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Monday, June 12, 2017

The Agenda is Served

I don’t read much that comes out of the wilderness of liberal Christendom (some will argue that’s a good thing, and I won’t argue back). So it was a little jarring to come across a rather poetic meditation on the Holy Spirit here that refers to him throughout as “she” and “it”.

Uh, no. Just no.

This is not complicated, actually, and it shouldn’t be the least bit controversial for anyone who believes the Bible is God’s word: the Holy Spirit is definitely personal and is referred to in scripture by both masculine and neuter pronouns, but never feminine. In fact, this is an area of theology we evangelicals have in common with Catholicism: they too acknowledge both the personhood and ‘non-femaleness’ of the Spirit of God.

Characteristics of Personhood

As to personhood, I would point out that the Spirit possesses all requisite characteristics: will, emotions and intellect.
Ergo, not merely a force, but a person.

I tend to avoid arguments about the Holy Spirit’s personhood that depend on Greek grammar. It’s too easy to establish without becoming overly technical.

Essential Masculinity

The phrase “essential masculinity” is a tad misleading but I’m not sure what else to call it that is less than a sentence long. I think liberals and conservatives alike would agree that since God preceded and initiated mankind (both sexes), applying words like “masculine” and “feminine” to him is a bit like trying to appreciate the color spectrum on a black and white TV screen. Our terms of reference are fragmentary and insufficient. Further, because God is spirit, we would be foolish to try to read back our own experience of living out a human sex role into our understanding of the operations of the Godhead.

But — and the “but” is significant — if we believe in the inspiration of scripture, we cannot deny that, like it or not, God has deliberately chosen to reveal himself to mankind through the language and metaphors of masculinity: expressions like “Father” and “Son”. A little reverence and humility are called for.

As to the Holy Spirit in particular, “spirit” in Greek is pneuma, meaning “wind” or “breath”. The word pneuma is neuter, so English translations that employ possessive pronouns like “its” are not being irreverent, simply grammatical. However, liberal theologians who happily adopt this convention across the board or opt to use “she” instead (as does the writer of the article I mentioned) are ignoring the fact that the Holy Spirit is also referred to as parakletos, or “comforter”, a noun which grammatically requires masculine pronouns. Further, there are several places in the NT where pronouns associated with pneuma, despite it being neuter, have been masculinized. This is surely not accidental; the same writer has used neuter pronouns elsewhere.

Synonymous Expressions

Some argue that this use of masculine pronouns for parakletos is no more than a concession to Greek grammar conventions and does not point us in one direction or the other, but that cannot be the entire story. Why? Because the words “Holy Spirit” are used interchangeably in the New Testament with the terms “Spirit of God”, “Spirit of Christ”, and “the Spirit of his Son”. It cannot reasonably be argued that the biblical concept of the Son or the historical Jesus are accurately served by adopting deliberately feminized English.

Some agenda IS being served, obviously. Just not accuracy.

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