Tuesday, July 1, 2014

God is not a Goddess

"For wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me" (Wis 7:22). Some biblical scholars claim that the Holy Spirit can be called "she" because the Holy Spirit is often personified as "wisdom" (a female noun in Hebrew) in the Old Testament. That claim should be rejected on the grounds that it is incompatible with orthodox Jewish tradition, Church Tradition, and lacks support in the New Testament.

Languages have historically permitted male-gendered nouns to be gender inclusive, such as "God created man; male and female He created them" (Gen 1:27). Female-gendered nouns have never been employed alike. This lingual principle, for example, is observed in the epistles of St. Paul, who always employed male-gendered nouns if a male could be present in the audience: "love one another with brotherly affection" (Rom 12:10). Is he somehow excluding women from his apostolic exhortation? Of course not. Historically, when an orator addressed his audience which could contain a man, male-gendered nouns took precedence -- even if one man were present among ninety-nine women -- and only if the audience was exclusively female would language allow: "love one another with sisterly affection." The same principle is observed in Acts, where St. Peter addressed the "men of Judea" and "men of Israel" (Acts 2:14; 22) although women of Judea and Israel were likely present too.

Accordingly, the Holy Spirit, Who has no bodily gender since "God is spirit" (Jn 4:8), is automatically excluded from "she" since female-gendered (pro)nouns have no inclusive meaning. Furthermore, the word "spirit" (pneuma) is neuter in Greek. For these reasons, and for the fact that personal neuter pronouns do not exist in English, "He" is the choice of reason.