Appendix 7 – The Greek Article and the Spirit

The article for πνευμα (spirit) in the New Testament

In the Targum and Old Testament, the article described the Spirit of Christ as a being, and the absence of the article described the anointing of the Spirit of Christ. This practice continued in the gospels.

Before the Day of Pentecost, the spirit of God was also described with the article, as “the spirit of the Lord.”

After the Day of Pentecost, the expression πνευμα with the article describes the Spirit of Christ, so Paul said, “the Lord is the Spirit.” After the Day of Pentecost, the anointing of the holy spirit, the spirit of God is described as πνευμα without the article.

Is this possible in Greek Grammar?

Yes. “The Greek article was indeed employed to distinguish one or more particular persons, places, or things, from others.”1 That is the main function of the Greek article.

Unfortunately, there is no way to translate the article into English. It is not a definite article meaning “the Spirit.” Even if I were to say “the Lord is that spirit” the English reader would presume “that” refers to the spirit described in the immediate context, but this is not the case with the Greek article. It fills “the grammatical slot of an identifier.”2

Regarding πνευμα, C.F.D. Moule wrote, “it is sometime claimed that an important theological issue is involved with the use or non-use of the article—eg with πνευμα, but each instance needs to be discussed in its own merits, and in some instances it is hard to avoid the impression that the usage is arbitrary.”3

For the grammarian C.F.D. Moule, the article on πνευμα was perplexing because he had been taught that there was only one Spirit in the New Testament. So why would there be a need to distinguish the Spirit of Christ with the article?

Indeed, the use of the article in proper nouns can be arbitrary. But less arbitrary with common nouns, where it has two functions. It is used for identification, and as a function marker. The article on πνευμα as we shall see, has very little use as a function marker. It is used for identification.

The article with proper nouns

If there is use of the article that is “arbitrary,” it is with personal names. Because here, as Stanley Porter describes, the use of the article is not just identification but emphasis.

Proper names often do not appear with the article, since as seen above … it is not necessary for an item to have the article to be specific, especially when it is a particular individual known to the reader. But in some contexts, a name has the article. It is difficult to regularize all usage, but several reasons for use of the article with names seem prevalent: (a) emphasis, i.e. calling attention to the name; (b) designation of case, especially for names that are indeclinable; (c) designation of title (ὁ κύριος, ὁ Χριστός), and (d) anaphora.4

Despite the arbitrary use of the article for proper names, we find that it is not arbitrary in the name of Jesus, in the Gospel of John.

Gordon Fee tells us that when used outside the nominative case, the name of Jesus has the article, “of the forty-six occurrences in oblique cases, only five fail to have the article.”5 But he explains these five as the normal exceptions in personal names: when a compound name is used (eg. Jesus Christ), or when the name is “accompanied by an attributive or by an arthrous appositive” (eg. Jesus son of Joseph).

The consistent use of the article for the name of Jesus in the Gospel of John is probably another identification of “ὁ Ἰησοῦς” with “τὸ πνεῦμά”— “the Lord is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:17).

The article with common nouns

One of the most famous uses of the article is in John 1:1:

“in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word.”

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

This was “the Word”, ὁ λόγος, that the Jewish readers were familiar with, John highlights the identification with the article.

When used with a common noun, the article says, “understand the one, or the kind that I mean.”

Daniel Wallace lists the uses of individualizing with substantives as:

  1. Simple Identification (distinguishing one individual from another)
  2. Anaphoric (the article is used for a thing previously mentioned)
  3. Kataphoric (the article is used for a thing mentioned afterwards)
  4. Deictic (points out the object or person which is present and speaking)
  5. Par Excellence, in a class by itself
  6. Monadic, a one-of-a-kind noun
  7. Well-Known, and
  8. Abstract (for nouns like love, salvation, and peace)6

We only need to examine a passage like Romans 8 to confirm that the article on Spirit is not used anaphorically, kataphorically or deicticly. “Simple Identification” is the use specified in Paul’s statement, “the Lord is the Spirit,” but “Par Excellence,” “Monadic” and “Well-Known” might also be explanations. The Spirit of Christ as a being, rather than an “anointing,” would also explain the article. But this does not explain the use of the article for the spirit of God before the Day of Pentecost.  

The article in the Book of Revelation

In the Book of Revelation, John proves that the use of the article is not a matter of grammar. He uses the article very intentionally.

David Mathewson in his “Revelation, a Handbook on the Greek Text,” describes John’s use of the article anaphorically.7 Anaphorically means that the article is used to refer to a noun previously mentioned.

For example, the first time ἀρνίον “lamb” appears, it lacks the article (in Rev 5:6) and all subsequent references use the article. David Mathewson lists Rev 5:8,12,13; 6:1,16; 7:9,10,14, 17; 12:11; 13:8; 14:1, 4(2X), 10; 15:3; 17:14 (2x); 19:7, 9; 21:14, 22, 23, 27; and 22:1, 3. Of course, Lamb ἀρνίον, also appears in Revelation 13:11, but this describes the horns of the false prophet.

θηρίον “beast” also follows this pattern. When introducing the beast of ten horns, (in Rev 13:1) it lacks the article, but all subsequent references have the article, Rev 11:7; 13:2,3,4(3x),12,14(2x),15(3x),17,18; 14:9,11; 15:2; 16:2,10,13;17:3,8,11,12,13,16,17; 19:19,20(2x); 20:2,10. But when describing the second beast, it lacks the article.

θρόνος “throne” always has the article when describing God’s throne, in Revelation 4:2,3,4,5(2x),6(3x),9,10; 5:1,6,7,11,13; 6:16; 7:9,10,11(2x),15(2x),17; 8:3; 11:16; 12:5; 14:3; 16:10,17; 19:4,15; 21:3,5; 22:1,3. But it lacks the article when describing the throne of the 24 elders and the throne of Satan.

There are other uses of the article in Revelation, to describe “the Book,” “the seven seals,” and “the one who sits on the throne,” but “the lamb,” “the beast,” and “the throne” are of interest to us.

Possible Limitations

Is John able to use the article so that it always and only describes “the lamb” as the lamb of God, and “the beast” as the first beast, and “the throne” as God’s throne? Yes, he is, except when there is a restriction of the genitive case. When I use the genitive case to describe something “of something else” the two nouns must either have, or not have, the article. This is Apollonius’ Canon, discussed at 25.4.

Here, the article is used as a function marker, as described by Daniel Wallace in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Below are all the rules of the article for nouns that he cites. We should consider all of these.8 

Apollonius’ Canon

It would be fine to describe the throne “of the Lamb” with the article, because the throne of the lamb is also the throne of God, as we read in Revelation 22:3, “The throne of God and of the Lamb.” However, there is a problem with “the throne of the beast” τὸν θρόνον τοῦ θηρίου in Revelation 16:10. John only wants to use the article to describe the throne of God, but he is also using the article to describe the first beast. Here, the article on “the beast” and Apollonius’ Canon forces “the throne of the beast” to have the article.

Outside of the Book of Revelation, there are no nouns being restricted by the article, other than πνευμα, so there is no conflict. When the article is on πνευμα in the genitive it forces the word being described to accept the article, for examples, τὴν ἑνότητα τοῦ πνεύματος “the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3) and ἡ φανέρωσις τοῦ πνεύματος “the manifestations of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:7). When describing the ἡ κοινωνία τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος “the fellowship of the holy spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:14 the article is on “fellowship” and “holy spirit,” because there was one “holy spirit” after Pentecost. But when Paul describes this fellowship using “spirit” for “holy spirit” the article is absent: εἴ τις κοινωνία πνεύματος, “if any fellowship of spirit” (Philippians 2:1).  

Possessive Pronouns

The article is almost invariably used for possessive pronouns,9 eg ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ, “stretching out his hand” (Mark 1:41). This helps clarify the meaning of the article in 1 Thessalonians 4:8, διδόντα τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτοῦ (given us His spirit) and 1 John 4:13, ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος αὐτοῦ δέδωκεν ἡμῖν (from His spirit, given to us). In these cases, we are referring to God’s own spirit even though the article (as underlined) is present because of this grammatical rule. Both verses tell us that God has given us His spirit.

But in fact, this is only a case where “the spirit” has already been specifically identified as the spirit of God. In these cases, the article is frequently used as we can see in Appendix 6. Once the spirit is specifically identified as the spirit of God, there is no confusion that results from the use of the article.


If I want to say, “this Spirit” or “that Spirit” using a demonstrative pronoun, then the article must be in between. There are no such cases in the New Testament for πνευμα.

The Article for the Subject, or Object in an Object/Complement

In the sentences that describe the spirit of God on Christ in 6.3, the spirit is rarely the subject, but has the article every time. The only time that a Greek writer might intentionally use the article to identify the subject is in a predicate nominative, like ὁ δὲ κύριος τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν “the Lord is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Here, both nouns have the article because Paul wants to make the Lord, the subject.

A writer might also use the article to distinguish the object from complement, as in ἐποίησεν τὸ ὕδωρ οἶνον, “he turned water[obj] into wine[comp]” (John 4:46). But there are no such cases in the New Testament for πνευμα.

Identifying the Spirit with the Grammatical Cases 

The use of the grammatical cases also has some relevance to identifying the spirit being described.

In the Book of Revelation, all references to the Spirit of Christ are in the nominative (naming) case (Rev 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,3,22; 14:3; 22:17). 

The only use of the nominative case for the spirit of God is in Revelation 19:10, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Elsewhere it is in the dative case, described by the phrase ἐν πνεύματι “in spirit” (Rev 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10). David Mathewson calls this “locative, in a metaphorical sense.”10 Of course, we would naturally expect to see the anointing of the spirit of God described in the dative case.

Below are all uses of πνευμα after Acts 1. (A few of these describe a previous time, for example 1John 5:6-8 uses the expression “the spirit” three times to describe the spirit of God that came on Christ in His baptism.)

Uses of πνευμα after Acts 1





“holy spirit” (61)





“spirit” ie. anointing of God (35)





“The spirit” ie spirit of God (3)





Other spirit of God (36)





“The Spirit” ie. Christ (53)





Other Spirit of Christ (11)





Other uses of πνευμα (74)





Total (273)






Throughout this Book, we have showed the many ways that the Apostles identified Christ as “the Spirit.” Here, our only purpose is to show that this kind of grammatical identification is possible with πνευμa.

Simple identification seems to be the use of the article specified in Paul’s statement, “the Lord is the Spirit.”

There are no grammatical conflicts that prevent us from determining the identity of the spirit simply by the use or absence of the article.

  1. D.L. Mathewson, and E. Blodie, Intermediate Greek Grammar, Baker Press, 2016, pg 74
  2. Ibid, pg 74
  3. C.F.D. Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, 1956 and 1959, Cambridge University Press, pg 111-112
  4. Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament (Sheffield: JSOT, 1999), 107.
  5. Gordon D. Fee, The Use of the Definite Article with Personal Names in the Gospel of John, NTS 17, pg 172
  6. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 1996, pg 216-226.
  7. Revelation, a Handbook on the Greek Text, Baylor University Press, 2016, pg xxiii
  8. There are also stylistic uses of the article, that the writer would avoid if they affected meaning.
  9. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 1996, pg 239
  10. D.L. Mathewson, Revelation, a Handbook on the Greek Text, Baylor University Press, 2016, pg 10