Gender of God in Christianity

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The Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo.

God has traditionally been described using masculine terms in Christian scripture and theology. While this has sometimes given rise to the idea that Christians consider God to be male,[citation needed] the majority of Christian denominations (with the notable exception of Mormonism) accept a God who transcends gender.[1][2][3]

Grammatical gender in the Bible[edit]

The first words of the Old Testament are B'reshit bara Elohim — "In the beginning God created."[4] The verb bara (created) agrees with a subject with a plural, nongendered noun.[citation needed] Elohim is used to refer to both genders and is plural; it has been used to refer to both Goddess (in 1 Kings 11:33), and God (1 Kings 11:31; The masculine gender in Hebrew can be used for objects with no inherent gender, as well as objects with masculine natural gender, and so it is widely used, attributing the masculine gender to most things.[citation needed] However, the noun used for the Spirit of God in Genesis—"Ruach"—is distinctly feminine, as is the verb used to describe Her activity during creation—"rachaph"—translated as "fluttereth." This verb is used only one other place in the Bible (Deuteronomy 32:11) where it describes the action of a mother eagle towards her nest. The consistent use of feminine nouns and verbs to refer to the Spirit of God in the Torah, as well as the rest of the Jewish Scriptures, indicates that at least this aspect of Elohim was consistently perceived as Feminine. (Sexism is a Sin, by J.R. Hyland).

Genesis 1:26-27 says that the elohim were male and female,[5] and humans were made in their image.[6]

Two of the most common phrases in the Tanakh are vayomer Elohim and vayomer YHWH — "and God said". Again, the verb vayomer (he said) is masculine; it is never vatomer, the feminine of the same verb form. The personal name of God, YHWH, is presented in Exodus 3 as if the Y (Hebrew yod) is the masculine subjective prefix to the verb to be.[citation needed]

In Psalms 89:26 God is referred to as Father. "He shall cry unto me, Thou art my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation."[7]

Some literary approaches to the Old Testament have argued that parallels between Biblical stories and earlier Sumerian, Akkadian and Canaanite creation myths show a matriarchal substratum that has been overlaid by a patriarchal approach.[8] "In the Bible, the earth is the feminine complement of God: the two combined to form man, who articulates their relationship, for example, in sacrifice."[9]

The New Testament also refers to the Holy Spirit in masculine terminology,[vague] most clearly in the Gospel of John 14-16.

Gender of the Holy Spirit[edit]

The Holy Spirit has variously been considered masculine, feminine, and nongendered.

Denominational views[edit]

Roman Catholic Church[edit]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) #239 states, in reference to the Father: "God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God."[1][2] The CCC discusses the traditional imagery and language of God as Father.[2] It notes, however, that God is not limited to this role alone—maternal imagery are also used in the Bible.[2] It also notes that human fatherhood only imperfectly reflects God's archetypal fatherhood.[2] God is referred to as masculine in Catholic teaching and practice.[10]

Though Church teaching, in line with its Doctors, holds that God has no literal sex because he has no body (a prerequisite of sex),[11][12] classical and scriptural understanding states that God should be referred to (in most contexts) as masculine by analogy. It justifies this by pointing to God's relationship with the world as begetter of the world and revelation (i.e. analogous to an active instead of feminine receptive role in sexual intercourse).[13]

National Council of Churches[edit]

The Inclusive Language Lectionary published by the American National Council of Churches, to which many Protestant churches belong, states in its introduction "The God worshiped by the biblical authors and worshiped in the Church today cannot be regarded as having gender, race, or color."[3]

LDS Church[edit]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) differs from most churches in that they believe that the Father, the Son and the Spirit are separate and male as well as masculine.[14][15] The LDS Church also teaches that God the Father is married to a divine woman, referred to as "Heavenly Mother."[16] Humans are considered to be spirit children of these heavenly parents.[17]

Inclusive language[edit]

A common source of confusion on this issue is the continued use of masculine language to describe God by many Christian groups. Such language does not necessarily imply a belief in the masculinity of God, although it is sometimes taken as such. For example the Catholic Church continues to describe God using masculine terms, in spite of the clear doctrinal statement that God "transcends gender".[1][2] For most groups this language is traditional, though it also reflects a belief that some gender-neutral language (such as referring to God as "it") does not adequately reflect the personhood of God. Devices such as invented gender-neutral terms and alternating masculine/feminine terms are seen as clumsy.

Many churches have however adopted inclusive language in the description of God. In recent history, many liberal and mainline Protestant denominations have adopted or encouraged the use of inclusive language (such as both feminine and masculine language, or non-gendered language) when referring to God; these include the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America[18] and the Metropolitan Community Church.

United Church of Christ[edit]

The New Century Hymnal, the hymnal of the United Church of Christ (UCC), uses inclusive language; one of its concerns while being authored was reducing the solely-masculine use of language for God, and/or balancing masculine images with feminine and non-gendered images, while retaining masculine imagery for Jesus regarding his earthly life.

At least two UCC conferences (Massachusetts[19] and Ohio[20]) have adopted guidelines for using inclusive language, and the majority of clergy and laity in the UCC report using inclusive language when referring to God during worship.[21]

Metropolitan Community Church[edit]

The Metropolitan Community Church encourages inclusive language[22] and uses "God - our Parent-Creator", "Jesus Christ the only begotten son of God", and "the Holy Spirit" in its Statement of Faith to refer to the three persons of the Trinity.[23]


  1. ^ a b c David Bordwell, 2002, Catechism of the Catholic Church,Continuum International Publishing ISBN 978-0-86012-324-8 page 84
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Deum humanam sexuum transcendere distinctionem. Ille nec vir est nec femina, Ille est Deus." From "Pater per Filium revelatus", Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae. (Citta del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1993): 1-2-1-1-2 ¶ 239. (Official English translation Archived March 3, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.)
  3. ^ a b An inclusive-language lectionary: Readings for Year B (Revised ed.). National Council of Churches. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-664-24059-2. 
  4. ^ Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1990), p. 1.
  5. ^ Coogan, Michael (October 2010). "6. Fire in Divine Loins: God's Wives in Myth and Metaphor". God and Sex. What the Bible Really Says (1st ed.). New York, Boston: Twelve. Hachette Book Group. p. 175. ISBN 978-0-446-54525-9. Retrieved May 5, 2011. humans are modeled on elohim, specifically in their sexual differences. 
  6. ^ Coogan (2010:176)
  7. ^ ASV 1901, Public Domain
  8. ^ Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness pages 177-178.
  9. ^ Francis Landy, The Song of Songs chapter of The Literary Guide to the Bible, page 314.
  10. ^ Liturgiam Authenticam Archived January 18, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Aquinas, Thomas (1274). Summa Theologica. Part 1, Question 3, Article 1. 
  12. ^ of Hippo, Augustine (~397). Confessions. Book 7.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  13. ^ Lang, David; Peter Kreeft (2002). Why Matter Matters: Philosophical and Scriptural Reflections on the Sacraments. Chapter Five: Why Male Priests?: Our Sunday Visitor. ISBN 978-1931709347. 
  14. ^ "Lesson 1: The Godhead", Aaronic Priesthood Manual 3, LDS Church, 1995 
  15. ^ Cannon, Donald Q.; Dahl, Larry; Welch, John (January 1989), "The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: The Godhead, Mankind, and Creation", Ensign, LDS Church 
  16. ^ Hinckley, Gordon B. (November 1991), "Daughters of God", Ensign, LDS Church 
  17. ^ First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles (September 23, 1995), "Gospel Topics",, LDS Church, retrieved 2013-12-11  |contribution= ignored (help). See also: The Family: A Proclamation to the World
  18. ^ ELCA Publishing Standards (2003), Section on "Terms for God: Inclusive language"
  19. ^ "Inclusive Language Guidelines". Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ. Archived from the original on 2008-05-11. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  20. ^ "Inclusive Language Guidelines". Ohio Conference - United Church of Chris. Archived from the original on 2008-05-13. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  21. ^ Worshipping into God's Future: Summary and Strategies 2005, United Church of Christ.
  22. ^ Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Pulling. "Study Guide To Inclusive Language". UFMCC. Retrieved 2008-07-09. [permanent dead link]
  23. ^ "Metropolitan Community Church Statement of Faith". Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2008-07-09.