Greek Grammar and the Personality of the Holy Spirit -- By: Daniel B. Wallace

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 13:1 (NA 2003)
Article: Greek Grammar and the Personality of the Holy Spirit
Author: Daniel B. Wallace


Greek Grammar and the Personality
of the Holy Spirit

Daniel B. Wallace

Dallas Theological Seminary

The modern, broadly conservative articulation of the distinct personality and deity of the Holy Spirit has often included in its arsenal a point or two from the realm of philology. The Fourth Gospel has especially been mined for such grammatical nuggets, though Ephesians, 1 John, and sometimes even 2 Thessalonians have been claimed as yielding syntactical evidence in defense of the Spirit’s personality. Two kinds of texts have been put forth in support of this supposition: passages involving grammatical gender and passages involving notions of agency. Those involving grammatical gender are used as an apologetic defense of a high pneumatology; those involving agency are simply assumed to prove the point. I believe that this grammatical defense for the Spirit’s personality has a poor foundation. If it is indeed invalid, then to use it in defense of a high pneumatology not only damages Trinitarian apologetics but also may well mask an emerging pneumatology within the NT.

Key Words: Holy Spirit, pneumatology, gender, personality, Greek grammar

Passages Involving Grammatical Gender

About half a dozen texts in the NT are used in support of the Spirit’s personality on the grounds of gender shift due to constructio ad sensum (“construction according to sense” or, in this case, according to natural as opposed to grammatical gender). That is to say, these passages seem to refer to the Spirit with the masculine gender in spite of the fact that πνεῦμα is neuter, and grammatical concord would normally require that any reference to the Spirit also be in the neuter gender. Such gender shifts are attributed to the fact that the Spirit is

Author’s note: An earlier version of this paper was read at the annual IBR meeting in Denver, Colorado. Thanks are due to Dr. Buist M. Fanning, Prof. R. Elliott Greene, Dr. Scott Hafemann, Dr. W Hall Harris, Prof. C. F. D. Moule, and Dr. David H. Wallace for looking at a preliminary draft of the paper and offering their input.

a person, and hence the biblical authors naturally speak of him as such, even though this manner of speaking is contrary to normal grammatical convention.1

A word should be mentioned first about the use of natural grammar in the NT. All exegetes recognize that natural gender is sometimes used in the place of grammatical gender in Greek. Robertson notes that “substantives have two sorts of gender, natural and grammatical. The two do not always agr...

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