The Holy Spirit in the New Testament by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
A) Introduction: The ancient Greek word πνεῦμα/pneuma has a variety of meanings and translations: wind, breath, ghost, spirit.
The English adjective "pneumatic" and other words that are derived from πνεῦμα all have something to do with "air" or "spirit" or "lungs": pneumatic drills/pumps/tools (operated by air pressure); pneumatic tires (filled with air); pneumonia (a disease of the lungs); pneumatology (the study of spiritual beings or phenomena), etc.
The related Greek adjective ("spiritual") and adverb ("spiritually") do not occur in the Gospels or Acts, but mostly in Paul's Letters.
The related verb πνέω / pneō("to blow") always refers to the wind, while the verb ἐκπνέω / ekpneō ("to breathe out") is used in the NT only of Jesus' death: "he breathed his last" (Mark 15:37-39; Luke 23:46).
spirit, breath, wind
Spirit of the Lord
πνεῦμα [τοῦ] θεοῦ
Spirit of God
Spirit of Christ
πνέω + ὑποπνέω
to blow + blow gently
to breathe out
B) Various Meanings of pneuma in the New Testament:
Spirit of (our) God, Spirit of the Living God,
Spirit of the Lord, Spirit of your Father, Spirit of Him who raised Jesus
from the dead
Spirit of His Son, Spirit of Jesus, Spirit of Christ, Spirit
of Jesus Christ
Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit of God, Spirit that is from
God, Spirit of Truth, eternal Spirit
Seven spirits of God (only in Rev 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6)
Evil spirit, unclean spirit, demonic spirit, foul
spirit, spirit of an unclean demon, spirit of cowardice, spirit of divination,
spirit of error, spirit of slavery, spirit of the antichrist, spirit of the
world, sluggish spirit
Something human, but coming from God:
Spirit of adoption, spirit
of faith, spirit of gentleness, spirit of glory, spirit of grace, spirit of
holiness, spirit of life, spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline,
spirit of prophecy, spirit of wisdom and revelation, spirit of your minds,
spirits of the prophets, spirits of the righteous, spirit of Elijah
Something in nature:
air, wind, breath
C) The Holy Spirit (and other spirits) in the Gospel according to MARK:
John the Baptist preaches to the crowds about the one coming after him: “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8).
The Evangelist describes what happens after Jesus' baptism: “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. / And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” / And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:10-12).
The Evangelist twice refers to the "spirit" of Jesus: “At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves...” (Mark 2:8);
“And he sighed deeply in his spiritand said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation’ ” (Mark 8:12).
Jesus preaches to the crowds: “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:28-29).
Jesus questions the crowds about the authorities: “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? / David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet' ’ ” (Mark 12:35-36).
Jesus teaches his disciples: “When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11).
Finally, Jesus contrasts spirit and flesh, as he challenges Peter at Gethsemane: “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).
D) The Holy Spirit (and other spirits) in the Gospel according to MATTHEW:
The Evangelist describes the birth of Jesus: “When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. / Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. / But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:18b-20).
John the Baptist preaches to the crowds: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt 3:11; cf. Mark 1:8).
The Evangelist describes what happens after Jesus' baptism: “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. / And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” / Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt 3:16-17; 4:1; cf. Mark 1:10-11).
The first Beatitude of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3).
Evil spirits or "unclean spirits" are sometimes mentioned in Matthew's Gospel (8:16; 10:1; 12:43, 45), but much less frequently than in Mark.
Jesus tells his disciples not to worry about how to defend themselves if they are persecuted: “...for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (10:20)
Jesus quotes from the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles” (Matt 12:18; citing Isa 42:1).
Jesus challenges those who accuse him of using evil powers: “If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. / But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. // Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt 12:27-28, 31-32; cf. Mark 3:28-29).
Jesus questions the Pharisees about how the Messiah is related to King David: “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord...?” (Matt 22:43; cf. Mark 12:35-36).
As in Mark's Gospel, Matthew's Jesus also challenges Peter at Gethsemane: “Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt 26:41; cf. Mark 14:38).
The risen Jesus commissions his disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19).
E) The Holy Spirit (and other spirits) in the Gospel according to LUKE:
The angel Gabriel says of John the Baptist: "Even before his birth, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit" (Luke 1:15); he will act "with the spirit and power of [the prophet] Elijah" (1:17); later, the child grows and becomes "strong in spirit" (1:80).
Gabriel tells Mary how she will conceive Jesus: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (1:35).
When Mary visits her pregnant older cousin, Elizabeth is "filled with the Holy Spirit" (1:41).
In her song of praise (the Magnificat), Mary proclaims, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (1:46-47).
After the birth of John the Baptist, his father Zechariah is "filled with the Holy Spirit" and utters a prophecy (1:67).
In Jerusalem, "the Holy Spirit rested on" a righteous man named Simeon (2:25); the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before seeing the Messiah (2:26); so one day, the Spirit guides Simeon to the Temple, where he encounters the infant Jesus and his parents (2:27).
John the Baptist distinguishes between himself and Jesus: "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (3:16).
After Jesus is baptized, "the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove" (3:22).
Before beginning his public ministry, "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness" (4:1), where he is tempted by the devil.
After withstanding the devil's temptations in the desert, Jesus returns to Galilee "filled with the power of the Spirit" (4:14).
In the synagogue at Nazareth, his hometown, Jesus reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor" (4:18); after finishing the reading, Jesus declares, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (4:21), implying that he is indeed the Messiah, enlivened by God's Spirit.
In his public ministry, Jesus casts many "unclean spirits" and "evil spirits" out of various people (4:33, 36; 6:18; 7:21; 8:2; 8:29; 9:39, 42; 10:20; 11:24, 26; 13:11).
Soon after the seventy disciples return from their mission, Jesus "rejoiced in the Holy Spirit" and thanks God for hiding things from the wise but revealing them to infants (10:21).
While teaching his disciples about prayer, Jesus says, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (11:13).
In response to criticism from his opponents, Jesus tells his disciples, "Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven" (12:10).
Jesus tells his disciples not to worry if they are arrested or put on trial, "for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say" (12:12).
As Jesus is dying on the cross, he utters his final words: "Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.' Having said this, he breathed his last (Gk: exepneusen)" (23:46).
When the resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples, they are at first afraid, thinking that they were seeing a ghost/spirit (24:37); but Jesus assures them that he is not merely a ghost/spirit, but can be seen and touched, since he has flesh and bones (24:39).
F) The Holy Spirit (and other spirits) in the Gospel according to JOHN:
Just as in Luke's Gospel, the Spirit of God inspires and guides most of the action
within the Acts of the Apostles. Some scholars even suggest that this book
should be named "The Acts of the Holy Spirit":
Jesus instructs the apostles "through the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:2).
The first disciples are "baptized with the Holy Spirit" at Pentecost
(1:5, 8; 2:1-4; 11:15-16).
The apostles are "full of" or "filled with" the Holy Spirit,
esp. when they preach (1:8; 2:4; 4:8, 31; 11:24; 13:9, 52).
Similarly, the Holy Spirit spoke through King David and the prophets in ancient
Israel (1:16; 4:25; 28:25).
God "will pour out" his Spirit on all people and all nations in the
last days (2:17-18, 33; 10:45).
Believers, including Gentiles, receive the Holy Spirit when they repent and are
baptized (2:38; 15:8; 19:5-6).
Sometimes the reception of the Holy Spirit even precedes baptism (10:44-48).
Some people "test" or "lie to" or "oppose" the
Holy Spirit, with dire consequences (5:1-11; 7:51).
Deacons and other ministers must also be "full of the Spirit" (6:1-6),
esp. when they prophesy (6:10; 7:55-59; 11:28; 21:4).
The Spirit is conferred through the "laying on of hands" (8:17-19;
The Spirit "speaks to" the apostles and prophets (8:29; 10:19; 11:12;
The Spirit leads and guides the decisions and actions of the Christian leaders
(15:28; 16:6-7; 19:21; 20:22-23).
H) The Holy Spirit in the Pauline Letters:
Since Luke was almost certainly a companion of the apostle Paul, it is not surprising but noteworthy how important the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, and spiritual gifts also are in the Letters of Paul. The Spirit of God does several different but interrelated things, in Pauling thought:
God’s Spirit dwells in believers, making us adopted Children of God:
1 Thess 1:4-7 – “For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”
Romans 5:3-5 – “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Galatians 4:4-7 – “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” [See also the very similar and more extensive text in Romans 8:1-17]
God’s Spirit helps us to pray, and to understand God’s ways:
Rom 8:26-28 – “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
1 Cor 2:10-16 – “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God's except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. 14 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God's Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else's scrutiny. 16 "For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.”
We are the “Temple” of God’s Spirit:
1 Cor 3:16-17 – “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
1 Cor 6:19-20 – “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”
God’s Spirit provides a diversity of gifts, but unity in the community, the Body of Christ:
1 Cor 12:1-13 – “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there arevarieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there arevarieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same Godwho activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
1 Cor 14:1-19 – “Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy. 2 For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church... 12 So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church…”
Paul contrasts the “Works of the Flesh” with the “Fruit of the Spirit”:
Gal 5:13-26 – “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."… 16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh… 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious… 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things…” (The Vulgate Bible adds goodness, modesty, and chastity, for a total of twelve; see also Rom 13:8-14).
I) The Holy Spirit (and other spirits) in the rest of the New Testament:
The Letter to the Hebrews:
In the first chapter, angels are twice referred to as “spirits” or “winds” (Heb 1:7, 14).
God testifies by signs, wonders, and miracles, “and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will” (2:4).
Several quotations from Old Testament prophets are said to be words of the Holy Spirit (Heb 3:7, citing Ps 95:7-11; Heb 9:8, alluding to Lev 16:1-14; and Heb 10:15, citing Jer 31:33-34).
The word of God is described as a two-edged sword that “divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow” (Heb 4:12).
Believers are described as “those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, / and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Heb 6:4-5).
Believers are brought to worship the living God through the blood of Christ, “who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God” (Heb 9:14).
Former believers are described as “those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29).
God is once referred to as “the Father of spirits” (Heb 12:9).
Finally, “the assembly of the firstborn” in heaven are also called “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb 12:23).
The Catholic Epistles:
James 2:26 – For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.
James 4:5 – Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?
1 Peter 1:2 – who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in abundance.
1 Peter 1:10-12 – Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, / inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. / It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things into which angels long to look!
1 Peter 2:5 – like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 3:4 – rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.
1 Peter 3:18-19 – For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, / in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison,
1 Peter 4:6 – For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.
1 Peter 4:14 – If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
2 Peter 1:21 – because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
1 John 3:24 – All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
1 John 4:1-3 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. / By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, / and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.
1 John 4:6 – We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
1 John 4:13 – By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
1 John 5:6 – This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. / There are three that testify: / the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree.
Jude 19-20 – It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. / But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit;
The Book of Revelation:
Rev 1:4 – John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,
Rev 1:10 – I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet
Rev 2:7a – “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” [identical phrase used seven times: also in 2:11a, 17a, 29; 3:6, 13, 22)
Rev 3:1 – “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead.
Rev 4:2 – At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne!
Rev 4:5 – Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God;
Rev 5:6 – Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
Rev 11:11 – But after the three and a half days, the breath [lit. spirit] of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and those who saw them were terrified.
Rev 13:15 – and it [the second beast] was allowed to give breath [lit. spirit] to the image of the [first] beast so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.
Rev 14:13 – And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”
Rev 16:13-14 – And I saw three foul spirits like frogs coming from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet. / These are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.
Rev 17:3 – So he carried me away in the spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns.
Rev 18:2 – He called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons [spirits], a haunt of every foul and hateful bird, a haunt of every foul and hateful beast.”
Rev 19:10 – Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
Rev 21:10 – And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
Rev 22:6 – And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”
Rev 22:17 – The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.