Lingering references in modern Bibles of a feminine Holy Spirit

There actually are references in current mainstream Bible translations to the Holy Spirit by the pronoun “She”. In Romans 9:25 of the King James Version, Paul uses “her” in referring to the Holy Spirit:

“As he saith also in Hosea, I will call them my people, who were not my people; and her beloved, who was not beloved.”

Again, in Romans 1:20, Paul’s reference to the Godhead is made in the feminine derivative of the word “theos”.

Furthermore, it is known that in Scriptural translations of Isaiah 51:9 and 10 in the Nicene era and later, the reference to the feminine Arm of the Lord was deliberately switched from “she” to the neuter “It”.

In Isaiah 51:9 and 10, for example, the King James Version reads:

“Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it who hast cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Art thou not it who hast dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; who hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?”

The original, however, read as follows, and some Bible scholars assert that the neutering was deliberate, as the grammatical construction of the original text prohibits any other interpretation of it than a feminine description:

“Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not She who hast cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Art thou not She who hast dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; who hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?”

Claims that romance and passion are not intrinsic to God or the spiritual realm

Scripture itself contradicts claims that God might be above the romance and passion intrinsic to a fully-functional spiritual marriage. Examples include the Song of Solomon, Jesus’ passion in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Jesus’ discourse on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24).

Many theologians insist upon interpreting the feminine imagery in the Book of Proverbs as simply figures of speech. Correspondingly, Proverbs is depersonalized, being considered at most an attribute of the Godhead. This view is contradicted by the intensely personal nature of Proverbs 3 and 8 and their link to the role of the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:1,2. It is further disallowed by the direct personalization of Wisdom and the equation of Wisdom with the Holy Spirit in the Book of Wisdom, which is canonical in the Catholic religion.

Many pastors, having interpreted 1 Timothy 2 as limiting the role of women in Church, shy away from the thought of conferring Godhood on a female. Given the general responsive role of women as described in Scripture and Eve’s obvious misapplication of that role, Paul’s commentary in 1 Corinthians 2 actually supports the notion of a feminine Holy Spirit.

Some pastors point to mention of the Church as the Body of Christ in Ephesians 5 and elsewhere as conflicting with a meaningful role for the Church as the Bride of Christ. A careful reading of Ephesians 5 contradicts this apparent conflict: Ephesians 5:31 directly identifies the male/female union as a mutual ownership of each other. This ownership, in a possessive sense, assigns the wife’s (Church’s) body as the body of her husband.

There is a centuries-long tradition within virtually all Western Churches of a male Holy Spirit. A feminine Holy Spirit would go against the grain of this tradition. However, tradition isn’t Scripture, there are readily understandable reasons as to why the switch from the original was made, and there are understandable, albeit selfish, reasons as to why there haven’t been more disputes in that regard over the years.

It wasn’t always that way. In the Hebrew Old Testament, the Holy Spirit, as the Ruah or Shekinah, was viewed as feminine. Aided by Justin Martyr, the early Gnostic controversy within Christianity, Augustine and Jerome Zanchius, the switch to masculinity occurred in the New Testament.

Foremost in the minds of many of the new Christians were the lewd and disgusting bacchanalias associated with the devotions to the Greek and Roman gods, who themselves were prone to bouts of lust and sexual perversions. In sharp contrast to the gross depravity of these gods, Jesus stood apart, radiant in shining moral splendor. At a time of rampant sexual excess, Jesus’ Words sparkled like swords of righteousness and were taken deeply to heart. Among these were His own pronouncements of the place of sexuality within the Christian economy, which were immortalized in Scripture. His Words that are handed down to us in Matthew 19 must have been very important to the new Christians:

“The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read that he who made them at the beginning, made them male and female; and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore, they are no more twain, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her who is put away doth commit adultery.

“His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, except they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, who were so born from their mother’s womb; and there are some eunuchs, who were made eunuchs by men; and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”

The new Christians, in overlooking much of what Jesus actually was teaching, placed a heavy emphasis on the latter part of this saying by Jesus, the part that dealt with eunuchs. It may have called to mind a piece of Old Testament Scripture, verse five of David’s fifty-first Psalm, attaching to it a meaning that went beyond the words:

“Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

This passage was written after Nathan confronted David with a scathing rebuke over David’s murderous lust for Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, and was an expression of guilt, which very much included his own, over the baseness of motivation behind some sexual unions.

Paul, too, in support of the Christian desire for moral cleanliness and writing to a Church that was in danger of returning to the materialism of society at large, added his obviously conflicted opinion of the meaning of sexual purity and the role of women within the Christian economy, but questioning himself as he did so as to whether he was writing on behalf of the Holy Spirit, or whether his was doing so entirely on his own. In 1 Corinthians 7:1 and 2, 25-40, he said this:

“Now concerning the things about which ye wrote unto me, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. . . .
“Now concerning virgins, I have no commandment of the Lord; yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. I suppose, therefore, that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless, such shall have trouble in the flesh; but I spare you. But this I say, brethren, The time is short; it remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it; for the fashion of this world passeth away. But I would not have you without care. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is a difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit; but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not; let them marry. Nevertheless, he that standeth steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. So, then, he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better. The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to when she will, only in the Lord. But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment; and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.”

Although Paul repeatedly noted that the union between man and wife is not sinful, it was his admonition that life as a eunuch was better, in that it permitted undiluted focus to the Lord. It was that sentiment which stood out in the early Christian mind as the golden standard of behavior.

That standard was expressed, for example, by Justin the Martyr in his first apology for (defense of) Christianity, as compiled in the book Early Christian Fathers, edited by Cyril C. Richardson. This commentary was written around the middle of the second century A.D., about a half century after the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation. In it, Justin echoed the sentiment of Paul regarding sexual circumspection:

“About continence [Jesus] said this: ‘Whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in his heart before God.’ And: ‘If your right eye offends you, cut it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of Heaven with one eye than with two to be sent into eternal fire.’ And: ‘Whoever marries a woman who has been put away from another man commits adultery.’ And: ‘There are some who were made eunuchs by men, and some who were born eunuchs, and some who have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake; only not all [are able to] receive this.

“And so those who make second marriages according to human law are sinners in the sight of our Teacher, and those who look on a woman to lust after her. For he condemns not only the man who commits the act of adultery, but the man who desires to commit adultery, since not only our actions but our thoughts are manifest to God. Many men and women now in their sixties and seventies who have been disciples of Christ from childhood have preserved their purity; and I am proud that I could point to such people in every nation. . . But to begin with, we do not marry except in order to bring up children, or else, renouncing marriage, we live in perfect continence. To show you that promiscuous intercourse is not among our mysteries – just recently one of us submitted a petition to the Prefect Felix in Alexandria, asking that a physician be allowed to make him a eunuch, for the physicians there said they were not allowed to do this without the permission of the Prefect. When Felix would by no means agree to endorse [the petition], the young man remained single, satisfied with [the approval of] his own conscience and that of his fellow believers.”

Two and a half centuries later Augustine experienced much the same revulsion as Justin did over the moral tawdriness of the Roman society in which he lived. Having become a Christian thirty two years after his birth in 354 A.D., Augustine had spent much of his dissolute pre-Christian years in the enjoyment of the depravity of the society in which he lived. The shame and regret of these early years served to drive Augustine into a passionate rejection of loose morality and unbridled lust. The strength of his feelings in that regard are demonstrated throughout his book City of God, an example of which is given in Chapters 4 and 5 of Book II:

“When I was a young man I used to go to sacrilegious shows and entertainments. I watched the antics of madmen; I listened to singing boys; I thoroughly enjoyed the most degrading spectacles put on in honour of gods and goddesses – in honour of the Heavenly Virgin, of of Berecynthia, mother of all. On the yearly festival of Berecynthia’s purification the lowest kind of actors sang, in front of her litter, songs unfit for the ears of even the mother of one of those mountebanks, to say nothing of the mother of any decent citizen, or of a senator; while as for the Mother of the Gods – ! For there is something in the natural respect we have towards our parents that the extreme of infamy cannot wholly destroy; and certainly those very mountebanks would be ashamed to give a rehearsal performance in their homes, before their mothers, of those disgusting verbal and acted obscenities. Yet they performed them in the presence of the Mother of the Gods before an immense audience of spectators of both sexes. If those spectators were enticed by curiosity to gather in profusion, they ought at least to have dispersed in confusion at the insults to their modesty.

“If these were sacred rites, what is meant by sacrilege? If this is purification, what is meant by pollution? And the name of the ceremony is ‘the fercula’, which might suggest the giving of a dinner-party where the unclean demons could enjoy a feast to their liking. Who could fail to realize what kind of spirits they are which could enjoy such obscenities? Only a man who refused to recognize even the existence of any unclean spirits who deceive men under the title of gods, or one whose life was such that he hoped for the favour and feared the anger of such gods, rather than that of the true God.

Augustine was enormously influential to the Christian Church at a time when Church doctrine was still being formulated and heresies were still emerging, to be debated upon and rejected. In his wake, the Church charted a course that polarized itself away from any hint of the depravities associated with the corrupt gods and goddesses of the world about her. This extremity of purification, for which purity was equated with chasitity, cleansed the Judeo-Christian God of any taint of sexuality.

A thousand years later, this insistence upon purity had not only remained, but had crystallized into a rigid perfectionism, enshrined by the medieval cleric Jerome Zanchius, a rigid adherent of the heavenly perfection envisioned by Aristotle and Ptolemy. Zanchius, in his rather pretentious work Absolute Predestination Stated and Defined, included some Scripturally unjustified statements regarding the nature of God, of which the following excerpts are representative:

“I.—When love is predicated of God, we do not mean that He is possessed of it as a passion or affection. In us it is such, but if, considered in that sense, it should be ascribed to the Deity, it would be utterly subversive of the simplicity, perfection and independency of His being. Love, therefore, when attributed to Him, signifies—
“(l) His eternal benevolence, i.e., His everlasting will, purpose and determination to deliver, bless and save His people. Of this, no good works wrought by them are in any sense the cause. Neither are even the merits of Christ Himself to be considered as any way moving or exciting this good will of God to His elect, since the gift of Christ, to be their Mediator and Redeemer, is itself an effect of this free and eternal favour borne to them by God the Father (John 3.16). His love towards them arises merely from “the good pleasure of His own will,” without the least regard to anything ad extra or out of Himself.
“(2) The term implies complacency, delight and approbation. With this love God cannot love even His elect as considered in themselves, because in that view they are guilty, polluted sinners, but they were, from all eternity, objects of it, as they stood united to Christ and partakers of His righteousness.
“(3) Love implies actual beneficence, which, properly speaking, is nothing else than the effect or accomplishment of the other two: those are the cause of this. This actual beneficence respects all blessings, whether of a temporal, spiritual or eternal nature. Temporal good things are indeed indiscriminately bestowed in a greater or less degree on all, whether elect or reprobate, but they are given in a covenant way and as blessings to the elect only, to whom also the other benefits respecting grace and glory are peculiar. And this love of beneficence, no less than that of benevolence and complacency, is absolutely free, and irrespective of any worthiness in man.
Given this unnecessary but historical antagonism between Christianity and gender, one may readily perceive how tempting it must have been to downplay gender in Scripture by “correcting” certain references to it.


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