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The Holy Ghost: Culture vs Verity, Sincerity vs Certitude

When asked by President Van Buren how Mormonism differed from other religions of the day, the Prophet Joseph is reported to have said the following:

"We [differ] in mode of baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. All other considerations are contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost" (History of the Church, 4:42).

It is a curious phrase, isn't it? When we, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, are asked a similar question we usually go into long discourses about the Word of Wisdom, Degrees of Glory, and other doctrinal details. The Prophet Joseph Smith though gives a summary that ought to give us pause. "All other considerations are contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost" sounds like much of the gospel after baptism is summed up in that gift.

The purpose of my post today is to discuss some cultural misunderstandings that some may have regarding the Holy Ghost. The intent is to help us make some adjustments and, therefore, help us grow our relationship to Christ. I will address three possible misunderstandings. As a side note, these headings reflect how the misunderstanding is often articulated. Beneath each heading, I will explain what is actually true.

MISUNDERSTANDING #1: "The Holy Ghost is our constant companion"

This idea is one of those things that has grown and been distorted over time, much like the idea of the sacrament renewing baptismal covenants (read more about that here). The difference though is that this appears to be entirely a cultural understanding whose fault lies strictly on the general membership and not the brethren. While it is true the Holy Ghost's influence can be our constant companion, it is incorrect to say that he as a personage can be our constant companion.

"... the Holy Ghost does not fill the universe and cannot be personally present everywhere at the same time." (1)

The idea of the Holy Ghost dwelling in us as a constant companion usually comes from a faulty interpretation of D&C 130:22. Interestingly, the earliest known manuscript from which many of the teachings of D&C 130 come from says the following:

“The Holy Ghost is a personage, and a person cannot have the personage of the H. G. in his heart.” (2)

Dr. Ronald E. Batholomew has written a very interesting article in BYU Studies concerning the development of this passage over the years in his article "The Textual Development of D&C 130:22 and the Embodiment of the Holy Ghost". It appears that the passage changes to virtually what it says now in the latter part of the 1850's. These developments are interesting, but, to sum up, Dr. Batholomew describes why D&C 130:22 says what it says now:

"A proper exegesis of Paul’s teaching that “ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you,” demonstrates how closely this final revision complies with biblical teachings. The Greek word that has been translated as ye in 1  Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19 is ἐστέ (esté), which is plural. As a result, LDS scholars almost universally agree that the word “temple” referred to in these and other New Testament scriptures referred to a body of believers, or church members as a group, not an individual (hence the use of the plural “ye”). Similarly, just as the “ye” evoked by  Paul is plural and the word “temple” refers to a body of believers, the word “us” in D&C 130:22 is also plural—suggesting that the Holy Ghost dwells in “us” as a body of believers, not in our individual temples, or bodies."

This begs the question of how the Holy Ghost operates. In summation, he operates through what we call the Light of Christ. In honesty, this understanding allows us to differentiate between the Holy Ghost and the Light of Christ in the scriptures. The Light of Christ is more consistently referred to as "the Holy Spirit" in the Book of Mormon. There are many misunderstandings about the Light of Christ as well, but that will wait for another blog post on another day.

"I like to think of the Holy Ghost as a director of a great master universal broadcasting station who has in his control powers by which all the decisions and messages to be sent out from the Godhead are made known. And the answers to prayers and the information necessary for understanding their decisions come through that great broadcasting power." - Harold B. Lee (The Godhead, Given to Seminary and Institute Teachers June 17, 1954 Brigham Young University)

MISUNDERSTANDING #2: "We receive the Holy Ghost fully during our confirmation after baptism"

After having done research on BYU's LDS General Conference Corpus it appears that the idea of the Holy Ghost being our constant companion right at confirmation, as long as we are worthy, has never been taught in General Conference (I am willing to be proven wrong in this). When the idea is taught it is always in reference that we grow into it. 

"The Holy Ghost does not become operative in our lives merely because hands are placed upon our heads and those four important words are spoken. As we receive this ordinance, each of us accepts a sacred and ongoing responsibility to desire, to seek, to work, and to so live that we indeed “receive the Holy Ghost” and its attendant spiritual gifts." (3)

This idea is also taught plainly in the scriptures. For example, the idea of the Holy Ghost being our constant companion is only taught once in the scriptures (see D&C 121:46). A careful reading of the surrounding context of that verse ought to illustrate that this is an event that happens a good period of time after baptism. It appears to be referring to a time when "thy confidence [shall] wax strong in the presence of God, and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul".

Another example is found in Joseph Smith's dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland temple:

"... that they may grow up in thee, and receive a fulness of the Holy Ghost, and be organized according to thy laws, and be prepared to obtain every needful thing." (4)

Joseph Smith, here, is offering a prayer in the midst of a congregation that had already been baptized and refers to receiving "a fulness of the Holy Ghost" in the temple. To me, this might explain further what Joseph Smith meant when he said that all other differences in our religion, compared to others, "are contained in the Gift of the Holy Ghost".

To me, this is beautiful. The Holy Ghost's influence (aka the growth of the Light of Christ in our lives) is to crescendo through each successive ordinance; through each act of obedience; through each repentant action; through each day until we come to have Christ's image engraved upon our countenances. Then, and only then, will we comprehend what is meant when Moroni writes that "when [Christ] shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (5) Even further, it directly connects the Holy Ghost to the temple, which leads to misunderstanding #3.

MISUNDERSTANDING #3: "The Holy Ghost simply prompts and comforts me"

While it is true that the Holy Ghost is a comforter and prompts us through tidbits of revelation, this undersells him a little bit in my estimation. For example, the idea of the Holy Ghost being a comforter takes on increased meaning with the following:

"In 1622, when the English word was nearer in time to its Latin origins, the first definition of “comfort” meant just exactly what the Latin said: “with strength,” to strengthen or to empower... [This] definition can account for the way the English translators used the word “comfort” to mean the bestowal of authority or power — an empowerment — and it also adds substantial depth to the meaning of the 23rd Psalm and other scriptures where “comfort” might be read as “to give consolation,” they might also be read as “to give power and authority, thus enabling one to transcend sorrow..." - LeGrand L. Baker and Stephen D. Ricks (Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord? The Psalms in Israel’s Temple Worship in the Old Testament and in the Book of Mormon, p. 467-469)

This plays right into Joseph Smith's words about the fulness of the Holy Ghost being received in the temple. Where else would one find 'comfort' or 'an endowment of power' the most?

Another example of the expanded roles of the Holy Ghost comes from Elder James E. Talmage. He comments on some of the roles and responsibilities of the Holy Ghost as he broadcasts his influence through the Light of Christ:

"... the Holy Ghost directs and controls the varied forces of nature, of which indeed a few, and these perhaps of minor order wonderful as even the least of them appears to man, have thus far been investigated by mortals. Gravitation, sound, heat, light, and the still more mysterious and seemingly super-natural power of electricity, are but the common servants of the Holy Ghost in His operations." (Articles of Faith [1984], pp. 159-161)

Expanding on this idea further, we might, therefore, understand why a man's priesthood is null and void once the Spirit withdraws from him(6). We might finally, in addition to everything else, stop compartmentalizing the Holy Ghost and the Priesthood from one another:
"There is a spirit -- the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Christ, the light of truth, the light of Christ -- that defies description and is beyond mortal comprehension. It is in us and in all things; it is around us and around all things; it fills the earth and the heavens and the universe. It is everywhere, in all immensity, without exception; it is an indwelling, immanent, ever-present, never-absent spirit. It has neither shape nor form nor personality. It is not an entity nor a person nor a personage. It has no agency, does not act independently, and exists not to act but to be acted upon. As far as we know, it has no substance and is not material, at least as we measure these things. It is variously described as light and life and law and truth and power. It is the light of Christ; it is the life that is in all things; it is the law by which all things are governed; it is truth shining forth in darkness; it is the power of God who sitteth upon his throne. It may be that it is also priesthood and faith and omnipotence, for these too are the power of God." - Bruce R. McConkie (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 257; bold added for emphasis)

Lastly, and in a spirit of bringing all these beautiful themes together, is the doctrine of the Holy Ghost testifying of us:

"While it is natural for Latter-day Saints to recognize that the Holy Ghost serves as an official witness of truth for man, in the administration of God, the Holy Ghost also functions as a witness or testator of man for God. Fulfilling this role as witness, the Holy Ghost serves as the scriptural “Holy Spirit of promise,” ratifying or sealing the testimonies and righteous acts of believers... In this capacity as witness of man for God, the Holy Ghost serves as the testator of all righteous acts..." (7)

An example of this in scripture might be found in Helaman 10:6 where God declares Nephi's name before the presence of the angels who speak by the power of the Holy Ghost (see 2 Nephi 32:2).

There are other things that can be said about the Holy Ghost, but probably remain too light intensive to write about online. Feel free to message me if you wish to know more:  barryjustinhobert@gmail.com


The question can now be asked, therefore what? Meaning now that we know these things, what significance does it have for our life. It is my opinion that we can stop sweating so much about trying to feel the Holy Ghost when we understand that his presence comes and goes and that it is MEANT to be a growing process. We can connect this understanding to the Holy Temple and therefore it can serve as a greater motivator to receive what Joseph Smith called a "fulness of the Holy Ghost". We can have greater power in our priesthood when we understand that priesthood power is the power of the Holy Ghost justifying our words (See Moses 6:34). We can come and do the small and simple things (e.g. read our scriptures, pray fervently, attend the temple, serve others, etc) with the understanding that we are making ourselves worthy to be testified of before God and his angels by the Holy Ghost. In other words, we understand that his growing influence in our lives is to literally transform us and inculcate us with the attributes of the Divine Nature:

"[The Holy Ghost] is the messenger of grace by which the blood of Christ is applied to take away our sins and sanctify us (see 2 Nephi 31:17). It is the gift by which Adam was “quickened in the inner man” (Moses 6:65)." (8)


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