"What about the Bible's 'Feminine Terms' for God?"

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Recently I posted an article addressing the question “Should Christians refer to God as 'Mother’?” That article can be found here.

I sometimes hear the objection, 

“But what about all the feminine terms used for God in the Bible?” 

The Bible never actually uses any feminine terms to refer to God. Not even one. 

Neither in the Hebrew Old Testament nor in the Greek New Testament are the pronouns “she” or “her” ever used. By contrast, the masculine third-person, “he” and “his”, is used thousands of times. When Scripture employs any term for God, it is either masculine or non-gender. In both the New and Old Testament God is referred to as “King”, but never “Queen” (that practice is actually condemned). Jesus constantly called God “Father” but never “Mother”. Jesus is described as God’s “Son” but never his “Daughter”. Christ is referred to as our “Bridegroom” but never our “Bride”.


What about feminine imagery for God, such as Deut. 32 or Psalm 123?”

There are rare instances where God’s actions are described using a feminine metaphor (which is different from a feminine term or title). For example, God’s loving protection over us may be compared to a mother bird protecting its young using “like” or “as”. But this is a normal Biblical way of describing men in the Bible as well. David is described to be “like a bear robbed of her clubs” (I Sam 17) and Paul says he is like a nursing mother to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2.7). Because Scriptural language uses such metaphors, that does not mean that Paul wanted to be referred to as “she” nor did David want his kids to start calling him “mother”.

What about the word for “Spirit”? Isn’t the term for the “Spirit” of God feminine?

Yes, but in the context of this discussion, that is misleading. The Hebrew word for breath (spirit and breath are the same word in Hebrew) is feminine. (The word "spirit" is neutered in Greek.)

If you only know English, this may stretch your mind as you are not used to thinking of non-personal nouns as having gender. If you’ve studied German, French or Spanish though, you should easily understand. The French word for “arm” is masculine even if it is a woman’s arm. The French word for “leg” is feminine even if it is a man’s leg. Most body parts in Hebrew are feminine even if they belong to Moses or David. This doesn’t mean we should call Moses “she” any more than we do God.

What about El-Shaddai? Doesn’t that mean the God with breasts?

No, it doesn’t. The traditional translation is “God Almighty”.  There has been some legitimate debate around the possible meanings of “Shaddai”.  However, the possibility of it meaning “the breasted one” has been driven by enthusiastic ideologues instead of decisive linguistic study. This misnomer was presented by an American woman in New York City in the 20th century and was based on how a neighbouring Semitic country used a similar term in reference to its goddess.

As I said in the original post, if we are Christians, we must take God in the way Jesus has revealed him to be whether that fits into our ideology or not. The male-gendered way God has chosen to reveal Himself does not, in large, make Him less accessible to women. In fact, it sometimes makes it easier.


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