A couple of weeks ago, a friend simply wrote on her Facebook page: “Where did we get the word Holy Ghost from?” And this generated some philosophical cum theological uproar in her comment box as different persons were trying to give their various opinions. I replied that: “Before the Second Vatican Council, the Third Person of the Trinity was referred to in English as the Holy Ghost. And the Sign of the Cross was made in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. The change reflects the evolution of the words.
Both Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit were used to refer to the Third Person of the Trinity well before the 20th century, although the former was the most common in biblical and prayer texts. Etymologically, the word ghost is of “Germanic origin and comes from Old English gast, meaning soul, life, breath, good or bad spirit, angel or demon”. Christian texts in Old English use “gast to translate the Latin Spiritus from where we get Holy Ghost.
The more modern sense of a disembodied dead person is first attested in the late 14th century but remained quite rare.” However, the word Spirit comes to English from Latin through French and also means souls, courage, vigor, breath. The original usage in English are mainly translations from the “Vulgate Latin Bible that translate the Greek Pneuma and Hebrew Ruah.” Christians also made a distinction between soul and spirit. Spirit, in the sense of a supernatural being, is found from the 13th century. Furthermore, “when the Bible was translated into English the scholars behind the King James Version (1611) opted to use the term Holy Ghost.
” This is used 90 times in the KJV, while Holy Spirit occurs seven times. The reason for the choice is unclear, as the words Ghost and Spirit translate the same Greek words. Pragmatically, all the recent translations of the Bible, “both Protestant, and Catholic have preferred Holy Spirit in most instances.” The reason is probably that the meaning of the word ghost has gradually shifted over the last 300 years and now predominantly refers to the vision of the specter of a deceased person or a demonic apparition.
” It must also be remembered that in literature the popularity of the “ghost story” had enjoyed an enormous boom from the mid-19th century on, a popularity compounded by the advent of the cinema and television. Conclusively, the term Holy Ghost is used in historical documents, doctrinal statements, and in libraries of books. And going with the meaning of what a Ghost is: There’s nothing wrong if the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Holy Ghost. But, I think most of these nuances emanated from the act of translation but the Biblical inerrancy regarding this term is very valid.