Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Or, “Does God Have Gender?”
Back when I was in college, it was popular among some of the students (men and women alike) to refer to the God of the Bible as “she.” Presumably, one of the professors gave a fairly convincing argument that God’s gender in the Bible was ambiguous enough so that the Lord may very well be female. The thrust of the argument (as I’ve come to understand it) comes from Greek pronouns that are traditionally translated as ‘he” actually being gender inclusive. For example, in my Bible Paul says, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). However, in the original Greek it would have been recognized as saying, “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire…” The usage of the pronoun is more “fellow people” than any sort of gender-specific call-out. I think the Hebrew of the Old Testament has a similar translation quirk. Newer NIV translations have tried to account for this (and have received tremendous backlash because of it). However, no matter how you translate things, God ends up male. The Holy Spirit explained it to me from a Scriptural base, which I will now relate to you.
First off, from a physical standpoint and as far as it affects us God may as well be gender-neutral. After all, it’s not like he’s walking around with a penis. However, Jesus did walk around with a penis for about 30 years. He is referred to as the Son of God; even directly by God:
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lightning on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).
Also, within the culture of the day, for Christ to be recognized as the inheritor of heaven he’d likely have to be male. There’s more on the cosmic positioning but we’ll get to it later. Continuing on, Jesus referred to God as his “Father.” John 14:11 records “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” John 5:19-20 also tells us,
Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.
And even a few verses up from that we read, “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working’” (John 5:16-17). From a language standpoint, then, God (the Creator) and God (the Christ), are male; since they refer to each other as Father and Son.
God’s gender, though, is not anatomically based (well, Jesus’ is) but much of it comes through the symbolism in the Bible. The church is considered to be the bride of Christ. A flustered Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (2 Corinthians 11:2). Therefore on a cosmic level Christ is male and the whole of the church (men and women) are female. Paul backs this idea up when he writes to the Ephesians about the relationship between husband & wife and Jesus & the church. We read,
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:22-27).
Generally upset husbands and wives run to this Scripture in order to prove their points, not realizing that both the husband and the wives are in submissive positions (Jesus gave everything for the church and the church gives everything for Jesus). But the point is moot anyway as Paul clarifies at the end, “This is a profound mystery- but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). So the focus of the passage is to establish the cosmic placement of Jesus and his church (as husband and bride). Jesus himself established this position for himself already and then aligned it with where the Father stands in the cosmic relationship. History records, “Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son’” (Matthew 22:1-2). So we (the church) are the bride, Jesus is the groom and also the Son of the King (God). But wait, isn’t Jesus God? Yes; however that doesn’t translate culturally very well any more. See, in Jesus’ time, an inheriting son (usually the oldest) was equal to his father and represented him in all things, therefore when Jesus is referred to as the “Son” of God, he’s still on an equal level as God (the Father). This really upset people in Jesus’ day: “For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
The Holy Spirit’s gender is a bit more ambiguous (presuming the translation of male pronouns is potentially inaccurate). First, let’s establish that the Holy Spirit is also God, or is at least part of God. The opening of the Bible reads,
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:1-2).
Now, if the Father and Christ are male from a cosmic standpoint as God, and humanity is female as bride, then since the Holy Spirit is God as well it can be assumed that at least from a cosmic standpoint the Holy Spirit is also male. Therefore, referring to members of the trinity as male is not only acceptable, but is correct, according to Scripture; and by referring to God as “she,” one is bringing God down to our level; effectively making him into an idol as opposed to the Lord.
No matter what you may want to believe, God is male. Likewise, no matter what you want to believe, without the saving power of Christ you are dead in your sins and will receive punishment for eternity upon death. Luckily, as unbelievable as it sounds, salvation is easily attained through belief in Christ; for it is written,
…That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
No matter what your hang-ups may be, leave them at the door and accept Christ for what he is, your Lord and savior; for he accepts you just as you are and freely forgives you for any sin you may bring with you. As it is written, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It matters not who you are or what you’ve done, Jesus still loves you and very much wants to be in your life- so let him in!