When the subject is the Christian view of the holy spirit, it is even more difficult to find an orthodox doctrine of the spirit if the Bible is read only through the method of modern historical criticism. Read historically, the Bible does not teach a doctrine of the trinity, and the Greek word for “spirit,” pneuma, refers to many different things in the New Testament. Moreover, the pneuma was considered in the ancient world to be a material substance, though a rarified and thin form of matter. Yet those ancient notions of pneuma may help us reimagine the Christian holy spirit in new, though not at all unorthodox, ways. The spirit may then become the most corporeal person of the trinity; the most present person of the trinity; or alternatively, the most absent. The various ways the New Testament speaks of pneuma—that of the human person, or the church, of God, of Christ, and even of “this cosmos”—may provoke Christian imagination in new ways once the constraints of modernist methods of interpretation are transcended. Even the gender of the spirit becomes a provocative but fruitful meditation for postmodern Christians.
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