The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power To Be Like Christ]
God is the ultimate Giver. From the time He created man in His own image (Gen. 1:27) until this very day, God has been giving gifts to mankind. James 1:17 tells us: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father….” Ephesians 1:3 says God has blessed us with “every spiritual blessing” in Christ. We have already seen that because God is holy and God is spirit, He is referred to as “the Holy Spirit.” However, we must be aware that there is another use of holy spirit that does not refer to God, but to the gift of God. God loves us so much that when we choose to make Jesus Christ our Lord, we are born again, and receive God’s very nature as a gift. The nature of God is, like God, both holy and spirit, and so it is referred to as “holy spirit.”
It is important to capitalize “Holy Spirit” when it refers to God, and it is just as important to use lower case letters (“holy spirit”) when referring to the gift God has given to those who are saved. God the Giver, who is “the Holy Spirit,” gives His gift, holy spirit, to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a tremendous truth, and shows how much our heavenly Father loves us. Through the years God has given many gifts to mankind, but what could be a greater gift than the very nature of God Himself? It behooves us as God’s children to learn as much as we can about this wonderful gift of holy spirit.
Three things have contributed greatly to people’s misunderstanding and ignorance concerning God’s gift of holy spirit. First, the translators capitalize the “H” and “S” and translate pneuma hagion as “Holy Spirit” when there is no reason in the Greek text to do so, and even when the context indicates the gift of God, holy spirit, is the subject being discussed. Second, the translators, not being aware pneuma hagion can refer to the gift of God, added the definite article “the,” making the Bible read “the Holy Spirit” when there is no word “the” in the Greek text. When the article “the” is absent in the text, it is usually an indication the text is referring to the gift of holy spirit, and not “the Holy Spirit.” Third the translators translated pronouns associated with pneuma hagion as masculine, “he” instead of “it,” a subject we cover in Chapter 4.
The reason the translators have been so insensitive to the subject of the gift of holy spirit is that most have believed the doctrine of the Trinity , which says “the Holy Spirit” is the “Third Person” in the Trinity, and for the most part fails to recognize that pneuma hagion can refer to the gift of God. It is due to the doctrine of the Trinity that translators capitalize the “H” and “S” when the context is clearly referring to the gift God gives, add a “the” when none is in the Greek text, and translate the pronouns associated with pneuma hagion as masculine, even when the context is clearly referring to the gift of God and neuter pronouns are called for. However, there have been Trinitarian scholars who have recognized God’s gift of holy spirit.
E. W. Bullinger (1837–1913) was a linguist, author (of more than a dozen major books and numerous tracts and pamphlets, as well as The Companion Bible), editor (of the Portuguese Reference Bible for the Trinitarian Bible Society), and musician. Concerning the fact English Bibles almost always translate pneuma hagion as “the Holy Spirit,” he wrote:
…the great mistake has been made of concluding, without sufficient thought or care, that the word pneuma must nearly always refer to Him [the Holy Spirit], wherever it may be used.
This mistake is so general that, even where there is no article in the Greek, the definite article [“the”] is often introduced and imported into the English; and where there is nothing to indicate capital letter is the original, they have been used without any Textual authority in the English and other translations.
This practice has been the fruitful source of many very popular errors. The English reader has been helpless in this matter. He sees the definite article, and the capital letters in the English, and naturally concludes that “the Holy Spirit” is meant. He does not know that he is reading an interpretation, or comment, instead of what ought to be a simple translation.1
Bullinger is quite correct. In many places where pneuma hagion refers to the gift of God, translating it as “the Holy Spirit” instead of simply “holy spirit” misleads the English reader. We need to recognize pneuma hagion can refer to the gift of God, and when it appears in the Bible ask ourselves if it refers to God or His gift. When pneuma hagion appears in the Greek text without the article “the” (about 50 times in the Christian Scriptures) it usually refers to the gift of God.2 However, when pneuma hagion has the definite article “the,” it can be referring to either the Giver or the gift. When the definite article “the” is used with the gift, as in Acts 2:38, Scripture is simply making the point that holy spirit is “the” gift, i.e., the one being referred to in the context or in the scope of Scripture. Thus, in the case of Acts 2:38, because Peter was referring to the gift people would receive and what the Apostles had just received, the gift of holy spirit was “the” gift that had been poured out that day.
Many verses of Scripture reveal holy spirit is a gift given by God to man. The Greek word translated “gift” in Acts 2:38 (and many other verses that refer to holy spirit) is dorea, which is defined in Vine’s Expository Dictionary of the New Testament as “‘a free gift,’ stressing its gratuitous character.”3
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift [dorea] of the Holy Spirit [“holy spirit”].4
Acts 2:38 is a verse from Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the day that holy spirit was first poured out in New Birth, and thus the day the Christian Church started.5 Thousands upon thousands of Jews had gathered at the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the Hebrew Scriptures feast of Pentecost, and Peter made an impassioned appeal to them, saying that if they repented and made Christ their Lord, they would receive the gift of holy spirit.
Peter’s sermon was effective, and about 3,000 people were saved that day (Acts 2:41). What should not be lost on us, however, is the distinct difference Peter made between God, the Giver, and holy spirit, the gift. Peter made the point that God had promised He would “…pour out my Spirit [spirit] on all people…” (Acts 2:17). It is God who made the promise, and who, through His Son Jesus, pours out on people not Himself, but His nature, holy spirit. God is the Giver; holy spirit is His gift to mankind. The context, specifically Acts 2:4, makes it clear that pneuma hagion in verse 38 refers to the gift of God.
Besides using “holy spirit” instead of “Holy Spirit,” there is another very important thing we need to be aware of in Acts 2:4; something easily seen in the Greek text but ignored by almost all translators. As we pointed out earlier, when pneuma hagion refers to the gift from God, usually there is no article “the” in the Greek text. That is the case in Acts 2:4a, which should be translated as “And they were all filled with holy spirit,…,” instead of, “And they were all filled with the holy spirit,….”6
Acts 2:4a (Author’s translation)
And they were all filled with holy spirit…
It would be much easier to see that Acts 2:4a refers to the gift of God had the translators followed the Greek text and not added the definite article “the” to the English Bible. The Apostles were not filled with God, they were filled with the gift of God, holy spirit. Another verse referring to holy spirit as a free gift, dorea, occurs in Acts 10.
The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift [dorea] of the Holy Spirit [No “the.” Read “holy spirit”] had been poured out even on the Gentiles.
These verses make it clear that holy spirit is a gift from God. Thus, as we said, God who is holy and spirit, gives “holy spirit,” His very nature, to believers. This is why Scripture says Christians are “partakers of the divine nature.”
2 Peter 1:4 (KJV)
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
The phrase, “partakers of the divine nature” is a good translation, and occurs in many versions, including the ASV, ESV, NASB, and RSV. The rendering “participants of” or “participate in” as per the NRSV or NIV, is not as good. We do not “participate” in the divine nature born inside us any more than we participate in our fleshly nature. It is a part of us.
Putting together the above three verses, we learn that believers are filled with the gift of God, holy spirit, which is the nature of God. In his teaching on Pentecost, Peter made it clear that God raised Jesus from the dead and then gave him the gift of holy spirit that had been promised in the Hebrew Scriptures, after which Jesus did the actual pouring out of the spirit on the people (Acts 2:32 and 33).
Jesus had taught that God would give holy spirit to those who ask Him.
If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit [No “the.” Read, “holy spirit”] to those who ask him!”7
This verse, like Acts 2:38, makes it clear that holy spirit is something given by God, our heavenly Father. Although almost all English versions are like the NIV above and read, “the Holy Spirit,” the Greek does not have the definite article “the.” The verse should read, “…how much more will your Father in heaven give holy spirit to those who ask him!” How simple, and how beautiful. Sadly, many people today are in the same position as the disciples in Ephesus when Paul first came to their city. They do not know God’s gift of holy spirit is even available.
Acts 19:1 and 2
(1) While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples
(2) and asked them, “Did you receive8 the Holy Spirit [No “the.” Read, “holy spirit”] when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a9 Holy Spirit [holy spirit].”
How could that have been the case? Well, Acts 19 informs us that the one who had discipled these people in Ephesus taught only John’s water baptism, so they did not know about the gift of holy spirit they received when they were saved.
Other verses than these refer to the gift of holy spirit. For example:
The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit [holy spirit] had been poured out even on the Gentiles.
1 Thessalonians 4:8
Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit [“holy spirit”].
The above verse in 1 Thessalonians is especially helpful, because in it we have both God, the Giver, and the gift of holy spirit, which is specifically stated to be something given by God.10
In Acts 8 there is a record of a man named Simon offering money for the power to give the gift of holy spirit, and being rebuffed by Peter.
Acts 8:15–20 (RSV)11
(15) who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit [No “the.” Read, “holy spirit”];
(16) for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
(17) Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit [No “the.” Read, “holy spirit”].
(18) Now when Simon saw that the Spirit [spirit] was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money,
(19) saying, “Give me also this power, that any one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit [No “the.” Read, “holy spirit”].”
(20) But Peter said to him, “Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!
These wonderful verses teach us a lot about the gift of holy spirit. First, three times the gift of God is called “holy spirit,” without the article “the.” Also, Peter clearly calls holy spirit “the gift of God” (verse 20), which is correct. God is “the Holy Spirit,” but God’s gift to mankind is “holy spirit,” and what a gift it is—His very nature given to Christians!
Since it is the context that ultimately determines whether pneuma hagion refers to “the Holy Spirit” (God) or “holy spirit” (the gift), it is a good rule of thumb to remember that whenever pneuma hagion is referred to as “given,” “filling,” “falling upon” or as the element of baptism, it is the gift. In contrast, if the pneuma hagion is referred to as if it were a person, it is referring to the Giver, God.
For example, Acts 1:5 records Jesus telling the Apostles they will “… be baptized in holy spirit…” (Author’s translation). The Apostles were about to be baptized, fully immersed, in God’s gift of holy spirit. Although almost all translations read “the Holy Spirit,” there is no article “the” in the Greek text, and there is no reason in the context to capitalize pneuma hagion. The Apostles were not baptized in God, but in His gift.
However, Acts 5:3a properly capitalizes Holy Spirit.
Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit….
The article “the” is in the Greek text, because Ananias did not lie to the gift of God, but to God. Here is another example:
They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
Here, the article “the” is in the Greek text, and “Holy Spirit” is properly capitalized, because it was God who spoke through Isaiah the prophet.
We have now seen that the Greek words pneuma hagion can refer to either God, the Giver, who is the “Holy Spirit,” or to the gift of God’s nature, which is also holy and spirit, but should be referred to as “holy spirit.” We are now in a much better position to understand the great thing God did for us in giving us His very nature and thereby filling us with His power. For further study we recommend our class: “One Day With The Creator,” Segment 18.
1. Bullinger, op. cit., Word Studies on the Holy Spirit, p. 15.
2. Bullinger makes the following observation: “Pneuma hagion (without Articles) is never used of the Giver (the Holy Spirit), but only and always of His gift” (E. W. Bullinger, The Companion Bible, (Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1974), Appendix 101, p. 147). We feel Bullinger’s statement is too strong, because we have seen some places where pneuma hagion does not have the article and yet refers to the Giver, such as Matthew 1:18 and 20. However, Bullinger is generally correct, and if there is no article the gift of holy spirit is usually being referred to.
3. W. E. Vine, The Expanded Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis MN, 1984), “gift,” pp. 476 and 477.
4. The words pneuma hagion are clearly referring to God’s gift, which is holy spirit. Because most translators are not aware of this, their versions read, the “Holy Spirit.” When we encounter a verse that reads “Holy Spirit” when it should read “holy spirit,” we will add [holy spirit] to indicate that God’s gift of holy spirit is being referred to. When the translators add the word “the,” such that their translation reads “the Holy Spirit,” we will add [No “the.” Read “holy spirit”].
5. We cover more about the New Birth and how one becomes a Christian in Appendix A, “The Administration of the Sacred Secret.”
6. Thankfully, Bible study tools are readily available and generally quite easy to use today, so that even a non‑Greek reader can see this for himself. There are many Greek Interlinear Bibles available. An interlinear has the Greek text with the English word right above (or sometimes below) the corresponding Greek word. If you want to see this point for yourself, go to a Christian bookstore and open a Greek Interlinear to Acts 2:4 (then purchase it if you do not own one, as it is a wonderful tool for Bible Study). If you do look in a good interlinear, it will say that they were “filled of spirit holy.” The Greeks say “filled of” (using the genitive case), while we English speakers say “filled with.”
7. The Greek word for “gifts” in this verse is doma, which is the Greek word for “gift” that places more emphasis on the concrete character of the gift than on its beneficent nature. Vine, op. cit., Expository Dictionary, “gift,” p. 477. Jesus was not referring to the gift in the Administration of the Sacred Secret (see Appendix A) but as it will be available in his future kingdom.
8. The Greek word “receive” is important, and points to the manifesting of holy spirit. This will be covered later in Chapter 6 when we explain Acts 8:14–17.
9. The New International Version and other versions have the phrase “a Holy Spirit.” Someone looking at a Greek Interlinear or a Greek text may wonder why there is no “a” in the Greek. The answer is that the Greek language has no indefinite article, which is “a.” In Greek, when there is a noun, such as “horse,” it is assumed that it is “a” horse. If it is “the” horse, then a “the” will be in the Greek text.
10. This is also a good verse to show that translating pneuma hagion as “Holy Spirit,” as most versions do, cannot be right. If the Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity distinct from the Father, we would expect the verse to read that the “Father” sent the Holy Spirit, not that “God” gives “His” Holy Spirit, since in Trinitarian doctrine the Holy Spirit is “God,” and thus certainly does not belong to God. However, if the verse is referring to holy spirit, the gift of God, then it makes perfect sense that God gives it and it is called “His” holy spirit.
11. We use the RSV here because it properly refers to the spirit as an “it” in verse 16. The subject of the pronouns associated with holy spirit is covered in Chapter 4.