Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Acts 2:4: The noun πνεῦμα, 'spirit' - and what else?

καὶ ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες . . . . and they were filled all

πνεύματος ἁγίου,. . . . of spirit holy

καὶ ἤρξαντο λαλεῖν . . . . and they began to speak

ἑτέραις γλώσσαις . . . . other / different languages (tongues)

καθὼς τὸ πνεῦμα . . . . as the spirit

ἐδίδου ἀποφθέγγεσθαι αὐτοῖς.


And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The noun πνεῦμα, τό, has a variety of related meanings, including 'wind, breath, spirit'.  

The first use of πνεῦμα that I was able to find comes from the pre-Socratic philosopher Anaximenes of Miletus (ca. 585-528 BC), who wrote:

οἷον ἡ ψυχή ἡ ἡμετέρα ἀὴρ οὖσα συγκρατεῖ ἡμᾶς, καὶ ὅλον τὸν κόσμον πνεῦμα καὶ ἀὴρ περιέχει

as our soul, being air, constrains us, so also the entire cosmos is enveloped by breath and air

In the New Testament, πνεῦμα is used in a variety of ways:

τὸ πνεῦμα ὅπου θέλει πνεῖ

the wind blows where it wishes  (John 3:8)

πνεῦμα ζωῆς ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ εἰσῆλθεν ἐν αὐτοῖς

a breath of life from God entered them  (Rev 11:11)


ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς . . . ἀφῆκεν τὸ πνεῦμα

Jesus . . .  yielded up the spirit  (Matthew 27:50)


καὶ τοῖς πνεύμασι τοῖς ἀκαθάρτοις ἐπιτάσσει, καὶ ὑπακούουσιν αὐτῷ

he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him (Mark 1:27)


A number of the uses of πνεῦμα are in combination with the adjective ἅγιος, ἁγία, ἅγιον, 'holy, sacred'.

Πνεῦμα is neuter, and so the adjective ἅγιος, -ία, -ον is used in the neuter as well.

(Note the rough breathing on this adjective.  This is why English speakers refer to the church in Istanbul as Hagia Sophia, not Agia Sophia.)  

Πνεύμα gives us pneumonia and pneumatic in English, both words referring to 'air' or 'breath'.

In a coming post we will look at the nomina sacra used in early manuscripts, including the nomen sacrum for 'Holy Spirit'.  But first: the uncommon verb ἀποφθέγγομαι and its root φθέγγομαι.

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