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Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit, or the Holy Ghost, is a religious term used in the Christian tradition referring to the presence or power of God. In the New Testament the Greek words pneuma or chrisma are used. 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'.

Various interpretations of the term are held by various religious sects. In Christianity the Holy Spirit is considered to be God himself, a part of the divine Trinity. The Holy Spirit is first described in the New Testament as 'descending' on Jesus 'like a dove' during his baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan river. For some Christians, the Holy Spirit is related to God's will, but is not God's will personified. Other sects deriving from the Christian tradition, such as Rastafarianism, have still different views of the Holy Spirit.


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), a part of the Godhead. In many nontrinitarian sects such as Unitarian churches, Jehovah's Witnesses and others that do not accept the doctrine of the Trinity, the holy spirit is God's spirit or God's active force, and not a separate person. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the Holy Spirit is considered a third and individual member of the Godhead, distinct 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).

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. 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, which some Christians, whose view is known as cessationism, believe were given only in New Testament times. Christians agree almost universally that certain more mundane "spiritual gifts" are still in effect today. These include the gifts of ministry, teaching, giving, leadership, and mercy (see, e.g. Romans 12:6-8).

Christians believe that it was the Holy Spirit whom Jesus mentioned as the promised "Comforter" in John 14:26. After his resurrection, Christ also told his disciples that they would be "baptized with the Holy Ghost", and would receive power from this event (Acts 1:4-8). These Christians also believe that Christ's promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled in the events of 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.

The Holy Spirit is often depicted as a dove, based on the story 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.

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 Trinity 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.

The Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as the Holy Ghost (the name used in the King James Version of the Bible), particularly by conservative Pentecostal groups and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The usage was also common before 1901.

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.

"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 King James Version of the Bible, and is still the preferred name among conservative Pentecostal groups and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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.

Jewish view of the Holy Spirit

The Jewish view of the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Ghost, is that it is an entirely Christian concept with no bearing or basis whatsoever in Judaism. People who claim otherwise often do so with the intention of proselytizing Jews to Christianity.

Rastafarian view of the Holy Spirit

As a group that evolved out of Christianity the Rastafarians have evolved their 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.

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