Why Is the Holy Spirit Called 'He' and 'Him'?

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Many people assume that the Holy Spirit is a personal being based on references to that Spirit as "he," "him" and "himself" in the Bible. This confusion arises because of the use of gender pronouns in the Greek language in which the New Testament was written.

Many people assume that the Holy Spirit is a personal being based on references to that Spirit as "he," "him" and "himself" in the Bible. This confusion arises because of the use of gender pronouns in the Greek language in which the New Testament was written.

Greek, like the Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian and others), uses a specific gender for every noun. Every object, animate or inanimate, is referred to as either masculine, feminine or neuter. The gender is often arbitrary and unrelated to the whether the item is indeed masculine or feminine. For example, in French livre, meaning "book," is referred to in the masculine sense, as a "he." In German mädchen, a maid or young girl, is referred to by neuter articles, as though she were an "it."

In the English language, nouns that aren't specifically masculine or feminine are referred to in the neuter sense, as "it."

In Greek both masculine and neuter words are used in reference to the Holy Spirit. The Greek word translated "Helper," "Comforter" or "Counselor" in John 14, 15 and 16 is parakletos, a masculine word, and thus is referred to by the pronouns "he," "him," "his" and "himself" in those chapters. Because of the masculine gender of parakletos, those pronouns are technically correct in Greek, albeit misleading when translated word for word into English. But the supposition that the Holy Spirit is a person to be referred to as "he" or "him" is incorrect.

The word pneuma, usually translated "spirit" but sometimes "wind" and "breath," is a grammatically neuter word and in Greek is referred to by such neuter terms as "it," "its" or "itself."

When the King James Version was translated, the doctrine of the Trinity, which supposes that the Holy Spirit is a being, had been in place for more than 1,000 years. The translators of that version almost always changed the pronouns when referring to the Holy Spirit ( pneuma ) to "he," "his" and "himself" from the original Greek pronouns "it," "its" and "itself" (see John:16:13-14; Romans:8:26).

In a few passages the King James Version handles these pronouns as they should have been translated. Romans:8:16, for example, reads: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." Some other places in the KJV where pneuma is correctly referred to by the neuter terms "it" or "which" are Matthew:10:20; Luke:8:29; 9:39; John:1:32 and 1 Peter:1:11.

Later English translations of the Bible generally followed the lead of the King James Version in referring to the Holy Spirit as masculine rather than neuter. Thus the Holy Spirit is almost always referred to as "he" or "him" in modern versions. This reflects not linguistic accuracy but the use of gender in the Greek language and the doctrinal bias of Bible translators. GN

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