An Addendum to “The Spirit Itself”

by James May[1]


Several years ago it occurred to me that perhaps the very worst error in the King James Bible is its reference to the Holy Spirit of God as an it. While the KJV contains this transgression in four passages, it was Romans 8:16 which first captured my attention. I typed a few notes on this reference into my computer, intending at some point to write a short paper. About three years ago, and before I got any paper written, I discovered Doug Kutilek’s excellent treatment of the question in his paper, “The Spirit Itself,” or, The Greatest Defect in the King James Version. Kutilek, who has vastly more knowledge of the KJV Only issue than I, had written a much better paper than I would have and had left me with little reason to pursue the issue any further. I did, however, have a few thoughts which Kutilek did not discuss. During these past three years I have added a few more observations and now believe that a short supplement to Kutilek’s paper might be worthwhile. My paper is intended to compliment Doug’s, and should be read after his.


There is nothing that can be said by King James Only defenders that can in anyway excuse or justify, let alone validate, the shocking corruption of God’s word that occurs when the Holy Spirit is referred to as an it.[2] Such translation is heresy, pure and simple. Our long familiarity with the language in the KJV has unfortunately bred acceptance rather than contempt. While the noble men of 1611 may be worthy of our admiration on many points—indeed in other passages they have referred to the Holy Spirit as he[3]--what they have done here deserves only condemnation. Those erudite men were fully aware of the heresies of the Socinians, Arians, and Sabellians. They also knew the difference between he and it. Opening the door to false teachers in four New Testament passages cannot be excused. The Holy Spirit of God is a person, an adult person if you will, and he should never be referred to as an it. While it is not surprising to find such blasphemy in cult literature, it has no place in the New Testament of a Bible widely used by conservative, orthodox, God-fearing Christians.


The Holy Spirit can only be called an it by either ignoring or denying his personality. In the English language adult persons are never referred to as it. Kutilek has already made clear the nonsense of appealing to Greek grammar on this point, as if English and Greek were identical in their use of grammatical gender. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nouns in English have no grammatical gender; pronouns always (well, almost always) reflect the natural gender of the object or person indicated by the pronoun. When KJV Only advocates defend the mistranslation of Romans 8:16, they demonstrate a greater concern with defending their heretical view of the King James Bible than with defending orthodox Christianity. Donald Waite, of the Dean Burgon Society, provides a clear example:

Strictly speaking, the exact and literal translation is what the KING JAMES translation has, “itself.” . . . So, “Spirit itself” is what is actually in the Greek language. . . . That would not be considered a translation error because that is exactly what it says. (Defending the King James Bible, Collingswood: The Bible For Today Press, 1998, p. 240, emphasis in the original).

So Dr. Waite believes that the natural gender of the English should reflect the grammatical gender of the Greek? If this idea is correct, we have some more “exact and literal” translations:

Matthew 5:15: Neither do men light a candle, and put him under a bushel, . . .


Here the Greek word for candle is masculine (just as the Greek word for Spirit in Romans 8:16 is neuter), and the candle is referred to by the masculine form of the Greek word autos (just as Spirit is referred to by the neuter of the Greek word autos in Romans 8:16). Of course it would be absurd to defend such a monstrous “translation” of Matthew 5:15 as given above. It is essential for the English translator to understand that the grammatical gender of candle in Greek has absolutely nothing to do with its translation into English, where the pronoun must reflect the natural gender of a candle. In other words, the translator must understand that in English, a candle is an it and the Holy Spirit of God is a he. Anyone with even a modicum of linguistic understanding knows that my translation of Matthew 5:15 is anything but “exact and literal”; it is, however, just as “exact and literal” as the King James Version’s translation of Romans 8:16.

Matthew 5:29: And if thy right eye offend  thee, pluck him out, and cast him from thee . . .

The Greek word for eye is masculine and the masculine eye is referred to by the masculine form of the Greek pronoun autos. Would Dr. Waite, or any other King James Only defender, insist that I have produced an “exact and literal translation” with this nonsense? What I have produced is foolishness, nothing more, nothing less.

Matthew 5:30: And if thy right hand offend thee, cut her off, and cast her from thee . . .

The Greek word for hand is feminine and is referred to by the feminine form of autos. Is there any rational person anywhere who would defend this translation? Why did the KJV translators not give this the same “exact and literal” translation that they produced in Romans 8:16? It would have made just as much sense.

Matthew 5:34: Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for he is God’s throne . . .

Once again, if “exact and literal” means that the gender of pronouns in English should be determined by the grammatical gender of the underlying Greek, my translation of Matthew 5:34 is an outstanding piece of work. I am quite certain that my former Greek professors would not be overly impressed.


In each of the above examples, the Greek nouns were either masculine or feminine and were, in Greek, referred to by pronouns that agreed in gender (except Matthew 5:34, where the pronoun is implied in the verb). It each case the King James translators used a neuter pronoun in English instead of reproducing the grammatical gender of the Greek. In the following examples, each noun under consideration is a neuter in Greek, and yet, in each case, the KJV uses a masculine English pronoun to refer to the Greek neuter noun.


Matt 17:18-19: And Jesus rebuked the devil [neuter noun]; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. 19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him [neuter of autos] out? ~ KJV


The Greek word here translated as devil by the King James translators is a neuter noun (just as the word Spirit is a neuter noun in Romans 8:16). Twice, however, the KJV refers to this devil with masculine personal pronouns (he, him). If a wicked devil can be accorded the minimal respect that comes from calling him a him rather than an it, why cannot the Holy Spirit be shown the same respect in John 1:32 or in Romans 8:16 or in Romans 8:26 or in I Peter 1:11? The same deference is shown in the parallel passage:


Mark 9:25-28: When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit [neuter noun], saying unto him [neuter of autos], Thou dumb and deaf spirit [neuter noun], I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. 26 And the spirit [no noun in Greek] cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. 27 But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. 28 And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him [neuter of autos] out? ~ KJV


Again we are faced with a neuter noun (spirit), and again the KJV graces a demonic foul spirit with masculine personal pronouns (ignoring the grammatical gender of the Greek). A third and final passage, again with both devil and spirit as neuter nouns in Greek, requires no comment:


Luke 4:33-35: And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice, 34 Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God. 35 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the devil had thrown him in the midst, he came out of him, and hurt him not. ~ KJV


From time to time a King James Only advocate will boldly proclaim—as if the boldness of the proclamation was in and of itself sufficient to make it true--that no error has ever been proven in the King James Bible. For example, Dr. Arlin Horton, founder and president of Pensacola Christian College, wrote the following words:


It is surprising and shocking to hear Bible faculty from institutions, long considered fundamental, to [sic] talk freely about errors in the Bible. And also to hear their graduates ridicule those who believe God has preserved His word free from error for us today. Maybe they should publish their list of what they call errors so everyone will know, (Arlin Horton, “From the President”, PCC Update (Winter 2003), p. 10).


When Dr. Horton here speaks of “errors in the Bible,” he really means “errors in the King James Version of the Bible,” which is a far different thing. He would have stated the true situation much more accurately had he written that,


It is surprising and shocking to hear Bible faculty from institutions, long considered fundamental, to [sic] talk freely about errors in the King James Version of the Bible, even though there is a whole string of editions of the KJV which differ from each other in thousands of places. And also to hear their graduates ridicule those who believe God has preserved His word free from error for us today, but only in the King James Bible, and only in some particular edition of it which no KJV advocate can objectively specify.


Unfortunately such a negligence to state the facts clearly and fully is common with KJVers; it is the only way that they can defend their position. As to God preserving his word free from all errors, Horton—or any other KJV advocate—cannot produce even two Greek or Hebrew manuscripts which are identical to each other. The very KJV books which Pensacola Christian College sells in the campus bookstore give a strikingly different description than one might expect of what is meant by “perfect preservation.” For most, if not all of the writers of those books, “perfect preservation” really means that God has RESTORED his word in the Textus Receptus and/or King James Bible. Obviously, God’s word would only need to be restored if it had not been perfectly preserved (I discuss this issue at length in my paper, The Great Inconsistency of King James Onlyism). As far as giving a list of errors in the KJV, while such lists have been produced numerous times, we must remember that no amount of proof can force anyone to believe the truth who does not want to hear the truth. The simple, undeniable fact is that the King James translators should not have called the Holy Spirit an it in John 1:32, Romans 8:16, Romans 8:26 and I Peter 1:11. This is clearly an error. Despite what claims might be made to the contrary, the Holy Spirit of God did not lead, direct or inspire anyone to refer to his blessed person as an it. Such is the product of a depraved human spirit, not of the Holy Spirit. To sum the issue up, to believe in the perfection of the King James Bible, one must believe that when a particular Greek neuter pronoun refers to a demon, it is proper to translate the pronoun as he; when the very same pronoun refers to the Holy Spirit of God, it is proper to translate it as it. Kutilek was right: This is the greatest error in the King James Bible, and it is one that we are not willing to pass over.



[1] Copyright 2006, James Richard May. This paper may be reproduced in its entirety for free distribution. All other rights reserved.

[2]We hold this to be true in light of the full New Testament revelation. Old Testament references may be excepted.

[3]See, for example, John 14:16&17, 14:26, 16:7&8 and 16:13-15.