The Holy Spirit: he, she, it or they?

Hard on the heels of the controversy which I helped to fuel with my post The Word: he, she or it? there has arisen another rather similar controversy, although apparently from a very different direction. It was prompted by a piece from Graham Kings, Bishop-Elect of Sherborne, in which he wrote, introducing a Pentecost Prose Poem:

It seems to me that the Holy Spirit may appropriately be called ‘He’ or ‘She’, but not ‘It’, for the Spirit is profoundly personal not a simple force. For a change, let’s try ‘She’.

Fellow Anglican clergyman John Richardson, the Ugley Vicar, objects to this, writing:

Personally, if he did this in a service while I was there, I’d walk out.

He seems to modify his position a little in agreeing with Tim Goodbody’s comment:

The person of the Trinity we refer to as the Spirit does not have a gender identity as Jesus did – and so should not be anthropomorphised as man or woman, as the Spirit is not human, but we have to use a pronoun of some sort.

But John doesn’t explain why he would walk out of a service in which the Spirit is anthropomorphised as “She” but presumably not one where (as in every regular Anglican liturgy) the Spirit is anthropomorphised as “He”. The best he can come up with is the logically fallacious argument that if the Spirit is called “She” then

might we not then use ‘She’ instead of ‘He’ for the whole godhead?

No one is suggesting this, John, so let’s drop the straw man approach and get back to the real issues.

So, what are the issues? I agree with John that

we cannot settle this decisively by grammatical analysis

but it is worth rehearsing the results of this analysis.

As is well known, the Greek word pneuma for “spirit”, and the Holy Spirit, is grammatically neuter, and the Hebrew word ruach is grammatically feminine. On the basis of this Hebrew usage some have tried to claim that the Holy Spirit is female and should be called “She”, but that is just as poor an argument as the one which I demolished that the Word in John 1 is male and must be called “He”.

Various different Hebrew and Greek words are used in the Bible to refer to the Holy Spirit, with all three grammatical genders. Among them is the Greek masculine noun parakletos (“Paraclete”, usually translated “comforter”, “counsellor” or “advocate”), used of the Holy Spirit only in John 14:16,26, 15:26 and 16:7. I have sometimes heard the argument that the Holy Spirit is animate, and presumably male, because the masculine (not neuter) pronoun ekeinos is used to refer to him in 14:26, 15:26 and 16:8. But it seems clear from the Greek text and the rules of Greek grammar that ekeinos is masculine because it refers back to the masculine noun parakletos. That implies that this tells us nothing about the Spirit being male, or animate.

There are good arguments from elsewhere in the Bible for the Holy Spirit being an animate and intelligent person. For example, it is possible to grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and grief is not an action or attitude of which an inanimate force can be the subject. Therefore it is inappropriate, in English, to refer to the Holy Spirit as “it”, a pronoun reserved for inanimate beings, and sometimes for animals, but never used for intelligent persons.

So, we conclude that the Holy Spirit is an animate and intelligent person who is neither male nor female. What pronoun should we use to refer to such a person? I note first that this is an issue only in English, at least of all the several languages I know. Every other language either has proper grammatical gender, and so (as in Greek and Hebrew) the pronoun has the same grammatical gender as the noun used for the Holy Spirit, with no implication of real-world gender or sex; or else the language has no gender at all, neither in nouns nor in pronouns, and so the single pronoun meaning he/she/it is used for the Holy Spirit.

The problem in English is that the gender of a pronoun, i.e. whether “he” or “she” is used, is determined not by grammatical gender (English lost its grammatical gender distinctions during the Middle Ages) but by the real-world gender or sex of the referent. This leads to a problem when this real-world gender is unknown or undefined.

One solution to this problem which has been widely used in English for many centuries, but is not acceptable to some prescriptive grammarians, is the use of “they” as a singular pronoun. Another solution, to use “he” with a gender generic sense, is now also unacceptable to many English speakers, especially but not only women. It is hardly surprising that people who have rejected the use of gender generic “he” in indefinite situations, e.g. referring back to “anyone”, are also beginning to reject its use to refer to the ungendered person the Holy Spirit.

Yet there are also very good grounds for rejecting the Bishop-Elect’s solution, to use “She” for the Holy Spirit. This is simply to replace one error by an equal and opposite one. This may be seen as an attempt to produce a balance, but is more likely to cause confusion.

In a further comment on his same post John Richardson writes:

if we speak about the Holy Spirit as She, it establishes a fundamentally different relationship. Furthermore, it is based on our own selection of the terms.

Yes, in a world in which patriarchal thinking is not dead it does make a difference whether we call the Holy Spirit “He” or “She”. But the traditional use of “He” is also “based on our own selection of the terms”, or at least on the selection of those who first translated the Bible and the church’s liturgy into English (perhaps complicated by the rapid changes in English at that period). These translators left for us English speakers a tradition of understanding the Holy Spirit as male which has distorted our theology ever since. It is time to repent of our own “selection of terms” and follow true biblical understanding.

Perhaps, if I put my tongue in my cheek a little, the best solution is to call the Holy Spirit “they”. For some this will be understood as a singular “they”. But, to those who might object to the singular “they” or insist that it carries nuances of plurality, I point out the ancient Christian tradition of the sevenfold Spirit, based on Isaiah 11:2 and repeated references in Revelation (1:4, 3:1, 4:5, 5:6) to the seven Spirits of God. So there should be no objection to using an apparently plural pronoun to refer to them.

37 thoughts on “The Holy Spirit: he, she, it or they?

  1. Peter, I have to make several comments on what you’ve written above. First, purely on the issue of anthropomorphism, I do not believe (nor do I think the Church has ever believed) that when we call God ‘He’ we impose a ‘human’ feature onto God. My agreement with Tim was thus that we cannot settle the issue on grammatical grounds, not that we anthropomorphise God by calling him ‘He’.

    Secondly, as I have observed in my latest post, I cannot see how an argument for calling the Spirit ‘She’ is not also an argument for calling God ‘She’. And despite what you say, there are voices being raised (and they will be raised increasingly) urging exactly this. This is not ‘alarmism’. It is simply the logic of the position.

    If the Holy Spirit is, as you put it, “an animate and intelligent person who is neither male nor female”, I find it hard to understand that the same is not true of God in toto, including the Father and the Son. The latter terms then become ones that are historically and culturally compromised – appropriate to their time as designations of eternal persons, but appropriate no longer.

    Thirdly, much of your material about the ‘personhood’ of the Spirit reflects the kind of arguments we have been having with Jehovah’s Witnesses – which is to say, it is quite familiar material. Indeed, there is more. However, we did not have to argue with Witnesses over the use of gendered terminology – that is a new thing.

    Fourthly, if it is an “error”, as you put it, to call the Spirit ‘She’ or ‘He’ then we are into a new issue about heresy.

    Fifthly, though, and most importantly, our ‘gendered’ terminology and conceptualization in relation to God simply does not depend on the translation of verbs, nouns and personal pronouns.

    We must remind ourselves (apparently) that female deities were available to the Ancient Near East, but YAHWEH is never conceived of as one of them. On the contrary, the whole relationship between God and Israel in the Old Testament is a gendered relationship, most clearly, and startlingly explicitly, in Ezekiel 16.

    There we read of God’s rescue of Israel and eventual betrothal to her: “On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare. Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.”

    The foundling Israel grows up to develop breasts and pubic hair, at which point she is ‘old enough for love’ and God betroths himself to her – which makes her abandonment of him for foreign lovers so much the worse.

    Of course, this is later foundational for the understanding of the relationship between Christ, the bridegroom, and the Church, the bride. All the stuff about grammar and vocabulary is essentially supplemental.

  2. John, as I just commented on your blog, I think your statement

    I cannot see how an argument for calling the Spirit ‘She’ is not also an argument for calling God ‘She’.

    makes about as much sense as a claim that because one member of a “one flesh” married couple is female then the whole couple is somehow female. Sorry, I just don’t see any mileage at all in this argument. I just don’t get it at all. It looks like an elementary logical fallacy. Please can you explain in words of one syllable why the femaleness of one member of a group implies the femaleness of the whole group and of every member of it.

    Yes, I am aware that my argument for the animateness of the Holy Spirit is one also used against Jehovah’s Witnesses, and against supposedly orthodox Christians who have not been well taught about the Holy Spirit.

    In response to your extended quote of male imagery about God, I could quote several biblical examples of female imagery about God. I accept that YHWH wanted to distinguish himself from the female deities of the Ancient Near East, but he also made very clear that he was not like their male deities either.

  3. Peter, you state that the Spirit is neither male nor female, and I agree; but sex (male and female) is a biological category which by definition does not apply to incorporeal beings such as the Father and the Spirit. The proper terms for them are “masculine” and “feminine.” God is masculine. Jesus, God incarnate, is male. I tend to think that the Spirit is also masculine: is it not strange to maintain that the the Godhead is unified yet has different genders? (Marriage is not a counterexample to my point here: marriage reflects the relationship between Christ and His Church, not the relationship between the different Persons of the Trinity.)

  4. Peter,
    I just finished reading “Spirit Empowered Preaching” by Arturo G. Azurdia III and as I was sitting down to blog I saw your title.
    I’ll quote a section from that book that happened to talk about this very issue:

    Evangelicals are not so confident concerning the personhood of God the Spirit, however. Admittedly, the term ‘spirit’ is less personal than the term ‘father’. . . . Nevertheless the scriptures bear witness to the personhood of the spirit by regarding him as equal to both the father the son. most notably in the great commission. If the father and the son are to be regarded as persons, so too must the holy spirit be regarded as possessing full personhood. Furthermore, the scriptures indicate that the Holy Spirit performs actions that evidence personhood: he teaches, witnesses, convicts, guides, prays, issues commands, calls ministers, appoints elders. These are works that properly speaking, cannot be attributed to an impersonal source of power but soley to a person. . . . ” – p 151-152

    the quote is much longer… but thats the basic argument on his behalf…

    just a thought.

  5. Stephen, the terms “masculine” and “feminine” are linguistic ones, relating to the linguistic category of grammatical gender, which apply not to entities but to the language humans use to refer to them. The Greek and Hebrew words for “god” are masculine. The Hebrew word for “spirit” is feminine. That in itself disproves your fallacious argument that all members of the Trinity have the same gender. Apart from this linguistic sense, which doesn’t apply in English, I can see no meaning at all to a claim that God is masculine but not male.

    Roger, thanks for that argument for the personhood of the Holy Spirit. But there is nothing here relevant to the gender issue.

  6. Peter,

    Thank you for this thoughtful discussion. There is one point I had hoped might have been raised, and I wonder whether you (or any other commenters) might offer some opinion on this. I have hazy memories of Tom Wright being reported as having argued in a Bible Study at C of E General Synod about twenty years ago that there is a feminine personal pronoun used for the Spirit in Romans 8. I can’t remember any details. Can anyone remember, and what do people think of the argument?

  7. Thanks for this Peter, it has re-awoken bits of my brain that have been under-used for about 19 years (namely the bits I used for my linguistics degree).
    Most significant in all of this is your assertion to John that this is a straw man – if it hadn’t been Graham, he wouldn’t have taken the bait nearly as vociferously (mixed metaphor sorry).
    My conclusion is that we should all spend more time calling the Spirit “you” – spending time with God in other words.

    Although as a slightly mischevious post script, the spoken French of North Africa (and so of much of urban and suburban France) has developed the pronoun “y” which works for both “il” and “elle”. Since it is also the first leter of the tetragrammaton, this would seem to be a solution!

  8. Peter, you haven’t disproved my argument at all, but merely begged the question. I am not using the terms “masculinity” and “femininity” in their linguistic sense — they are attributes which transcend the merely biological categories of male and female. A human who is male is also masculine; but an angel, for instance, who is masculine is not male, since angels are incorporeal. In this sense, it is very logical for God to be masculine but not male. He cannot be male because he is not a biological organism, but he can indeed be masculine, in keeping with Scripture and orthodox Christian teaching which has represented him as such.
    If I were using gender in a purely grammatical sense, I agree that it would be meaningless to say that all members of the Trinity have the same gender. But I am not using gender in that limited way.

  9. Peter, re “Please can you explain in words of one syllable why the femaleness of one member of a group implies the femaleness of the whole group and of every member of it.”

    Obviously it wouldn’t. But that is not what is being argued. Rather, the argument is that it doesn’t matter whether we refer to the Spirit as He or She because ‘They’ is (are?) neither the one nor the other. In that case, however, does not the same apply to God, taken in toto? And if it does, why not call God ‘He’ or ‘She’ – or given the plurality of Elohim (much) better ‘They’?

    As a PS, I did not rise to this just because Graham Kings suggested it. I think Tom Wright is (almost) in the same boat and just as wrong.

  10. OK, Stephen, name me one entity which is masculine but not male, or feminine but not female, apart from linguistic usage. You can only propose God, which is begging the question, and angels, for which you have not a shred of evidence. Until I see any proper evidence to the contrary I will continue to consider this to be an empty category and an non-existent distinction.

    Tim, indeed we should spend more time calling the Spirit “you”.

    John, let’s rephrase your argument in a way which is more precise but still shows how fallacious it is. You note that Jesus Christ is male (at least in his human body) and that God the Father is at least commonly portrayed as such. Suppose I grant that: two of the three persons of the Trinity are male. Why does that imply that the third person, the third member of the group, is also male, or not female? Why is it not possible that the Trinity is a mixed gender group? Yes, they share the divine nature, but you and your wife share human nature without both being of the same gender. I just don’t get your point.

  11. Peter, let me try to restate the point that you are contending as ‘fallacious’.

    In his original post at the Fulcrum website, Graham Kings introduced his poem by saying “It seems to me that the Holy Spirit may appropriately be called ‘He’ or ‘She’”.

    I take this to mean that either may apply, particularly since he then added that we should “try ‘She'” simply “for a change”, as if it at least ought to make no difference to the way we think of the Spirit. This therefore requires that if we use ‘She’ for the Spirit, we are indeed saying nothing different than what we indicate when we use ‘He’. They are, in the original sense, ‘indifferent’ terms because, implicitly, the Holy Spirit is a being for whom ‘He’ and ‘She’ do not carry any of their usual implications in terms of differentiation of one kind of person or thing from another. The only differentiation, in Graham’s terminology, is from ‘It’, which he takes to imply something impersonal.

    To reiterate, the Spirit, according to this understanding, is not to be conceived of any differently when we refer to the Spirit as ‘She’ from when we refer to the Spirit as ‘He’.

    Now my question is, if this is true of the Holy Spirit, why is it not also true of God? Specifically, is God to be conceived of differently when we refer to God as ‘He’ from what God would be if we referred to God as ‘She’? If the answer is ‘Yes’, then in some sense ‘God’ is at this point differentiated from the Holy Spirit. My question is, in what sense?

    If the answer is “No, God is not to be differentiated from the Holy Spirit in a sense conveyed by the use of ‘He’ rather than ‘She’, or vice versa,” then it is equally appropriate to call God ‘She’, without doing violence to what we mean by ‘God’. It is not that we must call God ‘She’, but we certainly may without creating any additional problems.

    Similarly, within the persons of the Trinity, we have to ask whether, if we may call the Holy Spirit equally and indifferently ‘He’ or ‘She’, the same applies to the First and Second Persons.

    If it does not (and it seems to me you are saying it does not), then we should be able to say in what sense the First and Second Persons differ from the Third in a way that is conveyed by our use of ‘He’ in their case but either‘He’ or ‘She’ in the case of the Third Person.

    What I am looking for here is a clarification! It seems to me that to say the Spirit may be ‘He’ or ‘She’ but the Father and the Son may not and neither may God, requires more justification than that the Spirit doesn’t have a ‘gendered’ term attached already.

  12. So, John, let me summarise your argument. Graham Kings (like me) holds that the Holy Spirit is animate but neither male nor female. Therefore neither “He” nor “She” is entirely appropriate, but since in English (if we ignore “They”) we have to choose one or the other, it doesn’t make any difference which we choose. Are you disputing this argument, concerning the Holy Spirit?

    You then widen the argument to “God”. The problem here is that this word has various meanings. Do you mean God the whole Trinity? Presumably not since you talk about differentiating God from the Holy Spirit. If you are talking about God the Father, or God the Son, then I would agree with you that there are some different matters that we have to consider which would make it less appropriate to call either of these two Persons “She”.

    As for the gender of the whole Trinity, this is where my argument from marriage comes in. The individual partners in a marriage have their separate genders. But it is meaningless to talk about the gender of a married couple as a whole. Similarly, I would claim, it is meaningless to talk about the gender of the whole Trinity.

    Then you seem to argue that it is wrong and theologically dangerous to make any kind of distinction between the Persons of the Trinity. Now I agree that this needs to be done with care. But there are real distinctions in their attributes and ministries, although not in their essence. So your argument goes too far in attempting to argue that anything that can be predicated of the Father or the Son, e.g. masculinity, must also be predicated of the Holy Spirit. That is the basic fallacy which still undermines your whole argument.

    Yes, it would be good to understand the distinction more deeply. But you cannot start from there and conclude that we are not allowed to express any such distinction until it is completely understood.

  13. Peter, I think we are getting closer to agreeing what we are talking about, but there are still confusions about what I am saying and ‘unclarities’ about what you are saying.

    On the first point, I am not sure that Graham Kings is saying the Holy Spirit is “neither male nor female” as you are. He has said (my emphasis), “the Holy Spirit may appropriately be called ‘He’ or ‘She’”. But you have said “neither ‘He’ nor ‘She’ is entirely appropriate.” There is room for contradiction here between the two of you, but I must leave that for you to sort out between you.

    However, I do agree that what both of you are saying means, as you put it, that “it doesn’t make any difference which we choose” between ‘He’ or ‘She’”.

    So much for that point.

    Secondly, when I say ‘God’ without qualification, I mean ‘the One God’, in the unity of which godhead there are three Persons (Article 1) —what you, I think, mean by the phrase ‘the whole Trinity’.

    The problem is, you seem to be treating the One God as the sum of three persons. You make a comparison between a married couple and the godhead, stating that, “The individual partners in a marriage have their separate genders. But it is meaningless to talk about the gender of a married couple as a whole.” However, the godhead is not comparable to a married couple. A married couple remains two distinct people —there is no ‘object’ comparable to the One God to which a gender could be assigned and so the analogy breaks down.

    Nevertheless, you state specifically that “it is meaningless to talk about the gender of the whole Trinity”. That being the case, however, my question remains why it is not, then, just as ‘meaningless’ to restrict our terminology for God to ‘He’. If, on the premise that the Holy Spirit is “is neither male nor female”, we may just as (in)appropriately refer to the Spirit as ‘She’ or ‘He’, surely we may apply the same to God, considered as ‘One’? To persist in referring to God in this instance as ‘He’ either has some basis or it has no basis. I cannot see that you believe it has any basis. Therefore it is inappropriate, and we may call God ‘She’. Or am I missing something?

    Thirdly, you seem to be allowing that there is a differentiation within the Trinity for which gendered language is appropriate: “there are some different matters that we have to consider which would make it less appropriate to call either of these two Persons ‘She’.” However, you give no grounds for saying what it is, or why it does not apply to the Spirit, which has always been the Church’s first presumption.

    This is why I think the position is incoherent and dangerous. You seem to be saying we should be allowed to express a distinction along these lines even though it is not “completely understood”. What I am saying is that we don’t understand it at all —not even partially— because it rests on no grounds. It is merely a whim!

    Finally, you are still confused about my overall objection. I am not saying, as you put it, that “it is wrong and theologically dangerous to make any kind of distinction between the Persons of the Trinity.” Clearly such distinctions exist, as the Athanasian Creed is at pains to observe.

    Nor am I saying that, as you again put it, that “anything that can be predicated of the Father or the Son, e.g. masculinity, must also be predicated of the Holy Spirit.”

    I am saying that if we predicate that it is inappropriate, but necessary, to refer to the Spirit as ‘He’ or ‘She’ because the Spirit is “neither male nor female”, then we must either accept that the language used for the Father, the Son and the godhead is appropriate, and therefore in some sense the latter are “male” and not female, or we must accept that the gendered language we use in their case is similarly inappropriate, or we must adopt some third position which is yet to be made clear.

    I hope this covers everything!

  14. A married couple remains two distinct people

    Not according to Genesis 2:24, 1 Corinthians 6:16 etc. The unity between two separate persons in a marriage (at least in an ideal case) is, I would claim, an excellent model for the unity between the three Persons of the Trinity.

    I concede that it is OK to call God the Father “He”. But I am not sure that this pronoun is appropriate for the whole Trinity, or more appropriate than “She”. Or perhaps “They” is even more appropriate, especially as Jesus was not afraid to use plural pronouns for himself and the Father (John 17:21).

    It is right to call the Son “He” because he had a male human body. There is a good argument for calling the Father “He” because of the predominant use of male metaphors for the Father. There is no such argument for the Holy Spirit, except for the fallacious one that all three Persons must have the same gender.

    So, what I am saying is that there is no reason at all to insist that the Holy Spirit is more “He” than “She”, “because it rests on no grounds. It is merely a whim.” At least if there are any grounds, you have not presented any, merely tried to claim that I have no grounds to go against tradition.

    Now if in fact you intend to rely entirely on tradition, you are I suppose free to do so. But be careful what tradition you rely on. Concerning pronouns you can only rely on English language tradition as the choice of pronouns in e.g. Latin and French is determined by the grammatical gender of the word for “spirit”. So what can you offer in terms of “traditional” teaching that the Holy Spirit is male?

    As for your last point, I am prepared to accept at least provisionally that the Father and the Son are male, but not that the Spirit or the entire Trinity are. This is I think a clear third position. Why are you so strongly opposed to this that you will walk out of a church service in protest at it? What’s the big deal?

  15. Peter, I am slightly surprised that you appeal to Genesis 2:24 as a model for the relationships within the Trinity, when the Bible already uses it as a model for the relationship between Christ and the Church (both collectively and singularly, as 1 Corinthians 6:16). One of the difficulties with this suggestion is, of course, that the Trinitarian relationship is a three-way ‘perichoresis’, whereas the idealized one-flesh union of marital sexuality involves only two persons. That is, I think, an important difficulty.

    I must admit, however, that I was rather saving that one up, as I think it is highly significant for this whole discussion. Nevertheless, my point about the sexual union is that whilst the two become ‘one flesh’, there remain two ‘persons’, whether husband and wife (Gen 2:24) or client and prostitute (1 Cor 6:16), who are otherwise limited in their knowledge of one another. Whilst there is a real union, there is not a third, personal, entity. They are ‘one flesh’, but not ‘a one’ as is God is ‘One God ’ in the sense of Article I or the Creeds.

    I would suggest that this is in part because marriage is itself an image, and therefore limited in what it is able to be, as well as to convey. Specifically, though, it is an image of the relationship between the Creator-Redeemer God and His created-redeemed people —that is to say between God and his image in man. However, I want to develop that theme in a later post on my own blog, so I will say no more on it here.

    I am glad that we are both agreed on calling the Father ‘He’, but I am not sure whether we agree why this is so. As to using ‘He’ for ‘God’ conceived in toto, in God’s Unity, however, I am inclined to quote Calvin:

    “Let those, then, who love soberness, and are contented with the measure of faith, briefly receive what is useful to be known. It is as follows:—When we profess to believe in one God, by the name God is understood the one simple essence, comprehending three persons or hypostases; and, accordingly, whenever the name of God is used indefinitely, the Son and Spirit, not less than the Father, is meant. But when the Son is joined with the Father, relation comes into view, and so we distinguish between the Persons. But as the Personal subsistence carry an order with them, the principle and origin being in the Father, whenever mention is made of the Father and Son, or of the Father and Spirit together, the name of God is specially given to the Father. In this way the unity of essence is retained, and respect is had to the order, which, however derogates in no respect from the divinity of the Son and Spirit.” (Institutes, I, xiii, 20)

    I take it Calvin has in mind passages like 1 Cor 8:6: “for us there is but one God, the Father … and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ”, 2 Cor 1:3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” and so on. The Scriptural tendency in these circumstances is, if he is right, to give the name of God specially to the Father. To use ‘She’ of, as you put it, “the whole Trinity”, would be a contradiction of this, and to use ‘They’ would be to suggest, as the Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses assert, that we do indeed worship three gods.

    By the same token, since the Spirit is God, as the Father and the Son are God (according to the Athanasian Creed), then it is entirely appropriate to use ‘He’ of the Spirit, as we use ‘He’ of Father, Son and ‘God’.

    Meanwhile (for the umpteenth time), I am not arguing, purely ontologically, that “all three Persons [of the Trinity] must have the same gender”. I am arguing that they do, but on grounds other than simply that there are persons in the godhead. It depends on the nature of the persons, the nature of the godhead and the nature, in this context, of gender.

    As to what traditional teaching there is “that the Holy Spirit is male”, I would have thought the whole tradition of the Church is that the Holy Spirit is properly called ‘He’, though I am informed that there have been past attempts to call the Spirit ‘She’ which have failed.

    I would finish with two questions. First, when you say that you “accept at least provisionally that the Father and the Son are male”, what do you mean by male? Secondly, just why are you so keen to argue that the Holy Spirit is not when accepting that He is has served us well for two millennia?

  16. PS, I don’t think my last sentence was particularly well put (I am being urged to cook the dinner). It might be better phrased as, “Secondly, just why are you so keen to argue that the Holy Spirit is not appropriately and exclusively called ‘He’ when accepting that He is has served us well for two millennia?

    That may be better!

  17. my point about the sexual union is that whilst the two become ‘one flesh’, there remain two ‘persons’

    John, in putting this forward as a difference between a marriage and the Trinity, are you denying that the Trinity consists of three Persons? That sounds rather like some heresy. Of course there is a difference between two and three, but I don’t see any difference in how the two or three are also one.

    If you don’t like marriage as a parallel to the Trinity, consider the highly biblical parallel of the unity of believers in one body with the unity of the Father and the Son, John 17:21-23. Note that this includes “we are one”, a plural pronoun used of the Trinity as a unity (which I suppose implies that Jesus did “indeed worship three gods”). Of course some believers are male and some are female, and that implies nothing about the gender of the body of Christ. Of course the body of the male Christ is male; but then the church as the Bride of Christ is female – so we end up with either a contradiction or a realisation that models like these two cannot be pressed for irrelevant details like gender.

    Thanks for the Calvin quote. But of course in his original Latin any grammatically masculine pronoun would have been so in agreement with the masculine noun deus etc, not because of any suggestion that the Trinity has gender in itself.

    By the way, I do not “accept[] that He is has served us well for two millennia”. I do not accept that ANYONE ANYWHERE taught that the Holy Spirit was male or could only be referred to with a male pronoun until the first theological work in English was produced, probably in the 14th century – and even then I am not sure how much pronoun usage was influenced by surviving relics of grammatical gender in late middle English. So it is basically a phenomenon of modern English only that the Holy Spirit is referred to by a pronoun implying real-world gender.

    Anyway, given the current state of the church and the world I would not accept that ANY theological teaching, outside the Bible, “has served us well for two millennia” or even for any great part of that time.

  18. Peter, I think the suggestion that I might now be “denying that the Trinity consists of three Persons” means this discussion is becoming a bit wayward. I’d rather put it on hold for now.

  19. John, do I take that as your affirmation that what you wrote might imply that the Trinity does not consist of three Persons? And that it is wrong to refer to the members of the Trinity with a plural pronoun despite Jesus’ clear example? I’m sorry, but, despite your valiant attempts to nuance it, I still see the whole direction of your argument as making sense only if you are reluctant to accept that the three Persons of the Trinity are separate Persons, a plurality in unity, who may have separate attributes in matters like gender.

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  22. IMO if there were not so much contempt for femininity and womanhood and inordinate adoration of masculine and manhood within the world in general, then there would be no fuss over whether Elohim were all masculine, or a combination of masculine and feminine. That is the root.

  23. Many thanks to those within this thread for what they’ve offered on the issue—as the dialouge was very much a blessing. Interesting to see, by the way, as something occured on my Facebook where one paticular individual had issue with the fact that the Holy Spirit could indeed embody many of the Feminine Aspects/views that the Father and the Son could not…and specifically, it was in light of a book known as “The Shack”, regarding the Holy Spirit as an Asian Female. Though the book is in no way a theoland the research regarding Church History/Hebraic culture where it was not always the case as in our times that seeing the … Read MoreHoly Spirit as having Feminine qualities was an issue…especially in light of Hebraic culture, Church History and many other instances where it was always the case that God is in the masculine sense/father with the Son also being Masculine while the Holy Spirit was seen in a feminine sense.

    In the Old Testament (the Hebrew scriptures), the term for “Spirit” used, ruwach or ruah, (for example in Genesis 1:2) is a feminine word–which one … Read Morecan go to any Hebrew scholar to confirm on the issue. Yet, despite that fact, most still point to that term as proof of a male-trinity. Thus, seeing the term “he” in English translations of the New Testament or biased commentaries on the Old Testament in no way supports the concept that the Holy Spirit is a male person. “He” as a reference to Spirit has been used in theology to match the pronoun for God, yet the Hebrew word ruach is a noun of feminine gender as well. The spirit talks sometimes with a masculine and sometimes with a feminine voice . Hence, the Holy Spirit was conceived as being sometimes a man and sometimes a woman..with room for the Spirit with Feminine attributes not off

    For another perspective–I must remember the reality of man being made in the Image of God. Adam in the beginning WAS Adam & Eve combined, and the “rib” is a euphemism for “substance” being subtracted from Adam in order to Make Eve – i.e. Adam was “Diminished” by the removal of “The feminine uniqueness” that made Eve a Woman. and in the same sense, then an individual is essentially only HALF a person – until he DOES become “one” with his wife in the sense of interpersonal unity. That’s the issue of being made in the image of God together–as both come from the Lord’s character/nature…and it’d be logical that a feminine sense would be present in the Lord somewhere if it was replicated in the earth. One is essentially saying when they say that only masculine characteristics are what define the Lord/what He’s made of is that you—that a female has no basis in the Lord as much as men, as they were simply made up out of nowhere after the fact of man being made in His image, essentially remaking God’s image since it goes counter to the fact that both man/woman were made in the image of God together and characteristics of both originated in the Lord, Genesis 1:26-28 /Genesis 9:5-7. However, One must remember that the true essence of Hashem is non-corporeal, and neither male nor female, as we understand gender. We have to remember that the true essence of Hashem is non-corporeal, and neither male nor female, as we understand gender.

    Some of the resources I looked over that seemed to give very reasonable perspectives—especially in regards to the original culture/perspectives…

    “Ruach Ha Kodesh”

    Jewish Thoughts on Holy SPirit

    Messianic Judaism – The Torah and the Testimony Revealed – WHO IS THE HOLY SPIRIT?

    “More Than Just a Controversy: All About The Holy Spirit”

    “What Does the Holy Spirit Do?”

    The 84/75 OT references of the Holy Spirit in a Feminine Sense

    “Martin Luther, the originator of the Protestant movement, was not ashamed

    Shalom to all…..

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  26. One thing I never see mentioned in discussions on this topic is that when the Greek Scripture refers to a “neuter” daughter, it does not use a neuter pronoun, but a feminine one. Thus the girl DOES have innate feminine gender, regardless of whether or not the noun used to refer to her does.

  27. White Man, it is true that on the one occasion in the New Testament that a pronoun is used to refer to a thugatrion, in Mark 5:23, a feminine pronoun is used. (The only other occurrence of the word is Mark 7:25.) That shows that gender in Greek is not purely grammatical, but is also partly natural. But I don’t think that invalidates my argument.

    Out of interest, can you point me to any places in the Greek New Testament where a neuter pronoun is used to refer to the Holy Spirit, pneuma? I’m not sure that a pronoun is ever used except in 14:26, 15:26 and 16:8. A neuter pronoun would in fact tell us nothing, but a non-neuter one would tell us a lot.

  28. In Matthew’s account of the same event, he uses thugater, which is the feminine root of the neuter diminutive thugatrion. That’s interesting–apparently the diminished natural sexuality of a YOUNG daughter is indicated by the use of a neuter versus a feminine gender.
    Matthew also referred to Jairus’ young daughter as a girl, korasion, and Mark as a child, paidion. Both words are neuter, yet when the former takes a pronoun in this story, it is a feminine one.
    It’s the same in the story of Herod/ias’s daughter throughout Mark chapter six, where she is referred to initially as a ‘daughter’ but subsequently as a ‘girl.’

    As far as ‘Spirit’ is concerned, it is used appositively with a feminine noun in Revelation 4:5. While on its face that doesn’t appear to indicate anything about its natural gender, there is a textual variant here that bears looking into:
    01 omits the entire phrase -OU . . .-OU;
    02 al read ἅ εἰσιν τὰ ἑπτὰ πνεύματα;
    Maj read αἵ εἰσιν ἑπτὰ πνεύματα.
    Thus, the one reading has ‘these’ feminine to match the gender of ‘lamps,’ while the other has ‘these’ neuter to match the gender of ‘the spirits.’ The latter reading may reflect an editor’s desire to avoid having ‘spirits’ appear to have a natural feminine gender.

  29. Thanks for the further information. I am reminded of the German diminutive suffixes -lein and -chen, which can be added to almost any noun and which always make it grammatically neuter. I suspect that the Greek -ion works similarly. But it is still no surprise that natural gender sometimes overrides this gender neutralization.

    As for the Revelation verse, given the very late date of all manuscripts with the feminine pronoun, I suspect (with the NA27 editors) that the neuter version is the original and an example of Revelation’s somewhat erratic grammar, and the feminine is the result of a late attempt to tidy up that grammar. I don’t think there is any suggestion intended of the spirits being naturally female.

  30. This seems to be an ancient discussion, but I came across the question of whether the Holy Spirit might be called “She” only recently at Spring Harvest. So…my thoughts are that many women long to hear that God the Spirit is equally at home in a woman, a female personality, as he is in a man’s, because He is not LIMITED to the male or masculinity. This is because God made man AND woman in his image. Possibly Christianity is the only world religion to teach this. Hallelujah! Christ in me, the hope of glory!

  31. Okay, here is what I can make of Hoskier’s collation:
    a eisin: 25 36 59 70 78 81 84 94 111 114 146 179 193 204 208 241
    a estin: A eth
    ai eisin: 102 121 151 180
    omit ou-ou: Aleph 69 75 104 159

    I didn’t go through the whole list, but 25, which has the neuter reading, is dated later than 102, which has the feminine reading. On what basis do you categorize all the latter as belonging only to manuscripts of a “very late date?”

  32. White Man, I don’t have to hand my Greek NT and its list of dates. But one thing I can tell from your list is that by far the oldest of the MSS you list (apart from Aleph which omits the words in question) is A, Alexandrinus from the 5th century, which has the neuter reading. All the MSS with the feminine reading are minuscules, which means that they are copies at least 800 years after Revelation was written, and 400 years after Alexandrinus. That is what I meant by “very late date”.

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