The gendered grammar of God

It is commonly accepted that God of Abraham is without gender and the use of non-masculine pronouns to refer to Sem has become a hot topic in theological circles. This is primarily motivated by feminism and its idea of deconstructing what is believed to be a patriarchal structure common to most institutions including religion. In the 1970s, it was trendy for a while to refer to God in the feminine, with some religious material from the era referring to the divine as “She”. When Helen Reddy did so at the 1972 Grammys, the world was abuzz.

So what pronouns should we used to refer to He/She/Se/They…?

Here we are in the decade of pumpkin spice lattes, selfies and President Trump. Feminism is back in vogue, but this time in the “intersectional” mould, believing that it should centralise the experiences of LGBT and minority women rather than the straight white females it believes are overrepresented. Part of the centralisation of LGBT in particular are the discussions about “preferred pronouns”. Some consider it rude to assume somebody’s pronouns based on their gender presentation, a concept I have difficulty with considering that most people align with and use the pronouns of their birth gender. A few even go as far as to introduce themselves not only with name but pronouns, for example “my name is Dave, I use the pronouns he, him and his.” But God does not outright state a pronoun preference, “He” being implied in not only English but the original Hebrew of the Bible (hu is used as opposed to hi, “she”).

Here’s where the argument gets tricky. Some believe that we should not change a 3,000 year old text at all, not even to incorporate modern ideas such as egalitarianism and gender neutrality. Others believe that the Bible is outdated and needs to be changed, if not completely discarded. There is no doubt that the Bible, including the earliest versions, needs to be preserved on historical grounds. A commonly-accepted position in liberal theology is that the Bible was regularly rewritten as community standards changed. The Dead Sea Scrolls provide proof of this happening as recently as 300 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. In these 2,000 years, the morals of not only the people of Biblical Israel but much of the world have changed and many passages seem repugnant to us now. There are many Bibles that try to reconcile the original text with modern thinking (including the brilliantly named Queen James Bible), but as far as I know none of them refer to God using gender-neutral pronouns.

So in light of both sides having their salient points, it is impossible to formulate a final opinion on the subject. I would also find it inappropriate considering that nobody knows what pronouns God prefers if any. I personally favour the “Fletcher pronouns”- se, sem and ses- to refer to beings of indeterminate gender, including deities. That being said, I find it very unlikely that a pronoun other than “He” will become widely accepted outside feminist circles due to tradition and the fear of breaking with it.


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