On the Orthodox Revision of the Gender of the Holy Spirit
By Steve Santini
Jaroslav Siefert, one of the Nobel Prize winning poets, has said that if you want to know truth look to the heretics. Jesus Christ said that his words are truth. Jesus, himself, by most at the time was considered the worst of heretics and even today in secrets of some hearts he is considered the same and worthy of his humiliating death. Paul, in his time, was, and to this day, is considered by many as a chief heretic. He, too, was personally silenced by execution. Marcion, a labeled second century heretic whose actions insured that the Pauline letters would be preserved, was also silenced in a differing and more enduring way.
When we look for truth along the bloody trail of the heretics what they said needs to be harmonized with the words about and from the chief heretic, Jesus Christ. In of itself, being labeled a heretic does not guarantee the truth of the entire message or even any part of it. If the message of the heretic does harmonize with scripture then we have truth. Martin Luther was considered a heretic by the then established church because he proclaimed that justification came by faith rather than works. It became evident from scripture that his words on the subject, in the end, were true. It was fortunate that he was given the time to develop his message and the means to make it known to a large number of hearers; otherwise, he and his message, as others were, could have been swept under the rug of personal destruction so that we all could still be paying the church to justify our dead family members.
When we look to the heretics we have two problems. First, we have the tactics used to destroy what is considered heretical. The initial response to a heretic is silence so that a response does not draw the attention of others. If the apparent heresy persists the heretic is punished by character assassination or public humiliation so that others tremble at the thought of adopting the heresy. Finally, if possible the means of the state are used to silence the heresy as it was with the Arian controversy of the fourth century. The heretic’s words are adulterated to obscure the so-called heresy and to convict him. Tertullian, who was an educated Roman attorney, used his skill to convict someone by selectively using Marcion’s words to counter his so-called heresy. Like Tertullian’s writings against Marcion, many times what we have existent today of the heretics words were written by those who detested them. It has been said that whether a leader is determined to be good or bad is based on who writes the history books. In the case of Marcion, since all of his own writings and writings in support of him were destroyed, we have only had one side of the story. The second problem we have is that in places the words of the original scripture have been altered purposefully to eliminate what the Orthodox Church considered as heresy and its possible resurgence. This chapter concerns what I believe is one of the most detrimental alterations of this kind from the texts.
To expose this alteration we ask from our understandings of the nature of man what could have been the scenario that precipitated this probable internment of truth. We search among the accumulated historical debris of some considered church fathers for their silence or fragmented relics of truth amongst their criticisms. We also search the words of some who were people of conscience who left us a record of the possible alternatives to what they were to record for acceptance within the Orthodox Church. Next we look to the minute detail of the text itself and then to the scope of all scripture to synthesize our understandings of truth. Finally, we consider, that if this is true, what are the implications for faith today.
For this study we have begun by focusing on the heretic, Marcion, who was noted disparagingly as a facilitator of the so-called Gnostic heresy. What gem or gems of truth can we sift from the historical remnants of the Gnostics’ beliefs through the detail of the texts and the scope of scripture to find this pertinent heresy? According to Elaine Pagels’ enlightening book, The Gnostic Gospels, one of the established church’s primary fears of and primary accusations of the Gnostics was that they were attracting large numbers of women and having women minister in contrast to the Orthodox Church. Was there a basis in ancient scripture for the fundamental belief in the value of women in their churches or was this a “throw back” to the more proximate pagan prophetesses and goddesses in Greek religion? From a variety of sources in their writings it is apparent that they believed that the Holy Spirit was the feminine spouse of God the Father. As one moves on, I believe that one will see that they had justification from a basis in scripture for this belief.
G. Zuntz, the noted higher critic, from his lifetime of examining the oldest Greek texts and textual fragments from the third century forward, writes that there was no attempt in the West to maintain the integrity of the original texts until Jerome produced the Latin Vulgate at the request of the papacy in the fourth century. Zuntz, by using the standard practice of textual comparison, in his detailed analysis of the oldest Pauline manuscript, notes, in his book, The Text of the Epistles, numerous places where the text has been altered. Jerome, himself, in letters to his colleagues, bewails the fact that he has so many variant texts to select from for the compilation of a standardized version. At one point before him he has the old Hieronymian text and its revision. He says, “The differences throughout are clear and striking.” In his writings he does leave us a clue to the subject at hand. At one point he has before him the Gospel to the Hebrews written in Aramaic used by the Syrian Christians which, as some now say, was the forerunner to the gospel of Matthew and predated the four canonical gospels. In it, Jerome says that the Holy Spirit is expressed in the feminine gender and is considered the mother in law of the soul. (Library 11, commentary in Isaiah, chapter 11: Library 2, commentary. In Micah 7.6) So here is some additional external evidence from an unrelated source that the Holy Spirit was originally considered feminine.
Where then do we go for direct textual evidence that the Holy Spirit was, in the origins of Christianity, considered feminine? We go to the existing Greek minuscules copied in the early part of the last millennium to find only circumstantial evidence. Likewise, as we go to the earlier copied Greek uncials, the Byzantine copies, the eastern Syriac Peshitta, and the Old Latin we find some peripheral corroboration. Then when we go to the earlier copied Old Syriac or Aramaic that predates the Peshitta we find a pearl of great price. In the most ancient of the rare Old Syriac copies, the Siniatic Palimpsest, from the 4th or 5th century, found in the Covenant of St. Catherine in the Sinia and purchased in Cairo by Mrs. Anes Lewis It was transcribed by Syriac Professor R.L. Bensly of Cambridge University in 1892, the words of Jesus in John 14:26 read:
But She -the Spirit – the Paraclete whom He-will-send to you- my Father – in my name – She will teach you every-thing; She will remind you of that which I have told you.
In both the Hebrew and Aramaic language the word spirit is in the feminine gender but in the Greek language it is neuter. It is the Greek neuter word, pnuema, that was employed by the ancient Septuagint translators of the Hebrew Old Testament when they translated the feminine ruach into Greek. The authors who wrote in Greek were limited in expressing the Holy Spirit in the feminine by the constraints of the language. In addition, signposts directing one to the feminine nature of the Holy Spirit may have been removed or altered. Bart Ehrman, writes in his book, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, that from his comparative analysis, the Orthodox Church altered the texts to counter various beliefs considered heresies, especially during the time of Marcion, when they were compiling their own canon of the four gospels. It was the early gospel of John that was a favorite of the Gnostics and considered heretical by the Orthodox Church according to textual critic Walter Bauer. (Orthodoxy & Heresy in Earliest Christianity, Chapter 9)What if to sustain their developing male hierarchy and to contain the growth of the Marcionite and Gnostic churches and their attractiveness to women, the orthodox revisionists altered additional signposts to this feminine aspect of the Holy Spirit and emphasized their modified canon to counter Marcion’s canon of Luke and the Pauline letters and the Gnostics beliefs? When we add the evidence in the scope of scripture and the historical evidence of conflict between the Orthodox Church and the Gnostics, I believe one can consider this likely.
(It is also interesting to note in the context of early church history that the Gnostics’ writings rarely refer to the orthodox canon of the four gospels and over time refer less and less to it. Could it have been that they were aware of the revisions concerning the feminine gender of the Holy Spirit and had no desire to give credence to the altered canon used by the Orthodox Church to stifle them? This, I believe, eventually worked to their detriment, because it seems that groups of Gnostics diverged widely from the scripture as a whole. Could it be that they, in their portion of separation, were eventually reversed and, in a different manner, twisted in disarray?)
When we move forward and consider the witness of the stars where no man’s hand can make alterations, the feminine gender of the Holy Spirit becomes more likely. Moses, in writing the book of Genesis, proclaims that the luminous celestial bodies in the darkness of night’s heaven and the sun’s brilliant light are for signs. Signs are symbols that point to something beyond themselves. Half of the major constellations are named with Semitic words that are feminine. In fact, within and in proximity to many of these major constellations are signs that point to a male-female interrelation. Joseph Seiss’ book The Gospel of the Stars, states that the two figures in Gemini, according to the most ancient Zodiac of Dendra, are not identical twins but those of a man and woman walking hand in hand. He goes on to say, that the word Gemini in the original Hebrew, Arabic and Syriac does not carry so much the idea of two brought forth at the same birth as it does the idea of a long betrothal brought to its consummation in perfect marriage. The old Coptic name of this sign signifies “the completely joined.” The constellation of Virgo, which represents the woman about to bring forth, has above it in the sky the constellation Bootes that is named with a masculine noun. Peter, in his second epistle, calls light in darkness and the dawning sun a “more sure word of prophecy” than even the voice from heaven heard on the Mount of Transfiguration. (II Peter 1:19)
Why could it be then that the second century theologians and translators were blinded to the importance of the femininity of the Holy Spirit? The power of Rome, in which Western culture is deeply rooted, was built on the three disciplines of virtus, pietas, and fides. Virtus conveys the idea of an individual’s harmonious integration. According to Pierre Grimal, a professor of Latin literature at the Sorbonne, this harmonious integration may not be what we first think. He writes, “When a Roman spoke of virtus he was less likely to mean conformity to abstract values than spontaneous assertion by action of the essential virile qualities of self mastery – granting to the feminine weakness, with a certain contempt, the characteristic of impotentia sui, an inability to control its nature.” In the second century, in the West, the educated Roman male who was trained in this discipline of male self-mastery became the bishop or the theologian. Because of the prestige and power of Rome these exerted pressure on the Eastern churches to conform to their doctrines. In the third century the Roman bishop actually excommunicated all the Eastern churches that would not change the date of Easter from the Hebrew calendar’s date that corresponded to a day determined by each year’s particular lunar cycles to a consistently prescribed Sunday based on the Julian calendar. In time even the power and influence of the Roman Emperor began to be used by the West to settle doctrinal disputes with the Eastern churches.
In the East the esteem of women was quite different from that rendered by this Roman discipline of virtus. The Hindu culture, which was built upon Eastern thought, yet was spared Roman influence, today retains many original ingredients of the East. Bishop K.C. Pallia, a converted Hindu, when teaching from Solomon’s proverbs about the instruction of the father and the law of the mother writes, “The children have been taught that the mother comes first, the father second, the teacher third and God fourth. So in India, if you don’t love and obey your mother, father, and teacher, there is a saying God will not sing.”
In the Greek, there is a feminine letter eta that gives light on feminine divinity. It is used in combination with the Greek word men in one verse of the Biblical texts. These two words are used in the accepted Greek text in Hebrews chapter six, verse fourteen and are translated as surely as they are in secular Greek literature. In Greek these two words are combined as an idiomatic expression that if translated literally would be meaningless in English and most other current languages. The first word, eta, is most times rendered as the dative pronoun, she. The second Greek word, men, has at its root a relation to the moon. During the Bronze Age men was the name of an Anatolian moon goddess. At other places, where it is used without the eta, it is translated month, which in ancient eastern culture corresponded to the lunar cycle. When this verse is read literally, it could read that she-lunar was the one who blessed Abraham. From this we can say that feminine divinity blessed Abraham.
If the Holy Spirit is feminine, which is most probable, then, it had a presence in the Old Testament. Stephen, a follower of Peter, told the religious leaders of Israel that they and their fathers had always resisted the Holy Ghost. What then would be the name of feminine divinity in the Old Testament? From this verse in Hebrews, it would reasonably have a relation to Abraham. When God came to Moses with his charge to lead these fathers from bondage, he said that he had formerly been know to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by the name of El Shaddai. (Exodus 6:3) Shaddai, in the Aramaic, is in the feminine gender. In the Hebrew it has closely associated words that have feminine meanings. In both the Hebrew and Aramaic, it means full breasted. Reasonably, in all this, although intentionally closeted away from the mind’s understanding in the second century, feminine divinity has had an ongoing principle role in the affairs of men.
What it being dealt with is the Gnostic belief that the Holy Spirit is the feminine spouse of God the Father, the witness of an early Syrian Hebrew manuscript that the Holy Spirit is feminine and, as such, is the mother in law of the soul and marginalized etas. (In this context it is also revealing that the Greek word for soul is rendered in the feminine gender.) We also have the testimony of John 14:26 in a copy of the Old Syriac. We are now looking beyond the minute detail of the texts to the light of the scope of scripture to see if these supposed heretical beliefs have additional substantiation and an application to further faith.
The eminent nineteenth century British Biblical scholar, E.W. Bullinger, in his book, A Great Cloud of Witnesses has said that the Greek word in Hebrews chapter eleven for the heavenly country that Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob sought is used six times in scripture. He says in all of the five other places “it is rendered his own country, referring to the earthly parental home of Mary and Joseph.” These patriarchs sought a homeland with both spiritual mother and father without fulfillment. They looked for what Paul found when the mystery was revealed to him.
Paul also uses this word, country, though from its feminine root when he speaks of the whole family in heaven and on earth in Ephesians chapter three verse fifteen. Natural observation and the definition of words require that we define a family as mother and father with their progeny. There is a section of Pauline scripture that adds much light when considered in its entirety. It is Romans chapter one. Romans and both Corinthian letters were written at a time when Paul was taking the churches onward to a more mature level of understanding of the family of God, as later revealed in Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. This was the time for him to bring the church through the transition from those things seen on this earth to those things unseen in heaven. He understood that the original natural order of things was a pattern for those things unseen in the heavenlies and that the interrelationship of God’s creation on earth was a schoolhouse for learning the heavenly plan of salvation. In Romans chapter one verse twenty he says according to the King James Version:
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead;
The book of Genesis is the fundamental Biblical record of those things that are made from the creation of the world. Paul writes that the unseen can be seen by the things that are made. In Genesis, the book of things made, we see divinity’s desire to make man in their image.
And God said, Let us make man in our own image after our likeness…. Gen1:26
The Hebrew word for God in this verse is elohiym. It is in the plural so the pronouns us, and our are properly supplied. Any thing more than one is plural. In the next verse the Hebrew word for God is also elohiym. In this next verse, the pronoun translated as his is also plural and should be translated their. The image of their own, in which elohiym created man, was male and female. These Gods or elohiym were and are two; male and female- the Father and the Holy Spirit. They made mankind in the likeness of themselves.
In Genesis, before man is formed out of the dust of the ground and is given the breath of life to become a living soul, he is created first as male and female in the image of God. It is only after man is formed out of the ground and after being made a unified living soul that man is separated into two distinct parts to fulfill God’s desire for a new family through procreation. The later context of Romans chapter one deals ultimately with the behavior of the two seen parts. It contains Paul’s strong admonition against homosexual and lesbian behavior. Paul’s concern about this behavior was not based on a desire to reveal the self-incriminating judgment just upon those who engaged in the practice but was based on a desire to bring all men up to understand the mystery that had been hidden in God from before the foundations of this world. Here, in Romans chapter one, Paul uses this obvious example of human corruption for a warning to all humankind. All have endeavored, in some form or fashion, outside of faith, in sincere ways, to intemperately and impatiently attain the divine through preconditioned self-satisfying means.
In all of Paul’s writings there are, it seems, only two things about which he was most concerned in the church – faithfulness in the marriage relationship and faithfulness to his gospel. He knew that the one flesh of the marriage relationship was a shadow of things unseen in the realm of the soul and the realm of the Spirit. In Ephesians when he speaks about the one flesh relationship between husband and wife he concludes by saying, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Without a respect for the power brought forth by the union of male and female and an appreciation for the corresponding sanctity of the sexual relationship of husband and wife in this earthly realm, Paul knew that one would limit one’s self from having one’s eyes opened to understand the mystery of Godliness emanating from the heavenly realm. He was dedicated to the revelation given him from Jesus Christ and his commission to first bring forth the fulfillment of salvation’s plan attained through the knowledge of the masculine wed with the wisdom of the feminine to bring forth the union in Christ.
Now we speak more specifically to the Holy Spirit being the mother in law of the soul according to the Hebrew Syrians in light of the scope of scripture and from the light that the Greek word for soul is also in the feminine gender. They, being from a Jewish background, had always believed that they collectively as a bride would become married to the Messiah at which time all their sin would be forever cleansed. As ones betrothed to be married to the Messiah they knew from the scripture and their culture that they were the property of their mother in law to be prepared for entrance into a new family upon the culmination of the marriage ceremony. In Genesis, the book of things made, when Abraham’s oldest servant brought Rebecca, the betrothed of Isaac, back from his far off relatives she first went to dwell in Sarah’s tent until the actual wedding feast. Ruth stayed with her mother in law Naomi even after her husband and the husband of Naomi died rather than return to her original family for support. She knew when she entered her husband’s family that in the event of his death that she would revert to being the property of her mother in law until she married another son or male blood line relative within the family or even waited for her mother in law to bear another son as a future husband for her. From the Old Testament record of things that were made and from their Hebrew gospel they could see that the Holy Spirit was the mother of the one to whom they were betrothed and as such the mother in law of their souls. Still there was a completing portion of truth that was later revealed to Paul that they did not yet know.
The gospel of Matthew, which, as some scholars say, was taken from the earlier gospel of the Hebrews, attributes the conception of Jesus singularly to the Holy Ghost. Luke, who wrote later and who had spent considerable time with Paul, writes of the birth of Jesus Christ as a result of the combination of two distinct entities when he says of the angel’s words to Mary concerning the coming conception of Jesus, “the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.” It was this encompassing knowledge of the Highest, or Father, that the twelve apostles and their followers were not given to know during the early church. Philip, near the end of his time spent with Jesus, was still asking Jesus to reveal the Father unto them. It is in Paul’s later transitional epistle of Romans that the term Abba Father was first given as a term to be used by those who had separated themselves from this world’s methods and had entered the spirit of sonship. The Aramaic word abba lends itself to the meaning of “the way unto the hidden source.”
So far we have seen that the original belief of the early church was that the Holy Spirit was feminine according Gnostic writings and an early Hebrew gospel. We have seen the substantial declaration from Paul that the things unseen of the power of the eternal Godhead are clearly understood by the things that are seen, referring primarily to things made in Genesis and written within the context of male-female sexual relations. Now let’s touch on several practical ramifications for growing faith.
According to Jewish culture the mother had sole responsibility and authority for the care of the children in the family until they were five years old and then primary responsibility until a daughter married into a new family or a son passed the age of thirteen. Recently in a national news magazine it was written, as if it were a new discovery, that around five years old children matured to understand their independence and uniqueness as either male or female. It was at this time that the children began their formal education within the local synagogue or through accomplished household servants to be presented for maturation upon completion by the hand of both mother and father. Child psychologists also understand that the most formative years for a child’s character are those in the earliest years following birth and that the mother of a child has the strongest influence on the development of the child during this time. Sociologists have rightly said that the future character of a society rests in the hearts of mothers. Researchers at Princeton University have found that moral decisions are made predominately within the emotional or feminine center of the brain. (On the other hand, although wives whose husbands perpetually lose car keys may not agree, men, or masculine portions of the brain, are much more adept in the abstract ability of spatial orientation and logic.) Yes, as Jesus said, the kingdom of God is within you.
Why then have we so easily succumbed to the pressure to disassociate children from the nurturing care and instruction of their mothers? In the middle of the twentieth century breast-feeding was discouraged among mothers. Now financial burdens, competitive pressures to achieve, and some issues of gender equality have sent mothers of young children into the work place. It is not surprising that in a recent survey a large majority of working mothers said that they would rather be at home with their young children. Have we allowed the separation of and the ambiguities in members of a family because the true nature and function of the Godhead has been hidden since the first century? Could all this be another divisive corruption of the family on this earth subtly designed to obscure the family in heaven?
In the late nineteen sixties gender equality came to the forefront of social issues. Understandably and reasonably so, since the model for marriage was based on the hierarchical relationship of male domination which was imposed upon mankind through the knowledge of good and evil. In its essence this knowledge demands a hierarchical structure among humankind in all things. In it, self becomes the center from which all things are judged and in the final analysis it demands that one be better than another or one be less than another. After the entrance of good and evil Adam judged himself better than Eve because he did not take the first bite and less than God because he saw himself now as naked flesh. There is a new model for marriage and the family that is based upon what was before the acceptance of this reasoning process that contrasts all on the linear scale between good at one terminal and evil at the opposite. The model commences before the beginning when there were two harmonized in one and then out of one and then back into one through reunion within and among progeny.
This concept of the feminine gender of the Holy Spirit is not new or original. The early church had this belief and within the last several decades it has been considered at large with acceptance by individuals of faith in all areas. It may be that this writing is a unique synergism in understandings and that there are some new considerations within what is written here to add to the accumulating evidence. Whatever the case may be there is much more that is written and to be written that patterns the feminine gender of the Holy Spirit through the breadth of scripture. There is much more to be understood about the male-female harmony in the entire realm of those things seen. There is much more to be understood about how the spiritual masculine and the feminine bring forth the brilliance of Paul’s revelation of the mystery and there is much more to be understood about the wholeness that this belief will bring to an individual and a society.
For now I close with these thoughts. When one becomes persuaded of the union of the feminine and masculine, Paul’s revelation opens dramatically as the consummate epic work of the eternal union that brings together sons and daughters as the one new man in Christ of Ephesians. Scriptures can now open to a new light through Paul’s revelation of consummation within the cross of Christ and through its implantation into the very core of man’s being to bring forth that one new man to dwell in the eternal light of the coming new heaven and earth. Accordingly, I offer this presentation so that the revelatory script of the knowing playwright and the intuitions of the wise director may be more fully understood and, in the end, be joined harmoniously together within our souls and within our family to bring to pass the eternal plan of salvation for all humankind through the cross of Christ.