Skip to main content

Is The Holy Spirit a "She"?

Bible Study
Q: I came across a video on YouTube that quickly made my spiritual guard go up. So instead of turning it off as i maybe should have, i prayed for discernment and continued to watch. I did quickly close it however, after i heard "Ruach Ha Kodesh" referred to as a member of the Trinity (which i soon gathered was appropriate as this is the Hebrew term for The Holy Spirit), BUT the gentleman used the pronoun "SHE" in reference to Ruach Kodesh.

I will admit i only briefly attempted to find credibility in this. I was floored by all of the material and sources that share this view. I usually feel well equipped to poke around and strengthen my faith by reading opposing views, but this seemed exceptionally evil. Maybe because of the stern warning from Jesus about blaspheming The Holy Spirit, i don't know. Anyway, I am hopping that this is a topic on which you may have already done the research.

Question: Is there any validity to the belief held by some, that The Holy Spirit is female or both male and female, and therefore the comforting and nurturing member of The Trinity?

Thank you, your time and wisdom is much appreciated.


A: I still remember the last day of my first semester of Greek in seminary. My Professor proudly said to all of us who had completed the course, "Congratulations! You all officially know enough to be dangerous!"

While using humor, his comment was really a warning to us. We knew enough about this biblical language to make it sound like we knew what we were talking about. But we didn't know enough about the language ourselves to actually know anything yet!

Something that drives me crazy as a teacher of the Bible is when I see people using tidbits from the original language to try and demonstrate some "secret" or "new teaching" that has been missed or obscured due to translation. Certainly there are some interesting things to learn from a careful study of the original languages. But a fact of the significance that this question is pointing to? Not likely.

Without a link to the particular video, it is impossible for me to evaluate the exact claims of it or the related research that was done which turned up the surprising amount of material and sources that share the view that the Holy Spirit of God is either a female, or both genders. To anyone who is interested, I'm sure you can find your own bunny-trail to travel down through the miracle of Google search!

Instead, let's take the whole issue at once. This will hopefully shed light on the errors of all of these sources simultaneously.

Unfortunately, since the answer lies in grammar and syntax, I have to warn you up front. The answer is kind of boring. Nothing you can do about that. It won't sell many books but it is accurate!

A description of gender as it is used across a variety of languages suggests that grammatical gender does not primarily denote sex in animate beings and "analogous" features of inanimates. Rather, gender is primarily a matter of syntax. The relevant linguistic arguments are diverse; taken together, they point toward a properly linguistic notion of gender. (Waltke and O'Conner, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, 99)

Male and Female
What this means is that "gender" in languages is not the same thing as "gender" in persons and/or objects. Languages that denote gender either denote two (male and female) like Hebrew or three (male, female, and neuter) like Greek. Other languages do not have any classification of gender for nouns, pronouns and verbs (i.e. Chinese) but may make use of other systems of classification for these (i.e. nouns, pronouns and verbs) parts of speech.

This is where we can become dangerous. We learn that Hebrew has gender as part of their language system. We look at the verbal form of Genesis 1:2 and see that, *gasp*, the Spirit of God that is hovering over the water has a feminine verbal form! Perhaps the Spirit of God is a woman! In fact, we begin to search for all of the references of the Spirit of God in the Hebrew Bible (the Christian "Old Testament") and discover that the majority (though certainly not all) of verbal forms that describe the activity of this spirit take the feminine form.

Without an understanding that the "gender" of nouns, pronouns, and verbs is a product of syntactical relationships between words we're going to have some problems. It is not a commentary on the "male-ness" or "female-ness" of the grammatical objects being described. Ignorance makes it easy to draw faulty conclusions.

To clarify, let's consider our own English language. If you were to take a stroll down a pier and speak to some boat owners, you'd find that many of them have named their inanimate floating vehicles feminine names. They even refer to "taking her out." So, would you draw the conclusion from such feminine nouns and pronouns that these boats are, in fact, females?

Not likely.

This phenomenon is not unique to English and Hebrew.

The error of the idea that gender is attached to an object according to certain perceived qualities is further illustrated by comparing the genders of words in one language with those in another. For example, in the Romance languages 'sun' is masculine and 'moon' feminine, but in German the situation is reversed. Indeed, even for animate nouns the referential feature can be weakened or absent. Thus there are nouns in French that, though feminine in form, refer to men, for example, la sentinelle 'the sentinel,' la vigi 'the night watchman.' In French, most occupational terms are feminine, even if the person referred to by the terms is generally male. On the other hand, some nouns designating professions are masculine (le professeur, le medecin) even when referring to a female; thus, the following sentence is possible in French: Le professeur est enceinte, 'The professor [masculine in form] is pregnant.'

In German similar clashes of sex and gender are found. Amused that Rube 'turnip' is feminine, while Madchen 'girl' is neuter, Mark Twain concocted this dialogue in A Tramp Abroad:

Grethchen: Wilhelm, where is the turnip?
Wilhelm: She has gone to the kitchen.
Gretchen: Where is the accomplished and beautiful English maiden?
Wilhelm: It has gone to the opera. (Syntax, 99-100)


Many more examples could be given. But these should suffice to demonstrate that gender when it comes to language is not the same as "sex" when applied to persons and/or objects. No matter how much evidence is cited that points to the Spirit of God or The Holy Spirit taking feminine verb forms, none of it demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is a "she." The only thing it demonstrates conclusively is that the one who is making such claims doesn't really understand what they're talking about.

The syntactical reality is that ruach in Hebrew is a common noun form. It takes both masculine and feminine verb, pronoun, and noun forms naturally without being a commentary on the sex of the ruach (breath, wind, spirit) itself. In biblical Hebrew, the syntactical preference of ruach is the feminine form of agreement. There are some exceptions.

As with virtually everything in Scripture, the context is important. Words mean nothing separated from each other. They require context to gain their meaning. Words on their own have a range of meaning. But they take on a specific meaning when arranged with other words in sentences. How these words are appropriately arranged and related together are based on rules of grammar and syntax. And "gender" is more a function of concord or syntax than it is of meaning.

What is more interesting in a study of this type (that is, if a study of grammar and syntax can ever be described as "interesting" outside of the few small circles that find linguistics to be fascinating!), is not the places where the gender rules of syntax are followed but where they are ignored. In these cases, the natural rules of correct speech are being ignored for some reason. In these cases, it is more likely that some sort of commentary is being made. Otherwise the syntactical agreement would have been followed.

For example, Greek has a three gender system instead of the two employed by Hebrew. Greek has nouns and pronouns that are marked as either masculine, feminine, or neuter. The Greek and Hebrew languages have a virtually interchangeable word that covers the same semantic range of meanings in both languages: Ruach in Hebrew and Pneuma in Greek both can mean: breath, wind, spirit. The major difference is that Hebrew (2 genders) has a common form. Ruach can syntactically be related to either gender. More commonly feminine. The Greek pneuma is neuter.

As a neuter noun, the appropriate syntactical pronouns would likewise be neuter ('it'). But we find examples like this in Romans 8:16 where the syntactical agreement is ignored. 'He' is used despite the fact that the neuter 'it' is available and natural if the 'sex' of the spirit is tied to the gender of the noun form:

The Spirit himself [not "itself"] testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. (Romans 8:16)

Holy Spirit
This example from Romans 8:16 is a more powerful argument for the identification of the Holy Spirit as a 'he' than all of the possible examples of the Holy Spirit being a 'she' from other verbal forms. This is so simply because all of those examples follow the rules of syntactical agreement. This one violates it. In order to violate the syntactical arrangement, you would need a good reason to do so. For example, to point to the person-hood of the Holy Spirit in contrast to the erroneous view that the Spirit is the impersonal force or power of God.

The Holy Spirit is not an 'it.' The Holy Spirit is not a 'she.' The Holy Spirit is rightly referred to as He.

The syntactical disagreement of the type found in Romans 8:16 is never found in the reverse. That is, there are no examples of feminine pronouns being used for the Holy Spirit in the Greek Scriptures. We would expect to find this if the Holy Spirit were, in fact, a female Person.

In conclusion, we must always remember that context is important. The cultural context of the Hebrew people who received the revelation of God in the Hebrew Scriptures were under no misconception regarding the "sex" of God. They were comfortable with the overwhelmingly masculine language that was used to describe God the Father in their Scriptures. They would have never been swayed into a strange idea like the Holy Spirit of God being a woman by the syntactical agreement of their verb forms when used to describe the activity of God's Spirit. Just like you would never be swayed into thinking that your friend's boat is actually a woman simply because he keeps on talking about "taking her out for a spin"! The context of an inanimate object overrules the grammatical and syntactical agreement of "gender" in our discussions knowing that such talk is not intended to define the "sex" of the object being discussed.

One final note: we must always resist the urge to make God in our image and instead understand that we were made in His. Included in this is understanding that the "we" who were made in His image are both male and female:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

To separate comforting and nurturing as elements of human personality and disposition, and then attribute them (primarily) to the female sex, and then to define God according to this separation is a mistake. It may be true that human females are more comforting and nurturing as a general rule. But this does not mean that God would need to be female to be nurturing and comforting. Instead, God made both sexes in His image. It is only when combined together that we see the most complete picture of who God truly is.

While a discussion of grammar and syntax may not be exciting, it is helpful to understand that God's revelation of Himself uses masculine language. However, God is Spirit and as such his "sex" is not like the human sexes.

"So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female..." (Deuteronomy 4:15-16)

The Holy Spirit has been revealed (along with both the Father and the Son) with masculine pronouns. To remove them from Scripture is dangerous. Equally dangerous is to think that God is a "man" just like us. He's not. Even though He's not like us, we should take His self-revelation seriously and resist the false teaching that attempts to see God as an "it" or a "she." This is not how He has chosen to reveal Himself to us.

Thanks for the question! This one took me a little longer than normal. Searching through and studying every reference to the Spirit was time consuming but beneficial to me personally. Thanks for the opportunity! :)

Comments

Popular Posts

Prayer vs. Petition

Q: What's the difference between prayer and petition? Phil 4:6 for example.

A: An excellent word study question! When attempting to study words from the text it is necessary to analyze the word being studied in the original language (in this case Greek) as attempting to look up the words in English will often produce erroneous results.

For example, in English the word petition has within its range of meanings things that are certainly not within the scope of meanings for the Greek word (i.e. “a sheet that is signed to demonstrate agreement with some principle or desire for some social action to be taken” is part of the range of “petition” but not of the Greek deesis from which “petition” is translated).

The word most commonly translated as “prayer” in our English Bibles is proseuche, which appears 36 times in the New Testament (NT) in one form or another (for the purposes of this study, we are only examining the usage of these words as nouns – the verbal forms will not be included…

10 Things An Evangelist Is Not

You've probably heard the term Evangelist before.Most people have. The term most likely brings something to mind. Sometimes positive. Often negative.

Does your idea match what other people think of when they hear the term evangelist?

More importantly, do any of these ideas match what the Bible tells us an evangelist is?

The truth is that most of the popular ideas about what an evangelist is and does are based on the culture, not the Bible.This is a problem.

The cultural idea of an evangelist is so popular that it is beginning to be used by companies. If you go to popular job sites and put the term evangelist into the search bar you will find many non-church jobs looking for evangelists. Many of these positions include the duties of spreading knowledge about a particular company, product, service, or idea.

The Bible tells us that Jesus gave some Evangelists for His church.And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers (Ephe…

5 Keys To Effective Witness

Content is important. But it's not the only thing. Some evangelistic methods are presented as if they are the perfect witnessing method. Some think memorizing a method and mechanically delivering the content means you have effectively witnessed.

Witness throughout the New Testament demonstrates this is not accurate. There is not a cookie-cutter approach that is applied the same way every time.
Content is extremely important. Without the right content our witness cannot be effective. Messing with the content of the gospel voids its power. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. (1 Corinthians 1:17) Focusing only on content fails to recognize that we are not preaching to the air. We are preaching to persons.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel,…

Lift Up The Son, Part 2

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
(Romans 15:4)


(If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.)

The Apostle Paul quoted a verse from Psalm 69 before making his comment in Romans 15:4. When he speaks of whatever was written before he means what we have recorded in the Old Testament. He simply called them the Scriptures.

God inspired the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament. Paul said they were written for the instruction of New Testament believers. Through perseverance and encouragement in the Scriptures we can have hope. The Old Testament is not supposed to be ignored by Christians.

As we apply this to our task of lifting up the Son, that in and through Christ our Father may be glorified, we encounter a word of caution.

It is easy to agree on the surface that the church ought to talk about Jesus. That's a given. But are we aware that not everyone means th…

Fullness By Design

My wife and I are expecting our 8th child this year. I want my children to grow to full maturity. That's not to say that I want to skip the fun things that accompany young kids. I don't want to skip any of it. As each day passes I realize how quickly these moments are gone.

The march toward adulthood is inevitable. Every day, we all get older. I must be aware that my children are growing up, whether I like it or not.

But maturity is not the same as age. It is possible to get older while never really growing up.

When I say that I want my children to grow to full maturity what I mean is: I desire my children to realize their potential. I want them to grow into responsible adults.

I don't want my three sons to live in my house indefinitely. They shouldn't be expecting their mother to cook and clean for them into their thirties. Part of my responsibility as a father is to steward the children God has so graciously given us. We are to raise them so that they can be delivere…