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The plain meaning of 'He' is one person. Similar with 'I'.

Trinitarians seem to accept that referring to God, inclusive of 3 persons, as 'He' is appropriate. The view of Trinitarianism is that God is One, and therefore it makes sense that God deserves a singular pronoun.

But in English we have a singular pronoun that describes something that isn't a person, and that is 'it'. For example, if you have a team with 3 persons, you wouldn't refer to that team as 'he' or 'she' - rather, the team would be referred to as 'it', even though it is made up of persons. Similarly with a family, say.

It seems straightforward that when referring to a person of the Trinity, it makes sense to use 'He' (at least with Jesus and the Father). This is unproblematic.

What is the reasoning given by Trinitarians for using 'He' instead of 'It' to refer to God, inclusive of 3 persons?

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    @KorvinStarmast Thanks for that - it certainly has some interesting comments which are relevant. But it's also closed. Feb 3, 2022 at 18:34
  • It is pointless to make the claim...in English, he refers to one person. That has no relevance to ancient biblical writings that predate the modern English by thousands of years.
    – Adam
    Feb 3, 2022 at 19:50
  • I was once a trinitarian believer. It did not make sense to me, and I did admit it. Asking for a trinitarian explanation of some trinitarian choice of language is not much different from asking why a person who believes the sun goes around the earth uses the word "year"...
    – David
    Feb 4, 2022 at 7:45

2 Answers 2

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Let's clear this up once and for all.

"It" is insulting.

To refer to a human being as "it" is to demean them, to label them as "less than human". Racists use "it" when the want to ultimately dehumanize their victims. Even in fictional or mythological settings non-human intelligent beings are always referred to as "him" or "her" even when gender is unclear or irrelevant. "It" means subhuman.

Applied to God this is even worse. You are referring to God as "less than human".

"It" is still singular, so it doesn't get round the singular/plural problem. Calling God "it" would still imply that he is singular in the exact same way that "he" does.

It is occasionally acceptable in English to refer to a multi-person entity as "it". ("This is the team. It plays football.") However "they" is much more usual. And this usage would strongly declare that God is three persons connected only organizationally, - to at least the same erroneous extent that "he" emphasizes the singularity of the Trinity - and is thus wrong to the same extent. And the usage would still run the risk of being taken as the deeply insulting sub-human sense of "it".

So in short 1. No grammatical benefit 2. Very insulting.

That's why it isn't done.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. please LISTEN TO DJ'S UPPERCASE TEXT!
    – Peter Turner
    Feb 3, 2022 at 20:49
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In the Trinitarian conception of God, usually the term Godhead is used to encompass all three Persons of the Trinity. Thus, conceptually we need a suitable term that connotates MORE, not less, especially when collectively the three persons work together to:

  • create the universe
  • infuse all of us with truth, goodness, and beauty
  • redeem all of us by indwelling within us to rejuvenate our corrupted nature
  • etc.

Consequently, for each human language we need to find a suitable pronoun which matches the dignity, honor, and greatness of the Trinitarian Godhead. At the very minimum, we should then use the best pronoun out of the pronouns we are using for individual Persons of the Trinity, since although the Godhead is not a person, the Godhead is MORE than a person.

The pronoun should be suitable for a King of Kings at the very least. In English we even created expressions such as "Your highness" or "Thou" when referring to kings. Imagine using "it" to refer to the King of England! In English this comes across as insulting, demeaning, etc.

I refer you to @curiousdannii's answer on the proper reasoning which should be used to find a suitable pronoun for the Godhead for a variety of linguistic considerations, although his answer has to do with the pronoun for the Holy Spirit.

Please also see paragraphs 30-31 of Vatican document Liturgiam authenticam (On the use of vernacular languages in the publication of the books of the Roman Liturgy) which covers translation criteria for referring to God.

CONCLUSION: At the very minimum, a "He" should be used, not an "It". As @DJClayworth has pointed out, "It" simply doesn't work.

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  • Thanks for this - a good answer. But I want to get at the idea that 'it' is 'insulting, demeaning, and so on'. Referring to a human as 'it' might be insulting, if you know the sex. Context is important here. A King is obviously male, and so 'he'. But is it insulting to refer to a baby as 'it' if you don't know the sex? Perhaps a bit. Yet, when we switch to, say, one's own country, which one can love, using 'it' doesn't seem insulting at all. "I love Canada. It's an amazing country." No insult intended or (usually) received. Yet a country is also more than a person. No? Feb 3, 2022 at 18:57
  • @OneGodtheFather The key consideration is that language is a very social and human convention for communication. Why should language for God be any different? Especially in Christianity where the core of worship and salvation is love, which is Person-to-Person relationship. The term "it" in English carries a lot of objectifying and demeaning baggage already, so at least for modern audience it's totally unsuitable. In other languages you even need to switch pronoun when address people who are older/young or who have social rank higher/lower than you are. Feb 3, 2022 at 19:02
  • "The term "it" in English carries a lot of objectifying and demeaning baggage already" Thanks for this - I think this only applies if you misunderstand God as a person, though! From a Trinitarian perspective, God is not a person, as you say (that's Unitarianism). So the linguistic 'class' we are in here is uncertain. I think the most appropriate similar concepts would be 'family', 'team', or even 'country'. All those things can be loved while using 'it' naturally and appropriately. So it seems to me this argument depends on more vague judgments about appropriate conceptual classifications. Feb 3, 2022 at 19:06
  • @OneGodtheFather Language about country is a personification, there is no living entity animating a country, so we can afford to be less careful. But the Godhead is more than a Person: a real being where the very existence of all matter depend. It's no accident that in ancient Israel they even don't pronounce the proper name of God (Yahweh), replacing the name with LORD instead. I think the same connotations should be transferred when referring to the Godhead, don't you think? Remember that language also carries the burden of historical baggage, in this case, it's a good baggage. Feb 3, 2022 at 19:08
  • @OneGodtheFather I'm all for inventing a new term for referring to the Godhead. But as users of the language, we need to be cognizant of all aspects of how we humans use them. Theological language is not the same as artificial / mathematical language, so need to carry a lot more than a signifier of a conceptual classification. Feb 3, 2022 at 19:10

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