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What ‘Gender’ is the Holy Spirit?

What ‘Gender’ is the Holy Spirit?

Does the Holy Spirit have a gender?

Is the Holy Spirit a He, She, or It?

Some have wondered, and many have been misled by improper translations in mainly the New Testament.

Many languages, other than English, have “gender” assigned to each noun. The genders (in alphabetical order) are feminine, masculine, and neuter. This designation does not necessarily mean something is feminine or masculine, but the designation clearly is not intended to convey the opposite.

Both Hebrew and Greek have gendered nouns.

As it turns out, in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for ‘spirit’ (ruwach) as in ‘Spirit of God’ is feminine.

Yet, despite that grammatical fact, some point to that term as proof of a male Holy Spirit. Notice something from Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible:

Gen 1:1-2

The plurality of persons in the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This plural name of God, in Hebrew, which speaks of him… The Spirit of God was the first mover: He moved upon the face of the waters. (from Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1991 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.)

Thus, seeing the term “he” in biased English commentaries on the Old Testament in no way supports the concept that the Holy Spirit is a male person.

Yes, in the Hebrew scriptures, the terms for “Spirit” used, ruwach or ruah, for example in Genesis 1:2, are feminine (I once confirmed that with a Hebrew scholar personally).

Calling “she” “He” does not change the grammatical facts.

In the KJV New Testament, ‘he’ is sometimes used related to the Greek word for ‘spirit’ (pneuma), even though that word is neuter. The KJV also sometimes correctly translates this as ‘it’:

16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (Romans 8:16, KJV)

26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:26, KJV)

While the Hebrew word for spirit is feminine and the Greek word for spirit is neuter, those designations, of themselves, do not tell us sex or if we would use He, She, or It in English. Because of that, ‘it’ would be a better choice as he or she tend to contradict each other.

Plus, realize that early Christians simply did NOT believe that the Holy Spirit was a person and was not referred to as “He.” Nor precisely something that was male or female based upon the early writings that are available.

Many have been misled by improper translations of Greek personal pronouns into English.

Evangelical Protestant scholar Dr. Daniel Wallace explained some of this as follows:

Daniel B. Wallace (Dbw2882)

About half a dozen texts in the NT are used in support of the Spirit’s personality on the grounds of gender shift due to constructio ad sensum (“construction according to sense” or, in this case, according to natural as opposed to grammatical gender). That is to say, these passages seem to refer to the Spirit with the masculine gender in spite of the fact that πνεύμα is neuter, and grammatical concord would normally require that any reference to the Spirit also be in the neuter gender. …

Many theologians treat these passages as a primary proof of the Spirit’s personality. …

John 16:7 can be dismissed … Whatever the reason for the masculine participle in v. 7, it is evident that the grammaticization of the Spirit’s personality is not the only, nor even the most plausible, explanation. Since this text also involves serious exegetical problems (i.e., a variety of reasons as to why the masculine participle is used), it cannot be marshaled as unambiguous syntactical proof of the Spirit’s personality. In sum, none of the gender shift passages clearly helps establish the personality of the Holy Spirit.

Before going further in Dr. Wallace’s work, let us see two translations of John 16:7 that do NOT make the gender error, using the term “him,” that most other translations into English commit:

7 But I tell you I am going to do what is best for you. This is why I am going away. The Holy Spirit cannot come to help you until I leave. But after I am gone, I will send the Spirit to you. 
 (Contemporary English Version)

7 But I am telling you the truth. It is profitable for you that I go away because if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you. However, if I go, I will send it to you. (A Faithful Version)

Now, back to Dr. Wallace, he wrote:

Daniel B. Wallace (Dbw2882)

There is no text in the NT that clearly or even probably affirms the personality of the Holy Spirit through the route of Greek grammar. …

Evangelical defenses of various doctrines occasionally are poorly founded. We sometimes claim things to be true because we want them to be true, without doing the exhaustive spadework needed to support our conclusions. …

In sum, I have sought to demonstrate in this paper that the grammatical basis for the Holy Spirit’s personality is lacking in the NT, yet this is frequently, if not usually, the first line of defense of that doctrine by many evangelical writers. But if grammar cannot legitimately be used to support the Spirit’s personality, then perhaps we need to reexamine the rest of our basis for this theological commitment. (Wallace D. Greek Grammar and the Personality of the Holy Spirit. Bulletin for Biblical Research 13.1 (2003) 97-125)

John 15:26 … The use of ἐκεἲνος {that one} here is frequently regarded by students of the NT to be an affirmation of the personality of the Holy Spirit. … 42 …

But this is erroneous. In all these Johannine passages, πνεύμα {spirit} is appositional to a masculine noun. The gender of ἐκεἲνος has nothing to do with the natural gender ending of πνεύμα. …

42 The view is especially popular among theologians, not infrequently becoming their mainstay for their argument for the personality of the Holy Spirit … (Wallace D. Greek Grammar. pp. 331-332).

Those who wish to read many of the technical reasons above, should be able find one of Dr. Wallace’s entire papers at the following link:

The grammatical reality is that the Greek noun pneuma (πνεύμα), in all its various forms, is always and only neuter in gender. Likewise, all pronouns that refer to pneuma are always and only can be neuter in gender. If the Holy Spirit were a masculine person, the nouns and pronouns in the Greek text would have to have been written in the masculine gender, as are all the nouns and pronouns that refer to God the Father and Jesus Christ. Yet, as Dr. Wallace and others have concluded, nowhere in the Greek text of the New Testament is the Holy Spirit ever designated by a noun or pronoun in the masculine gender.

Former WCG minister Fred Coulter, who translated the New Testament into the English language from Greek, wrote:

Following are five key verses in the Gospel of John that have been incorrectly translated in the King James Version:

1) John 14:17, KJV: Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” “The Spirit of truth” is translated from the Greek phrase το πνυµα της αληθιας to pneuma tees aleetheiasliterally, the Spirit of the truth. This noun phrase is in the neuter gender. The pronoun “whom” is translated from the neuter relative pronoun ο, and should accordingly be translated“which.” If the Greek text were expressing the masculine gender, the masculine relative pronoun ος would have been used instead of the neuter relative pronoun ο.

The three personal pronouns translated “him” are incorrectly translated into the masculine gender from the Greek neuter personal pronoun αυτο auto, which is properly translated “it.” If the Spirit were a person rather than the power of God, the verse would read ο πνυµατος, rather than the neuter το πνυµα. However, there is no such masculine noun anywhere in the Greek New Testament. If there were such a masculine gender noun, the masculine pronoun αυτος autos would be used instead of the neuter pronoun αυτο auto. Translators who know and understand the rules of Greek grammar do not mistake the neuter pronoun αυτο auto for the masculine pronoun αυτος. Thus, the translation of the neuter pronoun αυτο in John 14:17 into the masculine personal pronoun “him” is completely incorrect. The neuter pronoun αυτο is used twice in this verse: “because it [the world] perceives it [αυτο auto] not, nor knows it [αυτος auto].

The KJV translation of John 14:17 also violates another rule of Greek grammar. In the Greek text, a noun that serves as the subject of a verse often governs a number of verbs. In John 14:17, the noun phrase  το πνυµα της αληθιας to pneuma tees aleetheias, meaning the Spirit of the truth, is the subject. Since the noun pneuma is neuter in gender, the subjects of all verbs that it governs should be translated in the neuter gender. In John 14:17, two third person verbs are governed by this noun. In the first instance, the translators have incorrectly translated the third person verb µνιmenei as “he dwelleth,” rather than “it dwelleth.” In the second instance, the subject of the verb σται estai“[it] shall be,” was not translated, making it appear that “he” is the subject of both Greek verbs.

A correct translation of John 14:17 should read: Even the Spirit of the truth, which ο the world cannot receive because it perceives it [αυτο auto] not, nor knows it [αυτο auto]; but you know it [αυτο auto] because it dwells [verb µνι menei] with you, and shall be [verb σται estai] within you.

2) John 15:26, KJVBut when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.

The word which, referring to “the Spirit of truth,” is correctly translated from the neuter pronoun ο. In John 14:17, the translators of the KJV had incorrectly rendered this neuter pronoun as “whom.” However, in John 15:26, they have correctly rendered the neuter relative pronoun ο as which.
The descriptive noun “the Comforter” is correctly translated from the masculine Greek noun ο παρακλητος ho parakleetos. While this masculine noun is used to describe a vital function of the Holy Spirit, it does not designate the Holy Spirit, or “the Spirit of the truth,” as a person. A descriptive noun never changes the gender of the principal noun. For example: Jesus said that He is “the true vine” (John 15:1). The Greek word translated “vine” is the feminine noun η αµπιλος he ampilos. The use of this feminine noun to describe Jesus Christ does not change His masculine gender to the feminine gender. In exactly the same way, the use of the masculine noun ο παρακλητος ho parakleetos to describe a function of the Holy Spirit does not alter the fact that the Holy Spirit is neuter. Because the Holy Spirit is neuter in gender—not masculine—there is no basis in the New Testament Greek text for mistranslating and interpreting the Holy Spirit as a person.

Although the Holy Spirit is not a person, it is in accord with Greek grammar to translate the pronoun ον on as “whom” because its antecedent is the masculine descriptive noun ο παρακλητος ho parakleetos“the Comforter.” However, it is misleading to translate the personal pronoun ον on as “whom” when the principal noun is  το πνυµα της αληθιας to pneuma tees aleetheias, which is neuter in gender.

The last part of this verse has been translated: “… he shall testify of me.”” The use of the personal pronoun “he” once again gives the impression that the Holy Spirit is a person. However, that is not the meaning of the Greek text. The word “he” is translated from the Greek word κινος ekeinos, which means “that” or “that one.” As with the pronoun ον on, the antecedent of κινος ekeinos is ο παρακλητος ho parakleetosthe Comforter, which is a descriptive noun. Although it is masculine in gender, the principal noun is  το πνυµα της αληθιας to pneuma tees aleetheias, which is neuter. The gender of the principal noun always takes precedence over the gender of the descriptive noun. Therefore, κινος ekeinos has been translated “… that one shall bear witness of Me in order to reflect the true meaning of the Greek text.

The translation of John 15:26 should read: But when the Comforter has come, which Iwill send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of the truth, which proceeds from the Father, that one shall bear witness of Me.

3) John 14:26, KJV: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” As in John 15:26, the descriptive noun ho parakleetosthe Comforter, is used with the principal noun to pneumathe Spirit.In the Greek text, the verse begins with these words: ο δ παρακλητος, το πνυµα το αγιον, ο … ho de parakleetos, to pneuma to hagion, o … The noun phrase το πνυµα το αγιον to pneuma to hagion, “the Holy Spirit,” is the antecedent of the neuter pronoun ο, which has been incorrectly translated “whom” in the KJV. Since ο is a neuter relative pronoun, it should be translated which. If the Greek text contained the masculine pronoun ος, it would be proper to translate it as whom to reflect the masculine gender. However, the Greek text uses the neuter form of the pronoun, not the masculine form.

The pronoun “he” in this verse is translated from the Greek κινος ekeinos and should be translated “that one.”

The following translation of John 14:26 conveys the precise meaning of the Greek text: But when the Comforter comes, even the Holy Spirit, which the Father will send in My name, that one shall teach you all things, and shall bring to your remembrance everything that I have told you.

The translators of the KJV have also used the masculine pronoun “he” in verse 16 of this same chapter: And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16, KJV). As verse 17 shows, “the Comforter” is describing the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of truth, which is translated from to pneuma tees aleetheias, the same noun phrase that is used in John 15:26. Since pneuma is the principal noun, the meaning of the pronoun is governed by its neuter gender, not by the masculine gender of parakleetos, or Comforter, which is a descriptive noun. This translation of John 14:16 accurately conveys the meaning of the Greek text: And I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that itmay be with you throughout the age.

4) John 16:13, KJV: Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall hespeak: and he will show you things to come.

All six occurrences of the pronoun “he” in this verse refer to the Spirit of truth, which is translated from  το πνυµα της αληθιας to pneuma tees aleetheias. Since pneuma is neuter in gender, all six pronouns should accordingly be translated in the neuter gender. The first “he” is an incorrect rendering of the Greek κινος ekeinos and should be translated that one. The remaining five occurrences of “he” are all subjects of verbs that are governed by the neuter noun pneuma and should be translated “it.”

The correct meaning of John 16:13 is reflected in this translation: However, when that one has come, even the Spirit of the truth, it will lead [verb οδηγησι odeegeesei] you into all truth because it shall not speak [verb γαγησ∈ι laleesei] from itself, but whatever it shall hear [verb ακ ουση akouseeit shall speak [verb γαγησι laleesei]. And it shall disclose [verb ανγγλι anaggelei] to you the things to come.

5) John 16:14, KJV“He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” As in John 16:13, the first “he” is translated from the Greek κινοςekeinos, meaning that one. Since the antecedent of ekeinos is the Spirit of truth in verse 13, both the noun and its pronoun are neuter in gender. The second “he,” which is the subject of the verb “shall receive,” is governed by the Spirit of truth, or  το πνυµα της αληθιας to pneuma tees aleetheias, and should also be translated in the neuter gender. The verb shall show, which the translators of the KJV have rendered as a compound verb with shall receive, is also governed by the Spirit of truth, and should accordingly be translated in the neuter gender.

This translation of John 16:14 correctly follows the Greek text: “That one shall glorify Me because it shall disclose [verb ανγγλι anaggelei ] to you the things that it receives[verb ληψται leepsetai] from Me.”

As the New Testament reveals, the Holy Spirit is not a person; rather it is the power of God. All references to the Holy Spirit in the Greek text are in the neuter gender. The use of the descriptive noun the Comforter, which is masculine in gender, does not alter the neuter gender of the Holy Spirit.
(Coulter F. A Faithful Version, 2nd edition, Appendix K: Exegesis for the Translation of the Phrase “the Holy Spirit” as Antecedent in John 14, 15 and 16. York Publishing Company, 2011, pp. 1282-1285)

Former WCG minister Rod Reynolds also explains:

Some have been misled by English translations of John 14:16-17, 26, where the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, is referred to by the English pronouns he, him and whom. In the Greek each noun is assigned a gender, which does not necessarily imply sex or personhood. Hamartia, for example, is a feminine noun meaning sin, though sin is neither male nor female. Hamartolos, on the other hand, is a masculine noun that means sinner, though a sinner can be either male or female.

The Greek word for “Comforter” or “Helper” is parakletos, a masculine noun. Where a pronoun is used in the Greek text referring back to parakletos, it follows the gender of its antecedent which is masculine. The Greek word for spirit is pneuma, a neuter noun. Pronouns in the Greek text referring back to pneuma are neuter. Most of the pronouns referring to the Holy Spirit in the original Greek in the verses in question are neuter, since most of them refer to pneuma as the antecedent. These pronouns would be literally translated into English as which or it. Translators have chosen to use he, him and whom, however, in English, because of their preconceived idea that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person within a Trinity.

It’s also true that in John 16:5-15 masculine pronouns are used several times in reference to the parakletos — Comforter or Helper — as would be expected since it’s a masculine word.

Elsewhere neuter pronouns are used in reference to the Holy Spirit. Nothing definitive about the nature of the Holy Spirit can be determined by the gender of pronouns.

As stated earlier in the Old Testament (the Hebrew scriptures), the terms for “Spirit” used are feminine. Hence to claim the Holy Spirit is a masculine “person” is not consistent with the words God inspired to be written about it.

Now, as alluded to before, most translators have falsely given the Holy Spirit a masculine designation, which is not consistent with the Greek.

Some erroneously claim the New Testament was written in Aramaic/Syriac and not in Greek (for details, check out the article Was the New Testament Written in Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic?).

So, for the sake of argument, what about Aramaic-English translations of the New Testament?

Well, sadly, like most biased translators of Greek, the two translations of the Syriac/Aramaic I have seen have both ended up wrong about John 14:17 and John 15:26.

17 “He is The Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it has neither seen him nor known him; but you know him, for he dwells with you and he is in you.” (John 14:17, Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

17 The Spirit of Truth, He who the world is not able to receive because it has not seen Him, nor does it know Him. But you know Him for He dwells with you and He is in you. (John 14:17, Aramaic English New Testament)

26 “But when The Redeemer of the accursed comes, him whom I shall send to you from the presence of my Father, The Spirit of Truth, he who proceeds from the presence of my Father, he shall testify concerning me.” (John 15:26, Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

While one can argue if the word for “Spirit” is masculine or neuter in Aramaic (an Aramaic dictionary says ‘common’ or neuter, whereas the Peshitta translator says ‘masculine,’ but that the gender designation is not relevant–see Roth AG. Aramaic New Testament 5th edition. Netzari Press, 2012, p. 826), the reality is that the Holy Spirit is NOT shown to be a male person in the Bible (and the term for “Spirit” in Hebrew, used throughout the Old Testament, is feminine).

Here are two gender correct translations from the Greek to the English:

17 Even the Spirit of the truth which the world cannot receive because it perceives it not, nor knows it; but you know it because it dwells with you, and shall be within you. (John 14:17, A Faithful Version)

17 “The helper whom I will send to you from the Father will come. This helper, the Spirit of Truth who comes from the Father, will declare the truth about me. (John 15:26, God’s Word Translation)

While it is nice that some translations get at least part of the truth about the Holy Spirit right (whom and who in the GWT should instead be translated as that or which or it), it is sad that many have mistranslated information about the Holy Spirit.

That is part of why most people do not realize the truth about the Holy Spirit.

The grammatically proper conclusion after reviewing the Hebrew and Greek scriptures is that the Holy Spirit is NOT a “he.” And if one wants to assign gender to it, “it,” meaning the neuter gender would make the most sense for Christians.

The Continuing Church of God and the Holy Spirit?

What does the Continuing Church of God Statement of Beliefs teach on the Holy Spirit?

Notice the following:

The Holy Spirit is inherent in the Father and the Son, and emanates from Them throughout the entire universe (1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 139:7; Jeremiah 23:24). God’s entire plan for humankind is based upon love. …

The Holy Spirit is not a separate being in the theological sense and is given to those after those who have properly repented and been baptized (Acts 2:38-39). The early original Christians had what has been called a “binitarian” view of the Godhead. (Statement of Beliefs of the Continuing Church of God)

Hence, there are still those today who hold the teachings of the Bible and early Christian writers about the Holy Spirit. A more detailed article to study would be Did Early Christians Think the Holy Spirit Was A Separate Person in a Trinity?