Have you ever thought about why it is that most people refer to God as a “He”? I have heard people push the idea that God is really a “She” and that the male-dominated clergy are hiding this truth to keep a stranglehold on the leadership in the “church.” I have heard people be counseled to respond to God as they see God. For example, if they are comforted in seeing God as a mother figure then refer to God as “She.” If a person sees God as more of a father-figure then refer to God as “He.” Is it wise to listen to such counsel? Are we twisting what the Bible says about the gender of God and does it matter? Could God really be a celestial woman? How can we know for sure what the gender of God is and, in particular, the gender of the Holy Spirit? The answer is found in the original language that the Bible was written in.
Why should I Believe You?
The argument that follows is authored by William D. [Bill] Mounce, an expert in the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books and served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation. Dr. Mounce also on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. In other words, Bill knows his Greek!
“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?
The Bottom Line
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 grammatical gender.