1 Corinthians 2:16

Westcott and Hort 1881

τίς γὰρ ἔγνω νοῦν Κυρίου, ὃς συνβιβάσει αὐτόν; ἡμεῖς δὲ νοῦν Χριστοῦ ἔχομεν.

Romans 11:34

Westcott and Hort 1881

Τίς γὰρ ἔγνω νοῦν Κυρίου; ἢ τίς σύμβουλος αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο;

Isaiah 40:13 LXX

τίς ἔγνω νοῦν κυρίου καὶ τίς αὐτοῦ σύμβουλος ἐγένετο ὃς συμβιβᾷ αὐτόν

Romans 11:34 and 1 Corinthians 2:16 are both quoted from Isaiah 40:13 of the Septuagint.

However, Isaiah 40:13 in Hebrew reads ר֖וּחַ (ru'ah). Majority of English translations have followed after this (NIV, NLT,ESV,NASB, HCSB, ISV, KJV, WEB and so on).

Isaiah 40:13 Hebrew OT: Westminster Leningrad Codex

מִֽי־תִכֵּ֥ן אֶת־ר֖וּחַ יְהוָ֑ה וְאִ֥ישׁ עֲצָתֹ֖ו יֹודִיעֶֽנּוּ׃

What is the reason of translating spirit to mind from Hebrew to Greek?

Are nous and pneuma synonymous?

2 Answers 2


No, they are not synonymous.

In way of background, we note that the Hebrew rûaḥ is commonly rendered by the Greek pneuma, both commonly rendered by the English spirit. The OP is wondering why, in Isaiah 40:13, the translator has chosen the Greek nous ("mind") rather than the more common pneuma ("spirit").

Despite the default translations rûaḥpneumaspirit, the three words each have their own semantic range. In a particular context, then, a deviation from these "default" renderings may be appropriate.

The Greek of Isaiah is somewhat unusual among the LXX translations in the degree to which the translator "felt free to vary his vocabulary and restructure the syntax if it served his purposes" (Moisés Silva, To the reader of Esaias, NETS, 824). Indeed, among the 52 instances of rûaḥ in MT Isaiah, we find that, although pneuma is by far the most common translation choice, there are a handful of deviations. These can be understood in several categories:

  1. The use of more specific terms: anemos or pnoē (both "wind"; e.g. 40:16, 38:16, respectively) translate rûaḥ when these more specific terms seemed appropriate.

  2. Collapse into adjacent terms: this occurs when another term apparently controls the meaning of rûaḥ, e.g. Isaiah 66:2, where ʿānı̂ ûnᵉkêh-rûaḥ ("afflicted and contrite-of spirit") was translated by tapeinos kai hēsychios ("humble and quiet")

  3. (Other) contextually conditioned renderings: in addition to our passage, see 59:19, where rûaḥ is translated orgē ("wrath").

The Greek translator's lexical choices, then, are not a matter of 1:1 interchanges. The translator is attentive to the context and creative in his renderings. In 40:13, he understood that rûaḥ was being used in one of its less common senses (HALOT, rûaḥ, 7):

sense, mind, intellectual frame of mind

The Greek nous ("mind") was chosen accordingly.1

1. For a defense of the suitability of this choice, see Whybray (Cambridge, 1971), The Heavenly Counsellor in Isaiah Xl 13-14. For a discussion of the possible misunderstanding of the verb √tkn ("measured", perhaps "meted out") as √nkr (Hi, "recognize, know") which may have contributed to the choice of ginōskō ("know") and therefore its object ("mind" rather than "spirit"), see Ottley (Cambridge, 1904) The Book of Isaiah According to the Septuagint.

  • 1
    (+1) Wow. Great answer. I was so enlightened.
    – R. Brown
    May 28, 2016 at 15:20

In ancient Hebrew thought man is composed of two physical elements:

  • dirt
  • breath

The making of man into these two elements is graphically described by Moses:

Gen 2:7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

In other words, YHVH scooped up some dirt and molded it into a statue of himself and then animated it with the breath that he himself breathed. For Moses the breath had supernatural powers. It animated the lifeless dirt and imparted self awareness, God awareness and general intelligence.

This anatomy persists throughout the scriptures:

  • breath makes alive:

Job 33:4 The Spirit [breath] of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.

Joh 6:63 It is the Spirit [breath] who [that] gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit [breath] and life.

Rom_8:2 For the law of the Spirit [breath] of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

Rom_8:6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit [breath] is life and peace.

Rom_8:10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit [breath] is life because of righteousness.

Rom_8:11 If the Spirit [breath] of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit [breath] who dwells in you.

1Co_15:45 Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit [breath].

2Co_3:6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit [breath]. For the letter kills, but the Spirit [breath] gives life.

Gal_6:8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit [breath] will from the Spirit [breath] reap eternal life.

  • the breath gives self-awareness, God awareness and general intelligence:

Job_32:8 But it is the spirit [breath] in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.

Pro_20:27 The spirit [breath] of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all his innermost parts.

Rom_8:27 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit [breath], because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

1Co 2:10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit [breath]. For the Spirit [breath] searches everything, even the depths of God. 1Co 2:11 For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit [breath] of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit [breath] of God. 1Co 2:12 Now we have received not the spirit [breath] of the world, but the Spirit [breath] who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 1Co 2:13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit [breath], interpreting spiritual truths [truth from the breath of God] to those who are spiritual [filled with God's breath]. 1Co 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit [breath] of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1Co 2:15 The spiritual person [full of God's breath] judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 1Co 2:16 "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

The "mind" then is an abstraction, a manifestation of the operation of the breath interacting with the body and not a "thing" in itself. The modern term to describe this phenomena is "supervening":


So the LXX translator was using synecdoche and emphasis in his translation. He is using synecdoche by referring to "mind" to refer to the "breath" obliquely and he's using emphasis by specifically pointing to a single function of the breath that is most relevant to the point he is making.

  • (+1) for the ancient Hebrew thinking.
    – R. Brown
    May 28, 2016 at 15:17
  • BTW, where did you get the idea that God formed the dust into a "statue of himself"? Does the physical aspect of man resemble God himself?
    – R. Brown
    May 28, 2016 at 15:19
  • 2
    @RadzMatthewBrown That is the plain meaning of "image and likeness" as demonstrated in Gen 5:3, Deut 4:16, 4:23 and 4:25. We also see that YHVH is a manlike deity each time he is described, such as Eze 1:26 and Dan 7:9.
    – user10231
    May 28, 2016 at 15:28
  • "In ancient Hebrew thought man is composed of two physical elements" Do you have a source on this? I'm very interested in reading more about it. Jul 15, 2017 at 23:19
  • @soundly_typed Just Genesis 2:7
    – Ruminator
    May 12, 2021 at 16:32

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