Is the Holy Spirit Male or Female?

HomeChristianity and the BibleIs the Holy Spirit Male or Female?

Questions about God are always important!

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.

Even common descriptions of the Trinity fall short. God isn’t really like an egg, or a shamrock, or the sun.

What we know 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 words Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai, Kurios, and Theos are all linguistically masculine. At the same time, God also describes Himself in Deuteronomy as giving birth and in Isaiah like a nursing mother so it’s more complicated than simply “he” or “she.”

God in Language

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. This doesn’t seem like a sound, logical conclusion. Speaking strictly of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit isn’t discussed in detail… so our understanding is clearly incomplete. Because Jews don’t consider the New Testament to be Scripture, their view of the Holy Spirit ends there. Describing the Holy Spirit as female seems inadequate, but we can see where this view comes from.

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 the word. For example, Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as PARAKLETOS, which is masculine. Masculine pronouns are also used when talking about the Holy Spirit.

God in Relationship

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 simply masculine nor feminine. Both male and female express what God is like, but neither express the whole. However: because God describes Himself in primarily male terms, we use those same terms 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.

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