By Jessica Brodie, Crosswalk.com
We know from Scripture that the Holy Spirit is a precious gift given to us by God — a holy person, fully part of God, sent to live within our hearts and connect us with our heavenly Father now that our savior, Jesus, has ascended.
The disciples were devastated at the prospect of their teacher and Messiah, Jesus, leaving them. But Jesus reassured them, telling them that while He knew they were grief-stricken, His going away was a good thing. For, Jesus said, “Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
Indeed, after Jesus ascended to heaven, after the resurrection, His promise was fulfilled. As all the believers were gathered in one place on the Day of Pentecost, a rushing wind swept through the place, and the Bible tells us,
They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:3-4).
While many of us think of God as the Father and Jesus as the Son, many people have a difficult time understanding that the Holy Spirit is a person, too.
We are told throughout Scripture that this Holy Spirit is not an “it” but an actual being, a person who forms part of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit, three in one.
But does the Holy Spirit have a gender? What pronoun is used for the Holy Spirit: he, she, or it?
What Is the Holy Spirit?
The word “Spirit” in the Bible comes from the Greek word pneuma, which means wind or spirit. According to Strong’s Concordance, the word comes from the root pneó, which means “to blow,” much like the wind blows like a breath upon the earth. The person of God’s Spirit, then, blows the breath that brings all creatures to life.
The word for Spirit in Hebrew is ruach, also meaning wind. “Ruach Elohim” refers to the Spirit of God, and it is mentioned in Genesis 1:2 as there, in the beginning, hovering over the waters as God created the heavens and the earth from the empty, formless darkness (Genesis 1:1-2).
Does the Holy Spirit Have a Gender?
We know Jesus was born as a man, so referring to Jesus as “Him” and “He,” or the “Son of God,” isn’t a difficult concept to grasp for most people.
Many people think of God as a male, too. After all, Jesus called God the “Father” and referred to God as “He” and “Him” throughout His ministry on earth. But we also know this is a human constraint we have ascribed to God, who is the Great I Am and the Almighty, creator of the universe and all that is within it. God is all things and is therefore beyond time and physical characteristics such as gender or even an actual body.
Some scriptures even talk about God having a womb and giving birth (Job 38:29) or comforting us like a mother (Isaiah 66:13). But God as “beyond gender” is difficult for the human psyche to comprehend, so many take comfort in ascribing human characteristics to God.
We do the same thing with the Holy Spirit. If we see God as our Father and Jesus as the Son, and we know the Holy Spirit is not a thing but a person, then it follows that we ascribe a gender to the Holy Spirit, too, as a way of helping us know the Holy Spirit and draw closer to the Spirit in our hearts, minds, and souls.
Did the Old Testament Writers Think of the Holy Spirit as Male?
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, which unlike English is a “gendered” language. That means it ascribes certain words as “masculine” or “feminine.” It does this for the living —animals and people — as well as for the nonliving and inanimate, such as a house or wall or other objects.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word for Spirit, ruach, is considered feminine. At the start of Scripture, it reads: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2).
There, the word for “God,” Elohim, as in “God created the heavens and the earth…,” is masculine. But Spirit of God, in the next sentence, is feminine.
It is the same word used in other places for Holy Spirit elsewhere in the Old Testament, such as Psalm 104:30 (“When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground”) or Isaiah 59:21 (“…My Spirit, who is on you…”).
Note that this use of a female noun doesn’t mean the Jews considered the Holy Spirit a female entity. The grammatical gender of a word does not imply a physical gender. Other words in Hebrew, such as truth and love, are also considered feminine. It does not mean truth and love are females.
Did the Greeks Consider the Holy Spirit Male?
Greek is also a gendered language, but it has three: Masculine, feminine, and neutral. In Greek, its word for Spirit, pneuma, is gender-neutral.
But again, this does not mean the Greeks thought of the Spirit as any less than a person.
Did Jesus Think of the Holy Spirit as Male?
Whenever Jesus is mentioned as using a pronoun for the Holy Spirit, Jesus uses male pronouns. For example, in John 14:15-17, Jesus says,
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
And Jesus says in John 15:26, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father — the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father — he will testify about me.”
Many people prefer to use the same pronoun Jesus does for two key reasons:
1. The Holy Spirit is a person, and pronouns help us remember this in a more concrete, tangible way.
2. Scripture tells us we are to model our lives after Jesus. We are Christians, followers of Christ. He is our role model.
Which Pronoun Should I Use for the Holy Spirit?
Some people prefer not to use any pronoun for God, while others prefer to use the Bible’s traditional use of “He” and “Father,” and still others, particularly those who have had harmful experiences with males and fathers, prefer to view God as a mother or female.
It is the same with the Holy Spirit — some prefer a pronoun, some do not.
Whichever way we choose to refer to God does not change God’s nature, and it is the same with the Holy Spirit.
Whether we choose to use “he” or “she,” or even “it,” as long as we are in full understanding that the Holy Spirit is a person, a full and complete part of God, that is what matters.
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Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/georgi1969
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.