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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Identity of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Does the New Testament Depart from the Normal Rules of Grammar to Indicate the Personality of the Holy Spirit?

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Does the New Testament Depart from the Normal Rules of Grammar to Indicate the Personality of the Holy Spirit?

The Identity of the Holy Spirit – Question 6

It has been argued that, in a few cases, the New Testament writers depart from the normal rules of grammar to show the personality of the Holy Spirit. The argument from this can be stated as follows.

The Rule in Greek Grammar

The Greek language has grammatical genders for each noun – they are masculine, feminine, or neuter. The rule can be simply stated as follows: When a pronoun is used to refer to another noun it must agree with the noun in the same gender.

For example a neuter noun would have a neuter pronoun referring to it. Pneuma, the Greek word translated “Spirit” is a neuter gender word. Therefore, any pronoun that would substitute for pneuma would also be in the neuter gender.

It is alleged that what we find in the Gospel of John is a violation of this rule with respect to the Holy Spirit. The writer, the Apostle John, substituted masculine pronouns to show the personality of the Holy Spirit.

There Are Four Alleged Examples in the Gospel of John of This Violation

Four passages in the Gospel of John are usually brought up as examples to prove this point. They are as follows.

A. John 14:16, 17

In John fourteen, we read the following.

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper who will be with you forever. That helper is the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him, because it doesn’t see or know him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be in you (John 14:16, 17 God’s Word).

While the word “Spirit” is in the neuter gender in Greek, the pronouns “Him” and “He” referring to the Holy Spirit are in the masculine gender. Therefore it is argued that the rules of Greek grammar were violated to emphasize the personality of the Holy Spirit.

B. John 15:26

It is argued that the same hold true in another passage in John’s gospel. Jesus made the following statement.

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf (John 15:26 NRSV).

Again, we have the words translated “who” and “He” in the masculine, rather than in the neuter gender.

C. John 16:13, 14

There is a third example in John 16. It says.

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13, 14 NKJV).

The word “He” is in the masculine gender.

D. John 16:17

There is a fourth passage where the writer does the same thing. It reads.

However, I am telling you the truth: It’s good for you that I’m going away. If I don’t go away, the helper won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7 God’s Word).

In this fourth instance the word “Him” is masculine in gender, not neuter gender.

The pronoun “He” is in the masculine gender in all these instances. This emphasizes the personality of the Holy Spirit.

This purposeful change in the Greek grammar emphasizes the personality of the Holy Spirit. There would have been no reason to change from the neuter gender to the masculine gender unless the writer wanted the Holy Spirit to be understood as a person.

Response to This Argument

While this argument is often found in books on the Holy Spirit it is of doubtful merit. It is true that there is a masculine pronoun in these passages that refers to the Holy Spirit. However, a closer inspection will find that the masculine pronoun does not substitute for the word Spirit “pneuma” but rather to the word for “Comforter,” or “Helper” (the Greek paraklatos). This word is masculine in gender.

Therefore when we find these masculine gender pronouns used in these four passages they are not referring back to the word “Spirit” but rather the word “Comforter.” Consequently no rule of Greek grammar has been violated to emphasize the personality of the Holy Spirit. The personality of the Holy Spirit is emphasized in other ways.

Summary – Question 6
Does the New Testament Depart from the Normal Rules of Grammar to Indicate the Personality of the Holy Spirit?

There is the argument that the Gospel of John breaks the normal rules of Greek grammar by making the pronouns referring to the Holy Spirit in the masculine rather than the neuter gender. Four instances are given that supposedly prove this point.

Although this popular argument has made its way into many books on the Holy Spirit it really does not hold up. The pronouns are not substituting for the Greek word translated as “Spirit” (pneuma) but rather for the Greek word for Comforter or Helper (paraklatos), which is in the masculine gender. Consequently no grammatical rule is broken.

This, of course, does not mean that the Holy Spirit is an “it” or is something impersonal. The Bible is clear on this matter. The Holy Spirit is God. Consequently, He is a personal being. However, we should not use the argument from grammatical gender to prove the point.

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