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The Third Member of the Godhead as Described in the Book of Mormon

In the King James Version of the Bible, we find the terms “Holy Ghost” and “Holy Spirit,” while in modern translations we typically see only “Holy Spirit” used. Technically, the modern translations are more correct since the Greek words behind Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit are actually the same. So let me repeat this important fact: in the New Testament, there is no distinction between the words (pneuma= ghost, spirit; hagion = holy) that are translated as Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit.

In LDS theology, having these two terms is helpful because we actually do make a distinction between the personage in the Godhead and his influence. Though this distinction exists, the terms do not seem to be used very consistently or exclusively as labels for one or the other. While it would be legitimate to use either “ghost” or “spirit” for the Greek word “pneuma,” the scriptures seem to favor the word “ghost” over “spirit” with two exceptions.

While the word spirit is mentioned 235 times in the Old Testament, we only find the term “Holy Spirit” 3 times and Holy Ghost isn’t used at all. Interestingly, the Lectures on Faith also never use the term “Holy Ghost,” but I have a theory about that. (which I’ll have to go into another time)

Below show the frequencies of these two terms as they appear in various books of scripture:

King James Version Old Testament
Holy Ghost: 0
Holy Spirit: 3

King James Version New Testament
Holy Ghost: 90
Holy Spirit: 4

Book of Mormon
Holy Ghost: 87
Holy Spirit: 16

Doctrine and Covenants
Holy Ghost: 50
Holy Spirit: 23

Pearl of Great Price
Holy Ghost: 10 times (Book of Moses only)
Holy Spirit: 0

Lectures on Faith
Holy Ghost: 0
Holy Spirit: 9

What is most interesting to me is how the Book of Mormon mirrors the King James Version usage, but the Book of Moses never uses “Holy Spirit” and the Lectures on Faith never uses “Holy Ghost!” Perhaps people are justified in being a little confused where there doesn’t appear to be much consistency! This is a pretty tough topic because there are so many things to consider and the scriptures themselves seem to use the terms somewhat interchangeably.

I think it is helpful to reference the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary to see if we can understand a little more what the words “ghost” and “spirit” meant in Joseph Smith’s day.

GHOST, noun 1. Spirit; the soul of man.

SPIR’IT, noun [Latin spiritus, from spiro, to breathe, to blow. The primary sense is to rush or drive.] 1. Primarily, wind; air in motion; hence, breath. All bodies have spirits and pneumatical parts within them. [This sense is now unusual.]

It seems that the word “ghost” specifically references an individual soul, a being or personage, while spirit seems to reference more of an influence or force rather than a personage. I think this distinction fits in well to LDS doctrine where we do make a specific distinction between the Holy Ghost as a member of the Godhead and the influence of the Holy Ghost which can be referred to as the Holy Spirit; this is just one interpretation.

It gets a little trickier when we have these other phrases like “gift of the Holy Ghost” and “power of the Holy Ghost”. It appears that the Book of Mormon does uses these two phrases both distinctively and interchangeably. In some cases the Holy Ghost and the Holy Spirit are referred to as a personage, and in other cases the same terms are used to describe influences or effects.

I find it most helpful to simply remember the purpose of the Holy Ghost/Spirit. Whether it is the personage or the influence, it is within the characteristics and attributes of that personage that certain specific roles and effects are associated. I think we also see some of the personal biases and preferences of translators showing as well. We definitely find that in the King James Bible, and previous versions, where there was an attempt to translate in a way that could portray the Holy Ghost as the third member of the Godhead or Trinity.

The Book of Mormon, New Testament, and Doctrine and Covenants have the most references to the Holy Ghost/Spirit, but for the sake of this particular article, I’ve only diagramed four particular phrases in the Book of Mormon and what they are referencing. Hopefully this can be of use to someone who is studying this subject.

It is my opinion that the Holy Spirit is synonymous with “the power of the Holy Ghost” and relates to his influence rather to him as a personage, even though the personage of the Holy Ghost is sometimes called the “Holy Spirit.” I think it can be helpful to have both terms, but it is confusing when they aren’t used consistently. I personally think it is more correct to say Holy Ghost when referring to the personage and Holy Spirit when referring to the influences and effects that flow from, and the characteristics and attributes that belong to, the Holy Ghost.

I know there are many passionate views about this out there, so if you leave a comment, please be helpful, constructive, and respectful. I don’t consider myself any kind of expert on this topic, I’m just making some observations and sharing them. If I have made mistakes, I will do my best to find and correct them.

The Holy Ghost

The Gift of the Holy Ghost

The Power of the Holy Ghost

  • Leads on how to conduct church meetings – Moroni 6:9
  • Carries words unto the hearts of the children of men – 2 Nephi 33:1
  • Man may speak by this power – 1 Nephi 10:17
  • Is the gift of God unto all those that diligently seek him – 1 Nephi 10:17
  • We may know the truth of all things – Moroni 10:5
  • We may know that God is – Moroni 10:7
  • The word of the Lord comes – Moroni 8:7
  • Wo unto him that denies that the Lord works by this power – 3 Nephi 29:6
  • Precepts may be given – 2 Nephi 28:31
  • Makes things manifest – Jacob 7:12
  • Priests and teachers were ordained by this power – Moroni 3:4
  • God may withhold this power from men – Moroni 7:36
  • Those who seek to bring forth Zion in the last days will have the gift AND power of the Holy Ghost – 1 Nephi 13:37
  • Unfolds the mysteries of God – 1 Nephi 10:19
  • Is given by the Father – 3 Nephi 21:2
  • Is how God manifests himself to all those that believe in him – 2 Nephi 26:13
  • Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost – Alma 7:10
  • If one confesses Jesus is the Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost he must needs have charity – Moroni 7:44
  • May wrought upon and cleanse – Moroni 6:4

The Holy Spirit

  • Jeffrey Richardson

    Great post.

    Joseph Smith said “knowledge is power”. D&C 121:41 asserts that “power” is an “influence”.

    So, when I read verses that say things like “by the POWER of the Holy Ghost”, I sometimes substitute “power” with “influence” or “knowledge”.

    It helps me, anyway.

    • oneclimbs

      Very good! I was just talking to the family I home teach about this yesterday. It IS really helpful to swap out titles to gain more persective.

      “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; [that is,] those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.” (B.H. Roberts, History of the Church 3:381)

      • Richard J. Nobbe III

        With “power” “influence” and “knowledge” I would also add the word “grace.”