In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Holy Spirit

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • History of Religions and Its Critics
  • Hebrew Bible
  • Greco-Roman Literature
  • Early Christian Prophecy

Biblical Studies Holy Spirit
John R. Levison, Volker Rabens
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0094


In the opening words of Scripture, the Spirit or wind of God hovers over the creative void, brooding perhaps like a mother eagle (Gen 1:2); in the Bible’s closing lines, the Spirit and the bride—the church—offer an invitation to taste the water of life (Rev 22:17). Between the opening and closing of Scripture’s curtain lies a rich terrain, in which the Spirit plays, off and on, a substantial role. However, it is difficult to determine precisely what the expression “Holy Spirit” means. The word ruach, or ruaḥ, in Hebrew, encompasses a wide range of realities in the Hebrew Bible alone, including divine energy and presence, the core of a human alongside the heart, breath, the waxing and waning of life itself, a disposition such as a spirit of lust, an angelic being, a demonic being, and wind. The expression “Holy Spirit” occurs only twice in Israelite scripture—and in different ways. In Psalm 51:13 (MT), the Holy Spirit is the core of a human being, while in Isaiah 63:7–14, the Holy Spirit guides Israel from Egypt to the promised land. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the meaning of the words “Holy Spirit” (spirit of holiness) varies as well, from a lifelong presence within a person that sin defiles to the spirit of holiness that cleanses new members of the community. While in the New Testament the expression “Holy Spirit” predominates, the word “Spirit” (pneuma) occurs frequently without any qualifiers such as “holy” or “of wisdom.” This bibliography organizes a wide swath of secondary literature, for the most part focused on Genesis to Revelation but also including Judaism and Greco-Roman literature. Exceptions to this organization include the History of Religions school, an influential early-20th-century movement that set the Bible in its ancient cultural contexts, and Early Christian prophecy. Readers may notice a bulge in this bibliography that reflects the interests of scholarship; the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Fourth Gospel, Luke-Acts, and Paul’s letters have received the lion’s share of attention. In contrast, the Hebrew Bible, the Synoptic Gospels, New Testament letters other than undisputed Pauline letters (e.g., Pastorals, Hebrews), and Revelation have received relatively scant attention.

General Overviews

Trying to cover the breadth of the texts relating to the Spirit in ancient literature is a daunting task. However, a number of good studies are available that clear away unnecessary underbrush. Two short studies pave a first path into the subject, Shoemaker 1904 and Schweizer 1980. More-extensive coverage of the available sources is provided by the text-by-text analyses of Cage 1995 (a sourcebook) and Montague 1994. Levison 2009 contributes the most comprehensive, up-to-date study in this category. The older work Burton 1918 has helpful subsections on the different periods and cultures that feature S/spirit in interaction with the terms “soul” and “flesh.” Baumert 2001 offers two volumes that focus on issues surrounding the concepts of charisma and baptism. Two broader volumes cover a number of exegetical as well as systematic questions regarding the Spirit: Welker 1994, which offers the keen insights of a theologian; and Welker, et al. 2010, which contains the works of several leading German scholars.

  • Baumert, Norbert. Charisma-Taufe-Geisttaufe. 2 vols. Würzburg, Germany: Echter, 2001.

    NNNTwo insightful volumes (Vol. 1, Entflechtung einer semantischen Verwirrung, and Vol. 2, Normativität und persönliche Berufung) that focus on the concepts of charisma and baptism / baptism in the Spirit. Baumert provides a thorough linguistic analysis of the relevant New Testament material and brings it into dialogue with theological questions raised by Pentecostalism, sacramentalism, etc.

  • Burton, Ernest de Witt. Spirit, Soul, and Flesh. Historical and Linguistic Studies in Literature Related to the New Testament 2.3. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1918.

    NNNAn overview of the terms “S/spirit,” “soul,” and “flesh” in Greco-Roman and Early Jewish literature, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and “ethnic religious writings” such as magical texts and hermetic literature.

  • Cage, Gary T. The Holy Spirit: A Source Book with Commentary. Reno, NV: Charlotte House, 1995.

    NNNAn extensive listing of the occurrences of “S/spirit” in biblical and extrabiblical literature (Greco-Roman, Jewish, etc.). The individual texts are cited in English and categorized at the back of the 630-page volume.

  • Levison, John R. Filled with the Spirit. Grant Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009.

    NNNA thorough yet accessible interpretation of Israelite, Greco-Roman, Early Jewish, and Early Christian literature. A pivotal thesis is that the Jewish Bible preserves a belief in the S/spirit as the locus of virtue from birth to death; early Christians supplanted this with belief in a subsequent endowment conditional on faith. This is now the benchmark for future studies of pneumatology.

  • Montague, George T. The Holy Spirit: Growth of a Biblical Tradition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994.

    NNNAn introductory text-by-text commentary on all important biblical texts, as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Informed by sound, mainstream historical-critical scholarship, yet accessible to all students and ministers without knowledge of original languages. Also beneficial for scholars with relevant interests.

  • Schweizer, Eduard. The Holy Spirit. Translated by Reginald H. Fuller and Ilse Fuller. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980.

    NNNAn introductory pastoral guide by one of the most influential scholars to have studied the topic. Includes sane analyses of the Hebrew Bible, so-called Intertestamental Judaism, and the New Testament, with an introductory chapter “What Is the Holy Spirit” and a concluding chapter on New Testament emphases and marks of the Holy Spirit. Originally published as Heiliger Geist (Stuttgart: Kreuz, 1978).

  • Shoemaker, W. R. “The Use of Ruach in the Old Testament, and of Pneuma in the New Testament: A Lexicographical Study.” Journal of Biblical Literature 23 (1904): 13–67.

    DOI: 10.2307/3268955

    NNNA useful categorization of myriad references to “S/spirit”—not only the Spirit—in ancient literature, including both biblical testaments, Greek literature, the Septuagint, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Philo, and Josephus. An excellent way as well to view traditional scholarship on the Spirit at the dawn of the 20th century.

  • Welker, Michael. God the Spirit. Translated by John F. Hoffmeyer. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994.

    NNNWelker brings a theologian’s eye to biblical texts. In an effort to offer a way forward both to Pentecostals (charismatics) and liberation theologians, Welker offers provocative interpretations. For example, the Spirit in Judges and 1 Samuel (i.e., Saul) engenders communal solidarity but not violence. Originally published as Gottes Geist: Theologie des Heiligen Geistes (Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany: Neukirchener Verlag, 1992).

  • Welker, Michael, Rudolf Weth, Martin Ebner, et al. Heiliger Geist. Jahrbuch für Biblische Theologie 24. Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany: Neukirchener Verlag, 2010.

    NNNA fine compilation of essays by leading scholars of the German-speaking world. The volume contains predominantly studies on biblical pneumatology, focusing on individual books or authors (Genesis, Ezekiel, Paul) or employing thematic approaches (e.g., the development of the concept of the Spirit from “wind” to “person”). A number of articles are devoted to hermeneutical, dogmatic, and practical theological issues.

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