Re: Gender of TO PNEUMA

From: Joe A. Friberg (
Date: Fri Nov 19 1999 - 11:41:51 EST

We in English are much more sensitive to the correspondence of grammatical
gender to sex than was Greek or many other languages of Europe or the world.
In English, we pretty strictly adhere to the use of 'it' for 'impersonal
things'. This sensitivity is also a matter of language change, and can be
observed in several contemporary modes: I note that the use of 'it' for an
infant is fading--it is all but non-existent in my dialect; the feminist
aversion to use of 'he' as a generic term is the result of prescriptive
rules that cling to anachronistic historical usage; the affectionate(?)
labeling of vessels, countries, flags, etc. with the feminine seems to be

In Greek (and other languages), however, there was/is not complete disregard
for correspondence of grammatical gender to sex and personal
characteristics. The use of 'he' in reference to the Spirit finds as its
precedence John's use of various masc. pronouns in reference to PNEUMA in Jn
16.13-14, and the masculine appelation hO PARAKLHTOS along with masc.
pronouns in Jn 15.26, 16.7-8. In this context, it may be that the masculine
usage is prompted by the masc. PARAKLHTOS (esp. evident in 15.26, 16.7-8),
but it is definitely interesting that the masculine is permitted to prevail
even when the proximity is quite removed (16.13-14). Further, it would seem
that John could have coined a neuter *PARAKLHTO if he wanted to be
consistent with the standard neut. reference to the Spirit. It would seem
(without pressing the point too strenuously) that John used the masc.
because his context was bringing out the personal aspects of TO PNEUMA/hO

God Bless, and study hard!

Joe Friberg
Arlington, Texas

----- Original Message -----
From: Brand, Andrew <>
To: Biblical Greek <>
Sent: Friday, November 19, 1999 5:21 AM
Subject: Gender of TO PNEUMA

> Another first post here..........
> My name is Andrew Brand. I live in Kingston (10 miles outside London),
> England. I did Classical Greek to O-level at school (O-levels were the
> public exams taken at about 16 years old). After university I did a one
> evening class in NT Greek using Wenham. That was in 1992, but an MBA then
> took up too much time to do much Greek. I've recently started teaching
> myself, (I'm very rusty indeed) using Mounce's excellent Basics of
> Greek.
> I'd like to ask a question about the gender used to translate TO PNEUMA.
> do English translations use 'he' for the pronoun referring to the Holy
> Spirit, rather than 'it'?
> Thank you
> Andrew
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Jim West []
> Sent: 18 November 1999 22:27
> To: Biblical Greek
> Cc:
> Subject: Re: Paraclete (and spelling of transliterated proper names)
> At 10:57 AM 11/19/99 +1300, you wrote:
> >While I agree that *paraclete* is not a proper name, I guess those of us
> who
> >use it as such do so because we feel that any translation (comforter,
> >advocate, helper) would confuse the meaning in some references, or
> introduce
> >an unhelpful meaning. In some cases *he* (if I may use the term where
> *she*
> >may be more appropriate at times) is a reminder and teacher (14.25ff;
> >16.12-14), at other times a comforter (14.15ff), and at other times a
> >witness (15.26, 27), while at other times an accuser (16.8-11), or a
> >"replacement" (14.15ff). Thus the allocation of one or the other terms
> >be misleading. He is after all hO PARAKLHTOS in several of the texts.
> It almost functions like the word "baptism" etc., because it is never
> translated either- it is always merely transliterated and anglicized (so
> that those who have differing views of the means of "immersion" aren't
> offended I suppose). So it is not wrong, in my view, to consider
> a "proper name".
> >A wider question of translation (Joe, this one is for you too), is it
> >helpful to translate the word in different ways (as Steve seems to
> >that the Eastern churches do) depending on the context?
> Context is everything in translation- of course it must be taken into
> account else the various shades of meaning that a word has will be
> and worst, ignored.
> Jim
> ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
> Jim West, ThD
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