What Gender is God?

I have just finished the ms for my book for 15-17 year olds – its 52 questions from teenagers all over the world – each one answered with a bible passage, text, commentary,  discussion questions. recommended further reading and a prayer.  One of the articles has already been published by Premier Christianity’s Youth Work magazine.  This is it below.  I have also added in the other elements so that you can get a feel for the whole book which I hope will be published later in the year. 

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Youth Works Article Cover

Question:  What Gender is God?

Bible Reading:  Numbers 23:1-26

Text:             God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19).

You may have noticed that there is a great deal of confusion about what gender is today. The notion that human gender consisted of male and female, which was based upon biological, social and cultural differences, is now being replaced (at least in the influential areas of our society) with the view that gender is just a social construct (i.e. something made up by society), and that there can be many more genders.

What does the Bible say? It clearly teaches that human beings are made male and female. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. “ (Genesis 1:27). But notice that this verse also tells us that all human beings, male and female, are made in the image of God. So does this mean that God is both male and female?   It can get very confusing. Consider the following:

Language

The language used for God in the Bible is that of a male. It is God the Father. God is not ‘it’, He is a He! In an age when we are told to respect the pronouns that people wish to be used, perhaps it would be a good idea for us to use the personal pronouns that God has revealed himself with? Its not good for us to change the language we use about God to suit our culture or the fashions of the day. If we do so we will soon end up just creating not language but a God in our own image.

But that does not mean that God is male. Why not? One reason is that sometimes in the Bible female analogies and language are used of God. For example in Isaiah 66:13, God is spoken of as a mother – As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.

But the main reason is that male and female are terms that are used for human beings – not for God. Despite all the caricatures God is not some kind of superhuman or old man up in the sky. This is of course hard for us to understand and so our temptation is always to try and create a God in our own image.   But the Bible gives us a different picture.   One of the great Confessions of the Christian Church puts it this way-

““ There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions,” (The Westminster Confession of Faith).

Without body, parts or passions…in other words the things that make gender. So in that sense God is genderless.

Heresy

We also need to beware of the heresy of teaching that the Trinity is like a human family – God the Father, the Holy Spirit the mother and Jesus the son. That is to read back into the Bible a 21st century concept of the family and again create a God in our own image. The Holy Spirit is not an ‘it’, nor a ‘she’. When Jesus speaks of the Spirit he uses the male pronoun.

Revelation

In all of this it is important that we recognise two things. Firstly it is hard for us, if not impossible for us to conceive of God adequately. We need him to reveal himself to us. And he has done that in the Bible. So it is always best for us to stick with the ‘revelation’ that God has given us of himself.

Jesus

Secondly we understand God as he is revealed in Jesus. Hebrews 1 tells us that he is the exact representation of his being. When we look at Jesus we see what God is like.     Jesus came as a male human being, but his incarnation (God becoming flesh) is for all of us.

Perhaps sometimes we over emphasise the differences between men and women – as though we are from different planets.   We are all made in the image of God. Not in terms of gender but we are logical beings, we are moral beings and we are holy beings. I wouldn’t worry too much about the gender of God – to do so is to misunderstand who he is. The more important thing is to know God through Christ, and thus enable all of us, whatever our gender, to be better and renewed human beings.

Consider: Why is it important to keep with the language of the Bible? What are the dangers with seeking to change the Bible so that it fits our culture? What are the practical implications of knowing that all men and all women are made in the image of God?

Recommended Further Reading: Knowing God – J I Packer

Prayer:  O Lord our God, we bless you that you have revealed yourself to us through your name. We bless you that you are Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   We thank you that all human beings, male or female, are made in your image.  Enable us to know you and love you, in Jesus name. Amen

 

The World Turned Upside Down

22 thoughts on “What Gender is God?

  1. The trinity? That has never been explained in anyway that makes sense, almost as if a group of people thought it was a good idea, ran with it, and have regretted it ever since. A riddle with more holes than Swiss cheese. Also a discussion of the gender, of an unproven supernatural entity, beggars belief.

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    1. Thats a bit of an OTT comment…The Trinity has actually been explained many times in a way that makes sense…maybe try a little reading and thought before you sneer in ignorance?

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    2. The NT tells us that “God is Love”.

      Where there is love, there is:
      a lover
      a beloved
      and the love that unites them.

      Applying this to the Tri-Une God:
      The Father Who Loved is God
      The Son Who is Beloved is God
      The Holy Spirit Who is the Love Uniting Them is God.

      The analogy limps, of course, as it cannot help doing. since God is beyond & above even the very best that can be thought of Him. Nonetheless, it can be helpful.

      Faith in the Tri-Une God is not something anyone should be embarrassed by, because the doctrine that God is Tri-Une reveals a great deal about God. It helps us to appreciate, ever less inadequately, Who this God Is Whom we worship. God is revealed primarily in Jesus Christ – and Christ is Himself a revelation of the Trinity. As His Conception, Baptism, Earthly Life, Death, Resurrection & Ascension show.

      To “see” Christ is to “see” His Father; and this is possible to Christians only because they united with Christ in the Holy Spirit. It is by being Christ’s, in the Spirit Who unites us with Christ, that we have access to the Father. That God is Tri-Une, is foundational to the Church’s life in Christ. The Church knows God to be Tri-Une – so, she says God is Tri-Une.

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    3. You are in a strange place in these reflections, Matt,
      if you don’t mind me saying so. If ‘a group of people’ had had the idea of God and ‘ran with it’, gender is exactly one of the things they’d have talked about so for us to do so now is perfectly to be expected. (And since you’ve brought up the idea of people making things up: The swiss cheese aphorism sounds good but maybe if you were just to tell us what these holes look like? Also, where are the ‘regretters’ of whom you speak?)
      You betray the fact that you’re in a strange place when instead of just saying that *a discussion of the gender of God beggers belief* you find that you have to talk about ‘an unproven supernatural entity’. That in turn shows that the question of the Trinity is of no interest to you other than to taunt Christians who are not able to explain God.
      It may be of no comfort to you, I’m afraid, but increasingly we Christians are beginning to realise that not being able to say what things actually are is not that uncommon. For example: ‘What is energy?’ (and before attempting an answer, read this little excerpt from John Lennox: https://www.reddit.com/r/DebateAnAtheist/comments/35z9s1/john_lennox_conversation_with_a_physicist/ )
      But even when the question comes from Unitarians — another strange place, but you’re only borrowing from their sophistry — it’s actually backwards. It is the idea of an ‘absolute’ God that cannot be explained in any way that makes sense. My favourite explanation of God is the Doctrine of Adoption and that is thoroughly Trinitarian.
      Yours,
      John/.

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      1. I’m not here to ‘taunt’ anyone, I would like an explanation that makes reasonable sense. It’s interesting your mention Lennox; his rational leaves me cold, he always seems to struggle to defend his beliefs with pseudo intellectual reasoning, hoping his credibility as a mathematician adds authority to his conclusions.
        If the understanding of the trinity is clear, why do many christians
        struggle to explain it, or disagree about it, or don’t agree with it?

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      2. Fair enough, Matt,
        but it is much easier to answer ‘why do many christians struggle to explain it, or disagree about it, or don’t agree with it?’ than it would be to give you what you would consider to be ‘an explanation that makes reasonable sense.’
        In fact many Christians struggle to explain the Godhead just because they think that they owe you all — not you, personally, you understand — an explanation that you will consider to make reasonable sense. These Christians would struggle less if they realised that they have neither the duty nor the ability to do so.
        As John Lennox — pseudo-intellectual though he might be in your eyes — points out, it was Richard Feynman who told us all that we don’t know what energy is. I imagine that many physicists were happy to stop struggling to explain energy when Feynman said what many of them would like to have said before and maybe did. (Of course if any of them have the temerity to say that Feynman was only a pseudo-intellectual then they will no doubt continue to struggle.)
        It is a reasonable explanation for belief in what the Bible tells us about God to say that the Bible tells us so but my presupposition is that you will not think that to be reasonable at all. Once again, fair enough, but — remembering that nobody owes you an explanation of what cannot be directly explained — I’ve had a think about what I said before about doctrine and I can’t imagine how you’d teach any Christian doctrine without being explicitly and unreservedly Trinitarian. That’s what you might call backward reasoning but I think it makes sense for all that.
        Yours,
        John/.

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    1. Certainly, but that does not make God male, or corporeal. The Holy Trinity Who is the One God, is not changed by the Incarnation of the Word. Any more than the Holy Trinity is changed by the act of creating. God is not changed by His activity towards creatures. There is change, but it is in the creature, not in God the Creator. The Eternal Divine Word Who is “with the Father” assumed a created, sinless human nature, thereby becoming “God with us”. This did not change the Word Who assumed the human nature – it changed the nature that was assumed.

      If a storyteller writes himself into his own story as one of the characters, the change is in the story, not in the storyteller. The storyteller has multiplied the ways in which he is present. And that is (sort of) what happened in the Incarnation: God, Who is present in all creation as its Creator and Lord, has through the Eternal Divine Word made Himself present in creation as a man living within it, “the man Christ Jesus”, Who is God the Word.

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  2. David, I had planned to bow out of the comments section of your blog as I have been here too long of late. But this subject matter is too near to my heart to bow out just yet! My contribution is a lot longer than Matt’s above (sorry) but I hope it is not as rude!! Thank you for posting my comments/essays/rants /rebuttals and reflections. I’m sure my offerings weren’t always to your liking but the comments section of your blog offered me a timely outlet for my zeal for Jesus and His truth, and my pent up frustration with the lack of space in society for open debate. I had also aimed to ‘back you up’ as you have consistently ‘put your head above the parapet’ and your ‘neck on the line’ and considering the current political climate, for that you deserve some support. It is not right to leave a fellow Christian to face the bulls of Bashan alone. In contributing to the debate, I didn’t have my own blog and am not known publicly as you are, so I am not in the same line of fire, but I sort of stole a corner of your soap box for a while, if you don’t mind! I went far out of my comfort zone and was only sustained by trusting that ‘His strength is made perfect in weakness’ ” 2 Cor 12:9 and Psalm 31 “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness”. I was obedient to what I felt the Lord wanted me to say and often wrote things that I would not have dreamed of saying but I believe the Lord was with me and gave me insight and deepened my understanding of many things during the course of contributing to your comments section. That is not the same as extra-Biblical revelation, but maybe I am claiming to have greatly deepened and widened my interpretation of parts of Scripture and the meaning of life, and my ability to express that in language. I say this humbly, not boasting. My contributions to your comments section were done alone and without fellowship or support except what I gladly received from a few of the other contributors to your blog, which was a bit of timely and welcome encouragement. I find myself regularly, but not always, being either on the receiving end of attempts by men (inside and outside church) to either ‘put me in my labelled box and put the lid on” (infuriating) or being told to “get into my labelled box and put the lid on myself” (hurtful). I will do neither and this frequently gets me into trouble and leaves me alone yet once again. But I always aim to act within the parameters that God has laid out in Scripture for women, as it is Him I will answer to, not man. I am sure I frequently act outside those parameters (get too big for my boots) but my aim is to act within them; while at the same time have life abundant (fill my boots). It is a delicate balance, an art and not a science. It is also not helpful when people encourage me to step outwith the parameters that God has outlined for me as it does not bring glory to God and is detrimental to men and women, boys and girls.
    So with that in mind I will aim to contribute a little to your current discussion.
    “Consider: Why is it important to keep with the language of the Bible? What are the dangers with seeking to change the Bible so that it fits our culture? What are the practical implications of knowing that all men and all women are made in the image of God?”

    In keeping with the language of the Bible, we remember we only have a translation. I would love to be a Hebrew (and Greek scholar but I am not). I don’t mean to be pedantic but sometimes we have to get to the root or original meaning of words to truly understand their meaning and therefore implication. I am not an etymologist, (I wish I was). Children and young people are so confused; we need to clarify in order to simplify.
    I was perfectly happy once upon a time with the terms ‘man’ and ‘mankind’. I felt beautifully enshrined as a ‘woman’ in those words. But someone, or something told us women that it was not good enough! So now we have the mouthful ‘human being’, or ‘human kind’ instead of ‘man’ or ‘mankind’. There is no exclusivity in the term mankind. To me human is ‘evolution language’. I think human means – pertaining to man. Because ‘homme’ – French is just man. ‘Homo’ – Latin = man. Homo Sapiens is ‘wise man’ (yuck). What’s wrong with ‘man’, ‘mankind’, a man and a woman; male and female? I think the verse you quoted is better understood from the ESV.
    “God is not man, that he should lie,
    or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
    So although we call God ‘He’ and Jesus ‘He’ and the Spirit ‘He’, Scripture still says that God is not man nor is he a ‘son of man’ that he should lie. Mankind lie. We all do to some extent, both men and women.
    Jesus called himself the ‘son of man’ and this showed his humility. Taken from (random choice) ‘Turning to God’s Word’ (serious bible study for serious Catholics); the word humility itself derives from the Latin word humus, which means “earth” or “soil” and likewise means lowliness. So maybe it could be said Jesus’ humility was shown in him becoming ‘man’ i.e. of the earth (Adam was literally made from the earth).
    In order to understand man and woman we will enter a circular argument if we start and end with Scripture. But, if we take Scripture out of the picture altogether, we end up with either a pagan view or the evolutionary view which is utterly meaningless and so transient as to be dangerous.
    So I think it is best to present the Biblical view as a valid view worth considering. This is what Christians believe; this is what the Bible says. Because the Biblical view is ‘true’ and I make no apology for saying that; we find it is intellectually satisfying, beautifully meaningful, gives mankind dignity, value, purpose and a destiny and therefore should be boldly proclaimed and promoted at every opportunity. Amen!
    Gen 1:27″So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”.
    Both male and female are created in the image of God. The roles of men and women are different and I believe we must work together to realise the ‘outworking’ of those roles because man and woman have been pitted against each other since the fall.
    In relation to worship and head coverings (a cultural issue), 1 Cor 11:7 reads: “A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man”
    As a woman I don’t have a problem with this at all. Man is the glory of God and woman is the glory of man but man and woman can glorify God independently of each other too. The man/woman relationship is beautifully intricate and intimate even if they are married or unmarried. Men and women are interdependent. 1 Cor 11:11ff “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.”
    I like the old adage that man is the crown of God’s creation but I like to add my own embellishment to that: Man is the crown of God’s creation and woman is the crown jewels. The crown maybe the symbol of sovereignty, honour and power but the crown is dull and unconvincing without the jewels. When we go to see the crown at Buckingham palace, we really go to see the crown jewels! Woman is the glory of man. I’m happy with that, as long as my husband doesn’t forget it!! Likewise, I must respect his God given responsibilities and associated authority. But together man and woman are co-workers. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
    Problems happen when men and women compete with each other for status and dominion. I’m not saying I have it all worked out , because I am a sinner and am frequently blind to my motives and desires but we need to work together in church to reach an intelligent understanding and outworking of our God given roles.
    You ask: “What are the dangers with seeking to change the Bible so that it fits our culture?” The dangers are that our culture stinks to high heaven!! We can use Scripture to justify anything, even same sex marriage. Satan uses Scripture to tempt us to sin! It is quite clear what Scripture requires of us; we just don’t want to obey!

    I

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  3. Matt,
    You may understand this:
    Keeping the Trinity Personal: Peter J Leithart:
    https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/june-web-only/trinity-what-is-personal-about-theology-subordination.html
    Or enjoy the book, The Good God, by Michael Reeves.
    Any that humans in all their ingenuity, intelligence, or imagination could invent the Oneness of the Triune God, of Christianity, is well beyond any atheist. It can only be by the Triune God’s self-revelation to human beings that we can know and understand.

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  4. @ John Kilpatrick. Well put and well reasoned! I am still wistfully hoping that my command of the English language will reach your standard one day! Can you recommend some resources for my continued education and edification?

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      1. No John K. Your use of English is very good. I will follow up your link later. I have to spray weedkiller on the unfinished driveway just now!
        You can see that I am in desperate need to be included in a space for public debate (no blog of my own) as well as a space for social media (I don’t do any social media)!! I have hijacked D Robertson’s comments section for my covert purposes and so far he has tolerated me!

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  5. With regard to the ‘maleness’ of God. I have to, respectfully, remind that ‘maleness’ doth not a God-like person maketh. It is ‘godliness’ that makes a person like God. The challenge of ‘godliness’ is of the same magnitude for men and women alike, albeit sometimes different because of the different demands/commands depending on roles.

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  6. David, this was a helpful bite size read, to provoke thought, reflection and comment. I look forward to the other 51 questions.

    Martha,
    I too enjoy the opportunity to comment on David’s blog. Like you there are things the Lord stirs in our hearts that reveal himself. A light is not for putting in a bush or under a cover. Let it shine, ignore the bark of those in the shadow in fear of exposure.

    By all means manage your time on here, but don’t bow out….

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