Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. (KJV)
Today's post is going to briefly explain a curious translation characteristic of the KJV concerning the Holy Spirit. In 89 spots we find the phrase "Holy Ghost" and in at least 6 spots we find the translation "Holy Spirit". Why? Let's first clear up what is not being meant in the rendering of these phrases:
1. The "Holy Ghost" and "The Holy Spirit" are not two separate entities nor two aspects of God.
2. The "Holy Ghost" is not in reference to a manifestation of Jesus Christ back on earth once again (right now) following His ascension into Heaven.1
With those two observations, lets now attempt to see if we can probe into why it is the KJV chose to render the Third Person of the Trinity, the Spirit of God, by these two titles.
1. The phrases "Holy Spirit" and "Holy Ghost" refer to the Person and Working of the third Person of the Trinity
In most of the texts that we see the translation "Holy Ghost", we could literally translate from the Greek: "The Spirit of Holiness". In the texts that render Him as "The Holy Spirit", we could literally render the Greek text: "The Spirit who is Holy". In the contexts of all the verses, "Holy Ghost" and "Holy Spirit" are referring to God as He is revealed in the third Person of the Trinity.
A study of Strong's Exhaustive Concordance yields the following facts about these two phrases: "Holy Ghost" occurs 89 times, with almost half of those instances found in the Book of Acts. Whenever we read all of those verses, the Holy Spirit's functions, empowerment of God's people and activity of His office are in view. It is also interesting to note that, at least in the KJV, the phrase "Holy Ghost" only shows up in the New Testament, telling us that His ministry is of a different degree than that of the Old Testament.
Whenever we look up the phrase "Holy Spirit", we only find the phrase appearing three times in the Old Testament and 4 times in the New with regard to the actual Person of the Holy Spirit Himself. Interestingly enough, four passages (Luke 4:1; John 7:39; Acts 2:4; 1 Cor 12:3) contain both, reminding us that the Person of the Holy Spirit cannot be separated from His official capacity as the Holy Ghost.
In sum: the title "Spirit of Holiness" (i.e Holy Ghost) is in reference to The Person of the Holy Spirit operating in His presence, power or office. Whereas the title "The Spirit who is Holy" (i.e Holy Spirit) is in reference to the Person Himself.
A brief illustration of what we're trying to communicate
Much like my role as a dad, or my role as a husband - I as a person occupy those different things. They define what I do, and are closely associated with whom I am. My functions in the life of my family flow from who I am in their lives. In a more profound way, the Holy Spirit and His Work are so intimately linked that for all intents and purposes, there is no way to separate Him from His work.2
2. How the distinctions between "Holy Spirit" and "Holy Ghost" aid in understanding the Person and work of the Holy Spirit
This subtle distinction helps us to put together a biblical theology of the Person and work of the Spirit of God in the Bible. The KJV translators in 1611, as well as older English translators, used the Old English word "Ghost" in its meaning of referring to a being of spiritual or immaterial nature. The word "ghost" of course has changed significantly since then, which is why in English translations after the KJV, we see all the texts changed to the sole rendering "Holy Spirit".3
The KJV translators had something in mind when they rendered the work, the presence or the power of the Spirit of God as "Holy Ghost". Furthermore, in studying the Greek texts of the remaining instances where they render "Holy Spirit", it appears they were interested in pointing out the Spirit of God's "personality" or "Personhood". Even without these two distinct titles, we can still make sense of the distinction between the Holy Spirit's power and personhood from the texts which speak about Him.
3. The term "Holy Spirit" refers to the third Person of the Trinity and the phrase "Holy Ghost" refers more to His office or activity
I would never want to press this distinction to the level of separate points, but rather distinct points. As one theologian as pointed out, if I were to distinguish your soul and body, it would not affect you; however if I were to separate your soul and body, you would die. Just as the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, cannot be separated from His offices as Prophet, Priest and King, so too with the Holy Spirit.4
Conclusion: Understand the Holy Spirit's personality and power in your own life
It does help at least to think of the Holy Spirit's personal involvement as "God in us" who exercises His power or office in and through us as "The Holy Ghost". His aim is to point us to Jesus Christ. I hope the above discussion has aided the reader in thinking more closely about the significance of the Person of the Holy Spirit's work in His official capacity as the Holy Ghost. I will close with the following observations from Dr. Larry Pettegrew, Senior Professor of Theology at The Master's Seminary, Sun Valley California: "When we understand the biblical teachings about the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit, we ought to become more spiritual."5 Later on Dr. Pettegrew observes: "Only when we consistently observe the promptings of the indwelling Spirit in our own personal lives as He reminds us of biblical truths, and are ministering effectively the teachings of the Word of God to others, do we understand fully the new Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit.6
1. Some groups have made this interpretation, unwittingly confusing the second and third persons of the Trinity. When we confuse the persons of the God-head with one another, we have unwittingly wandered into the realm of unsound doctrine. God's One nature or essence is equally shared by all Three Persons of the Trinity. Titles or names of God never destroy the two most fundamental truths about God: He is One God, and second, He is One God perpetually relating within Himself as the Distinct Personages of The Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
2. Subtle grammatical distinctions had also prompted the older translators to use the different words. Without going too technical, the modern move to render "Holy Ghost" into the phrase "Holy Spirit" does not destroy the meaning nor intent of the text. The word in the Greek text rendered "Spirit" and "Ghost" is the same word, which is part of what prompted all English translations after the nineteenth century to render the phrase "Holy Spirit" across the board.
3. The change does not affect the meaning of the text, since its mainly due to the way in which the word "ghost" has changed in its meaning from the seventeenth century KJV. Even if we didn't have the two titles of "Holy Spirit" and "Holy Ghost", the words and progressive revelation of the Holy Spirit's person and work in scripture would still yield this distinction.
4. When He inspired the words of scripture, we see the KJV rendering His activity, His "office", as acting forth as the "Holy Ghost" in 2 Peter 1:21. When He overshadowed the virgin Mary's womb in the conception of the humanity of Jesus Christ, He is described function in the capacity of "Holy Ghost" in Matthew 1:18.
Whenever we see Jesus referring to how He is going to send the "Spirit of God" or "Spirit of Truth" (i.e the Holy Spirit), the emphasis is upon God's personal presence through the sent Holy Spirit. Wherever we see the word "Spirit" in conjunction to the Spirit of God, we can conclude in most cases that the emphasis is upon His Personality. Whenever we see the other 90 cases where the phrase "Holy Ghost" is being used, we can assume, in most cases, that His office, His power, His presence is being emphasized.
5. Larry D. Pettegrew. The New Covenant Ministry of the Holy Spirit. Kregel. 2001. Page 189
6. Larry D. Pettegrew. The New Covenant Ministry of the Holy Spirit. Kregel. 2001. Page 210