Saturday, June 27, 2009

the end of exegesis

Update: Here is a distinct problem. It turns out that wikipedia agrees with Grudem's argument and not Wallace's. (So now I am wearing egg all over my face, because I just used a wikipedia link for another matter recently.) Overall, the wikipedia article on the gender of the holy spirit is lacking some clarity.


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
But what about John 14 and 16, where the Greek does use a masculine pronoun? Here is the explanation in the Systematic Theology, page 232, which I will divide into two arguments for the holy spirit being a masculine person,
    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).
Dan Wallace deals summarily with Dr. Grudem's first point. (While I don't agree with Dr. Wallace when he is running against scholarly consensus, as he does with Junia, I believe that what he writes on the masculine pronoun for the holy spirit represents current scholarly consensus.)

In Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, page 332,
    The antecedent of ἐκεῖνος, in each case, is παράκλητος, not πνεῦμα. John 14:26 reads, δὲ παράκλητος, τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον πέμψει 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.
While Wallace roundly dismisses any argument that the grammatical masculine refers to anything but pure grammatical gender, and has no significance for ontological gender, Grudem's second argument remains, that the parakletos could cause the spirit to be interpreted as a masculine person.

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.
In this passage, wisdom, the bride, is also given the title of counselor - in Greek, σύμβουλος. While this word means a person who acts as a counselor, and has masculine grammatical gender, it does not have the effect of causing us to believe that wisdom is a male person. Wisdom is not usually interpreted as either a person, or male.

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.


J. L. Watts said...

Suzanne, I am glad to see more of Wisdom (of Solomon) in this discussion.

I believe that you are correct in your conclusions, even from a doctrinal standpoint, that the Spirit must not be automatically assigned the masculine gender (I would prefer the neuter).

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I am really working this through as I go along. I hadn't given this much thought before.

J. L. Watts said...

Suzanne, in my opinion, I think that you are on the right tract.

If the point of translation the bible is to show what the writers actually meant, then we must grapple with gender, and how it plays it's part in various doctrines and dogma - even our view and perhaps, our interaction, with God.

I firmly believe that if we are speaking of the holy Spirit, then we should allow the NT writers to speak for themselves, minus men's traditions.

Suzanne, have you made much use of Hebrews 10.15? In a conversation long ago, I said this.

A.Admin said...

Over time you may notice certain Wikipedia articles aligning with a hard complimentarian position and the egalitarian one possibly panhandled. I’ve had a few articles and editors bookmarked watching the changes going on over time.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I haven't thought of using Hebrews 10:15, but I do like to go back and read the posts you link to and then enocorporate some of the ideas in future posts.

A Admin,

I just went back and read the Junia page which I had once made a small contribution to. It is a complete mess with people moving stuff around and not much coherence left. I note that this is remaining,

In 2001, Michael Burer and Daniel B. Wallace wrote a journal article entitled "Was Junia Really An Apostle? A Re-examination of Romans 16.7", NTS 47. In it Burer and Wallace, accepting that Junia was a woman, asserted that she was well known to the Apostles rather than prominent among the Apostles. The working hypothesis is that if Paul had meant to communicate that Junia was prominent among the Apostles, then he would have used episamoi with a genitive.

That is the way inclusion within a group is indicated within Greek. He used episamoi with en and the dative, which according to their hypothesis means they are excluded from the group. There are no exceptions. This is articulated above by the comment that the Jews were not among the Gentiles.

It is interesting to note that the Greek NT revised in the 19th century clearly said that Junia was among the apostles. So how do Wallace and Burer speak Greek better than the Greeks, or are the Greeks not expected to read NT Greek properly.

What a lot of nonsense!

Imagine the author of this paragraph saying that there are no exceptions when, in fact, they are dozens of cases of en plus the dative meaning inclusion in the group in the NT. Some people are great at pretending they know what they are talking about. And then, if that paragraph were written by a man he might want women to follow it, just because he was a man, and no worries about being truthful or accurate.

Anonymous said...

Suzanne, I dont see a trinity in the scriptures at all, I see two: Father and Son. The Father is in effect Spirit, John 4:24. He sends His Ruach, Spirit, or breath to those He will empowering, inspiring and guiding as the case might be, but His breath is very much a part of Him, not a separate entity. Yeshua and His disciples were Nazarene Jews and as such is highly unlikely they would have adhere to what seems to be an ancient Babylonian/Egyptian belief. It seems this trinitarian concept crept into the church at a much later time.