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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Spirit

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The Hebrew word that in the Old Testament is usually translated ‘spirit’ is ruach. The equivalent New Testament Greek word, also usually translated ‘spirit’, is pneuma. Both ruach and pneuma had very broad meanings. They could mean, among other things, wind (1 Kings 18:45; John 3:8), breath (Genesis 7:15; Genesis 7:22; Acts 9:1), human emotion (Genesis 41:8; Numbers 5:14; John 13:21; Acts 18:25), human understanding (Isaiah 29:24; Mark 2:8), will-power (Jeremiah 51:11; Acts 19:21), human life itself (Genesis 45:27; Luke 8:55) and evil beings of the unseen world (1 Samuel 16:23; Mark 1:23; see UNCLEAN SPIRITS). Both words were also used of God’s Spirit, the living power of God at work (Judges 6:34; Acts 8:39; see HOLY SPIRIT).

Relationship with God

An examination of the usage of ruach in the Old Testament shows that its basic meaning has to do with something unseen and powerful that is full of life or life-giving. The word can be used of God who gives life to all human beings and animals (Job 33:4; Psalms 104:30) and of the life that God gives to all human beings and animals (Genesis 7:15; Genesis 7:22).

According to this usage, ruach might be defined as the ‘life-force’ or ‘breath of life’ that God created. It belongs to him. He gives it to all people and animals for the time of their earthly existence and he takes it back at death (Numbers 16:22; Psalms 104:29; Ecclesiastes 12:7). Pneuma can have a similar meaning in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:9; James 2:26).

However, both ruach and pneuma may be used specifically of the human spirit. That is, they may refer to the human spirit in a way that makes it different from the general life principle that humans share with animals (Proverbs 11:13; Proverbs 15:13; Proverbs 16:2; Proverbs 16:18-19; Proverbs 16:32; 1 Corinthians 2:11; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Peter 3:4; see HUMANITY, HUMANKIND). The New Testament goes further and uses pneuma to refer to that higher aspect of human existence that enables people to communicate with God and have religious experiences (Romans 8:16; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 7:34; Galatians 6:18; Philippians 3:3).

‘Spirit’ may at times be another word for ‘heart’. In such cases it speaks of a person’s whole inner life (Psalms 51:10; Psalms 51:17; Proverbs 16:2; Matthew 5:3; Romans 1:9; Philem 25; see HEART; MIND).

Through sin, the spirit has been corrupted. It is not able to save people from spiritual ruin or bring them eternal life. It is, in a sense, dead, and needs to be born anew through the creative power of the Spirit of God (Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 3:6). This leads, then, to an even more restricted meaning of the word, particularly in the New Testament, where the reference is to the reborn spirit of the person whom God has created anew (Romans 8:10; 1 Corinthians 2:14-15; Ephesians 4:23; see REGENERATION; SOUL).

Life after death

Yet another usage of the word ‘spirit’ is in reference to life after death. When the life of the body comes to an end, people do not cease to exist. Because they are no longer ‘in the body’, they are no longer in the physical world, but they continues to exist in the unseen world. They live on in their spirit (Hebrews 12:23; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 4:6). This kind of existence is only temporary, for human destiny is not to live for ever in a bodiless spirit, but to experience eternal life in a renewed body (1 Corinthians 15:35-54; Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2; see BODY).


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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Spirit'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bbd/s/spirit.html. 2004.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, July 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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