John 3:8

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Wed Sep 10 1997 - 06:07:47 EDT

Dear Bryan and Pete,

Bryan Asked about the use of PNEUMA in John 3:8 and Pete responded:

>>>>>>>>>Rocine goes on in his posting to suggest a number of alternatives.
 However, I don't see that there is a clear solution to how John uses the
word. Its like asking what an English reader hears when we hear the phrase
"It's raining cats and dogs" or a French reader hears when we hear "il
pleut des haillbards" (or however you spell it, apologies for those who are
not as linguistically challenged!). Do we hear and perceive animals or
railings falling from heaven. Of course not. We hear that it is raining

I know that this is not as close a parallel as many would want and I may
get blasted for that - but I think we need to transfer this over to the
Greek hearer. We cannot ask whether they would have heard wind or spirit
because they would have heard PNEUMA and their referant semantic domain
would include both wind and spirit and breath. The ambiguity is completely
lost in translation and I don't think there is an adequate translation that
could allow for that ambiguity - it is one of the problems of translating
from the limited, concise vocabulary of Greek to verbose English.

And of course it is not the same as hearing "herd" or "heard" or "Hurd"!>>>>>>>

While I agree with much of Pete`s words, I have a few comments. It seems to
me that the "semantic domain" approach is too much concentrated on OUR need
to translate Greek and Hebrew clauses into English than with the mental
concepts of the original audience. This means that the "etymological
fallacy" - the arch-enemy" may exert influnece through the back-door.

Jesus and John spoke Hebrew (or Aramaic). In Hebrew there are several words
with the same morphology (written similarly) which signal completely
different mental concepts. The reason is that Hebrew had more laryngals in
the remote past than is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic
text. Arabic has both Gain and `Ain serving as laryngals. In Greek
translitterations of a particular town in Israel we find "Gaza" but in the
Masoretic text we find "`Aza", indicating that Hebrew also had Gain when
the translitterations were made, but later lost it.

In the remote past ruax (equivalent to Greek PNEUMA) signalled ONE concept,
but we are not interested in etymology but in the use by living people at
particular times. Language evolves, and there can be no doubt that a word
which originally signalled one concept in time could be used so differently
that it signalled more than one concept. I have studied the related
nefesh/PSUCH in the OT and the NT and have just found ONE concept. I have
not done the same with ruax/PNEUMA, but it seems to me that in the time of
Jesus the word signalled more than one concept and that in John 3:8 Jesus
used ONE word to signal TWO different concepts which in english can be
glossed as "spirit" and "wind". In any case, this can not be excluded, and
deserves to be studied. Any thoughts about this by others on the list?


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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