THE SPIRIT ITSELF BEARETH WITNESS
By Daryl Coats
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: … the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered”
– some thoughts on why the King James Bible refers to the Holy Spirit as “itself” in Romans 8:16 and 26
A brother in Christ once asked,
“Why is `itself’ correct here [in Romans 8:16]? I know that it is, but I don’t know why it is grammatically.”
Like this brother, I have no doubt that what I read in Romans 8:16 is exactly the text as God wanted me to have it, and though I’m not absolutely certain of His reasons for doing so, I have considered several things about the grammatical use of “itseIf’ in this verse.
Pronouns in the King James Bible
First, pronouns are not always used in the King James Bible as they are used in “‘contemporary” (that is, degenerated) English. Notice that in the very first chapter of the Bible-the very first time it appears, in fact-the word “his” is used where nowadays most folks would say “its”:
“… the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, … herb yielding seed after his kind, … and every winged fowl after his kind, … the living creature after his kind, … the beast of the earth after his kind: …” (Genesis 1:11,12,21,24).
Furthermore, it is obvious in Genesis 1 that God sometimes uses “his” and “itself” interchangeably to refer to the same object:
“And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:11-12).
Just as God used “his” and “itself” interchangeably to refer to plants in Genesis 1, so also He used “he” and “itself” interchangeably to refer to the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:26-27:
“the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us … he maketh intercession for the saints.”
“It” in the King James Bible
Second, Romans 8 isn’t the only place in the Bible where “it” is used to refer to a person; in Luke 9:39, for’ example, a devil is referred to as “it”-and like the Holy Ghost, this devil is a spirit as opposed to a flesh and blood entity:
“And, 10, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly cried out; and it teareth him that he foameth again, and bruising him hardly departeth from him.”
Yet notice that in passages such as Mark 1:26 and Luke 11:24-26, a devil is also referred to as “he.”
“And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him” (Mark 1:26).
“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, … he saith, … and when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he forth, and taketh to him seven other spirits, more wicked than himself: …” (Luke 11 :24-26).
And in a passage such as Mark 9:18-22 (a parallel passage to Luke 9:39), a devil is referred to as both “it” and “he”:
“And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: … and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him, … And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, …”
Again we see that God sometimes uses “he” and “it” interchangeably to refer to the same object.
The History of “It”
Third, centuries ago “it” and “itself” were used quite differently from the way “contemporary” speakers and writers use them. (The dative [indirect object] form of “it” used to be “him,” for instance.)
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), “itself” originally could be used to emphasize or limit a noun-to mean something like “that very” or “alone”; furthermore, in earlier times,
“It also occurred] where he, she, or that would now be preferred. [Compare the] F[rench] c’est [and the] Ger[man] es ist.”
The OED also notes that
“When the antecedent is the subject of a clause which precedes the relative [pronoun], it may be used of persons as well as things.”
In addition, the OED mentions that even in contemporary English, “it” can be used to refer to a person:
“As a nominative of to be, it refers to the subject of the thought, attention, or inquiry, whether impersonal or personal, in a sentence asking or stating what or who this is.”
Of course, Bible believers already knew this, because they had read passages such as Mark 6:50:
“… Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.”
Finally, if you’ve studied another language, you know that some languages utilize grammatical gender instead of sexual gender. English was such a language until the 16th century, and according to the OED, the changes in English gender were “not yet complete in the beginning of the 17th c[entury]” when the A V 1611 was produced.
In the New Testament, the English word “Spirit” is used to translate a neuter Greek noun, and as the OED points out, “it” is “the proper neuter pronoun of the third person sing [ular, u]sed originally of any neuter [subject]”; as such, the word “may refer … to any thing or person mentioned.”
God used “itself” in Romans 8 both to emphasize and to clearly define the role ofthe Holy Spirit in our lives. The “very same Spirit” described in verses 11-16 is the One Who alone makes intercession for us.
Daryl R. Coats
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