The Powers of God's Holy Spirit
The words that many Bibles translate as 'Spirit' or 'Ghost' are Ruach (in Hebrew) and Pneuma (in Greek), and both words mean (and should be translated as) Breath or Wind. However, the Bible also occasionally uses these words to mean a person's attitude or leaning, where the words breath and wind would make no sense in English; so in such places we have left it translated into the Latin word for Breath, Spirit (spiritu). Therefore, the words, 'God's Holy Spirit' can also be translated as, 'God's Holy Breath,' or 'God's Holy Wind.'
What is God's Breath? We simply don't know, because the Bible tells us so little about it. Yet, some have concluded that it is one of the personalities of God as part of 'the Holy Trinity.' They have drawn this conclusion from the fact that the Breath is often referred to in the Bible with the personal pronoun he. Yet the fact that God's Breath is mentioned so many times and is never mentioned in conjunction with God and Jesus together (except for one instance in Matthew 28, which appears to be a spurious addition to the Bible), makes such a conclusion presumptuous.
Notice what Peter said about Jesus and God's Breath at Acts 2:32, 33: 'Now this Jesus has been resurrected by God (to which we are all witnesses), and he was elevated to God's right hand, where he received the Holy Breath that the Father had promised. And he's the one who has poured out all of this that you're seeing and hearing!'
As you can see, Jesus wasn't part of the personality of God's Holy Breath. Rather, it was something that he received from God and then he poured it out on his Apostles on Pentecost of 33 CE. Therefore, God's Breath likely refers to God's (or possibly sometimes even Jesus') power (for more information on the Trinity and similar doctrines, see the linked document, Who Was Jesus?).
We have often heard it said that God used His Breath to create the heavens and the earth. However, there are no scriptures to back up such a claim. The Bible does tell us at Genesis 1:2 that 'God's Breath' moved over the earth's waters. However, it doesn't thereafter speak of the Breath as having anything to do with creation. People may prefer to believe this, because it is likely easier to think that the universe came about through some mysterious 'hocus-pocus' rather than by the actual act of creating something. But notice that the Apostle John wrote (at John 1:2, 3) that Jesus was the one who brought it all into existence. For it says there, 'This one was with The God in the beginning, and through him it all came to be.'
Of course, the Bible also speaks of another type of 'breath' or 'spirit,' the 'breath of life.' Notice that this came from God too, and that it may be a function or the result of His Holy Breath. For notice what God said at Genesis 6:3 (when He was talking about the unrighteous people who lived before the Downpour): 'There's no way that My Breath will stay with these men. They're [just] flesh, so their [lives] will last just one hundred and twenty [more] years.'
So apparently it is God's Breath that allows us to live.
Throughout the Bible, we read of how God used His Breath to give special powers to many of His servants down through the ages. And although this Breath apparently imparted superhuman powers to those individuals, its most important use was in creating the Bible itself. For we read at 2 Timothy 3:16, 17: 'All the Scriptures are inspired by God and are good for teaching, for correcting, for setting things straight, and for providing righteous discipline. They qualify a man of God and provide him with whatever he needs to do every sort of good work.'
Although the Greek word pneuma (Spirit or Breath) wasn't used in the above scripture, note that it is part of the related word TheoPneustos, or God Breathed, which we have translated as inspired by God. Translating pneustos as inspired is particularly appropriate, since the word in/spired means, breathed in. So anytime we refer to a particular work, person, or act as inspired, we are really implying that it came from the Breath of God.
The Bible tells us that many of the ancient Hebrew Judges or Prophets were given a special portion of God's Breath and were able to perform great things as the result. And although the Bible doesn't actually say that other faithful men received it; it was surely the source of the powerful things that they did.
The first person actually mentioned in the Bible as having received God's Breath was the faithful man JoSeph (the son of Jacob). His ability to interpret dreams was mentioned by the PharaOh of Egypt as making him a man who had 'the Breath of God' (Genesis 41:38). Also, God Himself said that He had filled the men who took the lead in building His Tent in the desert (along with all its clothing and utensils) with His Breath (at Exodus 31:3).
Thereafter, Moses referred to Joshua as 'a man who has God's Breath' at Numbers 27:18. But even the evil Prophet BalaAm was said to have received it (at Numbers 23:6).
We next read of men who had God's Breath when the Bible speaks of the special powers that the Judges of IsraEl (such as Gideon, JephThah, and Sampson) received. And of course, the faithful Prophets of IsraEl and Judah, as well as some of the kings, spoke prophecies by the powers of God's Breath.
So as you can see, the powers of God's Breath didn't just arrive on Pentecost of 33-CE.
At Joel 2:28-31, we read that God's Breath was going to be poured out on many people in 'the last days.' For there, God said:
'In the last days, I will pour out My Breath,
And Your sons and daughters will all prophesy,
Your aged men will dream dreams,
And young men in your midst, will see visions.
In those days, I'll pour out My Breath,
Upon My male and female attendants.
Miracles, I'll create in the sky╔
I'll bring fire, blood, and smoke to the earth.
The sun will convert into darkness,
And the moon [will be changed] into blood,
Before the great and apparent,
Coming of the Day of the Lord.'
Now, admittedly, the particular version of the Greek Septuagint version that we are using to translate this Bible doesn't say, 'In the last days.' Rather, it says: 'And afterward it shall come to pass.' We have translated it as saying 'in the last days,' because the Bible that Peter quoted on the day of Pentecost 33-CE read: 'In the last days, I will pour out some of my Breath on all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy.' For since his version of the Septuagint was surely older, we will trust it.
As you can see, Peter used this prophecy of Joel to explain the miraculous things that started happening to Christians during and after the day of Pentecost, 33-CE. Therefore, it is obvious that he considered that period when these things happened as being 'the last days.' Why? Because they were the last days of the City of Jerusalem. For thereafter, the Roman army destroyed it (in 70-CE).
So, how did God's Breath manifest itself back in the First Century? Well (as the Bible account tells us), it arrived as a stiff breeze that blew into the place where the Apostles were, and then flames of fire appeared over their heads╔ and they started miraculously 'speaking in tongues' (other languages). Was this just incoherent babbling? No, for notice that the people who were there and who came from all around the then-known world recognized what was being said. For the account at Acts 2:8 tells us that they asked: 'So, how is it that we are each hearing our own native languages being spoken?'
It is interesting that this particular manifestation of Holy Breath was different from that which the Apostles had already received from Jesus; for at Matthew 10:8 we are told that they could already 'cure sick people, raise the dead, make lepers clean, and throw out demons.' So this appears to have been something that was very different from the earlier manifestations of God's Breath, and the Bible doesn't explain what these differences were.
However, notice that the gift of speaking in tongues had a practical purpose in the First Century, for it helped early Christians to speak to people throughout the world and spread the good news in their own native tongues. Yet, that was just the beginning of the manifestation of God's Breath; for thereafter (apparently), all Christians were baptized in Holy Breath and received its Gifts, which according to the book of Acts, seems to have primarily manifested itself in the form of seeing visions, speaking prophecies, and receiving special instructions.
So, was the Holy Breath that arrived on Pentecost a person, as some claim? Well, it is referred to in the Bible using the personal pronoun, he, so we don't know. What we do know is that it was something different from the Holy Breath that gave powers to faithful men earlier, and that it was given a title, 'the Advocate'
It was Paul who later explained all the ways that the Gifts of God's Breath were manifesting themselves in the Christian Congregations, and he listed them in the order of importance at 1 Corinthians 12:28. There he wrote: 'First are the Apostles, second the Prophets, third the teachers; then come [those with] powerful works, the gifts of healing, helpful services, abilities to direct, [and those who speak] different languages.'
So as you can see; the Gifts of God's Breath were manifested in many different ways, some of which may not be clear to us today. And not everyone had the same gifts, for Paul went on to say at 1 Corinthians 12:29-31: 'Not all are Apostles, are they? Not all are Prophets, are they? Not all are teachers, are they? Not all perform powerful works, do they? Not all have the gift of healing, do they? Not all speak in different languages, do they? Not all are translators, are they? However, zealously keep seeking the greater gifts.'
Then if you go on to read the rest of what Paul wrote (in 1 Corinthians 28, 29), you can see that he definitely discouraged speaking in tongues at congregation meetings, and he placed speaking in tongues as the least of the gifts of God's Breath. Why? Well, it seems as though many were just speaking out and babbling incoherently at their gatherings, disrupting more serious matters or manifestations of the Breath. And this could definitely be controlled, since Paul instructed them to control it.
But an important point to note here is that the early Christians were encouraged to pray for the greater gifts.
As we pointed out earlier; even before Pentecost of 33-CE, the Apostles (in particular) had already demonstrated that they had God's Breath in astounding ways. So since they already had the power to cast out demons and to heal miraculously; what special powers did they receive at that time? Well, it could be that this is when they were given the added gift of prophesying (to fulfill the prophecy of Joel).
It is noteworthy that we no longer read of Christians manifesting the Gifts of God's Breath after the First Century. So it appears as though, after the deaths of all the Apostles, the Gifts just stopped. Why? Well, perhaps Paul's words found at 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 can shed some light on the matter. For there we read: 'However, the [gift of] prophesying will be done away with, the [gift of] speaking in [foreign] languages will stop, and the [gift of miraculous] knowledge will be done away with. Because, now we only have partial knowledge and we only prophesy partially. But when the perfect thing arrives, the partial thing will be done away with.'
And what was 'the perfect thing' that was to come? He went on to explain (at 1 Corinthians 13:11-13): 'When I was a baby, I used to talk like a baby, think like a baby, and reason like a baby. But now that I've become a man, I'm finished with baby's things. Likewise, what we see today is like looking into a metal mirror; but then it will be face to face. And now I only understand partially; but then I will have a complete understanding and I will be completely understood! So only these three things will remain: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love..'
As you can see, Paul was saying that the Gifts were traits of the infancy of the Christian Congregation, and that when it grew into 'a man,' or once faith, hope, and love have matured, the Gifts would no longer be necessary.
However, it also seems significant to us that the Bible tells of how The Holy 'Spirit' didn't come to Christians automatically just because they were praying for it or because they were living Christian lives. Note, for example, that the Christians in Samaria didn't receive it until the Apostles Peter and John were sent there to lay their hand on them. So could it be that receiving the 'Advocate' isn't possible today because we have no such Apostles left to pass it on by the laying-on of their hands? Possibly.
Then can we say that no one has God's Holy Breath today and that it is just ancient history? Notice that we read at Ephesians 6:17, 18: 'Also, accept the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, God's Word. Pray in every way and always keep begging [God]. Pray at all times in the Breath [of God] and stay awake╔ don't give up!'
As you can see, the first ways that we come into direct contact with God's Breath is when we read His Word (the Bible) and when we pray to Him. All who study the Bible itself and offer earnest heart-felt prayers to God probably understand this feeling. But remember that only the Bible is the Word of God, not men's commentaries (such as this) or sermons. For regardless of what some people may claim, humans make mistakes and draw many wrong conclusions.
Yet, notice that this type of Holy Breath doesn't seem to be the same as the Advocate that Jesus sent to the congregations back in the First Century. Rather, it appears to be the type of Holy Breath that all faithful humans who've put their trust in the only True God have received since mankind was put on the earth.
Then, what about those who claim to have the Gifts of God's Breath to heal people who are sick or to speak in tongues today? For those who don't believe, it's easy to fall into the trap of calling them fakes, or saying that their powers come from BeelZebub (the Devil). However, we want to be cautious about saying such things, for this is exactly what they said about Jesus (at Matthew 12:24): 'On hearing this, the Pharisees said, He's throwing out demons by [the power of] BeelZebub, the ruler of the demons!'
Notice that Jesus gave this warning to those Pharisees (at Matthew 12,21, 22): 'I'm telling you that men can be forgiven for every type of sin and blasphemy except blasphemy against [God's] Breath╔ that won't be forgiven. If someone speaks against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven. But if someone speaks against [God's] Holy Breath, he won't be forgiven╔ no, not in this era or in the one to come.'
As you can see, making such strong judgments about things that we don't understand is a very serious matter in God's eyes. So while we don't want to be gullible, we should be very sure before we speak.
Yet, fakes have been proven to exist, so we wouldn't want to follow in those paths either╔ for remember that the magicians in Egypt were able to duplicate many of Moses' miracles.
The question of whether the prophecy of JoEl is in fact being fulfilled today is quite hotly debated among many Christian faiths, as more and more are claiming those special abilities, especially the gift of 'speaking in tongues.' And Joel's prophecy (if you accept its wording as Peter quoted it on Pentecost) did say that God would pour out His Breath in the last days (gr. tas hemera eschata).
On the other hand, some religions teach that receiving those gifts of the Spirit was something that was only to happen back in the First Century, and that the words in Joel about 'the last days' were just talking about the last days of Jerusalem, not about something that would happen in our time. But then, such ones often quote 2 Timothy 3:1 ('Recognize that the last days will bring fierce times') and just apply it to our time, not to the then-coming destruction of Jerusalem, and they can't have it both ways. So we would assume that all prophecies about 'the last days' (including the one in Joel) will also have a modern fulfillment. For more discussion on the prophecy of Joel and the last days, see the linked document, 'The Last Days.'
However, remember that modern copies of the Septuagint don't say, 'in the last days.' And in fact, our favorite Hebrew text doesn't say it either. It simply starts out with the words, 'And afterward.' Yet, note that the words in Joel about the sun being darkened sound strikingly similar to Jesus' words about the last days at Matthew 24:29, which say: 'In the days immediately following that time of difficulty, the sun will grow dark, the moon won't put out light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the Heavens will be shaken.'
Also, notice what God foretold at Joel 3:14:
'[Cries] will resound through the valley,
Where they are about to be punished;
For the Day of the Lord is at hand!
The fact that God (in Joel) referred to these things as happening 'in the day of the Lord,' could mean that He was talking about some day that is
yet in the future when He said (at Joel 2:28):
'In the last days, I'll pour out My Breath,
And Your sons and daughters will all prophesy;
Your aged men will dream dreams,
And young men in your midst will see visions.'
Probably the most common of the 'Gifts' of God's Breath that people claim to have today, is the ability to speak in tongues. But did you notice that this gift wasn't mentioned in Joel's prophecy? And as we pointed out earlier, Paul didn't seem to think too much of this particular Gift, because he wrote at 1 Corinthians 14:2-5: 'For those who speak in tongues aren't talking to men but to God, since nobody else is listening╔ so by the Spirit they're speaking mysteries. On the other hand, those who prophesy build up, encourage, and bring comfort to others. So while the one who speaks in a tongues builds himself up, the one who prophesies builds up [the whole] congregation. Therefore, although I would like all of you to [be able to] speak in tongues, I would prefer that you prophesy, because the one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues╔ that is, unless he also translates so the whole congregation can be built up'
As you can see, speaking in tongues was discouraged in the congregation because it doesn't build up those who hear it. Rather, Paul encouraged Christians to work toward the gift of Prophesying. And we doubt that this gift was considered to be the same as when someone was just talking about his or her particular beliefs. Nor do we believe (as some teach) that it's just speaking of prophecies that are already written in the Bible, for if this is so, then any such ones who have misinterpreted the meaning of a scripture have thereafter proven themselves to be false prophets. The fact is, we don't know how this Gift actually works out, but we are sure that we will recognize it if and when we should actually see it.
From the scriptures quoted above, we can clearly see that if we want to have God's Breath affecting our lives, we must study the Bible and pray regularly.
However, it seems as though even more is required. For if we aren't seriously trying to please God by searching for Him and by living a Christian life, what can we expect from Him?
As Jesus said (at Matthew 7:13, 14):
'So when you enter, go in through the gate that is narrow,
For the road to destruction is both broad and wide,
And that's where most people are going.
But the gateway to life is narrow and tight,
And few are those who can find it.'
So most of all; after we have done all the rest, we should pray for God's Spirit or Breath╔ pray for more of it! Should we pray for the Gift of Prophesying? If we believe that Joel's prophecy applies to our day, then yes we should╔ regularly. Do you already have the Gift of speaking in tongues? Then you should pray for the greater gift. Do you already have all the gifts? Then pray for love, for none of us have perfected it yet.
And probably most importantly; Remember the purpose that God's Breath is to serve in us. It should never be used to glorify us or to make us rich, because it comes from God and it should glorify God. It doesn't prove who or what we are, but the power and glory of God.
Also, the Bible teaches us that when we do spiritual things so as to gain a reward for ourselves, that's the only reward we will receive. Notice what Jesus said at Matthew 6:1, 2: 'Be careful not to practice your righteousness before other men so that they can see what you're doing; for then you will receive no reward from your Father in heaven. And when you're giving gifts to the needy, don't blow a trumpet in the synagogue or on the streets like the hypocrites do so they can be praised by the people. I tell you the truth; when they do this, they've received their reward in full measure.'
There was once a man who tried to use the Breath of God to enhance his own prestige and wealth, so he tried to buy it. Luke told us about it at Acts 8:18-21, where we read: 'Now, when Simon saw that the Apostles could give the Breath by just touching someone, he offered them money, saying, 'Give me the power, so that anyone I lay my hands on can receive Holy Breath.' But Peter said, 'May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought you could buy the gift that God gives freely. You aren't going to have any part in this nor will you share in it, because God sees that your heart is crooked!'
There have always been those who claim that, 'God likes me best!' So it comes as no surprise that among Christians, some say that they have already received a special anointing or choosing by God and a Greater portion of His Breath. But it is interesting that there are no cases in the Christian Era Scriptures where we find brothers saying that they were anointed or chosen. Only Jesus was ever called (or called himself) the 'Anointed' (gr. ho Christos, or, 'the Christ'). So, such claims are obviously extremely boastful and presumptuous. However, the Bible tells us that if we show more humility and faith, we may in fact receive a greater portion of Holy Breath. So we should never boast of having a higher position in the eyes of God.
Note what Peter (the Apostle) wrote about the position that each of us might have in the eyes of God at 2 Peter 1:10, 11: 'Therefore, brothers; be zealous when it comes to making your calling and electing a sure thing! For if you can do that you'll never stumble, and you'll be richly supplied with entry into the age-long Kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Anointed.'
From the above words, it appears as though Christians can refer to themselves as the called. However, Jesus reminded us (at Matthew 22:14) that, 'Many are the called, but few are the chosen.' For the choosing only comes after one has endured to the end (see Matthew 10:22). And this requires that we must prove faithful through great persecution (see Matthew 5:10 and Revelation 6:11). However, as in the First Century Christian Congregation, all can receive the power of God's Breath if they strive to be righteous and pray for it.
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