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 John 16:13-14 13 However, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.
14 He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it to you.
American King James Version×; Romans 8:26 Romans 8:26Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
American King James Version×).
In a few passages the King James Version handles these pronouns as they should have been translated. Romans 8:16 Romans 8:16The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
American King James Version×, 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 Matthew 10:20For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaks in you.
American King James Version×; Luke 8:29 Luke 8:29(For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he broke the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.)
American King James Version×; 9:39; John 1:32 John 1:32And John bore record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it stayed on him.
American King James Version×and 1 Peter 1:11 1 Peter 1:11Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
American King James Version×.
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