Q: #342. Could the Holy Spirit be female?
By: Steve Shirley
A: Let me begin by saying that the most important thing to understand regarding this is that God is NOT male OR female. God is Spirit, and as Jesus said, "spirit" does not have flesh and bone (Jn 4:24)(Lk 24:39)(Mt 16:17). When the Bible says God has: hands (Jn 10:29), a face (Mt 18:10), a heart (Hos 11:8), eyes (2 Chr 16:9), a mouth (Isa 58:14), ears (Isa 59:1), etc..., this is what is called an "anthropomorphism." An anthropomorphism means, for Bible purposes, that God is described in human terms, with human characteristics, which really don't apply to God at all. These are simply used by God to help our finite human minds to understand Him a little better.
So, having said this, we can see over and over in the Bible that God has chosen masculine characteristics to describe Himself. Of course, Father is male, and Jesus was male. God has also set a pattern for male leadership all through the Old and New Testaments. The 12 disciples were male, all angels are male (i.e. Michael, Gabriel, Lucifer, Abaddon/Apollyon), the Old Testament priests were all male, the 12 tribes of Israel each came from a male, and all books of the Bible were written by males to name a few.
Putting these first two paragraphs together, I just don't see any real support for making the Holy Spirit "feminine" in any way. So, why do some believe the Holy Spirit to be female? There are basically two things they use to make their case. I will quickly show these and explain the fault with them.
The first is that the Hebrew word for "Spirit" in the Old Testament is "ruach." The grammatical gender of this word is "feminine." Because this word was used , it is believed the Old Testament authors must have meant to emphasize the femininity of the Holy Spirit. This can be refuted on several levels.
First, it is important to understand that in Hebrew all nouns are either feminine or masculine. Hence, since "God" is a noun, it must follow that a masculine or feminine word must be used to describe Him. In most cases, a masculine form is used (i.e. some of the primary names for God: "yahweh," "elohim," and "adonai" are all masculine). However, in the case of the "Spirit" a feminine form is used. But, this does NOT mean that because a "feminine" Hebrew word is used, it automatically must follow that what that word represents is "feminine." We can see over and over in the Hebrew language that a word can be "feminine," yet have nothing to do with "gender." For example, feminine Hebrew words are used for nearly all cities and countries. Paired body parts (i.e. eyes, legs) are usually feminine words. Feminine words are also used for: family, truth, bed, cake, law, beast, and congregation to name just a few.
In addition, in the New Testament, the Greek word for "Spirit" is "pneuma." This is not a "feminine" noun, but rather it is neuter. If the New Testament authors had considered the Holy Spirit to be female, they could have chosen a noun to emphasize this. It is also important to note in (Jn 14:16,26)(Jn 15:26)(Jn 16:7), that the word "Comforter" is used for the Holy Spirit, and the Greek word for "Comforter" is "parakletos" which is masculine (all major versions describe the "Comforter as "he" in these verses).
Secondly, those who believe the Holy Spirit is female also try to support their position by citing verses which show "feminine" aspects of God. For example, God is described as: "giving birth" (Deut 32:18)(Isa 42:14)(Isa 66:9), "a (mother) bear" (Hos 13:8), "a (mother) hen" (Jesus) (Lk 13:34), "as one whom his mother comforts" (Isa 66:13), or "Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb?" (Isa 49:15).
To teach that these verses point to a "feminine" God is just silly.... They are simply used to paint a picture, or give an illustration. For example, notice that (Isa 42:14) uses "LIKE" before "a woman in childbirth." "LIKE" is also used before "a (mother) bear" in (Hos 13:8). "AS" is before "a (mother) hen" in (Lk 13:34). These verses aren't in any way saying God is "feminine." If I said, "Bill Gates gave birth to Microsoft," would you assume Bill Gates was a female or literally "gave birth?" If I said to my male friend, "You are like a mother hen," that doesn't mean I am calling him a woman, it is a saying for being overprotective.
If one is honest, I do not believe any person can unbiasedly read the Bible from cover to cover and come away with the impression that the Holy Spirit is female in any way. You have to be reading it looking to prove that the Holy Spirit is feminine to find this at all (called "eisegesis"). I find no proof that the Israelites or Jewish people ever believed the Holy Spirit was female. The early church is never shown to have believed this. In fact, this is a relatively new phenomena, and these rarely have much credibility.