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In John 14:26, English translations read, "He will teach you all things" or something similar, referring to the Holy Spirit with a masculine singular pronoun. Apparently the Greek word is "ekeinos", which can be neuter. What is the evidence that "he" is or is not the correct translation? Is it ambiguous, determined only by context? Are there manuscript variations that might affect the answer?


My goal with this question is to find evidence, limited to grammar considerations, for or against the personhood of the helper or advocate Jesus promised to send.

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related question: – disciple Jun 18 '14 at 6:32
Since I started with a very naive understanding of how to use Greek grammar information and learned a lot, I want to add an answer that will be a good example. I will try to incorporate the information that is now only in the comments, and make it community wiki so the Greek experts are free to correct any mistakes. If it is too unwieldly, maybe we can divide it and/or link to a good "Greek grammar for Dummies" page. – disciple Jul 1 '14 at 3:28
up vote 5 down vote accepted

This is a question about elementary Greek grammar. The verse has five parts:

subject: ὁ δὲ παράκλητος, (masculine)

in apposition to the subject: τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον (neuter)

relative clause: ὃ (neuter) πέμψει ὁ πατὴρ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου,

reiteration of the subject by a masculine pronoun: ἐκεῖνος

predicate: ὑμᾶς διδάξει πάντα καὶ ὑπομνήσει ὑμᾶς πάντα ἃ εἶπον ὑμῖν

The pronoun ἐκεῖνος is masculine, not neuter; it refers back to the masculine subject (ὁ δὲ παράκλητος ). As I said: elementary grammar.

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In languages with grammatical gender, gender is not necessarily linked to sex. Inanimate nouns can be any one of the three genders. Thus it is true that you will sometimes translate ἐκεῖνος as "that thing" if it refers to an inanimate noun of masculine gender. But in this passage it refers to the Paraclete, who is a male person. – fdb Jun 18 '14 at 15:17
Susan, yes the neuter is ἐκεῖνο. – fdb Jun 18 '14 at 15:43
@disciple: Although the demonstrative is clearly masc as fdb showed, note that there is also a neuter relative pronoun here referring to the spirit (because it's a neuter word). Also note that the demonstrative, although masc, does not require a personal translation. There may be other issues at play that have prompted the translators to choose "he" vs "it". Perhaps another answer will address this. – Susan Jun 18 '14 at 15:47
@disciple From a grammatical basis, correct, it does not argue personhood. However, from a content basis, the verse does. It states the Spirit is sent by the Father on behalf of the Son (so is distinct from each), that the activity is to be a "comforter/helper" (παράκλητος; a very personal interaction), and is to "teach" (διδάξει), a word I believe (have not studied fully) is used exclusively with verbal communication, usually by a person (one exception is in the Martyrdom of Polycarp 4 where the "Gospel" is said to teach, but that is still a verbal message relayed by people). – ScottS Jun 18 '14 at 18:23
In fact, παράκλητος is originally an adjective meaning “called to one’s aid”, and as such could be used in any of the genders depending on the grammatical gender of the person or thing that has been called upon. So the author of John could very well have used the neuter form παράκλητον had he wanted to make the point that the Paraclete is an inanimate being. In this context παράκλητος is a substantivised adjective, i.e. “the male person who has been called to one’s aid; advocate; intercessor”. – fdb Jun 20 '14 at 15:33

John 14:26: Is the grammatical evidence ambiguous, does it support "he", or does it support "it"?

A useful tool is, which show most of the grammatical data on a single page.

The helper (Paraklētos, N-NMS is grammatically masculine) is the subject

The [Holy] Spirit (Pneuma, N-NNS neuter) is (appositional?) clause

He [will teach] (ekeinos, DPro-NMS masculine) pronoun following long explanatory clause

"ekeinos" follows grammatical gender of "parakletos"

(not evidence of actual gender; grammatical requirement)

"parakletos" is a noun. Normally nouns have fixed gender, leaving no choice. In this case, it was originally an adjective. Grammatically, it could have been changed to "paraklete" which would make it neuter and require the pronoun "ekeine" which is neuter also.

"parakletos" is appropriate for an advocate or an attorney. It may be (?) rare in either neuter or feminine form, since attorneys are assumed to be male. It only exists in masculine form in the Bible.

At this point, we might want to ask what kind of a writer John was. He might have created the neuter word if he wanted imply that the Holy Spirit was not a person, similar to coining a new word in English. Or he might have used the word he knew, since the rules of grammar would not require personhood even when the masculine was used.

On balance, it seems there is a slight hint from the grammar that the Holy Spirit is a person, but it is far from definitive.

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