Brother Guin, in your book, The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace, page 23, you state that Jesus told his apostles that he would send “him” not an “it” in John 14:17. However when the Greek text is examined it is observed that the pronouns are neuter not masculine. So the translation would not be “him.”
Also you make the statement that the advocate would be “with you forever,” indicating that the advocate would be with all Christians forever, according to your interpretation. Should this be accurate, Christians today should be able to have the same help as they did. Please clear this up for me. Of course, it all depends on what assumptions are held with regard to the Holy Spirit. Thanks so much.
[Lightly edited for grammar.] Let’s take the questions one at a time.
Is the Spirit “it” or “him”?
Let’s check out some translations of John 14:17 —
ESV John 14:17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
KJV John 14:17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
NAS John 14:17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you.
NET John 14:17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.
NIV John 14:17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
The translators are remarkably consistent in translating “him” rather than “it.”
What does the Greek say? Well, the translation notes at the Net Bible (a great resource, by the way, and easily found for free on the Internet) speak of the pronouns as “he.”
However, if you look at the actual Greek, it’s true that the pronouns for the Spirit in John 14:17 are neuter, but this does not indicate the gender of the Spirit. The word “Spirit” in Greek is neuter (there is no masculine or feminine version available), and therefore Greek grammar demands a neuter pronoun. But this has nothing to do with the gender of the Spirit.
As ably discussed at the Catholic Exchange,
Sometimes people will make arguments from scripture that the Holy Spirit should be addressed as “she” based on the fact that some of the descriptions of the Holy Spirit are grammatically feminine in the original Biblical languages. This argument however carries very little weight. Any expert in languages will tell you that grammatical gender has no direct correlation to masculinity or femininity of the thing that the word represents. For instance, the Hebrew word for army is tsavah which is feminine — though the ancient armies were comprised entirely of men. Moreover the Hebrew word for spirit, ruach is feminine but the New Testament Greek equivalent pneuma is neuter. Jesus’ description of the spirit as “paraclete” uses the Greek word parakletos which means advocate or lawyer; this word is masculine. Even if one insists on connecting grammatical gender to personal gender, the evidence simply does not support any conclusion about the “gender” of the Holy Spirit.
There is however scriptural support for identifying the Holy Spirit as “he” based not on the gender of nouns which are fixed by the norms of the language, but rather based on pronouns which vary according to the gender of the noun represented. In at least one case in John 16:13 the demonstrative pronoun referring to the spirit is “he” rather than “she” or “it,” despite the fact that pneuma the referent word in Greek for “spirit” is neuter. This suggests a deliberate choice on the part of the inspired author to use a masculine pronoun to refer to the Holy Spirit. Thus Christians ought not to refer to the Holy Spirit as “she” since this is neither the way the Bible reveals the Spirit nor is it the way the Church speaks of Him.
I have vastly better access to Greek resources than I had when I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace. I’d have done better to cite John 16:13 for the point I made (which I took from notes taken in Harvey Floyd’s class on the Holy Spirit taught at David Lipscomb many long years ago).
But the point of the argument is not the gender of the Spirit but to point out that the Spirit is a person. The Scriptures make this point in many ways, but most plainly by referring to the Spirit with terms that refer to a person.
For example, in John, Jesus calls the Spirit a paraclētos — an advocate or helper. It’s a Greek word for a person who helps another person. The Spirit not only helps, the Spirit can be “grieved” (Eph 4:30; Isa 63:10). In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of blaspheming the Spirit, but one blasphemes a deity. You can’t really blaspheme an impersonal force.
In Gen 6:3, the Spirit is said to “strive” with man. In 2 Sam 23:2, the Spirit is said to “speak.” In Rom 8:16, the Spirit “bears witness.” In Rom 8:26, the Spirit “helps.” In 8:27, the Spirit “intercedes.” In 1 Cor 2:13, the Spirit teaches. 1 Cor 3:16, the Spirit “dwells.” And on and on and on it goes.
The Scriptures repeatedly and plainly refer to the Spirit as a person who does the things a person does. This fact governs, not the grammatical fact that pneuma is a neuter word in Greek or that ruach is a feminine word in Hebrew.
Therefore, every single translation I can lay my hands on translates the pronouns referring to the Spirit in John 14:17 as “he.”
Will the Spirit be with us “forever”?
Well, yes. The text plainly says so.
(John 14:16-17 ESV) 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
The counter-argument made by the writer is —
Should this be accurate, Christians today should be able to have the same help as they did.
Really? Why? The promise is that the Spirit will be with God’s people forever, not that the Spirit will do exactly the same thing for everyone at every time at every place. Indeed, if we take in the wider context of what the Bible says about the Spirit, we see that the core work of the Spirit is not inspiration, tongues, or prophecy, but writing God’s laws on our hearts
— which he very much still does.
(Heb 8:8-10 ESV) 8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
The author of Hebrews is quoting Jeremiah 31, who prophesied a “new covenant.” Jesus spoke of the “new covenant” when he instituted the Lord’s Supper. And the new covenant promises God’s direct operation on our hearts to write his laws there.
Just so, Ezekiel prophesied,
(Eze 36:27 ESV) And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
The parallel is obvious. There is much more that could be said (and that I’ve covered here many times before). The point is that the new covenant is tied to the work of the Spirit in our hearts to transform us to be an obedient people. (Understand this, and Romans 8 becomes much clearer.)
This is the thought behind such passages as —
(Rom 2:28-29 ESV) 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
(2Co 3:18 ESV) 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
(Phi 2:13 ESV) 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
The promise — going all the way back to Deuteronomy 30:6 — is that when the Kingdom comes, God will directly transform our hearts, and he revealed in Ezekiel, Joel, and other prophets that this would be by the Spirit.
The New Testament writers had faith to believe it. And they repeated God’s promises that the outpoured Spirit would be with God’s people forever. After all, it’s not as though we no longer need the help.