I welcome Justin Ivatts as guest blogger today! This post is part of a project he's doing in Digital Media for Ministry and Old Testament.
A Word Study on the Hebrew Word ר֫וּחַ.
I recently taught an
online class at Virginia Theological Seminary exegeting the Valley of Dry Bones
narrative from Ezekiel 37: 1-14. My
argument was that Ezekiel was foretelling the Christian doctrine of the
Resurrection of the Dead. You can view
an archived recording of this class by clicking on the link at the end of this
post. One of the hooks that my argument
hinged on was the use of the Hebrew word ר֫וּחַ, and thus I wanted to conduct a more in
depth word study here than I had time to do in a 45 minute class where I also
had a lot of other ground to cover.
is a noun which can literally be translated as wind, breath or spirit. We find all three of these translations in
all the English translations that I consulted (NRSV, ESV, NIV, REB and
Message). ר֫וּחַ appears in total 378 times in the Old
Testament and Ezekiel makes use of some of these meanings. For example we see ר֫וּחַ used in the same context in Ezekiel 37:5 as
in the creation narrative in Genesis 2:7.
Both verses use ר֫וּחַ
as something that brings life, in the case of Genesis new life, in the case of
Ezekiel returned, redeemed life.
The Theological Wordbook
of the Old Testament describes ר֫וּחַ as having the conceptual effect of “air in motion.” (Payne
1980, 836) This matches up well with
Ezekiel’s use in 37:9, where he speaks of “the four winds” which he uses to
denote the four corners of the earth.
corresponding Greek word for ר֫וּחַ is πνεῦμα (Pneuma), which has exactly the same literal
translation, i.e. it can mean, breath, wind or spirit. Therefore, πνεῦμα appears everywhere in the
Septuagint translation of Ezekiel 37: 1-14 that ר֫וּחַ does.
In the New Testament πνεῦμα is only used to denote spirit in the
Gospels, the first appearance of its use as breath is not until the Acts of the
Apostles. I found that
finding particularly useful in proving my point in the class, since I was able
to argue that ר֫וּחַ
as spirit is a direct reference to the Holy Spirit, even if Jewish theology did
refer to the Holy Spirit. According to
the Payne article A.F.Kirkpatrick asserted that “the [ר֫וּחַ] YHWH [of the Old Testament] is the Holy
Spirit ‘in the fullest Christian sense.’” (Payne 1980, 837)
The last point I want to
raise about this word is one which might be of interest to feminist
theologians. There has been a move in
recent years among our feminist friends to talk about the Holy Spirit as
“she.” Interestingly neither the Greek
nor the Hebrew is of a masculine gender.
πνεῦμα is neuter but ר֫וּחַ is actually feminine.
Therefore, perhaps it is right that we should talk about the Holy Spirit
as she or else give “it” no gender at all.
Please do attend an
archived version of the class that I taught at here
Payne, J. B. (1980).
Ruah. wind, breath, mind, spirit. In R. L. Harris, G. l. Archer & B. K.
Waltke (Eds.), Theological wordbook of the old testament (pp. 836-837).
Chicago, IL: The Moody Bible Institute.