Is The Holy Spirit Feminine?

by Robert Brow   (web site -

(An edited version of a posting on the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association discussion list in January, 1997)

 Should we use the feminine gender for the Holy Spirit ? The Old Testament word is ruakh, which means "wind," "breath," "inspiration," and the OT Hebrew noun is always feminine. But gender is an accident of grammar. In French arms, hair, eyes, ears, mouths, lips, and cheeks which are feminine. But foreheads, noses, necks and chins are masculine - perhaps they stick out more? Legs and ankles are feminine but feet and big toes are masculine.

 Obviously in the case of the human body in the image of God gender tells you nothing about the thing to which it refers. One could have a language with just a neuter, "it loves the woman but it does not love the man," but most languages are stuck with two genders which the French use indiscriminately, as to some extent the OT Hebrew.

 Jesus was a male when he lived on earth, but that tells us nothing about His gender before the incarnation since both women and men are in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Feminists have pointed out that there are many passages where God as parent is spoken of in feminine and nurturing terms. In Luke 15:8-10 God is certainly described as a very feminine woman.

 In Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (InterVarsity Press, 1996), Clark Pinnock says he thought of using the feminine throughout for the Holy Spirit. But discretion is the better part of valour and he decided to explain himself and then use the masculine to avoid off putting the men he wanted to speak to. He often quotes Elizabeth Johnson's She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Discourse (New York: Crossroads, 1995). And I view her book as perhaps the richest of all feminist theology books. Her treatment of the Spirit and Sophia for example is creative and to my mind very exciting.


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