Tuesday, May 25, 2010
How Should we Address the Holy Spirit?
Recently, in the context of a Pentecost Sunday sermon, I heard the Holy Spirit being referred to as "he or she; him or her." This was stated not just once, but was underscored at least 3 or 4 times.
The doctrine of the Tri-unity of God (the Trinity) is a fundamental and foundational doctrine of the Christian Faith. Each Sunday, as a Congregation, we declare: "This is our faith, the faith of the Church: 'We believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.'"
As Rousas Rushdoony points out in his book, The Foundations of Social Order, the doctrine of the Trinity is foundational in the development of the liberties of Western Civilization; it informed the careful balance between the One and the Many (the unity of the corporate but at the same time, the liberty of the individual).
How we understand each of the members of the Trinity, and how we address them is important to an understanding of the Trinity, and how we should relate to God in faith and lifestyle.
So, is the Holy Spirit a He, a She or an It?
According to the Pentecost Sunday sermon, the Holy Spirit is either a He or a She. The Holy Spirit is definitely not an it, because "it" implies non-person status, and the Bible very clearly expounds the personhood of the Holy Spirit. As the article at www.GotQuestions.org states:
[The Holy spirit] has the attributes of personhood, performs the actions of persons, and has personal relationships. He has insight (1Corinthians 2:10-11). He knows things, which requires and intellect (Romans 8:27). He has a will (1 Corinthians 12:11). He convicts of sin (John 16:8). He performs miraclesw (Acts 8:39). He guides (John 16:13). He intercedes between persons (Romans 8:26). He is to be obeyed (Acts 10:19-20). He can be lied to (Acts 5:3), resisted (Acts 7:51), grieved (Ephesians 4:30), blasphemed (Matthew 12:31), even insulted (Hebrews 10:29). He relates to the apostles (Acts 15:28) and to each member of the Trinity (John 16:14; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14). The personhood of the Holy Spirit is presented without question in the Bible, ... (http://www.gotquestions.org/Printer/Holy-Spirit-gender-PF.html)
So, taking the personhood of the Holy Spirit as a given, it was suggested that there was some ambivalence as to whether we should address the Holy Spirit as He or She. This proposition has very far-reaching implications, and needs to be addressed with very serious importance.
Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as "He." All the major English translations of the Scriptures ascribe He/Him/Himself as the way in which Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit. For example, the New King James Version says:
"If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Comforter, Parakleton) that He may abide with you forever -- the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you." (John 14:15-17)
"These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper (Comforter, Parakletos), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father, will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you." (John 14:25-26)
"Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper (Comforter, Parakletos) will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: ... However, when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth: for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you." (John 16:7-8, 13-14)
Very few of the free-standing pronouns used in the English translations, actually appear in the original Greek texts. In Greek, the pronouns are indicated primarily in the suffixes added to the verbs. Free-standing pronouns are used to topicalize, or give emphasis to, the person or thing being spoken about in the verb.
In Greek, nouns are relegated to one of the three gender categories - masculine, feminine or neuter. It is important when considering the matter of grammatical gender, not to confuse it with physical gender. For the most part, English does not have gender as a category applied to nouns. For instance, we do not think of pencils as masculine, or pens as feminine (as in French).
Some of the nouns ascribed to the Holy Spirit, in the Greek, are masculine and some of them are neuter. But none of them are unambiguously feminine. For example, Spirit is the translation of the "pneuma" (which is grammatically neuter). Whereas, Comforter is the translation of the "parakletos" (which is grammatically masculine).
Do the words of Jesus Himself give us any clear, unambiguous clue as to the way in which we are to think of the Third Person of the Trinity in terms of human gender, and beyond that, sexuality?
Yes, they do. In John 16:7, Jesus used the intensive pronoun "auton" which is translated "Him." He did not use the feminine form of the pronoun "auten" nor the neuter from of the pronoun "auto." The parakletos (masculine noun), is to be referred to as "Him," according to Jesus. Then again, in John 16:8, Jesus uses the demonstrative pronoun "ekeinos" which means "that one," referring back to parakletos in verse 7. Once again, Jesus did not use the feminine form "ekeine" or the neuter form "ekeino." Furthermore, in John 16:13, Jesus uses the reflexive pronoun "heautou" which translates as "Himself" in reference to the neuter noun 'pneuma" which translates as "Spirit." Jesus does not use the feminine form "heautes" or the neuter form "heautou."
Jesus leaves us with absolutely no ambiguity. He referred to the Holy Spirit as He/Him/Himself, and deliberately avoided the feminine and neuter forms in His use of free-standing pronouns, when referring to the Holy Spirit specifically.
Jesus wasn't confused. And Jesus did not sow any doubts as to whether the Holy Spirit was to be referred to as He or She. Jesus unclouded all ambiguity and implied that the Holy Spirit is always to be referred to as He/Him/Himself.
So where might the implied ambiguity of the Pentecost Sunday address come from?
Because the Hebrew word for Spirit (ruach) is grammatically feminine, and the Hebrew word for the presence of God (shekhinah) is also feminine; and also because some of the activities ascribed to God, are often regarded as feminine traits, there are those who claim that the Godhead is both masculine and feminine. This is, of course, in spite of the fact that when asked how to pray, Jesus commanded His disciples to pray: "Our Father (not "Our Father/Mother ..."), which art in heaven, ..." (Luke 11:1-4) However, one feminist writer (http://www.grailchurch.org/sophia.htm) has suggested: "The name for God in the Hebrew language is 'Elohim'. Most scholars acknowledge that this word has a plural ending, which some use to suggest an Old Testament anticipation of the Trinity. What most scholars either do not know or care not to inform their constituents is that 'Elohim' is not the plural of 'El' the masculine form of the name. It is plural of the feminine, 'Elowah'. Strictly speaking, we can translate the Old Testament name for God as 'goddesses'." Her argument is very tenuous indeed, and could be considered blasphemous.
Syriac Gnostics, Eastern Orthodox churches, apocryphal texts, Branch Davidians, the Unity Church and other non-Trinitarian sects, some Messianic Jews and mormons ascribe to a feminine Holy Spirit (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_of_the_Holy_Spirit).
Sophia worship is gaining ascendancy in what previously were orthodox Christian denominations. This movement began as an accommodation to the disquiet of feminists in churches, not on the basis of careful exposition of Scripture. A fuller discussion of this movement can be found at http://www.gotquestions.org/sophia-goddess-wisdom.html
It would appear that the ascription of "She" to the person of the Holy Spirit is a move to placate the feminist movement. It is not for us to "re-image" God into our comfort parameters. Rather, God, the Triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - is the sovereign, and only potentate of the universe. His self-revelation is to be received, and we are to bow to His sovereign declaration of what is right and what is wrong.
God has declared that male and female are to be redemptively equal, but functionally different. To govern is a male function (and this is reflected in the fact that the sovereign God ascribes to Himself the gender title "He/Him") A female function is to submit, and not to rule over the male (and this is reflected in the fact that the human component of the God/Man relationship is called the Bride of Christ - the Church - and the Church is to submit to her head, the Lord Jesus Christ). A further discussion of this idea is found at my blog: Who can be Church leaders? And also at my blog: That Woman Jezebel.
In His Triune Redemptive Name, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible tells us that Jesus bears the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:36; Colossians 2:9; Acts 8:12; Acts 8:16; Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5). It is to this name that every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Although Jesus expressed Himself in ways that are not usually described as masculine traits (gathering His people under his wings as a mother hen gathers her chicks - Matthew 23:37), yet there is no question as to how we should address Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, husband of the Church - that is: He/Him. Despite the fact that there were times that God attributed to Himself, feminine roles (Isaiah 66:13), yet all the names ascribed to the Triune God in the Old and New Testaments are grammatically masculine in form (Yaweh, Elohim, Adonai, Kurios, Theos, etc.). (http://www.gotquestions.org/Printer/Holy-Spirit-gender-PF.html)
As for me and my house, we will side with the Lord Jesus Christ, and will unambiguously refer to the Holy Spirit as "He/Him" as we shall also refer to Jesus and the Heavenly Father.