What Does "Give Up the Ghost" Mean in the Bible?
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What Does “Give Up the Ghost” Mean in the Bible?

The phrase “give up the ghost” appears several times in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, but what exactly does it mean? As a Christian, it’s important to understand the meaning behind this unique expression that is found in God’s Word.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the origins and definition of “give up the ghost,” look at the verses where it appears in the Bible, examine what it teaches us about death and eternal life, and reflect on how this phrase applies to our lives today. My goal is to provide a comprehensive, 4000-word study of this topic so you can fully grasp the meaning and significance of “give up the ghost” in the biblical context.

What does "give up the ghost" mean in the bible?

The Origin and Definition of “Give Up the Ghost”

The expression “give up the ghost” dates back to the 14th century and originally referred to breathing one’s last breath before dying. The word “ghost” here means “spirit” or “soul.” So when someone was on their deathbed taking their final breaths, they were “giving up the ghost” as their spirit departed from their body.

Over time, this phrase evolved into an idiom meaning “to die” or “to expire.” When we say that someone “gave up the ghost,” it signifies that they passed away and yielded their spirit to the afterlife. Their soul left their physical body at the point of death.

This unique idiom appears in some translations of the Bible, including the KJV. The KJV, first published in 1611, contains now-archaic words and expressions that were common parlance at the time but sound foreign to our modern ears. “Giving up the ghost” is one such idiomatic phrase that has fallen out of fashion but still conveys a vivid image of the separation of one’s immortal soul from their temporary earthly tabernacle.

Where “Give Up the Ghost” is Found in Scripture

The phrase “give up the ghost” shows up in the following verses in the KJV Bible:

  • Genesis 25:8 – “Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.”
  • Genesis 25:17 – “And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people.”
  • Genesis 35:29 – “And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.”
  • Genesis 49:33 – “And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.”
  • Job 3:11 “Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?”
  • Job 10:18 – “Wherefore then hast thou brought me forth out of the womb? Oh that I had given up the ghost, and no eye had seen me!”
  • Job 13:19 – “Who is he that will plead with me? for now, if I hold my tongue, I shall give up the ghost.”
  • Lamentations 1:19 – “I called for my lovers, but they deceived me: my priests and mine elders gave up the ghost in the city, while they sought their meat to relieve their souls.”
  • Matthew 27:50 – “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.”
  • Mark 15:37 – “And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.”
  • Luke 23:46 – “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.”
  • John 19:30 – “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.”
  • Acts 5:5 – “And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.”
  • Acts 5:10 – “Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.”
  • Acts 12:23 – “And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.”

As we can see, this idiom appears primarily in the Old Testament history books and in the Gospels and Acts where Jesus and the apostles are recounting the death of Christ. The way it is used in these verses emphasizes the separation of the spirit from the body at the point of physical death.

What “Give Up the Ghost” Teaches Us About Death and Eternal Life

When we see the phrase “gave up the ghost,” it evokes an image of the soul leaving the body behind upon dying. Though our earthly bodies expire, our spirits live on and enter into an eternal state. The writers of Scripture intricately connect physical death with the continuation of the soul’s existence in the afterlife.

For believers, giving up the ghost marks the transition from their temporal lives on earth to their everlasting lives in God’s presence in heaven. Paul says for Christians to be absent from the body means to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). When godly men like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob gave up the ghost, they entered into their eternal reward in paradise.

Moreover, the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ provides the way for us to experience eternal life. Jesus willingly yielded up His spirit to reconcile us to the Father, defeating death forever. His resurrection proved that not even physical death could conquer Him. When we put our faith in Christ’s finished work, we spiritually die and rise again with Him (Romans 6:3-5).

The old passes away; the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17)! For Christians, the sting of physical death is removed because Jesus has overcome the grave and granted us eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). Giving up the ghost marks the glorious transition into our inheritance in heaven where we will dwell with God forever. The deceased saints are not lost or unconscious; they are consciously present with the Lord.

Key Takeaways on “Give Up the Ghost”

  • The idiom means to breathe one’s last breath, die, or yield up the spirit.
  • It originated from the literal act of exhaling before physical death.
  • The KJV Bible uses “give up the ghost” to vividly convey the separation of the soul from the body.
  • Godly men like Abraham breathed their last and entered eternal life in God’s presence.
  • For believers, it marks the transition from temporal life on earth to eternal life with Christ.
  • Jesus willingly yielded His spirit to provide us the way to salvation and eternal life.
  • Christians who give up the ghost at death instantly enter God’s glorious presence.
  • This phrase reminds us that only our earthly bodies expire, not our immortal souls.

Applying “Give Up the Ghost” to Our Lives Today

When you come across this expression in Scripture, I want you to meditate on several life-changing truths:

  • Your soul is eternal and will continue on long after your earthly body perishes. You were created in God’s image as an immortal being.
  • If you have trusted in Christ, your spirit will immediately pass into Heaven and enjoy personal fellowship with the Lord when you die.
  • The deceased faithful saints are not asleep, unconscious, or annihilated. To be absent from the body means being home with the Lord.
  • Since Jesus defeated death itself, Christians have hope beyond the grave. Physical death no longer has power over us.
  • Live in light of eternity! Keep your focus on spiritual things, not earthly things. Store up treasures in Heaven that will endure (Colossians 3:2).
  • Your mortal body will inevitably give up the ghost. Make sure your soul is secured with Christ so you will transition into everlasting life.

I pray this deep study of the meaning of “give up the ghost” will provide reassurance and hope regarding what happens after death. We can take comfort in knowing our spirits live on forever with God when we breathe our last earthly breath. The resurrection of the saints is yet to come! As you meditate on the Scriptures, let this unique phrase turn your eyes toward the eternal.

Pastor duke taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.