Monday, November 14, 2011

Should God Ever Be Called "She"?

There is a trend in both academic and popular circles to refer to God with feminine pronouns (i.e., "she," "her"). The argument is that God is genderless, and since He is spoken of in terms of a mother sometimes, it might be appropriate to refer to Him using feminine pronouns as well.

Let me clarify somethings that I think are important. First, it is not that God is spoken of in feminine terms, but that God displays some of His attributes in our genders, not just in our genderless human natures, if that is even something that can exist. There are aspects of God's authority, strength, wrath, etc. primarily displayed in the male gender, and there are aspects of God's nurture, loving kindness, mercy, etc. displayed primarily in the female gender (I speak in terms of these genders as they are meant to be, not necessarily what they are). Hence, sometimes the analogies used will be of a male warrior who tramples down the vine press where the grapes of wrath are stored, and sometimes it will be as a mother hen who shields her chicks with her wings. Sometimes He is compared to a mother who cannot abandon her children (and even if she does, He will not abandon them) and sometimes He is described as the Father who created all things.

But we don't attribute gender to God because of these analogies, and that isn't the reason why we use masculine pronouns to refer to Him. We use masculine pronouns for two reasons:

(1) The man has been placed into the highest position of authority among all other earthly creatures. Our pronouns do not support any category outside of male, female, or neuter entities. Hence, the pronoun that refers to the entity with the most authority is used to refer to God. In reality, it would be nice if we had a divine pronoun, but we don't. Hence, the male pronoun is the next best thing in terms of relating a respect for God as high above creatures. In other words, it's the best we can do with the language we have. To speak of God using the female pronoun is to lower our respect for His position and to assign Him a subordinate role in terms of the language we are using.

But many don't believe in these roles due to pop-feminism, so that leaves us with the second reason why we use the male pronoun:

(2) The male pronoun in our language does not exclusively refer to the male gender, but often can represent humanity as a whole. In other words, it is not exclusively male to say, "He." When a professor says, "Let the one who cheats know that he will be severely punished," he is not just referring to all of the males in the room, but everyone (both male and female). Hence, the male pronouns do not categorize their referents in and of themselves. They need context to do that. Because of this, context can make the male pronouns refer to beings other than males (i.e., females, angels, God), so that when one says, "He (meaning God) is good," no one necessarily assigns gender to God. This is not equally true of female pronouns. When one refers to God as "she," that pronoun exclusively refers to a female gender and nothing else in our language. Hence, the one using male pronouns is not assigning gender to God in our language and the one using female pronouns (whether intentionally or not) is assigning gender to God, making God a female, and thus, lowering God to a finite being with gender distinction.

Now, one can say that he wants to change our language, but that's not my point. My point is that, as of now, our language has one pronoun that both can refer to God in a genderless way and supports His authoritative position over His creation in the best way that it can, and one that does not. Hence, God should never be called "She," and isn't in Scripture beyond analogies that are meant to convey those attributes that are displayed best within the female gender/role.

Hence, the idea that it is unfair to call God "He" and not "She" is misguided. It may have been that pagans, who once assigned gender to their gods, referred to their male gods with male pronouns, but that is not why our culture, with our modern (at least Western) languages do it.

As a final note, some may bring up the idea that the Spirit in the Old Testament is referred to by using female pronouns, but this is also a misunderstanding of language, as the pronouns in Hebrew and Greek follow the gender of the words used, which have nothing to do with the actual, literal gender of the thing the word describes. Spirit in Hebrew is feminine, but Spirit in Greek is neuter. Did He change genders? Of course not. Hebrew has no neuter, so it describes all animals, even male animals with female pronouns, because the word for animal is feminine. Likewise, the word for spirit/wind (xwr) is feminine in Hebrew, so it's pronouns are feminine. The same word in Greek (pneu~ma) is neuter, so it's pronouns are neuter. This has absolutely nothing to do with actual gender of the referent to which the word refers (obviously). Hence, the word for city is feminine, not because cities are females, but because that is simply the "gender" of the word (not the object the word describes). As such, the grammatical gender does not always (or even usually) coincide with the actual gender classification of the referent. I hope that's clear. 

Hence, the answer to the question as to whether it is ever appropriate to use female pronouns to refer to a genderless God, not merely in analogy, but in direct reference to Him, the answer should be, No. But we should always qualify to those who are unaware of the Bible's teaching that God is not a human, and therefore, neither male nor female in and of Himself. Our male pronouns refer to God for purposes of position and because they do not exclusively refer to a particular gender. One could also discuss the fact that God became a man in Christ Jesus in order to represent all of humanity (male and female) in order to bolster the idea that the male represents both authority and all of humanity, rather than his particular gender, and I think in light of the above, that would be appropriate. Christ redeems all of mankind upon the cross because all of mankind (male and female) is represented by the male, both in terms of authority and gender non-exclusion. 

So, no, not a big fan of the trend, and I'm sure to have a silent backlash for it, but I retain the pronouns that I think best fit God, and refrain from the ones that assign Him exclusive classifications that are only appropriate to a particular gender of one of His creatures and deny Him the analogy of authority that are contained within the use of the pronouns themselves.


  1. I love reading your sushi. Makes me think. (Like I need to think more!)