Is the Holy Spirit a She? (Monday with Mounce 84)
Heard a fascinating piece of bad exegesis the other day. The Holy Spirit is a she.
The basis of this claim was that the Hebrew word for “spirit” (ruach) is feminine. The short answer is that if this is true, then the Spirit is also an “it” since the Greek word for “spirit” (πνευμα) is neuter.
The longer answer is that Hebrew and Greek words follow what is called “grammatical gender.” This means that the gender of the word is not determined by its meaning but by other things. For example, all nouns ending in ματ are neuter. Since πνευμα is from the root πνευματ, it is therefore neuter. But that says nothing about how the Greek understood of the concept of God’s Spirit.
The best illustration of this is the Greek words for “sin” and “sinner.” “Sin” is a feminine noun, αμαρτια, but sin is not a feminine trait (as opposed to men). “Sinner” is a masculine noun, αμαρτωλος, but that does not mean that men (not using the word generically) are sinners (as opposed to women).
Now yes, sometimes there is a correlation between meaning and gender. Men’s names are masculine. Pronouns referring back to women are feminine. But apart from these obvious types of situations, the gender and meaning of a word are unrelated.
This makes John 16:13 interesting. “When the Spirit of truth (το πνευμα της αληθειας) comes, he (εκεινος) will guide you into all the truth.” The masculine εκεινος goes back to the masculine “Helper” of v 7 (παρακλητος). But is it not interesting that John can put the neuter πνευμα in apposition to the masculine εκεινος? Why?
Because the Bible teaches that all three members of the godhead are “persons” and that while God is more than the human categories of “masculine” and “feminine,” he is personal. The Holy Spirit is not a “she” or an “it.” He is a “person.” Hebrew and Greek follow gramatical gender.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.
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