Glossary of Terms



Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

spirit. Originally, "wind" or "breath"; the self, similar to "soul." Gen. 41:8; Ex. 35:21; 2 Sam. 13:39; Ezra 1:1; Ps. 51:10; Matt. 5:3; Mark 8:12; Rom. 8:10. Also a being, as in 1 Sam. 16:14; 1 Kings 22:21. In this sense in the Gospels and The Acts, chiefly evil or unclean spirits. Matt. 12:43-45; Mark 1:27; Luke 6:18; Acts 8:7.

Spirit of God or Spirit of the Lord. In the O.T., the activity of God or his power given to leaders and prophets. Gen. 1:2; Judg. 3:10; 1 Sam. 10:6; 11:6; Job 33:4; Ps. 104:30; Isa. 32:15; 63:14; Micah 3:8. In the N.T., used similarly, Matt. 3:16; 12:28; Luke 4:18; Acts 2:17, but chiefly as the Holy Spirit.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Holy Spirit, the, the mysterious power or presence of God in nature or with individuals and communities, inspiring or empowering them with qualities they would not otherwise possess. The term ‘spirit’ translates Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma) words denoting ‘wind,’ ‘breath,’ and, by extension, a life-giving element. With the adjective ‘holy,’ the reference is to the divine spirit, i.e., the Spirit of God.

Emphases in the ot: In the ot, three major emphases may be identified, the first of which is the Holy Spirit as an agent in creation. This is an almost impersonal representation of the Spirit by which the awesome power of God is depicted (e.g., Gen. 1:2; Ps. 33:6; Ezek. 37:1-10). The second is the Holy Spirit as a source of inspiration and power. In these instances (particularly evident in the stories of the judges, kings, and prophets), the Holy Spirit becomes a vehicle of God’s revelation and activity. Israel’s leaders—from Moses to Joshua, to the judges, to David and Solomon, to the enigmatic ‘Servant of God’ of Isaiah 42—all receive their wisdom, courage, and power as gifts resulting from the possession of God’s Spirit. The primary example, however, is surely the inspiration of the prophets, who, because they possess (or are possessed by) this Spirit, speak and act with an authority and power not their own (an element also illustrated by the occurrence of ecstatic phenomena, cf. 1 Sam. 10:9-13). In this connection, it should be noted that the Spirit can be conveyed from one person to another, as with Moses and Joshua, Saul and David, Elijah and Elisha. The third emphasis is the Holy Spirit as God’s presence in the convenantal community. To some degree connected with eschatological hope and expectations of the sanctification of Israel, this aspect is a significant, if less frequently found, understanding of the Holy Spirit (see esp. Ezek. 11:14-21; 36:22-32).

In the nt: In the nt, a more diverse range of meaning for this term is to be seen. Although the earlier usage continues (it is the Spirit of God that endows Jesus with power as the Messiah [Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; Matt. 12:28; Luke 4:16-21] and that empowers the church for its mission [Acts 2]), the close relationship of Jesus to God (the incarnation) expands and significantly transforms the understanding of the Holy Spirit in Christianity (cf. the related expressions, ‘Spirit of Christ,’ ‘Spirit of the Lord,’ ‘Spirit of Jesus,’ and especially passages such as Gal. 4:6, where God sends ‘the Spirit of his Son’ to the followers of Jesus). Indeed, although the doctrine of the Trinity is a later development, a number of nt passages suggest that the Holy Spirit is sent jointly from God and the Risen Christ (i.e., from the Father and the Son; cf. Acts 2:33). In keeping with this, the Holy Spirit comes to represent both the presence and activity of God and the continuing presence of Jesus Christ in the church. While not uniquely Johannine, this idea comes to fullest expression in John 14, where the Holy Spirit is described as a ‘Counselor*’ (Paraclete*) who represents both divine presence and guidance for the disciples.

Since this term is found in nearly every book of the nt, other nuances can, of course, be mentioned. In Acts, there is a close connection among four elements: the proclamation of the gospel, baptism, the laying on of hands, and the reception of the Holy Spirit. In both Acts and Paul’s Letters, reception of the Holy Spirit brings the ‘gifts’ needed for Christian ministry (as well as the gift of ecstatic speech) and extends the presence and power of Christ to each new generation of Christians. In Pauline thought, however, there is an additional dimension seen in the contrast of ‘flesh’ with ‘spirit’ as characteristic of life in the old age and the new age, respectively. The Spirit makes Christians one ‘in Christ’ and empowers them, not only for the mission of the church, but also for the moral and ethical life appropriafate to those who understand themselves to be people of the new age.

For a detailed article on the Holy Spirit (the Holy Ghost) as the Advocate (the Comforter), browse


Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer