"Spirit" occurs 505 times in 456 verses in the KJV. The English word is translated from the Hebrew ruach and the Greek pnuema. Both of these words can also mean "breath" or "wind."

All three uses can be seen in the Flood account.

Genesis 6:3 And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.

Genesis 7:15 And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life.

Genesis 8:1 And God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark: and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters asswaged;

In the New Testament, two of the uses can be seen in the same verse of John's Gospel.

John 3:8 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.

However, in the New Testament, the word "breath" is never translated from pneuma but instead from the word pnoe (Acts 2:2; 17:25).

In what situations is "breath" or "wind" a better translation choice then "spirit"? What is the reason that these words meaning "wind" and "breath" get the English word "spirit" as a final definition?

  • 1
    Please limit this to a particular passage. Adequate contextual analysis of 505 instances in three different languages is not feasible in this format.
    – Susan
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 19:25
  • To the close voters, although the OP mentions that there are 505 instances, I think the question is only looking for a rule of thumb, not an analysis of all instances. Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 3:55
  • I agree it's much better after Frank Luke's edit, although it seems like the "rule of thumb" is just "look at the context."
    – Susan
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 9:15
  • This question appears to be off-topic because it appears to be more about a general language issue rather than a specific question arising from a particular text. Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 13:14
  • For all the uses of the word Spirit, only so many specific words have been used. If instead of referencing the outcome and more specifically the group of words. It makes for a more feasible format. However in doing so, like Jack wanting reference to a specific text, I lose scope. My opinion is that the words only gained the definition as "Spirit" because of the translations themselves. So it is a language issue. So how can I limit scope while maintaining contextual analysis? I though Frank, fixed that problem. How it is off topic, I do not understand. Please help me understand. Thanks Love.
    – Decrypted
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 18:18

1 Answer 1


This is like asking why λογος or λογον means "reason" or "mind" in one place and "word" in another, or even "treatise" as in Acts 1:1. It would come out absurd to pick one definition from the semantic range and always use it, so as to translate Acts 1:1 "The former mind I composed..." rather than "The former treatise I composed..." One might could get away with "The former word I composed..." if the word "word" had the same semantic range in English that it does in Greek, but it doesn't today.

Because its obvious from the sentence in question.

For example in Genesis 7:15 "...wherein is the wind of life" would make no sense, while either spirit or breath would.

In Genesis 6:3 saying either "My breath shall not always strive with man" or "My wind shall not always strive with man" would make no sense, while "My spirit shall not always strive with man" does.

Now, in John 3:8, it seems quite likely that he is giving an analogy comparing the spirit to the wind (due to the idea of blowing), not just making a pronouncement on the spirit, which is why το πνευμα is translated "the wind" at the beginning but εκ του πνευματος is translated "of the Spirit" at the end.

Common sense and context are the rule here.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.