Holy Spirit: Special Breath

This page analyzes where Christ refers to the “Holy Spirit.” This "entity" is also called "the Helper" or "the Conselor" depending on the translation. Traditionally referred to as the third person of the Trinity, we are interested in what Christ's words say regarding its nature. Since this is a big topic, let us begin by looking at the instances that Christ refers to the idea of “holy” and “spirit” separately so we can understand what his vision is. 

πνεῦμα "Spirit" is pneuma, which means "blast", "wind", "breath", "the breath of life," and "divine inspiration." Another article examines this and related words and their use. This article focuses only on its use with "holy". 

ἅγιον "Holy" is from hagios ( hagios ), which means "devoted to the gods", "pure", "holy," and on the negative side "accursed."

What is "Holy"?

Christ uses the word translated as “holy” (hagios ) to refer those things which dogs cannot appreciate (Mat 7:6), holy places (Mat 24:15), holy angels/messengers (Mat 25:31, Mar 8:38, Luk 9:26), and the Father (Jhn 17:11).

Since dogs cannot appreciate them, holy things are valuable in a way that animals cannot see. What separate humanity is the values we appreciate that animals cannot. While some of these values arise from society, these holy or sacred values come from God. The most uses of this word are connected with messengers from God.

However, the Greek hagios qadath: separateness. Hagios is chosen because of one of its meanings: "dedicated to God". For Jews, that which was dedicated to God was separate. Things dedicated to God were separate, different than everyday things, common things. A 'holy" people were a separate people, set apart from others. A "holy" or pure item was separate from everyday items. It not the everyday items were "impure" (as they are often translated) but that they were common, everyday.

This separateness makes holy items special. It is the recognition that there are special things, separate from everyday life. These things are reserved for something higher, more universal, perhaps. The "holy" spirit is a special spirit, a separate spirit. Something different from the ordinary.

A "holy" spirit is a separate spirit, something different from ordinary spirit. To understand this separate spirit, we must first understand the common or unholy spirit.

What is "Spirit"?

Pneuma in Greek means literally "breeze" or "breath." Though this can mean "the breath of life," it didn't primarily mean "spirit" in Greek. However, it was used that way in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the OT from Christ's era because the Hebrew word for "spirit" also means "breath." In this related article, we contrast Christ's use of the terms for "spirit," "soul," "heart," and "mind." The conclusion there is that the term "spirit" seems to play the role of the breath of self-awareness that is independent of our lives, feeling, and memories of this lifetime.

Old Testament Usage

In the OT, pneuma is equated with the Hebrew ruah (ruwach) which also means "breeze" or "breath" and is used to mean the breath of God, the movement of the invisible divine spirit. "...the breath of God moved upon the face of the waters." (Gen 1:2). Clearly, in Christ's usage, it means both "breath" and his idea of "spirit," the non-tangible life force, our self-awareness. Another Greek term used in Greek literature much more commonly for spirit, thumos, also means breath, and life force, but it has a sense of maleness and aggressiveness, the emotional energy that drives people. Christ seems to equate this with "heart." This makes sense because "thumos" also indicates the chest, in the sense of heart and lungs.

Christ quotes Isa 61:1 saying "the breath of the Lord God is on me" when he announces his priesthood. Ruah is the term used to indicate the difference between physical and spiritual. The Old Testament says God is ruah, that is, spirit, not a physical being. In the Septuagint, pneuma is used in place of ruah. In the Gospels, it is the specific term used for the Holy Spirit, the divine spirit, but it is also used to mean the human spirit.

Christ's Usage

Christ uses this term to describe the human spirit, the spirit of God, and the evil spirits or unclean spirits that Christ casts out. What do they have in common? Perhaps a hint is that Christ addresses evil spirits as if they have their own self-awareness, or perhaps that they are a diseased form of our self-awareness, see Mat 12:43 and notice how the spirit speaks to itself. In this article on how Jesus parses human existence, the spirit is described as a primary element that creates "heart", "ego", and "life". 

Christ used the word translated as “spirit” or “ghost” (pneuma) in a number of other ways without the “holy” to describe a number of things.

"Spirit" is our life force, but people can be physically alive without it. This spirit animates all life, but it is different from the life force itself. The spirit is something more, perhaps something like self-awareness. We can be alive without being self-aware. Can we have this type of breath without being self-aware? Perhaps not.

So the “breath” of life and inspiration is an invisible force within us that is separate from our physical being. This force contains information because it contains the truth. Some of Christ’s earliest words in the Gospels (Mat 4:4) is that “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The Greek for word is “logos,” that is, information. This information coming from the mouth of God is the breath of life. Information isn’t just inanimate fact. It is the instruction set by which our bodies and our minds run.

There is power in those instructions because the universe was designed to interact with them. An analogy might be a computer program, controlling a computer, this spirit operates within physical reality but it exists on a level beyond that physical reality. The set of instructions or ideas of information contains both good impulses (consider them subroutines) and bad impulses. The right instructions in this program give us power in the world and entry into the higher-level kingdom, the universal rule of God.

The Breath of the Divine: In and Out

This idea of the divine breath of life goes further that the idea of breath or spirit alone.

Breathing is a process of reversing cycles. We must inhale and exhale. The breath of life fills us as children and empties out of us at death, but the cycle repeats in each life, in each generation. This is why Christ calls us children of God and says that they are like the kingdom of heaven (Mat 19:14). As children, we are these seeds of information coming from the breath of spirit, planted in the world (Mat 13:38).

Who are those that blaspheme against the divine breath of life?

Aren’t they those who believe that the material world that we can see is all there is? We can get beyond our mistakes if we blame God for our problems. We can get beyond our mistakes if we blame other people. Where people get stuck is when they make the mistake of believing that the physical world is all there is, that there is no divine breath of life, no spiritual dimension to life, no information or, to put it more simply, no meaning to life. When that happens, people are not only stuck, but they cause all the disputes in the world. If there is no greater purpose, there is no uniting force. The world is just a bunch of empty, competing egos with no moral center and no moral restraints.

How does this idea of “breath” tie to the nature of adversity and Christ’s and our power over it? Christ is also saying, in a very consistent way, that the cycle of adversity and achievement is also part of the “breath” of life. We get energy from adversity and transform that energy into actions for good. This adversity is part of God’s kingdom. It has a purpose. This purpose is also a part of the divine breath of life and its cycles. If you believe in purpose, adversity makes sense. If you don’t believe meaning, all the suffering of the world is meaningless and empty and endless.

The Power of the Holy Spirit

Let us look the Helper or Counselor or Spirit of Truth from a different angle: as a spiritual entity that does certain things. What does the Helper do?

  • He will teach us all things.
  • He will guide us in truth.
  • He will help us remember all Christ has said.
  • He will not speak according to his own authority.
  • He will speak only what he hears.
  • He will "convict" or "reprove" the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.
  • He will declare what is to come.
  • He will recognize Christ by declaring what is his.

More interesting is the idea that the Spirit of Truth cannot come into the world unless Christ returns to the Father to send him. The Spirit of Truth and Christ cannot be in the world together at the same time. Why am I reminded of Superman and Clark Kent?

Jhn 16:8 And when he is come, t is Christ's and declares it, but that this all really belongs to the Father. This seems to indicate that the Spirit will tell us what Christ would tell us if he was in the world.

Concerning Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment

Easier to understand is the role of the Spirit in "convicting" or "reproving" the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jhn 16:8).

First, the term translated as "reprove" or "convict" is best understood as changing people's opinions, or, more precisely, embarrassing them about their current opinions.

Our viewpoint about the human fallibility was will be changed by the Spirit. The world's inability to believe in Jesus as the Christ is a defining point in human history. This will be seen or should be seen as the chief mistake the world makes. Failure to believe in Christ, in a sense, redefines the failures of humanity, or, if you prefer, the sins of humanity.

However, the Spirit will also change our views about what is righteous and just. Christ's willingness to die for others will redefine what is "righteous." His return to the Father, via the mistakes of men, was a good thing, what was meant to occur. Before Christ, I can find no idea that dying for the happiness of others is a good idea, that is, doing what is right. However, Christ's death redefined that. Christ himself attributed this to the action of the Spirit.

Finally, the Spirit will change our view of the powers-that-be in the world. Prior to Christ, worldly power was equated with the blessing of Heaven. Those with earthly power ("Hail, Caesar") were seen as gods or at least, blessed by the gods. The Spirit provided a framework so that we could see worldly power in a different way. We could judge it as good and bad, depending on what it does or doesn't do. Prior to the influence of the spirit and of Christ, worldly power was defined as obviously good. Christ, or more precisely, the Spirit of Truth, provided a new perspective for our view of that power. It could be either good or bad depending on its fruit.