Original Research - Special Collection: Graham Duncan Dedication

The Holy Spirit as feminine: Early Christian testimonies and their interpretation

Johannes van Oort
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 72, No 1 | a3225 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v72i1.3225 | © 2016 Johannes van Oort | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 October 2015 | Published: 19 August 2016

About the author(s)

Johannes van Oort, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands; Department of Church History and Church Polity, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa, South Africa


The earliest Christians – all of whom were Jews – spoke of the Holy Spirit as a feminine figure. The present article discusses the main proof texts, ranging from the ‘Gospel according to the Hebrews’ to a number of testimonies from the second century. The ancient tradition was, in particular, kept alive in East and West Syria, up to and including the fourth century Makarios and/or Symeon, who even influenced ‘modern’ Protestants such as John Wesley and the Moravian leader Count von Zinzendorf. It is concluded that, in the image of the Holy Spirit as woman and mother, one may attain a better appreciation of the fullness of the Divine.


Holy Spirit; Pneumatology; Feminine imagery for God; Jewish Christianity; Syriac Christianity; Early Church; Patristics


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