Lately, the question of gender identity and gender roles has grown in attention, especially among the millennial generation. Following the example of many leading postmodern societies, American colleges and universities have begun to adopt new ways of prohibiting sexist language that is directed towards the student body. From this overly sensitive mindset, the pronoun “ze” was created for the purpose of having a gender neutral pronoun. No longer is society pleased with common pronouns that were taught in grade school such as he, she, him, and her. He and she are now “ze”.
This issue has now transitioned into Bible colleges, divinity schools, and accredited seminaries. One of the leading names among Christian academics, despite its liberal interpretation of the Scriptures, is Duke University. They are well known for their academic excellence, but they are also known to be theologically liberal. Graduates such as Dr. Mark Dever have expressed their views of Duke University as having a divinity program which lacks “biblical principles” and “conservative values”. That is why it is to no surprise that National Review published an article stating that the faculty at the divinity schools are required to use more “inclusive language” when addressing God.
God is no longer allowed to be addressed as He, but only as God or Godself. Other institutions such as Vanderbilt University prefer the use of “ze”. Vanderbilt states that they are a college that doesn’t want to “mitigate sexism”, so in order to combat sexism they believe that refusing to address God as a “He” is a start. The author of the article on National Review titled Top Divinity Schools: Use Gender-Neutral Language to Refer to God is reporter Katherine Timpf who argued that Christianity “gives you the vibe…God is a dude”. Also, she believes that it doesn’t make sense for a Methodist college such as Duke to be afraid of saying God is a male when the Bible teaches that God is a man, but is that truly the case?
The issue here is what the Bible argues about God. Above every systematic theology textbook that is available in the hands of a seminary student, the Bible still remains as the primary guide by which we test all theological ideas. As Christians, we are accountable to believe in the biblical portrayal of who God is. So the question is this: does the Bible teach that God is a man? It would certainly seem so since it is written that man is made in the image of God, and God is addressed as Father and Son. Another question worth asking is this: are Duke and Vanderbilt justified in refusing to be gender specific when it comes to how we address God? As always, we need to examine every theological question beginning with the Scriptures, as it is the very word of God himself. There is no better method of understanding who God is than to read what He says of Himself.
Is God a Male?
The most distinctive part of the nature of God is that He is One, but in three persons. This is called Trinitarianism. That is why I would not count Christianity as a monotheistic religion, as the Godhead is completely unique in their nature. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are not all manifestations of one God (as a monotheism would assume), but rather they are distinctly different and set apart for different roles. Also, each person of the Godhead has their own divine nature and their own ways of carrying out works.
Beginning with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, they are both unable to be classified as males. Both of them are not described in the Bible as possessing humanly form or biological frameworks. Jesus Himself spoke of the Father and the Holy Spirit in John 4:24 (ESV): “‘God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.'” Simply put, God the Father and Holy Spirit are never portrayed in the Scriptures as possessing any of the same attributes as man would have. There is no biblical indication to believe that the Father or the Holy Spirit are anything, but divine in their spiritual form.
However, when it comes to the nature of God the Son, Jesus Christ is both God and man. John 1:14 (ESV) makes it clear that Jesus was God in the flesh saying, “And the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Scripture makes it evident that the Son of God is indeed a man, but yet He is also God. Christ, even after the resurrection, had the same flesh as we have. It was flesh that could hunger, scar, and be nailed to a cross. He was the only one of the Godhead that had been, is, and will be both God and man.
One key story to remember is the story of Abraham’s guests in Genesis 18. There were three men that were invited to dine with Abraham. Abraham had food prepared for them, and pleaded with them to rest at their camp. Now the Scriptures make it clear that two of the three are indeed angels who are sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. I think that the One who prophesied the birth of Isaac, and the One Abraham pleaded with was Jesus Christ. It is Christ that is the God man and it makes sense that man would be made in the image of the son as by Him and through Him all things were made.
Should We Address God as “He”?
So now we know that reporter Katherine Timpf had not clearly understood the nature of God and whether He truly was a male or not. God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are not man, but Christ, God the Son, is both wholly God and fully man. So then since only one of the members of the Godhead was God in flesh, then doesn’t it make sense to address God with gender neutral pronouns? The answer to this is also a no. The Bible makes over 170 references to God being the Father, and never as the mother. Throughout the Bible God is addressed as “He” or “Lord”, rather than the counter gender terms “she” or “lady”. Also, another key factor is that every time an angel of the Lord would appear to an individual, whether it would be to a bold prophet or a virgin bride, the angel would be addressed with male pronouns as well.
As if the facts presented were not enough, the Greek word for God in the New Testament is “theos”. There are over 900 occurrences throughout the New Testament of the word. The most significant part of the word for God in Greek, is that the noun is masculine. The same exact scenario occurs within the Hebrew language as well. Nouns such as Elohim, Addonai, and Jehovah-Jira are all masculine. This means that God should be addressed with masculine pronouns. We are not supposed to seek gender neutral methods when confronting God’s divinity. God gave clear instructions through His word as to how we are to address Him, and it is very clear that He is to be addressed as a masculine God.
Now a masculine God doesn’t mean that God is sexist. In fact, God is presented in the Scriptures as one who cares for women and is an encourager for women. We tend to forget that both man and woman were created in the image of God to reflect His glory. It is not sexist to believe God is masculine anymore than it is sexist to say Boaz was a man or that Ruth was a woman. God’s attributes are given unto all mankind for the glory of His name. God’s masculinity should actually be a reason to inspire men to follow God’s example in His eagerness to care for and lead women, and inspire women to be tenderhearted and helpers of men. God’s masculinity isn’t a reason for sexism, but a reason against it. Nor does God support the idea of a patriarchy, but rather an idea that men and women complement each other and fulfill each other physically and emotionally.
The very fact that God is Triune, that He is Spirit and man, and that He is an example for all of creation as to how to approach gender makes our God very unique and all the more precious. However, one cannot simply know theology and expect His life to get suddenly better. J.I. Packer once said, “Theology that does not lead to doxology and devotion is nothing but bad theology.” We need to realize that God’s identity should be all the more a reason why we are to strive to glorify Him and live out what He desires for our lives.
God’s masculine attributes are not intended to be a shield for men to hide behind for failures to respect and nourish women, nor is it an excuse for women to not be involved with advancing the Kingdom of God and speaking the truth of God’s word to others. We must strive for submission to God’s sovereign will over our lives and for His nature to be a driving force to worship Him and love others.
Soli Deo Gloria.