In our “enlightened” 21st century, can we now drop the old-fashioned habit of referring to God with masculine personal pronouns? Or could we at least give equal time to using the female counterparts of those pronouns? Or at least use a feminine pronoun once in a while? In other words, is it ever okay to refer to God as “she” or “her”?
God has no gender. He is not male. Certainly, God has no gender. He created the idea of gender. He’s the Creator of all things and it’s His right to decide which kind of pronoun should be used to refer to Himself, and He chose the masculine ones. Gen 1:5 is the first instance of a pronoun being used to refer to God. It’s the pronoun “He.” “And the darkness He called Night.” The use of the masculine pronouns is consistent throughout the Old and New Testaments. And all Scripture is God-breathed, including the pronouns (2 Tim 3:16).
God is not some old white man with a beard. True, but I don’treally see anyone saying that these days; this is a red herring.
God uses feminine imagery to refer to Himself, for instance, like a mother hen loving her chicks. True, He uses some feminine imagery in certain similes and metaphors to make some points, and it’s also true that it was necessary for both male and female to be made (Gen 1:26-31). Both, not just one, image God. Without female the image would be incomplete. But God is the One who decided to use masculine pronouns when He refers directly to Himself.
But why did God choose the male and not the female pronouns, if He’s not actually male? Why does it really matter?
I’m not sure I know exactly why God chose the male pronouns over the female ones, but I think there may be something to the following thoughts. Here are some ideas:
- Man was made first, before woman. Yes, they were both made on day 6, according to Genesis 1:27. But Genesis 2:18-22 tells us that the first woman was made from the first man, therefore, after the man. The fact that God is before all things may have something to do with why God chose to refer to Himself with masculine pronouns, since man is first, before woman. Woman came from man and was made to help man to image God and obey His commission.
- The masculine form of humanity has also been used historically as the generic, inclusive way to refer to humanity. It has been common usage to speak of “mankind” and “man” in a way that is understood to include all humans, not just males. There is nothing in this derogatory toward women, and nothing insinuating that women are not a part of that group. Mankind is composed of male and female. Both are necessary to fully image God, but the masculine form is naturally used to speak of the totality of the human race, whereas a feminine pronoun indicates a more specific focus on females, to the exclusion of males.
- The Word, the eternal Son of God the Father, Jesus, became flesh as a man. A male, not a female. No, God, as deity, is not male; He’s neither male nor female. Yes, the maleness of Jesus is specific to His humanity. But He is one united person, the God-man, and it would be rather strange to refer to Him as the She (for deity) and He (for humanity). This is in no way denigrating toward females. Note the respect, attention, and honor Jesus gives to women in His earthly ministry, and the role they later play in the early church.
- Perhaps God’s use of male pronouns is key to understanding His relationship between Himself and His people. Israel and the Church are often referred to as “she,” “her,” “Bride,” “wife,” etc (Hosea and Revelation both contain many references of this type). This makes great sense in light of Paul’s connection of the marriage relationship to the relationship between Christ and His church (Eph 5:32). Referring to God with varying genders of pronouns could easily confuse this distinction, as God ordained one kind of marriage, and it is between a man and a woman.
- The Ten Commandments forbid the making of idols and the misuse of God’s name (Commandments 2 & 3; Exod 20:4-7). Surely seeking to change the pronouns God chose is serious business and gets us into blasphemy territory.
Given the distinctions God makes between male and female, and given His authority to choose His own pronouns, and given His right to forbid the making of idols and the misuse of His name, it’s pretty clear that we shouldn‘t call Him by female pronouns. Calling Him by male pronouns is not the same as calling God male. It’s simply using His own terminology to speak about Him, which is exactly what we should do. Let’s look to Him to make this call rather than our confused culture.