Question: Actually received this question from one of my youth and we were quite perplexed with regards to how to answer! She was basically asking if God has no biological gender (neither female nor male), then why do we refer to God as “He” or “Him”? I suspect this might have something to do with the Trinity – where God is all 3: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But I also might be completely off, so was wondering if I could seek some guidance/direction. Thanks!
Does God have a gender?
Let’s define terms here. For the sake of this discussion, let’s define sex as “the binary categories into which humans and other living things are classified on the basis of their reproductive functions.” Since God is incorporeal (having no material existence) and hence has no sexual organs, we cannot classify Him as either male or female on the basis of this definition.
However, there is overwhelming evidence all throughout Scripture where God always portrays Himself as being male, not female. In nearly 7000 occurrences, God’s name is always associated with masculine adjectives, and similarly, His titles are also associated with masculine grammatical forms. There’s no point citing Scripture on this because this statement is conclusive.
Could we ever refer to God in feminine terms?
Some feminist theologians have suggested that since the Bible uses a mixture of both masculine and feminine imagery in reference to God, it is appropriate to represent God as both our Father and “Mother.” Are there biblical grounds for this assertion?
We won’t go too deep, but here is a proof text example of some feminine metaphors used of God in Scripture:
You deserted the Rock, who fathered you;
you forgot the God who gave you birth. (Deut. 32:18)
Alongside other passages that use similar feminine imagery (see Num. 11:12; Isa. 42:14-15), some feminist scholars have implied that God can also be referred to as a female. But this assertion fails to understand what these feminine metaphors are trying to communicate. When the apostle Paul describes himself as having to once again undergo “the pains of childbirth” for the church (see Gal. 4:19), he is in no way implying that he is actually giving birth. Neither is he implying he is actually a female.
These metaphors are primarily used to communicate an aspect of God’s character, not of His being. Therefore, with all of Scripture’s use of feminine imagery used for God, we must not try to derive any other broader implications in rethinking God’s gender. We should not refer to God with female pronouns.
How important is it to understand God in masculine terms?
There is tremendous theological significance for referring to God in the masculine. Here are just a few reasons why God has deliberately chosen to represent Himself with male pronouns:
1. God’s most central title is “Lord.” This title indicates authority and headship between Him and His creatures. His lordship entails leading, providing, and protecting – characteristics that are exhibited from His nature as Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. Thus, identifying Himself in feminine terms would dilute this emphasis of authority that is crucial to understanding the character of God.
2. God relates to His people as husband, not wife. When God identifies Himself as a father and husband (see Eph. 5:25-27), He identifies Himself as the head of the family – which are terms of authority, but also of love, compassion, and grace. Again, something precious is lost in the process of obscuring the imagery of this relationship that God has with His church.
The husband is meant to be the head of the wife. The husband is meant to lead the wife and the family. How strange would it be to reverse the roles: referring to Christ as the ‘wife’ and the church as the ‘husband’?
Is the church leading Christ in this marriage union? Is Christ submitting to the headship of the church? That’s ridiculous and it’s not even funny.
As soon as we play role reversal on this profound marriage metaphor, we see an irreconcilable distortion of the nature of this spiritual relationship between Christ and His church. It is the church that submits to the lordship and headship of Christ, not vice versa.