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I have recently read in a book about some debate around the fact that God is considered a masculine figure (He/His) and that we should find gender neutral of expressing the same ideas.

In my native language it is very hard to do this (God is a masculine noun and it is also derived from Domine Deus which also sounds masculine).

However, English has the advantage of having "it". According to Wordnick, "it" usage guide is also:

Used of a nonhuman entity; an animate being whose sex is unspecified (..)

It sounds like a good fit, but I am wondering if this is ever appropriate or even offensive.

Questions: What are some of the mainstream theological views on this? Secondly, what about the Biblical basis for doing so, is it specifically forbidden? Do any denominations do this in practice?

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    @Al Brown Unless you know within reasonable assurance that your edit is in line with the OP’s thought, the post should not be altered as such! Making this a question to a denominational-survey question invalidates already existing answers!
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 6:28
  • @ken I don't think there's anything wrong with invalidating existing answers on a closed question. That seemed like a good edit IMO; we should ask the community.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 14:16
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    I used my approve edit as an author of the post because it is a clear improvement over my initial version. I have it meets the community standards so that it gets reopened.
    – Alexei
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 14:29

4 Answers 4

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In English, the appropriate non-gender pronouns are 'they' and 'them', but this construction is clumsy if people attempt to use it all the time. It simply does not work as a substitute. It does not adequately express person.

Babies are sometimes referred to as 'it' because, I suppose, their personality is not yet apparent. But, no, it is not appropriate in English (and, yes, it is offensive) to call a person 'it'. English just does not work like that.

When a voice was heard from heaven saying :

This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. [Matthew 17:5 KJV] ουτος εστιν ο υιος μου ο αγαπητος εν ω ευδοκησα αυτου ακουετε

the voice used the masculine gender pronoun, αυτου - 'him'.

I think that should be respected. Throughout the Hebrew and Greek scripture - God's revelation of himself - the masculine pronoun is used.

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    It's not at all clumsy... just ask the trans community. Works pretty well for all the non-binaries who identify with it. Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 13:34
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    I'm old enough to remember when the non-gender (singular) pronouns were "he" and "him". ("They" and "them" were plural, which was not gendered.) That is to say that when referring to a person of unknown/unspecified gender, the "masculine" pronouns were used. Thus, when "she" and "her" were used, it was in reference to someone explicitly known to be female. This is no longer the case. But it was the case when nearly all English translations were done. Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 20:33
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    @MontyHarder, You're really 700 years old? The use of singular "they" dates back to about the 14th century, and was used by such notable authors as Shakespeare.
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 22:26
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    @Mark Monty is not saying that "they" was never used: just that it wasn't the popular solution. Generally it was (as in most translations of the Bible still) that "he" was used to mean either "he" or "she" in general cases. ("My Brothers" probably doesn't exclude sisters.)
    – Cullub
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 22:40
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    @Cullub : and even now it isn't, it's just a very load minority who wants to rewrite grammar every decade or so, and pretend that it's some kind of law.
    – vsz
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 23:36
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We should refer to God in the manner God wants us to refer to God (not using a pronoun here intentionally).

The first time we see a pronoun for God is in Genesis 1:5 (NASB)

1:5 God called the light day, and the darkness He called night and there was evening and there was morning, one day.

Now one might say that this is how Moses (considered the author of Genesis) referred to God.

So we can look at how each Person of the Trinity referred to the other. Let's refer to them as the 1st, 2nd and 3rd persons of the Trinity.

1st Person sends a message about 2nd Person through an angel to Joseph:

Matthew 1:21 "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." (NASB)

2nd Person (named Jesus) speaks about the 1st Person as "Father":

Matthew 5:45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

2nd Person speaks about the 3rd Person (Holy Spirit - see below) and refers to "He" and "Him":

John 14:26 "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.(NASB)

Further, per the complete revelation of the Bible, Christ will come back for wedding His corporate bride (Rev 19:7). And He is the bridegroom (John 3:29).

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    The Greek for John 14:16, 17 uses the neuter gender for the pronouns referring to the holy spirit, not masculine pronouns. This is because the Greek word for "spirit" is of the neuter gender. However, in verse 26, it does use a masculine pronoun, because the Greek word for "helper" is a masculine noun.
    – user32540
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 12:36
  • @4castle: Thanks for your comment. What about Helper mentioned in verse 16? It seems to be Masculine too.
    – user45288
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 12:56
  • @4castle: "...that He may be with you forever". The "He" refers to the Holy Spirit. Unlike Jesus who was with them for only a few years, the "Holy Spirit" would be with the forever.
    – user45288
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 13:15
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This is as much a theological as a linguistic question, not least a question of other languages than English — in particular Hebrew — and their translation.

Canonical English as well as canonical Christianity unequivocally assign a male gender to the Jewish/Christian god. On the other hand, if you are looking for answers beyond the canon, all bets are off: How we speak and what we believe is ultimately our own decision. By the way, the linguistic question is quite interesting, not least because Hebrew does not have a neuter and one of the words used for God, Elohim, is plural.

You also may find an article in the New York Times by Rabbi Mark Sameth interesting. He argued that there is more gender fluidity to God than one might think.

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  • Agreed. What's more the Hebrew holy Name introduced in Genesis 2 is a form of the first-person singular indicative of the verb to be. That Name is rendered Lord with small caps in English translation, and observant Jews avoid speaking it. There's no gender-revealing inflection on it. In John's Gospel Jesus sometimes speaks the words ἐγώ εἰμι, rendered into English as "I am he," but close in meaning to the Name. Humility is a good start when we try to fit the holy One into human categories. Can we live with the mystery of the holy nature?
    – O. Jones
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 20:24
  • @O.Jones Regarding ἐγώ εἰμι: If we think that Jesus indeed said that, it is probably already a translation -- I assume Jesus (usually) spoke Hebrew? Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 5:00
  • @O.Jones Actually Jesus' mother tongue appears to have been Aramaic, if we can believe wikipedia; but the article suggest that he also spoke some Greek and Hebrew, so it could conceivably be a literal quote. Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 15:03
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No, “It” is inappropriate because God neither inanimate nor an animal.

One fairly common practice is to avoid using the pronoun altogether. As a matter of style, it takes a lot of thought to pull this off well, but it doesn't necessarily require awkward English. You can do a lot with strategic passives, controlling your sentence structure, etc. A mild consequence is that sentences come across as awkwardly emphatic. “God will accomplish God's purposes.” The alternative to the reflexive pronoun is “Godself,” like “God can speak for Godself.” That's a neologism, and therefore could serve as an intention way to communicate one's position on the matter.

It is a reasonable question, but obviously a politically charged one, whether using a masculine pronoun for God meaningfully affects people's perceptions of God. People differ as well in their perceptions of English style, so it is good to be charitable in assessing other people's writing. (On a separate gender issue, I prefer to use a generic feminine, or to alternate between masculine and feminine, rather than use singular “their.”)

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  • Do you think it's inappropriate to use 'it' to refer to a family or team? Those are neither inanimate or animals. Commented Feb 3, 2022 at 18:41
  • I would refer to families and teams with plural pronouns. “The Patriots are playing tonight; they're expected to win.” “The Jones are coming to dinner; they're bringing a salad.”
    – adam.baker
    Commented Feb 4, 2022 at 6:25
  • Thanks for this - do you think it's inappropriate, though? There are many cases in typical English usage where 'it' is used for a family. "My family has 8 people. It's big." and so on. Commented Feb 4, 2022 at 6:59
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    That's kind of a borderline case for me... It might be okay, but I'd prefer to say, “My family is big; there are eight people.”
    – adam.baker
    Commented Feb 4, 2022 at 8:53
  • I would say (as I am a part of that family) "we are a big one, there will be eight" indeed that speaker was one of the eight.
    – civitas
    Commented May 23 at 17:28

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