Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun πνευμα (pneuma) is used 385 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and is generally translated with the tainted and over-abused word "spirit". Sensationalists and book sellers will try to make their audiences believe that our spirit is a part of us, or some wavy kind of energetic reflection of our being, but that's false (to use a kind word).
In our New Age world there has been as many lofty attributes assigned to the spirit as to Chuck Norris, but the truth of the matter is that all "parts" of you are physical, and thus part of your body — and this includes your emotions, which are as much part of your own private feelings as a touch on your skin.
Your πνευμα (pneuma), on the other hand, is a mental or behavioral function and is not an independent element of your being but rather your joining your own "atomic" self to others in making spiritual "molecules". Spiritual phenomena are phenomena that cannot exist on one single mind and can only exist in two or more minds (Matthew 18:20). This obviously includes the divine (or more precise: the human concept of the divine, or Word of God; also see our article on YHWH), but also all speech (a word cannot exist in one mind and must always be shared by multiple people), and all shared ideas and knowledge (including science).
Spirit and soul
The spirit is often mentioned in tandem with the soul, which is another commonly misunderstood concept. The Greek noun ψυχη (psuche) comes from the verb ψυχω (psucho), meaning to breathe, or rather to draw breath, and very simply denotes a living thing that draws breath — and the "breathers" are obviously a subset of the larger world of living things (known by the word ζωη, zoe, life).
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).
Our noun πνευμα (pneuma) 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 letdown 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).
The Biblical spirit
The Greek in which the Bible was written made no distinction between upper and lower case letters, so it's not always clear when the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit or a human spirit. In John 6:63, for instance, Jesus says that the spirit gives life, and for centuries commentators have wondered whether this speaks of any man's spirit or the Spirit of the Creator.
The solution comes when we abandon the idea that a spirit is some individual entity and recognize our word πνευμα (pneuma) as to describe a function within the mechanism of creation, whose effect it is to federate individual elements into a working co-op, and at every possible level.
Spirit is the mutual engagement of atoms into the formation of molecules and objects. It's the forming of colonies from organisms, cultures from humans and ultimately the formation of the Internet and the Body of Christ — which, we'll coyly add, is like a baby that grows in the womb of its mother, namely our world. All the world sees of this Body of Christ is the placenta that divides their two economies, which is probably the visible church, its buildings and institutions. But behind this wholly worldly facade sits an utterly new form of humanity that the world cannot imagine to exist (see for more on this our article on Stephen).
When one gives up the spirit (Luke 23:46, John 19:30), the bonds between the person and general humanity is severed, and when one's spirit returns (Luke 8:55) this bond is restored. Upon his death, Stephen cried out to Jesus to receive his spirit (Acts 7:59), which means that Stephen lost his bond with humanity at large and became solely connected to the Body of Christ.
A soul-driven person (in Greek: ψυχικος, psuchikos, usually erroneously translated with "natural") focuses on personal needs and desires, whereas a spirit-driven person (πνευματικος, pneumatikos, usually translated as "spiritual") is more concerned with the larger collective (both terms occur in 1 Corinthians 15:44).
Love, obviously, is the most spiritual act there is, and no greater love exists than to lay down one's soul-driven life for one's friends (John 15:13).
Water, blood and spirit in one handy table:
|"There are three that testify: the spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement" (1 John 5:8).|
For more on Biblical fractals, see our article on αστηρ (aster), star.
|Water||All matter: photonic and polarized energy (Genesis 2:1, Colossians 1:16-17).||Atoms and molecules are referred to as dust (κονια, konia), which is the material that all animals have in common with stones and such. For the link between water and light (i.e. Biblical Relativity Theory), see the verb נהר (nahar), meaning both to flow and to shine. For the cognitive equivalent of the hydrological cycle, see νεφελη (nephele), cloud.|
|Blood||All life and living things — whatever is uniquely personal: one's organic body, one's soul, one's emotions, food intake, procreation, observations of all sorts and an awareness of the here-and-now.||Adam represents the most general definition of a life form (what goes for Adam goes for all living things, from bacteria to humans; Romans 8:22, Colossians 1:23). Hence Eve is the "mother (אם, 'am) of all the living (חי, hay)" (Genesis 3:20); what we moderns call the Biosphere. All animals (including humans) have a body (σωμα, soma), blood (αιμα, haima), flesh (σαρξ, sarx), a soul (ψυχη, psuche; see Genesis 1:30), feelings and emotions, and a conscious sense of the present. See θηριον (therion), beast.|
The blood's main formative principle is the familiar Survival Of The Fittest; hence all forms of competition and self-centeredness. Still, the winners (the fittest) never make it out of Blood; only the losers (the weak) do — see κυων (kuon), dog.
|Spirit||All rational consciousness — whatever can exist only in multiple minds: all words (ονομα, onoma), formal thoughts, collective ideas, law (νομος, nomos), complex and political cities (πολις, polis), awareness of past and future tenses (both in grammar and consciousness), and Theory of Mind (see νυξ, nux, night).||Sapience (i.e. word-based or abstract thinking) is uniquely human and starts in Noah ("they did not understand until the flood came"; Matthew 24:39). Sapient-sapience (the word-thinker who knows) begins in Abraham (when the Word first came to man: Genesis 15:1). Contemplating divinity requires abstract thought, which in turn requires the written word (see our articles on YHWH and Logos). Being "born of spirit" (John 3:3-8) means becoming rational, i.e. beginning to share in a joint reality of words (which in turn requires Theory of Mind, i.e. understanding one's own limitations or poorness; hence "blessed are..."; Matthew 5:3, also Zechariah 4:6). This re-birth implies a gestation period (namely in the "womb" provided by the blood-phase; akin to starlings in flight or animal vocalizations; Ezekiel 16:6), and a post-parturition maturation period provided by fellow talkers and academic study (1 Corinthians 3:1, 1 Peter 2:2).|
The spirit's main formative principle is Survival Of The Weak; hence all forms of cooperation and symbiosis — see ελευθερια (eleutheria), freedom-by-law.
The realms of Dust and Water (atoms and force fields), Flesh and Blood (the biosphere), and Word and Spirit (society and information) are self-similar. Spacetime didn't exist until the event called matter-radiation decoupling allowed all the various tiny single-moment particle-antiparticle bubbles to be stitched together into a continuum. That means that the continuum of the biosphere is self-similar to both spacetime and language. Or said differently: despite the demanding standards of our dictionaries, there's no single solid meaning of a word like, say, "apple". We all pretty much agree on what an apple is, but all of us have slightly differing associations with an apple, and thus the meaning of the word "apple" (i.e. the ratio of apple and everything-but-apple). That means that a word like "apple" is indeed very much like a quantum particle: essentially fuzzy and actually all over the place.
Very much likewise: if many people know Alice, they all know Alice in slightly different ways. That means that Alice is really a herd of versions; a herd that lumbers along some shared spiritual plane that all our minds together create. And if many people also know Bob, again in many different ways, then Bob too is a herd. And in the vast depths of that collective spiritual landscape of ours, versions of Alice interact with versions of Bob in world-shaping ways that none of us would have consciously realized.
All of this also means that that (a) DNA relates to (b) all other atoms and molecules the way (a) the human animal relates to (b) all other animals. This in turn suggests that there are (a) certain people among (b) the rest of us, whose personal thought patterns relate to the thought patterns of the rest of us the way DNA relates to all other molecules and homo sapiens relates to all other animals. Let's call these certain people the shepherd people (see ποιμην, poimen, shepherd).
The celebrated union between dogs and us naked apes brought about the agricultural revolution, and thus the modern world. But only the shepherd people are mentally able to categorically differentiate between the animals (Genesis 2:19-20), and create and sustain farms first and cities later (which is why the New Jerusalem is a city and not a beach resort: Revelation 21:2).
The difference between speech and thought is that speech is linear and thought is non-linear. In speech, every element is connected only to the elements it directly precedes and follows, like frames in a movie reel, with the area of focus the word being pronounced, like the frame that sits directly behind the lens and in front of the lamp and is projected upon the screen. In thought, the elements exist in a multi-dimensional fractal matrix, connected in webs of association, like neurons of a brain, with every element having an untold number of associations, from which images are reconstructed. Elements that have no associations are ultimately forgotten whereas elements that have the most are recollected the most. The mind is a singular ball of fire, which is why the basic principles of quantum mechanics apply so neatly to those of psychology (Genesis 13:16).
The mind is photonic, whereas speech is polarized matter (the mental manifestation of Hawking Radiation, even). The universe (including dark matter and the Higgs field) is a multi-dimensional fractal, like thought, whereas time is as linear as speech. Words are dust and thought is light (and the story of the Creation Week is vastly superior to any theory of modern science).
The difference between the Bible and modern text is that virtually all modern text is speech-based (linear), whereas the Bible is thought-based (non-linear). Unlike modern texts, the Bible is strewn with something like hyperlinks between web pages. Sometimes these hyperlinks are very obvious — take for instance Jesus' utterance from the cross: eloi eloi lama sabachtani, which in effect splices the whole of Psalm 22 into the story of the crucifixion — but in fact, every single word (or even every letter) in the Bible links to every other instance of it, and often ideas expressed in one way link to similar ideas expressed in other ways (for instance Paul's "glory to glory" of 2 Corinthians 3:18 links to the "deep to deep" of Psalm 42:7).
These links form a mind, and from that mind flows a language, and that's the language of the Bible. And that language can only be learned in the same way as any other language is learned: by doing it over and over and over, until one has reached the kind of mastery that allows the utterance of anything imaginable (John 21:25). And just like nobody will understand some speaker by consciously analyzing every uttered word, so does nobody achieve comprehension of the Bible by consciously chasing every link. Instead, a lifetime of reading and pondering Scriptures will "upload" the Bible into one's own mind and the links will form webs and networks in the background of one's conscious mind, and bubble to the top like inklings and angelic whispers. There are not many people in the world with any kind of conscious fluency in this Biblical hyper-language, but those that do are literally of one mind.
Thoughts (even elements of thoughts) exist within a mind like interacting animals within an ecosystem, not like words in a modern text or parts in a machine. The familiar stories of the Bible are literally the outside of the Bible, but the connections between the stories form the patterns that explain the stories from deep within the stories. The Bible looks like a book the way a human looks like an ape — the differences are not visible from the outside (including the text-on-page level) but become evident in the patterns that are at work within the outer appearance (within the words on the paper). These patterns can only be recognized by someone who has those same patterns within. A human is a human only to humans. To an ape, a human is an ape, and a rather wimpy one at that.
Someone whose thoughts are physical (Romans 8:6), sees the Bible as speech and scours the Bible for linear instructions on how to live. Someone whose thoughts are spiritual, sees the Bible as thought — a singular raging ball of fire — and exposes their mind to the Bible in an effort to make their own mind resonate wholly and autonomously with the patterns of the Bible (Psalm 51:10, Ezekiel 11:19, Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23). Such a person comes to exist within the reality of Biblical thought the way a black hole exist within the reality of spacetime. Because the whole of spacetime is projected instantaneously upon the singularity within the black hole, every black hole contains the image of the whole of spacetime, including all other black holes, which do the same. This is why spacetime is a fractal matrix, in structure identical to mind. Or said more logically: this is why mind if a fractal matrix, in structure identical to the universe.
Someone who thinks physically, thinks linearly and will always remain a slave to the Word (albeit the beloved dog of the shepherd). Someone who thinks spiritually, becomes the friend (John 15:15) and colleague (John 14:12) of the Word, a shepherd self-similar to the first-born Shepherd (Colossians 1:15), in a world governed by shepherds, consisting or herds, dogs, and market places where shepherds meet and trade and swap notes, and cities where shepherds live.