Finding Female in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

light-person-woman-fire

I have begun preparing to teach my first college course – systematic theology 3. In reading the materials, I found that one textbook I am using confidently calls the Holy Spirit a “She,” while the other textbook confidently calls the Holy Spirit a “He.” So which is it? Is the Holy Spirit a “He” or a “She?”

The Holy Spirit is both a “He” and a “She,” and neither a “He” or “She.”

Are you confused? Good, you should be confused because the godhead cannot be understood. The godhead is a mystery and anyone who claims to fully understand the godhead has bought into a theology that was structured by a mere human.

The truth is that the godhead does not have a literal gender. Meaning, the godhead is not a man or a woman. Yet, male and female are both created in the image of God.

God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit must have both male and female attributes if female were in fact made in their image.

Sadly, the Church has hyper-focused on biblical imagery of God as “Father” and have almost ignored biblical imagery of God as “Mother.” Girls and women struggle to see themselves as being made in the image of God, because God is often called “He,” and almost never called “She.” In fact, many Christians become offended if one points out the feminine attributes of God.

This leads girls and women to ask, “What about being feminine is offensive?”

Is it that we are seen as weak and people do not want to view God as weak? Is it that our bodies are curvy and often oversexualized, and people do not want to see God as “womanly” or “sexy?” Is it that we are viewed as cowards, and people don’t want to see God as one who hides behind others? Is it that we are seen as followers, and people don’t want to put their trust in a God who can’t lead?

Since we are only taught about “God the Father,” and “Jesus the Son,” and “Holy Spirit as a He,” girls and women are not taught to see themselves in God’s image.

To make matters worse, many preachers and theologians further marginalize women by making statements such as, “Jesus chose only male apostles.”

This leads girls and women to ask, “What about being feminine makes me not worthy to be chosen by Jesus?”

Is it because we are seen as deceitful temptresses and the Son of God would certainly avoid choosing female tempters to walk along side of Him? Is it because we are viewed as slow, and Jesus needs people that can keep up. Is it because we are seen as just too silly, and Jesus only chooses serious candidates to help Him lead?

“Your role is to follow, stay quiet, and submit to men” they say, but the question they never answer is, “What part of the godhead always follows, always stays quiet, and always submits?”

Some would argue that the Holy Spirit served in this so called “subordinate” role, but those who recognize the power of the Holy Spirit, are often quick to call the Spirit a “He.”

Oh no, we cannot call women powerful or they might actually start to have confidence and stop struggling with epidemic insecurity. Oh no, we can’t have this. Insecurity and a lack of self-value is the super glue that allows patriarchy (and those who uphold) to keep us in our place.

Secure and confident women, who see themselves in the image of God, are a great threat to all patriarchal establishments.

A secure and confident woman will often start to view herself as a “mama bear,” as the Holy Scriptures compare God to.

“Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and tear them asunder…” -Hosea 13:8

She will become an unstoppable force, attacking anything that is harming the children of God. She will rise up like an eagle, protecting the vulnerable at all cost.

Like the eagle that stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, God spreads wings to catch you, and carries you on pinions.” -Deuteronomy 32:11

Bears and eagles are strong, powerful, beautiful, and intelligent creatures. May God help anyone who challenges their authority to protect the children of God against lies that are meant to harm, control, and belittle.

Do you know that the Hebrew word for “spirit” (ruach) is feminine in Genesis 1:2?

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is referred to as a “He” (John 16:13), but the Greek word used for “Holy Spirit” is actually a neuter word. What does this mean, then? It means that the Holy Spirit is a person (not a human), but a relational being that should not be referred to as an “it.”

It means that we can refer to the Spirit as a “She” or a “He.” Since we generally refer to God and Jesus as “He” and the Old Testament noun is feminine, it seems fitting to call the Holy Spirit “She” in hopes of encouraging girls and women to see themselves in God.

God and the Holy Spirit do not have a literal gender, but both woman and man take after their image.

How does Jesus fit in? How do women see themselves in Christ. First of all, Jesus was born of a woman and no man had anything to do with impregnating Mary with the Son of God. Jesus was male when He walked the earth, but He embodied the blood and DNA of a woman and only a woman. Oh, there we are in the Son of God.

When we gaze closely at the godhead as explained in the Bible, we will find many female attributes. There has been a religious attempt to divide the godhead and hand out certain functions and roles. But, the godhead cannot be divided. Each person in the godhead has a unique personality & calling, but they are all equal in worth and authority.

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. -Genesis 1:27

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34 Comments

  • Thank you, I found that really interesting and helpful.

    I preached yesterday on the theme of peace, with James 3:13-18 (which presents two types of wisdom, one of which leads to peace) one of my main texts. I talked briefly about the feminity of Wisdom as it appears in the Hebrew Bible, and the ways (as I understand it) that the Jewish ideas on wisdom were taken into early Christianity’s conception of the Holy Spirit.

    It seems to me self-evident that it’s entirely valid to consider the Holy Spirit as feminine, and that to do so has many helpful implications. I find constant references to the Spirit as ‘he’ from some evangelicals, with the very conscious exclusion of the feminine aspects, to be jarring and untrue to the scripture.

    Perhaps my favourite single hymn on the Holy Spirit is “Enemy of Apathy” by John Bell & Graham Maule. It begins “She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters / Hovering on the chaos of the world’s first day; / She sighs and she sings, mothering creation, / Waiting to give birth to all the Word will say.”

    All that said, I confess I wasn’t quite brave enough to talk about the Spirit as feminine in my sermon, as I knew it would touch too many people’s buttons in a bad way. My excuse is that it wasn’t a major focus on my sermon & I had lots of other ways I wanted to be provocative! Another time…

    • Great points! I think this is at the heart of the egalitarian/complementarian debate. Egalitarians are fighting against any type of definition of what it means to be female/male and complementarians are over-defining it. How would you describe what it means to be female or male?

      • What does it mean to be female or male? Complementarians like this question, to challenge the idea of ‘gender neutrality’, that is definitely NOT an Egalitarian teaching…it is a challenge to Egalitarian thought that tries to show Egalitarians must believe men and women are the same…not different. Egalitarians, however, teach that men and women ARE different but equal. I have been challenged with this before, hoping I would succumb to the teaching that we are male or female largely because of our roles because when I said the differences were obvious the gentleman challenged me to go further to describe ‘what it means to be female or male’. This may or may not be your view, Brad.

        Male and female are two sides of the same coin…necessary for procreation yet both in that ONE image of God…that is why they become ONE in marriage. They begin as individuals who are complete in their gender, but if they marry they become ONE individual again as they create a new person…who is ONE as well…a two-sided coin, but one nevertheless who, if Christian, becomes one with Christ, yoked together with Him.

        So then, we are even ONE in Christ, as individuals…that is why there is neither male nor female IN Christ.

        That they all may be one…even as a group we are ONE…the singular “bride” of Christ, for example. The idea of unity in Christ and with one another is paramount, as I see it…that ONENESS described so well by Gilbert Bilezikian.

        Confused? Well “oneness” is God’s concept, not mine.

      • Brad, I would say that we don’t earn manhood or womanhood – we just are either a man or a woman by God’s design. Of course, physical differences are the most obvious.

    • So glad Brad asked this…aside from the obvious intention of God in creating women “in His Image” and therefore indicating that His image contains the feminine and the masculine, there are many times God describes himself as “a mother (Hosea 11:3-4), a mother bear (Hosea 13:8) as a mother eagle (Deut 32:11-12), as giving birth (Deut.32:18), as a comforting mother (Is. 66:13) and on and on in various aspects as a mother (Is 42:14,Ps 131.2, Psalm 123:2-3 Matt 23:27 and Luke 15:..) But especially in Luke 15:8-10 we find, in Jesus’ parable, the feminine pronouns to describe God as the one who searches until she finds that which is lost…calling together others to rejoice with her.

      There is no doubt, in my view, that God teaches He is a Triune Spirit of male and female essence.

      • Good points! My push back would be: Isn’t there a difference between saying God is “like” a mother bear, mother eagle, etc. and God “is” a mother bear etc? I see how the Bible says God is “like” a mother etc., but I don’t think it ever says God is a mother. On the other hand, the Bible says God “is” Father. Jesus “is” a man.

        I kind of see it like when I wake up in the middle of the night to feed my children, I’m “like a mother.” But it would be kind of weird if you started calling me a “mom” or referred to me as a woman or addressed me as a “she.”

        And it seems like Jesus prays to “His father” and never “His mother.” And Jesus never prays to “her” or “she” but always to “him” or “he.” Does that make sense? Right now I’m just trying to gather evidence before I make a decision, but my starting point is that the Bible is unique in how it talks about the divine as masculine and fatherly (compared to pagan religions. I guess the other monotheistic religions are more “masculine” than the pagan religions, which seem to emphasize the feminine.)

        Thanks, again! Looking forward to your response!

        • I believe that one of the meanings of El Shaddai is “many-breasted one”. And here is a surprising quote from Oswald Chambers:
          “God Almighty – El Shaddai, the Father-Mother God – proved sufficient for everything. The wonder of El Shaddai (the power to create new things in the old world) runs through the whole kingdom of grace.” “The Everlasting Yea is reached when we perceive that God is El Shaddai, the All-Sufficient God.”
          – Oswald Chambers, Not Knowing Where
          I got that off this site:
          http://www.el-shaddai.org/whatdoesitmean.asp

      • I like the discussion of what is the Image of God in mankind. That God has both feminine and masculine traits, skills, roles I can agree with. That He is either one or both in essence is hard to swallow. I struggle to find some way to assuage the pain of women who have only a “masculine” like God. The place of Mary in the worship and life of my fellow Catholics implies that this is no passing issue. I want to consider that perhaps God does not have any gender since there is no “giving in marriage” in heaven. I want to underscore that in Galatians, Paul also says that “there is neither…, male nor female,…” when we are “in Christ”. (As noted in another’s comment here). Perhaps the Image of God in human kind is not in gender but in “oneness” or “intimacy”. The fact that two people of diverse body types and diversity in other ways could function as one and experience oneness in heart, mind and spirit is really that image. I would throw in that oneness and intimacy are the nature of God as Triune and that, what was lost at the Fall, was oneness and intimacy also. I think that this implies the need to restore intimacy to humanity and through that process we will come to realize how God affirms both female and male humanity. Attempting to resolve this issue apart from “oneness” and “intimacy” may create a distortion still further from the truth of Godlikeness in all of human kind. Do you think that we would need a male and feminine God if we had the intimacy of the Trinity in our relationships? Would Trinitarian intimacy assuage the deep desire the woman feels today? What if we “Knew one another as fully as we are known by God?””

  • Your statement on insecurity rings partially true, but as a man who has experience in the church patriarchy I would say that male insecurity is the root of patriarchy and is why female security is so threatening. A secure person is perceived as a threat to the persons struggling with being insecure because that disrupts our internal narratives.

  • Jory,

    This is exactly the conundrum I have wrestled with and written about—the exclusively male identity that dominates our discussion of the godhead and the barrier it creates for women seeing themselves as mirrors of the divine.

    I identify with the feminine face of God described in the Old Testament as Wisdom, though I prefer her name translated into the Greek, Sophia. I begin and end my book—Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga—with two of my favorite biblical references to her. I will share them here. They are such moving passages, they don’t need a lot of supporting dialog to bolster the truth of God as a feminine presence expressed in them.

    “She is the light that shines forth from everlasting light,
    the flawless mirror of the dynamism of God
    and the perfect image of the Holy One’s goodness.
    Though alone of Her kind, She can do all things;
    though unchanging, She renews all things;
    generation after generation She enters into holy souls
    and makes them friends of God and prophets,
    for God loves the one
    who finds a home in Wisdom [Sophia].
    She is more beautiful than the sun
    and more magnificent than all the stars in the sky.
    When compared with daylight,
    She excels in every way,
    for the day always gives way to night,
    but Wisdom [Sophia] never gives way to evil.
    She stretches forth Her power
    form one end of the earth to the other
    and gently puts all things in their proper place.”

    -Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-8:1, The Inclusive Bible

    “I was there when the Almighty created the heavens,
    and set the horizon just above,
    set the clouds in the sky,
    and established the springs of the deep,
    gave the seas their boundaries
    and set their limits at the shoreline.
    When the foundation of the earth was laid out,
    I was the skilled artisan standing next to the Almighty.
    I was God’s delight day after day,
    rejoicing in the whole world
    and delighting in humankind.”

    – Proverbs 8:27-31 (The Inclusive Bible)

  • Why do you think God is predominantly referred to as male in Scripture? Does it boil down just to patriarchial influence?

    I think I can get behind the argument of referring to the Spirit as she, particularly with wisdom consistently portrayed as female. I’m just wondering whether it might improve our view of God to refer to God with neuter pronouns instead of gendered language? I know English doesn’t have a neuter pronoun except “it,” which doesn’t connote personhood, but I feel like a neuter pronoun would be helpful in explaining a God wherein resides both male and female and neither male nor female.

    Great post!

    • Thank you! I think some of the male pronouns are from sexist Bible translators, but much of it is because Jesus called God “Father.” I think Jesus did this to help humans understand the love of God in a patriarchal culture in which fathers were responsible for taking total care of their families.

  • Jory girlfriend, this is so good! It is very thought provoking. I KNOW that you will be condemned by many for even starting a conversation like this. Many will misunderstand you, thinking that you have gone off the deep end. Many will denounce you and claim that you have a Jezebel spirit. Nevertheless, it is clear to me that you are simply reading the Bible and proclaiming what’s there. I know that God is deeper than our minds can comprehend. There is no one title or characteristic that can adequately capture God’s essence. There’s a plethora of Bible verses that describe God- some feminine, some masculine. Here’s the thing: we are all made in God’s image, but many men only want a God who will reflect their own image.

  • I have been saying just this for about forty years. Saying it to blank stares, smug looks and turned away heads. I just could not buy into the patriarchal authority. I didn’t see Jesus that way. “Know your place woman!”, something Jesus never said. Even Jesus admonished Martha for worrying about fixing dinner over learning His word as Mary was doing at His feet. I even tried to fit into the patriarchal authority, but oh how it chaffed. Everything was all about what the men could do and how we could serve men to that end. And the Bible is so male pronoun related. Everything seems to be about the male. It was okay for women to be wives and even prostitutes who get redeemed. It never felt good or right. I walked away from the church. I find it easier to take care of me and mine without the “benefit” of a man. It’s not easy, but I don’t feel imprisoned. I still have had to fight around and through the patriarchal society, but I can be me. God made me in His image too. I am a daughter of God. Entitled to the same gifts and able to step forward in what God would have me do as well as any man. I know I’m not the only woman who can relate to this empowering fact. Is life perfect? Nope. Do I make mistakes? Yup. But God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are with my hard headed, stubborn self. They love me. They may “smh” a lot, but they love me. Thank you for this article Sister Jory. Get the word out there. There are many more receptive male (and female) ears than there were in my youth. Thank you for picking up the torch. God Bless You and Keep You. 🙂

  • I don’t disagree with most of this but there are a couple things I would like to note.

    First, Holy Spirit is a title, a name, neither he or she should be applied because Holy Spirit is Holy Spirit.

    Second, part of the problem here is you shouldn’t be trying to see yourself in Christ but Christ in you, there’s a difference. If you’re looking at your own feelings and actions and attributes you are pushing your own essence upon God rather than allowing God to overtake you with his perfect all encompassing (yes, both male and female attributes) thoughts and feelings and, well, Godliness. Allow God to work THROUGH you, and your identity stops being an issue altogether.

    • As an adjunct professor of theology, I find it impossible not to use pronouns when discussing the Holy Spirit for 3 hours at a time. I choose to call the Holy Spirit a “She” even though the Holy Spirit does not have a literal gender.

      Secondly, we should most certainly be looking for ourselves in the image of God as men and women. We should not be looking to our own image and trying to make God into our own image.

      God bless.

  • A minor detail, but a crucial one. I checked both the King James Version and NIV, and both say in Genesis 1:27 that “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created him; male and female created them.” The verse only states specifically that man was created in the God’s image, with no mention of woman’s relation to God, except that he created woman. Furthermore, in Genesis 2:22-23, “And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” God creates woman out of man, with no necessary reflection of God in her. This is not to say that woman is any lesser than man, as God only created good, but it directly counters your first emboldened point that “male and female are both created in the image of God.” My point could be refuted by the claim that the Bible is not a literal word-for-word message from God, but this is the general consensus among Christians, and after carefully reading these English translations at least, takes some credibility away from your following article.

    • Your point is totally void when you read the OT in Hebrew (in which it was originally written in). “So God created MAN in his own image,” should in fact be read, “So God created mankind (or humankind) in his own image.” Even hard core patriarchal theologians recognize that females were also created in the image of God. I encourage you to study more.

    • Daniel – the word you refer to in Genesis 1:27 is “Hā’adām” (הָֽאָדָם֙) – and where we get the English transliteration for this being as “Adam”. The terms for male (zakar) and female (neqebah) זָכָר and נְקֵבָה are gendered – and it very clearly states that God created both zakar and neqebah in God’s image.

      Additionally, in several other places “אָדָם” is translated as “persons” or “mankind” (the antiquated gendered term for humankind).

      I’m not refuting your claim by saying Scripture isn’t word-for-word. I’m refuting your claim BECAUSE I’m going word-by-word.

  • As a woman I find it strange to hear other women say they need to find themselves in the feminine aspects of God in order to be secure and confident. I am better off knowing the standing I have in Christ. That gives.me all the confidence and security I need. Jesus and the apostle Paul both elevated women. The society of the day said women were nothing more than property. Jesus honored women like the woman at the well and the one caught in adultry. Paul told husbands6they were to love there wives, an unheard of concept in the Roman world. If the Holy Spirit is female, then when you think of the incarnation of Christ that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and she conceived Jesus, that takes us places that are totally outside the realm of God”a laws for nature. I believe that women have been treated poorly, but I don’t believe we need to change the way we refer to God to get women treated right. I believe the real problem is we as women go running around looking for something or someone to fill out deepest longing to be loved instead of just letting God love us as He is and we are. I come from a home where my earthly father was abusive. When God poured His love all over me it changed everything. I began seeing myself through His eyes, as a person of worth and value. He keeps pulling back the layers of insecurity and brings healing with each layout He removes. I only surrendered to the process, I didn’t need to rearrange my view of God to be able to feel good about myself. I needed to surrender all of me to Him. We hold on to insecurity because it’s what we know. It’s scary to give everything over to someone else to be in control, but when it’s God He makes it so worth it.it’s made all the difference in my life!

    • I never wrote that the Holy Spirit is female. The Holy Spirit does not have a literal gender according to the Scriptures.

  • I personally do not think that God has gender, and Genesis 1 seems clear on this.
    But I have a thought about why God so often appears in masculine form. As a teenager, I encountered Jesus as distinctly masculine: a ageless yet young man, affectionate, lighthearted, fearless and powerful. As I’ve looked back on my life, I have realized that encountering God in this form at this time healed some of the wounds of male sexual assault and male domestic abuse that I grew up with. Jesus was a safe man, and I had not encountered that. As I spent time with Him, I was knit back into the human family. I know that a large part of the female population carry the burdens of the mistreatment, abuse, abandonment, disrespect, and exploitation by males. I think Jesus comes to many (if not all) of them as the Perfect Man, and offers what they have been denied by human men. Jesus certainly did this in His earthly life, to the women He encountered, and I think He never stopped.
    Does this mean I think He is a man? No. I think He is all things. But there is a great need in our world for men who will treat women as full human beings, and I think Jesus has taken up this mantle.

  • I came across your article because I have been looking for others that understand the Holy Spirit as female. I’ve encountered Jesus and enjoy Jesus and who he is. I’ve encountered God as a father and a male. And I have encountered most definitely Holy Spirit as consisting of light in a very feminine “form”. I give quotations to this because I see and experience Holy Spirit also being more fluid, like water, and if she does decide to take on a human form it is in the collaboration of lights to display a twinkling feminine form.

    I see the God-head, Trinity, displaying family; a father, a mother and a son. I see God relating to humanity in the Trinity as family. As inclusive. As close. When an adamant male focus to support a patriarchal society is used to describe Holy Spirit, I believe we miss out on our understanding and fellowship with God.

    Thanks for pursuing this topic.

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