Sunday, 14 August 2016

is the Holy Spirit feminine? and other things like Mother God...

There are some Christians who go on the internet and read some cranky stuff and then come to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is feminine...and thereby also conclude that God is feminine or there is a version of a Mother God et cetera...

The conclusion is quickly reached because they are told that since the Hebrew word (ruach) for spirit is feminine, the Holy Spirit is therefore feminine. In Christian theology, the Holy Spirit is commonly understood as masculine since the Third Person of the Trinity is always referred to as 'He'.

In the Hebrew language, there is no third category of neuter like in Greek. Hence, everything is classified as either masculine or feminine. The word 'spirit' is ruah and is classified as feminine.

But you will see that these categorizations are often arbitrary since there are only two choices to pick from. For example, is a star (kokab) masculine or feminine? In Hebrew, a star is masculine. A people (`am) is also masculine but a city (`ir) is feminine. A book or scroll (sefer) is masculine but the heart (leb) is also masculine. The law (torah) is surprisingly feminine although a statute (hoq, another word for law) is masculine. So, the rule is that we don't press the 'male-female' distinctions too greatly in Hebrew. This is because it is often difficult to know what is the criterion to determine whether something is masculine or feminine

In the Greek language, there is a third category introduced which is neuter. This third category allows more flexibility compared with the Hebrew. Hence, we find the Greek word for spirit is pneuma and it is not feminine but a neuter noun! As a neuter noun, it will be an 'it'.

So, to respond to those who thus claim that the Holy Spirit is feminine because ruach is feminine and thereby generate other crazy ideas like God is Mother God...let me say 3 things:

1] From long tradition and Christian theology, the Holy Spirit is always accepted and understood as a 'He' alongside God the Father and of the Son, Jesus.

2] Even though ruach is feminine, in Greek pneuma is neuter. In the New Testament, when the Holy Spirit is referred to by Jesus, the verb used alongside the neuter noun is not a 'it' which we would expect but a 'He'. Thus, we read in John 16:13, the 'spirit of truth' is called a 'He' even though the 'holy spirit' is a neuter noun.

3] Like ruah (spirit) which is feminine, the word nepesh (soul) is also feminine in Hebrew. But that doesn't mean all of us are feminine because our souls are feminine! One has to be consistent. If nepesh is feminine and nepesh is often used to describe the person ('a living soul' Genesis 2:7), then we must be all feminine! But that is an illogical deduction, and so is claiming that the Holy Spirit is feminine.


Tim Bulkeley said...

Anthony, can I suggest you go a step further and think of the "he" used for God as just as much of a grammatical issue as "she". The one true God is not either male or female, just as "he" cannot be limited and fit into the universe, or time. In the OT God says "I am not a man" and interestingly uses the word 'ish not the more general word for human 'adam. A small reminder that we should not limit God to one gender and not the other (or even to both). And that is the great problem with suggestions we talk of the Holy Spirit as feminine, it would introduce and apparent sexuality into the Godhead, and so make God merely a god... a being we can comprehend and image in human terms.

anthony loke said...

tq tim. i am aware of the other side of the arguments. i have a copy of your book 'Not Only A Father' given by Paul Cheng. the answer was given to a pastor who asked the question based on 2 video clips he was asked to referred to. the video clips basically argued from the hermeneutics of the hebrew word ruach.
so i don't question the fact that God is neither male or female as He is a spiritual being. i left the larger answer (#1) unanswered as i didn't have the time. but it was to point out historically we have understood the Holy Spirit as revealed by Jesus in John's Gospel as a 'He', not an 'it' as the grammar would demand.