I have heard the claim (and especially here) that English theologians in the Middle Ages made a distinction between the Spirit of Christ as the indwelling Spirit or holy Spirit (holy as an adjective rather than part of the Divine Name/Title) and the Holy Ghost as the third member of the Trinity. I cannot find anything myself that demonstrates that they made this distinction, other than deliberately translating Holy Ghost when referring to the unembodied Third Person of the Trinity, and Spirit (or holy Spirit)(please don't edit this - they lowercase is part of the Translation as an adjective) when referring to the indwelling Spirit of God/Christ in the believer. And this quote from a footnote in the Shepherd of Hermas - Similitude Fifth, Chapter VI.

[If the reader feels that the explanation itself needs to be explained, let him attribute it to the confused and inaccurate state of the text. Grabe says emphatically, that “the created Spirit of Christ as a man and not the Holy Ghost, the third person of the Trinity,” is spoken of in this chapter chiefly. The apparent confusion of words and phrases must be the result of ignorant copying. It is a sufficient answer to certain German critics to cite the providential approval of Athanasius, a fact of the utmost moment. Nobody doubts that Athanasius was sensitive to any discoloration of the Nicene Faith. In the text of Hermas, therefore, as it was in his copy, there could have been nothing heretical, or favouring heresy. That Hermas was an artist, and purposely gave his fiction a very primitive air, is evident. He fears to name the Scriptures he quoted, lest any one should doubt their use, in the days of Clement, in the Western Churches.]

I think the footnote is quoting John Ernest Grabe, but I cannot find his work on the Shepherd of Hermas.

Can anyone direct me to this or some other sources where this distinction seems to be made by earlier English theologians?

  • 1
    +1 as I'm interested in this answer. In my faith, there are specific and distinct differences between the Resurrected Christ, Jesus (Jehovah) in His pre-mortal spiritual state, the "Spirit of Christ," and the Holy Ghost (Holy Spirit). I'm curious to know more about how earlier Christians perceived the differences, if at all. Aug 20 '20 at 0:05
  • 2
    The word in the original Greek scripture is pneuma (spirit, or wind or breath) and it is indistinguishable (other than context) whether it means the divine person of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of a person (whether divine or human), or breath or air movement. It would be interesting to survey the uses of 'Spirit' and 'Ghost' in the King James Authorised Version. Surely someone has studied the subtle differences in translation in the past. (+1, good question).
    – Nigel J
    Aug 20 '20 at 5:19
  • 1
    @NigelJ: Thanks, Nigel! Absolutely a fascinating study! Some ascribe it to the different committees of the AV translation but that is simply ignorant of almost ALL other early translations (Protestant and Catholic) that almost unanimous translate three NT verses as holy Spirit and not Holy Ghost (exception again Luk 11:13). Without these 4 exceptions, when hagios appears with pneuma it is translated Holy Ghost, without the hagios just as Spirit or spirit. It is interesting to notice that hagios is mostly absent from passages about the internal work of the Spirit, like Galatians and Romans 8. Aug 20 '20 at 7:33
  • 2
    @PieterRousseau I had a look at Young's Concordance but because his concordance is strictly based on the Greek text (TR) he lists only references, not full texts, some in brackets for a reason I do not know. It looks to me to be about 75 references to 'Holy Ghost'. For some time, I have dropped the use of the word 'Ghost', myself as I feel it has undesirable connotations. I have referred only to 'Holy Spirit' for about a decade, now.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 21 '20 at 9:55
  • 2
    Please see the additional edit that I have made in my answer, made today. I do not think any theological point was being made in the various English bibles (from Wycliffe to KJV) regarding 'Spirit' and 'Ghost'. I think it was just an attempt to distinguish the passages where πνευματος αγιου was in the original Greek.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 24 '20 at 2:13

The word in the original Greek scripture is pneuma (spirit, or wind or breath) and it is indistinguishable (other than context) whether it means the divine person of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of a person (whether divine or human), or breath or air movement. While I have yet to find sufficient material to fully answer the question but this was somewhat helpful:

(Wikipedia suggests 93 occasions of 'Ghost' in the KJV) :

The English terms "Holy Ghost" and "Holy Spirit" are complete synonyms: one derives from the Old English gast and the other from the Latin loanword spiritus. Like pneuma, they both refer to the breath, to its animating power, and to the soul.

The Old English term is shared by all other Germanic languages (compare, e.g., the German Geist) and it is older, but the King James Bible used both interchangeably, and 20th-century translations of the Bible overwhelmingly prefer "Holy Spirit", probably because the general English term "ghost" has increasingly come to refer only to the spirit of a dead person.[20][21][22]

[20] Robin W. Lovin, Foreword to the English translation of Karl Barth's The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life (1993 ISBN 0-664-25325-3), page xvii

[21] Millard J. Erickson, L. Arnold Hustad, Introducing Christian Doctrine (Baker Academic 2001 ISBN 978-0-8010-2250-0), p. 271

[22] "Norfolk schools told Holy Ghost 'too spooky'". The Guardian. London. 2005-04-11. Retrieved 2010-05-04.

Wikipedia - Holy Spirit in Christianity

Additional Edit :

Focusing just on Romans, I have checked on 5:5, 9:1, 14:17, 15:13 and 15:16 (the places which have πνευματος αγιου in the original). The Wycliffe 1382, Tyndale 1534, Coverdale 1535, Matthew;s 1537, Great Bible 1539, Geneva 1560, Bishop's bible 1568, and the Douay Rheims (Challoner) all have 'Holy Ghost'.

Only Young's Literal Translation departs from this, Robert Young consistently using 'holy spirit' throughout, but not using capitals.

It seems to me that no theological point was being made. It was simply an attempt to distinguish those places in scripture where the words 'holy' and 'spirit' were juxtaposed and clearly indicated a reference to the Divine Person.

Reference - Textus Receptus Bibles

Further EDIT from comments :

With regard to Luke 11:13; Eph 1:13; 4:30; 1 Thess 4:8 (where, although pneuma and agion are present they are not juxtaposed, but separated by the article or by other grammar) . . . .

In each of those four places, there is interpolation in the text (between pneuma and agion) separated by article or insertion (promise).

The activity is on the part of the Father, not the initiation and sole agency of the Spirit.

Perhaps it is only when the Holy Spirit is in view independently that the word 'Ghost' is used.

  • 1
    Thanks for the effort Nigel... not exactly what I'm asking for... The claim is that in the Middle Ages theologians made a distinction between the Third Person of the Trinity and the indwelling Spirit. I am looking for evidence of this, and the quote from that footnote and the very deliberate use of the name "Holy Ghost" in all early translations and "holy Spirit" elsewhere consistent with this distinction seems to suggest that they did make such a distinction. They clearly did use the word "ghost" instead of "spirit" for an unembodied spirit: "gave up the ghost". Aug 21 '20 at 11:19
  • 1
    thank you for the effort NigelJ! Still, I am looking for evidence that earlier English Theologians made a distinction (please see hebrew-streams.org/works/spirit/spirit-to-ghost.html). It is suggestive not in the places where they translated πνευματος αγιου to "Holy Ghost", but in those places where they don't: Luke 11:13; Eph 1:13; 4:30; 1 Thess 4:8 (consistently in early English Translations). Maybe your point is they did not, hence no further evidence will exist, but to me, it seems to be the best conjecture for the translation evidence. Aug 24 '20 at 3:30
  • 1
    @PieterRousseau In each of those four places, there is interpolation in the text (between penuma and agion) separated by article or insertion (promise) and the activity is on the part of the Father, not the initiation and sole aqency of the Spirit. Pehaps it is only when the Holy Spirit is in view independently that the word 'Ghost' is used.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 24 '20 at 8:22
  • 1
    I really appreciate how you acknowledge intent with the Translators, trying to understand their motivation. Your conjecture can certainly be tested against the places where "Holy Ghost" is used. I do think what I do agree with based on what I have seen, is that "Holy Ghost" is used " when the Holy Spirit is in view independently"... My words would be: the distinct Person of the Trinity... but this might not just be based on the Greek but also the context. Aug 25 '20 at 4:45
  • 1
    I enjoy this answer, glad to be of help. Aug 25 '20 at 18:57

When did Holy Spirit become Holy Ghost?

  • "John Wycliffe translated from Jerome's Latin Vulgate, not from Greek texts. Even though Wycliffe made a "spirit" and "ghost" distinction in his version, Jerome did not. He uniformly used the word spiritus. Therefore, Wycliffe's choice to use ghost in some texts and spirit in others derived from theological traditions within the English church. It would be worth checking the translations of Coverdale (1535), Matthew (1537), and the Great Bible (1539) to see if these distinctions also exist in them."

  • "Fragments of pre-14th century Bible translations have no ghost/spirit distinction: Gothic [Ahma=Spirit], Anglo-Saxon [Gast=Spirit], Old English [Gast=Spirit], Middle English [Gost/Goost=Spirit]. The English word "Spirit" derives from the Latin spiritus. [Joseph Bosworth, The Gothic and Anglo-Saxon Gospels (London: n.p., 1865); Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1933), Vol. 1, pp. 790-91.] " - [http://www.hebrew-streams.org/works/spirit/spirit-to-ghost.html]

  • Eph 1:13) WYC (1382): merkid with the Hooli Goost of biheest, | TND (1534): sealed with the holy sprete of promes | CVD (1537):sealed with the holy sprete of promes | MAT (1537): sealed with the holye spiryte of promes | GRT (1539) sealed with the holy sprete of promes | GNV (1560): sealed with the holy Spirite of promise | BIS (1568): sealed with the holy spirite of promyse| KJV (1611): sealed with that holy Spirit of promise | WBS (1833) sealed with that holy Spirit of promise | YNG (1862): sealed with the Holy Spirit of the promise | RV (1885): sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise Aug 22 '20 at 3:32
  • Notice the Capitalization above of holy - absent from Tyndale till Young. Aug 22 '20 at 3:33
  • Compare: Mat 1:18) Eph 1:13) WYC (1382): hauynge of the Hooli Goost in the wombe, | TND (1534): with chylde by ye holy goost | CVD (1537):with chylde by ye holy goost | MAT (1537): chylde by the holye Ghost | GRT (1539) with chylde by the holy ghoost | GNV (1560): with childe of the holy Ghost | BIS (1568): chylde of the holy ghost | KJV (1611): found with childe of the holy Ghost | WBS (1833) with child by the Holy Spirit. | YNG (1862): conceived from the Holy Spirit | RV (1885): found with child of the Holy Spirit Aug 22 '20 at 3:45
  • Notice the use of "holy Ghost" (later editions of KJV Holy Ghost) fall away about the same time as Eph 1:13 starts referring to Holy Spirit. You can verify this with other places in the Early modern English translations (1500-1800) for places where holy Spirit occurs rather than holy Ghost: Eph 4:30 & 1Th 4:8 - it's consistent. Aug 22 '20 at 4:01
  • Exception) Luke 11:13 WYC schal yyue a good spirit to men that axith him | TND an holy sprete to them that desyre it of him? | CVD the holy sprete vnto them that axe him | MAT geue an holy spirite to them that desyre it of hym| GRT geue the holy sprete to them, that desyre it of him |GNV giue the holy Ghost to them, that desire him | BIS geue the holy spirite, to them that desire [it] of hym | KJV giue the holy Spirit to them that aske him| WBS give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him| YNG give the Holy Spirit to those asking Him!| RV give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him Aug 22 '20 at 4:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.