What is the difference between spirit with capital “S” and small “s” in the Bible?

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Have you ever noticed how the word “spirit” is spelt in the Bible? In some parts of the Bible, we can see it worded with a capital “S” and using a small “s” in other parts. It is essential to understand the difference so that the correct context is applied to the passage being read.

Neither Hebrew nor Greek has a word that exclusively means “spirit”; rather, the concept of spirit is primarily expressed with words that also mean “wind” (Gen 8:1; John 3:8) or “breath” (Gen 6:17; 2 Thess 2:8), such as רוּחַ (rûaḥ) or πνεῦμα (pneuma). In Hebrew, rûaḥ can refer to the wind, the breath of a living being, or the spirit as the living essence of a creature. Context usually makes clear that a particular sense is meant, but in some passages the concepts overlap. For example, in Ezek 37:9 the breath (rûaḥ) is to come from the four winds (rûaḥ) and revive the dead; this touches on all three aspects of rûaḥ as wind, breath, and life-essence. The Hebrew word נְשָׁמָה (nĕšāmâ) primarily means “breath” and is used both for physical breath as a sign of life (1 Kgs 17:17) and as the breath of life, meaning the animating force of a living being (Gen 2:7; 7:22). The Greek word pneuma can also mean “wind, breath, spirit,” but in the New Testament the meaning “spirit” predominates. This term may be used to indicate the human spirit (Luke 1:47; 2 Cor 7:1), like ψυχή (psychē, “soul”), but the nt also uses it to refer to various supernatural beings, including angelic beings (Heb 1:14; Rev 1:4; 3:1) and evil spirits (Mark 1:23–27). The same term can be used to refer to the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16; Matt 12:32). References to the Holy Spirit are sometimes made explicit with use of the exact phrase τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον (to pneuma to hagion, “the Holy Spirit”; Mark 13:11).

 Roland J. Lowther, “Spirit,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

We need to note at this point that the Greek language, unlike English, does not use upper or lower case letters when referring to the Godhead. In terms of the Bible, using the capital “S” sometimes for God’s Spirit; depends on the translation you are reading. In some translations for the Spirit of God, a capital “S” is used, and others use a small “s”. For example:

New King James Version (NKJV)

1 John 4:6 says, “We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” – small “s” used here for Holy Spirit.

English Standard Version (ESV)

1 John 4:6 says, “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” – capital “S” here for Holy Spirit.

Different Bible translations can sometimes use the capital “S” in some passages relating to the Holy Spirit, while others may use the small “s”. The critical aspect of understanding the passage itself is to always look at the context within which it is being written, and there shouldn’t be any problem in its interpretation and about whom it is speaking about.

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