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Despite being One Third of the Big Man Himself, it doesn't really seem to do much of anything.[note 1] Many pastors have proclaimed the name of the Holy Spirit to their followers, but nobody has ever really explained what it is.
Greek philosophy of pneuma (πνεῦμα)
The earliest school of Greek philosophy is known as the Milesian School and was begun by the philosopher Thales. One of the philosophies Thales promoted was Material monism which was the belief that the universe was comprised of one substance. For Thales, this substance was water. Anaximenes (c. 585–c. 528 BCE), a later philosopher of the Milesian school, believed that the one substance the universe was composed of was air/pneuma. Anaximenes said:
“”Just as our soul (psychē), being air (aēr), holds us together, so do breath (pneuma) and air (aēr) encompass the whole world.
|—Aetius 1.3.4. Also known as DK13B2.|
|—Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals, Book III, Part 11|
Praxagoras’s discovery that arteries were empty in a corpse led him to believe that they carried pneuma, which for him was the mystic force of life. Thus for Greeks like Aristotle and Praxagoras, pneuma was the animating force that gave things life.
The stoics also promoted the conception of pneuma. Like Aristotle, they believed that pneuma gave things life. But the stoics also believed that pneuma was the active, generative principle that organizes both the individual and the cosmos and this force exists even in inanimate objects. In its highest form, pneuma was the human soul, which was a fragment of the pneuma that was the soul of Zeus. The stoic philosopher Chrysippus regarded pneuma as the vehicle logos used to structure matter. In other words, Chrysippus essentially believed logos was the reason things in the universe occurred and pneuma was the cause.
“”To gegennhmenon ek ths sarkos sarx estin kai to gegennhmenon ek tou pneumatos pneuma estin mh qaumashs oti eipon soi dei umas gennhqhnai anwqen to pneuma opou qelei pnei kai thn fwnhn autou akoueis all ouk oidas poqen ercetai kai pou upagei outws estin pas o gegennhmenos ek tou pneumatos
|—John 3:6-8 in its original Greek|
“”That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
|—John 3:6-8 translated into English|
The Greek word pnuema (πνεῦμα) is listed as G4151 in Strong’s concordance.
Hebrew anthropomorphological concept of ruach (ר֫וּחַ)
The closest parallel to pnuema (πνεῦμα) in the Hebrew Scriptures is the word ruach (h7307). It can mean breath, spirit, or wind. When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek to create the Septuagint, one of the words ruach was translated to was pneuma. Another closely related word is the Hebrew word nephesh (h5315). Nephesh usually translates to soul or creature and it is a concept that applies to both humans or animals, not God itself (unlike the Stoic concept of pneuma). Psyche (ψυχή) is the closest Greek word that corresponds to the Hebrew concept of Nephesh.
“”By the word (dabar) of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath (ruach) of his mouth.
Christian incorporation of pneuma
An early Christian, Eusebius (260/265 – 339/340), endeavored to record the origins of Christianity in his book Church History. In Book II Chapter 17 of this work he describes the Essenes (or Therapeutæ) as the originators of Christianity. His arguments were based on the similarity of customs between the two groups. The Essenes gave away their possessions which he argued was an early christian practice described in Acts 2:45. The Essenes also used hymns in their churches, used allegorical interpretation of the scriptures, had acts of communion, and promoted the chastity of their women. In the end, Eusebius concludes that Philo, when he wrote these things, had in view the first heralds of the Gospel and the customs handed down from the beginning by the apostles, is clear to every one.
Josephus (37 – c. 100), a Jew who recorded Jewish history during the time period Christianity was forming, had the following to say about the Essenes and pneuma. They believed that
“”Bodies are corruptible, and that the matter they are made of is not permanent;but that the souls are immortal, and continue for ever; and that they come out of the most subtile air, and are united to their bodies as to prisons, into which they are drawn by a certain natural enticement; but that when they are set free from the bonds of the flesh, they then, as released from a long bondage, rejoice and mount upward.
|—The Wars of the Jews Book II Chapter 8 Verse 11|
Thus the most likely group Christianity originated from, the Essenes, believed that their souls were air (a.k.a. pneuma). The Essenes were under Greek governance after Alexander the Great conquered where they lived so it is easy to understand how a Greek philosophical concept could have influenced their beliefs. The belief that souls 'rejoice and mount upward' defers from traditional Jewish belief where the souls rested in sheol (h7585). According to more traditional Jews, Sheol was underneath the earth and all the dead were thought to exist there without knowledge or feeling, even David.
The original idea that souls move upward instead of resting in sheol is likely to either be based in Zoroastrianism or Platonism. In the case of Plato, he describes in the Myth of Er how the souls of the good are directed upward to the sky and the souls of the immoral are directed downward. The idea that souls are 'set free from the bonds of flesh' also has a Platonic precedent. In Phaedrus 250 c, Plato describes how the soul is entombed in its body just as an oyster is imprisoned in its shell. The Gnostic Christians would later include Plato's Republic in the Nag Hammadi library.
Justin Martyr is the first person known to include pneuma as a part of the trinity. He characterized pneuma as a prophetic spirit that speaks to people like David.
“”And again, in another prophecy, the Spirit of prophecy (pneuma), through the same David, intimated that Christ, after He had been crucified, should reign…
|—The 1st Apology Chapter 41|
For some hereto unknown reason, lots of people care so much about the Holy Spirit and who he (or she) really is (I'm betting on Tom Baker, myself) that lots of blood has been shed. For a ghost, it sure isn't a friendly one.[note 2]
Does the Holy Ghost proceed from the Father only or from the Father and the Son? Christians disagree about that as they disagree about so much else. This disagreement was so important it caused the schism between the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches in 1054 CE.
The change from ruach to pneuma has caused the gender of the Holy Spirit to come into question. Ruach is grammatically feminine and pneuma is grammatically neuter. To make things even more confusing, sometimes the Greek word parakletos is used to describe the Holy Spirit and parakletos is grammatically masculine. Also, there are indications that early in the history of what would become Judaism, Yahweh once had a wife.
The unforgivable sin
According to Matthew chapter 12 and Mark chapter 3, you can dis the Father and the Son and it will be forgiven you, but if you blaspheme the Holy Spirit that's all she wrote. Your fate is sealed just like Fredo Corleone in Godfather II when he fingered Michael for Johnny Ola and Hyman Roth. It will never be forgiven you.
- Referenced in Silvia Benso's Psychē, Pneuma, and Air
- From Logos to Trinity Marian Hillar (page 280)
- Church History Book II Chapter 17
- Jewish Encyclopedia
- Phaedrus 250 c
- The 1st Apology
- From Logos to Trinity Marian Hillar (page 178)
- Uxbridge retiree charged in $3.5M Ponzi scheme claims 'Holy Spirit' guided him by Paula J. Owen (Posted Jun 2, 2015 at 11:55 AM Updated Jun 2, 2015 at 5:38 PM) Telegram & Gazette.