“Mind if I join you for Tiffin, Doc?”
“By all means, Andrew! . . . It’ll be my pleasure.”
Andrew Winter is a lecturer in New Testament theology at Caxton College. The half-hour mid-morning break between assignments is known at Caxton as Tiffin. Winter sat down opposite Dr Quinton in the Library Annexe with coffee in one hand and a muffin in the other.
“Are your students responding well to your expositions?” asked Doc.
“I can’t grumble. . . . there’s always the odd chap who always wants to query everything for the sake of hearing his own voice, but yes, things are going well this term. . . . I was wondering whether you could give me a bit of advice about a verse in John chapter 3.”
“You surprise me! That chapter of all chapters in John.” Doc laughed. “So may I ask what’s niggling at your active mind?”
“The wind in verse 8. D’you know, I looked up the Greek concordance and counted how many times PNEUMA occurred in the New Testament. No less than 384, and this is the only time when it is not translated Spirit. It set me wondering whether we should seek a different translation for the verse.”
“I’m fascinated. . . So what else have you done to resolve the problem?”
“Well, it’s like this. Statistically, there’s no doubt about it. The word should be translated Spirit, exactly as it has always been translated at the end of the verse, but the trouble arises with the next word.”
“The Spirit blows? . . . Is that the problem?” asked Doc.
“Exactly. . . You see, I did the same with the verb for “blow”, and found seven references, all of which referred to wind blowing. That seems to drive us back to PNEUMA meaning wind.”
“What is the Greek word for “blow”?”
“What is its basic meaning?”
“I’m sure you know enough Greek to appreciate that PNEUMA derives from PNEO. Does that help?” asked Doc, gently.
“Yes, you’re right of course. I should have realised that. So you think it should read, “The Spirit breathes”?”
“Look at the wider context of the chapter. What is it all about?”
“New birth, becoming a new creation in Christ,” answered Andrew almost automatically.
“Now cast you mind back to Genesis. What happened when God created Adam?”
“Yes, of course! . . . God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” A smile of appreciation appeared on Andrew’s face.
“Now you’ve got it! Read the rest of the verse to see how it reinforces what you’ve just understood.”
“The Spirit breathes where it will . . . but I suppose we should alter that to ‘The Spirit breathes where He will’, bearing in mind that PNEUMA is neuter. ‘And you hear the sound thereof.'”
“Stop there for a moment. What is the sound of the Spirit?” asked Doc.
“PHONÉ, usually translated Voice, except when used of trumpets.”
“Doesn’t that make it more meaningful?”
“Yes, it does. ‘The Spirit breathes where He wills, or where He pleases, and you hear His voice, but you do not know where He comes from or where He is going, and so it is with everyone born of the Spirit’. . . . Great! That makes a lot more sense. Every new-born Christian has that inward sense of new life, equivalent to the Voice of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know why I haven’t seen it before. Never in my years at College, or since then have I ever thought of looking this up. Strange, isn’t it?”
“Most translations prefer to keep to the idea of wind. But I’ve noticed that Rotherham made a break with tradition in his Emphasised Bible. It reads, ‘The spirit, where it pleaseth, doth breathe, and the sound thereof thou hearest.’ So he made a partial recovery of the truth of ourSaviour’s words. And of course, if you look at the marginal notes in Bullinger’s Companion Bible, you will find a much more rounded translation.”
“Thank you, Doc. I wonder how many other gold nuggets of truth lay hidden beneath inadequate translation.”
“I’ve found a good number over the years! . . . Now there goes the bell for your next lecture.”