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What kind of pronouns should we use when we talk about God?

We typically default to the masculine “He,” but should we?

Is there anything wrong with referring to God as “She”?

While the answer might seem obvious, it is worth considering. After all, as Christians, we want to speak of God in a way that is pleasing to Him.

So here are a few things to keep in mind when considering how to talk when we talk about God:

1. God is not a man but is spirit (Numbers 23:19a; John 4:24). 

Simply, human gender does not apply to God. God is neither male nor female.

God is spirit, and we are wise to remember this, even as we hold to the necessary tension of things like the eternal sonship of Jesus as the second member of the Trinity.

2. God uses masculine and feminine terms and attributes when describing Himself.

God is likened to:

a. A “dread warrior” (Jer. 20:11)

b. A faithful and long-suffering husband (Hosea—all of it!)

c. A “mighty man” and a “woman in labor” (Isaiah 42:13-14)

Wisdom is personified in female form (Proverbs 1:20-21). Jesus even emphasizes the feminine when He laments over Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:27; Luke 13:34).

Without being too reductionistic, God is quite comfortable referring to Himself using or inspiring the use of both feminine and masculine characteristics, even if it makes some of us uncomfortable.

3. God reveals Himself as "our Father."

But regardless of God’s comfort with taking on feminine attributes, how does God reveal Himself?

As our Father.

When Jesus teaches us to pray, He tells us to pray like this, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). Seven times in Matthew and Luke, Jesus calls God our “heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:48; 6:14; 6:26; 6:32; 15:13; 18:35; Luke 11:13), and another 17 times in Matthew, Mark and Luke, “our Father in heaven” or “our Father who is in heaven.”

This is something that’s continued into the epistles, with God being called “Father” at least nine times by Paul and Peter.

This should tell us something very important: While God is very comfortable attributing feminine characteristics to Himself, when He does so, it is typically in the form of a simile—God’s love and longing for His people is like that of a mother hen’s for her chicks. His anguish over sin is like that of a woman in labor.

But when God chooses to reveal Himself, and when He gives us context for our relationship with Him, He does so in the masculine—as Father.

So how should we talk when we talk about God?

We should talk about Him the way God Himself does.

Embrace both masculine and feminine characteristics as He does, but pay close attention to how God speaks of Himself. He is our Father, and He wants to be referred to as such.

Let’s make sure we honor His wishes.

Aaron Armstrong is the author of Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World and Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty. He is a writer for an international Christian ministry, serves as an itinerant preacher throughout southern Ontario, and blogs daily at Blogging Theologically.

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David Jennys

commented on Jul 1, 2014

I think a better method is to, as much as possible, eliminate the pronouns when referring to God. I use the term "Godself" in place of "Him." I have found that not only does it honor God, it often clears up confusion that sometimes enter into the sentence when referring to God's will for a man. Rather than saying, 'His will for him,' for instance - which is confusing, I would say, 'God's will for him.' And so forth...

Richard Scotland

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Agreed! I was taught to not use he/him she/her but rather say God during my training. I also think that there is no point in causing needless offence to any member of the congregation.

John Jackson

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Nonsense! JESUS said "when you pray (call on God) say "Our FATHER"- end of argument there is no other authority to appeal over Christ Himself. Everything else is trying to sanitise THE WORD to make HIM acceptable to a feminised culture. IF you have read your Bible you all realise that GOD is not ambiguous or unsure about who HE is.

David Jennys

commented on Jul 1, 2014

We have read our Bible, and we understand it enough to not take things literally. God is described in many different ways, so why would you want to limit yourself to only one of those images? Do you really think that God has male genitals! Come on, think!

Mike Brenneman

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Yes, David, we have read our Bibles, the God inspired - God breathed word and your comments are most concerning. While some passages are figurative, metaphorical, some are sarcastic, etc -- it is quite clear the God intended us to take His word literally. You didn't get the idea that both "he" and "she" are OK with God. He always refers to Himself in the original languages as "he" and "him" when using pronouns. As far as taking the Bible literally goes... Jesus makes a powerful proof regarding the resurrection in Mt 22. The proof point of his argument is based upon a verb form. "God is the God of Abraham..." not "was the God of Abraham..." Paul makes a powerful argument in Gal 2:16, about Christ, based up the singular use of the word "seed" instead of "seeds" The Holy Spirit informs us in 2 Tim 3:16 that "all scripture is inspired and profitable..." Jesus teaches in Mt 12:36 that people will be held accountable for every careless word..." Whatever Jesus means it sounds like how we use our words is important. I came out of a denomination that doesn't take the Bible literally. The result has been disastrous. I pray that you will read the Bible and observe how God intends the Bible to be understood and respected. Blessings to you in your journey.

John Stack

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Excellent answer, I was about to reply something similar to this writer. Good word.

David Jennys

commented on Jul 1, 2014

The Bible refers to God in inanimate terms, like a rock or a fortress. If you feel that the Bible is to be read literally, then why don't you refer to God as an it, or do you feel that rocks and fortresses are masculine?

Mike Brenneman

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Good question, David. As mentioned in my first post, the Bible does use metaphors like "Jesus is the Lamb of God" metaphors are usually obvious and should be taken as metaphorical. The bigger danger is the concept of not taking the Bible literally. Mt 15:9 Jesus said "In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the ideas of men. Teaching its OK to call God "she" is an idea of man not found in Bible. Most helpful for me was studying hermeneutics, the science of interpretation. My recommendation is "Reading the Bible for all its worth" I'm not Pentecostal but for the most part the authors do a good job. Jn 8:31-32.

Jr. Chambers

commented on Jul 1, 2014

"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. (Ps. 23: 2,3) There is much more. Jesus Christ is the good shepherd. He is the greatest hope for the human race. He is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Why are we discussing pronouns while there is so much work to do? "Go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature......"

commented on Jul 3, 2014

amen ! Jr Chambers and Billy Brim.

Nathan Nielson

commented on Jul 1, 2014

From Joyful, Joyful: "Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine; Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine." - I don't know of anyone who would have a problem with a "father (masculine)" like God and a "brother (masculine)" like Christ? Why would that cause offense? Do you think perhaps that too much "politically correctness" just messes with God's Word causing people to question it rather then embrace it?

David Jennys

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Talk to a woman who has been abused by their father, or brother and you might understand.

Nathan Nielson

commented on Jul 1, 2014

I agree with you 100 - not everyone's concept of "fatherhood" from an earthly father is good. That's why I said - "a 'father' like God and a "'brother' like Jesus."

Billy Brim

commented on Jul 1, 2014

oh my goodness i can't believe this article. Why are we even having this discussion? I agree with John...nonsense. Come on let's use this article site for subjects that are worth discussing. Aaron i think you either have too much time on your hands or you have not read your Bible. Come on!

David Jennys

commented on Jul 1, 2014

It would seem that Aaron has read and understood the Bible enough to not be so literal. Do you really think, Billy, that God has male genitals? Come on, think!

Samantha Sandys

commented on Jul 1, 2014

David, why are you asking Billy and not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit's work is to guide us into all truths?....I funny, that we believe in 1 God, 1 Spirit.....yet we have nearly over 43000...DENOMINATIONS...whats happening....we listen to worldly wisdom and not the Holy Spirit.

David Jennys

commented on Jul 1, 2014

You're right, John, God is very sure who She is! And She still loves you despite your paternalism...

Revd. Martin Dale

commented on Jul 1, 2014

David, If God uses the pronoun "he" then surely we shoud respect that. Because uses analogies about himself that reflect the female form, that doesn't make him female and that we can refer to him as female. If I was described as caring as a mother towards my child, I would be mortified if that then made me a she! Martin

David Jennys

commented on Jul 1, 2014

The point, then is to steer away from an ambiguous pronoun, since God is neither male nor female. I don't see how God is using a particular pronoun, only that God used a medium of language (within a patriarchal culture) to communicate with us finite, limited mortals.

John Jackson

commented on Jul 1, 2014

David you are being facetious. Since Jesus referred to God as Father are you saying that Jesus was confused? Or do you have some revelation that the writers of the Scriptures did not receive? I get the feeling that either you are being willfully provocative or you are being willfully ignorant neither reflect well on your handling of scripture.

David Jennys

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Jesus uses the male image of "Father" because he was teaching within a patriarchal culture. As for being facetious, Jesus himself was so with his detractors on many occasions; he certainly was not confused, but his listeners who claimed to be in the know, and were in the places of power were confused most of the time. In any event, I am serious in what I say concerning God using a medium to describe Godself in a way that we can understand. Just because God uses such a medium or image, doesn't mean that this is the limit of God. I we could fully understand God, then we wouldn't have much of a God, would we?

Billy Brim

commented on Jul 1, 2014

i am amazed that we as pastors and christians are even having this discussion. Is this really an issue? I cannot believe it.

David Jennys

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Maybe by having the discussion, Billy, your world will get a little bit bigger...

Samantha Sandys

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Billy, its either you turn a blind eye to issues that may affect your members one day or you have not been around lately.....

Jalus Siddhi

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Scripture contains approximately 170 references to God as the ?Father.? From Acts to Revelation also contain nearly 900 verses where the word: theos?a masculine noun in the Greek?is used in direct reference to God. However, He is neither male nor female, but He is referred to as The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Through the identity of the first 2, He has the reference of a man, but our minds cannot comprehend who He is in His actuality. He is God, we are not.

Jd Hine

commented on Jul 1, 2014

To ascribe anything to God which implies a feminine gender, beyond the obvious analogies to motherly affection is heresy. To mention "genitals" as a lame attempt to qualify what God is or isn't is blasphemy.

Jd Hine

commented on Jul 1, 2014

To ascribe anything to God which implies a feminine gender, beyond the obvious analogies to motherly affection is heresy. To mention "genitals" as a lame attempt to qualify what God is or isn't is blasphemy.

David Jennys

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Explain how or why it is heresy, please.

Henk Muller

commented on Jul 1, 2014

I agree what Aaron Armstrong wrote about this topic. Perhaps it is time to change from subject here. Mike, if you say that you are taking the Bible literally and want to respect its meaning for us, which day do you consider God's holy day of rest? The 7-th day of the week: Saturday (Sabbath) or the first day of the week: Sunday?

Mike Brenneman

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Henk, you bring up a topic that is hotly debated. I seek for truth so here is my answer along with a welcome to be corrected biblically. Sabbath means 7th, to be sure. God rested on the Sabbath. Please note that the Patriarchs are never commanded to keep the Sabbath nor are Christians. I can only find the command given to the Jews. And if they broke the Sabbath they were to be stoned. Not true for Christians. Paul, as a Christian, went to Synagogues on the Sabbath to convert the Jews "according to Paul's custom"Acts 17:2 not "according to God's command". No command is given under the new Covenant to worship on the Sabbath. Instead Col 2:16 "...no one is to act as your judge in regard to...a Sabbath day". Here's what I can find and live by at this time. Jesus rose on the 1st day of the week. The church began in Act 2 on the 1st day of week (Pentecost) Christians met, broke bread and preached on the 1st day of week. Act 20:7 Christians put aside and saved (money) on the 1st day. The N.T. doesn't say a lot about the 1st day, but it connects that day more for Christians worshipping than any other day. Your thoughts?

Billy Brim

commented on Jul 1, 2014

The Bible says God will protect us with His feathers and His wings...that doesn't mean that God is a Chicken. I think we are way off track here in this conversation. I have never heard this type of teaching before and i hope it doesn't creep into the churches. We need to be careful about this type of thing. Who in the world thought of this anyway? Let's get back to the Bible. Stick to what it says and quit making up this type of nonsense.

Mike Brenneman

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Hi Billy, I've read all of your comments and believe we share similar beliefs that referring to God as "she" is wrong and ridiculous. Nonetheless, the discussion has value because many churches have are straying from God's word and some refer to him as "her" and "mother God" Perhaps this forum will motivate them to study the subject more closely. When my kids were young, I heard Mr. Rogers on TV refer to God as "she" He was an ordained Presbyterian minister, albeit very careless with the word of God. More and more seminaries are teaching the Bible is not infallible and that it is obsolete. Pray that we may bring people back to God and to have a great respect for His awesome word!. 2 Tim 3:16-17

David Jennys

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Follow through with what you posted: if God isn't a chicken, because of a metaphorical image to that effect, then why are you making God out to be male just because the biblical language uses male pronouns?

Michael Dean

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Genesis 1:26 from The King James Bible And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Billy Brim

commented on Jul 1, 2014

finally...Jr. i agree

Maydene G

commented on Jul 1, 2014

I have noted with much interest that all the comments are from 'males' who probably are fathers and may have testament of being 'a caring parent who love, care, hug and humor their children like a mother'. Would any father who fits the bill be offended if HIS child/children starts referring to HIM as 'she/her' ... just in honor of the attributes???

Maydene G

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Just to add, I'm happy for this dialogue and do believe that it is important for highlight. I graduated from seminary a year ago and that was one of teachings I personally had to trash. Even as a woman, I am still not able to grasp the conforming concept of alluding to God as 'female', simply because I loathe the idea or experience of an abusive male. On the other hand - should we refer to Lucifer as 'She' (or it) based on attributes? Just asking....

Maydene G

commented on Jul 1, 2014

I have noted with much interest that all the comments are from 'males' who probably are fathers and may have testament of being 'a caring parent who love, care, hug and humor their children like a mother'. Would any father who fits the bill be offended if HIS child/children starts referring to HIM as 'she/her' ... just in honor of the attributes???

Jared D

commented on Jul 1, 2014

A study of the Old Testament reveals clearly that God was not pleased when His people addressed Him in a way other than what He instructed. Since God reveals Himself to us in the masculine form, that is the way we should address Him.

Mike Brenneman

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Powerful point.

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Hmm. this is interesting as well as astonishing. However, this is my comment. In John 1:11 the Bible teaches "no man has seen God but the only begotten Son (Jesus Christ) has revealed HIM". The one who has come to reveal God to us calls God "Our Father". Should we argue with The One who has come to deliver us from our ignorance? Besides, if we are not being mischievous, how does this sound - "God said in God's word that God commended God's love towards us in that ...."?

commented on Jul 1, 2014

What pronoun would have been most appropriate if we must speak good grammar? And I'm sure Christianity has not taught us to make a mess of the right use of our languages.

David Jennys

commented on Jul 1, 2014

The fact is, that our language is inadequate to describe God adequately.

David Jennys

commented on Jul 1, 2014

That would be clearer than if you used all pronouns: 'He said in his word that he commended his love towards us in that...' Wait! Who are we talking about? Who's speaking? It gets confusing when we get pronoun happy.

Pai Yong Soo

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Father God and Son God are referred to as He, what about Holy Spirit , see my video. http://youtu.be/qgJ4ypcYe_Y

Tony Bland

commented on Jul 1, 2014

wow

Tony Bland

commented on Jul 1, 2014

dear Aaron Armstrong this article is so disingenuous you should apologize for even writing and publishing it. ex you state no.1 god is not a man. and use numbers 23:19a to support that claim. Numbers 23:19a says god is not a man that he should lie. Dude unreal. You said point 2 god uses masculine and feminine terms and attributes when describing himself than you said a woman in labor, but the bible says LIKE a travailing woman... wow how disingenuous

Jared D

commented on Jul 1, 2014

To be fair, Aaron did clarify that in point three. That when God uses feminine characteristics its in the form of simile.

Douglas Franks

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Shaddai therefore means primarily "the breasted." God is "Shaddai," because He is the Nourisher, the Strength-giver, and so, in a secondary sense, the Satisfier, who pours himself into believing lives. As a fretful, unsatisfied babe is not only strengthened and nourished from the mother's breast, but also is quieted, rested, satisfied, so El Shaddai is that name of God which sets Him forth as the Strength-giver and Satisfier of His people. It is on every account to be regretted that "Shaddai" was translated "Almighty." Scofield. - Gen 1:27 "God created man in his own image... Male and female created he them." Every fully male and female proceeds from God. In Christ there is not male or female, bond or free, etc. We are the bride of Christ. Are you comfortable being presented to him as a female??

Douglas Franks

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Gender reflects something of the eternal character of God. But the biology of sex is apparently a part of time not eternity. "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

Golebaone Mononyane

commented on Jul 2, 2014

Dear Aaron, I really appreciate the way you brought out the answer to that question, you were not one sided and you clarified why we might be somehow misled in addressing God as a "She" and you concluded by giving us the most correct answer. God is our Heavenly Father and so God is a He. "But when God chooses to reveal Himself, and when He gives us context for our relationship with Him, He does so in the masculine?as Father. So how should we talk when we talk about God? We should talk about Him the way God Himself does. Embrace both masculine and feminine characteristics as He does, but pay close attention to how God speaks of Himself. He is our Father, and He wants to be referred to as such. Let?s make sure we honor His wishes."

Billy Brim

commented on Jul 2, 2014

the Bible warns us about this type of teaching. I will not agree with being "open minded" about such things the Bible is very clear about. I usually do not comment on here because i do not like arueing about issues. But this is going to far. I just hope this teaching does not get into churches.

Douglas Dean

commented on Jul 2, 2014

Aaron - your opening words is there anything wrong ... implies there is nothing wrong in referring to God as She . BUT in fact there is EVERYTHING wrong. it is unthinkable that a man of God should suggest it. It just a pronoun whats the big deal. It is a big deal , its doctrinally wrong , it appeals to the feelings of people mentioned in Romans chap 1. you are trying to make a case when there is no case to answer. It should get off the strating blocks , It would appear that the subtilly of satan has got a foothold just like he suggested to eve there is nothing wrong in taking a bite. Aaron don't go there please get back on track. some many of god's people need truth that will set them free and others need the good news of Jesus. What got you caught up in this falsehood. I say with all the love of God as a minister of Christ please don't even think about God being referred to as a She let alone suggest it,. Douglas

Mike Jacobson

commented on Jul 2, 2014

Interesting. For grins sake I read the comments before I read the article. After browsing through many of the comments, I thought I was in for a dose of 21st heresy. Gentlemen, Aaron states that God should be referred to in the masculine but shares feminine characteristics. What's the argument? A note to Aaron: I realize your article and question spurred some robust debate...but why even go there. God should be referred to in the masculine, male sense...(period).

Maydene G

commented on Jul 2, 2014

Wow! I do hope the surface interpretation of Aaron's writing highlighted in many of the comments here are not indicative of how persons (pastors especially) treat the word of God! A deeper look would have revealed to many persons that the gentleman deliberately started with a thought provoking opening which he later justly clarified with point 3. At least that's my understanding. Secondly, there are those who seem to have gotten the shock of their 'religious' life at the absurdity (or blasphemy) of such an idea creeping into the minds of the Church... Well, wake up brothers and sisters - this is being taught and strongly advocated in seminaries almost everywhere (even in the Caribbean where I live). We will have to deal with it at some point and 'rebuking' may not be the most effective way. The word remains our guide and we do not have to be afraid to confront these issues now creeping into the church. Dig deep into God's word and be led by His spirit, so He can teach us the truth that we as Christian leaders must impart to others.

Alan Handman

commented on Jul 2, 2014

Since the primary audience for the Bible was an ancient people with a patriarchal shepherd-king structure, it is natural that God would reveal himself to them in those terms. In his spiritual essence he is no more "male or female" than he is a literal shepherd with a crown and a staff. However, that is how the tradition has kept referring to him and it would be a questionable undertaking to try and overturn it. For those who have a problem with male divinity, there is the Catholic Church with its Mariology.

Bill Williams

commented on Jul 2, 2014

The author has gotten quite a bit of criticism for writing on this topic. While I don't necessarily agree with his conclusion, I don't think the topic is inappropriate for discussion. Many seem to forget that there are a wide variety of theological traditions represented on this forum, and not all of us see everything eye to eye. What may appear "plain" to one could be much more nuanced to another upon closer inspection of the Biblical evidence. And that's fine, because as Christians, what distinguishes us as such is love, as expressed by Christ, not theological conformity on every issue.

Bill Williams

commented on Jul 2, 2014

The author writes, "How does God reveal Himself? As our Father." The problem with that assertion is that his description of himself as a woman in labor (Isaiah 42:14) or as Wisdom (Proverbs 1:20-21) is just as much a revelation of himself as is his description of himself as a father. If we agree that God has no sex (the correct term, by the way--"gender" is a grammatical and sociological designation, not a biological one), neither male nor female, then we must conclude that any description of himself is not given for the purpose of determining whether God is a "he" or a "she." Technically, God is neither. In fact, one could make a case that even more than "Father," God's greatest self-revelation is "I AM," which transcends either male or female. God is not a "he" nor a "she." God simply is. And one of the most interesting characteristics of God, as revealed in Scripture, is how often he refuses to confine himself to whatever "category" we try to place him in. Having said all that, if someone is personally convicted from Scripture that it is only appropriate to refer to God as a "he" and not a "she", I have no problem with that, as long as that conviction is not imposed on others. But I'm certain that God is more interested that we address him in the first place, however imperfect our manner of addressing him may be, than he is interested in what pronoun we use.

Minister Sanders

commented on Jul 2, 2014

It is a shame when people of the Christian faith can't be on 1 accord when it comes to God. Make sure you address God as God and God will be pleased! A lot of people won't even set foot in a sanctuary because they see us those that claimto love God cannot even agree on who God Is! Let us all touch in agreement that God Is God! Amen Somebody!!!!!

David Jennys

commented on Jul 2, 2014

Amen, brother!

Maydene G

commented on Jul 2, 2014

AARON... YOU HAVE OPENED A HUGE BARREL OF WORMS!!! :)

commented on Jul 3, 2014

you Pastors are pathetic! go out and win souls for Christ sake!!!!

commented on Jul 3, 2014

We make reference to God as God, introduced to us as a He, revealed Himself in a musculine way, the references of God as a He, Friend, Brother, Mother, all these are His attribute/characteristics, depending on one's need, God will reveal Himsilf as a friend, brother, mother ,father, the bottom line is He is all to all of us and we don't have any reasons of not communicating with Him, He communicates with us in any level.

Fred Schumacher

commented on Jul 3, 2014

Aaron, great ant agonistical form of the letter. YOu did just what a great author is suppose to do. You presented another side and even argued it, but then you brought it back home to a fuller understanding for us the reader - great argument. I truthfully feel as though half of the readers and thus those that commented did as I did at first - read until you riled us up and then quit. I am not hearing you say that we can call God a her but rather that He is so amazing and such an example that we can see He may have some qualities of a caring a dn loving mother. I spray that if any of these folks writing have children that they can learn to adopt some of the loving characteristics of a mother. God is all things to all people, God created man and woman, God is much bigger but chooses to be addressed as man and therefore I believe that He is man while at the same time being all things to all people - can you explain the Trinity? Why can't you grasp that God is too amazing for our finite minds and certainly our finite vocabulary - God is God

Fred Schumacher

commented on Jul 3, 2014

that was suppose to be ant agonistical not what ever spell check did.

Mike Brenneman

commented on Jul 4, 2014

Greetings Henk, on July 1st you directed a question to me reqarding the Sabbath and first day of the week. I spend some time answering you question and am eager for your response. Would you do me that favor?

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