Should I say Holy Spirit or Ghost?

Over time, words change.

A while ago, there was a minor kerfuffle over a newer worship song, Reckless Love, by Cory Asbury. Here is a sample of its lyrics:

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights 'til I'm found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn't earn it, and I don't deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah

Let me draw your attention to Cory Asbury’s use of the word reckless. In context, he clearly doesn’t mean its formal, Merriam-Webster definition, “marked by lack of proper caution : careless of consequences.” That wouldn’t describe God’s love at all. He clearly means something like unwavering, undeterred, or maybe even relentless.

So why did he choose reckless? Well, for starters, reckless has two syllables – not three or four! However, more importantly, words change. And the word reckless, in the common usage of many people today, doesn’t mean, at least exclusively, “marked by lack of proper caution : careless of consequences.” It often means something more like unwavering, undeterred, relentless, and so on.

We can all think of words that originally meant one thing and now mean something different – maybe even the complete opposite. Growing up, I enjoyed Michael Jackson’s hit Bad. Using the word bad, he didn’t mean “of poor quality or a low standard.” He meant something like tough.

Why do I mention all of that? Well, our usage of the word ghost has changed over time. Here in the 21st century, when we hear the word ghost, we envision something from Scooby Doo or a horror movie. That’s not always been the case. When the King James Version (KJV) was written, the word ghost simply meant “immaterial being.” It didn’t have the connotations it carries today. It meant what we mean by spirit today.

Both are equally legitimate translations of the Old Testament word RUACH (Hebrew/Aramaic) or the New Testament PNEUMA (Greek), linguistically and contextually. In fact, while Holy Ghost appears 89 times in the KJV, Holy Spirit appears 7 times. There is absolutely no reason why the translators chose one over the other; they were and remain equally viable options. Feel completely free to use either.