Gender of the Holy Spirit

In Christian theology, the gender of the Holy Spirit has been the subject of some debate in recent times.

The grammatical gender of the word for "spirit" is feminine in Hebrew (רוּחַ, rūaḥ),[1] neutral in Greek (πνεῦμα, pneûma) and masculine in Latin (spiritus). The neutral Greek πνεῦμα is used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew רוּחַ. The pronouns used to address the Holy Spirit, however, are masculine.[citation needed]

The Holy Spirit was furthermore equated with the (grammatically feminine) Wisdom of God by two early Church fathers, Theophilus of Antioch (d. 180) and by Irenaeus (d. 202/3). However, the majority of theologians have, historically, identified Wisdom with Christ the Logos.

Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century wrote that terms like "Father" and "Son" in reference to the persons of the trinity are not to be understood as expressing essences or energies of God but are to be understood as metaphors. The same position is still held in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church.[2]

Grammatical gender Edit

Even in the same language, a difference may arise relating to what word is chosen to describe the Holy Spirit. In Greek the word pneuma is grammatically neuter[3] and so, in that language, the pronoun referring to the Holy Spirit under that name is also grammatically neuter. However, when the Holy Spirit is referred to by the grammatically masculine word Parakletos "counselor", the pronoun is masculine (since the pronoun refers to Parakletos rather than pneuma), as in John 16:7-8.[4]

William D. Mounce argues that in the Gospel of John, when Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as Comforter (masculine in Greek), the grammatically necessary masculine form of the Greek pronoun autos is used,[5] but when Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as Spirit, grammatically neuter in Greek,[6] the masculine form of the demonstrative pronoun ekeinos ("that masculine one") is used.[5] This breaking of the grammatical agreement expected by native language readers is an indication of the author's intention to convey the personhood of the Holy Spirit.[7] Daniel B. Wallace, however, disputes the claim that ekeinos is connected with pneuma in John 14:26 and 16:13-14, asserting instead that it belongs to parakletos. Wallace concludes that "it is difficult to find any text in which πνευμα is grammatically referred to with the masculine gender".[8]

In Hebrew the word for Spirit (רוח) (ruach) is feminine, (which is used in the Hebrew Bible, as is the feminine word "shekhinah" in rabbinic literature, to indicate the presence of God, Arabic: سكينة sakina, a word mentioned six times in the Quran).

In the Syriac language too, the grammatically feminine word rucha means "spirit", and writers in that language, both orthodox and Gnostic, used maternal images when speaking of the Holy Spirit. This imagery is found in the fourth-century theologians Aphrahat and Ephrem the Syrian. It is found in earlier writings of Syriac Christianity such as the Odes of Solomon[9] and in the Gnostic early-third-century Acts of Thomas.[10]

Historian of religion Susan Ashbrook Harvey considers the grammatical gender to have been significant for early Syriac 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 Spirit 'She'."[11]

In the Catholic Church, the Holy Spirit is referred to in English as "He" in liturgical texts;[12] however, the Holy See directs that "the established gender usage of each respective language [is] to be maintained."[13]

Discussion in mainstream Christianity Edit

Ancient church Edit

For Semitic languages, such as ancient Syriac, the earliest liturgical tradition and established gender usage for referring to the Holy Spirit is feminine.[14]

The Syriac language, which was in common use around AD 300, is derived from Aramaic. In documents produced in Syriac by the early Miaphysite church (which later became the Syriac Orthodox Church) the feminine gender of the word for spirit gave rise to a theology in which the Holy Spirit was considered feminine.[15]

Recent discussions Edit

Some recent authors (1980s to present), while retaining masculine reference to Father and Son, have used feminine language for the Holy Spirit. These authors include Clark H. Pinnock,[16] Thomas N. Finger,[17] Jürgen Moltmann,[18] Yves M.J. Congar,[19] John J. O'Donnell,[20] Donald L. Gelpi,[21] and R.P. Nettlehorst.[22][23][24]

Discovering Biblical Equality maintains that viewing God in masculine terms is merely a way in which we speak of God in figurative language. The author reiterates that God is spirit and that the Bible presents God through personification and anthropomorphism which reflects only a likeness to God.[25]

There are some churches (see below) who teach that the Holy Spirit is feminine based on the fact that both feminine nouns and verbs, as well as feminine analogies, are thought to be used by the Bible to describe the Spirit of God in passages such as Genesis 1:1-2, Genesis 2:7, Deut. 32:11-12, Proverbs 1:20, Matthew 11:19, Luke 3:22, and John 3:5-6. These are based on the grammatical gender of both the nouns and verbs used by the original authors for the Spirit, as well as maternal analogies used by the prophets and Jesus for the Spirit in the original Bible languages.

There are biblical translations where the pronoun used for the Holy Spirit is masculine, in contrast to the gender of the noun used for spirit in Hebrew and Aramaic.[3] In Aramaic also, the language generally considered to have been spoken by Jesus, the word is feminine. However, in Greek the word (pneuma) is neuter.[3] Most English translations of the New Testament refer to the Holy Spirit as masculine in a number of places where the masculine Greek word "Paraclete" occurs, for "Comforter", most clearly in the Gospel of John, chapters 14 to 16.[26] These texts were particularly significant when Christians were debating whether the New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit is a fully divine hypostasis, as opposed to a created force.

Feminine gender in other faith traditions Edit

Latter-day Saints Edit

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gender is seen "as an essential characteristic of eternal identity and purpose".[27] The LDS Church believes that before humans lived on earth, they existed spiritually, with a spirit body with defined gender,[28] and that the Holy Spirit had a similar body, but was to become a member of the three personage Godhead[29] (Godhead consisting of God, or Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost).

Branch Davidians Edit

Some small Christian groups regard the gender of the Holy Spirit to be female, based on their understanding that the Hebrew word for Spirit, ruach, can be feminine or masculine. Their views derive from skepticism toward Greek primacy for the New Testament.[clarification needed] Foremost among these groups, and the most vocal on the subject are the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists.[citation needed]

In 1977, one of their leaders, Lois Roden, began to formally teach that a feminine Holy Spirit is the heavenly pattern of women. In her many studies and talks she cited numerous scholars and researchers from Jewish, Christian, and other sources. They see in the creation of Adam and Eve a literal image and likeness of the invisible Godhead, male and female, who is "clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made".[30]

They take the Oneness of God to mean the "familial" unity which exists between them, which unity is not seen in any other depiction of the Godhead by the various non-Hebrew peoples. Thus, having a Father and Mother in heaven, they see that the Bible shows that those Parents had a Son born unto them before the creation of the world, by Whom all things were created.[31][32][33][34]

Unity Church Edit

The Unity Church's co-founder Charles Fillmore considered the Holy Spirit a distinctly feminine aspect of God considering it to be "the love of Jehovah" and "love is always feminine".[35]

Messianic Jews Edit

The B'nai Yashua Synagogues Worldwide,[36] a Messianic group headed by Rabbi Moshe Koniuchowsky, holds to the feminine view of the Holy Spirit.[37][38] Messianic Judaism is considered by most Christians and Jews to be a form of Christianity.

There are also some other independent Messianic groups with similar teachings. Some examples include Joy In the World;[39][40] The Torah and Testimony Revealed;[41] Messianic Judaism - The Torah and the Testimony Revealed;[42] and the Union of Nazarene Jewish Congregations/Synagogues,[43][44] who also count as canonical the Gospel of the Hebrews which has the unique feature of referring to the Holy Spirit as Jesus' Mother.[45]

Some scholars associated with mainline denominations, while not necessarily indicative of the denominations themselves, have written works explaining a feminine understanding of the third member of the Godhead.[46]

Moravian Brethren Edit

There was a well established place in liturgy, prayer and doctrine for the Holy Spirit as the Mother amongst the Moravian Brethren, exemplified by Count Zinzendorf especially.[47]

Gnosticism Edit

In the Secret Book of John, an ancient codex from the Nag Hammadi Library used in Christian Gnosticism, the divine female principle Barbelo is referred to as the Holy Spirit.[48]

In art Edit

In Christian iconography, the Holy Spirit is most often represented as a dove. There is also a far less common tradition of depicting the Holy Spirit in human form, usually as male. Thus, Andrei Rublev's The Trinity represents the Trinity as the "three men" who visited Abraham at the oak of Mamre[49] often considered a theophany of the Trinity.[50] In at least one medieval fresco, however, in the St. Jakobus church in Urschalling, Germany, the Holy Spirit is depicted as a female.[51]

See also Edit

  • Maid of Heaven, representation of the Holy Spirit in the Bahá'í Faith

References Edit

  1. ^ Jacobs, Joseph and Blau, Ludwig. "Holy Spirit", Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906
  2. ^ "In no way is God in man's image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective 'perfections' of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband." CCC 370.
  3. ^ a b c "Catholic Exchange". 24 June 2006. Retrieved 2009-05-13.
  4. ^ John 16:7–8
  5. ^ a b William D. Mounce, The Morphology of Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), pp. 241-242
  6. ^ John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-14.
  7. ^ Grudem, Wayne (1995). Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. p. 232. ISBN 0-310-28670-0.
  8. ^ Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of New Testament Greek (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 332.
  9. ^ Susan Ashbrook Harvey, "Feminine Imagery for the Divine: The Holy Spirit, the Odes of Solomon, and Early Syriac Tradition," St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 37, nos. 2-3 (1993): 111-120.
  10. ^ Acts of Thomas 5:50, quoted in More Than Just a Controversy: All About The Holy Spirit
  11. ^ Harvey, "Feminine Imagery," 136.
  12. ^ Trigilio, John; Brighenti, Kenneth (2006). The Catholicism Answer Book. Sourcebooks. pp. 7–8. ISBN 978-1-4022-0806-5.
  13. ^ Liturgiam Authenticam Archived January 18, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, 31 (a)
  14. ^ Feminine-Maternal Images of the Spirit in Early Syriac Tradition, by Emmanuel Kaniyamparampil, O.C.D.
  15. ^ "Quartz Hill School of Theology".
  16. ^ Clark H. Pinnock, "The Role of the Spirit in Creation," Asbury Theological Journal 52 (Spring 1997), 47-54.
  17. ^ Thomas N. Finger, Christian Theology:An Eschatological Approach vol. 2 (Scottdale, Penn.:Herald, 1987), 483-490.
  18. ^ Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 157-158.
  19. ^ Yves M.J. Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, vol. 3 (New York: Seabury, 1983), 155-164.
  20. ^ John J. O'Donnell, The Mystery of the Triune God (London:Sheed & Ward, 1988), 97-99.
  21. ^ Donald L. Gelpi, The Divine Mother: A Trinitarian Theology of the Holy Spirit (New York:University Press of America, 1984).
  22. ^ More Than Just a Controversy: All About The Holy Spirit - by R.P. Nettelhorst
  23. ^ Chapter Seven - Pneumatology: Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
  24. ^ Appendix 3 -The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament - The Occurrences of Spirit
  25. ^ "God is not a sexual being, either male or female─something that was considered to be true in ancient Near Eastern religion. He even speaks specifically against such a view in Num 23:19, where the text has Balaam saying God is not a man [ish], and in Deut 4:15–16, in which he warns against creating a graven image in "the likeness of male or female." But though he is not a male, the "formless" deity (Deut 4:15) has chosen to reveal himself largely in masculine ways." House, H. Wayne (reviewer). "God, Gender and Biblical Metaphor." J of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 10:1 (Spring 2005) p. 64
  26. ^ Nestle and others, Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgeselschaft, 1993)
  27. ^ "Gender Is an Essential Characteristic of Eternal Identity and Purpose", Ensign, Oct. 2008, 67
  28. ^ "Strengthening the Family: Created in the Image of God, Male and Female", Ensign, Jan. 2005, 48–49
  29. ^ The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  30. ^ Romans 1:20
  31. ^ It's all Greek to Them The Holy Spirit He, She, or It?
  32. ^ The Real Ghost Story
  33. ^ She is a Tree of Life
  34. ^ Shelter from the Storm
  35. ^ Charles Fillmore. Jesus Christ Heals. pp. 182–183.
  36. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-04-16. Retrieved 2009-06-04.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  37. ^ Who/What is the Ruach HaKodesh? Sermon Delivered 12-25-04 Part One
  38. ^ Who/What is the Ruach HaKadosh? Sermon Delivered 1-1-05 Part Two
  39. ^ Joy In the World
  40. ^ The Ruach HaKodesh: Him Or Her?
  41. ^ The Torah and Testimony Revealed
  42. ^ Messianic Judaism - The Torah and the Testimony Revealed - Haas genealogy
  43. ^ "The Union of Nazarene Jewish Congregations/Synagogues". Archived from the original on 2007-12-10. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
  44. ^ "Home".
  45. ^ Gospel of the Hebrews#Content
  46. ^ For example, R.P. Nettlehorst, professor at the Quartz Hill School of Theology (associated with the Southern Baptist Convention) has written on the subject. [1][2][3].
  47. ^ Atwood, Craig D. (2011-11-19). "Lecture at Moravian Theological Seminary".
  48. ^ Marvin Meyer; Willis Barnstone (June 30, 2009). "The Secret Book of John". The Gnostic Bible. Shambhala. Retrieved 2021-10-15.
  49. ^ Genesis 18
  50. ^ "Rublev's Icon of the Trinity". Retrieved 2008-12-23.
  51. ^ "Divine Balance".

External links Edit