And in the Holy Ghost
First, let us begin with an understanding of the word Ghost or Spirit. This is a difference in the English language and shows the progression of words. The Holy Ghost was used in the 1611 King James Version of the Bible. The Holy Ghost is translated 90 times in the KJV, and Holy Spirit is only translated seven times. Ghost today has taken on a broader semantic range than in 1611; ghost used to mean “an immaterial being”; however, today, the word is commonly used as “the spirit of a deceased person.” The terminology of ghost can be helpful because it correctly explains the personhood of the Holy Spirit. This was the reason for the additional lines added to the creed. The Macedonians denied the deity of the Holy Spirit. Some false teachers have taught that the Holy Spirit is only divine energy or impersonal force. The word ‘spirit’ has taken this understanding through new age religions and practices. A tree has a spirit but is not a person. Orthodox theology affirms that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. This is a good example that words have history; just because a word has a particular usage today does not mean it has always been used in the same manner (we will see this with the word ‘Catholic’).
The word used in the original creed was ‘πνεῦμα’ (pneuma) which rightly is translated as ‘spirit,’ ‘wind’ or ‘breath.’ The word spirit is an Onomatopoeia. An onomatopoeia is a word that phonetically imitates or resembles the sound it describes. This does so in Greek and Hebrew. Genesis 1:2 speaks specifically about the Holy Spirit, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” We need to be careful not to speak of the Holy Spirit as an impersonal force or divine energy. Just as the Son is God, so to the Holy Spirit is God. Three persons, one God. I will be using the name Holy Spirit, as I believe it reflects the Greek of the Creed.
One question raised in the early 1900s was the absence of particular chapters in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Two chapters were added; 34 “Of the Holy Spirit” and 35 “Of the Gospel.” What they thought these two doctrines were absent in the Confession of Faith. John Murray calls chapter 34 “inadequate,” “superfluous to the extent of being distinctly misleading,” and “destitute of that strength that characterizes the Confession.” I would be more critical of chapter 35 than 34. However, the Westminster Confession of Faith does speak about the Holy Spirit but does so throughout the whole document rather than one chapter. Next week we will look at the Holy Spirit in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Then we will continue to look at the Nicene Creed.