Introduction to the Holy Spirit

Audio (3:52)

Holy Trinity, stained glass, Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, Wilton, Connecticut. The window shows the hand to represent the Father, the Chi-Rho symbol to represent Christ, and the Holy Spirit as a dove.

The Holy Spirit is a mystery to many people, partly because we don't really understand the simple concept of a spirit. So let's start with a basic definition: a spirit is a being without a body, that is, a non-corporeal being.[1] In the Bible, spirits can be evil or good --  unclean spirits or the Holy Spirit. In a previous generation the term "Holy Ghost" was prevalent, made popular by the King James Version. But since in our day, "ghost" conjures up images of haunted houses, the phrase "Holy Spirit" is preferred.

Of course, the Bible wasn't originally written in English. The Hebrew word in the Old Testament is rûach, "wind, breath, mind." In the New Testament we find the word pneuma, from which we get our word "pneumatic." It also has the ideas of "wind, breath, air." Both words are used to refer to the Holy Spirit.

As we study together, you'll see that the Holy Spirit is divine; he is God. He is also a Person, a Being, which we'll explore further in Lesson 3. You might expect at this introductory point for us to approach the doctrine of the Trinity -- God the Father, God the Spirit, and God the Son. I believe in the Trinity. And I believe that to make sense of the New Testament you need some basic understanding of the Trinity. But rather than beginning with a doctrinal study of a difficult concept, I'll refer you to Appendix 2. "Four Reasons Why I Believe in the Trinity."

Incidentally, you'll often see "Spirit" capitalized in your Bible, since it is customary to capitalize the word "God" out of respect. But the word was not capitalized in the original ancient manuscripts. Both ancient Hebrew and Greek Scriptures were typically written in capital letters.  Thus, capitalization in our Bibles is the English translator's interpretation of "spirit" in a particular verse, not demanded by the text itself. Usually it's obvious, but occasionally you have to think long and hard to decide whether a particular instance should be capitalized or not, that is, whether it refers to the human spirit, an evil spirit, or God's Spirit.

Our main approach to understanding the Holy Spirit and his work will be to explore key passages of Scripture and then draw conclusions based on what we read. I'm also more interested in practical application of what we learn of the Spirit, than in some kind of academic, arms-length understanding. As you immerse yourself in Scripture over the next several weeks, I want you to encounter the Spirit Himself! That's a bit scary, perhaps, but as we'll see, it is Jesus' intent for us. Knowing God personally is infinitely more valuable than merely knowing about God.

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That's enough introduction to get us started. So let's begin at the beginning, in the first paragraph of the first book in the Old Testament -- Genesis.


[1] We also use "spirit" to mean that which gives life to a body. When Jesus raised Jairus's daughter, the Scripture says, "Her spirit returned, and she got up at once" (Luke 8:55). It sometimes refers to a part of the human personality. Paul says, that no one "knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him" (1 Corinthians 2:11a). Spirit is also used as an attitude or state of mind, such as in "a gentle and quiet spirit" (1 Peter 3:4). In our day, "spirits" can also refer to distilled alcohol.

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