The Personhood of the Holy Spirit (Greek)

Among the verses in Scripture used in support of the Personhood of the Holy Spirit is John 14:16-17.

And I will ask the Father: and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever: The spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, nor knoweth him. But you shall know him; because he shall abide with you and shall be in you.

Now, the emphasis is placed upon the word “He”, which is there rather than “it”.

My Greek isn’t very good, but from what I found, 14:17 uses the neuter “αὐτὸ” according to this site. Why is it translated “Him” rather than “it” in that passage?

From what I understand, Koine Greek has αὐτός (masculine), αὐτή (feminine), αὐτό (neuter) as pronouns.

Can someone clear my confusion up? :confused:

It’s translated ‘him’ because in the target language (i.e., English), we call the Spirit ‘him’. However, in Greek, ‘spirit’ (Πνεῦμα) is a neuter noun. Therefore, words that refer to it must likewise be neuter. So, strictly speaking, in the Greek, they are saying ‘it’, but only because grammatically, the adjectives and pronouns which refer to the word ‘spirit’ must agree in gender.

It should also be noted that noun/pronoun gender in Greek does not imply or disprove personhood. Gender is a property of the word, not of the word’s subject.

For example, in Greek, the word for rock is petra (fem.). This translates into “rock” in English, which is an “it”. Where auta will appear in the Greek with reference to the petra, it will get translated as “it”, not “she.”

On the other hand, “lithos”, “stone” is masculine, but the same principle applies. A stone is not male, and neither is it a person, so when translated to English, autos with regards to the lithos will translate as “it”, not “he”.

So in the case of the Holy Spirit, “auto” is simply used because the word for “spirit” is “pneuma”, which is neuter. The “auto” can then translate into English as “he”, “she” or “it”, depending on the translator’s understanding of that the “pneuma” is. “It” would have been a perfectly correct translation as well, and still not disprove the Personhood of the Holy Spirit.

The Personhood of the Holy Spirit is not proven from the gender of the words. The gender is simply used because that’s the gender of the word “pneuma”. It implies nothing about the Personhood of the subject.

:thumbsup:

Aah, but you’ve opened a can of worms, haven’t you?

In a subtle way, you’ve touched upon the notion of ‘natural gender’ (as opposed to ‘grammatical gender’, per se). Yes, it’s true – rocks are neither male nor female; any notion of ‘gender’ that is assigned to a rock is purely a grammatical construct. (If you want to call your pet rock “Ma’am”, that’s up to you. ;))

But, there’s the question of ‘natural gender’ and how it relates to grammatical gender; and this notion varies by language. In general, nouns in Koine Greek don’t follow natural gender (that is, ‘child’ doesn’t change gender based on the gender of the child being referenced) but pronouns do.

So, how do we approach the question of ‘spirit’? Does the use of the neuter with Πνεῦμα indicate simple gender agreement (i.e., neuter nouns take neuter modifiers), or does it indicate natural gender (i.e., the Holy Spirit is neither male nor female, so neuter is the appropriate natural gender)?

Of course, the OP’s original question only touches upon this consideration. In particular, it seems that he’s noting the (American English-language) tendency to utilize ‘he’ or ‘she’ to refer to persons, and the aversion to using ‘it’ to refer to persons, and asking whether the same rule applies in Koine Greek. (Think about it: does it sound jarring to say, “the baby was tired, so I put it to bed”? In general, that would be proper (unless we both know the particular baby and its gender, in which case we might say “I put her to bed”), but it just ‘sounds’ wrong in contemporary American English.) So, generally speaking, given our aversion to use ‘it’ to refer to a person, one might conclude that using ‘it’ tends to imply inanimacy!

The question boils down to the following: does the use of neuter pronouns for ‘spirit’ in Koine Greek indicate a lack of personhood (as it might in contemporary American English)?

So, we’ve come full circle, it seems: Koine Greek is highly inflected, so we expect grammatical rules to dictate the gender of nouns and their modifiers. However, the notion of ‘natural gender’ also exists, tending to result in pronouns (not nouns!) indicating the gender of persons; in these cases, the gender of the pronoun does indeed “indicate the gender of the word’s subject”! Nevertheless, the assignment of neuter gender in Koine Greek (i.e., ‘it’ as opposed to ‘he’ or ‘she’) would seem not to make a statement about personhood in the way that it would in contemporary American English. That’s a hang-up that we seem to have developed (God bless our sensitive souls, desiring compassionate gender-neutral language!), but that wasn’t a hang-up of 1st and 2nd century Koine Greek-speakers! :wink:

(Of course, none of this discussion changes the answer to the question that’s puzzling the OP: “No, the use of ‘it’ in Koine Greek does not indicate that the Holy Spirit is a non-person”!)

Um, words for “child” can change: in Lk 8:54, we see παις in feminine; in Lk 2:43, it is masculine. There are also quite a few examples in Greek of ‘mismatched’ attributives and substantives (masc for a noun which ‘should’ be fem, κτλ, some of them mentioned here).

Nevertheless, the assignment of neuter gender in Koine Greek (i.e., ‘it’ as opposed to ‘he’ or ‘she’) would seem not to make a statement about personhood in the way that it would in contemporary American English.

This is very true. In general, neuter gender in Greek meant that natural gender was irrelevant, and so small children could be designated by neuter terms such as παιδιον and τεκνον especially when it did not matter whether they were male or female.

Jn 16:13-14 provides a very good example of gender complications in Greek, in that the Gospel writer uses εκεινος (masculine, probably from παρακλητος, “comforter”, in 16:7) with το πνευμα (neuter, “Spirit”). The two terms, despite their different grammatical genders, are used to refer to the one being, and that sort of ‘mismatching’ was perfectly okay for the Greeks, who were quite flexible about gender issues. :wink:

(I do keep wondering, however, why you refer to the American dialect in particular, since the “it => object” feature is standard for English generally.)

Perhaps I didn’t express myself clearly, but this is precisely the notion to which I was referring! In this case, the noun doesn’t change in order to express natural gender (in both Lk 8:54 and Lk 2:43, the noun is παῖς (‘child’)), but the distinction in natural gender is expressed in the article: in Lk 8:54, the feminine article is used to express the notion of a girl child (ἡ παῖς), whereas in Lk 2:43, the masculine article is used to express the notion of a boy child (ὁ παῖς).

There are also quite a few examples in Greek of ‘mismatched’ attributives and substantives (masc for a noun which ‘should’ be fem, κτλ, some of them mentioned here).

You’re referring to the examples you gave from Classical Greek?

(I do keep wondering, however, why you refer to the American dialect in particular, since the “it => object” feature is standard for English generally.)

Is there the sensitivity to calling a gender-neutral personal noun ‘it’ (e.g., ‘child’, ‘baby’) in England, as there is here? It’s my impression that this is a feature of American English. (I don’t want to complicate matters with the notion of the rejection of the use of ‘he’ in a gender-neutral sense, though, since that’s a particularly distinct issue…)

Ah, right: the attributive changes, but not the substantive. I thought you meant that the noun itself had to keep one gender. Sorry.

You’re referring to the examples you gave from Classical Greek?

Yes. There is one arguable one in the NT, in the Alexandrine MS for 1 Tim 3:16 - το της ευσεβειας μυστηριον 'ος εφανερωθη. The Byzantine majority apparently has θεος instead, and some later MSS have 'ο.

I have not yet checked for more in the LXX or other κοινη sources.

Is there the sensitivity to calling a gender-neutral personal noun ‘it’ (e.g., ‘child’, ‘baby’) in England, as there is here?

Describing a baby as “it”, at least within the parents’ hearing, will get you into a lot of trouble (hence the occasional use of “baby” as a referent, until the parent identifies the child’s sex for you). I have also heard “it” used as a derogatory reference for transgender people.

Then, just after I walk away from my computer, I remember one: the much-misread πετρος, which appears as a feminine noun from two different authors in Anthologia Palatina 7.274 and 7.479.

Should be translated “it”. One’s theology shouldn’t dictate translation; and it’s easily explained as others have above.

As Gorgias points out, however, Greek had grammatical gender, not just natural gender, whereas English only has natural gender (and I am including the personification of ships, etc, there). Grammatical gender is tremendously fluid, and not constrained by natural gender. Thus, for example, αρσενιον (“boy”, roughly) is grammatically neuter whilst at the same time denoting maleness; if we render a pronoun referring to αρσενιον as “it”, we obfuscate the sense; if we render the same pronoun as “he”, we obfuscate the grammar.

Likewise, the problem with rendering αυτο (for πνευμα) as “it” is that such a translation can mislead a monolingual English reader (i.e. the primary audience of an English translation) into believing that the text identifies the Spirit as impersonal, which is simply not the case.

I would suggest that a free translation is a better choice, albeit with a note to readers to explain that gender in the original does not match that in their own language.

Another screwy problem in English is that the pronoun rules are changing.

Traditionally, if the sex of a person was unknown, he was used
Now, we often see he/her (a new pronoun) or it (especially for the unborn)

So we may need to revisit this entire discussion in 20 years.

Acts 13:2King James Version (KJV)

2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

The Gender of the Holy Spirit is an interesting topic. Thanks. I the the use of ego, I in Acts 13,2 proves person-hood.

I would prefer just the opposite–a more accurate translation and notes about the problems created by the English language. While this particular case is not the best example, there are cases where theology clearly trumps translation–and I think that really cheats people out of having to struggle with what the Scriptures actually say.

Hi Dave, please consider, if you have the time of starting a new thread, giving examples. thanks

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