Last Updated on June 24, 2022 by Jason Harris
The Holy Spirit/Holy Ghost was viewed as Female by early Jewish-Christians. This is indisputable.
We know this because 1. Several early Church Fathers quoted The Gospel of the Hebrews that says as much. 2. Gospels written in Old Syriac say as much. 3. The Acts of Thomas and the Gospel of Thomas say as much. 4. And Other early sources also say as much.
The Gospel of the Hebrews
Though little is known about it, the (lost) Gospel of the Hebrews was possibly composed as early as the middle of the first century CE . We know it existed because Origen, Epiphanius, Hippolytus, Jerome and other early Church fathers all quoted from and discussed it.
In this gospel, Jesus is tempted by Satan as also noted in Matthew 4. However, in the Gospel of the Hebrews, Jesus’ Spirit Mother, The Holy Spirit then moves him to various locations (rather than Satan). “Even so did my mother, the Holy Spirit, take me by one of my hairs and carry me away on to the great mountain Tabor.”
The early Church father Jerome, while commenting on the feminine aspects of the Spirit of God in Isaiah 11 in Hebrew also said the following:
… For also in that Gospel written according to the Hebrews, which the Nazaraeans read, the Lord says: ’Just now, my Mother (mater), the Holy Spirit, took me.’ Nobody should be offended by this, for among the Hebrews the Spirit is said to be of the feminine gender (genere feminino), although in our language it is called to be of masculine gender and in the Greek language neuter.Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah 11, 40, 9 – Adriaen 1963:459 as cited in The Holy Spirit as feminine: Early Christian testimonies and their interpretation (researchgate.net)
If one wants to investigate this further, to include other evidence I only briefly mention above, I would highly recommend starting with The Holy Spirit as feminine: Early Christian testimonies and their interpretation (researchgate.net)
What About Passages in John that Describe the Holy Spirit as “Him?”
The most common retort is that “The Holy Spirit is male, passages in John 14, 15 and 16 prove it when the Holy Spirit is referred to as “him”!”
In fact, these passages say nothing about the gender of The Holy Spirit. This is an (unfortunate) artifact of translation.
In Hebrew, “The Holy Spirit” is a feminine noun. And she is referred to in feminine terms in several passages in the Old Testament. This was not a strange concept to early Jewish-Christians.
Despite being feminine in Hebrew, In Greek (the language of our current early New Testament manuscripts), the word for “Spirit” is gender neutral. As such, pronouns describing it also must be gender-neutral. However, the word for “Comforter” in Greek is a masculine noun and by rules of Greek grammar must be associated with a masculine pronoun.
The translation of “him” in English has nothing to do with implying the gender of the “Spirit” but rather is a grammatical necessity due to the use of the masculine noun for “Comforter” and is grammatically linked to that noun in Greek. This does not suggest anything one way or the other about the gender of “The Spirit.”
The word Spirit in Greek (pneuma) is in the neuter gender, whereas the word Paraclete (paraklētos) is in the masculine. It is often said that in this verse John observes the neuter gender of the word Spirit in his use of pronouns (ho, auto), but in later passages he will use masculine pronouns with the word Spirit (14:26; 15:26; 16:8, 13–14), suggesting that this Spirit is not simply an impersonal force or atmosphere. However, in each case the antecedent is the masculine word paraklētos (Paraclete), so no such significance is attached to the masculine pronouns (Wallace 1996: 331–32). The personhood of the Spirit is conveyed in these texts by what is said about the Paraclete, not by the grammar.Rodney A. Whitacre, John, IVPNTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,1999), p. 359. as cited in Prooftexting the Personality of the Holy Spirit: An Analysis of the Masculine Demonstrative Pronouns in John 14:26, 15:26 and 16:13-14.
See Prooftexting the Personality of the Holy Spirit: An Analysis of the Masculine Demonstrative Pronouns in John 14:26, 15:26 and 16:13-14 for an in depth explanation of this aspect of Greek grammar from numerous experts.
The Biblical Descriptions of the Holy Spirit Make more Sense when Viewed as Female
When the Holy Spirit is viewed as female, many passages in the Bible make a tremendous amount more sense.
For instance, If “The Spirit of God” aspect of God mentioned in Genesis is considered female (the Hebrew word for this IS a feminine noun), and the “Elohim” aspect is considered male, then it makes sense how both male and female were created in the image of God.
Being “born of the Spirit” makes a great deal more sense if the Holy Spirit is female. Males don’t give birth!!
In addition, fruits of “The Spirit” as mentioned in Galatians are described as “traditionally” feminine traits and attributes. Longsuffering, patience, meekness, etc.
In addition, “The Spirit” always serves a subservient role in “The Godhead” or “The Trinity” as did women in the day and age of the culture when passages about the Holy Spirit were written. She only does and says what she hears from the Father.
To be clear, I personally believe the concept of “The Godhead” or “The Trinity” is a man-made construct to try to describe something greater than ourselves. At the same time, it is indisputable that many early Jewish-Christians viewed the Holy Spirit as Female and as the Spirit “Mother of Christ.”
Ancient God Triads Consisted of a Father, Mother and Son
Of interest, this concept wouldn’t have been that out of place for the time. There were numerous other “triads” of gods in other religious systems at and before this time. For instance, as cited in the Brittanica in regards to the ancient Egyptian religion:
The archetypal triad of Osiris, Isis, and Horus exhibits the normal pattern of a god and a goddess with a youthful deity, usually male.“Triad” as cited in Brittanica.com
It is possible the Ancient Christian concept of the “Godhead” or “Trinity” originally stemmed from concepts of god “Triads” that had been around for a very long time.
A Father, a Mother and a Son.
How Different Would Our Culture Be if the Holy Spirit was Viewed as Female?
How different would modern Christianity (and the LDS culture) be if the Holy Spirit was again embraced as female?!?
For Mormon culture specifically, what if Latter-day Saints were to worship the Father, in the name of the Son, by the power of the Mother? What if all blessings, revelations and meetings were “as directed by the Mother?”
How much healthier and whole could current (incredibly toxic) patriarchal systems and constructs become!?!
Jason Harris lived as an orthodox Mormon for forty years. He writes about his experiences leaving the Mormon Church and reconstructing a new World-View. He believes all religions and scripture are man-made, potentially helpful and harmful. He believes there is Divinity in all of them and everywhere.