A Closer Look:
6 Spirit

By Joel Heller

When we see the word “spirit” in English versions of the Bible, there is a tendency to capitalize it and think The Holy Spirit. While that is a frequent meaning, there are other possibilities. When John says, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world,”1 we see that there are some spirits which are not holy.

The words translated spirit, ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek primarily mean “wind.” Wind is an invisible force. We can’t see it, but we feel its presence. Mechanics use pneumatic tools, powered by compressed air, which in a sense is canned wind.

There are no words which have only a spiritual meaning. In order to communicate with each other about spiritual things, we need words to refer to things in our common, shared, physical reality. Even the English word spirit comes from a Latin word, spiritus, which also means wind or breath.

The words translated as “soul” in English are nefesh and neshama in Hebrew and psyche in Greek mean breath-life. When “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground,” He breathed into his nostrils the neshama of life and the adam became a living nefesh.2 It doesn’t say that God formed the body of Adam from the dust. It says He formed “the man” from the dust. The man is not a soul that lives in a body; he is not a body that has a soul. The man is a body and is a soul. In popular usage, soul and spirit are sometimes used interchangeably. But the writer of Hebrews tells us that the word of God distinguishes between the two.3 They are not quite synonymous.

Spirit can have several meanings. God is a spirit (John 4:24), and God is holy. God is The Holy Spirit. The new birth spirit is also holy, so the new birth is the gift of holy spirit. Angels are spirit beings and they are holy, so angels are holy spirits. Though there are many holy spirits, only God the Father is The Holy Spirit in the sense that while there may be several people named Johnny Depp, only the actor who played the pirate captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean is called The Johnny Depp.

We read that “the letter [of the law] kills, but the spirit [of the law] gives life.” In our Common Law tradition, prohibitions are to be interpreted narrowly and permissions are to be interpreted broadly. That is the “spirit” of the secular law. Similarly, the work of healing on the Sabbath comes under a broad category of “saving a life,”4 and therefore takes precedence over Sabbath restrictions.5 That is the spirit of the Sabbath law.

Paul tells us: “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.”6 The “last Adam” is of course Yeshua. When Paul writes to Timothy, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits. . .,”7 Which Spirit does he mean? Is he talking about the Father Who is spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth? Or is he talking about Yeshua, the Last Adam, who was made a life-giving spirit? Or, perhaps was it YHVH’s Angel who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, and to Mary to announce her pregnancy. “Angel” is translated from the Greek aggelos or the Hebrew malach, both of which mean “messenger.”

I don’t know the answer to that question. But which “spirit” is speaking will not change the content or meaning of the message, since Yeshua only speaks what the Father tells him, and the faithful messenger spirits repeat exactly the message they were given.


1 1 John 4:1.
Genesis 2:7.
3 Heb 4:12.
4 2 Cor 3:6.
5 Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9.
6 1Cor 15:45.
7 1 Tim 4:1.

Joel Heller Profile Picture

Joel Heller is the author of Neither Yavne nor Antioch: Recovering Nazarean Judaism. He is a retired member of the Kansas Bar. In place of traditional Protestant presuppositions, he brings the common-law principles of legal interpretation to the interpretation of God’s Law, called the Torah or Nomos. You can reach him by email.