Holy Spirit and Grammatical Gender

The Holy Spirit and Grammatical Gender

Many languages, including the Biblical languages, have what is known as grammatical gender. This means that nouns can be masculine, feminine or (sometimes) neuter. We do not see this in any of the South African languages, but we see it in many European languages such as French, German and Spanish.

In Biblical Hebrew, a noun can be either masculine or feminine. This has nothing to do with actual physical gender, but is a feature of the language itself. The word for God, for example, is masculine, but the word for spirit, hā-ruach, is feminine in gender.

In Genesis the first mention of the Holy Spirit describes him ‘fluttering’, ‘moving gently’, ‘brooding’ over the face of the primaeval deep, using a word-form which clearly shows the feminine gender of the word Spirit: merachephet. Some readers of the Bible want to conclude from this, that it is acceptable to call the Spirit, “she”. Yet we cannot draw any conclusions about personal gender, from the grammatical gender of a noun.

In New Testament Greek, the word for Spirit is neuter in gender: pneûma. So some people want to refer to the Spirit as “it”. Yet we cannot conclude that the Holy Spirit is an “it” from the gender of the Greek word for spirit, any more than we can say that he is feminine because the Hebrew word for spirit is feminine.

Jesus makes it perfectly clear, in John 16:13, how we are to refer to the Holy Spirit. He says, “But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes”. Even though the word for spirit in Greek is grammatically neuter, Jesus goes out of his way to use the masculine pronoun, “he”, to denote the Spirit. The teaching is clear: the Holy Spirit, just like the Father and the Son, is a masculine Person.

Leave a Reply