Does God Have A Gender?

A Biblical Response to the Gender of God

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Any attempt to argue for the biblical perspective on gender and sexuality is likely to elicit a hostile response. Yet, as followers of Christ, we are not called to preach what people want to hear.

Introduction

These days, the issues of gender and sexuality are very controversial, particularly in Western societies. Steadily, over a number of decades, the traditional perspective has been undermined. We have now reached the point where the current politically correct stance, under the guise of tolerance for all, has become emboldened in its cause and is hostile to any challenge. (In other words, modern ‘tolerance’ has, ironically, become intolerant of all but its own viewpoint.) Thus, we have seen a major retail store willing to place female shoppers at risk of potential sexual predators and voyeurs—and consequently to drive away a significant number of customers and to lose profit—solely to promote the cause of transgenderism and gender fluidity. We have seen a young Christian baker in Northern Ireland condemned in court, simply for refusing to bake a cake that would promote same-sex marriage.1 We have seen the publication of “gender-friendly” translations of the Bible, even one in which God is presented as female (see below).

In such a climate, any attempt to argue for the biblical perspective on gender and sexuality is likely to elicit a hostile response.

In such a climate, any attempt to argue for the biblical perspective on gender and sexuality is likely to elicit a hostile response. Yet, as followers of Christ, we are not called to preach what people want to hear. Like Isaiah and the other biblical prophets of old, we are to be faithful to preach a message of truth in love. Jesus, the Initiator and Completer of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), was full of truth and love (John 1:14). He did not dilute the Scriptures, but upheld them with authority and boldness (Matthew 5:17–20). Nevertheless, he demonstrated tremendous compassion.

This article, then, is offered in that same spirit. We believe that this generation desperately needs to hear the truth of Scripture, including on the issue of gender, not the least God’s gender. But it is important to understand that the message of the Bible—even when it’s not what we want to hear—is given for our benefit, and comes from a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). The message is given in order that people may hear “and turn and be healed” (Isaiah 6:10). With that in mind, we turn to the question: does God have a gender?

The Bible Presents God as Male

God is always portrayed in the original manuscripts of the Bible (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) as being male, not female.

Regardless of who is referring to God—whether he himself or others—he is always portrayed in the original manuscripts of the Bible (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) as being male, not female. For instance, in the Hebrew Old Testament, the 6,828 occurrences of his name, יהוה (YHWH), are always in association with masculine adjectives, and masculine verbs.2 Similarly his titles—whether in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek—are all masculine, and are always associated with masculine grammatical forms.3 Furthermore, in all three biblical languages, all pronouns associated with God—i.e., words used instead of his name or titles, such as he, him, his—are masculine.

Thus, throughout the Old and New Testaments, God is portrayed in many thousands of grammatical forms as being male and never once as being female. The evidence is overwhelming and conclusive.

Could God Be Partly, or Wholly, Female?

So, what arguments do opponents of the maleness of God put forward in order to promote the idea that he is partly (or wholly) female? There are at least three.

First, it is noted that the word for spirit in Hebrew and Aramaic, רוּחַ (a), functions grammatically most often as a feminine noun. This has led some to suggest that the Holy Spirit represents a feminine side of God. However, the word (a) sometimes behaves as a masculine noun, a tendency that is particularly noticeable when the word occurs as part of the phrase, רוּחַ יהוה (aḥ YHWH), “the Spirit of YHWH.”4 The argument for femininity is further weakened by the fact that the equivalent Greek term, πνεῦμα (pneúma), is neuter (i.e., genderless).5 The Bible teaches that the Spirit of God proceeds from the (male) Father (John 15:26), and from the (male) Son (John 20:22), operating in and through both. Jesus, the man, was full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1)—that did not make him female, or even half male and half female. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of a God, who, as we have already noted, is consistently presented throughout the Scriptures as being male.6

Second, it is pointed out in a small number of instances that an attribute or action of God is associated with that of a woman.7 Isaiah 42:14 records YHWH saying,

For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant.

The use of the word like is critical, telling us that this is a simile. A simile is “a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid.”8 God is not a woman. But just as a woman can set aside her inhibitions in the intense pain of labor, so too a time is coming when God, having held his peace from long ago, will unreservedly make himself heard. The simile regards a transformation in behavior at an important threshold.9

In Isaiah 49:15 God speaks of his faithful love toward his people as being even more reliable than a woman’s compassion for her nursing infant. It is somewhat surprising language to use of a God who is elsewhere compared to a mighty warrior:

The LORD goes out like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes (Isaiah 42:13).

The shock in Isaiah 49:15 is no doubt intended. God is at pains to get his people to understand that, though he is all-powerful, and though in the past he has been angry with them and punished them as a father disciplining his children, now he is comforting them and having compassion upon them (cf. Isaiah 40:1–2). But this in no way supports the notion that God is female.10 “A father . . . does not become a mother when likened to a mother, any more than he becomes a rock when likened to a rock (Dt 32:18).”11 His unfathomable capacity to show compassion no more makes him female than does the extravagant mercy extended by the father of the prodigal son in Jesus’ famous New Testament parable (Luke 15:11–32). Compassion may be an attribute that is strongly evident in women, but it is not exclusively feminine. Indeed, it is a trait that finds its source in God (see, for example, Psalm 78:38; James 5:11), and it is the first quality he mentions in his famous self-description: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious . . .” (Exodus 34:6; see also Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 145:8; Nehemiah 9:17; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2).

Third, godly wisdom is personified as a woman in the book of Proverbs. Some of the descriptions are quite elaborate, such as her participation in creation (Proverbs 8:22–31), building a house, preparing a feast, and inviting guests (Proverbs 9:1–12). But, ultimately, these personifications are, in nature, extended metaphors and wordplays, facilitated by the feminine gender of the Hebrew word for wisdom, חָכְמָה (ḥoḵmāh).12

Is God Genderless?

Some may accept that God is not female, but may argue that neither is he male. For example, feminist scholar Phyllis Trible writes, “Yahweh is neither male nor female; neither he nor she. . . . Yahweh embraces and transcends both sexes.”13 And Steve Holmes, Senior Lecturer in Theology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, asserts,

The united witness of the church through the ages is unquestionably that God is beyond gender, and that speaking of God as male, or even as promoting a masculine account of himself, is a grave error. . . . No-one was ever stupid enough to propound such an obviously ridiculous idea.14

Similarly, S.T. Kimbrough argues in his article on Bible Translation and the Gender of God,

There is no philological evidence that the writers of the Hebrew scriptures intended the opposite of female by the use of third person masculine singular pronouns. . . . All language for God, including pronouns, is symbolical . . . Symbolical language is used when the reality cannot be fully expressed. . . . What do the third person masculine singular pronouns reveal about God? To answer “Nothing” would be misleading, since they are a part of the language and shape the overall language picture one receives in reading. But to assume that they present a false representation of God as male is untenable.15

In their biblical Hebrew textbook, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Bruce K. Waltke and Michael P. O’Connor affirm, “There is a strong scholarly consensus that God is regarded as non-sexual,” i.e., non-gendered (1990, 108). But even if we were to grant the questionable assertion that such a scholarly consensus exists, we shall see below that it is by no means a unanimous view. And the only two evidences that Waltke and O’Connor offer in support of this notion are easily countered.16 Furthermore, one wonders how such a position can be maintained when Christ is presented as being male in both his pre- and post-Resurrection body. After all, Paul wrote that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). Are the post-Resurrection accounts mistaken in identifying Jesus as being male? Or did Jesus’ gender change at the ascension? And, if so, why is the future returning Christ portrayed as male? The plain sense of Scripture seems to me to consistently affirm, from beginning to end, the maleness of both God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.

Is God Only Figuratively Male?

Though some may grant that God is always presented as male (and as a father), they may nevertheless insist that these are “figurative representations.”

Though some may grant that God is always presented as male (and as a father), they may nevertheless insist that these are “figurative representations.”17 They may assert that he is not really male (or a father), but that the Bible merely uses maleness (and fatherhood) as an anthropomorphic metaphor to help us understand his character. There are at least three good reasons for rejecting this notion:

the true and perfect reality of maleness (and fatherhood) as found in God
  1. Being all-powerful and all-wise, God could have created a world in which there were no gender distinctions, and in which human reproduction was non-sexual. But he didn’t. He chose to incorporate gender and sexuality as part of his “very good” creation (Genesis 1:31). Thus, in creating gender and then representing himself consistently and repeatedly as male, God is making a deliberate assertion about his nature. There is something particular about maleness that he chooses to represent his nature in a way that femaleness does not. I would argue that the Bible presents human maleness as including headship, which incorporates the functions of leading, providing, and protecting; and that God is the supreme holder and perfect model of these offices.18
  2. The potency of a metaphor or simile lies, at least to an extent, in the fact that it often makes an unusual comparison between two different entities. While it may be conceivable for the same metaphor to be used repeatedly, in practice this is not normally the case. Indeed, a given metaphor is often rendered most effective because of its peculiarity and relative rarity, and hence its ability to arouse curiosity, leading us to ponder more deeply the association it describes. For instance, we are surprised and curious to hear God describe his behavior metaphorically as a woman crying out in labor (Isaiah 42:14), for the very reason that such a comparison is extremely rare and therefore quite unexpected. In contrast, the presentation of God as male is ubiquitous, reinforced many thousands of times throughout the Bible, thus supporting the notion that his maleness is a reality and not a metaphor.
  3. the true and perfect reality of maleness (and fatherhood) is found in God
  4. Rather than maleness (and fatherhood) being primarily a human reality associated with men, which then constitutes a metaphor (i.e., a figurative representation of reality) concerning God, it can be argued that, if anything, the emphasis works in the opposite direction. In other words, human maleness (including fatherhood), particularly since sin entered the world, provides us with only a poor reflection of the true and perfect reality of maleness (and fatherhood) as found in God. I think that this may be partly what Paul had in mind when he wrote of “the Father” as being the One “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Ephesians 3:14–15).19 Fatherhood, at the head of the family structure, takes its lead from God. That the Fatherhood of God is a reality, and not just a metaphor, is supported by the fact that he is called “Father” approximately 256 times in the Bible: eight times in the Old Testament and about 248 times in the New Testament, of which no less than 113 occur in John’s Gospel.20 On numerous occasions Jesus referred to and addressed God as “Father.” Clearly, for the Son, God’s Fatherhood (incorporating maleness) was a firm reality, rather than a qualified metaphor.21 “‘Father’ is not simply one metaphor among others in the Bible; it is what God in actuality is for his worshipers.”22

Ignoring Sound Testimony

It is worth noting that there is no serious debate among mainstream scholars that the Scriptures present God as being male . . .

It is worth noting that there is no serious debate among mainstream scholars that the Scriptures present God as being male, even if many believe that representation to be figurative. Indeed it is significant that the biblical scholar David J.A. Clines, emeritus professor at the University of Sheffield in the UK and a specialist in the Hebrew Bible, despite a “commitment to feminism,”23 has published a formative paper entitled, “Alleged Female Language about the Deity in the Hebrew Bible.”24 In it he writes:

There is a common belief that in the Hebrew Bible there are a number of places where female language is used in reference to the deity.

The conclusion is sometimes drawn . . . that the vocabulary of female imagery for God “tempers any assertion that Yahweh is a male deity” [Phyllis Trible]. . . .

My conclusion is that there is not a single instance of female language about the deity in the Hebrew Bible, that is, of language suggesting that the deity is viewed as a female, whether as a mother or a midwife or in any other typical female activity. . . .

In the Hebrew Bible, which consistently represents the deity as male and everywhere employs the masculine pronoun ‘he’ and masculine verb and adjective forms for the deity there is no trace of a view that in some respect or to some degree this deity is ‘female’ or ‘feminine’.

The fact is . . . that the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible is a thoroughly male god, and there is simply no benefit in failing to recognize that fact and accept its consequences.25

While there has been a move for more gender-inclusive language regarding men and women,26 all the respected modern Bible translations consistently portray YHWH as being male, with very few versions altering the gender of God. The latter include Silent Voices—The Feminist Bible, “with the gender of each character swapped—including God,”27 e.g.,

God created woman in her own image. In God’s image she created her; female and male she created them (Genesis 1:27, SVFB);

For God so loved the world, that she gave her one and only Daughter, that whoever believes in her should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16, SVFB);

Husbands, be subject to your own wives, as to the Domina. For the wife is the head of the husband, and Christ also is the head of the assembly, being herself the savior of the body (Ephesians 5:22–23, SVFB).

Aside from the Bible itself, some have sought to change the gender of church liturgy. For example,

A group in the Church of England is calling for services to address God as “She” as well as “He.” . . . The Methodist Church introduced a new service book in 1999 which uses both male and female language for God, “our Father and our Mother.”28

God Need Not Have Created Gender or Represented Himself as Male

As already suggested, theoretically God could have conceived of a means of asexual reproduction for humans. Indeed, asexual reproduction is seen in single-celled organisms, and in many plants and fungi. Furthermore, had he so wished, God could have made it clear that he was genderless. Translators of the Chinese Bible have apparently utilized a genderless, divine pronoun,29 so it is entirely conceivable that God could have done something similar when he spoke, for example, to the Patriarchs, to Moses, and to the other prophets. But he didn’t. The only explicit support that Waltke and O’Connor offer for the notion that God is non-sexual (i.e., non-gendered) is Deuteronomy 4:15–16.30 Not only do these verses fail to confirm their supposition (see note 14), but they also highlight how easy it would have been for God to state unequivocally that he was genderless, if that had been his intent. When he told the people not to make any image in “the likeness of male or female” (v. 16), he could easily have added, “for YHWH your God is neither male nor female.” But he didn’t add these words.

The fact is that God chose to incorporate gender into his “very good” creation and to present himself as being male.

Humble Submission

The huge irony in all the heated debate over the Bible’s presentation of gender and equality is that it often totally misses the vitally important ingredient that God intends for earthly male leadership, namely that of humble submission to him.

The huge irony in all the heated debate over the Bible’s presentation of gender and equality is that it often totally misses the vitally important ingredient that God intends for earthly male leadership, namely that of humble submission to him. Arguably the greatest Old Testament leader, the man Moses, was described as being “very humble, more than all mankind that was upon the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). And Jesus, the perfect man and the supreme example for all Christians, described himself as “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). Moreover, he sought only ever to do the will of his Father in heaven (see John 4:34, 5:19). He refused the devil’s offer of seizing dominion over the nations (Matthew 4:8–10; Luke 4:5–8), even though he was indeed destined for such a position and could have argued that he would use that dominion for good. In other words, for Jesus, the end did not justify any and every means. Leadership had to be on his Father’s terms, and its fullness was to come through submissive obedience. Only then would true and lasting exaltation result (Philippians 2:8–11).

Christ’s example is an inspiration and model for both his male and female followers. Both are called to empty themselves (e.g., of selfish ambition) and to become humble, obedient servants, even to the point of death (1 Peter 2:21–23). This may be anathema to the spirit of our current age, but that is what it means to have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5–8).

Gender Rebellion

Gender is determined at the very instant of conception by either the presence (male) or absence (female) of the Y chromosome.

We are witnessing a social revolution, a rebellion, in which there is a media frenzy concerning gender fluidity.31 The impression given by its advocates is that gender is indeterminate and must be the choice of each individual. However, the scientific reality is that a person’s gender is determined at the very instant of conception by either the presence (male) or absence (female) of the Y chromosome. Sadly, it is indeed true that, with the entrance of sin and its deathly consequences into the world in the Garden of Eden, there are gender disorders of various types. And people affected by such disorders should certainly receive compassion and support. But it is quite another matter when society urges those who may have no such conditions, even children, into gender/sexual experimentation, which leads ultimately to deep inner confusion and turmoil. One pediatrician has described such efforts as “large-scale child abuse.”32 In their seminal 2016 report on “Sexuality and Gender,” the respected scholars L.W. Mayer and P.R. McHugh admitted, “We are concerned by the increasing tendency toward encouraging children with gender identity issues to transition to their preferred gender through medical and then surgical procedures.”33 They conclude, “The scientific evidence . . . suggests we take a skeptical view toward the claim that sex-reassignment procedures provide the hoped-for benefits or resolve the underlying issues that contribute to elevated mental health risks among the transgender population.”34 Attempting to neutralize or switch human gender perverts God’s original “very good” creation, and consequently leads to many unnecessary problems.

It is a blasphemous misrepresentation of his nature, and seriously undermines Christian doctrine.

Even worse are the attempts to neutralize or switch God’s gender. As we have seen, throughout the Bible he has revealed himself as being male. To assert that he is partly, or wholly, female is inconsistent with sound biblical scholarship. It is a blasphemous misrepresentation of his nature, and seriously undermines Christian doctrine.35

That feminist criticism is a rebellion against God’s authority, besmirching his holy and just character, is clearly evident in the writings of its advocates. For example, in drawing from the work of a number of feminist critics, Danna N. Fewell (1999) asserts the following:

The Bible, for the most part, is an alien text, not written . . . with women in mind (270);

For Mieke Bal, another feminist literary critic, Eve develops into a character of great power. Her decision to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is the first act of human independence . . . Eve did not “sin”; she opted for reality (271);

No feminist reformation of surface elements, suggests [Pamela] Milne, is going to disguise the fact that Genesis 2–3 is essentially male mythology (274);

Tensions and contradictions within the text, and between text and reader, may challenge us to reenter the garden with our eyes opened, even if that means eventually running up against the contradictory, unstable character of God (277);

God is responsible for the “fallen” . . . state of creation (278);

Feminist criticism. . . . suggests that the Bible offers something other than universal truth (280).36

A Glorious Marriage

That the Bible does not teach a demeaning of womanhood is made abundantly clear when we note, for example, that the entire redeemed community of saints, the believing church (including both men and women), is given the female title, Bride (Revelation 19:7–8). In terms of the relationship of Christ to the church, no other gender designations would be suitable: Christ as Leader, Provider, and Protector, could only be male (see note 18); and we, his people, who willingly and gladly submit to the authority of our great Redeemer, could corporately only be designated as female (Ephesians 5:23–33). The fact that the long-hoped-for faultless state of the church is represented as a female bride, ready to be joined in marriage to her Bridegroom, unequivocally demonstrates that God does not show favoritism when it comes to gender (or anything else—Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9).

Bibliography

Clines, D.J.A.. “Alleged Female Language about the Deity in the Hebrew Bible.” Paper presented in Seoul, South Korea: Society of Biblical Literature, (2016), https://www.academia.edu/26598665/Alleged_Female_Language_about_the_Deity_in_the_Hebrew_Bible.

Mayer, L.S., and P.R. McHugh. “Gender Identity” (Part 3 of “Sexuality and Gender”). New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society, no. 50 (Fall 2016): 86–113.

Waltke, B.K., and M. O’Connor. An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990).

For More Information

Footnotes

  1. The Christian Institute Fact Sheet, “Christian Bakery Pursued by Quango in Legal Action over Gay Marriage Campaign Cake” states, “On 9 May 2014, a volunteer LGBT activist, Mr. Gareth Lee, asked for a cake to be decorated with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’. He also wanted the logo of campaign group QueerSpace and a photo of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie to be printed on the cake.”
  2. In English, in a sentence such as, “The friendly child sitting on the bench smiled,” there is no way of knowing whether the subject (“child”) is male or female. However, in Hebrew (and other languages), grammatical forms such as verbs (e.g., “smiled”), participles (e.g., “sitting”), and adjectives (e.g., “friendly”) are marked for gender. This means that even if the gender of the subject or object is unknown (e.g., some names do not indicate gender), it can nevertheless be determined from the associated forms, in which its gender is reflected. In the following examples the masculine gender of verbal forms (including their pronominal subject, which is inherent in Hebrew but separate in English translation), participles, and adjectives associated with YHWH are colored blue:
    So YHWH God caused to fall upon the man a deep sleep, and while he slept he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that YHWH God had taken from the man he built into a woman and he brought her to the man (Genesis 2:21–22, my translation);

    YHWH is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, bearing iniquity and transgression; but he by no means acquits, visiting fathers’ iniquity upon sons, upon a third, and upon a fourth [generation] (Numbers 14:18, my translation).
  3. In the following examples the masculine gender of nouns, pronouns, articles (marked only for gender in Greek), participles, and adjectives associated with God are colored blue:
    HEBREW: Our Redeemer—YHWH of hosts is his name—is the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 47:4, my translation)

    ARAMAIC: The king answered Daniel and said, “Truly, your God, he is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery” (Daniel 2:47, my translation)

    GREEK: He . . . is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15, ESV).
  4. In the Hebrew portions of the Old Testament, the word a (spirit, wind, breath) occurs 378 times, of which the BibleWorks program identifies 363 (96%) as feminine and 15 (4%) as masculine (including, for instance, Psalm 51:12, where the adjective associated with spirit is masculine—“renew a right spirit within me”). In Aramaic portions of the Old Testament, the equivalent word occurs just 11 times, of which 5 behave as a feminine noun, one as a masculine noun, and in the remaining 5 instances the gender is ambiguous.
  5. But this is not evidence that God is genderless, any more than the bi-gender usage of a is evidence that God is dual-gendered. It merely affirms that the gender of God cannot be extrapolated from the grammatically inconsistent gender of the biblical words for spirit. It must be emphasized that a (spirit, wind, breath) is classed as an entity (like soul, arm, breast, or might), whose lexical gender does not imply sex (see note 6). This observation has implications (beyond the remit of this article) for how we understand the doctrine of the Trinity; but here it is sufficient to note that the word a, unlike the proper nouns YHWH and Jesus, is grammatically classed as a common noun that represents an inanimate/non-animate entity (spirit, wind, breath).
  6. We must be careful about reading more than is warranted from the gender of inanimates (objects) or non-animates (abstract entities). While the gender of words (here, I have used blue to represent male and pink female) relating to persons (e.g., ʾîš [man] and ʾiššāh [woman]) and to animals (e.g., pār [bull] and pārāh [cow]) usually corresponds to the sex of the being they represent, elsewhere gender has been assigned according to other considerations, not all of which are obvious. Bruce K. Waltke and Michael P. O’Connor explain that “in semantic terms, the [feminine] suffix essentially marks derivative words, words with some special modification of the unmarked alternative” (Waltke, B.K., and M.P. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax [Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990], 109). For instance, parts of the body tend to be grammatically feminine, including yāḏ (hand) and zerôaʿ (arm); though a notable exception is šaḏ (breast), which is masculine. Many abstract nouns are feminine in form, even those that might be associated with masculinity, e.g., geḇûrāh (might). Thus, “the correspondence between (linguistic) gender and (natural) sex is only partial. . . . The primary function of various systems of gender is syntactic . . . to bind parts of speech together by concord in the same sentence or discourse” (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, 97, 99, 109).

    With regard specifically to the Holy Spirit, it is notable that, of the 27 occurrences of the phrase a YHWH (the Spirit of YHWH) in the Hebrew Old Testament, seven (25%) behave as if masculine. This is a significantly higher proportion of masculine occurrences than in the total usage of a (spirit, wind, breath), where the rate is just 4% (see note 4). Thus, while, on the one hand, it is inadvisable to extrapolate the supposed gender/sex of an inanimate or abstract entity from its lexical gender (thus, the Holy Spirit is not female just because a is lexically most often female), on the other hand this grammatical masculine tendency of a in association with YHWH is further confirmation that he is male and not female. Indeed, in noting that the grammatical gender of an entity may be influenced by the actual gender of an associated animate referent (i.e., a human or animal), Waltke & O’Connor observe that “רוּחַ  [a] is usually feminine but רוּחַ יהוה  [a YHWH] in 2 Kings 2:16 is masculine in gender, as יהוה  [YHWH] is” (1990, 104, n. 37); to which we could add six other instances (2 Samuel 23:2; 1 Kings 18:12, 22:24; 2 Chronicles 18:23; Hosea 13:15; Micah 2:7 (NKJV)). This tendency in Hebrew for concord (i.e., agreement) to follow the semantic orientation of the noun, rather than the grammatical gender “(as it does, e.g., in Italian or French), . . . [is] sometimes called the constructio ad sensum (‘construction according to the sense’)” (ibid., 109).

    In conclusion, rather than the lexical gender of a (mostly fem.) supporting the supposition that the Holy Spirit is female, we find that the relatively high proportion of masculine concordance when a is used in association with YHWH (masc.) undermines the supposition and supports the notion that God is male.
  7. In his 2016 paper on “Alleged Female Language about the Deity in the Hebrew Bible,” David J.A. Clines considers “23 passages and terms that have been thought to attest female language about the deity” (Clines, D.J.A. “Alleged Female Language about the Deity in the Hebrew Bible.” International SBL Meeting in Partnership with The Korean Society of Old Testament Studies, The New Testament Society of Korea, and The Society of Asian Biblical Studies. Seoul, South Korea: Society of Biblical Literature, 2016, 1. Accessed May 9, 2017. https://www.academia.edu/26598665/Alleged_Female_Language_about_the_Deity_in_the_Hebrew_Bible). My own discussion will be limited to just two of the texts commonly cited in support of God’s supposed femaleness.
  8. New Oxford American Dictionary, emphasis added.
  9. Cf. Clines 2016, 3–4.
  10. Ibid., 10.
  11. J.W. Miller, Biblical Faith and Fathering (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989), 125.
  12. According to several Bible translations (ESV, HCSB, JPS, NIV1984, and NLT), in v. 13ff. of Proverbs 9, folly is also personified as a woman, i.e., “woman Folly” (whereas most other versions have “foolish woman”). This interpretation is facilitated by the feminine gender of the Hebrew word כְּסִילוּת  (kesîlûṯ). Whichever reading you prefer, what is important to note for the purpose of this article is that the female personification of an abstract concept like wisdom (or folly) is a literary device that makes use of the lexical gender of a word and should not be taken as indicating anything about the gender of God.
  13. P. Trible, “Depatriarchalizing in Biblical Interpretation,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 41, no. 1 (March 1973): 34.
  14. S. Holmes, “If God Is Male,” Shored Fragments (February 5, 2012), Accessed November 21, 2016, https://shoredfragments.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/if-god-is-male.
  15. S.T. Kimbrough Jr, “Bible Translation and the Gender of God,” Theology Today 46, no. 2 (July 1989): 198.
  16. First, Waltke and O’Connor cite Deuteronomy 4:15–16 (1990, 108), in which Moses reminds the Israelites that, since they had seen no form of YHWH, they should not make any image in the likeness of male or female. Waltke and O’Connor appear to be implying that God is saying not to liken him to male or female because he is neither. But the full context must be taken into consideration. The passage continues on into vv. 17–18, prohibiting the making of images in the likeness of any animal, winged bird, creeping thing, or fish; and in v. 19 the people are warned against worshiping the sun, moon, or stars. Thus the focus is avoiding idolatry of any kind. The reference to the people having seen no form of God, therefore, should be understood as emphasizing that they should make no attempt whatsoever to create any representation of him. It does not imply that God is genderless.

    Second, Waltke and O’Connor see “inferential support” that God should be regarded as non-sexual (i.e., non-gendered), in Israel’s “use of both sexes of a sacrificial victim in offerings to God,” explaining that “in the ancient Near East it was customary to sacrifice male animals to (male) gods and females to goddesses” (1990, 109). But it is an error to assume that Israel would follow Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) custom. For example, in contrast to other ANE religions, “Israel’s religion . . . has place only for a priest, not a priestess” (108). While the people of Israel were often keen to imitate the practices of their ANE neighbors, God called them to be holy, to be different. It is unwarranted, therefore, on the basis of an ANE comparison to infer the gender of God from biblical instructions for Israelite sacrificial customs.
  17. Waltke and O’Connor, 109.
  18. What does Paul mean that every family “is named” from the heavenly Father? In Greek the word for “father” (patēr) and “family” (patria) are related. But I think Paul is ultimately referring to something deeper than related nomenclature.
  19. In the underlying Hebraic biblical mindset, the significance of a name is very often closely associated with character. Thus, in the passage under discussion (Ephesians 3:14–15), David Stern has helpfully used the word “character” where most other versions have “name” or “is named”: “For this reason, I fall on my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its character” (Complete Jewish Bible).
  20. These figures come from a search for “Father” (i.e., with an uppercase initial letter) in the ESV, using the Accordance Bible program (with adjustments for instances where the initial uppercase letter is merely grammatical, i.e., being the first word in a sentence, rather than referring to God, viz. Ezekiel 22:7; Luke 15:12, 18, 21, 16:24). The 256 ESV occurrences of “Father” are translations of Hebrew אָב  (ʾāḇ, eight times); Greek πατήρ (patḗr, 244 times), and γεννάω (gennáō, once); and three instances with “no Key number.”
  21. This whole section (under the heading “Is God Only Figuratively Male?”) focuses particularly on fatherhood as representative of God’s maleness. A similar argument could be made concerning husbandhood as representative of Christ’s maleness. In other words, rather than human marriage being the true reality, used simply as a metaphor (a reflection) of our relationship with our Savior, it could be argued that God instituted human marriage partly for the very purpose of temporarily (see Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25) representing the true and deeper and greater reality of the glorious union that will one day take place between Christ and the church, and which will last forever. To put it another way, when we enter the heavenly presence of God, our experience of his fatherhood and of Christ’s husbandhood will make earthly fatherhood and husbandhood pale away like a vanishing dream.
  22. Miller 1989, 125. This affirmation of the actuality of God’s fatherhood seems to contrast somewhat with Miller’s earlier references to “‘pater’ as divine metaphor” (57), “the metaphor ‘father’” (57), and “the root metaphor . . . masculine-father” (61).
  23. Emeritus Professor David J.A. Clines, University of Sheffield, Accessed July 8, 2017, https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/theology/people/1.30260.
  24. Clines 2016.
  25. Ibid., 1, 16, including a phrase cited from P. Trible, "God, Nature of, in the OT,’ in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Supplementary Volume, ed. Keith Crim (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1976), 368–369.
  26. For example, in Psalm 8:4 (v. 5 in the Hebrew text), a traditional rendering, “what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?” (RSV; similarly also ESV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NIV1984, NJPS, NKJV), has given way to, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (NRSV; similarly also NIV2011, NJB, NLT). There are instances where even conservative translators render the gender of a group, represented in the original language with a word such as “sons,” using a word that represents both genders, such as “children,” because they feel that the context warrants it. For example, in Matthew 5:9, instead of “sons of God” (Greek text, and ESV, HCSB, NASB, NIV1984, NKJV), a number of versions have “children of God” (KJV, NIV2011, NJB, NLT, NRSV).
  27. Silent Voices, accessed November 21, 2016, https://silentvoicesbible.com.
  28. S. Tompkins, “Why Is God Not Female?” June 2, 2015, Accessed November 21, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32960507.
  29. Sadly, I cannot offer any scholarly corroboration for this apparent phenomenon, especially as I am not conversant with the Chinese language (though my point is dependent only upon the conceptual viability of a genderless pronoun). However, Wikipedia’s entry on “Gender in Bible translation” asserts, “In the Chinese language, translators of the Christian Bible have created a new Chinese character to act as a divine pronoun:(Pinyin: ). . . . The radical in 祂, 礻(shì), marks the ‘elevated personhood’ of divinity, without implying anything about the gender of the divinity referred to.” See, also, the section on Chinese in the Wikipedia entry on “Gender neutrality in genderless languages.”
  30. Waltke and O’Connor, 108.
  31. You don’t have to look far to find reports on gender fluidity issues in the secular media. Indeed, National Geographic ran a Special Issue on “Gender Revolution” in January 2017. For helpful Christian perspectives see, for example, the websites of the American Family Association (USA) or the Family Education Trust (UK), especially the latter’s December 2016 Bulletin with the theme of “Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences.” Also the UK Christian Institute’s website has a section covering Transsexualism, which includes a free downloadable document on Transsexualism.
  32. M. Cretella, “I’m a Pediatrician. How Transgender Ideology Has Infiltrated My Field and Produced Large-Scale Child Abuse,” Daily Signal, July 3, 2017, Accessed July 10, 2017, http://dailysignal.com/2017/07/03/im-pediatrician-transgender-ideology-infiltrated-field-produced-large-scale-child-abuse.
  33. L.S. Mayer and P.R. McHugh 2016. “Gender Identity” (Part 3 of “Sexuality and Gender”), New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society, no. 50 (Fall 2016): 86.
  34. Ibid., 112.
  35. For instance, perverting the gender of God undermines biblical teaching on headship (especially as set forth in 1 Corinthians 11:3), with ramifications for Christology, anthropology, and ecclesiology. For example, how could Christ, the Head of the church, be both Bridegroom and Bride at the same time? How could God—the supreme Leader, Provider, and Protector—be female, when his blueprint for a man in marriage and in church governance (according to the belief of many Christians) includes the roles of being an leader, provider, and protector?
  36. D.N. Fewell, “Reading the Bible Ideologically: Feminist Criticism,” in To Each Its Own Meaning, Revised and Expanded: An Introduction to Biblical Criticisms and Their Application (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), 268–82.

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