Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

holiness of spirit

I am fascinated sometimes by the coexistence of two very different translation options, both of which can be considered quite literal. I noticed, for example, that the two English options for ruach hakodesh, "holy spirit" and "holiness of spirit" also appear in translations of the Greek scriptures. In 2 Cor. 6:6, we read,
    in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; TNIV
There was only one translation which did not have "Holy Spirit" or "Holy Ghost" in this verse - the NRSV,
    by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love
When I looked at the Greek for 2 Cor. 6:6,
    ἐν ἁγνότητι ἐν γνώσει ἐν μακροθυμίᾳ ἐν χρηστότητι ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ ἐν ἀγάπῃ ἀνυποκρίτῳ
I could not help but be very surprised - surely this verse echoes the expression of hope for holiness of spirit found in Psalm 51:11. I do think that it is quite a stretch to get the "Holy Spirit" from the expression ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ

Although I appreciate the sentiment, I do have to wonder if it is accurate to insert the definite article into this verse and make it "the Holy Spirit" instead of "a holy spirit." I note that the Louis Ségond Bible has un ésprit saint, "a holy spirit".

I can't help but suppose that this would be one of the shibboleths of many churches, expecting respect for the third person of the trinity to be marked with upper case letters even when the intent of the author does not seem to be a reference to the Holy Spirit.

The real loss to readers is, of course, that they will experience less teaching on "holiness of spirit" while gaining a reference to the Holy Spirit. In addition, a case like this increases my respect for the NRSV as an academic and literal translation. I am beginning to think that the NRSV is an essential Bible translation, not just a nice to have.


At Sun Mar 23, 07:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Net Bible has a translation note: Or “by holiness of spirit.”

At Sun Mar 23, 09:02:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

What is really strange is that I haven't seen the very obvious choice of "a holy spirit." That just seems downright odd.

On the expression in Psalm 51:11, I notice that the NET Bible takes a firm stand on this being a person of the trinity. I find that in general the NET Bible presents a doctrinally narrow range of options on any point. I hold to my former assessment. I would not recommend the NET Bible.

Here are the NET notes on Ps. 51:11,

32sn Your Holy Spirit. The personal Spirit of God is mentioned frequently in the OT, but only here and in Isa 63:10-11 is he called “your/his Holy Spirit.”

33sn Do not take…away. The psalmist expresses his fear that, due to his sin, God will take away the Holy Spirit from him. NT believers enjoy the permanent gift of the Holy Spirit and need not make such a request nor fear such a consequence. However, in the OT God’s Spirit empowered certain individuals for special tasks and only temporarily resided in them. For example, when God rejected Saul as king and chose David to replace him, the divine Spirit left Saul and came upon David (1 Sam 16:13-14).

No other options are mentioned.

At Sun Mar 23, 10:59:00 PM, Blogger Kevin Sam said...

Suzanne, I looked at the NAB and found that it uses "in a holy spirit" in 2 Cor.6:6. It's sort of a happy medium so it uses "in" "ἐν". However, I don't know if this qualifies as a reference to the 3rd person?

At Sun Mar 23, 11:06:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I don't think it is a reference to the Holy Spirit and I do find that "a holy spirit" is more literal. I am glad to see that variant is used.

At Mon Mar 24, 01:14:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you're well aware, words have a semantic range, and grammar rules are often broken. So I'd be wary of saying that pneumati is indefinite simply because it lacks the definite article. There are a variety of ways a noun can be definite. A quick illustration is the translation of the Word as "a god" in John 1:1 since there is no definite article.

Do a search of πνευμα + αγιος in the NT and you'll find references to the Holy Spirit which lack the definite article (Matt 1:18; 3:11; Luke 4:1; 11:13; etc.). Help me out, and maybe I'm wrong, but I certainly see the reference to the Holy Spirit though you do not.

At Mon Mar 24, 09:05:00 AM, Blogger Jimbo S. said...

The NRSV & the NET translation note are probably the best representation of the Greek in 2 Corinthians even though Holy Spirit seems to be the consensus translation. In regards to Psalm 51:11, I don't think the NET Bible is being too narrow nor forcing a viewpoint. I take it here as being associated with the divine presence. The NET Bible (and notes) are pretty solid. Personally, I recommend it very highly.

At Mon Mar 24, 09:28:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Part of the difficulty is that for both Psalm 51 and 2 Cor. 6:6 there are two distinct choices, both literal. To translate "Holy Spirit" seems to me to be doctrinally motivated.

It is the list format, as well as the lack of article which seems to be to tip the balance in each case away from the Holy Spirit. In both these citations the 'holy spirit' occurs in a list of other virtues and attitudes.

Regarding the NET Bible, I feel the notes for Ps. 51 give the impression that fair representation has been given to more than one point of view, but in fact, in this case, the other possibility is not mentioned.

Just because one agrees with the NET notes is no reason to recommend them as broad. There is a strong stream of interpretation for "spirit of holiness" in Ps. 51:11 which is found in English, French and German Bibles and the NET notes act as if this did not exist.

If a Bible with few notes does not represent alternatives, I am not so concerned, but a Bible whose notes make a claim of providing insight into the literal meaning should not be so doctrinally bound.

At Mon Mar 24, 10:14:00 AM, Blogger solarblogger said...

This shows one of the limits of modern Greek New Testaments. When we look passages up, they are all put into uniform typography. Two manuscripts that both had πνεύματι ἁγίῳ would appear identical in the Greek New Testament even if one was rendered like the rest of the text and another was set apart in purple and gold. I don't expect my Greek New Testament to help me here, but this must be remembered when we look things up. What kinds of clues might be found on a manuscript that would not be visible in the Greek New Testament? And would they matter?

At Mon Mar 24, 10:50:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Oh yes I definitely must look at the manuscripts and see if the expression was in nomina sacra form. I'll do that. Thanks for the tip.

At Mon Mar 24, 11:06:00 AM, Blogger solarblogger said...

I'll be interested in what you find, Suzanne. From what I looked up (Excuse the Google research!), "Spirit" was put into that form even in early manuscripts, and only when it was taken to be the Holy Spirit, so this may be promising.

At Mon Mar 24, 04:52:00 PM, Blogger tc said...


What do we do with Rom 1:4? Should we go for "a spirit of holiness"?

Notice also that we have αγιωσυνης and not αγιω as in 2 Cor 6:6.

Plus, it's a well established rule of Greek grammar than when a definite name is preceded by a preposition, the definite article is not needed.

So I'll go with "Holy Spirit" at 2 Cor 6:6 (TNIV).

At Mon Mar 24, 06:07:00 PM, Blogger Kevin Sam said...

I also looked up 1 Cor.12:3 – “by the Spirit of God”; and John 1:33. Luke 3:16, Matt.3:11 – “baptizes with the Holy Spirit”. Like 2 Cor. 6:6, they also used ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ; however, these verses are clearly referring to the person of the Holy Spirit.

I think 2 Cor. 6:6 is also likely referring to the person of the Holy Spirit.

At Tue Mar 25, 06:19:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I'll admit that I don't know the answer but I do want to know that the Greek could mean either.

At Wed Mar 26, 07:51:00 AM, Blogger Singing Owl said...

Fascinating! It seems obvious that in a list of desirable traits for believers, the person of the Holy Spirit is not what is intended. I only started looking at the NRSV a few years ago (actually it was when the Rev Gals published the book "Ordinary Time" and we were requested to use the NRSV in the devotions we wrote for the book. The RSV or NRSV are invisible in "evangelical" circles and certainly in Pentecostal churches. Too bad. I now find that I love it, and will be purchasing a copy instead of just looking it up online. This post just makes that more likely to happen quickly. :-)

At Wed Mar 26, 10:50:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

But, Singing Owl, this is not "a list of desirable traits for believers". It only looks like one because Suzanne has extracted a short section from a much longer list. As I wrote here, this is "an extremely diverse list of items". Again we need to look at the context, and that means wider than the one verse.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home