Gender of God
The first words of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh or Old Testament) are B'reshit bara Elohim — "In the beginning God created." The verb bara (he created) implies a masculine subject. The most common phrases in the Tanakh are vayomer Elohim and vayomer YHWH — "and God said" (hundreds of occurrences). 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
- "For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee."
Most Orthodox Jews and many Conservative Jews hold that it is wrong to use English female pronouns for God. However, feminine characterisation of God is found in a feminist siddur (Jewish prayerbook). Reconstructionist Jewish Rabbi Rebecca Alpert (Reform Judaism, Winter 1991) comments:
|“||The experience of praying with Siddur Nashim ... transformed my relationship with God. For the first time, I understood what it meant to be made in God's image. To think of God as a woman like myself, to see Her as both powerful and nurturing, to see Her imaged with a woman's body, with womb, with breasts - this was an experience of ultimate significance. Was this the relationship that men have had with God for all these millennia? How wonderful to gain access to those feelings and perceptions.||”|
Secondary male sexual characteristics are attributed to God in some piyuttim (religious poems). These include a description of the beard of God Shir Hakavod, "The Hymn of Glory", and similar poetic imagery in the midrash Song of the Seas Rabbah. Traditional meforshim (rabbinic commentators) hold that these descriptions are metaphorical.
In Christianity, God is understood to be a Trinity, consisting of three persons in one God. The three persons of the Trinity are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The names Father and Son clearly imply masculinity, and God the Son is believed literally to have become incarnate as a male human – the man, Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel of John implies the masculinity of the Spirit, by applying a masculine demonstrative pronoun to the grammatically neuter antecedent (see below).
In Christianity, the New Testament is the primary source of beliefs about God. Perhaps the two most significant debates in Christian history sought to understand what the New Testament implied regarding:
- Jesus as divine as well as human (see Christology), and
- God as three persons in unity — the Trinity — Father, Son and Spirit.
The masculinity of the Father and Son is clear from their names, as given in the New Testament. In the case of the Son, his masculinity is reinforced by his incarnation as the man, Jesus of Nazareth. The New Testament also refers to the Holy Spirit as masculine (in the Gospel of John 14-16). John reports Jesus referring to the Holy Spirit as Comforter (masculine in Greek), and uses grammatically necessary masculine forms of the Greek pronoun autos. Grammatical gender, on its own, says nothing about natural gender. However, when John reports Jesus speaking of the Holy Spirit as Spirit, grammatically neuter in Greek, he uses the masculine form of the demonstrative pronoun ekeinos ("that male one"). This breaking of the grammatical agreement, expected by native language readers, is a clear indication of the authorial intention to unambiguously convey the personhood of the Holy Spirit, and also his masculinity. These texts were particularly significant when Christians were debating whether the New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit is a full divine person, or just a "force". All major English Bible translations have retained the masculine pronoun for the Spirit.
|Young's Literal Translation
(a literal translation)
|And when He may come — the Spirit of truth — He will guide you to all the truth,|
for He will not speak from Himself, but as many things as He will hear He will speak,
|King James Version
(an early translation)
|Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth:|
for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak:
|New American Standard Bible
(a recent translation)
|But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth;|
for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak;
|New Revised Standard Version
(a gender neutral translation)
|When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth;|
for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears,
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God." This makes it clear that God has masculine gender, rather than male sex; as indicated by the pronoun He in the official English translation of Ille in the Latin original.
On the other hand, use of "feminine" imagery (like the personification of divine wisdom in Proverbs) has been expanded upon by some Christian writers. In Syriac Christianity, the grammatically feminine ruah (Spirit), and the occasionally associated "hovering" and "dove" imagery of the Bible, led some fourth-century theologians, such as Aphrahat and Ephraim, to use explicitly maternal language for the Spirit. The second-century Syriac Odes of Solomon use imagery for the Spirit, that some consider to be feminine. Similar imagery is used for the Father. Eastern Orthodox theologian Susan Ashbrook Harvey considers grammatical gender itself to be significant in early Syrian Christianity: "It seems clear that for the Syrians, the cue from grammar — ruah as a feminine noun — was not entirely gratuitous. There was real meaning in calling the Spirit 'She.'"
A few recent theologians, while retaining masculine reference to Father and Son, have explored feminine alternatives for the Holy Spirit. Some have related this to perceived maternal functions in Scripture or Christian tradition. These include: Clark H. Pinnock, Thomas N. Finger, Jürgen Moltmann, Yves M.J. Congar, John J. O'Donnell, and Donald L. Gelpi.
The One-ness of God is of primary importance in the Qur'an and Islam. <p>In AL-Qur'an, AL-Lah or The Divinity is most often referred to with the pronoun Hu, or Huwa and although this is commonly translated as him this can also be translated it or neutral. There is the feminine equivalent of this word Hiya but this too can be translated as it. The Divinity in the Islamic religion is neither Male nor Female. Allah transcends gender. It amounts to blasphemy for The Divinity to be placed in a human or an animal sexual gender category. "...Hu births not nor is Hu born, there is none like unto Hu" Surah 112 AL-Qur'an. Therefore it would only be fitting to use the word Hu in any future transliterations so this is not implied. Other references include the first person pronoun, and the relative pronoun ma (that which), as in the phrase "the heavens and that which created them" (surah Shams (91), verse 5).
The Guru Granth Sahib refers to God as Mother and Father:
- "You are my Father, and You are my Mother... You are my Protector everywhere; why should I feel any fear or anxiety? ||1||" Page 103
- "You are our mother and father; we are Your children." Page 268.
In some places, God is referred to as Mother, Father or Husband:
- "O my wandering mind, you are like a camel - how will you meet the Lord, your Mother?" page 234
- "O Father, I do not know - How can I know Your Way?" page 51
- "You are the Husband Lord, and I am the soul-bride. ||3||" page 484.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon, teaches that both God the Father and Jesus have distinct, perfect, immortal male bodies. Mormons consider the empty tomb proof that God the Son has a body, transformed by the resurrection to power, glory and immortality. They teach that the Son, though glorified, was able to show his body to humans, eat with them, drink with them, and allow them to touch him as a witness that he had taken his body up, a body with which he later ascended to heaven, a body that he has never again laid aside. The Holy Spirit has a spirit body, not a physical body, and is also considered to be male.
There is evidence that Mormons believe there to be more divine beings than just those of the Trinity. In particular, at least one Mormon hymn refers to a Heavenly Mother, partnered to the Father. The official doctrine of the Church is that prayers should be directed to the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Spirit. The Heavenly Mother is not worshipped.
- See also Mormonism and Christianity.
Branch Davidians, some Messianics, and other variations
While being small in number (and not "feminist" in the modern sense), there are some Messianic and Christian groups whose thinking in regards to the gender of the Holy Spirit is, in part, based on the understanding that the Hebrew word for Spirit, ruach, is feminine, and that is then based upon skepticism toward Greek primacy for the New Testament. They are skeptical of the neuter Greek word for "spirit" (Greek pneuma), and the masculine Latin word, because the logos ("oracles" or "words") of God were are said to be given unto the Jews (Rom. 3:1, 2).
Foremost among these groups, and the most vocal on the subject are the Branch Davidian, Seventh-day Adventists. In 1977, one of their leaders, Lois Roden, began to formally teach that a feminine Holy Spirit is the heavenly pattern of women. In her many studies and talks she cited numerous scholars and researchers from Jewish, Christian, and other sources.
They see in the creation of Adam and Eve a literal image and likeness of the invisible Godhead, male and female, who is "clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" (Rom. 1:20). They take the Oneness of God to mean the "familial" unity which exists between them, which unity is not seen in any other depiction of the Godhead by the various non-Hebrew peoples.
These concepts are also taught among other groups, to one degree or another.
There are also some other independent Messianic groups with similar teachings. Some examples include Joy In the World; The Torah and Testimony Revealed ; and The Union of Nazarene Jewish Congregations/Synagogues , who also count as canonical the Gospel of the Hebrews which has the unique feature of referring to the Holy Spirit as Jesus' Mother .
There are also some scholars associated with more "mainstream" denominations, who while not necessarily indicative of the denominations themselves, have written works explaining a feminine understanding of the third member of the Godhead. For example, R.P. Nettlehorst, professor at the Quartz Hill School of Theology (associated with the Southern Baptist Convention) has written on the subject. Evan Randolph, associated with the Episcopal Church, has likewise written on the subject.
- ↑ Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1990), p. 1.
- ↑ Nestle and others, Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th ed., (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgeselschaft, 1993).
- ↑ William D Mounce, The Morphology of Biblical Greek, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), p. 241.
- ↑ John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-14.
- ↑ ibid., p. 242.
- ↑ Wayne A Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), p. 232.
- ↑ 'Pater per Filium revelatus'. Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae. (Citta del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1993): 1-2-1-1-2 ¶ 239. (link is to official English translation)
- ↑ "Deum humanam sexuum transcendere distinctionem. Ille nec vir est nec femina, Ille est Deus." Ibid.
- ↑ Susan Ashbrook Harvey, "Feminine Imagery for the Divine: The Holy Spirit, the Odes of Solomon, and Early Syriac Tradition," St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 37, nos. 2-3 (1993): 111-120.
- ↑ Harvey, "Feminine Imagery," 136.
- ↑ Clark H. Pinnock, "The Role of the Spirit in Creation," Asbury Theological Journal 52 (Spring 1997), 47-54.
- ↑ Thomas N. Finger, Christian Theology:An Eschatological Approach vol. 2 (Scottdale, Penn.:Herald, 1987), 483-490.
- ↑ Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 157-158.
- ↑ Yves M.J. Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, vol. 3 (New York: Seabury, 1983), 155-164.
- ↑ John J. O'Donnell, The Mystery of the Triune God (London:Sheed & Ward, 1988), 97-99.
- ↑ Donald L. Gelpi, The Divine Mother: A Trinitarian Theology of the Holy Spirit (New York:University Press of America, 1984).
- ↑ Eliza R Snow, 'O My Father', Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints #292, 1985.
- ↑ http://yourarmstoisrael.org/BYSW/directory/
- God as Mother (A Christian view)
- Feminine images for God
- The Spirit and the Bride
- God and Gender in Judaism
- Berke, Matthew. 'God and Gender in Judaism'. In First Things, 1996.
- Eller, Vernard. The Language of Canaan and the Grammar of Feminism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.
- Dorff, Elliot N. Male and Female God Created Them: Equality with Distinction. University Papers. Los Angeles: University of Judaism, 1984, pp. 13-23.
- Harlow, Jules. 'Feminist Linguistics and Jewish Liturgy'. Conservative Judaism 49 (1997): 3-25.
- Johnson, Elizabeth. 'The Incomprehensibility of God and the Image of God Male and Female'. Theological Studies 45 (1984): 441-465.
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