Word of the Week
July 30, 2022
Pneuma: The Power You Can’t See
God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.
What knocked down all the branches that littered my back yard? Like an invisible hand, powerful gusts of wind stripped the limbs from our trees.
What fills the balloons that decorated the room for my grandson’s birthday party? Powerful breaths of invisible air inflated each one to full capacity.
The Greeks had a word that would describe both the wind in the trees and the breath that filled the balloons. But it describes much more. In fact, it captures some of the deepest, most significant realities imaginable.
The Greek word is pneuma, the source for our English word pneumatic, as in a pneumatic drill powered by compressed air.
Pneuma occurs 385 times in the New Testament. It can be translated “wind” (John 3:8) or “breath” (2 Thessalonians 2:8), but it is usually rendered as “spirit.” Under that one translation you can find a multitude of meanings. In fact, one of my word study books devotes 20 pages to an explanation of pneuma.
- Pneuma can be an attitude.
- For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).
- Brothers and sisters, even if a person is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual are to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1)
- Pneuma can be the non-material part of a person, the invisible part that gives life to the body.
- When Jesus died, Matthew 27:50 says that He “gave up his spirit.”
- James illustrates a point by reminding his audience that “the body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26).
- Sometimes the New Testament gets more specific, speaking of body, soul and spirit as three separate elements: “. . . may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The spirit is the part of a person that interacts with the spiritual realm, the part that most directly encounters God (see Romans 8:16).
- Pneuma can be an angelic being.
- Good angels – “Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits, sent out to provide service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14)
- Evil angels or demons – “Now when evening came, they brought to [Jesus] many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill” (Matthew 8:16).
- Pneuma can describe the nature of God.
- “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
- Pneuma most often describes the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity.
- Jesus told His disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and as far as the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
People sometimes say, “Follow the science!” This slogan is based on the assumption that the physical world you can touch and see is the highest reality. Scripture, however, describes an invisible world that is far more important. You can’t see air, but it can demolish a house. You can’t see breath, but it can restore life.
You can’t see an attitude, but it can make or break a relationship.
You can’t see your spirit, but without it you die.
You can’t see angels, but they are all around us.
Right now you can’t see the Father, Son or Holy Spirit, but your existence rests in their hand. The power of an invisible God is available to us through His infallible promises. What we can’t see is often the most important thing to consider.
The New Testament does use pneuma for “wind” (John 3:8; Hebrews 1:7) and “breath” (2 Thessalonians 2:8). However, nearly all the other passages are talking about one of the meanings of “spirit” that we discuss in the main article. About 225 verses mention the Holy Spirit and another 49 verses talk about the human spirit. When a word occurs 385 times, you can study it as long as you wish and not run out of new discoveries! This article touches only a few highlights. I encourage you to delve more deeply into the study of pneuma in the New Testament.
Possible starting points: (1) Read the book of Acts and mark every verse that mentions the Holy Spirit who directed the growth of the early church. (2) Look up the Hebrew word for spirit, ruach, in the Old Testament. It has a similar range of meanings.
Q – When Jesus healed the blind man in Mark 8:22-26, his sight was restored in two stages. Does the Greek explain why He took this unusual method?
A – No, I don’t see anything in the Greek text that tells why. It just records what He did, leaving us to speculate about His reasons. We can be sure that Jesus did it on purpose; He never needed a second try because He failed the first time. We also know that He employed a two-stage method when he healed the blind man in John 9. Perhaps we should just take the lesson that God is not obligated to stick to a single method. He often acts in ways we don’t expect, without offering explanations. We are free to speculate, as long as we remember that we are just making our best guess about the mind of the Lord.
In 2 Timothy 2:24, Paul gave advice on how to deal with opponents in the church. At the end of the verse, he added an unusual word for patience which provides an important insight on handling conflict. Next week we will take a closer look at it.
©Ezra Project 2022