Don’t miss part 2 which breaks down all of John’s references to the Spirit in his Gospel.
The phrase “in spirit and truth” is often used like this: “Christ told the woman at the well that we should worship God in spirit and truth, so let’s be spirited about our worship! Put a smile on your face and display a spirit of joy.” This idea of “drumming up” worship excitement does not align with a biblical view of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s work is not generated by man; rather, the believer is enabled and empowered by the Spirit thus manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, part of which is joy (Galatians 5:22-26). An assembly of believers who are led by the Spirit through the Word will be characterized by joy and yield the kind of worship that is pleasing to God.
While joyful worship is certainly a biblical concept (see Psalm 100), leaders of worship should avoid deriving this truth from John 4. In this pericope, the form and place of worship is a concern for many commentators; the “let’s be spirited while we worship” position is not one postulated by scholars. Many commentators do, however, contend that “spirit” in John 4 refers to the human spirit.
The goal of this two-part post is to show that “in spirit” in John 4 is a direct reference to the Holy Spirit, and should be translated as “in the Spirit.” John’s use of πνεῦμα throughout the rest of his gospel presents his theology of the Holy Spirit. I will examine this to show that John 4:23-24 is actually a direct reference to the Holy Spirit.
- In part one, we will examine the prepositional phrase ἐν πνεύματι in all of John’s writings (and the entire New Testament)
- In part two, we will develop a biblical theology of the Holy Spirit throughout John’s gospel.
An Examination of ἐν πνεύματι
It is helpful to compare John’s two uses of πνεῦμα in John 4:23-24 to the other twenty-two uses to see if there is grammatical/syntactical support for the correct translation (“in spirit,” “in a spirit,” or “in the Spirit”). What follows is a deep dive into this prepositional phrase.
Anarthrous πνεύματι in John 4
In 4:23, John states, “προσκυνήσουσιν (worship) τῷ πατρὶ (the Father) ἐν πνεύματι (in spirit or in the Spirit) καὶ ἀληθείᾳ (and truth).” The same phrase is used in 4:24. It becomes immediately evident that John’s use of πνεύματι (the dative of πνεῦμα; used in verse 23 and 24) is anarthrous (it does not have the article). How could “in the Spirit” be suggested when the Greek article is not present?
When one considers that there are four other times when John does not use the article, and the NASB translators chose to use “the Spirit” (bold print in Table 1), the absence of the article becomes understandable.
Table 1 – πνεῦμα in John’s Gospel
|John 1:32||τὸ πνεῦμα καταβαῖνον ὡς||the Spirit descending||Spirit|
|John 1:33||ἴδῃς τὸ πνεῦμα καταβαῖνον||you see the Spirit descending||Spirit|
|John 1:33||βαπτίζων ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ||baptizes in the Holy Spirit||Spirit*|
|John 3:5||καὶ πνεύματος οὐ δύναται||and the Spirit he cannot||Spirit*|
|John 3:6||ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος πνεῦμά||that which is born of the Spirit||Spirit|
|John 3:6||τοῦ πνεύματος πνεῦμά ἐστιν||of the Spirit is spirit||immaterial|
|John 3:8||τὸ πνεῦμα ὅπου θέλει||The wind blows where||wind|
|John 3:8||ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος||who is born of the Spirit||Spirit|
|John 3:34||δίδωσιν τὸ πνεῦμα||for He gives the Spirit without||Spirit|
|John 4:23||ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ||in spirit and truth||? *|
|John 4:24||πνεῦμα ὁ θεός||God is spirit||immaterial|
|John 4:24||ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ||in spirit and truth||? *|
|John 6:63||τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν τὸ||It is the Spirit who gives life||Spirit|
|John 6:63||ὑμῖν πνεῦμά ἐστιν καὶ||to you are spirit and are life||immaterial|
|John 7:39||τοῦ πνεύματος ὃ ἔμελλον||He spoke of the Spirit, whom||Spirit|
|John 7:39||γὰρ ἦν πνεῦμα ὅτι||for the Spirit was not yet||Spirit*|
|John 11:33||ἐνεβριμήσατο τῷ πνεύματι||He was deeply moved in spirit||human|
|John 13:21||ἐταράχθη τῷ πνεύματι||He became troubled in spirit||human|
|John 14:17||τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας||the Spirit of truth||Spirit|
|John 14:26||τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον||the Holy Spirit||Spirit|
|John 15:26||τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας||the Spirit of truth||Spirit|
|John 16:13||τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας||the Spirit of truth||Spirit|
|John 19:30||παρέδωκεν τὸ πνεῦμα||gave up His spirit||human|
|John 20:22||Λάβετε πνεῦμα ἅγιον||Receive the Holy Spirit||Spirit*|
The Anarthrous Object of the Preposition
While it is helpful to see all of John’s uses of πνεῦμα in his gospel (Table 1), this data is not sufficient enough to make a determination. For this reason, we turn to the grammarians. The question is whether the object (πνεύματι) of the preposition (ἐν) requires the Greek article in order to be definite. Daniel Wallace gives a forthright answer: “There is no need for the article to be used to make the object of a preposition definite.” This means that “in spirit” (qualitative), “in the Spirit” (definite), or “in a spirit” (indefinite) are grammatical possibilities. “When a noun is the object of a preposition, it does not require the article to be definite: if it has the article, it must be definite; if it lacks the article, it may be definite.”
Askeland, a grammarian well acquainted with Johannine literature, agrees with these observations and takes it a step further. Concerning John’s use of the anarthrous object, Askeland states, “the definite article is often omitted in the case of a prepositional phrase,” and “in these cases, the anarthrous object is syntactically definite” and is appropriately translated with the English article.
For the English reader, this is unsettling. How can something that is indefinite in the Greek form, actually be definite in the English translation? There is no way to cover so deep a topic in a couple paragraphs, but here are two things to keep in mind:
- The Greek language does not have the indefinite article (English “a” or “an”), so the function of the Greek article is already very different from English.
- Unlike English, Greek “linguists and grammarians have long since abandoned the idea that the Greek article’s main function is to definitize.”
ἐν πνεύματι in All of the New Testament
After consulting all of John’s uses in his gospel, as well as the rules of grammar, it is still best to gather more data. Table 2 provides every occurrence of ἐν πνεύματι in the entire New Testament, 4 of which appear in John’s Revelation. Out of these thirty-five total times, ἐν πνεύματι occurs with no modifier (e.g. ἁγίῳ) fourteen times. In all fourteen occurrences, it is translated with the article in reference to the Holy Spirit (“in/with/by the Spirit”). It is also interesting to note that only four of the thirty-five occurrences of ἐν πνεύματι are not translated in reference to the Holy Spirit. These four occurrences have some kind of modifier (e.g. ἀκαθάρτῳ is “unclean”) indicating that specific human spirit.
Table 2 – ἐν πνεύματι in all of the New Testament
|Ephesians 2:22||ἐν πνεύματι||in the Spirit||Spirit|
|Ephesians 3:5||ἐν πνεύματι||in the Spirit||Spirit|
|Ephesians 6:18||ἐν πνεύματι||in the Spirit||Spirit|
|Colossians 1:8||ἐν πνεύματι||in the Spirit||Spirit|
|1 Timothy 3:16||ἐν πνεύματι||in the Spirit||Spirit|
|Rev. 1:10||ἐν πνεύματι||in the Spirit||Spirit|
|Rev. 4:2||ἐν πνεύματι||in the Spirit||Spirit|
|Rev. 17:3||ἐν πνεύματι||in the Spirit||Spirit|
|Rev. 21:10||ἐν πνεύματι||in the Spirit||Spirit|
|Romans 8:9||ἐν πνεύματι||in the Spirit||Spirit|
|Matthew 22:43||ἐν πνεύματι||in the Spirit||Spirit|
|Acts 1:5||ἐν πνεύματι||with the Holy Spirit||Spirit|
|Ephesians 5:18||ἐν πνεύματι||with the Spirit||Spirit|
|Romans 2:29||ἐν πνεύματι||by the Spirit||Spirit|
|Matthew 12:28||ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ||by the Spirit of God||Spirit|
|1 Cor. 12:3||ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ||by the Spirit of God||Spirit|
|Jude 1:20||ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ||in the Holy Spirit||Spirit|
|1 Thes. 1:5||ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ||in the Holy Spirit||Spirit|
|Romans 9:1||ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ||in the Holy Spirit||Spirit|
|Romans 14:17||ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ||in the Holy Spirit||Spirit|
|2 Cor. 6:6||ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ||in the Holy Spirit||Spirit|
|John 1:33||ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ||in the Holy Ghost||Spirit|
|1 Cor. 12:3||ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ||by the Holy Spirit||Spirit|
|Romans 15:16||ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ||by the Holy Spirit||Spirit|
|1 Peter 1:12||ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ||by the Holy Spirit||Spirit|
|Acts 11:16||ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ||with the Holy Spirit||Spirit|
|Mark 1:8||ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ||with the Holy Spirit||Spirit|
|Luke 3:16||ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί||with the Holy Spirit and fire||Spirit|
|Matthew 3:11||ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί||with the Holy Spirit and fire||Spirit|
|John 4:23||ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ||in spirit and truth||?|
|John 4:24||ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ||in spirit and truth||?|
|Luke 1:17||ἐν πνεύματι… Ἡλία||in the spirit…of Elijah||human|
|Galatians 6:1||ἐν πνεύματι πραΰτητος||in a spirit of gentleness||attitude|
|Mark 1:23||ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτῳ||with an unclean spirit||demon|
|Mark 5:2||ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτῳ||with an unclean spirit||demon|
What is to be done with this information? It is unwise to draw a conclusion, since multiple translations are still within the realm of possibility. Clearly, “in the Spirit” is a viable translation, and may in fact be the most common translation of this prepositional phrase. However, without a doubt, the clearest support for the translation of “in the Spirit” is John’s development of a theology of the Holy Spirit. We will explore this in the next post.
 Other modern translations could have been used in this project, but the NASB represents a conservative approach to translation and fairly represents the majority of translations the majority of the time. Also, since the NASB translators disagree with my proposition that John 4:23-24 should be translated at “in the Spirit” this, in my mind, is fair for the opposite viewpoint.
 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the NT (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 247.
 Christian Askeland, John’s Gospel: The Coptic Translations of Its Greek Text (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co, 2012), 56.
 Daniel Wallace, review of The Greek Article: A Functional Grammar of Ὁ-Items in the Greek New Testament with Special Emphasis On the Greek Article, by Ronald D. Peters, Review of Biblical Literature (September 2015).