Barry Newman's Blog

September 3, 2010

The Essence of Spirit (part VIII)

Filed under: Spirit — barrynewman @ 5:03 am


The word neshemah occurs 24 times in the Old Testament.  Its most common meaning is that of “breath”.  There seems to be five references to the breath of God and thirteen to the breath of man, most of which are in association with life.  On two occasions, the neshemah of God might refer to his breath or the wind that comes from him, both in the context of judgment.  On two occasions the neshemah of man might refer to his breath or his spirit, each text referring to speech.  On one occasion the neshemah of God could refer to his spirit and on one occasion the neshemah of man might refer to a man’s spirit.  The semantic field clearly overlaps with that of ruach.  In five instances, ruach and nephesh appear in close association.

Ruach and the Greek Septuagint

To assist in determining what word or words in the Greek New Testament might have a similar function to ruach in the Old, the Greek Septuagint (LXX) version of the Old Testament was examined.  The task was to see what Greek word or words commonly replaced ruach where it occurred in the Massoretic text.  Table 8 outlines the findings. The % figures were based on totals of 385 and 381 – the latter % being in parentheses and relating to only those instances were the material of the Hebrew text was present in the Greek text.

Matter in the Greek text in the place of ruach in the Hebrew text Number of occurrences % of all instances present in the Hebrew (% of all instances present in the Greek)
Textual material absent from the Greek text 4 1 (not applicable)
pneuma 269 70 (71)
No Greek word but the meaning similar 9 2 (2)
anemos and the meaning similar 44 11 (12)
pnoe and the meaning similar 5 1 (1)
psuche or related words and the meaning similar 5 1 (1)
Other Greek words and the meaning similar 21 5 (6)
The texts contain different understandings 28 7 (7)

Table 8 – The Replacement for Ruach in the LXX

The most common Greek word replacing the Hebrew word “ruach” is the word “pneuma”.  The Greek language, having separate words for wind and breath, namely anemos and pnoe, respectively, often used these instead of pneuma.  All other Greek words, with a similar meaning being conveyed to that of the Massoretic text, were used twice or less.  There was one instance where kardia was used as a replacement.  Whereas for leb/lebab and nephesh the LXX contained different understandings to that of the Massoretic text in 1% and 2 % of instances, respectively, the same situation occurred in 6% of the instances in the case of ruach. This may mean that for a Greek translator of antiquity, the word ruach was relatively more diffuse in use than either of the other two Hebrew words.  Regardless, the overwhelming evidence suggests that pneuma is the appropriate word approaching equivalence to ruach, which needs to be examined in the New Testament, with the recognition that in the New Testament, anemos and pnoe might be the alternative words for wind and breath respectively.

As an additional check, an examination was made of all direct quotes in the New Testament of Old Testament texts where pneuma appeared in the New Testament.  There were six instances in all and in each case ruach was the equivalent in the Massoretic text and pneuma was the equivalent in the LXX.


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