The Greek text here unambiguously says “a holy spirit” (pneuma [ēn] hagion) in both of these passages. However it appears that most Christian translations choose a different wording:

He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him (NIV)

He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him (NLT)

this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him (ESV)

the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him (KJV)

Why do nearly all Christian English translations render pneuma [ēn] hagion as “the Holy Spirit” with both a definite article and capitalization?

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    'The Greek text here unambiguously says “a holy spirit”'. I think you mean that the Greek text here lacks the definite article. What that means and how it is most accurately rendered in English is a more complex question than you seem to realize.
    – LarsH
    Commented Mar 28 at 3:36

1 Answer 1


It is true that the NT speaks of the "spirit of man" (eg, 1 Cor 2:11) as distinct from the "Spirit of God" (eg, 1 Cor 2:11, Rom 8:9, etc).

However, when the word "spirit" (πνεῦμα) is accompanied by the adjective "holy" (ἅγιος) it ALWAYTS refers to the Spirit of God, which is the also the Spirit of Christ, Rom 8:9.

It is this simple fact that leads almost all translators to capitalize "Holy Spirit" wherever it appears.

Put another way, "Holy Spirit" does not ever refer to the spirit of man/humans.


The rules covering the use of the Greek article are different in English and Greek. For example, in English, when describing a person in the third person using a title, the article ("the") is required. [Eg, Go and tell the sergeant ... ] This is untrue in Greek.

In Greek, the first mention of a noun in any context does NOT use the article, but subsequent mentions that refer back to this first mention, must use the article. Grammatically, this means the Greek article in such contexts is "anaphoric".

This can be clearly seen in Luke 2:25-35 describing the prophecy of Simeon:

  • the first mention "Holy Spirit", V25, has no article
  • the second mention "The Holy Spirit", V26, has the article
  • the third mention "The Spirit", V27, also has the article

The second two refer back to the first and confirm that Luke is discussing "The Holy Spirit", because English always requires an article for the title of a person.

This is further confirmed by the fact that V26 says that Simeon was "divinely inspired"

APPENDIX - Personal Names

The reverse is also true - English NEVER uses an article before a person's name in the vocative sense. [Eg, we never say, Go and tell the John that ... ]

However, in Greek, personal names often require the article especially when they refer back to a first instance in a passage.

Therefore, sometimes English must delete the article when the Greek has it, and sometimes English must supply the article when the Greek has none. That is, the rules around the definite article are different in each language.

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    What about the English situation where no article is used, as when referring to a non-specific instance of a substance (e.g. "Blood was on his hands.")? ¶ Could "… and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost …" not be translated as "… and holy spirit was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by that holy spirit …". Commented Mar 28 at 0:57
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    @RayButterworth - in the second instance, you have introduce a demonstrative pronoun, "that", which is absent from the Greek, so that is not an option. The first option is not grammatical English. The only way to eliminate the article in English is to say something like, "God's Spirit was on him", but then we have a monadic qualifier which is equivalent to the article.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 28 at 4:23

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