Recently there have been issues on the gender of God, with the church of England seeking to consider this matter, changing the Bible, and using a gender-neutral pronoun for God. For ages, the church of England has faced various issues that have compromised what they have stood for. The Book of Genesis 1:1 introduces not only the beginning of creation but also God, who created all things. The current debates going on concerning God ignore certain fundamental truths in scripture.
First, the gender issue is not the central message of the scripture. Second, in the letter to Galatians, Paul says there is neither male nor female, but all who are in Christ are heirs of Abrahamic blessings (Galatians 3:28-29). Thirdly the early church accepted God’s revelation of himself in the scripture without much struggle on his gender. Fourth, the pronouns used to describe God were written long ago and are well-interpreted in English. Removing them affects the original transcripts; hence, it becomes a different Bible altogether.
Unfortunately, different groups are rewriting the scriptures to suit their agenda today. From Jehovah’s Witnesses to LGBTQIA+ society to feminists, all are fighting for their space in the scripture as though the Bible disregards them. This necessitates this article to address this burning issue of our times.
God as a Spirit
God has revealed himself as a spirit in John 4:24. This is critical because his nature doesn’t limit him to a specific geographical location. God doesn’t have a human body which we can use to define his gender. Then a question arises: why did he reveal himself in Jesus as a male figure rather than a female? Jesus coming to earth and taking the male body does not define God as male. The prophecies from the Old Testament anticipated a male figure as the Messiah; hence how could Jesus fulfil the prophecies if he came as a woman? (Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:35; Hosea 11:1; Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 42:1–4). Notice the pronouns and nouns used in the above scriptures, and all point to a male figure as a Messiah; otherwise, God will be called a liar, and the Messiah will be rejected if Jesus came down as a woman. To conceive God as having any earthly form is not only to displease God (Exod. 20:4–5) but also to misrepresent God. Trying to make God any other way than what he has revealed in the scripture is to make God into our image and likeness. Remember, we are made in his image and likeness, not vice versa.
People of all ages have attributed human traits to deities. Anthropomorphism represents an understanding of God using human descriptors. It is a literary device originally “involving the attribution of human qualities to divine beings”, although the term later referred to nature and animals as well. Despite God being spirit, he has revealed himself to us with various qualities so we can understand and relate with him as humans. Because of our human limitations, the transcendent God reveals himself to us through things within our understanding.
In scripture, we find that God is compared to a number of things, both living and non-living. Many human characteristics are attributed to Him. He is also compared to the traits of certain animals. Examples of feminine or maternal images for God include the following: a woman in labour (Isaiah 42:14), a nursing mother (Isaiah 49:15), a comforting mother (Isaiah 66:13), or as a mother bear (Hosea 13:8). In the case of animals, we have eagles (Exodus 19:3-5, Deut 32:11-12), lions (Revelation 5:5), dove (Matthew 3:16-17), lamb (Isaiah 53:7), and hen (Luke 13:34). We have non-living things that are used to describe God like the following examples: rock (Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 8:14), the sun and a shield (Psalm 84:11), the morning star (Revelation 22:16), Light (1 John 1:5), a strong tower (Prov. 18:10), and a fiery cloud (Deuteronomy 4:15). These examples indicate God has no physical form.
Finally, we have masculine images as well used to describe God. Some of these nouns and images of God include lord (Numbers 14:18), king (1 Timothy 6:15), redeemer (Isaiah 47:4), father (Matthew 6:9; John 20:17; Ephesians 3:14–15), and husband (Isaiah 54:5). All these descriptors are to help us to understand who God is and how we should relate to him by the context of scripture.
God has identified himself using the masculine gender more in the scripture. The absurd thing about this conversation is that people want to rewrite the scripture to suit what they think is more inclusive. Unfortunately, the proposals contradict the original manuscript, which people use to interpret the Bible. For example, if the Greek word used in Jesus’ prayer is “pater” (greek word for father) (Matthew 6:9), picking another word, e.g. parent, changes the text. The Greek language has a specific word for a parent (“goneusin”), which is not the word used in Matthew 6:9 to describe God. Moreover, you must keep the pronouns the same as it will present the same challenge of misinterpretation.
“God is not a he”. That’s what gender theorists claim. God’s pronouns are they/them, we’re told. After all, God has no gender as a spiritual being. He’s three persons in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s a plurality of persons. Furthermore, “Elohim”—the ancient Hebrew word for God is in plural form. Doesn’t all this evidence signal a reason to change how we refer to God? Should we abandon he/him and adopt they/them?
The above proposal is flawed in that it questions the authority of scripture. Secondly, it challenges God on how he has revealed himself. Thirdly, it reads today’s conversation into an ancient text which does not recognize feminine and masculine as we do today. Feminine and masculine were used for all things, whether living or non-living. Though plural, the name “Elohim” was used to represent his majesty over kings and deities who referred to themselves in such a manner of plurality in the Ancient Near East. Hence, arguing for the word “they” to be used instead of he/him concerning God interferes with the original audience’s understanding. If there are three in one, isn’t “they” the preferable pronoun to be used?
Using they in reference to God does not develop a new term; it replaces a biblical term. The Bible already uses a masculine personal pronoun in reference to God (Luke 11:2). Therefore, we have no warrant to search for new terminology. Finally, using “they“ introduces an unnecessary and harmful lack of clarity into our theological discourse. Even if it becomes culturally normative to use “they” as a singular subject, using “they” as a plural subject will continue. That means if a person used this pronoun routinely, some hearers would be unable to differentiate whether the subject (God) was singular or plural without clarification. God is one (Deut 6:4), and referring to him in the plural suggests that Christianity is not a monotheistic religion but a polytheistic one – this is heretical.
The motive for neutrality in God’s gender conversation is not to bring glory to God but to advance a selfish agenda. The Bible has not exempted anyone from God’s plan for humanity. God’s gender, or lack of it, does not affect the primary goal of the faith, which is for many to have life and have it in abundance through faith in Christ Jesus (John 3:16; John 10:10). The push to change God’s gender has a selfish motive behind it. We are not to conform God to our image. He has revealed how he would want us to identify him, and we are expected to keep to that.
The motive to change God’s gender is ill-intended. Unless the intent is to rewrite the Bible, God has revealed himself in a manner humans can understand him. We must remain faithful to the Bible’s approach, especially in translation. Trying to change God’s gender to a neutral one, no matter how right it may look to someone or noble an idea it could be for all to feel accommodated, cannot be done without affecting the original manuscript. Who does the church of England consult in this pursuit? Who gave them authority and autonomy to say what the Bible should say or not say? Isn’t God above the church of England? Shouldn’t the Bible tell the Church of England what to do and not vice versa?