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For the large majority of Christians, the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost, from Old English gast, "spirit") is the third divine person of the Holy Trinity: the "Triune God" manifested as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; each person itself being God.
The New Testament includes over 90 references to the Holy Spirit. The sacredness of the Holy Spirit is affirmed in all three Synoptic Gospels which proclaim blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as the unforgivable sin. The Holy Spirit plays a key role in the Pauline epistles. In the Johannine writings, three separate terms, "Holy Spirit", "Spirit of Truth", and "Paraclete" are used.
The New Testament details a close relationship between the Holy Spirit and Jesus during his earthly life and ministry. The Gospels of Luke and Matthew and the Nicene Creed state that Jesus was "conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary". The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove during his Baptism, and in his Farewell Discourse after the Last Supper Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples after his departure.
The theology of the Holy Spirit is called pneumatology. The Holy Spirit is referred to as the Lord and Giver of Life in the Nicene Creed. The participation of the Holy Spirit in the tripartite nature of conversion is apparent in Jesus' final post-Resurrection instruction to his disciples at the end of the Gospel of Matthew (28:19): "make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". Since the first century, Christians have also called upon God with the name "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" in prayer, absolution and benediction.
The Greek word pneuma, generally translated spirit, is found around 385 times in the New Testament, with some scholars differing by three to nine occurrences. Pneuma appears 105 times in the four canonical gospels, 69 times in the Acts of the Apostles, 161 times in the Pauline epistles, and 50 times elsewhere. These usages vary, e.g. in 133 cases it refers to spirit in the general sense, 153 cases to spiritual, and possibly 93 times in reference to the Holy Spirit. In a few cases it is also used to mean wind or life.
The English terms Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost have identical meanings, with the former having become the usual term in the 20th century. In the King James Version the same Greek words are generally translated as Holy Ghost, but sometimes as Holy Spirit, and almost all recent translations of the Bible use Holy Spirit, probably because the word "ghost" now generally refers to an apparition of a dead person.
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The term Holy Spirit appears at least 90 times in the New Testament, but only three times in the Old Testament. The sacredness of the Holy Spirit is affirmed in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 12:30-32, Mark 3:28-30 and Luke 12:8-10) which proclaim that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin. The participation of the Holy Spirit in the tripartite nature of conversion is apparent in Jesus' final post-Resurrection instruction to his disciples at the end of the Gospel of Matthew (28:19): "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".
The Holy Spirit does not simply appear at Pentecost after the Resurrection of Jesus, but is prominent in the Gospel of Luke (in 1–2) prior to the birth of Jesus. In Luke 1:15, John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit prior to birth and the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary in Luke 1:35. In Luke 3:16 John the Baptist states that Jesus baptizes not with water but with the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus during his own baptism in the Jordan. In Luke 11:13 Jesus provides assurances that God the Father will "give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him".
Mark 13:11 specifically refers to the power of the Holy Spirit to act and speak through the disciples of Jesus in time of need: "be not anxious beforehand what ye shall speak: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye; for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Spirit." Matthew 10:20 refers to the same act of speaking through the disciples, but uses the term "Spirit of your Father".
The sacredness of the Holy Spirit is affirmed in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 12:30-32, Mark 3:28-30 and Luke 12:8-10) which proclaim that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin.
Three separate terms, namely Holy Spirit, Spirit of Truth and Paraclete are used in the Johannine writings. The "Spirit of Truth" in used in John 14:17, 15:26 and 16:13. The First Epistle of John then contrasts this with the "spirit of error" in 1 John 4:6. 1 John 4:1–6 provides the separation between spirits "that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God" and those who in error refuse it—an indication of their being evil spirits.
In John 14:26 Jesus states: "But the Comforter, [even] the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things". The identity of the "Comforter" has been the subject of debate among theologians, who have proposed multiple theories on the matter.
The First Epistle to the Thessalonians, which was likely the first of Paul's letters, introduces a characterization of the Holy Spirit in 1:6 and 4:8 which persist throughout his epistles. In 1 Thessalonians 1:6 Paul refers to the imitation of Christ (and himself) and states: "And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit", whose source is identified in 1 Thessalonians 4:8 as "God, who giveth his Holy Spirit unto you".
These two themes of receiving the Spirit "like Christ" and God being the source of the Spirit persist in Pauline letters as the characterization of the relationship of Christians with God. For Paul the imitation of Christ involves readiness to be shaped by the Holy Spirit and as in Romans 8:4 and 8:11: "But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, he that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwelleth in you."
The Acts of the Apostles has sometimes been called the "Book of the Holy Spirit" or the "Acts of the Holy Spirit". Of the about seventy occurrences of the word Pneuma in Acts, fifty five refer to the Holy Spirit.
From the start, in Acts 1:2, the reader is reminded that the Ministry of Jesus, while he was on earth, was carried out through the power of the Holy Spirit and that the "acts of the apostles" are the continuing acts of Jesus, facilitated by the Holy Spirit. Acts thus presents the Holy Spirit as the "life principle" of the early Church and provides five separate and dramatic instances of its outpouring on believers in 2:1-4, 4:28-31, 8:15-17, 10:44 and 19:6.
References to the Holy Spirit appear throughout Acts with Acts 1:5 and 8 stating towards the beginning: "For John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit ... ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you" referring to the fulfillment of the prophecy of John the Baptist in Luke 3:16: "he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit".
The New Testament details a close relationship between the Holy Spirit and Jesus during his earthly life and ministry. The Apostles' Creed echoes the statements in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew by stating that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of Mary.
In his Farewell Discourse to his disciples, Jesus promised that he would "send the Holy Spirit" to them after his departure, in John 15:26 stating: "whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth... shall bear witness of me".
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The theology of spirits is called pneumatology. The Holy Spirit is referred to as the Lord and Giver of Life in the Nicene creed. He is The Creator Spirit, present before the creation of the universe and through his power everything was made in Jesus Christ, by God the Father. Christian hymns such as Veni Creator Spiritus reflects this belief.
In early Christianity, the concept of salvation was closely related to the invocation of the "Father, Son and Holy Spirit". and since the first century, Christians have called upon God with the name "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" in prayer, baptism, communion, exorcism, hymn-singing, preaching, confession, absolution and benediction. This is reflected in the saying: "Before there was a 'doctrine' of the Trinity, Christian prayer invoked the Holy Trinity".
For the majority of Christians, the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and is Almighty God. The Holy Spirit is understood to be one of the three persons of the Trinity. As such he is personal and also fully God, co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and Son of God. He is different from the Father and the Son in that he proceeds from the Father (or from the Father and the Son) as described in the Nicene Creed. The Triune God is thus manifested as three Persons (Greek hypostases), in One Divine Being (Greek: Ousia), called the Godhead (from Old English: Godhood), the Divine Essence of God.
In the New Testament, by the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, while maintaining her virginity. The Holy Spirit descended over Jesus in a corporal way, as a dove, at the time of his baptism, and a voice from Heaven was heard: "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased." He is the Sanctifier of souls, the Helper, Comforter, the Giver of graces, he who leads souls to the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit is credited inspiring believers and allowing for them to interpret all the sacred scripture and leads prophets, both in Old Testament and New Testament. Christians receive the Fruits of the Holy Spirit by means of his mercy and grace.
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The belief in the Holy Trinity among many Christians includes the concept of God the Holy Spirit, along with God the Son and God the Father. Theologian Vladimir Lossky has argued that while in the act of the Incarnation, God the Son became manifest as the Son of God, the same did not take place for God the Holy Spirit which remained unrevealed. Yet, as in 1 Corinthians 6:19 God the Spirit continues to dwell in bodies of the faithful.
In Christian theology Holy Spirit is believed to perform specific divine functions in the life of the Christian or the church. The action of the Holy Spirit is seen as an essential part of the bringing of the person to the Christian faith. The new believer is "born again of the Spirit". The Holy Spirit enables Christian life by dwelling in the individual believers and enables them to live a righteous and faithful life. The Holy Spirit also acts as comforter or Paraclete, one who intercedes, or supports or acts as an advocate, particularly in times of trial. And it acts to convince the unredeemed person both of the sinfulness of their actions, and of their moral standing as sinners before God. Another faculty of the Holy Spirit is the inspiration and interpretation of scripture. The Holy Spirit both inspires the writing of the scriptures and interprets them to the Christian and/or church.
The "fruit of the Holy Spirit" consists of "permanent dispositions" (in this similar to the permanent character of the sacraments), virtuous characteristics engendered in the Christian by the action of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 names 9 aspects and states:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.
In the Epistle to the Galatians these nine characteristics are in contrast to the "works of the flesh" and highlight the positive manifestations of the work of the Holy Spirit in believers.
The "gifts of the Holy Spirit" are distinct from the Fruit of the Spirit, and consist of specific abilities granted to the individual Christian. They are frequently known by the Greek word for gift, Charisma, from which the term charismatic derives. There is no generally agreed upon exhaustive list of the gifts, and various Christian denominations use different lists, often drawing upon 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. Pentecostal denominations and the charismatic movement teach that the absence of the supernatural gifts was due to the neglect of the Holy Spirit and his work by the major denominations. Believers in the relevance of the supernatural gifts sometimes speak of a Baptism with the Holy Spirit or Filling with the Holy Spirit which the Christian needs to experience in order to receive those gifts. However, many Christian denominations hold that the Baptism with the Holy Spirit is identical with conversion, and that all Christians are by definition baptized in the Holy Spirit.
The "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit" pour out on a believer at baptism, and are traditionally derived from Isaiah 11:1–2, although the New Testament does not refer to Isaiah 11:1–2 regarding these gifts. These 7 gifts are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (strength), knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. This is the view of the Catholic Church and many other mainstream Christian groups.
Some Christian denominations, have doctrinal variations in their beliefs regarding the Holy Spirit. A well-known example is the Filioque controversy regarding the Holy Spirit - one of the key differences between the teachings of the Western Church and Eastern Orthodox beliefs, ranking at the level of the disagreement about the papal primacy.
The Filioque debate centers around whether the Nicene Creed should state that the Spirit "proceeds from the Father" and then have a stop, as the creed was initially adopted in Greek (and followed thereafter by the Eastern Church), or should say "from the Father and the Son" as was later adopted in Latin and followed by the Western Church, filioque being "and the Son" in Latin.
Towards the end of the 20th century, discussions took place about the removal of Filioque in the Nicene Creed from Anglican prayer books along the lines of the Eastern Orthodox approach, but these still have not reached a state of final implementation.
The majority of mainstream Protestantism hold similar views on the theology of the Holy Spirit as the Roman Catholic Church, but there are significant differences in belief between Pentecostalism and the rest of Protestantism. Pentecostalism has a focus on "Baptism with the Spirit", relying on Acts 1:5 which refers to "now you will baptize with the Holy Spirit". The more recent Charismatic movements have a focus on the "gifts of the Spirit" (such as healing, prophecy, etc.) and rely on 1 Corinthians 12 as a scriptural basis, but often differ from Pentecostal movements.
Non-trinitarian views about the Holy Spirit differ significantly from mainstream Christian doctrine. Jehovah's Witnesses view the Holy Spirit, not as an actual person separate from God the Father, but as God's "energy" or "active force", that he uses to accomplish his will in creation and redemption.
Mormons believe that the Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead. He is a personage of spirit, without a body of flesh and bones. He is often referred to as the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord, or the Comforter.
The Holy Spirit is frequently referred to by metaphor and symbol, both doctrinally and biblically. Theologically speaking these symbols are a key to understanding of the Holy Spirit and his actions, and are not mere artistic representations.
The Holy Spirit has been represented in Christian art both in the Eastern and Western Churches using a variety of depictions. The depictions have ranged from nearly identical figures that represent the three persons of the Holy Trinity to a dove to a flame.
The Holy Spirit is often depicted as a dove, based on the account of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove when he was baptized in the Jordan. In many paintings of the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit is shown in the form of a dove, coming down towards Mary on beams of light, as the Archangel Gabriel announces Jesus Christ's coming to Mary. A dove may also be seen at the ear of Saint Gregory the Great─as recorded by his secretary or other church father authors, dictating their works to them. The dove also parallels the one that brought the olive branch to Noah after the deluge, as a symbol of peace.
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.
Ray of light representation in Russian icon of the Pentecost, 15th century