Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit? Is There One Correct Name or Two?
Some well-meaning, but misled, commentators express disdain that the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Holy Ghost in the KJV, thinking Ghost refers to a specter, a fictional earthly remnant of a dead person, but a word-sense analysis dispels that notion. Scholars criticize KJV use of Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit, as if the use of two terms lends credence to Mormon dogma on viewing the Spirit as a person at times and a force at other times.
We note that ghost in reference to people signifies the entire incorporeal person, soul and spirit, but spirit is only a part of the incorporeal nature. When the ghost of life in a person departs, he dies since he has lost the essence of his person. His spirit of life returns to God who gave it (Ecc. 3:21, 12:7), and his soul goes to heaven or hell, evidently with his spirit to heaven regarding the redeemed. Thus ghost applies to the incorporeal personage as a whole, and spirit applies to one aspect of the personage. Further, angels are called spirits, although they evidently have a soul, and this is likely a case of assuming the role of a spirit in their earthly missions. Indeed, spirit can refer to an impersonal force, like a spirit of hatred or contention, while ghost can't. There are important distinctions of ghost and spirit, and it's vital to make the proper distinction of such terms in reference to the person of God.
Distinguishing Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit or Spirit is more subtle than that of ghost and spirit in people, but in both cases the distinctions are related in that one reflects an entire incorporeal personage, while the other reflects just one part. Ghost in reference to God relates directly to personage, as when Jesus gave up the ghost at His death on the cross as He gave up His entire human incorporeal person. Spirit terms relate to a role assumed by the Holy Ghost in dealing with people. This distinction applies in filling of the Spirit, which won't apply directly to the Holy Ghost, for He is a person, but the Holy Ghost can be in us indirectly by His role as the Spirit, as in Acts 2:4 where men are filled with the Holy Ghost, in the sense of His role as the Spirit. Jesus Christ has the Spirit without measure (John 3:34), which means He has all power of the Holy Ghost in such matters as Creation and calming of a storm at sea by the words of His mouth. We receive a measure of the Spirit, meaning we can possess the Holy Spirit in variant degree,* depending on our degree of consecration, and the Holy Spirit or Spirit of God or Spirit are titles associated with the role of the Holy Ghost in individual lives.
Distinction of the two names, which is determined contextually, at times is that of person vs. power. Holy Ghost is the proper name for God's person, as in 1 John 5:7,8 where He is the third person of the Trinity, or Acts 13:2 in which the Holy Ghost says, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. On the other hand, scripture may speak of the Spirit in terms of an impersonal power, as in Acts 2:17,18 where the Spirit is said to be poured out on people, and in such a case the Holy Ghost assumes an impersonal role of the Spirit in which His personage is veiled. In various passages the person of the Holy Ghost resided in Jesus Christ, or people, and here the Holy Ghost assumed a role as part of a person, His own personage being veiled, and in this state a pronoun referring to Him is rightly it or itself (1 Peter 1:11, Rom.8:16,26, John 3:34), as our spirit is it, part of our person, not the whole. When His person is in view, any related pronoun must be He, Him, Himself or His.
A distinction appears in scriptural language on irreverence to God. Matthew 12:31,32 says all manner of sin & blasphemy can be forgiven, including that spoken against the Son of God (incarnate), but blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. In contrast Heb- rews 10:29 tells of punishing men who see the blood of Christ incarnate as unworthy, and relates this to doing despite unto the Spirit of God. In Matthew, the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is extreme error against the person of God that can't be forgiven. In Hebrews, rejection of Jesus Christ as the Savior is accompanied by malice against the Spirit of God, suggesting impersonal rejection of the only method of salvation, and rejecting endowment of the power of the Spirit. This view of the Spirit relates to the impersonal role assumed by the Holy Ghost in being part of the new man. Summing-up, Holy Ghost is the proper term if person- age is emphasized, and Spirit, Holy Spirit or Spirit of God are proper terms when power is emphasized.
The two terms can also be viewed as distinguishing heavenly & earthly perspectives of the third person of the Trinity. Holy Ghost refers to the heavenly person, as in 1 Jn.5:7,8, while Spirit refers to work of the Holy Ghost in Jesus Christ, and in people. Our perspective of the Holy Ghost varies with His locale in the context and the manner of His work. He is eternally the Holy Ghost of the Trinity, but was part of the Savior’s person on earth as the Spirit, as He is part of a true Christian’s person.
Another contextual factor applies. If the Holy Ghost is noted in the text as speaking, He speaks of Himself in the first person, while the Spirit can speak without referencing His own person (ie: Acts 13:2 - the Holy Ghost said, separate me Barnabus and Saul…but in Acts 8:29 – the Spirit (the voice of the Holy Ghost in earthly matters) said unto Philip, Go near and join thyself to this chariot).
Intensity of personal reference may affect term use, as also seen in the case noted above at Mat.12:31,32, blasphemy being committed against the Holy Ghost, but in Heb.10:29 despite (insult) is done unto the Spirit, and Eph.4:30 says grieve not the Holy Spirit. In Acts 5:3 two people lie to the Holy Ghost, but in Acts 5:9 they tempt the Spirit of the Lord. Intensity differentiation may not be sharp, and a differentiation noted by Jack Moorman (www.alexanderhamiltoninstitute.org) may apply, that the Holy Ghost signifies the separate person of the Trinity, while Spirit terms signify association with the Father or Christ.
All titles refer to the same person, so an interchangeability of them can occur at times, as in Jn.20:22 where Christ says to His disciples Receive ye the Holy Ghost, meaning receive Him in the role of the Spirit. At times there is a multiple reference in one verse that can be understood in terms of person & role, as at Luke 4:1 that says And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus our Savior was filled with the Holy Ghost, resultant power being conferred in acts like Creation and calming a storm at sea by His words, and Spirit refers to a role assumed by the Holy Ghost in leading Christ into the wilderness. 1 Cor.12:3 says...no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed; and...no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost, meaning the Holy Ghost is the person of God who, in His role as the power of the Spirit of God, pre- vents blasphemy of the Savior, or leads men to exalt Him.
Regardless of the rendering, the Greek is always pneuma, and always refers to a person in reference to God, directly or indirectly in any context. We receive, are filled by, and led by, He who is called the Holy Ghost, and works upon us in the name of various Spirit terms, changes being those of personage, our perspective, intensity of personal refer- ence or our perspective of His relationship to the Father and Son.