Is the Bible’s Holy Spirit A He Or It?
The nature of the Holy Spirit has long been a very controversial topic. It was not until 350 years after the cross (381 A.D.) that the Council of Constantinople was held by Emperor Theodosius to try and decide on the nature of the Holy Spirit. It was three Cappadocians that were steeped in Greek Philosophy who first decided that the Holy Spirit was another literal being like the Father and Son. So this belief never came from the Apostles but three men not grounded in the Word of God.
Many people assume that the Holy Spirit is a divine person like the Father and Christ based on references to the Spirit as “he,” “him” or “himself” in the New Testament. This confusion arises from two factors. The first is the use of gender inflected pronouns in the Greek language (a difficult concept to understand for those who speak only English).
And second is the bias on the part of some translators. In other words, if the translators have accepted the trinity doctrine as being true, then the translation performed by them will more than likely reflect their belief.
Why is The Holy Spirit Sometimes Called He Or Him?
The romance languages deriving from Latin such as Greek, Spanish, French, Italian etc. assign a specific gender for every noun. Every object be it animate or inanimate is designated as masculine, feminine or neuter as in neither. But the gender is often unrelated to whether the item is masculine or feminine.
For example, in French the word livre, meaning “book,” is of the masculine gender and would be referred to by a pronoun equivalent to the English “he” or “him.” And in Spanish, mesa, meaning “table,” is in the feminine. Although these nouns have gender, their gender does not actually refer to being male or female as you can see. In English by contrast, most nouns that do not refer to objects that are male or female are referred to in the neuter sense with the pronoun “it.”
English uses separate gender forms only with pronouns (he, she, it). When speaking of people in English, grammatical gender is normally associated with the sex of the person indicated. For example, “He went to the shop,” says that the person who went to the shop was male, while “She went to the shop,” says that the person who went was female. When English speakers are not referring to people, they would normally, but not always, use the word “it” which does not specify gender.
So as already explained, every noun in Greek is always assigned a specific gender. But even nouns that do not refer to people may be masculine or feminine. For example, ἄρτος (Greek word for bread) is masculine, even though the object to which it refers is neither male nor female. And yet some words that do refer to people are assigned neuter gender. For example παιδίον (a Greek word for child) is neuter though a child is either male or female. Yet the word κοράσιον (girl) is also neuter even though it always refers to a female. So gender in Greek is a matter of grammar, not biological sex, even thoughmost words that refer exclusively to males are assigned masculine gender and most words referring exclusively to females are assigned feminine gender.
The grammatical gender for “Holy Spirit” actually varies according to the language used. The grammatical gender of the word “spirit” is masculine in Latin (spiritus) and Latin derived languages such as German (Geist). While in the Semitic languages such as Hebrew (רוח), Aramaic and its descendant Syriac, it is feminine. But in Greek it is neuter (πνεῦμα). If speakers of a particular language were to confuse grammatical gender with physical gender, they could think the Holy Spirit was a male or female or neither. Such confusion of course does not affect the real gender or lack of gender of the Holy Spirit. For example, as just seen, in the Hebrew language which the Old Testament was written, the word translated “spirit,” ruach, is referred to with feminine pronouns. But the Holy Spirit clearly is not a female or a woman.
Since the Greek word pneuma for spirit is grammatically neuter, then in the same language, the pronoun referring to the Holy Spirit under that name should also be grammatically neuter.
However, the Greek word parakletos, which is translated “Counselor,” “Helper,” “Comforter” and “Advocate” in John chapters 14 to 16 is a masculine word in Greek, and thus is referred to in these chapters by Greek pronouns equivalent to the English “he,” “him,” “his,” “himself,” “who” and “whom,” which are grammatically correct in Greek. But to translate these into English as “he,” “him,” etc., is actually grammatically incorrect.
For example, you would never translate a particular French sentence into English as “I’m looking for my book so I can read him.” While this grammatical construction makes sense in the French language, it is wrong in English. In the same way, to suppose on this basis that the Holy Spirit is a person to be referred to as “he” or “him” is incorrect. Only if the parakletos or helper were known to be a person could the use of a gender inflected pronoun justifiably be used in English. And the termparakletos certainly does refer to a person in 1 John 2:1 as it refers directly to Jesus Christ.
Many believe that the Comforter is the Holy Spirit as a literal being, and one of the reasons some assume this is because the pronoun “he” has been used since parakletos is masculine. But the Comforter is actually Christ coming to us throughthe Spirit, that is the Spirit of God, not a literal being. So using pronouns such as “he” or “him” for the Greek word parakletos, being a masculine word would be correct in the sense of physical gender, as Christ through the Spirit is our Comforter. But the grammatical gender “he” or “him” is still technically incorrect for English translations.
There is absolutely no theological or Biblical justification for referring to the term “Holy Spirit” with masculine pronouns, even in Greek. The Greek word pneuma, translated “spirit” (but also translated “wind” and “breath” in the New Testament) is always a grammatically neuter word. Thus in the Greek language, pronouns equivalent to the English “it,” “its,” “itself,” “which” or “that” should be used in referring to this word translated into English as “spirit.”
When the King James or Authorized Version was produced (early in the 1600s), the doctrine of the Trinity had already been accepted for more than 1,000 years. So naturally the translators of that version, influenced by that belief, usually chose personal rather than neutral pronouns when referring to the Holy Spirit in English. For example, John 16:13-14 “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. 14 He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” Romans 8:26 “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
However, this wasn’t always the case. Notice that in some passages in the King James Version the translators did use the proper neuter pronouns. For example, Romans 8:16 KJV says, “The Spirit itself [not himself] beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” And similarly, Romans 8:26 KJV says, “the Spirit itself [not himself] maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” In these cases the translators correctly used neuter pronouns because the Greek word pneuma, translated “Spirit,” is neuter in gender.
Another example is Matthew 10:20 KJV where Jesus says, “For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which[not who] speaketh in you.” Another is 1 Peter 1:11 KJV which refers to “the Spirit of Christ which [not who] was in them.” The King James Version translators did use the proper neuter pronouns in these verses.
Regrettably, later English translators of the Bible have gone further than the King James translators in referring to the Holy Spirit with masculine rather than neuter pronouns. Thus the Holy Spirit is almost always referred to as “he” or “him” in the more modern versions. This reflects not linguistic accuracy, but the doctrinal bias or incorrect assumptions of Bible translators who wrongly believe the Holy Spirit is a person. So here is one more way that Satan tries to convince us of a lie.
Here are the same two examples from the New King James Version and the New International Version:
Romans 8:16 NKJV “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,”
Romans 8:26 NKJV “but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
Romans 8:16 NIV “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
Romans 8:26 NIV “but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”
See the pagan origins of the trinity doctrine and how they decided the Holy Spirit was a person 400 years after the cross. And who really gets the worship if the Holy Spirit is worshipped?