Re: Simeon's spirit in Lk 2:25b

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Nov 28 1997 - 07:16:15 EST

At 2:39 AM -0600 11/28/97, Peter Phillips wrote:
>Last night I went to an informal communion service here in College. I was
>following the reading in my GNT and was a little startled at the
>translation of what I saw before me. Luke 25b says, KAI PNEUMA HN 'AGION
>EP AUTWI. The translation was "the Holy Spirit was upon him".
>Doesn't the Greek actually suggest - "the spirit on him was a holy one" -
>i.e. he was a holy man rather than a reference to the Holy Spirit. It
>would seem that the alternative would be that he was demonised - i.e. the
>spirit on him was an unholy (KAKON?) one.

For my part, I think the traditional understanding of this verse is the
right one, and it is also consistent with the remainder of the pericope in
the portrayal of Simeon. In the absence of an article on PNEUMA or on
hAGION, one cannot say definitively that hAGION is predicative rather than
attributive. So I don't think Peter's view of the Greek is one that the
word order requires us to accept.

Two further points that may bear upon this:
(1) Although in general Luke is one of the better Greek prose writers in
the NT (that is to say, in terms of conformity to the practice of
school-educated Greek writers), it has been said that the style of the
nativity narrative in Luke deliberately mimics that of LXX narrative, which
itself is much less in conformity with polished Greek narrative style and
resonates with more Semitisms. That may be a factor in the slightly
anomalous word-order of this clause, although I wouldn't want to go too far
with this argument as an explanation.

(2) More to the point, I believe, is Luke's very distinctive conception of
pneumatic phenomena. Let me preface this by stating clearly my own personal
view that it is a mistake to read a fully-developed later Trinitarian
doctrine back into documents composed before that doctrine emerged as an
understanding of the implications of the experience of revelation in
Christ. (I'm not saying that what Luke writes is necessarily inconsistent
with Trinitarian doctrine at all, but that I personally doubt that he was
thinking conceptually in what later became traditional Trinitarian terms).
To continue, it seems to me that Luke quite frequently (not by any means
always or consistently) uses PNEUMA without an article and often enough
without any attributive adjective (and I've just confirmed this with a
quick search of PNEUMA in the text of Luke on Accordance--less than a
minute's effort!). Moreover, Luke has an almost "magical" conception of
Spirit as enabling power (he frequently uses it in conjunction with
DUNAMIS, his regular word for "miracle," although this is a word which
otherwise in Greek is more frequently conveyed by the English word
"power"); perhaps "magic" is the wrong word for it, it's almost like our
conception of electric current applied to accomplish tasks. If this view is
right, then the hAGION in Lk 2:25b could almost be an afterthought--an
adjective appended almost in the manner of the Homeric LEXIS EIROMENH (e.g.
ANDRA MOI ENNEPE, MOUSA, *POLUTROPON*, . . . in Odyssey 1.1). I mean that
the central notion is expressed in the word PNEUMA and Luke means to say of
Simeon KAI PNEUMA HN EP' AUTWi, but after HN he adds, as an afterthought,
the adjective (not really an epithet here) hAGION, just to avoid any
potential confusion with the notion of a demonic spirit. Does this make

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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