In writing my previous post on the spirit, I was surprised to find out that the spirit has only been treated as masculine in Bible translation since the late 19th century. Romans 8:26 is an example of this.
- but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. KJV
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. NIV
- 1) there are places where the masculine pronoun "he" (Gk. ekeinos) is applied to the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:13-14), which one would not expect from Greek grammar, for the word "spirit" (Gk. pneuma) is neuter, not masculine, and would ordinarily be referred to with the neuter pronoun ekeino.
2) Moreover, the name counselor or comforter (Gk. parakletos) is a term commonly used to speak of a person who helps or gives comfort or counsel to another person or persons, but is used of the Holy Spirit in John's gospel. (14"16, 15:26, 16:7).
In Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, page 332,
- The antecedent of ἐκεῖνος, in each case, is παράκλητος, not πνεῦμα. John 14:26 reads, ὁ δὲ παράκλητος, τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον ὃ πέμψει ὁ πατὴρ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου, ἐκεῖνος ὑμᾶς διδάξει πάντα ("the Comforter, the Holy Spirit whom the Father sends in my name, that one will teach you all things"). πνεῦμα not only is appositional to παράκλητος, but the relative pronoun that follows it is neuter! This hardly assists the grammatical argument for the Spirit's personality. ... Indeed, it is difficult to find any text in which πνεῦμα is grammatically referred to with the masculine gender.
In order to test the validity of this argument, we can compare this passage with the Wisdom of Solomon. In chapter 7 Wisdom is identified closely with the spirit of God. She is also metaphorized as a bride.
In Wisdom 8:12, we read,
- I determined then to take her to live with me,
knowing that she would be a good counselor for me,
and a comfort in cares and griefs.
By the same token, when the spirit is called the comforter, παράκλητος, in John 14, this does not provide proof that the spirit is either male or a person. Exegesis does not deliver the goods, when it comes to systematic theology, in my opinion.
I am not concerned with influencing people's beliefs about the trinity as I write this. However, I do want to provide some example of how theology derived from grammatical arguments can be very tenuous. If, in fact, the text does not prove that the spirit is a male person in unequivocal terms, then this ought to remain a doctrine on which a variety of beliefs can be tolerated.
Above all, translations of the Bible should not represent the spirit as a male person without a note indicating that this is an interpretive translation of the Greek.
Read Joel's excellent response here.