The Holy Spirit…He, She, or It?

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc
photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

We’ve spoken about the Holy Spirit before, a rather nebulous topic (pun intended). Recently, the question has come up regarding the Holy Spirit’s gender. On a past post is the Holy Spirit a person of God’s force? NewHeavenOnEarth commented “I experience Holy Spirit as the feminine Spirit of the Most High God, an Intelligence that is Invisible but very present and active and living and in my body and life!” She offers the basis of her belief, if you’re interested to go back and read what she has to say.

At the same time, I was reading a fantastic children’s book that drips with allegorical theology called The Violet Flash, a sequel to The Blue Umbrella both by Mike Mason. In it, the allegorical Holy Spirit is a woman, heard but not seen, the wife of Eldy, the God figure, mother of Sky Porter, the Christ figure. And then there’s The Shack by William P. Young, where God is an African American woman (for most of the book), Jesus is a Middle Eastern carpenter, and the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman.

Now, I know it’s fiction and we have to allow some latitude for creativity. I was OK with the Holy Spirit character in both books being being a woman, but the leap to God’s wife and Christ’s mother made me realize that a lot of people believe the Holy Spirit is feminine and if He is a She, then what does that do to our concept of the Trinity?

Part of it, I think, goes back to Genesis 1:26-27 when God said

“Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”

God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.

Of course, many (including me) believe the us and our in Gen 1:26 is an early reference to the Trinity. If so, then verse 1:27 suggests that part of God, or part of the Trinity, might be female, otherwise, how could women be created in the image of God?

Tracking with me so far? Well, we know that when Jesus came to earth, he came as a man, and he called God his Father. So if two persons of the Trinity are male, then many believe that leaves the Holy Spirit as female. And if female, why not Mother? Well, that’s an interesting theory, but this argument is full of circumstantial evidence, isn’t it? While don’t we put a pin in it <ping> and move on for now.

You know what’s most interesting about this topic? That Wikipedia actually has a whole page dedicated to it. #Crazy! Anyway, some of the confusion comes from grammar. Imagine that–grammar being cause for confusion. :p Anyway, if you’ve ever studied a foreign language aside from English, you’ve probably come across nouns with grammatical gender. In English, we don’t have this issue because everything is the: the shoe, the rose, the car. But in other languages, there is a masculine, feminine, and neuter form of the. (And people say English is confusing!)

The shoe: el zapato (masculine, Spanish), le sabot (m., French), der schuh (m., German)

The rose: la rosa (feminine., Spanish), la rose (f., French), die rose (f., German)

The girl: la chica (f., Spanish) la jeune fille (f., French), das Mädchen (n., German)

And here’s one where they’re all different:

The car: el coche (m. Spanish), la voiture (f., French), das auto (n., German)

OK, language lesson over. But do you get the point? The gender of an object’s article (“the”) doesn’t determine the gender of the object itself. Shoes aren’t male, cars aren’t male/female/neuter, anymore than a girl is neuter. [And once a cat or dog is neutered, it doesn’t turn into an it. ;)]

So one of the popular arguments that the Holy Spirit must be female is because the original Hebrew article used with the Spirit is feminine. Hopefully you can see why I don’t find that a convincing argument. 

As far as I can tell from my research, and I’m no expert by any means, orthodox Christianity, whether Protestant or Catholic, agrees that the Holy Spirit is a He. While I’m not Catholic and disagree with many of their doctrines (sorry if you are, ask me and I’ll tell you more), I think this stance on the gender of the Holy Spirit encapsulates the argument best:

“Though the three Divine Persons are distinct from one another, God is nonetheless one (cf. Catechism, nos. 253-54). Although God “transcends the distinctions between the sexes,” He has revealed Himself as Father (no. 239). Since the Holy Spirit reveals the Father, as well as the Son (masculine) and the Three Persons are one God, the Church also refers to the Holy Spirit as “He.” At no time has the Church referred to the Holy Spirit as “She” when speaking of the person of the Holy Spirit.” http://catholicexchange.com/is-the-holy-spirit-male-or-female

If you’re interested in reading more about this subject, http://www.makestraightpaths.com, an apologetic against a cult know as The Family, has a fairly thorough article on the issue.

OK, so let’s back track to our <pin>. If God created us in His image, and the Trinity is male, where do women come in? Here’s my idea. It’s our spirit (soul) that is created in the image of God, not our bodies. Taken together, both male and female, all of our traits–our spiritual gifts–when made perfect and combined are similar to God’s attributes. That’s why as a church we form the body of Christ, and it takes all of us working together to be His body. The reason why we are male and female is (1) because God decided it wasn’t good for man to be alone, and (2) for species propagation. If we were all men, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of babies running around unless God formed us to be like bacteria.

For me, I will follow tradition and call the Holy Spirit a He because that’s the orthodox stance. I could equally see where the Holy Spirit might not have any gender, since He’s a Spirit. That would be OK too. But I can’t see referring to the Holy Spirit as a She, much less God’s wife and Christ’s mom.

And now, let’s hear from you. I’d be interested to know your religious affiliation and whether you believe the Holy Spirit is a He, She, It, or other (force). Or anything else you’d like to discuss on this post. I value all of your comments. 🙂

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4 thoughts on “The Holy Spirit…He, She, or It?

  1. “Although God “transcends the distinctions between the sexes,” He has revealed Himself as Father.” – This! Sometimes people get hung up on specific words when we also need to keep in mind that God has to contextualize things to our limited perspective. We have a hard enough time wrapping our minds around “God the Father/Jesus the Son” and that’s put in a form we should be fairly familiar with. I have a feeling gender is something that exists mainly for procreation/partnership purposes and limited to our earthly existence. The Holy Spirit is beyond gender.

    However, I also think there is a God-ordained respect associated with gender. (Women are to respect & obey their husbands as a model for the way we are all under Christ and God, right?) Referring to the Holy Spirit as She, God’s wife or Christ’s mom feels (to me) disrespectful to the Holy Spirit and like an attempt to elevate the female gender or “make things fair” by those who are uncomfortable with the submissive role they feel women are stuck with.

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  2. Oh, and religious affiliation – I was raised Southern Baptist and I still think that’s the denomination I identify with most strongly although we currently attend an Evangelical-Free church.

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  3. Lisa, It’s Christmas vacation and I finally had time to sit down and read your post slowly and carefully. This is such an important subject to the tenets of Christian faith. I think you’ve done a wonderful job presenting the concept as best as humans can understand. Thanks for bringing in the issues of grammar and quoting from historical documents. My conclusions are the same as yours, and now you have given me extra knowledge that I can use when discussing the subject with others.

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