Bible is neutral in gender, but God is not neutered of gender

We know what a gender-neutral bible is like (TNIV, NLT, NRSV), but what would a gender-neutral God look like? Such a God would be neutered. In other words, we would have an emasculated God. But the God I worship is one I know as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And I do hope that’s how it will stay in the bible. As a supporter of gender-neutral translations, I do not deny that there is a liberal feminizing agenda out there. Yes, this kind of ultra-feminized language does exist in some sectors of Christianity. I have heard some Christians refer to God as “Mother God”. Personally, I cannot handle this language of a feminized God. I prefer to stick to “Father God”. I don’t think I could ever see God as being female. To refer to God as a “she” is just too radical for my conservative taste. Theologically, I do not see any grounds for a “Mother God”. What would the implications be with a “Mother God”? It would mean the end of the trinity, as we know it. There would no longer be a Father-Son-Holy Spirit. Could we have a Mother-Daughter-Holy Spirit? The ultra-feminists view could probably work with that but not conservative evangelical Christians. This radical feminist tendency toward feminizing God is too radical, not only for theological conservatives but also for theological liberals. Our church is definitely not ready for a “Mother God”. It’s just too radical, let alone unscriptural. (picture: Shield of the Trinity)

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

19 thoughts on “Bible is neutral in gender, but God is not neutered of gender”

  1. Hey Kevin. That was a very well-written article. “Father” and “Son” are powerful terms, but they have limits. Unless we understand them as beyond gender, and beyond the human conception of father and son, they do not encompass who God is. God is more than we can conceive in any moment or lifetime. Whatever stance we take on appropriate language to define God, we fail. It is good to know, though, that whether we refer to God as a mothering hen or a just father, God is both and more, and God does not hold against us our inability to define… God.

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  2. Jim, what you said caused me think and reflect more deeply about my definition of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”. It made me feel uneasy about my own humanity. I do agree that “God is more than we can conceive in any moment or lifetime.” Throughout my Christian journey, I have tried to learn not to limit what God can do (this is human beings trying to fit God in our box). However, I also have to learn to not try to limit who God is (this is also to fit God in our box). This is the downside of trying to keep orthodox theology. The challenge of theologians is to keep orthodox beliefs but yet not limit ourselves from defining God within the confines of a box. My human tendency is to try to use my limited human understanding to try to define a limitless God. Perhaps it is my innate human concupiscence that pulls us all to desire to define who God is in our mind (i.e., orthodoxy). However, I feel that it also stems from our human desire to want to know God and seek a closer relationship with God. Nevertheless, some orthodoxy is still necessary, but how much is necessary? Hmm…

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  3. “The challenge of theologians is to keep orthodox beliefs but yet not limit ourselves from defining God within the confines of a box.”

    Bit of a paradox, isn’t it? I love the challenge. If we throw out orthodox beliefs, we run the risk of having a tailor-made faith just for “me.” If we allow orthodox beliefs to frame who we think God is, we run the risk of squashing valuable work and valuable insights that come from outside of that frame…. ahhh, I truly do love the dichotomy. Thanks be to God!

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  4. A specific example of the “God the Father” terminology getting fuzzy is in the translation of the Hebrew name of God, “El Shaddai”. While most Bibles translate it as “God Almighty”, many academics focus on variants of “God of the Mountain” and the rabbinical exegesis renders “God, Self-Sufficient”.

    However, an alternative view that seemingly has gained much popularity in the past 30-40 years finds etymological roots in the Hebrew word “shad”, which means “breast”, so “God the Breasted One”. The influence of feminist leanings? Certainly there was an aspect of God caring for Abraham in the desert/wilderness and providing the resources needed to establish their place in the land. I’m not sure that this requires an explicitly “mother” name of God however. Unless one was specifically looking for a way to marginalize the patriarchal culture…

    I prefer the rabbinical exegesis myself. I blogged on this and other translation choices for ElShaddai last year: What’s in a Name?

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  5. Hi ElShaddai Edwards, you sure have many variations to your blogger name (or your real name). I don’t think there is any possibility of “God the Father” getting fuzzy in translation. It would have to be a dishonest distortion in translation. But I see what you mean regarding “El Shaddai”. I read your post. What a dizzy array of possible meanings!

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  6. Jim, regarding your first comment “we refer to God as a mothering hen”, I thought further about this in an orthodox manner. In the biblical text, God is said to act like a comforting mother (Isaiah 66:13), cry out like a woman in childbirth, act like a mother eagle, and rage like a mother bear (Hosea 13:8). These are vivid imagery and can add meaning to how we think of God as one who comforts, cares, cries, and protects ones children.

    Therefore, to say that God is a “mother bear” or a “mother eagle” would be incompatible and incorrect. Likewise, to say that God the Mother is the same as saying God the Father would be speaking incompatibly and on a completely different level. In the biblical text, no one has ever addressed God directly as a mother, although I don’t doubt that God has a softer feminine side that the word Father cannot adequately express.

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  7. Hi ElShaddai Edwards, you sure have many variations to your blogger name (or your real name).

    That’s my real name. Not sure what other variations you’re referring to…

    No, I don’t think “Father” could ever be honestly mistranslated. My point was that, in absence of an accurate understanding of the etymological roots for the word “shadday”, the familiar “God Almighty” is but one translation of the Hebrew “ElShaddai”. If someone wanted to promote a feminist or female view of God, they could just as easily produce a Bible that translated the Hebrew differently, e.g. “I am God with Breasts” instead of “I am God Almighty” in Gen 17:1.

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  8. I want to recall a dialogue by Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects which i thought was outstanding.

    He says ” The biggest trick the devil ever pulled off was convincing people that he did not exist.”

    You people should reflect on this. The devil is alive & kicking and he misguides people who are not of firm belief.

    I applaud Kevin here for his faith. You’re right and trust me God is the Almight Father, no two ways about it. He is not shortchanged by it, otherwise why would Jesus himself refer to God as Father ?

    There are people influenced by devil everywhere & they will try to corrupt the original meaning of the sacred verses by giving pathetic excuses like the word Father being insufficient to describe God.

    Do not try to please them. We already have what is correct. Don’t let these fools distort it.

    Any male who has tried to live like a man & tried to live like a father to his son knows the significance of God being referred to as Father.

    Remember, in our lives our fathers have the most thankless & uncompromising work.

    Attributes like caring, nurturing, empathizing are much more abundant in men than in women.

    They have been after all chosen as leaders of their households by God Himself. Do you think a man who tries to live the way God wishes him to live i.e. as leader of his household, will he not be blessed more with qualities which tend towards greatness ?

    Feminism is a rot that is slowly destroying the western civilization. Its prevalence is only because of men forgetting their roles in society. There is no sense of brotherhood among men. How would they understand what The Bible means by brotherhood ?

    But conscious men should atleast keep sacred scriptures like Bible away from the influence of such social diseases. Only when the Bible is preserved as the way it was when created, can people follow it or else the Bible will not be Bible anymore. Please remember this. I think men like Kevin should understand what i have stated.

    As for those taken by the devil’s viewpoint, well they are inviting their own ruin. They haven’t the power to misguide the faithful. So please remain faithful to the original Bible. God is the Heavenly Father. If you live your life piously with this faith you will meet God at last. Then you will see that you were right all along.

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  9. Anonymous, thanks for you input and for your encouragement not to veer off the originally intended meaning of scripture. The bible is God’s holy word and people have “played around with it” for the sake of pleasing radical feminists. Theologians do not have the right to change Father God’s identity and should keep in mind that God is holy and God’s word is holy.

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  10. Since god is a supremely perfect being and transcends humanity, then god should transcend human characteristics. Thusly, god should transcend gender altogether.

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  11. The dialogue by Kevin Spacey, was from a movie. It fitted the story line. If we are to live by lines from movies, then which one should we truly pick. If a devil was, then why a God? Why would any loving God, let such a thing live? And if we are to have mates, then then build a family with love? Do you now agree it was God’s planes and idea? If so, then why should He keep himself from such a beautiful thing such of having his own family. It was not mans idea,but God’s? And if having a mate makes should not make us lesser then we should be. Then why is it to be, He God having a wife She God, make Him lesser. And if you wish to quote the bible? Then of when God said “Let us make mankind in our image”, whom was He talking to? Jesus some say. If so, then where did the image of the female come from?
    Why is it so hard for mankind to think there can be not just a male God. But 2 God’s. He God and She God. Husband and wife. Not one above the other. But equal. Like man and women should be. Nether one, being greater then the other. Why can’t there be a loving God (2 of them) that were the ones that came up with all this, before man even came to be?

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  12. There are a few references in scripture that hint at feminine characteristics, though specific ones escape me at the moment aside from the one where Jesus laments for Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37 (though it can be argued this is more poetry than prose). I will try to find a few more that I`m trying to recall and will post them if I remember them.

    Matthew 23:37 NRSV
    “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

    This being said, I`m not now, nor will I ever be ready for a bible that translates such as Father/Mother God, and the like. But I do believe that God transcends gender. I guess I just like the text to read as true to the original languages as possible in such matters of importance.

    On a side note, in the Jewish mysticism known as Kabbala, God is believed to be both male and female in gender. I realize that we are Christians, not Kabbalists, just an interesting sidebar.

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  13. OK,I found one from the OT that would seem to portray both male (in the sense of begot you) and female(in the sense of, gave birth to you, one of Strong`s possible definitions being travailed, giving the sense of a woman giving birth) images of God (again it can be argued that this is poetry rather than prose, but so can a lot of other things that we tend to be dogmatic about). Anyway the verse is Deuteronomy 32:18, and here it is in a few different translations. Keep in mind that I am not expressing a view, simply being objective.

    Deuteronomy 32:18 NRSV
    You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; F79 you forgot the God who gave you birth.
    FOOTNOTES:
    F79: Or [that begot you]

    Deuteronomy 32:18 NASB
    “You neglected the Rock who begot you, And forgot the God who gave you birth.

    Deuteronomy 32:18 TNIV
    32:18
    You deserted the Rock, who bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.

    Deuteronomy 32:18 ESV
    You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,and you forgot the God who gave you birth.

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  14. L. Wells, in Matt.23:37, if Jesus had spoken of a rooster instead of a hen, I wonder if it would have the same nurturing instincts to gather in his little chicks? The analogy of a shepherd who rounds up his sheep wouldn’t seem so feminine.

    In Deut. 32:18 the word מחללך (chuwl) means to give birth but it also means to twist, whirl, dance, writhe, fear, tremble, travail, be in anguish, be pained…so I wonder it any of these meanings could be possible?

    Here are some other translations that don’t use the motherly imagery:

    You ignored the Rock who gave you birth; you forgot the God who brought you forth. (HCSB)

    They forgot their God, their mighty savior, the one who had given them life. (GNT)

    Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful, And have forgotten the God who fathered you. (NKJV)

    Thou hast forsaken the God that begot thee, and hast forgotten the Lord that created thee. (Douay-Rheims)

    You ignored the rock who fathered you and forgot the God who gave you life. (God’s Word)

    You walked out on the Rock who gave you your life, forgot the birth-God who brought you into the world. (Message)

    These are alternatives to “gave you birth”. At 6 to 4, it would make the possibility of a motherly language in Hebrew more uncertain.

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  15. Kevin, you are correct. I did notice this rendering in the HCSB (I should`ve thought to check NKJV and Rheims, but frankly I don`t esteem the other three translations you mentioned very highly so I probably would`ve never thought to look at them), as well as the other possible definitions of (chuwl) when I was looking at this. I was just pointing out possibilities. Possibilities that I myself am not totally comfortable with, but they do exist.

    I do appreciate you taking the time to look at the other translations. I didn`t realize there would be that many translations that didn`t go with the “travail, birth pang” angle, which I still believe fits the verse contextually, as God truly did bring forth Israel in travail similar to a birthing mother.

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  16. How dare you give God, a powerful being like God, a GENDER?

    The person who said feminism is a disease should get a life because if it weren’t for them then there would still be discrimnation, chock loads of it!

    Also, God is not male. God is not female either. God in gender-neutral. And if you insist that I and many other are wrong for believing this, then you are very selfish and mysogynistic. No woman would want to follow a religion which excludes and demeans her.

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  17. Anonymous, it’s not me who is assigning God a male gender but the original Hebrew and Greek clearly uses the male description for God the Father and God the Son. I know how you feel. Giving God a gender may sound like scripture is excluding the female gender but it’s not. I’m all for gender-inclusive translations because the original writers were speaking to people—both men and women. That’s why my favourite translations tend to be gender-inclusive. But I am very hesitant to change God’s gender from male to female. I think people might have an easier time accepting a gender-neutral God but not a gender-inclusive God.

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