Copy of my response to Wes Williams

Edward Hobbs (
Mon, 27 May 1996 10:52:44 -0400 (EDT)

From: LUCY::EHOBBS "Edward Hobbs" 27-MAY-1996 10:51:12.68
To: IN%"71414.3647@CompuServe.COM"
Subj: RE: Grammatical gender, real-world sex, and "Pneuma"

Dear Wes, and colleagues,

Your response to my lengthy post was thoughtful; it still shows
signs, however, of not grasping the central point I made. E.g.:

<< In your example in Mark 5, it
is true that qugatrion, padion, and korasion are all neuter. We clearly know
that qugatrion and korasion in English are female references. Jesus himself
helps us to translate the pronoun as "her" since he twice refers to the "young
child" (paidion) as "her" (dative autE in vss. 41, 43) and avoided "it" (autO).
So the immediate context gives us guidance in how to render the pronoun. >>

We know how to translate these words BECAUSE IN ENGLISH WE REFER TO
IS NOT THE POINT! English LACKS gender in nouns, and our only problem is
whether to use He, She, or It when we see a 3s. pronoun in Greek--which is
not decided by the gender in Greek! It is decided by which of these three
we would use in English, which we determine by knowing the "sex" (or lack
thereof) of the noun being referenced in Greek. We call twelve-year-old
girls "she" (not "it", incidentally); in Mark's Greek, this girl is "neuter"
GENDER, not sex.

<<However, a central issue is how to translate the neuter "auto" when it appears
with a neuter english noun. Neither auto nor autO are in the Mark 5 reference.
Rather, Jesus uses "autE." Therefore, the Mark 5 reference you selected makes
the point all the more clearly that we cannot be indiscriminate when translating
"auto." >>

Once again, this confuses English usage with Greek gender, which is a basic
error. Greek gender does not translate into English sex-identification.

<< I looked up all 106 instances of "auto" in the GNT and in
almost every reference (as a personal pronoun) it appears to me that a neuter
English translation of "it" is appropriate. The exceptions I would choose are
to "paidion", but only when the context clearly determines a reference to male
or female (e.g. in Luke 2:40 a translator might choose "him" since the
contextual references are clearly to a male in vss. 21, 51. Even so, "it"
remains a good English translation for "young child", which is neuter in

I never met parents who would accept "it" for their own child! Only
strangers seeing the child and not knowing the sex of the child would be
likely to say "it."

But again, your count only means that much of the time, Greek neuter
pronouns refer to neuter nouns which we would consider sex-less (or sex-
unknown) in English.

The totally, absolutely correct point you make is that the context
determines which pronoun to use in English, when translating Greek; that is
to say, unless we know (from experience, context, or even our own private
beliefs) whether the referenced noun is a He, a She, or an It, we do not
know how to translate a Greek pronoun. Usually, we DO know. But when we
disagree (because we believe differently), the gender of the Greek pronoun
settles nothing.

People clearly disagree about whether the Holy Spirit is He, She, or It;
all three have appeared in Christian theology, including among the early
Fathers whose native language was Greek. They certainly understood the
gender of their pronouns, and it didn't settle the issue among them.
This is a theological argument. Theological arguments are good things, but
they do not belong on a Greek Grammar List.

<< Interestingly, An American Translation translates
John 15:16,17; "It is the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot obtain that Spirit,
because it does not see it or recognize it; you recognize it because it stays
with you and is within you." >>

This is a fine example, since it shows that Edgar J. Goodspeed (who had
retired before I arrived at Chicago) held a theology of the Holy Spirit
at least somewhat like yours. But it says nothing about the "correct"
translation, only about Goodspeed's opinion as to the non-sexual identity
of the Spirit.

Persoanlly, I like "she," for theological reasons (mainly because of the
Creed); but then, to me all dogs are He, and all cats are She, which says
more about me than about English pronoun-grammar.

Edward C. Hobbs