The Holy Ghost or the Holy Spirit?  A case for the King James Version

Randy White

Most people assume that Holy Ghost is simply an antiquated name for the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit is less ghastly than Ghost. In one sense this is true (for modern readers), but in another, there is a real advantage of speaking of the Holy Ghost rather than the Holy Spirit.

Is Ghost too Ghastly?

One of the major reasons people give for dismissing the KJV term Holy Ghost is because ghost sounds too ghastly. And, actually, the English words come from the same family. The Old English word gast meant “breath,” much like the Greek word pneuma (from which we get pneumatic tools). In 1611, there was no more frightening imagery associated with the word ghost than we have today with the word spirit (which can have a positive or negative “vibe”). In fact, the Geneva Bible (1560) the Tyndale Bible (1526) and the Wycliff Bible (1382) all use the word ghost when referring to the Holy Spirit.

But words do change, and ghost has come to be almost exclusively associated with evil spirits or, at best, with the paranormal.

However, don’t be quick to dismiss the KJV because it uses an antiquated or inappropriate word. In fact, the term Holy Spirit was just as accepted in 1611 as Holy Ghost, but the word ghost was selected for a very important reason.

God has a spirit that is holy, and there is a Holy Spirit

What may surprise you is that the KJV uses the term Holy Ghost 90 times (exclusively in the New Testament), but it also uses the term holy Spirit seven times (three in the Old Testament and four in the New Testament). While some have stated that this is just sloppy translation on the part of the KJV translators, such a position would be sloppy research. The KJV translators had a very specific purpose in mind when they sometimes translated pneuma as spirit, and other times a ghost.

It is no surprise to you that God has a spirit, and the “spirit of God” is much different than the “Holy Spirit.” That is, the spirit of God (or spirit of the Lord) is not necessarily the third Person of the Trinity. In the places in which the KJV translators understood the “Holy Spirit” to be the third Person of the Trinity, they used the words Holy Ghost. However, in times in which they determined the “spirit of the Lord,” or they believed there was a shadow of doubt that the reference was to the third Person of the Trinity, they used the word Spirit.

For example, Psalm 51:11 records an event that was much earlier than the Holy Ghost was received, and even prior to promises that He would be given. However, there was an understanding of the Spirit of the Lord from the earliest pages of Scripture. When David was confessing before God, his prayer was, “take not thy holy spirit from me.” The KJV does not capitalize the term. The New King James, following the lead of virtually all modern translations, says, “take not Your Holy Spirit from me,” making the assumption that David was indwelt with the person of the Holy Ghost, a questionable position at best.

In the New Testament, the KJV uses “holy Spirit” (lower case “h” and upper case “S”) in Ephesians 1:13, 4:30, and 1 Thessalonians 4:8. In these verses, the context is the Spirit of God (or of the Father), and the KJV translators determined that this was different from the third Person of the Trinity. In fact, even today we would never hear the words “Holy Ghost of God” or “Holy Ghost of the Father,” and would intuitively know that this would be problematic speech. There is a “spirit of the living God” and a “Holy Ghost,” and we should keep these separate.

The final New Testament use of Spirit is Luke 11:13, where the KJV says, “…how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” At first glance, one would see this as an inconsistency with the KJV pattern. For one, it is the only passage in which “Holy Spirit” is completely capitalized, and thus a clear reference to the Holy Ghost. In addition, this appears to be a reference to the promised sending of the Holy Ghost. Why would the KJV not use the term “Holy Ghost” in this verse? For understanding, a little historical digging proves valuable. First, we see that there is a close reference to the “heavenly Father,” and it appears that the 1611 KJV translators originally viewed this as the Father sending His holy Spirit and not the sending of the Holy Ghost. However, the capitalization of both words indicates the third Person rather than the Father’s spirit. But in the original 1611 version, you will find the capitalization as “holy Spirit,” in the same manner as the other three “Spirit” translations in the New Testament. Only in later editions of the KJV did editors determine that this was more likely a reference to the Holy Spirit than a holy Spirit, and they made a capitalization change but not a word change to show their editorial opinion.

Advantages of the KJV precision

About four years ago, I began to abandon the NASB (which I had used for 25 years) and adopted the KJV. One of the biggest reasons I did this is because I noted a precision in the KJV that simply isn’t available in any other translation. This is an example of that precision. Not all pneuma is the same, and a direct translation may not, in this case, be the most accurate translation.

I am going to “retrain my tongue” to use the term “Holy Ghost” when referring to the third Person of the Trinity, and using the word “spirit” when referring to the “spirit of the Lord.” It is not the first time I have had to work hard to retrain the tongue to rid myself of modern, evangelical pablum (or outright error). You may not choose to follow me in your own references to the third Person of the Trinity, and I won’t be offended. But as for me, I will use the term Holy Ghost.

And, once again, I will rejoice that the Bible is inexhaustible in its treasures!


Randy White is the founder and CEO of Dispensational Publishing House, Inc. He teaches Bible online at and preaches at the Taos (NM) First Baptist Church.