gender of the holy spirit

The Gender Of The Holy Spirit

The gender of the Holy Spirit is a topic that discusses the masculine or feminine nature of the Holy Spirit. In this article, scriptures are analyzed and the conclusions on the gender of the Holy Spirit are drawn.

The gender of the Holy Spirit is a topic that discusses the masculine or feminine nature of the Holy Spirit.

The world is gradually winding up, and life is becoming increasingly more complex than before. Life is becoming unpredictable; such that science and technology can no longer be relied on to predict future occurrences. The advents of AI and Machine learning have not helped matter, but have complicated things the more. Where do we run to? Of course, the answer is to God. But we cannot see God, we can only hear from Him. To hear from Him, we need the help of His Spirit which is at work on the earth. We call Him the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is a significant person in Christianity and Christian living. The knowledge of who the Holy Spirit is has been established that people do not argue His personality. All agree that he/ she exists, but there are many ideas of what he/ she is. Is he masculine or feminine? The idea of the gender of the Holy Spirit has been raised and argued by different people. Some use the Greek scripture which they claim refers to the Holy Spirit as ‘He’ and conclude that the Holy Spirit must be a masculine personality. In this article, these scriptures are analyzed and the conclusions on the gender of the Holy Spirit are drawn.



Bible Texts and Translations

The Bible is written in different languages before being translated into English. In the English language, the problem of sex and gender is complicated because gender implies sex. But in many languages, gender is inherent in grammar. It is not directly linked to sex as it is in the English language. We might make mistakes when we try to make deductions from foreign languages by using the English thought process.

People who are confused about the person of the Holy Spirit usually use it to qualify Him. This is a common mistake made by many which the Holy Bible never does. This is because the Holy Spirit is a person. He has the attributes of personhood, performs the action of persons, and has a personal relationship. He has insight (1 Cor. 2:10-11), He knows things, which requires an intellect (Romans 8:27), and other attributes. The personhood of the Holy Spirit is presented without question in the Bible, but what about gender?

Linguistically

 It is abundantly clear that masculine theistic terminology dominates the scriptures. Throughout both testaments, references to God use masculine pronouns. Specific names for God (e.g. Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai, Kurios, Theos, etc.) Are all masculine gender. God is never given a feminine name or referred to using feminine pronouns. It should be noted, however, that masculine pronouns throughout history have been used for the collective sense of humanity, referring to both male and female. The Holy Spirit is referred to in the masculine throughout the New Testament, although the word for “Spirit” by itself (pneuma) is gender-neutral.[1] The Hebrew word for “Spirit” (ruah) is feminine in Genesis 1:2. But the gender of a word in Greek or Hebrew has nothing to do with gender identity.[2]

Theologically

Since the Holy Spirit is God, we can make some statements about him from general statements about God. God is spirit as opposed to physical or material. God is invisible and spirit (John 4:24; Luke 24:39; Romans 1:20). This is why no material thing was ever used to represent God (Exodus 20:4) if gender is the attribute of the body, it seems that a spirit does not have gender, God in his essence has no gender.

Gender of the Holy Spirit

The identification

The bible is not unanimous. Many people think that the Bible presents God in exclusively male terms but this is not the case God is said to give birth in the book of Job and portrays himself as a mother in Isaiah. Jesus described the father as being like a woman in search of the last coin in Luke 15 (and himself as a “mother hen” in (Mathew 23:37). In (Genesis 1:26-27) God said “let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness,” and then “God created humankind in his image in the image of God he created them male and female “He created them” thus the image of God was male and female – not simply one or the other. This is further confirmed in Genesis 5:2 which can be translated as “He created them male and female when they created, he blessed them and named them Adam”

The Hebrew term “Adam” means “man”. Therefore to whatever degree humanity is made in the image of God, gender is not an issue.[3]

Christ’s revelation of the trinity

 This is not without significance, however. A second time that God was specifically said to be revealed via a physical image was when Jesus was asked to show the father to the disciples in John 14. He responded in verse 8 by saying “the person who has seen me has seen the father!” Paul made it clear that Jesus was the exact image of God in Colossians 1:15 calling Jesus “the image of the invisible God” This verse is couched in a section that demonstrates Christ’s superiority over all creation. Therefore, if God the Father, the son is viewed as “man” it is likely that the Holy Spirit should be seen as “man” with a gender “He”

Male Attribution

 When in art a human material form is usually used to represent the Holy Spirit, that form is usually that of the male human body, without meaning to attribute such physical features to the reality represented. For example, in the rare cases of the depiction of the trinity as three identical persons, the Holy Spirit is represented as male, in line with the depictions of the father and the son. This holds also for Andrei Rublev’s Icon, known as the “Trinity”, which depicts “the three men” who visited Abraham at the oak of Mamre, often pictured as a “theophany” of the Trinity.[4]   In Catholic teaching and practice, the Holy Spirit is referred to as masculine. John the evangelist reports about Jesus referring to the Holy Spirit as a comforter (masculine in Greek) and uses grammatically necessary masculine forms of Greek pronoun “autos”. When he reports Jesus speaking of the Holy Spirit as Spirit grammatically neutar in Greek used the masculine form of the demonstrative pronoun ekeinos.

This breaking of the grammatical agreement expected by the native language readers is an indication of the author’s intention to convey the personhood of the Holy Spirit and also the masculinity of the Holy Spirit.

Bible Translations

All the major English Bible translations have retained the masculine pronoun for the Holy Spirit as in john 16:13. These texts were particularly significant when Christians were debating whether the New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit is a fully divine person or some kind of “force”.

VERSIONTEXT
King James (17th century)He, the spirit of truth, is come, He For He…, He…., He speak; and He….
New American standard bible (1963)He…, He hears He will speak, and He will disclose to you what is to come
New American Bible (1970) Roman catholicBut when He comes, the spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own but, He will speak what He hears and will declare to you the things that are coming.
New Revised Standard (1989) gender-neutralWhen the spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on his own but will speak whatever He hears and He will disclose to you the things that to come.

Neuter Attribution

In Greek, the word pneuma is grammatically neuter and so on, in that language, the pronoun referring to the Holy Spirit under that name is also grammatically neuter.[5] However, when the Holy Spirit is referred to by the grammatically masculine word parakletos (counselor, comforter), the pronoun is masculine, as in (John 16:7-8).

Female Attribution

Semitic Language

In Hebrew, the word for the spirit (ruah), is feminine, (as is the word “Shekinah”, which is used in the Hebrew bible to indicate the presence of God, Sakinah in the Arabic language, a word mentioned six times in the Quran).

In the Syriac language too, the grammatically feminine word ruah means “spirit”, and writers in that language, both orthodox and gnostic, used material images when speaking of the Holy Spirit. This imagery is found in the fourth-century theologians Aphrahat and Ephraim. It is found in earlier writings of Syriac Gnosticism such as the Odes of Solomon and the early third-century Gnostic acts of Thomas.

Eastern orthodox theologian Susan Ashbrook Harvey considered the grammatical gender to the significant for early Syrian Christianity; “it seems clear that for the Syrians, the cue from grammar – ruah as a feminine noun – was not entirely gratuitous. There was real meaning in calling the Holy Spirit “she”[6]

The fact here is that in the Syriac language, as in Hebrew, feminine forms are used when referring to the Holy Spirit does not mean that feminine pronoun has to be used when referring to the Holy Spirit in Latin (which uses masculine pronouns or in English)

Feminine Imagery

Sentiments and attitudes that certain societies associate with women (“feminity”) rather than men (“masculinity”) are sometimes attributed to each of the three persons of the Trinity, without thereby assigning to the person a particular gender.

The God spoken of, in the old testament, generally regarded as God the Father, is also spoken of as a mother giving birth to her people in (Deuteronomy 32:18); (Luke 13:34),. And in the parallel passages of the other synoptic gospels. Jesus compares his cares for Jerusalem to that of a mother hen to her chickens, and Jesus had been seen as the incarnation of divine wisdom.

So too the Holy Spirit has associated with feminine attitude on the part of the divinity and has been spoken of under the images of the mother and mistress. Martin Luther is said to have used feminine terms to speak of the Holy Spirit.

A few recent theologians have gone further, and while retaining masculine reference to the father and son, have explored feminine alternatives for the Holy Spirit. Some have related this to the perceived material functions in the scripture or Christian tradition.

According to Carol L. Meyers in her study of the book of exodus concludes “whether the gendered images had a literal meaning for some or all of the ancient Israelites probably never can be determined. What does seem certain is that they would not have misunderstood our current interest in the sex or gender of God. The dominant male metaphors for God may seem sexist and problematic in today’s world when wrenched from their Iron Age context. But it is worth considering that the many male images and the fewer female ones together were powerful vehicles for expressing the fundamental non-human character of God”.

Conclusion

The conclusion of all this is that our traditional assumption of a masculine spirit is questionable; in fact, the evidence seems overwhelming that the spirit should be viewed as “she” which does seem to make sense since the other two members of the Godhead are labeled “father” and “son”

All we are concerned in this regard is the person of the Holy Spirit, not the gender. Looking at the issue from different perspectives, we cannot assuredly conclude whether the Holy Spirit is “He” or “She”, or “It”. But based on Christ’s assertion about the Holy Spirit we deduce that the Holy Spirit is masculine. But looking at other portions of the scriptures where “mother” is used we can use “She” for the Holy Spirit.

However, this should no more be a controversial matter anymore in Christendom, in that, whether “He” or “She” is used for the Holy Spirit, that does not deter the Holy Spirit from doing whatever He had intended to do.

Bibliography

Congar, Yves M.J. I Believe In The Holy Spirit. (New Tork: Seabury), 1983.

Finger, Thomas N. Christian Theology: An Eschatological Approach Vol.2. Scohdale: Penn: Herald, 1987.

Gelpi, Donald L. The Divine Mother: A Trinitarian Theology Of The Holy Spirit. New York: University Press Of America, 984.

Gruden, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction To Biblical Doctrine. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1sbn 0310286700.

Harvey, Susan Ashbrook. Feminine Imagery For The Divine: The Holy Spirit Of The Odes Of Solomon, And Early Syriac Tradition. St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 37, Nos. 2-3 (1993).

Jurgen Moltmann. The Spirit Of Life: A Universal Affirmation. Minneapolis; Fortress, 1992.

Mounce, William D. The Morphology Of Biblical Greek. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Pinnock, Clark H. The Role Of Spirit In Creation. Asbury: Theological Journal 52 (Spring), 1997.

Rublev’s. Icon Of Trinity. Welsprings.Org. Uk. Retrieved, 2008.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammer Beyond The Basics: An Exegetical Syntax Of New Testament Greek. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1996, 332.


[1] Gruden, Wayne, systematic theology p.232

[2] Daniel B. Wallace. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 1996 p. 332

[3] Thomas n. finger, Christian theology, 1987, p. 483-490

[4] Rublev’s Icon of the trinity, 2008, p. 12

[5] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics, 1996, 332

[6] Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Feminine Imagery for Divine, 1993,111

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