The Spirit of man and God


The Term: Spirit

I have been asked more than once what the word spirit means. The ones asking this question seem to know that no dictionary really answers it, nor does the Bible give a descriptive answer. Let's look at this term.

Spirit, a word that is bandied about by Christians all over the world. Its uses are as varied as those who use it in both secular and religious meanings. Most people think of it as a person, one of three members of a Godhead-commonly called a Trinity.

The study of the New Testament word pneuma/spirit is called pneumatology - the study of pneumata, which also includes the Old Testament ruah, and especially the teachings concerning spirits, i.e., the spirit of man, of God, of Christ, or of a holy spirit. But there is much confusion that reigns among all individuals, be they people in the pews, pastors, priests, preachers, scholars and theologians of whatever religious persuasion. Understanding of this topic approaches the impossible. It is a deep mystery to all who study it, especially when prefixed by the adjective holy.

Let's look at the term holy first. The Greek hagios and the Hebrew kadosh reference something set apart, separate. It is used to separate good spirits from bad/evil spirits, and also used of things set apart for special uses versus thing of a normal or common use. There is no mystery here, and almost all individuals easily understand its meaning and usage. It's secular and religious usage have the same meanings.

Next come the nouns used to depict what we think as the term spirit - spirit itself being a term under examination because it is not an English term, but rather a Latin term that is used for the Greek and Hebrew term. Our English word spirit is taken from the Latin spiritus which is used to translate the Hebrew term ruah and the Greek term pneuma. And if we were to add in the Anglo-Saxon term ghost, then there are four terms we have to examine to see what they meant at the time they were used. This is where the mystery gets deep and confusing to most individuals, even scholars and theologians. Let's look at the definitions of the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin terms - forgoing a look at the Anglo-Saxon term for now because it is a term used in place of the Latin term.

1. Hebrew: ruah (ruwach), pronounce roo'akh.

2. Greek: pneuma, pronounced pnyoo'-mah.

3. Latin: spiritus, shortened and transliterated into our English as spirit.

The meanings of all three of these term in our English language is primarily wind, breath, a blast of air (as from inhaling and exhaling); also indicates inner-life, self, disposition, state of mind, power (of mind). These definitions are not the authors; they are from Greek and Hebrew Lexicons and Scholars. An interesting thing here is that the philosophical opinions of men are taken out of the equation concerning the meanings of these terms. Another interesting thing to be mentioned is that in these definitions, the Latin term spirit is put forth as one of the meanings in the Hebrew and Greek terms-even though it has the same meaning as the Hebrew and the Greek. It would have been nice if the translators of our English Bibles had translated it into the English language.

An excellent example depicting this is found in John 3:8-The wind (pneuma) blows wherever it pleases. You may hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So is it with everyone born of the spirit (pneuma). Notice that the term pneuma is in reference to a force, unseen, which only the effects can be felt, heard, or seen. Also notice that the wind and spirit are the same term in the Greek. However, the second use of the term pneuma also takes on an undefined meaning that suggests something other than the primary meaning of the term. Maybe even a being with whom we cannot see or visualize as used in both the Old and New Testament. To add to the confusion, we are also confronted by the use of the Latin term spirit, which is of a foreign extraction and not translated into our English language.

The transliterated Latin term spiritus is used by most people in a theological sense in reference to metaphysical beings of all kinds, and even as a definition of God himself: God is a Spirit. Here is where we must be cautious - for philosophical opinions are a big part of theological conclusions.

The Hebrew word ruah appears 383 times in the Old Testament and is translated by the Latin term spirit 232 times. The Greek word pneuma in the New Testament appears 383 times also, and is similarly translated spirit on 364 occasions. Thusly we have the Hebrew and Greek terms appear in the Bible some 766 times-of which 596 times it is translated as spirit. If we were to add the Hebrew and Greek words for soul, which many also think of as a metaphysical entity, we are talking about adding another 688 occasions-which equals 1,554 uses to which we are obligated to examine and to understand what is meant by the use of these terms which people think as metaphysical entities within a human body.

In John 3:8 (previously quoted) we see Jesus speaking of the work of the spirit in regenerating the spirit of man; and he leaves us with the idea that the metaphysical aspect of the word pneuma is very much like the movement or pressure of the wind. Pneuma, the Greek term for spirit, has also been transferred into our English language as the root for pneumonia (a wind transmitted disease); for pneumatic drills, tires, or other things driven by/or pertaining to air pressure. This is a primary meaning of the meaning for the Greek, Hebrew and Latin terms. As one can see, defining the words we think of as a metaphysical entity is not all that simple.

An interesting definition of spirit was mentioned to me in a conversation I had with a man a short time ago (December, 2007). That definition was the word attitude. See if you can follow the logic that this man put forth:

"Two employees were working on a toy assembly line. One paid close attention to his job and assembled the parts in a very efficient and speedy manner. He out-produced his fellow worker by 50%. The other worker's attention seemed to be distracted at times to what he was supposed to be doing, and much of what he assembled he had to re-assemble. The foreman took this worker aside and told him he would be able to match the out-put of the other worker if he would jus 'put on the spirit his co-worker has.' As this worker went back to the assembly area, the foreman added, 'That spirit is the attitude you should have towards your work.' When the Apostle Paul told his readers to 'put on the spirit of Christ,' that was just like what the foreman said to that poor-producing worker just mentioned."

This man proceeded by quoting many passages and verses from the letters of Paul, using the word attitude in place of spirit. He ended by saying that is what he believes Paul was trying to get across with the term spirit. When I pointed out that Paul used the Greek term pneuma and not the Latin term, he said it did not make any difference as the Greek term meant the same thing.

While I agreed that the term spirit is used in this manner by a lot of people (and even indicated in the Bible), the terms in the Hebrew, Greek and Latin have many other connotation one has to consider depending upon the context of the sentence, passage and overall topic wherein they appear.

I bring this short message up in this topic area to show you that any study concerning the term spirit is not an easy topic to be dogmatic about. Everyone seems to have their own ideas and/or philosophical opinion. Hopefully this short message will cause more individuals to study and grow in the knowledge of Christ. Let's hear from you on this topic.

When one reads in the Bible about the holy Spirit, at first glance (although in a study mode) the term seems to be a synonym for the power of God working through his word. This is also true concerning the Christ. The spirit of God is, or seems, to have its expertise in the area of communicating to man according to Jesus as recorded in John 16:13 - 14 speaking to his chosen Apostles:

"When he, the spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak for himself; but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak: and shall declare unto you the things that are to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall take of mine and shall declare it unto you."

A thought for you to think upon: Jesus compared the spirit to the winds which blow (John 3:3 - 12), giving us the impression that the works of the spirit is as the winds - how does one reconcile this with John 16:13 - 14 shown above?

Another thing you should be aware of is that God is a spirit. In the Bible we see such expressions as The spirit of God, and The spirit of Christ. We also find that we are told to put on Christ-For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal. 3:26 - 27). And the Apostle Paul says, "But you are not in the flesh but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God  dwells in you. But if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Romans 8:9). "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Romans 8:14). Know you not that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (I Cor. 3:16). "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed unto the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30). Something for you to think upon and maybe have a response to it: Who or what is the Spirit mentioned in the above verses of Scripture? Are the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ the same Spirit as the Apostle Paul indicates?