THE “HE” ISSUE

 

Something’s definitely wrong about the Church’s current understanding of the Holy Spirit. A recent poll of evangelicals revealed that 68% of us consider the Holy Spirit to be an impersonal force, indicating the shallowness of a large group of Christians that would permit the movie Star Wars to influence their perception of God to such an extent. But shallowness isn’t the only culprit. Theologians with advanced degrees in Divinity admit to being stumped by the nature of the Holy Spirit.

The problem is at once both simpler and more profound than confusion or shallowness of thought. The primary source of our misapprehension of the Holy Spirit has been with us for a very long time and is our presupposition, inculcated by the Church herself, that the Holy Spirit is either genderless or weakly masculine.

With regard to the common perception of the Holy Spirit’s masculinity, the enormous gorilla in the room is the use, in virtually all translations and versions of the Bible, of masculine pronouns in reference to the Holy Spirit.

Examples of this include John 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7 and 8 and 13-15, and Hebrews 3:7 and 10:15, although some verses reference the Holy Spirit as neuter. These references constitute the most common argument against a feminine Holy Spirit.

The most likely reason for all those “he”s in the Bible is the certainty that the Bible we use today does not represent the original. While I believe that the original autographs of Scripture are inspired and inerrant, I don’t extend that trust to the various translations and versions that are available to us today. There is ample reason to suspect that a gender switch took place around the time of Constantine under the misguided motive of purifying the heavenly domain from all connotations of sexuality. Many well-known Church Fathers at that time have conveyed, through their writings, their repulsion of matters involving gender and their equation of purity with chastity.

We know that the Hebrew name of Spirit, ruah, is feminine, while the Greek equivalent is neuter and the Latin equivalent is masculine. These language-based gender differences may partially account for the gender switch in the translations. The more likely scenario, unpleasant as it may be to consider, is that the switch was deliberate. The Jewish religion had, for the most part, viewed the Holy Spirit as feminine, as did a large group of early Christians, as demonstrated by the femininity of the Holy Spirit in the Syriac Scriptures. In addition, the Sinaitic Palimpsest, the original writing of which is thought to be close or identical to the Gospel that Paul taught from, depicts Jesus in John 14:26 as describing the Holy Spirit as feminine.

There are multiple reasons why it is thought that the switch was deliberate: first, the neuter description of the Arm of the Lord in Isaiah 51:9 and 10 is known to be a deliberate switch from the feminine; second is the motive: the prevailing sexual debauchery of the secular society surrounding the Christian community led the Christian leaders to set the Church apart in perfect purity, even to the extent that motivated some early Christian males to attempt to castrate themselves. Sometimes, as was possibly the case with Origen (according to Eusebius), the attempt was successful. Many of the early Church Fathers, including Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Ambrose of Milan, and, most famously, Augustine, vehemently equated purity with chastity. Some of them were misogynistic as well. Supporting that urge to switch genders was the pressure of numerous heresies that confronted the early Church. One important threat to the Church was Gnosticism, which favored a femininity of the Holy Spirit. The heresies embraced by the Gnostics placed their belief in a feminine Holy Spirit, which was common to Jewish faith and early Christian expressions in general, in disrepute. The rejection of gender in God seems to have been a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The switch to the masculinity of the Holy Spirit was probably complete around the time of Constantine.

It’s a matter of concern to me how reluctant the Church leadership has been throughout the past several centuries to see God in the light of His Word rather than blindly adhering to Church doctrine in the face of Scriptural passages that are inconsistent with dogma. There are plenty of indications in Scripture, even in the versions we use today, to support the femininity of the Holy Spirit in opposition to the use of male pronounce in reference to Her. All it takes to see this is scripturally-compatible eyes.

We revere Christians of the past who had the insight and courage to reform the Church in the face of the corruption that attended her political power. But these Church Greats were human just like the rest of us. None of them was perfect, nor were their insights complete. Martin Luther, for example, was a rabid anti-Semite; he also thought that Jesus had an affair with Mary Magdalene. Those who are inclined to avoid any questioning of the Bible as it stands now should apply that same inclination to Luther, who lashed out against the Book of James and supported the removal of the Book of Wisdom and others from the Protestant canon of Scripture.

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