If we’ve managed to shove the 800-pound “He”-issue gorilla out the door, there’s still a few 200-pound gorillas lurking in the corners of the room.
Scriptural references to gender neutrality: Two such references stand out in particular: Galatians 3:28, which declares that in the spiritual realm humans are neither male nor female, and Matthew 22:30, in which Jesus asserts that in the resurrection, men and women neither marry nor are given in marriage. These passages are frequently interpreted as declaring that the realm of God in heaven is genderless.
The obvious alternative interpretation, which also is a more logical one, is that while individual humans aren’t gendered in the spiritual realm, their aggregate, as the Church, is indeed gendered, that gender being female. Paul himself, in describing spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, depicts spiritual humans as components of the church, likening them to body parts such as ears. Body parts of themselves are not gendered. In the material realm, the exercise of gender requires a multitude of body parts, including the mind, interacting in close cooperation. Scripture indicates that this is precisely how gender works in the spiritual realm. That being the likely case, the Scriptural references noted above make no statement whatsoever about a supposed lack of gender in the spiritual realm.
Wisdom associated with the Holy Father as a personal attribute: To those who consider the Godhead to be either masculine or genderless, the intra-Godhead bond is seen in somewhat similar terms to that which may be found in a corporate boardroom. In that context, in Jeremiah 10:12, where God describes His creation as being made by His power and wisdom, those descriptors are naturally interpreted as His personal attributes.
But there is an alternate interpretation that not only makes more logical sense, but is beautifully descriptive. In that alternate interpretation which again is obvious, the Father and Holy Spirit are considered to be a tightly-bonded couple, each possessing the other in a romantic relationship. Under that alternate understanding, the Holy Spirit, along with Her attributes of Wisdom and Power, are naturally seen as an intimately-loved possession of the Father, and therefore belong to Him as part of Him in the same context as Adam’s understanding of Eve and his description of two joining to become one.
The personification of Wisdom in Proverbs is often interpreted as simply a literary device: Those who would deny the femininity of the Holy Spirit correspondingly deny the Personhood of Wisdom. Instead, they view the feminine voice of Wisdom in Proverbs as a literary embellishment of the wisdom of God.
An alternate and more reasonable interpretation exists here as well. It is supported by Jesus Himself who in Luke 7:35, in opposition to the interpretation of wisdom as a mere literary device, confers motherhood on Wisdom. Motherhood is an eminently personal attribute, was well as being a hallmark of femininity. Jesus more emphatically personifies wisdom in Luke 11:49 and 50, having Her speak and perform actions.
Femininity is viewed as inappropriate to Godhood: This slanderous, misogynistic rebuke of womanhood is surprisingly common among theologians. Paul’s commentary in 1 Corinthians 14 on the role of women in Church (“it is a shame for women to speak in the church”) is often taken as justification for this view.
Given Paul’s beautiful description of the future spiritual woman, the Church, in Ephesians 5, and his friendship with many women and use of them in Church activities, his probable intent with regard to womanhood is much more benign than the usual interpretation of this passage would suggest.
My view in opposition to that stance attributed to Paul, as I had noted in Marching to a Worthy Drummer, sees Eve’s error in the Garden as a transgression on her proper role as a type of the feminine Holy Spirit by failing to limit her responsive role to that of the will of either her husband Adam or of the Holy Father. In that context, Paul’s commentary in 1 Corinthians 14 actually supports a feminine Holy Spirit.
God is above the passion that a gendered Godhead would suggest: This view arose from the attempt to purify the Church of all sexuality. It was supported by Augustine and other Church Fathers and, centuries later, was formalized by medieval cleric Jerome Zanchius in his tome on Absolute Predestination. This work consulted very little, if any, Scripture.
Scripture itself provides a rich source of alternate viewpoints, all of which endow God with passion, including love, possession, anger and sorrow. Examples include Exodus 32:10, Hosea 1, Matthew 19, 21, 23 and 26, and Luke 24. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees in Matthew 19 indicated a familiarity beyond His human form with love and its implications regarding inter-gender relationships. He was fully aware of the passionate nature of the marital bond and went so far as to claim (Matthew 19:6) that the source of the bond was God Himself.
The grammatical “she” in the Hebrew language does not necessarily indicate femininity: There has been much ado made by deniers of femininity in the Godhead about the fact that some objects are given feminine designators when no actual femininity is involved. The situation here is similar to the standard practice in English of calling a genderless object such as a ship “she”.
This argument would typically apply to objects, but not to sentient beings such as humans or Members of our Trinitarian God. If indeed the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs did not refer to an actual Person but was simply a literary device, then this argument might apply. But, as already noted, the Holy Spirit is indeed a Person within the Godhead.
Moreover, the gender distinction in Hebrew (the original versions of the manuscripts) is more rigidly applied in the modifiers, which very often define the Holy Spirit as feminine. This important point is often overlooked by those who would claim that a noun in Hebrew doesn’t necessarily depict gender.
The bottom line is that for every argument of which I am aware that calls into question the femininity of the Holy Spirit there is at least one alternate explanation, often considerably more reasonable than the original argument, that negates the argument itself and supports the notion of a feminine Holy Spirit. Furthermore, where the argument references Scripture, the rebuttal also appeals to Scripture.
As I review these arguments I find myself thinking of those responsible for establishing and maintaining Church doctrine in terms of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Did the Jews get it wrong in refusing to see Jesus as God? So did we in refusing to see the Holy Spirit as the feminine complement of the Father.
Published by Art Perkins