Much of the confusion among English-speaking peoples (and in English translations of the Bible) regarding the nature of the Holy Spirit centers on the Greek language’s use of gender pronouns. 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 being either masculine, feminine or neuter.
A noun’s gender is usually arbitrary and has nothing to do with whether it in reality refers to something masculine or feminine. For example, in French a book, livre, is referred to in the masculine sense, as a “he.” In German, a girl, mädchen, is referred to in the neuter sense, as an “it.” By contrast, in English, nouns that aren’t specifically masculine or feminine are referred to as “it.”
In the New Testament, the words used most often in reference to the Holy Spirit are a mixture of masculine and neuter. The Greek word parakletos is translated “Comforter” or “Helper.” The comforter that Christ promised He would send to the disciples in the 14th, 15th and 16th chapters of John is a masculine word and thus would be referred to by the pronouns “he,” “him,” “his” and “himself” throughout those chapters. However, this is strictly a grammatical tool and not a statement on the nature of the Holy Spirit.
The other word used most often of the Holy Spirit is the Greek word pneuma. It is translated as “breath” or “spirit” and means breath, breeze, wind or spirit. It is the root of our modern word pneumatic, meaning pertaining to or operated by air or wind. Pneuma is a grammatically neuter word and thus should be referred to in English by such neuter terms as “it,” “its” or “itself.”
The translators of the King James Version, influenced by the Trinity doctrine, generally mistranslated pronouns referring to pneuma as masculine rather than neuter. There are a few exceptions in the KJV in which the translation was properly handled, such as Romans 8:16 Romans 8:16The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
American King James Version×: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”
Later English translations of the Bible, following the lead of the King James Version, translated references to the Holy Spirit as masculine, thus it is almost always referred to as “he” or “him” in modern versions. GN