On the gender of the Holy Spirit

Andrii Zvorygin yN-PH2196 mtH2a1 & GPT4
attender of Glad Tidings Fellowship, Tara, ON

November 3, 2023

1 Introduction

In the biblical narrative, the depiction of the Holy Spirit encompasses a range of gendered expressions, reflecting the fluidity and depth of its conceptualization. In the Hebrew context of the Old Testament, the Spirit (Ruach) often takes a feminine grammatical form, mirroring the language’s gender structure and possibly alluding to the nurturing and life-giving aspects of the divine. Conversely, in the Greek New Testament, the Holy Spirit (Pneuma) is primarily neuter, aligning with Greek’s grammatical conventions but occasionally adopts masculine pronouns to emphasize the Spirit’s personhood and activity. This linguistic diversity underscores the multifaceted nature of the Holy Spirit, moving beyond human gender constructs to depict a complex and dynamic divine presence.

2 Old Testament

The usage of gendered language in the Bible for the Holy Spirit varies between the Old and New Testaments due to the different languages in which they were originally written—Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament. Old Testament Examples:

2.1 Hebrew - Feminine Grammar:

Genesis 1:2 - ”And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” In Hebrew: -. The verb ”” (merachefet) associated with ”” (ruach - spirit) is in the feminine form.

Proverbs 1:20-21 - ”Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.” The word for ”wisdom” here is (chokhmah), which is feminine, and in rabbinic literature, it is often associated with the Spirit of God.

2.2 Hebrew - Feminine Imagery:

Isaiah 11:2 - ”And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.” Here the word ”spirit” is again (ruach), with wisdom (chokhmah) and understanding (binah), both of which are grammatically feminine.

3 New Testament Examples:

3.1 Greek - Neuter Grammar:

John 3:8 - ”The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The word for ”Spirit” here is ”πνεῦμα” (pneuma), and it is referred to in Greek with neuter pronouns and verbs.

3.2 Greek - Masculine Nouns:

John 14:16 - ”And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” The term ”Helper” or ”Advocate” is translated from ”παράκλητος” (paraklētos), which is masculine, and the pronouns used with it in the Greek are masculine as well.

3.3 Greek - Masculine Pronouns:

John 15:26 - ”But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” In this passage, ”Helper” is ”παράκλητος” (paraklētos), and ”he” reflects the masculine pronoun ”ἐκεῖνος” (ekeinos) used in the original Greek.

Greek Grammar and Masculine Pronouns:

In the Greek language, nouns have gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter) and are usually accompanied by matching pronouns and adjectives in gender, case, and number. However, there are exceptions when neuter nouns, which would typically take neuter pronouns, are associated with masculine pronouns to emphasize personhood or agency. This is especially evident in theological or philosophical texts where abstract concepts are personified. New Testament Examples:

Greek - Neuter Nouns with Masculine Pronouns:

John 15:26 - ”But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” Here ”Spirit” is ”πνεῦμα” (pneuma), a neuter noun, yet it is described using the masculine ”Helper” (”παράκλητος” paraklētos) and masculine pronoun ”ἐκεῖνος” (ekeinos), to ascribe agency and personhood to the Spirit. John 16:13-14 - ”When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” Despite ”Spirit” being neuter (”πνεῦμα” pneuma), the text uses the masculine pronoun ”he” (”ἐκεῖνος” ekeinos) to indicate the Spirit’s active role in guiding and teaching.

This use of masculine pronouns for the neuter noun ”Spirit” signifies more than grammatical gender; it underscores the Holy Spirit’s role as an active and dynamic presence in Christian belief. The decision to use a masculine pronoun for a neuter noun is a stylistic choice that can highlight the Spirit’s personal and relational attributes in the narrative.

The theological implications of this language are significant: by using masculine pronouns for the Holy Spirit, the biblical authors convey that the Spirit is not merely an impersonal force but a person within the Trinity who interacts with humanity. This linguistic choice has shaped Christian theology, helping to define the personhood of the Holy Spirit as an active participant in the divine narrative.

4 Conclusion

In conclusion, the multifaceted portrayal of the Holy Spirit across the gender spectrum in biblical language—from the feminine nuances in Hebrew to the neuter and masculine expressions in Greek—underscores the profound mystery and flexibility of the divine nature within the Judeo-Christian tradition. It serves as a reminder that the essence of the Holy Spirit transcends human categories and invites believers to an understanding of the divine that is inclusive and expansive. Moreover, these discussions about the gender of the Holy Spirit should be approached with love and kindness, emphasizing that the core of faith is not found in theological debates but in the call to embody the Spirit’s attributes of compassion, unity, and love towards one another. This perspective encourages the faith community to focus less on divisive details and more on the unifying principles of their beliefs, fostering an environment where love and respect override contention and strife.