The Spirit in the New Testament

The Spirit

In a previous post, we considered how the term “spirit” was used in the Old Testament: primarily the first five books from Genesis to Deuteronomy. We learned that, although the same Hebrew word is used (ruwach), the English word varies depending on the context.  The following illustrates four ways the term “spirit” is used in the first five books of the Bible:


Wind/Power Power/Ability Breath of Life Way of Thinking
Genesis 1:2; 3:8; 8:1 41:38 6:3,17; 7:17,22 26:35; 41:8; 45:27
Exodus 10:13,19; 14:21; 15:8,10 28:3; 31:3 6:9; 35:21,31
Numbers 11:31 11:17,25,26,29; 24:2; 27:18 16:22; 27:16 5:14,30; 14:24
Deuteronomy 34:9 2:30

This provides a foundation or a baseline for us as we read through our Bible.

When we consider the use of “spirit” in the New Testament, we find there are a variety of applications and meanings as well. However, we also find that what we have understood from our brief examination in the Old Testament applies in the New Testament.

For example, “spirit” is used nineteen times in the Gospel of Matthew. The following demonstrates some of the ways it is used:

  • Holy Spirit: 1:18,20; 3:11; 12:31,32; 28:19
  • Spirit of God: 3:16; 10:20; 12:28
  • Power/Direction: 4:1; 12:18; 22:43; 26:41
  • Way of Thinking: 5:3
  • Unclean Spirit(s): 8:16; 10:1; 12:43,45
  • Power of Life: 27:50

When comparing this information, it is obvious that “spirit” in the New Testament, at least as used in the Gospel of Matthew, is very similar to how it is used in the Old Testament. Of course, we would expect this if we believe the Bible to be completely inspired by God.

We are told by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament that there is only one spirit:

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6, ESV)

From the Old Testament we saw that the “spirit” is from God: it is His power to use as He directs it. From the New Testament we learn there is only one spirit.  What is interesting and important to note is that when we come across the term “holy spirit”, the term “holy” simply means “separate” and is not a name, but a noun.  This tells us that the “holy spirit” is the “power of God” but is used in a separate way or for a specific purpose.  For example, the first time we read of the “holy spirit” in the New Testament, it is regarding the impregnation of Mary by God through a special use of His power, termed the “holy spirit”.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18)

Another example is when Jesus was teaching in the Temple, he quoted from the Old Testament and said that King David spoke by the “holy spirit”:

David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’ (Mark 12:36, cp. Psalm 110:1)

In other words, the LORD God inspired King David to record these words that applied to Jesus one thousand years later. The inspiration of such prophetic words was by God’s power used for a special purpose.  This is why Jesus called it the “holy spirit”.  Two other examples are Zechariah (Luke 1:67) and Simeon (Luke 2:25-26) prophesying by the “holy spirit”.

Of course, there are many times and various ways this term is used. However, if we look at how the “spirit” is used in the Old Testament and use this as a foundation for how it is used in the New Testament, this will guide us to a good understanding of how the Bible defines and uses the term “spirit”.

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