Spirit [N] [E]

The Old Testament. The Hebrew word for "spirit" is ruah [;jWr]. It appears 389 times in the Old Testament. Its varied use almost defies analysis, but some emphases are discernible. It is used more often of God (136 times) than of persons or animals (129 times).

Its basic meaning is wind (113 times). The trees of the forest sway before a wind ( Isa 7:2 ); a wind sweeps over the waters ( Gen 1:2 ); and the Lord walked in the garden at the breezy time of day ( Gen 3:8 ). It was an east wind that brought locusts ( Exod 10:13 ) and a strong east wind that divided the Red Sea and dried it up ( Exod 14:21 ).

Breath is also a basic meaning of this term. It is the Lord who gives breath to people ( Isa 42:5 ) and to lifeless bodies ( in 1:1 Ezek 37:9-10 in ; this chapter there is a wordplay on ruah [;jWr], allowing it to mean wind, breath, spirit a similar phenomenon is found in John 3:5 John 3:8 ; where pneuma [pneu'ma] means both wind and spirit ). It is also used of bad breath Job's breath was repulsive to his wife ( Job 19:17 ).

By extension when applied to a person ruah [;jWr] comes to mean vital powers or strength. It is the spirit that sustains a person through illness ( Prov 18:14 ), but the spirit of the troubled person can be crushed ( Psalm 34:18 ). This dynamic force can be impaired or diminished as well as renewed or increased. It was a drink that caused the spirit (strength [sunistavw]) of Samson to return and revive him ( Jud 15:18-19 ) and the coming of the wagons from Egypt that revived Jacob's numb heart ( Gen 45:26-27 ). Spirit also bespeaks limitations. When taken back, the person returns to dust ( Psalm 104:29-30 ).

The spirit of the Lord is the creative power of life ( Psalm 33:6 ). When it descends on the judges it activates and enables them to do great exploits ( Judges 3:10 ; 14:6 ). By contrast, there is no spirit in idols of wood and stone. They are inert and have no power to awake and arise ( Hab 2:19 ).

Ruah can also refer to feelings. The queen of Sheba was left breathless when she saw the wisdom and wealth of Solomon ( 1 Kings 10:5 ). She was overcome by astonishment. Eliphaz accuses Job of venting his anger on God ( Job 15:13 ). Ahab was dispirited and sullen because of Naboth's unwillingness to sell his vineyard ( 1 Kings 21:4 ). "Shortness" of spirit is impatience, whereas "longness" of spirit is patience ( Prov 14:29 ). To be proud in spirit is to be arrogant ( Eccl 7:8 ). The suspicious husband is said to have a (fit) spirit of jealousy ( Numbers 5:14 Numbers 5:30 ).

Ruah can also refer to the will. Those whose spirits God had stirred up went up to rebuild the temple ( Ezr 1:5 ). Caleb had a different spirit from the other spies ( Num 14:24 ) and thus was resolute in his assessment relative to the conquest of the land. The psalmist prays for a steadfast spirit ( Psalm 51:10 ).

Given the distributed uses of ruah [;jWr] (standing twice as often for the wind/power of God as it does for the breath/feelings/will of the person), mortals cannot see themselves as independent of God. The ruah [;jWr] is living not simply through a surge of vitality, but because of God's initiatives and actions. The link between the anthropological and the divine ruah [;jWr] is not always clear and well defined.

The New Testament. Pneuma [pneu'ma] is the New Testament counterpart to the Old Testament ruah [;jWr]. While it occasionally means wind ( John 3:8 ) and breath ( Matt 27:50 ; 2 Thess 2:8 ), it is most generally translates "spirit" an incorporeal, feeling, and intelligent being.

It was Mary's spirit that rejoiced ( Luke 1:47 ). Jesus "grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom" ( Luke 2:40 ). He was "deeply moved in spirit" when he saw Mary weeping over the death of Lazarus ( John 11:33 ). Apollos was characterized as speaking with "great fervor" ( Acts 18:25 ) and Paul "had no peace of mind" when Titus did not meet him at Troas ( 2 Cor 2:13 ). Jesus pronounced a blessing on the "poor in spirit" ( Matt 5:3 ).

In the New Testament spirit is also seen as that dimension of human personality whereby relationship with God is possible ( Mark 2:8 ; Acts 7:59 ; Rom 1:9 ; 8:16 ; 1 Cor 5:3-5 ). It is this human spiritual nature that enables continuing conversation with the divine Spirit ( Rom 8:9-17 ).

Occasionally pneuma will be treated in a parallel structure with psyche [yuchv]. The terms seem to be one and the same ( Luke 1:46-47 ) and seem to be interchangeable. On the other hand, there are passages that distinguish between the two. Paul speaks of Adam as a "living soul" but of Christ as a "life-giving spirit." The one is oriented to human life and the other to heavenly life.

Flesh and spirit are often juxtaposed. Both can be defiled ( 2 Cor 7:1 ) and both can be holy ( 1 Cor 7:34 ). The flesh (works) and the spirit (fruit) are unalterably opposed to each other ( Gal 5:16-26 ). Spirit is also contrasted with letter. While the letter kills, the Spirit gives life ( 2 Cor 3:6 ). Spirit is also contrasted with human wisdom ( 1 Cor 2:5 ). Weakness of flesh can prove stronger than the spirit's will to pray ( Mark 14:38 ).

Worship of God in the spirit is acceptable, contrasting with unacceptable worship in the flesh ( Php 3:3 ). "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" ( John 4:24 ).

While God's Spirit is holy, reference is made to unclean, evil, and demonic spirits that are injurious to relationships with God and other humans.

There are a few passages that see the spirit as disembodied ( 2 Cor 5:1-5 ; Heb 12:23 ; 1 Peter 3:19 ). Paul speaks of being absent in body, but present in spirit ( Col 2:5 ), and James notes that the body without the spirit is dead ( James 2:26 ).

Carl Schultz

See also Holy Spirit; Person, Personhood

Bibliography. W. Dryness, Themes in Old Testament Theology; R. H. Gundry, Soma in Biblical Theology; R. Jewett, Paul's Anthropological Terms; A. R. Johnson, The Vitality of the Individual in the Thought of Ancient Israel; N. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament; H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Spirit'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.
Spirit [N] [B]

(Heb. ruah; Gr. pneuma), properly wind or breath. In 2 Thessalonians 2:8 it means "breath," and in Eccl 8:8 the vital principle in man. It also denotes the rational, immortal soul by which man is distinguished ( Acts 7:59 ; 1 Corinthians 5:5 ; 6:20 ; 7:34 ), and the soul in its separate state ( Hebrews 12:23 ), and hence also an apparition ( Job 4:15 ; Luke 24:37 Luke 24:39 ), an angel ( Hebrews 1:14 ), and a demon ( Luke 4:36 ; 10:20 ). This word is used also metaphorically as denoting a tendency ( Zechariah 12:10 ; Luke 13:11 ).

In Rom 1:4,1Tim 3:16,2co Romans 3:18 , it designates the divine nature.

These dictionary topics are from
M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Spirit". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .


spir'-it (ruach; pneuma; Latin, spiritus):

1. Primary and Figurative Senses

(1) As Wind, Breath

(2) As Anger or Fury

(3) As Mental and Moral Qualities in Man

2. Shades of Meaning

(1) As Life-Principle

(2) As Surviving Death

(3) Spiritual Manifestations

3. Human and Divine Spirit

(1) The Human as Related with the Divine

(2) Operations of the Divine Spirit as Third Person of the Trinity

4. Old Testament Applications

5. Various Interpretations

1. Primary and Figurative Senses:

(1) As Wind, Breath:

Used primarily in the Old Testament and New Testament of the wind, as in Genesis 8:1; Numbers 11:31; Amos 4:13 ("createth the wind"); Hebrews 1:7 (angels, "spirits" or "winds" in margin); often used of the breath, as in Job 12:10; 15:30, and in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 (wicked consumed by "the breath of his mouth").

(2) As Anger or Fury:

In a figurative sense it was used as indicating anger or fury, and as such applied even to God, who destroys by the "breath of his nostrils" (Job 4:9; Exodus 15:8; 2 Samuel 22:16; see 2 Thessalonians 2:8).

(3) As Mental and Moral Qualities in Man:

Hence, applied to man--as being the seat of emotion in desire or trouble, and thus gradually of mental and moral qualities in general (Exodus 28:3, "the spirit of wisdom"; Ezekiel 11:19, "a new spirit" etc.). Where man is deeply stirred by the Divine Spirit, as among the prophets, we have a somewhat similar use of the word, in such expressions as:

"The Spirit of the Lord came .... upon him" (1 Samuel 10:10).

2. Shades of Meaning:

(1) As Life-Principle:

The spirit as life-principle in man has various applications:

sometimes to denote an apparition (Matthew 14:26, the King James Version "saying, It is a spirit"; Luke 24:37, the King James Version "had seen a spirit"); sometimes to denote angels, both fallen and unfallen (Hebrews 1:14, "ministering spirits"; Matthew 10:1, "unclean spirits"; compare also Matthew 12:43; Mark 1:23,26,27; and in Revelation 1:4, "the seven Spirits .... before his throne").

(2) As Surviving Death:

The spirit is thus in man the principle of life--but of man as distinguished from the brute--so that in death this spirit is yielded to the Lord (Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59; 1 Corinthians 5:5, "that the spirit may be saved"). Hence, God is called the "Father of spirits" (Hebrews 12:9).

(3) Spiritual Manifestations:

Thus generally for all the manifestations of the spiritual part in man, as that which thinks, feels, wills; and also to denote certain qualities which characterize the man, e.g. "poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3); "spirit of gentleness" (Galatians 6:1); "of bondage" (Romans 8:15); "of jealousy" (Numbers 5:14); "of fear" (2 Timothy 1:7 the King James Version); "of slumber" (Romans 11:8 the King James Version). Hence, we are called upon to "rule over our own spirit" (Proverbs 16:32; 25:28), and are warned against being overmastered by a wrong spirit (Luke 9:55 the King James Version, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of"). So man may submit to the "spirit of error," and turn away from the "spirit of truth" (1John 4:6). Thus we read of the "spirit of counsel" (Isaiah 11:2); "of wisdom" (Ephesians 1:17).

3. Human and Divine Spirit:

(1) The Human as Related with the Divine:

We go a step higher when we find the human spirit brought into relationship with the Divine Spirit. For man is but a creature to whom life has been imparted by God's spirit--life being but a resultant of God's breath. Thus life and death are realistically described as an imparting or a withdrawing of God's breath, as in Job 27:3; 33:4; 34:14, "spirit and breath" going together. The spirit may thus be "revived" (Genesis 45:27), or "overwhelmed" (Psalms 143:4), or "broken" (Proverbs 15:13). And where sin has been keenly felt, it is "a broken spirit" which is "a sacrifice to God" (Psalms 51:17); and when man submits to the power of sin, a new direction is given to his mind:

he comes under a "spirit of whoredom" (Hosea 4:12); he becomes "proud in spirit" (Ecclesiastes 7:8), instead of being "patient in spirit"; he is a fool because he is "hasty in spirit" and gives way to "anger" (Ecclesiastes 7:9). The "faithful in spirit" are the men who resist talebearing and backbiting in the world (Proverbs 11:13). In such instances as these the difference between "soul" and "spirit" appears.


(2) Operations of the Divine Spirit as Third Person of the Trinity:

On this higher plane, too, we find the Divine Spirit at work. The terminology is very varied here:

In the New Testament we read of the "Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19; Matthew 1:18,20; 1 Thessalonians 1:5,6); the "Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2:10; 3:16; Romans 8:9,11; Ephesians 3:16, etc.); the "Spirit of Christ" (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 4:6); or simply of "Spirit," with distinct reference to God (1 Corinthians 2:10; Romans 8:16,23, etc.). God Himself is Spirit (John 4:24). Hence, God's power is manifested in human life and character (Luke 4:14; Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 2:4; especially Luke 24:49). The Book of Ac may be termed the Book of the Holy Spirit, working with power in man. This Spirit is placed on a level with Father and Son in the Apostolic Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14) and in the parting message of the Saviour to His disciples (Matthew 28:19). As the agent in redemption and sanctification His work is glorified by lives "renewed" in the very "spirit of the mind"--a collocation of terms which has puzzled many interpreters (Ephesians 4:23,24), where pneuma and nous appear together, to indicate a renewal which is all-embracing, `renewed in the spirit of your mind, so that the new man is put on, created in righteousness and true holiness' (see also John 14:17,26; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Corinthians 12:11, etc.).

4. Old Testament Applications:

In the Old Testament this spirit of God appears in varied functions, as brooding over chaos (Genesis 1:2; Job 26:13); as descending upon men, on heroes like Othniel, Gideon, etc. (Judges 3:10; 6:34), on prophets (Ezekiel 37:1), on "cunning workmen," like Bezalel and Aholiab (Exodus 31:2,3,4, "filled with the Spirit of God"), and specially in such passages as Psalms 51:11, where the very presence of God is indicated by an abiding influence of the Holy Spirit:

"The Spirit of Yahweh is Yahweh himself."

5. Various Interpretations:

May we not reach a still higher stage? Wendt in his interesting monograph (Die Begriffe Fleisch und Geist), of which extracts are given in Dickson's Paul's Use of the Terms Flesh and Spirit, draws attention to the transcendental influence of the Divine ruach in the Old Testament as expressed in such phrases as `to put on' (Judges 6:34), `to fall upon' (14:6,19), `to settle' (Numbers 11:25). May we not then rightly assume that more is meant than a mere influence emanating from a personal God? Are we not right in maintaining with Davidson that "there are indeed a considerable number of passages in the Old Testament which might very well express the idea that the Spirit is a distinct hypostasis or person."? (see SUBSTANCE). Rejecting the well-known passage in Genesis:

"Let us make man after our own image," which some have interpreted in a trinitarian sense, we may point to such texts as Zechariah 4:6, "by my Spirit"; Isaiah 63:10,11, "They rebelled, and grieved his holy Spirit"; "Where is he that put his holy Spirit in the midst of them?" This is borne out by the New Testament, with its warnings against "grieving the Holy Spirit," "lying against the Holy Spirit," and kindred expressions (Ephesians 4:30; Acts 5:3). It is this Spirit which "beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16)--the spirit which, as Auberlen has put it (PRE1, article "Geist des Menschen"), "appears in a double relationship to us, as the principle of natural life, which is ours by birth, and that of spiritual life, which we receive through the new birth (Wiedergeburt)." Hence, Paul speaks of God whom he serves "with his spirit" (Romans 1:9); and in 2 Timothy 1:3 he speaks of serving God "in a pure conscience."


J. I. Marais

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'SPIRIT'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.