The Greek word pneuma (as in pneumonia, a breathing disease) means breath or wind – the movement of air. In other Bible translations, this word is often translated as spirit or ghost, as in Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost. However, spirit is just a shortened form of the Latin word spiritu, which once again just means breath.
And ghost conveys another meaning altogether.
In the Bible, the most common use of the word pneuma is to convey the idea of a force that can’t be seen, such as breath or wind. And the problem with translating it as spirit or ghost, as is done in other Bibles, is that those words have been given religious meanings that aren’t really implied by the Greek texts. So, wrong doctrines have been built upon a misunderstanding of the true Greek meaning of the word.
Notice that we have usually translated the Greek word pneuma as breath and occasionally as wind, in most places where it is found. However, there are many exceptions, as in instances where the Bible refers to demons as ‘spirits.’
Translating pneuma as breath in these cases, though correct, might just be confusing.
So there are other places where we have left pneuma translated as spirit, since that English word has taken on a meaning of its own.
There are instances where the word pneuma is speaking of a person’s motivation (the spirit behind why we do something). Therefore, we have translated pneuma as spirit in such locations, as we have also done in several places that speak of God’s Holy Spirit, where readers will better understand the meaning in Modern English.
Nevertheless, rendering it as [God’s] Holy Breath (which we have done in other places) is really more accurate and a clarification. –See the commentary, Worship Him in Spirit and Truth.
Another important use of the word pneuma is in the phrase, ‘Breath of Life.’
This term appears to mean more than just breathing, for it seems to refer to the entire mechanics of life itself. It appears to be the unseen force of life within all living creatures that makes each cell alive.
However, nowhere does the Bible describe the ‘pneuma’ as immortal, nor is it the same as the soul (a breathing thing); So, it can (figuratively) return to the God that gave it when someone dies, because all hope of future life depends on God and His promise of a resurrection.
Note in particular how the term pneuma is found in the Greek Septuagint text at Job 27:3, where Job asked:
‘Does the breath of the Divine One remain in my nose?’
As you can see from his application of this word;
Pneuma is referring to actual breath here, not to God’s Holy Spirit, for he was clearly talking about that which caused him (Job) to breathe… the Breath of Life.
It is interesting that at Genesis 6:3, God said concerning the wicked people on earth before the Downpour:
‘I won’t allow My Breath to stay with these men through the age, for they are fleshly.’
In Greek, that reads:
‘Ou me katameine to pneuma mou en tois anthropois toutoiseis ton aiona, dia ai einai autous sarka,’
‘Not not should stay the Breath Mine with these men the age through, their being flesh.’
Notice that most other Bibles translate the word pneuma as Spirit here. Yet, while the words Breath Mine (pneuma mou) could possibly refer to God’s Holy Breath, it seems more likely that He was really referring to the breath of life that He gave to Adam… For the wicked people of that age didn’t demonstrate that they had the Breath or Spirit of God.
And from this, it appears as though what God was saying is that the breath of life of the people of that age (which came from Him) would be removed prematurely, or that they would die.
Also note that, since God referred to it as ‘My Breath,’ there may be a link implied between God’s Holy Breath and the breath of life. For more information, see the linked document, ‘The Powers of God’s Holy Spirit.’
You can see how rendering the word pneuma as breath can clarify the meaning of the verse found at John 19:30, where it says concerning the death of Jesus (in Greek):
‘kai klinas ten kephalen paredoken to pneuma,’
‘And inclined his head giving/up the breath.’
So rather than saying that Jesus gave up his spirit (which is how it is rendered in other Bibles), implying that Jesus then went to God (which he didn’t, because the Bible tells us that he didn’t go there until forty days later); The obvious reference here is to his giving up ‘the breath of life,’ or the force that maintained Jesus’ life as a human.
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