Is God a Male?

I have recently been reading Anthony C. Thiselton’s book Hermeneutics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009). Chapter 14 discusses Feminist and Womanist Hermeneutics (pp. 279-305). This raised some questions for me that I had never thought through before, specifically regarding God and gender. It seems fairly obvious that the Bible refers to God in the masculine, but what does that mean? This is a difficult topic, especially in light of our cultural climate in which the concepts of gender and sexuality are controversial. After a little reflection and reading, I have come up with the following “pegs” from which to hang a discussion of God and gender from a biblical perspective:

  1. God is Spirit (John 4:24), and thus has no biological gender.
  2. However, the Scripture that God gave to us and has inspired in all of its grammatical peculiarity consistently uses the masculine gender to refer to God. The pronouns used for God are always masculine (“he,” never “she” or “it”). Also, Jesus taught us to refer to God as “our Father” (Matt 6:9).
  3. Similarly, in redemption, the second person of the Trinity took on humanity in the form of a male human being.
  4. Within the Trinity God relates to Himself as “Father” and “Son.”
  5. On the other hand, as one writer points out, there are places in Scripture where “on certain occasions God is portrayed via female images and metaphors.” (He lists the following verses: Isa 46:3; 49:15; 66:13; Luke 15:8-10; Matt 23:37).
  6. It is also true that both man and woman are made in the image of God and thus all human qualities, whether masculine or feminine, find their origin in God. Mankind, male and female, are a picture of who God is and reflect his glory. The father who protects and the mother who nurtures are both reflecting the character of God who made them in his image.

This seems to leave us with two helpful facts by which to organize our thinking on this subject:

  1. God has no biological gender, and that we find in God the source of all good human characteristics, both masculine and feminine. That is to say, the theological category of the “image of God” corresponds to neither male nor female but is expressed through both genders.
  2. Nevertheless, God has revealed Himself in Scripture which constantly frames Him in the masculine. As far as I understand, this means that while both men and women are made in the image of God, there is something specific (though not “special” or “better”) about maleness that communicates something about who God is, and this is why He is referred to in the masculine gender in Scripture.

What might God want to communicate about himself by characterizing Himself in the masculine gender? Paul seems to get us moving in the right direction in Eph 5:22-33. There he says that the relationship between husband and wife was Divinely designed to reflect the relationship between Christ and his people. Husbands are to love their wives sacrificially, and wives are to submit to the leadership of their husbands. So it seems that one reason that God is described in the masculine is to communicate His sacrificial love and care for us which culminates in the cross of Christ, and the way we ought to respond to His love with honor, submission, respect and obedience.

Parenthetically, this is one of the most important reasons why conservative Christians view gender roles as such a big deal. We want to get this right because we think that the gender roles are Divinely designed to reflect the relationship between God and His people. It is also interesting to note that despite the fact that sin has distorted the ways that we reflect God as human beings, God has not abandoned His plan for men and women to reflect His character through marriage. Rather, through Christ, God reconciles sinful men and women to Himself and then progressively changes them from the inside out through His Spirit so that they are better able to show what He is like.

In conclusion, because Scripture consistently refers to God in the masculine gender, and because of what this is supposed to communicate about how He relates to us, I think it is right to refer to God in the masculine, and furthermore that we ought not to refer to God in the feminine or neutral gender. Similarly, we shouldn’t think of God as somehow biologically male, and we should understand that both men and women are made in His image and reflect his character and glory.

Here are a few online resources that I read as I was thinking through this topic:

Is God Male?

John Piper: God Gave Christianity a ‘Masculine Feel’

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