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Is the Holy Spirit Female?

HomeChristianity and the BibleIs the Holy Spirit Female?

Whenever we try to describe God, words will always fall short. We simply don’t know everything about God. We don’t even have an earthly parallel to God, so we can’t study things that are like God to discover more about Him. Every analogy is incomplete in some way. Until we’re in God’s presence, we won’t be able to understand what He is like.

What we can be sure of is what God Himself has said. We know that both males and females are made in His image. In the Old Testament, God describes Himself in mostly masculine terms: father, husband. The Hebrew names Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai, Kurios, and Theos are all linguistically masculine. At the same time, God also describes Himself in Job as giving birth, and in Isaiah as a mother. It’s more complicated than simply “he” or “she.”

In terms of the Hebrew language, it’s a bit tricky. You see, all Hebrew nouns are gendered. They’re all either masculine or feminine. However, the gender of a Hebrew noun may or may not match the sex of the thing it describes. ERETS and BAYIT (land and house) are masculine nouns, but we wouldn’t say that either are male. TSAVAH is the word for army, yet it’s feminine. Because the word for spirit – RUACH – is feminine, some have concluded that the Holy Spirit is as well. We can understand why some might draw that conclusion from the Hebrew, but this is clearly inadequate. The Old Testament doesn’t discuss the Holy Spirit in detail… so our understanding from the Hebrew is clearly incomplete. Because Jews don’t consider the New Testament to be Scripture, their view of the Holy Spirit ends there. As Christians, we use both the Old Testament and the New Testament to learn what God has said.

In the New Testament, the Greek word is PNEUMA. It’s a neuter noun… neither masculine nor feminine. By itself, that might suggest that the Holy Spirit is neither male nor female. Of course, the word PNEUMA isn’t always by itself. We have more information than just that one word. For example, Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as PARAKLETOS, which is masculine. Masculine pronouns (he, him) are also used when talking about the Holy Spirit.

Throughout all of the Bible, God primarily describes Himself in male terms… not only linguistically, with gendered nouns, but in relationship. Father and husband are the primary ways He is described. This is obviously intentional. It doesn’t mean that human men are more like God than human women are, but that one way to understand God is to know what a good father, and a good husband, are like. Jesus is obviously a man, and the Holy Spirit is described by Jesus in masculine terms. That doesn’t mean that God is male, but that we can best understand what we need to know about God by seeing Him in those roles.

The traditional biblical view is that men and women both reflect what God is like. It may be that God, in some sense, created men and women to reflect different aspects of His character. In that way, God is to be seen as neither masculine nor feminine. However: because God describes Himself in primarily male terms, we repeat His words when we talk about Him. Jesus calls Him “Father,” and so we do as well. When the Holy Spirit is described in the New Testament, He is described in masculine terms. While we understand that that may be an incomplete description, describing the Holy Spirit as “she” directly contradicts what we see in Scripture.

It seems best to describe God in ALL of the ways that He describes Himself.


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