Ephesians 5:18: Holy Spirit or Human Spirit? -- By: Clifford Rapp, Jr.

Journal: Chafer Theological Seminary Journal
Volume: CTSJ 02:1 (Spring 1996)
Article: Ephesians 5:18: Holy Spirit or Human Spirit?
Author: Clifford Rapp, Jr.

Ephesians 5:18:
Holy Spirit or Human Spirit?

Clifford Rapp, Jr.*

Chafer Theological Seminary

[*Editor's note: Clifford Rapp received his B.A. degree from Biola University; and a Th.M. degree in Old Testament Literature and Exegesis from Dallas Theological Seminary. He is a professor of Old Testament and general biblical studies at Chafer Theological Seminary. Cliff also pastors Orange Coast Free Methodist Church, Costa Mesa, California.]


Many understand Ephesians 5:18 to be a command to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Generally teachers take this to mean that the believer surrenders to the control of the Holy Spirit. That is, Paul commands believers to be continuously filled with the Holy Spirit. Every true Christian has all the Holy Spirit, but this verse commands that the Holy Spirit have all the believer. Holy Spirit control should characterize the Christian walk.

In spite of the appeal of this interpretation, a number of questions and alternative interpretations exist. This article primarily concerns itself with a single question. That is, should we translate the word “spirit” (πνεῦμα, pneuma), with a capital “S” referring to the Holy Spirit, or with a lower case “s” referring to something else?

What Kind of a Contrast?

A key question in determining whether to capitalize the “S” is “What kind of contrast does the verse intend?” There is obviously some kind of contrast intended between “do not get drunk with wine … but be filled with the Spirit.”

Scholars make at least four suggestions as to how we should understand or interpret the comparison. The first interpretation would take it as a non-literal, figurative difference, which one could call a “balanced sentence.”1 Jerome Smith asserts, “The balanced sentence employs a contrast, where the first member is employed solely to emphasize the last member.”2 He compares it to the Lord’s prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but … ” where he says that there is not a real comparison because the Lord does not lead people into temptation. The sole purpose of the “Lead us not … ” is to emphasize “Deliver us from evil.”3

Now it is doubtful that Paul would employ such a figure in Ephesians 5:18 with the contrast between being drunk and being filled. In the context, this comparison is part of a serie...

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