Pentecostal Christianity has a rich tradition in the United States and worldwide. The participants in the Asuza Street Revival in 1906 in Los Angeles, California, which launched the modern movement, found motivation from stories in the book of Acts. The third person of the Trinity has always held a central place in Pentecostal doctrine and practice.
Some Pentecostals refer to the third member of the Trinity as the “Holy Ghost,” as opposed to the “Holy Spirit,” because that is how the King James Version translates his name. However, Bible scholars generally agree that there is no theological difference between the names, which come from the same Hebrew and Greek words.
Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit? Which name should people use today? What did “Ghost” mean when the KJV was published? Why do some people today still prefer the name “Holy Ghost”? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also, see Why Do Pentecostals Fall on the Floor? to learn more.
Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit? Which One Is Right?
In regular use, the names “Holy Ghost” and “Holy Spirit” refer to the same person — the third person of the Trinity. People who use the names agree about the nature of who he is and what he does. (Also see Pentecostal vs. Charismatic: What’s the Difference?)
Both names identify the third person of the Trinity as (1) a person, i.e., not a force or some other non-personal entity; and (2) God.
The Bible teaches that each member of the Trinity is fully divine, and neither the “Holy Ghost” nor the “Holy Spirit” denies that reality. The table below shows three examples of how translations render the name differently.
|King James Version (KJV)
|New King James Version (NKJV)
|“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
|“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
|“I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.”
|“I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
|1 Cor. 6:19
|“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?”
|“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”
Why does the King James Version say “Ghost”? The KJV of the Bible was published in England in 1611 under the leadership of King James I (1556-1625). The English language in mid-17th century Europe was different than modern English.
Although the KJV translation influenced the English language for nearly three centuries, today’s readers consider some of its terms, phrases, and names outdated. To be clear, this doesn’t imply that the theology of the KJV is wrong. (Also see the full article Do Pentecostals Believe Jesus Is God?)
What does the word “Ghost” mean in the KJV? The English word “ghost” comes from the Middle English word “gost” or “gast.” The roots of this word are from the Old High German “geist,” which means “spirit” or “breath.” In King James English, “Ghost” means the same as “Spirit.”
In modern English, however, the word “ghost” often refers to a spirit, but one that is sinister or evil, which is the common definition of the word, an apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image. 
“Ghost” sometimes referred to a sinister spirit in 17th century England, but it wasn’t the dominant meaning of the word like it is today.
How do Bible translators decide what names to use? All major modern English translations use “Holy Spirit,” not “Holy Ghost.”
Modern translations are the product of translation committees, which can consist of as many as two dozen Bible scholars and experts on the original languages of the Bible.
They often choose words that precisely render the meaning of the text and that the majority of readers will understand so as not to generate confusion. (Also see Do Pentecostals Dance?)
Do modern Bible translators dislike the KJV? No, quite the opposite. The KJV is upheld as a historic achievement in Bible translation and a masterful display of the English language. Modern translators desire to render the biblical text accurately and in a way that today’s readers can understand.
More than they want to preserve a particular style of 17th-century English, they want today’s readers to love, understand, and obey God’s Word.
Does the KJV ever use the name “Holy Spirit”? Yes. Psalm 51:11 is an example, “Cast me not away from Your presence; take not Your Holy Spirit from me.” Is the KJV being inconsistent? It’s unlikely.
What’s more probable is that the translators made a distinction between passages that referred to the third person of the Trinity (“Holy Ghost”) and others that referred to the Spirit of the Lord (“Holy Spirit”). Bible readers, scholars, and translators debate whether this distinction is accurate, necessary, and helpful.
Also, see Pentecostal vs. Evangelical: What’s the Difference? to learn more.
Why Do Some People Today Prefer the Name “Holy Ghost”?
Some Bible readers today prefer the name “Holy Ghost” to “Holy Spirit.” There are various reasons for this preference. Two common explanations include the following:
- Preference for the KJV: Some prefer King James English to modern Bible translations. For consistency with what they read, they refer to the third person of the Trinity as the Holy Ghost in prayer, conversation, praise, and other times. Some King James readers may have grown up with the translation, so specific terms, phrases, and names are nostalgic to them as well.
- A distinction between spirits: Some readers devoted to the KJV make a substantial distinction between the spirit of the Lord and the third person of the Trinity. “Holy Ghost” is their preference for the third person of the Trinity. “Holy Spirit” (which they capitalize) is their preference for the spirit of the Lord (which they don’t capitalize). While it’s true that not every “spirit” in the Bible refers to the same entity, it’s unclear why these names couldn’t be reversed.
Also, see Pentecostalism vs. Reformed: What’s the Difference? to learn more.
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