Is God male or female?

This profound and controversial theological question, worthy of debate in the higher reaches of academia, surfaces in the media regularly – and is, inevitably, linked to the issue of women priests.

Now this may seem a bit flippant, but it does remind me of a similar question concerning computers:

A language teacher was explaining to her class that French nouns, unlike English ones, have a grammatical gender – either masculine or feminine. One student asked, ‘What gender is a computer?’ The teacher couldn’t remember, so she divided the class into two groups and asked them to work it out for themselves. One group was composed entirely of women, and the other of men.

The women reckoned that computers should be masculine because:

1 In order to get their attention, you have to turn them on.
2 They have a lot of data but are still stupid.
3 They are supposed to help you solve your problems, but at least half the time they ARE the problem.
4 As soon as you make a commitment to one, you realise that, if you had waited a little longer, you could have got a better model.

The men, on the other hand, decided that computers were definitely feminine because:

1 No one but their creator understands their internal logic.
2 The language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else.
3 Even your smallest mistakes are stored in long-term memory for later retrieval.
4 As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your pay on accessories for it.

A similar question, because it is basically a problem generated by Indo-European grammar. English has dispensed with noun genders, but still hangs on to them for personal pronouns. When referring to God, we have a choice of ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘it’. ‘It’ won’t do, because ‘it’ carries such a strong implication that it is referring to something un-personal. Which leaves us with an unwanted gender choice – a choice that carries with it a lot of social and historical baggage.

A similar question, because the answer is inevitably coloured by our own gender bias and nobody is neutral. We all have an in-built tendency to project onto God an image of our own making, so if (consciously or subconsciously) you ‘want’ your god to be female, that is how you will view ‘her’.

A similar question, because the information that we have to work from (in the Bible) points in both directions. In order to describe the indescribable, the Biblical writers make heavy use of analogy and metaphor. God is pictured over and over again as a King, a Warrior, a Judge, a Husband and a Father. These masculine images predominate, but they are far from being the whole story. We also have feminine ones: a Midwife (Psalm 71:6), a Mother (Isaiah 66:13), even a hen protecting her chicks (Luke 13:34). (There are also inanimate images: David’s psalms frequently describe God as a Rock, but nobody – yet – has seriously suggested that God should therefore be neuter!)

“God created mankind in His own image,
in the image of God He created them;
male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
Gender matters to us because we are, as a species, ‘male and female’. We have to be divided in this way, in order to reproduce. But whether male or female, we are equally God-like. God is ‘above’ gender and has no gender (it might be more accurate to say that He incorporates both genders), but until we invent a non-gendered personal pronoun for the English language it is impossible to reflect that fact clearly in our everyday speech.

So what should we do? What would God’s answer be to this question? I suspect He would simply say, as He said to Moses, “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:14) We can’t force Him into a human mould; we have to recognise that He is outside all natural categories. But when He had to opt for one gender or the other… in order to become an individual human being… which did He choose?

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19 Responses to Is God male or female?

  1. wincam says:

    God is both male and female, man is both male and female, woman is only female – so both male and female came from God as man and the female was taken from man to form woman – this is why only a male priest can and does represent humankind at the altar and a woman would not but can only represent womankind and not mankind – wincam

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    • Deborah says:

      “Man is both male and female, woman is only female” – can you please explain how you arrive at this? The Bible gives us no explanation as to why the priests could not be female.
      Our high priest now is Christ (who is, of course, male), but interestingly the writer to the Hebrews says nothing about His gender, only about the necessity for Him to be human (Hebrews 2:17, 5:1).

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      • wincam says:

        there is no room nor rhyme nor reason to doubt or debate as Christians that man was originally created in the image and likeness of his creator viz male and female – this is clearly demonstrated in his chromosome make up of both x and y, male and female, chromosomes – a woman only has an x female chromosome – our creator says so and proves it is so – wincam

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      • Deborah says:

        Adam might have been (spiritually) genderless to start with, but surely when Eve was taken out of him so was the ‘feminine’. Genesis 1 & 2 teach us that God’s image embraces both sexes and is most complete in a married couple.

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      • wincam says:

        no – Adam was not genderless to start with – the female was taken out of him but he had more than just one female within – wincam

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      • Deborah says:

        Please explain…

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      • wincam says:

        Adam had many sons and daughters – wincam

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      • Deborah says:

        But not without a little help from Eve!

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      • wincam says:

        with his x chromosome missing even his helpmate would not have been able to help him in having daughters – btw woman was not created very good and so was Adam’s Achilles heel attacked by the devil – wincam

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      • Deborah says:

        I can’t agree with you there: woman is part of the creation that is – as a whole – very good (Genesis 1:27,31)

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      • wincam says:

        Eve was created at Gen.2:21 after everything else was created very good at Gen.1:31 – wincam

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      • Deborah says:

        NO – man AND woman were both created in Genesis 1:27, so both were declared to be ‘very good’.

        Genesis 2 is a re-telling of the creation of mankind in more detail, not something new that happened after the completion of creation in Genesis 1.

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      • wincam says:

        yes – even this is an accepted explanation but there is no refuting man as representing human kind has x and y chromosomes compared to woman with just an x chromosome – wincam

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      • Deborah says:

        It is an over-simplification of human biology to reduce the sexes to X and Y chromosomes – especially since there are some women who have Y chromosomes…

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  2. wincam says:

    btw he died about four years ago but my elder brother lived in Emmer Green – wincam

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  3. wincam says:

    to say that some women have Y chromosomes is to latch on to the exceptions to try and prove the rule and at best in most circles would be regarded as nit picking imho – wincam

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    • Deborah says:

      Not quite.. it shows that the chromosomes are not the point. Just because men have X chromosomes, doesn’t make them partly female. The ‘potential’ for the female is realised only if they have daughters – and the daughters are separate people.

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      • wincam says:

        men do not have sons or daughters – strictly speaking it is women who have them both – there is no question of potential as Henry VIII found out and Bess was glad he did – its a bit like roulette imho – wincam

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      • Deborah says:

        Now you are nit-picking. Henry VIII knew nothing about chromosomes.

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