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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.

Question: Is it appropriate to refer to God as "It"?

closed as primarily opinion-based by curiousdannii, depperm, KorvinStarmast, Nathaniel Apr 30 at 0:33

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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. – Adonalsium Apr 29 at 13:34
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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 Apr 29 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 Apr 29 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 Apr 29 at 23:36
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    @Mark None of my English Grammar teachers agreed with Shakespeare on that point. I was explicitly taught that when speaking of an individual of unknown gender to use "he", "him", "his", and that referring to an individual as "they" was substandard usage. In fact, if the person in question was overweight and sensitive about it, it could be considered downright insulting to refer to "them". – Monty Harder Apr 30 at 17:44
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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. – 4castle Apr 29 at 12:36
  • @4castle: Thanks for your comment. What about Helper mentioned in verse 16? It seems to be Masculine too. – P.W Apr 29 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. – P.W Apr 29 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.

  • 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 Apr 29 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? – Peter A. Schneider Apr 30 at 5:00
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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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