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The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove above child Jesus, painting by Juan Simon Gutierrez

In Christianity, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God. In mainstream (Trinitarian) Christian beliefs he is the third person of the Trinity. As part of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is equal with God the Father and with God the Son.

The Christian theology of the Holy Spirit was the last piece of Trinitarian theology to be fully developed. There is also greater diversity in Christian theology of the Spirit (pneumatology) than there is in the theology of the Son (Christology) or of the Father.

Christian doctrine

Within mainstream Christianity the Holy Spirit is one of the three persons of the Trinity. As such he is personal and also fully God, co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and God the Son. He is different from the Father and the Son in that he proceeds from the Father (or from the Father and the Son) as described in the Nicene Creed. His sacredness is reflected in the New Testament gospels (e.g., , , and ), which proclaim blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as unforgivable.

The Holy Spirit is believed to perform specific divine functions in the life of the Christian or the church. These include:
  • Conviction of sin. The Holy Spirit acts to convince the unredeemed person both of the sinfulness of their actions, and of their moral standing as sinners before God.
  • Bringing to conversion. The action of the Holy Spirit is seen as an essential part of the bringing of the person to the Christian faith. The new believer is "born again of the Spirit".
  • Enabling the Christian life. The Holy Spirit is believed to dwell in the individual believers and enable them to live a righteous and faithful life. The word Paraclete is specifically applied to the Holy Spirit in this regard.
  • Inspiration and interpretation of scripture. The Holy Spirit both inspires the writing of the scriptures and interprets them to the Christian and/or church.

The Holy Spirit is also believed to be active especially in the life of Jesus Christ, enabling him to fulfil his work on earth. Particular actions of the Holy Spirit include:
  • Cause of his birth. According to the gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus, the "beginning of His incarnate existence", was due to the Holy Spirit.
  • Anointing him at his baptism.
  • Empowerment of his ministry. The ministry of Jesus following his baptism (in which the Holy Spirit is described in the gospels as "descending on Him like a dove") is conducted in the power and at the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Trinitarian and Non-Trinitarian Christians have different doctrinal views of the Holy Spirit.

Trinitarian views


According to Roman Catholic theology the primary work of the Holy Spirit is through the church. According to the Catechism: "The mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. [...]Through the Church's sacraments, Christ communicates his Holy and sanctifying Spirit to the members of his Body."

Around the sixth century, the word Filioque was added to the Nicene Creed, defining as a doctrinal teaching that the Holy Spirit "proeeds from the Father and the Son." While the Eastern Catholic churches are required to believe the doctrinal teaching contained in the Filioque, they are not all required to insert it in the Creed when it is recited during services.

Eastern Orthodoxy

Eastern Orthodoxy proclaims that the Father is the eternal source of the Godhead, from whom the Son is begotten eternally, and also from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally. Note that unlike the Roman Catholic Church and Western Christianity in general, the Orthodox Church does not espouse the use of the Filioque ("and the Son") in describing the procession of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is believed to eternally proceed from the Father, not from the Father and the Son. Orthodox doctrine regarding the Holy Trinity is summarized in the Symbol of Faith (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed). Oriental Orthodox usage coincide with Eastern Orthodox usage and teachings on the matter.


The majority of mainstream Protestantism hold similar views on the theology of the Holy Spirit as the Roman Catholic church, as described above. The chief difference is the belief that the Holy Spirit interacts with the individual Christian instead of, or as well as, through the organization of the church. There are significant variations in belief within the Protestant movement.

Restoration Movement and Churches of Christ

During the late 19th century, the prevailing view in the Restoration Movement was that the Holy Spirit currently acts only through the influence of inspired scripture. This rationalist view was associated with Alexander Campbell, who was "greatly affected by what he viewed as the excesses of the emotional camp meetings and revivals of his day." He believed that the Spirit draws people towards salvation, but understood the Spirit to do this "in the same way any person moves another—by persuasion with words and ideas." This view came to prevail over that of Barton W. Stone, who believed the Spirit had a more direct role in the life of the Christian. Since the early 20th century, many among the Churches of Christ have moved away from this "word-only" theory of the operation of the Holy Spirit. As one student of the movement puts it, "[f]or better or worse, those who champion the so-called word-only theory no longer have a hold on the minds of the constituency of Churches of Christ. Though relatively few have adopted outright charismatic and third wave views and remained in the body, apparently the spiritual waves have begun to erode that rational rock."


While the Holy Spirit is acknowledged as God in all mainstream denominations, he is given particular emphasis in Pentecostal churches. In those churches he is seen as the giver of natural and supernatural gifts, such as tongues and prophecy, to modern-day Christians.

The Christian movement called Pentecostalism derives its name from the event of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit when Jesus' disciples were gathered in Jerusalem (see Acts 2). Pentecostals believe that when a believer is "baptized in the Holy Spirit", the gifts of the Spirit (also called the charismata) are activated in the recipient to edify the body of Christ, the church. Some of these gifts are listed in 1 Corinthians 12.

The Pentecostal movement places special emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit, and especially on the gifts mentioned above, believing that they are still given today. Much of Pentecostalism differentiates the "baptism with the Holy Spirit" from the salvific born again experience, considering it a usually distinct experience in which the Spirit's power is received by the Christian in a new way, with the belief that the Christian can be more readily used to perform signs, miracles, and wonders for the sake of evangelism or for ministry within the church. There are also some Pentecostals who believe that Spirit baptism is a necessary element in salvation, not a "second blessing". These Pentecostals believe that in the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the power of the Spirit is released in their lives.

Many Pentecostals believe that the normative initial evidence of this infilling (baptism) of the Holy Spirit is the ability to speak in other tongues (glossolalia),and that tongues are one of several spiritual manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit in an individual believer's life.

Non-Trinitarian views

Non-trinitarian views about the Holy Spirit generally fall into one of two categories. Some groups believe that the Holy Spirit is a separate being from God the Father and God the Son, and is 'one' with them in some other sense than of being one substance; Latter Day Saint beliefs fall within this category. Others believe that the Holy Spirit refers to some aspect or action of God (i.e., Modalism); Jehovah's Witness, Christadelphian, Unity Church, and Oneness Pentecostalism beliefs fall within this category.

Latter Day Saints

In the Latter-day Saint movement, the Holy Ghost (usually synonymous with Holy Spirit.) is considered the third distinct member of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Ghost). The Holy Ghost is considered to be a son of God the Father, and to have a body of "spirit," which makes him unlike the Father and the Son who are said to have bodies "as tangible as man's."

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the Holy Spirit is God's active force, and do not typically capitalize the term. A Jehovah's Witness brochure quotes Alvan Lamson: "...the Father, Son, and... Holy Spirit [are] not as co-equal, not as one numerical essence, not as Three in One... The very reverse is the fact."


Christadelphians believe that the phrase Holy Spirit refers to God's character or mind, depending on the context.

Unity Church

The Unity Church interprets the religious terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit metaphysically, as three aspects of mind action: mind, idea, and expression. They believe this is the process through which all manifestation takes place.

Oneness Pentecostalism

Oneness Pentecostalism, and with other modalist groups, teach that the Holy Spirit is a mode of God, rather than a distinct individual, and that there is no distinction between God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

"Holy Spirit" or "Holy Ghost"

The meaning of Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost are identical. Holy Ghost was the common name for the Holy Spirit in English prior to the 20th century. It is the name used in the Book of Common Prayer, the Catholic Douay Rheims Bible and the King James Version (KJV), and is still widely used by English speakers whose religious vocabulary is largely derived from the KJV. The term is still retained in the traditional-language rites of the Anglican Church. The original meaning of the English word ghost closely paralleled the words spirit or soul; only later did the former word come to acquire the specific sense of "disembodied spirit of the dead" and the associated pejorative connotations.

In 1901 the American Standard Version of the Bible translated the name as Holy Spirit, as had the English Revised Version of 1881-1885 upon which it was based. Almost all modern English translations have followed suit.

Fruit of the Spirit

Christians believe the "Fruit of the Spirit" consists of virtuous characteristics engendered in the Christian by the action of the Holy Spirit. They are those listed in : "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." The Roman Catholic Church adds to this list generosity, modesty, and chastity.

Gifts of the Spirit

Christians believe that the Holy Spirit gives 'gifts' to Christians. These gifts consist of specific abilities granted to the individual Christian. They are frequently known by the Greek word for gift, Charisma, from which the term charismatic derives. The New Testament provides three different lists of such gifts which range from the supernatural (healing, prophecy, tongues) through those associated with specific callings (teaching) to those expected of all Christians in some degree (faith). Most consider these lists not to be exhaustive, and other have compiled their own lists. Saint Ambrose wrote of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out on a believer at baptism: 1. Spirit of Wisdom; 2. Spirit of Understanding; 3. Spirit of Counsel; 4. Spirit of Strength; 5. Spirit of Knowledge; 6. Spirit of Godliness; 7. Spirit of Holy Fear.

It is over the nature and occurrence of these gifts, particularly the supernatural gifts (sometimes called charismatic gifts), that the greatest disagreement between Christians with regard to the Holy Spirit exists.

One view is that the supernatural gifts were a special dispensation for the apostolic ages, bestowed because of the unique conditions of the church at that time, and are extremely rarely bestowed in the present time. This is the view of the Catholic Church and many other mainstream Christian groups. The alternate view, espoused mainly by Pentecostal denominations and the charismatic movement, is that the absence of the supernatural gifts was due to the neglect of the Holy Spirit and his work by the church. Although some small groups, such as the Montanists, practiced the supernatural gifts they were rare until the growth of the Pentecostal movement in the late nineteenth century.

Believers in the relevance of the supernatural gifts sometimes speak of a Baptism of the Holy Spirit or Filling of the Holy Spirit which the Christian needs to experience in order to receive those gifts. Many churches hold that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is identical with conversion, and that all Christians are by definition baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Symbols of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is frequently referred to by metaphor and symbol, both doctrinally and biblically. Theologically speaking these symbols are a key to understanding of the Holy Spirit and his actions.

  • Water - signifies the Holy Spirit's action in Baptism, such that in the manner that "by one Spirit [believers] were all baptized", so they are "made to drink of one Spirit". ( ) Thus the Spirit is also personally the living water welling up from Christ crucified ( ; ) as its source and welling up in Christians to eternal life.

  • Anointing - The symbolism of anointing with oil also signifies the Holy Spirit, to the point of becoming a synonym for the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Spirit is referred to as his "anointing". (Cf. ; ) In some denominations anointing is practiced in Confirmation; ("chrismation" in the Eastern Churches). Its full force can be grasped only in relation to the primary anointing accomplished by the Holy Spirit, that of Jesus. Christ (in Hebrew, messiah) means the one "anointed" by God's Spirit.

  • Fire - symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit's actions. In the form of tongues "as of fire", the Holy Spirit rested on the disciples on the morning of Pentecost.

  • Cloud and light - The Spirit comes upon the Virgin Mary and "overshadows" her, so that she might conceive and give birth to Jesus. On the mountain of transfiguration, the Spirit in the "cloud came and overshadowed" Jesus, Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John, and "a voice came out of the cloud, saying, 'This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!'" ( )

  • The dove. When Christ comes up from the water of his baptism, the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, comes down upon him and remains with him. ( )

  • Wind The Spirit is likened to the "wind that blows where it will" (John 3:8), and described as "a sound from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind" (Acts 2:2-4).

Depiction in art

The Holy Spirit is often depicted as a dove, based on the account of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove when he was baptized in the Jordanmarker. In many paintings of the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit is shown in the form of a dove, coming down towards Mary on beams of light, as the Archangel Gabriel announces Christ's coming to Mary.

A dove may also be seen at the ear of Saint Gregory the Great - as recorded by his secretary - or other church father authors, dictating their works to them.

The dove also parallels the one that brought the olive branch to Noah after the deluge (also a symbol of peace), and rabbinic traditions that doves above the water signify the presence of God.

The book of Acts describes the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles at Pentecost in the form of a wind and tongues of fire resting over the apostles' heads. Based on the imagery in that account, the Holy Spirit is sometimes symbolized by a flame of fire.

Gender of the Holy Spirit

There are some Christian groups who teach that the Holy Spirit is feminine, or has feminine aspects. Most are based on the genders of the verbs in the original Bible languages where the Holy Spirit is the subject. In Hebrew the word for spirit (ruach) is feminine. In Greek the word (pneuma) is neuter, and in Aramaic, the language which is generally considered to have been spoken by Jesus, the word is feminine. This is not thought by most linguists to have significance for the gender of the person given that name. There are biblical cases where the pronoun used for the Holy Spirit is masculine, in contradiction of the gender of the word for spirit (John 16:13).

The Syriac language, which was in common use around 300AD, is derived from Aramaic. In documents produced in Syriac by the early Monophysite church (which later became the Syrian Orthodox Church) the feminine gender of the word for spirit gave rise to a theology in which the Holy Spirit was considered feminine.

In 1977 a leader of the Branch Davidian church, Lois Roden, began to formally teach that the feminine Holy Spirit is the heavenly pattern of women, citing scholars and researchers from Jewish, Christian, and other sources.

There are some other independent Messianic Judaism groups with similar teachings, and some scholars associated with more "mainstream" denominations, while not necessarily indicative of the denominations themselves, have written works explaining a feminine understanding of the third member of the Godhead.

The Unity Church's co-founder Charles Fillmore considered the Holy Spirit a distinctly feminine aspect of God considering it to be "the love of Jehovah" and "love is always feminine".

Non-Christian views

Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith has the concept of the Most Great Spirit, seen as the bounty of God. It is usually used to describe the descent of the Spirit of God upon the messengers/prophets of God, which are known as Manifestations of God, and include among others Jesus, Muhammad and Bahá'u'lláh. In Bahá'í belief the Holy Spirit is the conduit through which the wisdom of God becomes directly associated with his messenger, and it has been described variously in different religions such as the burning bush to Moses, the sacred fire to Zoroaster, the dove to Jesus, the angel Gabriel to Muhammad, and the Holy Maiden to Bahá'u'lláh. The Bahá'í view rejects the idea that the Holy Spirit is a partner to God in the Godhead, but rather is a pure reflection of God's attributes.


Holy Spirit in Islam is an agent of divine action or communication commonly identified with the angel Gabriel (ar: Jibreel) or Ruhul Qudus but also alternatively with the created spirit from God by which he enlivened Adam, made Mary pregnant with Jesus, and inspired the angels and the prophets. The belief in Trinity is explicitly forbidden by the Qur'an and called a grave sin. The same applies to any idea of the duality of God (Allah).


In Judaism, the idea of God as a duality or trinity is heretical. Nonetheless, the term Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) is found frequently in Talmudic and Midrashic literature. In some cases it signifies prophetic inspiration, while in others it is used as a hypostatization or a metonym for God. The Rabbinic “Holy Spirit,” has a certain degree of personification, but it remains, “a quality belonging to God, one of his attributes” and not, as in Christianity, representative of “any metaphysical divisions in the Godhead.”

See also shekhinah.


As a movement that developed out of Christianity, Rastafari has its own unique interpretation of both the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit. Although there are several slight variations, they generally state that it is Haile Selassie who embodies both God the Father and God the Son, while the Holy (or rather, "Hola") Spirit is to be found within Rasta believers (see 'I and I'), and within every human being. Rastas also say that the true church is the human body, and that it is this church (or "structure") that contains the Holy Spirit.

See also


  1. The Holy Spirit and His Gifts. J. Oswald Sanders. Inter-Varsity Press. chapter 5.
  2. Though the term "born again" is most frequently used by evangelical Christians, most denominations do consider that the new Christian is a "new creation" and "born again". See for example the Catholic Encyclopedia [1]
  3. Douglas A. Foster, "Waves of the Spirit Against a Rational Rock: The Impact of the Pentecosat, Charismatic and Third Wave Movements on American Churches of Christ," Restoration Quarterly, 45:1, 2003)
  4. See for example, Harvey Floyd, Is the Holy Spirit for me?: A search for the meaning of the Spirit in today's church, 20th Century Christian, 1981, ISBN 978-0890984468, 128 pages
  5. "The Holy Spirit is a term often used to refer to the Holy Ghost. In such cases the Holy Spirit is a personage."
  6. "[T]he Holy Ghost is a spirit man, a spirit son of God the Father."
  7. D&C 131:7-8 ("There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.")
  8. D&C 130:22.
  9. "Is It Clearly a Bible Teaching?", Should You Believe in the Trinity?, ©1989 Watch Tower, p. 7, Reproduced here.
  11. Norfolk schools told Holy Ghost 'too spooky' | Schools special reports |
  12. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1832.
  13. De Sacramentis 3.8.
  14. Catechism of the Catholic Church.
  16. Joy In the World[2]; The Torah and Testimony Revealed [3].
  17. “Martin Luther, the originator of the Protestant movement, was not ashamed to think of the Holy Spirit in feminine terms.
  18. Church Fathers Believed the Holy Spirit was Feminine.
  19. For example, R.P. Nettlehorst, professor at the Quartz Hill School of Theology (associated with the Southern Baptist Convention) has written on the subject. [4][5][6].
  20. Evan Randolph, associated with the Episcopal Church, has likewise written on the subject. [7][8].
  21. Griffith, Sidney H. Holy Spirit, Encyclopaedia of the Quran.
  22. Patrick Hughes, Thomas Patrick Hughes, A Dictionary of Islam, p. 605.
  23. Alan Unterman and Rivka Horowitz,Ruah ha-Kodesh, Encyclopedia Judaica (CD-ROM Edition, Jerusalem: Judaica Multimedia/Keter, 1997).
  24. Joseph Abelson,The Immanence of God in Rabbinical Literature (London:Macmillan and Co., 1912).

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