Some believe that the author of John’s Gospel broke with grammatical convention and used masculine pronouns for the Holy Spirit even though the Greek word for “spirit” (pneuma) is grammatically neuter, and not masculine.
In this article, I look at the gender of pronouns associated with the Holy Spirit in a few key passages in John chapters 14–16. My aim is to show that they were not masculinised, or personalised, in the Greek text, and that their grammatical gender does not break Greek grammar rules.
Pneuma (“Spirit”) is Neuter
All Greek nouns and adjectives have grammatical gender and will be either masculine, feminine, or neuter. Pneuma (“spirit”) is grammatically neuter, and every word directly associated with it in ancient Greek texts, words such as pronouns, articles, adjectives and participles, will be grammatically neuter. This is true also for the Greek New Testament including John’s Gospel.
Neuter pronouns for the Holy Spirit in the Greek New Testament are typically translated as masculine pronouns in English translations. This is because the English word “it” (neuter) feels impersonal compared with “him” (masculine). But this translation issue is not the topic I’m discussing in this article. My topic here is a little more complicated and concerns the Greek text itself.
Paraklētos (“Paraclete, Advocate”) is Masculine
John is the only biblical author to refer to the Holy Spirit as the paraklētos: the Paraclete, Advocate, or Counsellor. John uses the Greek word paraklētos four times in his Gospel, in John 14:16, 14:26, 15:26 and 16:7, always in reference to the Holy Spirit.
Paraklētos is a grammatically masculine word and any pronouns, articles, adjectives and participles directly associated with it will be masculine. We see this principle of grammatical “agreement” demonstrated in John 14–16.
The Paraclete is the Spirit of Truth
The Paraclete (paraklētos) is the main subject of John 14:16, 14:26, 15:26 and 16:7, and also of John 16:13–14. In three of these verses, John adds a phrase that contains the neuter word pneuma (“spirit”) to spell out who the Paraclete is. It is this additional phrase that seems to have led to some confusion about grammatical gender.
In John 14:26, the Paraclete is “the Holy Spirit who the Father will send in [Jesus’s] name.”
In John 15:26, the Paraclete is “the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father.”
In John 16:13, the Paraclete is “the Spirit of truth.”
At the risk of sounding repetitious, paraklētos is grammatically masculine, and pronouns referring to the Paraclete are grammatically masculine in these verses. Pronouns that refer to the Spirit (pneuma) are neuter, such as the neuter relative pronoun behind the word “who” (Greek: ὅ) in John 14:26 and 15:26.
Grammar rules regarding gender have not been broken in John’s Gospel. Pronouns that should be neuter are neuter; they have not been masculinised.
Let’s look more closely at the relevant passages.
The Paraclete and Pronouns in John 14:26
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit who the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
ὁ δὲ παράκλητος, τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον ὃ πέμψει ὁ πατὴρ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου, ἐκεῖνος ὑμᾶς διδάξει πάντα καὶ ὑπομνήσει ὑμᾶς πάντα ἃ εἶπον ὑμῖν.
This verse contains the masculine pronoun ekeinos, translated into English here as “he.” (It is a demonstrative pronoun, but John uses it many times without a demonstrative force.)
Ekeinos grammatically agrees with the paraklētos.
The neuter relative pronoun ὃ (“who”) grammatically agrees with pneuma. This is all fine.
The Paraclete and Pronouns in John 15:26
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.”
Ὅταν ἔλθῃ ὁ παράκλητος ὃν ἐγὼ πέμψω ὑμῖν παρὰ τοῦ πατρός, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας ὃ παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται, ἐκεῖνος μαρτυρήσει περὶ ἐμοῦ·
As in John 14:26, we have the masculine pronoun ekeinos (“he”) agreeing with paraklētos.
There is the masculine relative pronoun ὃν (“whom”) referring to the Paraclete.
And there is the neuter relative pronoun ὃ (“who”) agreeing with pneuma.
The Paraclete and Pronouns in John 16
The same principles apply in John 16 but are perhaps a bit more difficult to recognise, especially when we focus on one or two verses rather than reading the whole chapter.
The word paraklētos occurs once in John 16, in verse 7. John then uses the pronoun ekeinos to refer to the Paraclete in John 16:8, 13, and 14.
John 16:7b–8: “Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he [no Greek pronoun] he will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment;”
John 16:7b-8: ἐὰν γὰρ μὴ ἀπέλθω, ὁ παράκλητος οὐ μὴ ἔλθῃ πρὸς ὑμᾶς· ἐὰν δὲ πορευθῶ, πέμψω αὐτὸν (masculine personal pronoun) πρὸς ὑμᾶς. καὶ ἐλθὼν ἐκεῖνος ἐλέγξει τὸν κόσμον περὶ ἁμαρτίας καὶ περὶ δικαιοσύνης καὶ περὶ κρίσεως·
. . .
John 16:13–14: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak from himself; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.”
(The “he’s” that I haven’t made bold in vs. 13–14 do not have a corresponding pronoun in the Greek text. The idea of “he” is implicit in the Greek verbs for “guide,” “speak, “hear,” etc. Verbs do not have grammatical gender in ancient Greek.)
John 16:13-14: ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ἐκεῖνος, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας, ὁδηγήσει ὑμᾶς ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ πάσῃ, οὐ γὰρ λαλήσει ἀφ’ ἑαυτοῦ (masculine reflexive pronoun), ἀλλ’ ὅσα ἀκούσει λαλήσει, καὶ τὰ ἐρχόμενα ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν. ἐκεῖνος ἐμὲ δοξάσει, ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ λήμψεται καὶ ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν.
I suspect John 16:13–14 are the verses that have tripped up some people because they do not contain the word paraklētos. The masculine pronouns in these two verses refer back to, i.e. their antecedent is, paraklētos in John 16:7. There’s nothing unusual here about the gender of the pronouns.
Throughout John’s Gospel, grammatically neuter words are used to “agree” with pneuma (“spirit”), a neuter word (John 1:32–33; 3:5–8, 34; 4:23–24; 6:63; 7:38–39; etc). And grammatically masculine words are used to “agree” with paraklētos (“advocate”), a masculine word.
The grammatical gender used in the Greek text of John chapters 14–16 is in keeping with grammar norms. No grammar laws have been broken with the aim of masculinising or personalising neuter words. There is no masculinising of the Holy Spirit in the Greek text of John’s Gospel.
 Some suggest that masculine pronouns are used in a few verses of the Greek New Testament to make the Holy Spirit seem more personal. As well as the verses about the Paraclete in John, other verses used in this personalisation argument are Ephesians 1:14, which contains the masculine noun arrabōn (“pledge, guarantee”), the enigmatic 2 Thessalonians 2:6–7, and 1 John 5:7 KJV. The use of grammatical gender in the personalisation argument does not hold water.
 Grammatical gender tells us nothing about the gender of the Holy Spirit. The word for “spirit, breath, wind” in the Hebrew Bible (ruach) is a grammatically feminine noun. The word for “spirit, breath, wind” in the Greek New Testament and Septuagint (pneuma) is neuter. The Greek word paraklētos used in John’s Gospel is masculine. In early Latin and Coptic translations of the Bible, spiritus (Latin) and pepneuma: ⲡⲉⲡⲛⲉⲩⲙⲁ (Coptic) are also grammatically masculine.
 Referring to John 15:26 and 16:13–14 in particular, Daniel B. Wallace explains,
… pneuma is appositional to a masculine noun. The gender of ekeinos, thus has nothing to do with the natural gender of pneuma. The antecedent of ekeinos in each case is paraklētos, not pneuma. … The ekeinos [of 16:13–14] reaches back to v. 7 where paraklētos is mentioned. Thus, since paraklētos is masculine, so is the pronoun.
Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of New Testament Greek (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 331–332. (Wallace uses Greek letters which I’ve changed to Latin letters for my readers.)
 Andrew David Naselli and Philip R. Gons, who have looked at this topic from the angle of personalisation more so than masculinisation, conclude their paper with,
A careful analysis of the texts in their contexts with sound principles of grammatical gender firmly in place demonstrates unequivocally that the antecedent of ekeinos is the masculine paraklētos. The gender of the nouns and pronouns in these chapters neither supports nor challenges the doctrine of the Spirit’s personality.
Naselli and Gons, “Prooftexting the Personality of the Holy Spirit: An Analysis of the Masculine Demonstrative Pronouns in John 14:26, 15:26, and 16:13–14,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 16 (2011): 65–89, 89. A link to their paper is here. (Nasselli and Gons use Greek letters which I’ve changed to Latin letters for my readers.) An impressive catalogue of Bible scholars who see things differently from me is included in this paper.
Postscript: January 24, 2023
The Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed
In response to some feedback on Facebook, here is what the Nicene Creed, originally written in Greek, says about the Holy Spirit. I’ve made bold the grammatically neuter language (nouns, adjectives, articles, and participles). Admittedly, the genitive neuter “Πνεύματος Ἁγίου” (“Holy Spirit”) in the first phrase is somewhat ambiguous, but the numerous accusative neuter words in the following paragraph are not.
ἐκ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου καὶ Μαρίας τῆς παρθένου
From the Holy Spirit and Mary the virgin
. . .
καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ Κύριον καὶ Ζωοποιόν,
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-giver
τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον,
The one going out from the Father
τὸ σὺν Πατρὶ καὶ Υἱῷ συμπροσκυνούμενον καὶ συνδοξαζόμενον,
The one, together with the Father and Son, being co-worshipped and co-glorified.
(Greek text; my translation)
No masculine words are used for the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed. Furthermore, no pronouns, masculine or neuter, are used when referring to the Holy Spirit in the Greek text of the Nicene Creed.
© Margaret Mowczko 2023.
All Rights Reserved.
More about the role of the Paraclete, here.
More about grammatical gender in reference to God and the Holy Spirit, here.
The Holy Spirit as Mother in Early Syriac Texts
Is God Male or Masculine?
Which Bible Translation is Best?
In case you missed it, I recently posted an article looking at the evidence for sacred prostitution in Corinth, here.
I like this video by Dain Smith at Bible Geek. The concepts are explained well, and the points near the end about the metaphorical language shaping our thinking are important.