Gender usuage in the Bible


Peace, Love and Unity
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I was searching through my archives when I found the following, which made for interesting reading, and perhaps as matter for further discussion for those who wish to.

Essentially, on another forum some time ago, someone asked about gender usuage for denoting God in the Bible - as the person asking about the issue was under the impression that God is represented by both masculine and feminine nouns.

I find the reply interesting because of its coverage of apparent feminine gender usage - especially in the Old Testament.

The stance taken is strictly (and openly) Trinitarian, and reads such references into the Old Testament:

I make no pretence of being a Hebrew scholar. I have studied a little about the gender of words in OT Hebrew and NT Greek, however. I hope this helps:

A. You may be referring to the Holy Spirit which Trinitarians regard as a masculine person who is equally God with the Father.

Or B. You may be referring to a few places where (at least in NT Greek & I think also in the OT Hebrew) a pronoun is of a different gender because a figurative word ("Rock," "Fortress," "Shield," "Refuge," "Light," "Love," etc.) has been used for God (or whomever) – see paraclete explanation below. Otherwise "God," "Father," "Jehovah," etc. are all masculine and use masculine gender pronouns.

Since the HS is an impersonal force controlled by God and not a person, it is nearly always in the neuter gender in the NT.
"The Greek word for ‘spirit’ is neuter, and while we [trinitarians] use personal pronouns in English (‘he,’ ‘his,’ ‘him’), most Greek manuscripts employ ‘it.’" - New American Bible, St. Joseph ed., (footnote for John 14:17).

The only exception is when, rarely, it is figuratively called a paraclete or helper, advocate, etc. which is in the masculine gender in the NT Greek. Therefore, when the HS is referred to as the paraclete and later a pronoun is used (even though it represents the HS) it must be a masculine pronoun (he, him, etc.).

Well, in the OT they didn’t use a neuter tense. When we combine the gender use for the holy spirit in the New Testament Greek with the gender use for the holy spirit in the Old Testament Hebrew, we have a doubly significant statement.

The inspired Hebrew writers of the Old Testament also used masculine and feminine gender for impersonal nouns. "In Hebrew only masculine and feminine gender are distinguished. There is normally no neuter." - Handbook of Biblical Hebrew, LaSor, p. 75, v. 2, 1979.

Therefore, if the inspired Hebrew writers had understood the "third person of the ‘trinity’" to be equally God (masculine-Hebrew) with the Father (masculine-Hebrew) and the Son (masculine-Hebrew) or Messiah (masculine-Hebrew), they would have given the spirit a personal name, and literal titles and descriptions in the masculine gender!

Do we see a masculine designation and relationship for the holy spirit (as typified by "Father" and "Son" for the other "persons of the ‘trinity’")? No, the holy spirit in the original Hebrew of the Old Testament is feminine! - Gesenius, pp. 571, 760. (Cf. W. E. Vine, p. 1077.)

This can be clearly seen merely by looking at the literal translations found in The NIV Interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament (Zondervan Publ., 1985). For example, Nu. 11:26 is literally translated by this respected trinitarian reference work as: "And she [the Spirit] rested on them." (Cf. Judges 3:10; 6:34; 1 Sam. 10:6; 11:6; Is. 11:2; 63:14; etc.)

So, we can either take the feminine gender "spirit" in Hebrew to mean neuter (a thing), or we can take it literally to mean that "the trinity" has as its third "person" a Mother Goddess!
But how can we take the neuter holy spirit of the inspired Greek of the New Testament manuscripts and the feminine holy spirit of the inspired Hebrew of the Old Testament and insist that it is a person and that it should be interpreted as a person in the masculine gender?

Just as most trinitarian Bible translators don’t literally render the Greek as written by the inspired New Testament Bible writers as "it" for the holy spirit but instead render it "he," they also don’t literally render the Hebrew as written by the inspired Old Testament Bible writers as "she." Instead, many of them use the only other proper alternative: "it"!

At Numbers 11:17 we see: "I will take [some - NRSV, NJB] of the Spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them" - ASV (compare KJV, RSV, NRSV, AT, LB, NEB, REB, NAB, JB, NJB, Beck. ). The same usage is found at Numbers 11:25 in those trinitarian Bibles: "IT." (Compare the Septuagint.) This is God’s Holy Spirit - Numbers 11:29. (Notice how the NKJV has avoided this truth.)

At Is. 34:16 the King James Version and the ASV render it: "my mouth, it hath commanded, and his Spirit, it hath gathered them."
So, you see, even many trinitarian translations prefer the use of "it" in the OT to the only other honest pronoun alternative: "she"/"her."

So, A. If you are referring to the Holy Spirit, it is always in the feminine gender in Hebrew (and so will all its literal pronouns be) and always in the neuter gender in the NT - because it is not a person.
And, B. If the figurative description of God is one in the feminine gender, the pronouns used for it will also be feminine. This is strictly a matter of proper grammar.
Ah - but then found this interesting addendum in the replies, from bob x, whom I really should persuade to stop by. I have one of his articles on the evolution of the Old Testament - "Torah Torah Torah" - up in the articles section.

Anyway, here's his comment, included as it's an important modifier on the above:
An oddity in the evolution of the Hebrew language: in the oldest stages, when Hebrew was not really distinguishable from Canaanite, the third-person pronouns were hiy "he" and huw "she", but at some point these precisely reversed, becoming huw "he" and hiy "she". Most of the OT is in a later Hebrew, but much of the Torah is in the earlier form of the language. It is very unsafe to assume an ascribed gender based on a pronoun reference in the Torah because it is hard to know which sections are in which version of the language.

That was something Professor Mendenhall (at U-Michigan) taught me in a Biblical history class, more years ago than I care to recall-- probably the best way to verify it would be to get out a Hebrew text of the Torah and search for the hiy/huw usages; I think there are searchable editions of the Tanakh available now.

the tradition has much to say about this

but they can mostly be summed up as follows:

1. the Divine transcends gender and structure. get over it.
2. hebrew has no neuter as greek does, although the masculine can *also* be kind of neuter.
3. when a feminine word is used to denote G!D, it does not necessarily mean we are referring to the Divine in the feminine.
4. there are a number of Divine Names that have feminine/mothery/nurturey connotations, including "E-L ShaDaY" which is linked to the word for breasts and the Shechinah or Divine Presence, which is essentially the interface by which the Divine can interact directly with humanity. but it's a lot more complicated than that. you'd have to study quite a lot about the mystical tradition as well as have some kind of understanding of what is going on in the Song of Songs.
5. words are the only way we can describe the Divine - they are limited by the very fact that we can use them. the more understandable they are for us, the further they are away from an actual description of the Divine. G!D's just Like That, i'm afraid.

the fact that we don't require the trinity needs no comment.