Saving Mary

The “he” Factor

Posted on by Deidre Havrelock


            THE “HE” FACTOR

When I first began my journey of studying the femininity of the Holy Spirit, the road was bumpy. Few Christians were interested in the topic, and many Christians grew furious when faced with discussing the topic. One episode stands out for me. A pastor, when he heard I was writing on the topic of the femininity of the Holy Spirit, was outraged that I would dare to change the Bible. He said (something like), “Jesus called the Spirit a ‘He’ and so I am sure that Jesus knew what he was talking about.”

In the New Testament, yes…it’s true–according to our translation of the Greek–Jesus is calling the Spirit a “He.” But, we must remember … this is our translation.

The wonderful truth is, many Christians are being drawn closer to the Holy Spirit–and as we draw close, what is being revealed to us is not a “He” Spirit, but a “She” spirit.

– Deidre D Havrelock



Why Did Jesus Call the Spirit “He”?


Scripture, at least as far as New Testament translations go, refer to the Holy Spirit as “he.”  Most translations do. If “he” is not used than “it” is used to refer to the Spirit. For myself, when first faced with the idea of writing about the “she” in the Holy Spirit this proved problematic. After all, I had called the Holy Spirit “he” or occasionally “it” for years. Now, as I studied about the “she” in the Holy Spirit, God was suddenly challenging my personal theology. But wasn’t this theology the Bible’s theology and, therefore, the founders of my faith’s theology, too? How could I come against what the apostles believed or what the giants of faith believe today? I seriously told God, during my prayer time, that I couldn’t write on this topic unless He explained the “he” factor to me. And explain it, He did.

The Greek (New Testament) word for spirit is “pneuma” whereas the Hebrew (Old Testament) word for spirit is “ruach.”  Both words mean: a current of air, wind, a breath in reference to either a human, demon, or the Holy Spirit of God. We see the use of this word in Genesis as God breathed into man the breath or “ruach” of life:

 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath [“ruach”] of life; and man became a living being. (NKJV Genesis 2:7) 

God the Father and Holy Spirit

Through this verse I came to understand that God’s Spirit or His “breath” is what gives and maintains life. So then I began to search the New Testament for every mention of God’s Holy (“pneuma”) Breath.  I looked for “Holy Spirit” or “Spirit” or “Spirit of the Lord” or “Spirit of God” to see what pronoun had been placed in front. For the most part no pronoun was used. Often “he” was used. I then noticed that “it” was used sporadically. Now a year earlier, my dad had bought me a disk called The Bible Library with many different Bible translations on it: the NIV, the King James version, the New Revised Standard, the Morris Literal Translation of Hebrew and Greek …and so on. I began to cross-reference these instances of pronouns and found that among the different translations there was no concrete congruity between verses. “He” would be used in some instances, “it” in others. The New King James almost always used “he” when referring to the Spirit, whereas others seemed to prefer “it”: 

And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.” (NKJV John 1:32)

           And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it 

           remained on him. (NRSV  John 1:32)

So what was going on?  Why was there no consensus?  How should we relate to this word “pneuma”?  Of course, I’m not a translator. I don’t know Greek from a hole in my head. So what I needed was a translator. I prayed to God, “God, you know I’m a mother of three girls, very busy, and with what free time I have I read and pray and write … please send me a translator!” I then opened up my NRSV and sent an email to the publishing house’s web site, asking why this difference existed.

Then I waited. old clock face

No answer.

So then I noticed my Bible Library also had the Morris Literal Translation of Hebrew and Greek on it (I now use Logos Bible software), so one day I looked up a sentence referring to the Holy Spirit and zeroed in on the word “he.”  To my surprise the Greek pronoun “autos means, “she, he or it.”  The translators of the Bibles which we all read had all chosen to use “he” or “it,” but never “she.” Even though “she” seemed to be an option: 

The Spirit Himself [autos] bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…. (NKJV Romans 8:16)

The Spirit itself [autos] bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God. (DARBY Romans 8:16)

The Spirit herself [autos] bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…. (no one has chosen to translate autos like this, Romans 8:16)

However, this wasn’t enough. I wanted a professional opinion on the matter. This was important after all. So I prayed to God again. “God, you know I’m a mother of three girls, very busy, and with what free time I have I read and pray and write … please send me a translator!” And then the email came. This is the email sent to me (in February of 2004) by Walter Harrelson who was part of the translation team for the NRSV:

The Greek word PNEUMA is neutral—that is, neither masculine nor feminine. The translation “it” is linguistically correct, which explains the widespread use of “it” in translations of the New Testament. The NRSV translators decided to use “he,” I am confident (though I was not a part of the New Testament panel that made this decision), because “Holy Spirit” refers regularly to the deity, and the translators decided always to remain with the masculine pronoun to refer to deity.

The translators who decide for “it” have a point, and those who decide for “he” do as well.  The use of “he” in NRSV is a consequence of a larger decision and can well be rejected by translators. The use of “it” may well be rejected by translators on the principle that for the Bible, God is surely personal, and “it” conveys little of the intimate association characteristic of the relation of human beings and the deity.. . . . You are right:  “she” could well be used as the pronoun for Spirit or spirit. The Hebrew for spirit, ruach, is almost always feminine.” 



So there I had it!!  The pronoun “he” can be rejected and so can the pronoun “it.” Choosing the correct pronoun must come from the source we are addressing. When “autos” is placed in front of Jesus, we know to use “he.”  When it is placed in front of God, because God is referred to as our “Father” (a multitude of times), we feel completely confident in using “he.”  But when the participle “autos” is placed in front of “pneuma” we are at a bit of a standstill because we do not get much of a hint toward the correct pronoun to use from the word “breath” or the phrase “breath of God.” Often “it” seems a logical choice when referring to “breath” except this particular “holy breath of God” is alive: the Spirit makes decisions, speaks and leads Jesus’ disciples.  Because of this, “it” seems horrifically lacking; therefore, our understanding must come from other scriptures within the Bible. 

There are currently two scriptures used to justify the translation of autos as “he” in reference to the Spirit. These scriptures speak about Jesus and the Holy Spirit being “one.”  In other words, because the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ literal spirit—“he” is a valid choice:

We . . . are being transformed into his [Jesus’] likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (NKJ 2 Cor. 3:18). 

Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (NKJ 2 Corinthians 3:17).

However, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God are also distinctly separate personalities. [GO HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO BY BAXTER KRUGER REGARDING GOD’S TRINITY] So we cannot just assume that what is true for one personality is also true of the other. For example, God is referred to as “Father” but Jesus is not. Jesus never told anyone to call him “Father” and none of his disciples ever did; and yet, Jesus stated, “When you see me you have seen the father.” You might think, in a case such as this, that it would be fine to call Jesus “Father.”  But we cannot. Why? Because we understand that even though Jesus is “one” with his Father, he is different from his Father—he is the Son. Similarly, we say “Jesus died for our transgressions.” We do not say “the Spirit died for our transgressions” even though Jesus and the Spirit are “one” and they both were present at the cross.[4] Again, we understand that the Spirit and Jesus are individuals who are recognized in scripture for accomplishing different things. It was the Spirit who drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (Mark 1:12). We do not say Jesus led “himself” into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. On a more personal note, scripture tells us that when a “man and a woman” marry they become “one” (Genesis 2:24) and, yet, despite this union we still acknowledge two separate individuals (people don’t usually call me by my husband’s name and if they did I might feel a tad invisible and/or trivialized). 


So in this same way we must consider: Jesus may be male, but does this mean his Spirit (the Holy Spirit) should also be addressed as “he”?  Loren Cunningham one of the authors of Why not Women? states:

“Behind every question of faith or practice is a presupposition—a premise. If you start with an incorrect premise, you may end up with a logically sound argument, but you will have a conclusion that simply isn’t true.”       question

A premise is a foundational belief. If a foundational belief is incorrect you end up with a belief system that is skewed. Ultimately, premises must be questioned in order for our beliefs to align with truth. In the case of Jesus, every person who hears about Jesus must question for themselves, Is Jesus the actual Son of God? As people contemplate this question, the opportunity for God to reveal truth is created. 

However, in the case of the Holy Spirit, we have an incorrect premise. The premise I am referring to is the belief that the Spirit, which dwells inside Jesus, should also be aligned with the masculine image because they—the Spirit and Jesus—are “one.”  Questioning this premise might seem strange to some, to others perhaps it seems pointless. But the fact is, as long as we do not question the validity of “he” in reference to the Holy Spirit we will never come to a clear understanding of who the Spirit is. This is because the whole of scripture reveals a “she” Spirit and not a “he” Spirit.

Woman Among Lit Votive Candles

The truth is, as long as we do not question the “he” in reference to the Holy Spirit the MotherHeart of God cannot exist. “She” will not be allowed to. The Spirit will remain both invisible and symbolic—we will long for her power without every allowing her to just be herself.  So the question we must ask ourselves is, “Are we satisfied with the ‘divine incognito’ or should we seek the scriptures for proper understanding and accept the Biblical person the Holy Spirit is?  

ghost (2)

So which pronoun, “she, he or it” is best used when translating the participle “autos” in reference to the word “pneuma” when speaking about the Holy Spirit?  To get a concrete answer we must search the Bible: Old Testament, New Testament (and yes, even the Apocrypha—for additional confirmation) for the correct way to “personalize” the Spirit. We must do this all while asking God, “Who is the Holy Spirit, this Spirit of wisdom and revelation, this Spirit who was sent here for our benefit, this comparable “helper” of Jesus? And which pronoun is the correct interpretation?” Ultimately, we must be encouraged to study this topic.



[1] See The Literal Bible with Strong’s Reference Numbers

[2] In these two scriptures, pronouns are added to the English translation.  The Greek text contains no pronoun in these two instances and reads:I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.”  (New American with Apocrypha)

[4] Jesus released his Spirit from his body at the time of death.  See Jn 19:30

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