The Holy Spirit is a term originating in the Hebrew Bible, though understood differently in the three main Abrahamic religions.[1][2]


To the majority of Christians the Holy Spirit (prior English language usage: the Holy Ghost (from Old English gast, “spirit”) is the third person of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and is Almighty God.[3][4][5] The Holy Spirit is seen by Christians as one Person of the Triune God, who revealed His Holy Name YHWH to his people Israel, sent His Eternally Begotten Son Jesus to save them, and sent the Holy Spirit to Sanctify and give Life to his Church. The Triune God manifests as three persons, or in the Greek hypostases,[6] one being.[7] (Personhood in the Trinity does not match the common Western understanding of "person" as used in the English language—it does not imply an "individual, self-actualized center of free will and conscious activity.")[8]


Main article: Ruach HaKodesh

The term "holy spirit" only occurs three times in the Hebrew Bible. (Found once in Psalm 51:11 and twice in Isaiah 63:10) Although, the term "spirit" in the Hebrew Scriptures, in reference to the "God's spirit", does occur more times. In Judaism, God is One, the idea of God as a duality or trinity among gentiles may be Shituf (or "not purely monotheistic"). The term Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) is found frequently in Talmudic and Midrashic literature. In some cases it signifies prophetic inspiration, while in others it is used as a hypostatization or a metonym for God.[9] The Rabbinic “Holy Spirit,” has a certain degree of personification, but it remains, “a quality belonging to God, one of his attributes” and not, as in mainstream Christianity, representative of “any metaphysical divisions in the Godhead.”[10]

In Judaism, the references to The Spirit of God, Ruach HaKodesh, The Holy Spirit of YHWH, abound, however it is rejected any idea of The Eternal God as Triune.


Main article: Holy Spirit (Islam)

In Islam, the Created Spirit that acts as an agent of divine action or communication commonly identified with the angel Gabriel (ar: Jibreel) or Ruh al-Qudus is called holy spirit, but also alternatively with the created spirit from God by which he enlivened Adam, and inspired the angels and the prophets. The belief in Trinity is explicitly forbidden by the Qur'an and called a grave sin. The same applies to any idea of the duality of God (Allah).[11][12] The term holy spirit translates in Arabic language الروح القدس and is used in the masculine form in all the Quran. In Arabic language the word "Holy Spirit" doesn't translate as سكينة Sakinah used in a feminine term. The term sakinah means state of relaxation.

Bahá'í Faith

Main article: Maid of Heaven

The Bahá'í Faith has the concept of the Most Great Spirit, seen as the bounty of God.[13] It is usually used to describe the descent of the Spirit of God upon the messengers/prophets of God, which are known as Manifestations of God, and include among others Jesus, Muhammad and Bahá'u'lláh.[14] In Bahá'í belief the Holy Spirit is the conduit through which the wisdom of God becomes directly associated with his messenger, and it has been described variously in different religions such as the burning bush to Moses, the sacred fire to Zoroaster, the dove to Jesus, the angel Gabriel to Muhammad, and the maid of heaven to Bahá'u'lláh.[15] The Bahá'í view rejects the idea that the Holy Spirit is a partner to God in the Godhead, but rather is the pure essence of God's attributes.[16]

Gender of the Holy Spirit

Main article: Gender of the Holy Spirit

See also: Gender of God in Christianity


In Hebrew language texts, in the Old Testament of the Hebrew Bible the Holy Spirit (Ruach Adonai, Ruach El, Ruach Elohim, etc.) is a feminine noun. Also, the divine presence of God is the Shekhinah and is also feminine. Jewish theology maintains that they are not the same thing (Holy Spirit does not equal Divine Presence); however, from both approaches the noun is feminine.


Jesus declared, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”Jn 4:24 There is no article in the Greek text before the word spirit, and that emphasizes the quality or essence of the word. Furthermore, the word spirit occurs first in the sentence for emphasis. The literal idea would be something like, “Absolutely spirit in His essence is God.”

A chapter in Discovering Biblical Equality entitled "God, Gender and Biblical Metaphor" maintains that viewing God in masculine terms are merely ways in which we speak of God in figurative language, but a language which does not reflect who he really is. The author reiterates that God is spirit and that the Bible presents God through personification and anthropomorphism which reflects only a likeness to God.[17]

God is not a sexual being, either male or female─something that was considered to be true in ancient Near Eastern religion. He even speaks specifically against such a view in Num 23:19, where the text has God saying he is not a man [ish], and in Deut 4:15–16, in which he warns against creating a graven image of himself in "the likeness of male and female." But though he is not a male, the "formless" deity (Deut 4:15) has chosen to reveal himself largely in masculine ways.[17]

When in art a human material form is used to represent the Holy Spirit, that form is usually that of the male human body, without meaning to attribute such physical features to the reality represented. For example, in the rare cases of depiction of the Trinity as three identical persons, the Holy Spirit is represented as male, in line with the depictions of the Father and the Son.

There are some Christian groups who teach that the Holy Spirit is feminine, or has feminine aspects. Most are based on the genders of the verbs in the original Bible languages where the Holy Spirit is the subject. In Hebrew the word for spirit (ruach) is feminine.[18] In Greek the word (pneuma) is neuter,[18] and in Aramaic, the language which is generally considered to have been spoken by Jesus, the word is feminine. This is not thought by most linguists to have significance for the sex of the person given that name. There are biblical cases where the pronoun used for the Holy Spirit is masculine, in contradiction of the gender of the word for spirit.Jn 16:13 [18]

The New Testament refers to the Holy Spirit as masculine in a number of places, where the masculine Greek word "Paraclete" occurs, for "Comforter", most clearly in the Gospel of John, chapters 14 to 16.[19] These texts were particularly significant when Christians were debating whether the New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit is a fully divine person, or some kind of "force". All major English Bible translations have retained the masculine pronoun for the Spirit, as in John 16:13. Although it has been noted that in the original Greek, in some parts of John's Gospel and elsewhere, the neuter Greek word for "it" is also used for the Spirit.

The Syriac language, which was in common use around 300AD, is derived from Aramaic. In documents produced in Syriac by the early Miaphysite church (which later became the Syrian Orthodox Church) the feminine gender of the word for spirit gave rise to a theology in which the Holy Spirit was considered feminine.[20]

In 1977 a leader of the Branch Davidian church, Lois Roden, began to formally teach that the feminine Holy Spirit is the heavenly pattern of women, citing scholars and researchers from Jewish, Christian, and other sources.[citation needed]

There are some other independent Messianic Judaism groups with similar teachings,[21] and some scholars associated with more "mainstream" denominations, while not necessarily indicative of the denominations themselves, have written works explaining a feminine understanding of the third member of the Godhead.[22][23][24]

The Unity Church's co-founder Charles Fillmore considered the Holy Spirit a distinctly feminine aspect of God, considering it to be "the love of Jehovah" and "love is always feminine".[25]

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gender is seen "as an essential characteristic of eternal identity and purpose."[26] The LDS Church believes that before we lived on earth, we existed spiritually, with a spiritual body with defined gender,[27] and that the Holy Spirit had a similar body, but was to become a member of the Godhead. The LDS Church believes that all three members of the Godhead are male.[28]

See also


  1. ^ John R. Levison The Spirit in First-Century Judaism 2002 p65 "Relevant Milieux : Israelite Literature : The expression, holy spirit, occurs in the Hebrew Bible only in Isa 63:10-11 and Ps 51:13. In Isaiah 63, the spirit acts within the corporate experience of Israel.."
  2. ^ Emir Fethi Caner, Ergun Mehmet Caner More than a prophet: an insider's response to Muslim beliefs about Jesus and Christianity" 9780825424014 2003 p43 "In Surah al-Nahl (16:102), the text is even more explicit: Say, the Holy Spirit has brought the revelation from thy Lord in Truth, in order to strengthen those who believe and as a Guide and glad tidings to Muslims."
  3. ^ Millard J. Erickson (1992). Introducing Christian Doctrine. Baker Book House. p. 103.
  4. ^ T C Hammond (1968). In Understanding be Men:A Handbook of Christian Doctrine (sixth ed.). Inter-Varsity Press. pp. 54–56 and 128–131. ((cite book)): Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  5. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia:Holy Spirit".
  6. ^ See discussion in Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Person" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  7. ^ Grudem, Wayne A. 1994. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Page 226.
  8. ^ Olson, Roger E. The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999. ISBN 139780830815050. : pp. 185-6. 
  9. ^ Alan Unterman and Rivka Horowitz,Ruah ha-Kodesh, Encyclopedia Judaica (CD-ROM Edition, Jerusalem: Judaica Multimedia/Keter, 1997).
  10. ^ Joseph Abelson,The Immanence of God in Rabbinical Literature (London:Macmillan and Co., 1912).
  11. ^ Griffith, Sidney H. Holy Spirit, Encyclopaedia of the Quran.
  12. ^ Patrick Hughes, Thomas Patrick Hughes, A Dictionary of Islam, p. 605.
  13. ^ `Abdu'l-Bahá (1981) [1904-06]. "The Holy Spirit". Some Answered Questions. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. pp. 108–109. ISBN 0877431906.
  14. ^ Taherzadeh, Adib (1976). The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, Volume 1: Baghdad 1853-63. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. p. 10. ISBN 0853982708.
  15. ^ Abdo, Lil (1994). "Female Representations of the Holy Spirit in Bahá'í and Christian writings and their implications for gender roles". Bahá'í Studies Review. 4 (1).
  16. ^ `Abdu'l-Bahá (1981) [1904-06]. "The Trinity". Some Answered Questions. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. pp. 113–115. ISBN 0877431906.
  17. ^ a b House, H. Wayne (reviewer). "God, Gender and Biblical Metaphor." J of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 10:1 (Spring 2005) p. 64
  18. ^ a b c "Catholic Exchange". Retrieved 2009-05-13.
  19. ^ Nestle and others, Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th ed., (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgeselschaft, 1993)
  20. ^
  21. ^ Joy In the World[1]; The Torah and Testimony Revealed [2].
  22. ^ “Martin Luther, the originator of the Protestant movement, was not ashamed to think of the Holy Spirit in feminine terms.
  23. ^ Church Fathers Believed the Holy Spirit was Feminine.
  24. ^ For example, R.P. Nettlehorst, professor at the Quartz Hill School of Theology (associated with the Southern Baptist Convention) has written on the subject. [3][4][5].
  25. ^ Charles Fillmore. Jesus Christ Heals. pp. 182–183.
  26. ^ "Gender Is an Essential Characteristic of Eternal Identity and Purpose", Ensign, Oct. 2008, 67
  27. ^ "Strengthening the Family: Created in the Image of God, Male and Female", Ensign, Jan. 2005, 48–49
  28. ^ LDS Topic: Holy Ghost

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