. 2:4; 2 Co. 4:7; John 14:26). However, the Spirit never planned on the apostles living forever (2 Peter 1:14). Therefore, as the apostles drew near to the end of their lives, the Spirit inspired these men to write down all their teachings and knowledge of God’s will (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:16). This would provide the church with the knowledge of righteousness for generations to come.

Furthermore, the Written Word offers a more superior connection and growth between God and the Christian. The first century possessed the full revelation of God, but not in written form. The apostles acted as walking Bibles. They provided the full revelation of God in oral form. However, this made communication more difficult. Christians couldn’t take home God’s Word and study the material in-depth and reread the information multiple times to better understand the will of God. Christians only received the information as the apostles spoke it. They heard it one time, and they either understood at the time or they did not. The apostles didn’t have time for each Christian to take them home and go over the information until the Christian understood. The Holy Spirit showed great wisdom and forethought in revealing the revelation of God through the Written Word.

The Bible also describes the third person of the Godhead as the “Spirit of Truth” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13) because of the integrity of His message and His testimony in guiding the apostles and prophets into all truth. He revealed and inspired the complete and final revelation of God’s omniscient mind, the New Testament (2 Tim. 2:16-17; Jude 3; John 17:17). This description and name explain the role of the Spirit in the Christian dispensation. The Spirit of Truth reveals the message of God. The Father created the plan of redemption, the Son executed the plan, and the Spirit revealed the plan.

Understanding the Spirit’s role helps Christians understand the main focus of the Spirit. The Bible doesn’t describe Him as “the Spirit of Evangelism,” but the “Spirit of Truth.” The third person of the Godhead is likewise not the “Spirit of Wishes” going around granting miracles for those of good behavior. His nature and description reflect that of a being who simply reveals the message of redemption providing substance for those whose job it is to evangelize and persuade (Matt. 28:19-20).   

Romans 8:26-27 also describes the Spirit as an intercessor. The word in the Greek means one who will “confer with; by extension to entreat (in favor or against)” (Strong). This description also reflects the Spirit’s role in the first century in that He opened lines of communication, He reveals the message of God to mankind. Unlike a mediator who works to solve the problem between two parties, which was Christ (1 Tim. 2:5), the intercessor moves between man and the divine making clear the lines of communication. Today, the Spirit does this through the revelation of the Bible. The Bible makes clear the will and message of the Father (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

The third person of the Godhead is sometimes simply called “Spirit” indicating His nature or essence. He embodies the same essence as God the Father (John 4:24). He is not some ethereal being floating around the earth possessing people. He is not mere wind, sound, or influence. He is a being… who reveals the revelation of God. He is called “Spirit of Life” (Rom. 8:2), “Spirit of Grace” (Heb. 10:29), “Spirit of God” (Gen. 1:2; Matt. 3:16), “Spirit of the living God” (2 Cor. 3:3), “Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19), “Spirit of adoption” (Rom. 8:15), and “Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13). All these descriptive names explain His relationship to the Godhead and His divine nature. 

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