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Nov
19

Is God a “He” or a “She”?

During Holy Week, the week before Easter, a crucifixion statue representing Christ as a woman was displayed behind the altar at an Episcopal cathedral in New York. The bronze work, created by sculptor Edwina Sandays, was referred to as “Christa.”

I once heard a female pastor begin her prayer, “Dear God, our Father and Mother.” This rases an interesting question for a gender-conscious generation. Is God male or female? Or is He gender neutral?

It is quite clear from Scripture that Jesus Christ was a male. The angel Gabriel announced that Mary would “bear a son” (Luke 1:31). Luke recorded that Mary “gave birth to her first-born son” (2:7). The idea of a female Christ is indefensible biblically and historically. In His incarnation, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is clearly male.

But how about the first person of the Trinity? Speaking of God’s work among the Israelites, Moses said, “Is he not your Father, your Creator?” (Deut. 32:6). The prophets frequently referred to God as “Father” (Isa. 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 3:4, 19; 31:9; Mal. 1:6; 2:10). Jesus consistently referred to God as His “Father” (Matt. 5:16,45; 6:1,4,6,8). He taught His disciples to pray to their “Father” in heaven (6:9). Paul affirmed that there is “one God, the Father” (1 Cor. 8:6), and he prayed to God “the Father” (Eph. 3:14). In the Bible we discover that the language that is used to describe God is predominately masculine.

Certainly some caution is in order here. First, we must recognize that “God is spirit” (John 4:24), and so the masculine language cannot refer to God’s physical being. God does not have a male body. Second, the fact that the Bible depicts God as masculine does not preclude a feminine aspect of His nature. Indeed, the first thing God says about Himself in His self-revelation to Moses is that He is “compassionate,” a word based on the Hebrew root for “womb.” God’s love and compassion for us is like that which a mother has for her child. God has a mother’s kind of love for His own.

It is clear that the living God transcends sexuality so that the categories of male and female do not properly apply to Him. God is presented in the Bible as a “he,” but this word does not demand precisely the same thing it does when used of human beings. Some have suggested we ought to change the biblical references to God as Father from masculine to a designation that is non-gender specific. However I believe this would be wrong, for God has chosen to reveal Himself in the Bible predominately as masculine. Yet in view of God’s spiritual nature, we must be careful not to interpret the masculine terminology as reflective of His divine essence which transcends human based gender categories.

About J. Carl Laney

J. Carl Laney teaches Biblical Literature at Western Seminary and coordinates the Israel Study Program. Carl has authored numerous books, including most recently, “Loving Your Enemy: A Biblical Alternative to Revenge” (Ministry: International Journal for Pastors, July 2011).

Comments

  1. Very well said! The question “how should I speak of God in terms of gender?” should be answered as you did, “How does God speak of Himself?” Note well: Himself.