Definition: The Hebrew word ruʹach and the Greek pneuʹma, which are often translated “spirit,” have a number of meanings. All of them refer to that which is invisible to human sight and which gives evidence of force in motion. The Hebrew and Greek words are used with reference to (1) wind, (2) the active life-force in earthly creatures, (3) the impelling force that issues from a person’s figurative heart and that causes him to say and do things in a certain way, (4) inspired utterances originating with an invisible source, (5) spirit persons, and (6) God’s active force, or holy spirit. Several of these usages are here discussed in relation to topics that may arise in the field ministry.
What is the holy spirit?
A comparison of Bible texts that refer to the holy spirit shows that it is spoken of as ‘filling’ people; they can be ‘baptized’ with it; and they can be “anointed” with it. (Luke 1:41; Matt. 3:11; Acts 10:38) None of these expressions would be appropriate if the holy spirit were a person.
Jesus also referred to the holy spirit as a “helper” (Greek, pa·raʹkle·tos), and he said that this helper would “teach,” “bear witness,” “speak,” and ‘hear.’ (John 14:16, 17, 26; 15:26; 16:13) It is not unusual in the Scriptures for something to be personified. For example, wisdom is said to have “children.” (Luke 7:35) Sin and death are spoken of as being kings. (Rom. 5:14, 21) While some texts say that the spirit “spoke,” other passages make clear that this was done through angels or humans. (Acts 4:24, 25; 28:25; Matt. 10:19, 20; compare Acts 20:23 with 21:10, 11.) At 1 John 5:6-8, not only the spirit but also “the water and the blood” are said to ‘bear witness.’ So, none of the expressions found in these texts in themselves prove that the holy spirit is a person.
The correct identification of the holy spirit must fit all the scriptures that refer to that spirit. With this viewpoint, it is logical to conclude that the holy spirit is the active force of God. It is not a person but is a powerful force that God causes to emanate from himself to accomplish his holy will.—Ps. 104:30; 2 Pet. 1:21; Acts 4:31.
What gives evidence that a person really has the holy spirit, or “the Holy Ghost” (KJ)?
Luke 4:18, 31-35: “[Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:] ‘Jehovah’s spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to declare good news’ . . . And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the sabbath; and they were astounded at his way of teaching, because his speech was with authority. Now in the synagogue there was a man with a spirit, an unclean demon, and he shouted with a loud voice . . . But Jesus rebuked it, saying: ‘Be silent, and come out of him.’ So, after throwing the man down in their midst, the demon came out of him without hurting him.” (What gave evidence that Jesus had God’s spirit? The account does not say that he trembled or shouted or moved about in a fervor. Rather, it says he spoke with authority. It is noteworthy, however, that on that occasion a demonic spirit did move a man to shout and fall onto the floor.)
Acts 1:8 says that when Jesus’ followers received holy spirit they would be witnesses about him. According to Acts 2:1-11, when they did receive that spirit, observers were impressed by the fact that, although the ones speaking were all Galileans, they were speaking about the magnificent things of God in languages that were familiar to the many foreigners who were present. But the record does not say that there were any emotional outbursts on the part of those who received the spirit.
It is noteworthy that when Elizabeth received the holy spirit and then gave voice to “a loud cry” she was not in a meeting for worship but was greeting a visiting relative. (Luke 1:41, 42) When, as reported at Acts 4:31, holy spirit came upon an assembly of disciples, the place was shaken, but the effect of that spirit on the disciples was, not that they trembled or rolled about, but that they ‘spoke the word of God with boldness.’ Likewise today, boldness in speaking the word of God, zealously engaging in the work of witnessing—these are what give evidence that a person has holy spirit.
Gal. 5:22, 23: “The fruitage of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” (It is this fruitage, rather than outbursts of religious fervor, that one should look for when seeking to find people who truly have God’s spirit.)
Does ability to speak with great emotion in a tongue that a person never studied prove that he has God’s spirit?
See the main heading “Tongues, Speaking in.”
Is miraculous healing being done in our day by means of the spirit of God?
See the main heading “Healing.”
Who is baptized with holy spirit?
Is there a spirit part of man that survives the death of the body?
Ezek. 18:4: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” (RS, NE, KJ, and Dy all render the Hebrew word neʹphesh in this verse as “soul,” thus saying that it is the soul that dies. Some translations that render neʹphesh as “soul” in other passages use the expression “the man” or “the one” in this verse. So, the neʹphesh, the soul, is the person, not an immaterial part of him that survives when his body dies.) (See the main heading “Soul” for further details.)
Ps. 146:4: “His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.” (The Hebrew word here translated “spirit” is a derivative of ruʹach. Some translators render it “breath.” When that ruʹach, or active life-force, leaves the body, the person’s thoughts perish; they do not continue in another realm.)
Eccl. 3:19-21: “There is an eventuality as respects the sons of mankind and an eventuality as respects the beast, and they have the same eventuality. As the one dies, so the other dies; and they all have but one spirit, so that there is no superiority of the man over the beast, for everything is vanity. All are going to one place. They have all come to be from the dust, and they are all returning to the dust. Who is there knowing the spirit of the sons of mankind, whether it is ascending upward; and the spirit of the beast, whether it is descending downward to the earth?” (Because of the inheritance of sin and death from Adam, humans all die and return to the dust, as animals do. But does each human have a spirit that goes on living as an intelligent personality after it ceases to function in the body? No; verse 19 answers that humans and beasts “all have but one spirit.” Based merely on human observation, no one can authoritatively answer the question raised in verse 21 regarding the spirit. But God’s Word answers that there is nothing that humans have as a result of birth that gives them superiority over beasts when they die. However, because of God’s merciful provision through Christ, the prospect of living forever has been opened up to humans who exercise faith, but not to animals. For many of mankind, that will be made possible by resurrection, when active life-force from God will invigorate them again.)
Luke 23:46: “Jesus called with a loud voice and said: ‘Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit [Greek, pneuʹmaʹ].’ When he had said this, he expired.” (Notice that Jesus expired. When his spirit went out he was not on his way to heaven. Not until the third day from this was Jesus resurrected from the dead. Then, as Acts 1:3, 9 shows, it was 40 more days before he ascended to heaven. So, what is the meaning of what Jesus said at the time of his death? He was saying that he knew that, when he died, his future life prospects rested entirely with God. For further comments regarding the ‘spirit that returns to God,’ see page 378, under the heading “Soul.”)
If Someone Says—
‘Do you have the holy spirit (or the Holy Ghost)?’
You might reply: ‘Yes, and that is why I have come to your door today. (Acts 2:17, 18)’
Or you could say: ‘That is what makes it possible for me to share in the Christian ministry. But I find that not everyone has the same idea as to what gives evidence that a person really has God’s spirit. What do you look for?’ Then perhaps add: (Discussion of some of the material on pages 381, 382.)