What is the Holy Ghost?

Holy Ghost

In the context of any LDS discussion the Holy Ghost is both a physical personage and a force of spiritual power. Very few people attempt to actually explain the discrepancy, however they just admit that the Holy Ghost is needed because God can’t influence us like the Holy Ghost can. There are unexplained limitations on God because, according to LDS belief, he has a body, and the Holy Ghost doesn’t. Again, for unexplained reasons this gives the Holy Ghost the ability to influence people on a spiritual level when God can’t.

LDS Belief

The LDS church makes it very clear as to their beliefs about the Holy Ghost. In the Bible Dictionary, under the heading of “Holy Ghost” it mentions:

The third member of the Godhead and a personage of Spirit, not possessing a body of flesh and bones

Bible Dictionary – “Holy Ghost”

This is based on D&C 130:22, which I have already analyzed in the discussion concerning, “The Character of God“. However, a brief mention about Section 130 is warranted here. D&C 130 was constructed from notes from two scribes. However, one of the scribes was not even present during the speech thus his notes are certainly suspicious. It was also never canonized during Joseph’s life and was never offered as a binding revelation. Yet, Brigham Young chose to canonize it, a year before his death, without a vote of common consent and make it binding on the church. This of course is very problematic if it is not a true revelation from God and was instead just Joseph Smith surmising about things verbally. If it was a true revelation, then why not present it to the church when Joseph had ample opportunity to do so? Also why did Brigham wait for almost 30 years for something supposedly so important as to the nature of the god we worship.

Early Church

In the early church though they had a distinctly different understanding of the Holy Ghost. We can see this most clearly in the Lectures on Faith, specifically Lecture 5 where it clearly states:

How many personages are there in the Godhead?
Two: the Father and the Son.

Do the Father and the Son possess the same mind?
They do.

What is this mind?
The Holy Spirit.

Lecture 5

In Lecture 5 the Godhead is described drastically different from the LDS church understanding today. The Holy Ghost also is never described as a person, but a force that is shared between the Father and the Son. If the Holy Ghost was a person and was specifically male then a lot of Lecture 5 wouldn’t even make sense. The Holy Ghost itself is not even described as part of the Godhead thus further diverting from the modern LDS understanding of God. Thus, it is very hard to see, based on the scriptures available in Joseph’s day, how we have the modern understanding we do today.


In order to gain a greater insight into the Holy Ghost we can look at the scriptures directly. For studies like this I can’t recommend Bible Hub highly enough. It is an invaluable tool for researching the scriptures. Maybe someday I will make something like it for the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. In the Bible though, the phrases “Holy Ghost” and “Holy Spirit” are both used to describe what we would refer to today as the spirit entity component of the LDS description of the Godhead. Since there are two distinct usages it may be convenient to envision two distinct concepts or entities. However, if we look at the actual underlying Greek and Hebrew it becomes much clearer. In the Greek there are two different words that are used for the Holy Ghost. The first is Pneuma which literally translates to “spirit, wind, or breath”. The second is Phantasma which literally translates to “ghost, spirit, or phantom”.

The word for Phantasma is only used twice in the New Testament and all other references are from the word for Pneuma. The two occurrences are from Mark, and Matthew who are describing the account of Jesus walking towards them on the water. In both accounts they describe seeing an entity, they described as a ghost or apparition, approaching them. As mentioned, all other usages in the New Testament are derived from the word for breath or wind. This is even true for the Old Testament which uses a Hebrew word that means the same thing. The Old Testament itself doesn’t even use anything that can be directly translated into the phrase Holy Ghost as all references are the usage for breath or wind. The New Testament does use titles such as comforter to describe the Holy Ghost. However, titles like that are too general to apply directly to a specify entity.

Thus, it is clear that all usages of Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit in the scriptures are derived from the same underlying word and therefore should be used synonymously. There is no difference between them. Today however we have separated them largely based on misunderstandings that have perpetuated over time and the false desire to make the Holy Ghost a unique part of the Godhead. This led to the elevation of the concept and the differentiation of it. New translations of the scriptures use the phrase Holy Spirit instead of arbitrarily deciding between Ghost or Spirit.

This arbitrary separation is quite clear in Acts 16:6-7 where the same word, Pneuma, is used in different ways. The KJV reads the following:

[They] were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia … but the Spirit suffered them not.

Acts 16:6-7

The actual underlying Greek though reads much closer to this:

[They] were forbidden of the Holy Pneuma to preach the word in Asia … but the Pneuma of Jesus suffered them not.

Acts 16:6-7

This exact same word was translated into two distinct forms even though there was no reason to do so. This certainly has led to much confusion today. However, this confusion doesn’t need to be perpetuated any further. The Holy Ghost and the Holy Spirit are the exact same thing.

He vs It

Another major confusion regarding the Holy Ghost is personhood or whether the Holy Ghost has a specific gender. In the English language nouns don’t have a specific gender however in Hebrew and Greek they do. Therefore, when using specific nouns, it is grammatically correct to use the appropriate gender. This gender though doesn’t mean the noun itself has the gender. This is a bit confusing at first for native English speakers.

For instance, in German the word Tisch means table and is masculine. Therefore, when speaking of tables in German you do so using masculine forms. This of course doesn’t mean that tables are people and males. However, when referring to tables in German it is grammatically correct to refer to the table as masculine. Conversely for some reason in German lemonade is referred to in a feminine form. However of course that doesn’t make it a person and a female.

In Hebrew the gender for the word used to refer to the Holy Ghost is feminine while in Greek it is neuter or no gender. In fact both of the Greek words for Holy Ghost, Pneuma and Phantasma are genderless. Therefore, if we wanted to be specific then we would have to conclude that the Jews in the Old Testament believed the Holy Ghost was a woman which we know is not the case. In the book of John, John sometimes refers to the Holy Ghost using a masculine noun which is translated as “Comforter” or “Advocate”. This is where a lot of the confusion originates because the masculine use of “he” when referring to the Holy Ghost like we see in John 16. However, just because the noun gender is masculine that doesn’t mean the noun itself has a gender. The last I checked the wind or breath, which is what the Holy Ghost directly translates from, doesn’t have a gender and certainly isn’t a male.

We also have to keep in mind that the KJV of the Bible was translated more than 1000 years after the idea of the trinity was already decided. Therefore, in the minds of the translators it would be quite natural to refer to a genderless concept like the Holy Ghost with a grammatically incorrect gender. For instance, we can see this in John 16:13-14 where it is translated into English in a grammatically incorrect way according to the actual Greek text. However, the translators of the bible did use the correct neuter gender in several places like Romans 8:26 where the Holy Ghost is referred to as “itself” instead of “himself”. It is important to realize that for a very long time saying anything contrary to the trinity would get you killed, therefore it is natural to expect this concept in all translations of the time.

Gift of the Holy Ghost

Another confusion in the Gospel is that of the gift of the Holy Ghost. In the church today, we are taught that the gift of the Holy Ghost is given immediately after baptism, and it allows us closer access to the Holy Ghost based on our individual righteousness. It is actually a special gift to members of the church only. We can see though that the gift of the Holy Ghost is synonymous with the baptism of fire the scriptures speak of. They are identical and certainly not given to 8 year old children automatically after baptism.

D&C 20 while speaking of the duties of apostles mentions their duty is:

To confirm those who are baptized into the church, by the laying on of hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, according to the scriptures;

D&C 20:41

In another instance, God is speaking to two people who just had joined the early church and called them to missionary service by stating:

And whoso having faith you shall confirm in my church, by the laying on of the hands, and I will bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost upon them.

D&C 33:15

Those passages taken together seem to suggest that when someone receives the Holy Ghost then they are receiving the baptism of fire as mentioned in many other sections of the scriptures. Receiving one is receiving the other. This also seems to be the pattern in the Book of Mormon. Nephi while speaking of the need of baptism mentions:

Yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.

2 Nephi 31:13

According to the scriptures, it seems that after baptism then individuals should also be receiving their baptism of fire with its associated manifestations of spiritual power. I have been to many LDS baptisms and have never seen this once. I have never even heard of it happening even though rumors spread like fire throughout the church. LDS baptisms are frankly a little boring and never have any manifestations of the power of God. We can contrast this with baptisms during the early church where these amazing manifestations were present, and people did immediately speak in tongues and prophecy.

Scripturally we can also see that in Acts 10 our understanding of the Holy Ghost further deviates from the traditional teachings of the church. While Peter was speaking to a group of gentiles, Acts 10 mentions the following:

While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.

Acts 10:44-46

Thus, we can see that even before baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost can be given to individuals, and it most certainly wasn’t limited only to official members of the church. However, again it was associated with divine manifestations of God’s power. Today the LDS church says that it can only be given to individuals that are members of the church and it is not associated with any manifestations of God. Thus, we would expect even today that the Holy Ghost is manifested in any group of people that are exercising faith in God appropriately. I struggle to understand how an 8-year-old in the LDS church is somehow more blessed than someone who may have lived their whole lives exercising extreme faith in God.

This is also evident in Mark 9:38-40, where the disciples are very worried about others that have been going around doing miracles in the name of Christ, however they weren’t among the twelve apostles. Christ mentioned to the apostles that they shouldn’t worry about that because anyone that can do miracles in the name of Christ were in fact of Christ. They didn’t need to have any kind of official identification badge. Today however this is completely rejected by the modern Mormon church, and we are taught that things like the gift of the Holy Ghost are only present through official channels of the LDS church. Many have incredibly high levels of faith, far beyond my own, and I seriously don’t think God would reject their prayers because of their lack of affiliation to a certain religious group.


Almost all of our misunderstanding today concerning the Holy Ghost is based on false traditions that have been carried over. For instance, the confusion between the Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit when they are in fact the same thing and the confusion between the gift of the Holy Ghost and the baptism of fire when they are also the same thing. This confusion didn’t need to happen however generations of traditions are incredibly difficult to break.

The personage of the Holy Ghost has also been a tradition that has deeply been engrained in Christianity. No where in the scriptures does it specifically refer to the Holy Ghost as a person or even as a male, yet this assumption has been carried over and repeated countless times. This misunderstanding has also been perpetuated by people that don’t understand the nature of human language. Errors that have crept into the English translation of the scriptures have been assumed to be truth when in fact they can easily be shown to be wrong in the source language of the text.

It is clear to me that the Holy Ghost is the mind of God as mentioned in Lecture 5. It is the connective force that binds us all together and is in fact our connection to God. The Holy Ghost is not a specific unembodied person that upon completion of their task will be born a mortal. This concept actually doesn’t even make any sense when you think about it. Is God limited in what he can do that he needs the Holy Ghost as a spiritual helper? Who is going to birth the Holy Ghost and when? What will happen when the Holy Ghost has a body? Will we no longer be connected to God spiritually? If the Holy Ghost got a body and was baptized, then how would the Holy Ghost receive the Holy Ghost?

Many will say things like this don’t really matter. However, it is only through a correct understanding of God and revealed truth that we can exercise faith in him. We must work tirelessly to restore our understanding of God and more fully come to him. Being deceived in such a critical thing, like our concept of God, is a fundamental misstep that we can’t afford to make when things are so important to get correct. If this understanding of God was good enough for the Kirtland era church to receive their amazing manifestations, then why has our supposed better understand today yielded so much less?

Author: Patrick