We usually think of ‘spirit’, as in Holy Spirit, as being very New Testament and all to do with Pentecost. However, we need to back-track to the Old Testament where the Hebrew word we have translated as spirit means first of all wind and breath. It is appropriate to think of ‘spirit’ as both wind and breath: both are air and both blow and are invisible. It also refers to the human spirit in the sense of life force and even personal energy. And, again, you can see the logic of the one word being applied because without breath there is no life, no pumping oxygen into the bloodstream and no energy to do things.
Therefore, when you come across the spirit word it can be a phenomenon of nature, often being used by God, but it is also clearly that God is the source of human breath – life – and human energy. Regarding the human dimension spirit can stand for “soul” or “life force”, and even “heart”, which are the centre of the personality, including intelligence and will.
The Hebrew word for spirit refers not simply to the life given to humanity by God. God also is a spirit. God’s spirit came upon the people and empowered them for special service. Prophecy was understood as a sign of the presence God’s spirit. God’s spirit was expected to be poured out in abundance in the future. The ancient Hebrews understood God’s power to be everywhere and yet to be awesome and inspiring, uplifting, moving, magnificent, transcendent. (Don’t overlook though that God could also trouble people with an evil spirit.)
Moving on to the New Testament the Hebrew word translated as spirit is continued in the Greek to mean wind or breath. The Greeks take the meaning a stage further, with echoes to Old Testament, where it can mean the spirit of the ‘inner self’.
NOTE: In both the Old and New Testaments there are references to spirits being evil, or ghosts. The first is understandable in that if the spirit is life, and there is good and evil in life then, the spirit in the world could be either. Regarding ghosts, the word was used to express that feeling of there being somebody present who isn’t physical.
Jesus refers to the spirit. What is referred to as God’s spirit in the Old Testament often is described as the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. You will recall John the Baptist says that the Spirit descended like a dove on Jesus at Jesus’ baptism. But in Luke the event is described as being the Holy Spirit – there’s that word – that descended upon Jesus. At Pentecost God’s spirit, as prophesied in the Old Testament, fills the people with the Holy Spirit.
The difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament is that in the latter God’s spirit is given in a new way. People worshipped/worship God “in spirit”. In the New Testament those people are born of the spirit. The image suggested is that the people have the spirit within them and around them. Its fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; and, are counselled by the spirit. Counselled? Advised by, guided by, given direction, supported, helped, a measure and control of their lives and all by the spirit of God in Christ.
There is then an understanding in this new way of thinking of wholeness because both “spirit”, that is life and living, and “mind”, how we think and are, is not separate parts of self.