Some hold by the translation spirit, as Wyc., the spirit breatheth where it will. In Hebrew the words spirit and wind are identical. Πνεῦμα is from πνέω to breathe or blow, the verb used in this verse (bloweth), and everywhere in the New Testament of the blowing of the wind (Mat 7:25, Mat 7:27; Luk 12:55; Joh 6:18). It frequently occurs in the classics in the sense of wind. Thus Aristophanes, τὸ πνεῦμ' ἔλαττον γίγνεται, the wind is dying away (“Knights,” 441), also in the New Testament, Heb 1:7, where the proper translation is, “who maketh His angels winds,” quoted from Psalms 103:4 (Sept.). In the Septuagint, 1Ki 18:45; 1Ki 19:11; 2Ki 3:17; Job 1:19. In the New Testament, in the sense of breath, 2Th 2:8; Rev 11:11. The usual rendering, wind, is confirmed here by the use of the kindred verb πνεῖ, bloweth, and by φωνὴν, sound, voice. Tholuck thinks that the figure may have been suggested to Jesus by the sound of the night-wind sweeping through the narrow street.
Where it listeth (ὅπου θέλει)
On the verb θέλω, to will or determine, see on Mat 1:19. Listeth is old English for pleasure or willeth, from the Anglo-Saxon lust, meaning pleasure. Chaucer has the forms leste, lust, and list.
“Strong was the wyn, and wel to drynke us leste (pleased).”
“Canterbury Tales,” 752.
“Love if thee lust.”
“Canterbury Tales,” 1185.
“She walketh up and down wher as hire list (wherever she pleases).”
“Canterbury Tales,” 1054.
“A wretch by fear, not force, like Hannibal,
Drives back our troops, and conquers as she lists.”
Shakespeare, “Henry VI.,” Pt. I., i., v., 22.
Hence listless is devoid of desire. The statement of Jesus is not meant to be scientifically precise, but is rather thrown into a poetic mold, akin to the familiar expression “free as the wind.” Compare 1Co 12:11; and for the more prosaic description of the course of the wind, see Ecc 1:6.
Rev., voice. Used both of articulate and inarticulate utterances, as of the words from heaven at Jesus' baptism and transfiguration (Mat 3:17; 2Pe 1:17, 2Pe 1:18); of the trumpet (Mat 24:31; 1Co 14:8), and of inanimate things in general (1Co 14:17). John the Baptist calls himself φωνή, a voice, and the word is used of the wind, as here, in Act 2:6. Of thunder, often in the Revelation (Rev 6:1; Rev 14:2, etc.).
Canst not tell (οὐκ οἶδας)
Better, as Rev., knowest not. Socrates, (Xenophon's “Memorabilia”), says, “The instruments of the deities you will likewise find imperceptible; for the thunder-bolt, for instance, though it is plain that it is sent from above, and works its will with everything with which it comes in contact, is yet never seen either approaching, or striking, or retreating; the winds, too, are themselves invisible, though their effects are evident to us, and we perceive their course” (iv. 3, 14). Compare Ecc 11:5.
So the subject of the Spirit's invisible influence gives visible evidence of its power.