We have depersonalized the person of Holy Spirit

How often do we hear “Holy Spirit” addressed by name? Very rarely…or almost never. Too often, we refer to the person of the Holy Spirit as an “it” or a “the”–which conjures up an image of an object, a mere thing like a dove, fire, wind, breath, etc. I have never been completely comfortable addressing the Holy Spirit as an “it” or with a definite article “the”. However, there are many occurences in the original Greek where “Holy Spirit” is referred to without the definite article “the”. For instance:

In Acts 4:31, the Greek does use the definite article “the”: ἐπλήσθησαν ἅπαντες τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος. (TNIV/NASB/NRSV: “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit”).
– however, in Acts 2:4, the Greek does not use the definite article “the”: ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες πνεύματος ἁγίου. TNIV/NASB/NRSV translate this as: “…filled with the Holy Spirit” but this might be more accurately translated as “…filled with Holy Spirit”. “Holy Spirit” is used in the same context as Acts 4:31 but note that “the” is added where it does not exist. Why is there inconsistency?

In Acts 10:47, the Greek does use the definite article “the”: τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον ἔλαβον (TNIV/NASB/NRSV: “…received the Holy Spirit”).
– however, in Acts 8:19, the Greek doesnot use the definite article “the”: λαμβάνῃ πνεῦμα ἅγιον. TNIV/NASB/NRSV translate this as: “received the Holy Spirit” but couldn’t this be better translated as “…received Holy Spirit”. The Spirit is also used in the same context as Acts 10:47 but “the” has also been added where it doesn’t exist. Why the duplicity?

There are numerous other occurrences where the definite article “the” is not used in the book of Acts: Acts 2:4; 4:8; 6:3, 5; 7:55; 8:15, 17, 19, 39; 9:17; 11:24; 13:9; and 19:2, however, there may be more. Why have all our English translations added the definite article “the” after “Holy Spirit” in places it does not exist? Why is the definite article “the” used and sometimes not used? I would like to know why.

Was Luke (the writer of the book of Acts) intending to refer to “Holy Spirit” in a more personal manner by not using “the” in the above verses? Possibly. It seems so arbitrary and ambiguous to me. Was it for the sake of uniformity or clarification? Perhaps. If “the” has been incorrectly added, this may have inadvertently contributed to our objectification and de-personalization of “Holy Spirit”. This is not surprising since we are made to refer to Him as a “the” or a mere “it”?

If the person of the Holy Spirit is a person just like Father God and Jesus, why do we not refer to “Holy Spirit” in a more personal manner? Scripture seems to allow for it. In most cases, to refer to the Holy Spirit using “the” may be scripturally correct. In other words, we could also be correct in addressing or referring to “Holy Spirit” in the same manner that we address “Heavenly Father, …” or “Dear Lord,…” Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, the Advocate, the Spirit of the Lord. If the person of Holy Spirit is a full member of the trinitarian Godhead, doesn’t the person of Holy Spirit deserve to be referred to in a more personal manner as we would like for ourselves?

There seems to be a subconscious depersonalization and marginalization of Holy Spirit in our translations. it is no wonder the Holy Spirit seems to be impersonal to many Christians. We have turned him into an object–a distant third member of the trinity–when we should recognize him in a more personal way. We have not learned to respect the person of Holy Spirit as we should and have relegated him to some mystical realm that is difficult to touch, like a wind or a breath.

See also: Holy Spirit is a name

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

8 thoughts on “We have depersonalized the person of Holy Spirit”

  1. Some Orthodox prayers to the Spirit:

    The Father is my hope; the Son is my refuge; the Holy Spirit is my protector. O All-holy Trinity, glory to You.

    O heavenly Father, to whom with Your Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and Your all-holy and Life-giving Spirit, is due all honor, praise, glory, and thanksgiving: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

    Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, present in all places and filling all things, Treasury of Goodness and Giver of life: come and abide in us.

    Lord God, Almighty Father, Only Son, Lord Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit, one God and one Power, have mercy on me a sinner and save me Your unworthy servant according to the ways of Your wisdom, for You are blessed forever and ever. Amen.

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  2. I really like your website. For a former seminary student…..Awesome! I agree with your Holy Spirit Blog writing also.

    In Christ Love, Denise

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  3. One problem with this whole issue is that Greek articles don’t work the same way with names as English articles. They used articles before proper names. You wouldn’t refer to a person by name without an article. Saying “the Socrates” indicated that you were talking about the one guy named Socrates.

    If you didn’t use an article, it might indicate a number of things. You use it to indicate the subject, so if you have a predicate nominative you could have the predicate without an article, as in John 1:1. The word was God. It has the word for God first and the word for the word second, but there’s an article in front of the second one, indicating that it’s the subject. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t using ‘theos’ as a name for God.

    Another purpose of the article is for linking two terms together. You put the article in front of the second term in a sequence to indicate what we do in English with “i.e.”.

    I don’t know how all this affects the issue of the Holy Spirit, but it’s important to remember that the article use in the two languages can be very different. I did look in four Acts commentaries at Acts 2:4, and not one of them thought the lack of the article was significant enough even to mention it.

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  4. Thanks Jeremy for your explanation into the Greek use of article “the”. I never really understood why it was so so I thought it was either arbitrary or was not there for a reason; but now I know.

    You use it to indicate the subject, so if you have a predicate nominative you could have the predicate without an article, as in John 1:1.

    That explains it.
    I also looked under “pneuma” in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament and didn’t find anything significant about the lack of an article. I must admit, Biblical languages is not my strongest area in seminary so I still need to “beef up” that area but I do have an interest in this area.

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    1. Hi Laurie, welcome to the NewEpistles blog. I looked at your website and see that your book’s title refers to “Holy Spirit” as a name. I like that. =

      Is your book is scheduled to be released in May 2010? Do you have any reviews yet?

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  5. Yes, the book will be released May 4, 2010. I have a few reviews on my website, on Laurie’s Book Club page, go check it out. I have some others in the works and hope to have them on the website soon. The book has a great discussion on who Holy Spirit is, and that Holy Spirit is a person. I have had great comments on that portion of the book; that it helped them understand Holy Spirit and what He came to do. http://www.lauriewebbministries.com/lauries_book_club.html

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