The very first translation of the King James Version of the Bible was in 1611. “Holy Ghost” and “Holy Spirit” are considered synonymous in modern times and were both used in the King James Version in many instances after being translated from Greek. It was not until so much later when the “Holy Spirit” was used in most Bible translations to primarily signify the third person in the Holy Trinity after the Father and the Son.
The differences are actually in linguistics rather than in a theological sense. The confusion is mainly due to past usage versus present usage and because of the different languages that were incorporated into the modern English language. For example, the word “ghost” is derived from the Old English word “gast” which is closely related to the German word “geist.” In modern English, the word “gast” sneaked into the word “aghast” which means “to be terrified, shocked, or rendered breathless.” Also, the German word “Zeitgeist” directly means “the spirit of times.”
Modern English users rarely use “Holy Ghost” nowadays. According to Bible students, the title “Holy Ghost” was learned from the Authorized Version, the other name for the King James Version. The King James Version used the title “Holy Spirit” rarely. But with the most recent translations of the Holy Scriptures, the title “Spirit” is used to replace “Ghost” in almost all instances. This came about mainly due to the fact that words do not always hold their true meanings. In the days of King James or Shakespeare, “ghost” meant the live essence of a person which could also be connected to “soul” or “breath” and were considered to be synonymous to “ghost.” In those times, “spirit” was used when pertaining to the departed essence of a person or a paranormal demonic apparition.
In the Middle Ages, the English Bible was transcribed by Christian translators using different words for a Greek word to signify that there are two distinctions. These translators decided that the “Holy Spirit” and the “Holy Ghost” were two entirely different ideas. “Holy Spirit” was used as a description of the Spirit of the Lord, or God’s Spirit, that visited the Hebrew people in the Old Testament. On the other hand, the term “Holy Ghost” was used as a description of the third person or spirit in the Holy Trinity.
In the 6th century, printers of the Bible used capital letters to make a strong distinction between the titles using lower case for “spirit” in the Old Testament and “Spirit” in the New Testament. These differences in translation are not based on the original Greek or Hebrew words. The Greek “pneuma” is used for “ghost” and “hagion” for “holy.” These words were combined as “hagion pneuma” in all instances which have been translated to English as “Ghost” or “Spirit” greatly depending on the interpretation of the translator.
In the Bible, the title “Holy Ghost” was used ninety times in the New Testament of the King James Version while “Holy Spirit” appears four times. The context of the New Testament usage was from a prophetic point of view. The Bible translators were consistent in retaining the contextual distinction between the many forms of “spirit,” such as “Spirit of the Lord” and “Spirit of God.”
In the 17th century, however, the word “ghost” was synonymous to “spirit.” The Bible translators used both words to stress differences between the ideas of the spirit of God and the third part of the Trinity in the Old Testament. Eventually, though, the word “ghost” was used to pertain to the soul of a departed person and became a scary and eerie being that haunts people. In modern times, all the Bible translations, except for the King James Version, use “Holy Spirit” in all instances including those that the King James Version called as the “Holy Ghost.”