“A” or “The” Holy Spirit?

Acts 1:1-21

I’m not going to blog about the Trinity even though this week’s text is about the Holy Spirit. It’s a foundational doctrine of the church that can’t be explained—which makes it curious why it’s foundational. Right now, questioning trinitarian theology tends to get us labeled as evil by traditionalists as well as by non-Christian monotheists who don’t understand the Christian explanations for it either. But I said, “I’m not going to blog about the Trinity,” so I’m not.

dove in flightIf you want some idea of what Martin Luther thought about the Holy Spirit, read it here: http://www.prayingthegospels.com/martin-luther-holy-spirit/.

Instead, I want to spend some time on the article of English grammar—the—that we put in front of the widely accepted third person. I think the article, the, directs our thinking to reinforce the fourth century doctrine rather than allowing the image to breathe (pneuma in Greek can mean “spirit” or “breath”).

Why does the New Testament always use the as an article in front of Holy Spirit and not an “a”? You see, Greek doesn’t have articles like “the” or “a.” Does it make a difference? Maybe.

One other question—why are holy and spirit, when they are together, always capitalized? These are ways of reinforcing theology.

One last translation explanation and then I’ll let you do the deciding. The Greek word for “holy” (hagios) means “worthy of veneration, awe, or praise.” So a holy spirit is a spirit that is worthy of awe or praise.

Here are some Bible verses with the hagios pneuma mentioned, and translators have decided for you and me that they point to the third person in the Trinity. Maybe they do.

I wonder if the inspired writers might simply have been suggesting something less theological? You have to decide for yourself.

“A” holy spirit is a spirit that is worthy of awe and praise. Substitute it with these Bible verses (NRSV) and see if the verse gains any meaning for you:

Luk 11:13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

1Th 4:8 Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his (this Greek word is also translated as “the same”) Holy Spirit to you.

Luk 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,

Act 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

 None of this is necessarily going to preach very well this Pentecost Sunday, when Christians will be reinforcing time-cemented theology rather than being filled themselves with a spirit that is worthy of awe and praise—a spirit of love and peace and hope and joy that comes from knowing that God is so good. Oh well.

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