Friday, February 2, 2018

The Greek noun πνευμα (pneuma) means exhalation not "spirit"

Contrary to pagan musings, when a person's breathing departs from him/her, it doesn't go anywhere, it just stops. But at the promised resurrection of the body (Mark 12:8-27, John 5:28-29, John 11:25, 1 Corinthians 15:1-58, Philippians 3:10) it returns — that is to say, the person starts to breathe again and becomes a living soul once again (see Genesis 2:7: "and Adam became a living soul"; he didn't get one).

The noun πνευμα (pneuma), which is often translated with "spirit," likewise comes from a verb that has to do with breathing (namely πνεω, pneo; and see our article on this verb to meet our noun's siblings), but this time the verb emphasizes a breathing out rather than in. The difference is colossal, because even though both inhaling and exhaling are part of the same process (namely breathing) and this very process demonstrates that a person is alive, the inhaling part is all about deeply needing something that you can get all around, whereas the exhaling part is about releasing waste products and the excess of stuff that you took for yourself but in the end had no need for.

And of course, onto our breathing-out we can piggyback a wonderful array of signals, from whistles and shouts to Psalms and Shakespeare and even scent-signals that tell our neighbors whether we are healthy or not. And that's the key idea of the spirit: the ability to bond with other beings (including God) and create the larger structures we call societies and cultures (see for instance Daniel 10:20). Likewise the Holy Spirit is not a part of God but God doing something, predominantly uniting people into what's called the Body of Christ.

Spirit is a word like electricity; it doesn't sit at some specific location and does not take on the personality of the one it moves. Spirit leads elements into a common direction, just like the wind that waves through a field of standing grain or scoops up piles of leaves and makes them dance like birds in the air. Flocks of starlings or schools of fish operate on the spiritual principle, and so do bees and ants.

It may be a bit of a let down for people who believe that incense, rainbows and healing crystals are "spiritual things", but no, there are no "spiritual things" and all spirit is willful interaction and cooperation. Our cities are highly spiritual, but so of course is our language. It's taking eons of interaction and forming agreements to produce the language we use today, and there is very little on earth that is more spiritual than language (apart perhaps from the Internet).

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