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Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Holy Spirit" in the Original Greek is Neuter - "It," "Itself" are Used in the Original New Testament Greek

It is true that the word for God (theos) in the New Testament is masculine, and masculine pronouns ("he," "him," "himself") are always used with it. The word "Father" is also in the masculine gender in the original Greek of the NT, and masculine pronouns are always used with it. The word "Son" is also in the masculine gender in the NT Greek, and masculine pronouns are always used with it. Certainly this is not surprising since God (Jehovah, the Father alone) has always been represented to his people as a living, conscious being, and Christ (Jesus, the Son) is always represented as a living, conscious person. It would be very strange, indeed, if they were not so described!

But "Holy Spirit" in the original Greek is neuter and therefore the neuter pronouns "it," "itself" are used with it in the original NT Greek! Any strictly literal Bible translation would have to use "it" for the holy spirit (since it is really not a person, but God's active force, a literal translation would be helpful in this case).

As the trinitarian New American Bible (Catholic), 1970 ed. admits:

"The Greek word for 'spirit' is neuter, and while we [trinitarians] use personal pronouns in English ('he,' 'his,' 'him'), most Greek manuscripts employ 'it.'" - New American Bible, St. Joseph ed., (footnote for John 14:17).

And the revised NAB of 1991 has actually changed "he/him" back to the literal "it"!

Also see An American Translation by trinitarians Smith and Goodspeed which uses "itself" and "it" for the holy spirit at Romans 8:16, 26, 27.

Here are the rules of Greek grammar that govern this situation. Professor Machen, writing in his New Testament Greek For Beginners, tells us:

"(II.) The noun for which a pronoun stands is called its antecedent. Thus in the sentence, 'I see the disciple and teach him', the antecedent of 'him' is 'disciple.'

(III.) A pronoun agrees with its antecedent in GENDER and number.
"Examples: (a) Bleto ton matheten kai didasko auton, [is translated] 'I see the disciple and teach him.' Here matheten ['disciple'] is the antecedent of auton ['him'], and since matheten is of masculine gender and singular number, auton is also masculine singular."(b) Meno en to oiko kai ginosko auton [is rendered in English as] 'I remain in the house and know it.' Here oiko ['house'] is the antecedent of auton ['him' in the original NT Greek] and since oiko is of masculine gender and singular number auton also is masculine singular [in the NT Greek]. In English the neuter pronoun 'it' is used, because the noun 'house' like all nouns denoting inanimate objects, is neuter in English. But in Greek the word for house is masculine, and therefore the masculine pronoun is used in referring to it. Hence the translations, 'he,' 'she,' etc...for the masculine and feminine of the Greek pronoun of the third person are correct only when the antecedents are denoting persons. In other cases, the pronouns will be neuter in English even when they are masculine or feminine in Greek." - pp. 47-48.

In other words, even if the Greek words for 'holy spirit' were in the masculine gender (and, therefore, the Greek masculine pronouns would be used with it), it still would not indicate that the holy spirit must be a person! Just as in many other languages things are often given feminine and masculine genders in Bible Greek.

However, since its literal title ("holy spirit") is really neuter in the NT Greek and really uses the neuter pronoun ("it") and takes the neuter definite article (Gr. to), there is the extremely high probability, from grammar alone, that it is not a person.

If we search through a concordance that shows the gender of Biblical Greek words, we will see that, in the vast majority of cases, words that are used mainly to literally describe persons use the appropriate gender for that person [similar to Spanish and other languages]:

"husband" (masculine), "wife" (feminine), "daughter" (feminine), "son" (masculine), etc.

Often the same basic Greek word is used for both sexes, but it will be given a feminine ending when applied to female persons and a masculine ending when applied to male persons: For example, "god" (theos - masculine) and "goddess" (thea - feminine), "prophet" (prophetes - masculine) and "prophetess" (prophetis - feminine), "king/queen," etc.

And even when, on occasion, we find a word that is applied equally to men or women, the gender of that individual is still shown by the gender of the article or pronoun used with it: For example, "doorkeeper" (thuroros) can be used for both men and women, but, when it is used in the NT for a male, the masculine article (ho) comes before it: ho thuroros (John 10:3), and when it is used in the NT for a female, the feminine article (h - looks like an elongated n in the Greek and pronounced 'hay.' ) comes before it: h thuroros (John 18:17). - Compare Mark 13:34 and John 18:16.

So, you see, in the vast majority (if not all) of cases a person's gender is shown by the gender of the Greek words and titles that literally[2] describe that person and/or by the gender of the article and pronouns that go with that Greek word.[3]

But not only is the literal "Holy Spirit" neuter in the original Greek, but so are the article (to - p. 34, Machen) and the pronouns (auto ['it'] and o [with two small breathing marks above it meaning 'which']- pp. 19, 68, Marshall) which go with it! [4]- See John 14:17 and 1 Cor. 12:4, 11 in any interlinear Bible or Greek text, for example. Cf. Ro. 8:16 in KJV, AT, and The Interlinear Bible, Jay P. Green, Baker Book House, 1982.

The only exception to this that I have found deals with very young, immature persons and animals. Young children sometimes are called paidion ("young child" - Matt. 2:8) and brephos ("infant" - Luke 1:41). These two Greek words are neuter and so are the article and pronouns that usually accompany them! Why these words are exceptions, I'm not certain. Perhaps one was not considered fully a person (at least as far as gender is concerned) until he reached maturity. (At any rate, the Holy Spirit would certainly be considered mature if it were really a person!)

It is quite clear, though, (from going through a New Testament Bible concordance that shows gender and examining an interlinear text) that it is extremely rare, if ever, that a mature person is not distinguished by a noun (or its article and pronouns) which shows the appropriate gender. And, although the word for an impersonal thing is often given a neuter ending, it is also very common for an impersonal thing to be given a masculine or feminine gender in all those areas!

Most trinitarian Bibles, then, go against the bulk of the literal grammatical evidence when they use "he," "him," etc. in translating the original Greek neuter pronouns with "holy spirit" as their antecedent. There are a very few places, however, where the Greek appears to use the masculine article and pronouns with "holy spirit."

If, when you examine the Greek text (as found in interlinear Greek-English New Testament Bibles), you occasionally find a masculine pronoun seeming to refer to the holy spirit, you will find that the actual antecedent is not "holy spirit" but some other noun (which, although representing a thing, does have the masculine gender assigned to it in NT Greek).

Even modern English is similar. If, for example, we have been speaking about death (an impersonal thing) and suddenly begin using the common personified figure for death, "the Grim Reaper," even in modern English we properly change pronouns from "it" to "he." E.g., "Death was fast approaching Mary. She could feel it coming. But when the Grim Reaper actually placed his hand on her and said, 'it's time, Mary,' she drew on her inner strength, pushed him back, and said, 'not yet!' She wasn't ready to accept it [death]."

The Greek word paraclete, parakleto", (rendered "comforter" in KJV; "helper" in some other translations) is in the masculine gender. So when paraclete is the actual antecedent (even though we understand that it may figuratively represents the holy spirit), its pronoun in the Greek must also be masculine.

We know that the masculine paraclete may be figuratively applied to an impersonal (neuter) thing as is so frequently done by the Jews in the languages used in the Bible. (See p. 37, Barclay's Letters of John and Jude, "The Daily Study Bible Series," The Westminster Press, Revised Edition, 1976.)[5]

See John 14:16, 26; and 16:7 for all the uses of "comforter" (paraclete - masculine) applied to holy spirit. You can see that the masculine pronoun (auton) does follow "comforter" after the word was introduced as the antecedent in John 16:7 (remember, the Greek pronoun, as well as the article, must agree with its antecedent in gender in NT Greek).

Sometimes it is not easy to determine what the actual antecedent is, as it may have been introduced sentences earlier.[6] If we look at John 14:16, for example, we see that paraclete is introduced. This means that, in spite of the introduction of "the spirit" (neuter) in John 14:17, the pronouns in that verse could have referred back to paraclete in verse 16 as their antecedent, and, in that case they would have to be masculine in the Greek! Instead, they obviously refer to the neuter "spirit" in verse 17 and, therefore, must be the neuter auto ('it').[7] - see AT, Ro, Byington, and The Zondervan Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (literal translation).

Just the opposite may be occurring at John 16:7, 13. Although paraclete is introduced in verse 7 and "spirit" is introduced in verse 13 itself, many translators (including the NWT) refer the genitive reflexive pronoun in verse 13 back to paraclete as its antecedent. Therefore, they literally translate the 3rd person verbs and the 3rd person reflexive pronoun in verse 13 as "he will guide," "he hears," and "himself." I believe, however, that this may be an arbitrary choice. Since the third person verbs and the third person reflexive pronoun (eautou) can be interpreted as masculine, feminine, or neuter, a translator could use "spirit" (verse 13) as the antecedent and, therefore, translate the ambiguous third person verbs and reflexive pronoun literally in the neuter gender ("it hears," "itself," etc.).

Either way, however, there is no real reason to regard the holy spirit as a person because of the figurative use in a very few places of the masculine paraclete.[8] (It's too bad paraclete wasn't feminine in the Greek, as it could just as well have been. The feminine verbs and pronouns that would have resulted in the Greek would not have been literally translated then!) The much more frequent use of the neuter "holy spirit" and its neuter article and pronouns more strongly indicates just the opposite! (This is similar to the figurative use of the neuter "Lamb" in Rev. 5:6; 5:12; and 6:1 for Jesus. The masculine "Jesus" and "Christ," etc. of his literal name and descriptions show that he is a male person in spite of the neuter articles and pronouns that must be used in the NT Greek to agree with the neuter "Lamb.")

“The Hebrew word ruah (usually translated ‘spirit’) is often found in texts referring to the free and unhindered activity of God, .... There was, however, no explicit belief in a separate divine person in Biblical Judaism; in fact, the New Testament itself is not entirely clear in this regard....“The definition that the Holy Spirit was a distinct divine Person equal in substance to the Father and the Son and not subordinate to them came at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381....” - Encyclopedia Britannica Micropaedia, 1985, v. 6, p. 22.

α 1. The Hebrew, like all Semitic languages, recognizes only two genders in the noun, a masculine and a feminine. Inanimate objects and abstract ideas, which other languages sometimes indicate by the neuter, are regarded in Hebrew as masculine or feminine, more often the latter [feminine]! – Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, p. 222, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1910. (Emphasis added.)

"Spirit" in Hebrew (ruah or ruach) is in the feminine gender, which as explained above is commonly used for neuter..

When we combine the gender use for the holy spirit in the New Testament Greek (neuter gender) with the gender use for the holy spirit in the Old Testament Hebrew (feminine/neuter), we have a doubly significant statement. 

From the RDB Files. 

For more, see:

Holy Spirit - Links to Information (Examining the Trinity)

Exposing the False Reasoning Behind Holy Spirit 'Proof-Texts' (SFBT)

Trinity Index (Examining the Trinity)

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