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Encyclopedia > God and gender

This entry discusses how the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam deal with God and gender. It includes both traditional religious views, and modern views of these faiths, especially as to how modern feminism has influenced the theology of these religions. For the discussion of the topic in Hinduism, see Hindu views on God and gender. An Abrahamic religion (also referred to as desert monotheism) is any religion derived from an ancient Semitic tradition attributed to Abraham, a great patriarch described in the Torah, the Bible and the Quran. ... Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people, with around 14 million followers (as of 2005 [1]). It is one of the first recorded monotheistic faiths and one of the oldest religious traditions still practiced today. ... Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on the life, teachings, and actions of Jesus as recounted in the New Testament. ... Islam (Arabic: ; ( (help· info)), submission (to the will of God)) is a monotheistic faith, one of the Abrahamic religions, and the worlds second-largest religion. ... Feminism is a diverse collection of social theories, political movements, and moral philosophies, largely motivated by or concerning the experiences of women, especially in terms of their social, political, and economic situation. ... Theology is reasoned discourse concerning God (Greek θεος, theos, God, + λογος, logos, word or reason). It can also refer to the study of other religious topics. ... Hinduism (Sanskrit/Hindi: ; also known as Sanātana Dharma - , and Vaidika Dharma - ) is a worldwide religious tradition that is based on the Vedas, and is generally regarded as one of the oldest religions still practised in the world. ... In Hinduism there are diverse approaches to the understanding of God, of Brahman, which is reflected in the gender by which God is addressed or described. ...


Monotheists hold a belief in one God as a fundamental religious principle. Michelangelos depiction of God in the painting Creation of the Sun and Moon in the Sistine Chapel) This article discusses the term God in the context of monotheism and derived henotheistic forms. ...

  • In Judaism and Islam, God is believed to be sexless, but has been traditionally referred to using male grammatical gender.
  • In Christianity, God is believed to be a Trinity, consisting of three persons in one God. The three persons of the Trinity are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God the Father has traditionally been described with male imagery, and God the Son is believed to literally have become incarnate as a human male, with male sexual anatomy (some Christian teachings are derived from this point). God the Holy Spirit has been referred to using male, female or neutral grammatical gender depending on the language (the Hebrew word רוח ruaḥ is grammatically feminine, the Greek word πνευμα pneuma is grammatically neuter, and the Latin word spiritus is grammatically masculine).

Contents

Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people, with around 14 million followers (as of 2005 [1]). It is one of the first recorded monotheistic faiths and one of the oldest religious traditions still practiced today. ... Islam (Arabic: ; ( (help· info)), submission (to the will of God)) is a monotheistic faith, one of the Abrahamic religions, and the worlds second-largest religion. ... In linguistics, noun classes, also called grammatical gender is a type of inflection. ... Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on the life, teachings, and actions of Jesus as recounted in the New Testament. ... Within Christianity, the doctrine of the Trinity states that God is a single Being who exists, simultaneously and eternally, as a communion of three persons (personae, prosopa): Father (the Source, the Eternal Majesty); the Son (the eternal Logos or Word, incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth); and the Holy Spirit. ... In many religions, the supreme God is given the title and attributions of Father. ... The neutrality of this article is disputed. ... This article does not cite its references or sources. ... Hebrew (עִבְרִית ‘Ivrit) is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family spoken by more than 7 million people, mainly in Israel, the West Bank, the United States and by Jewish communities around the world. ... Latin is an ancient Indo-European language originally spoken in the region around Rome called Latium. ...


God in the Hebrew Bible

In the first book of the Hebrew Bible, Genesis 1:26, God states "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness....And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." Exactly what Genesis means by the word "image" is not clear, but there is an analogy being made between God and humans. 11th century manuscript of the Hebrew Bible with Targum This article discusses usage of the term Hebrew Bible. For the article on the Hebrew Bible itself, see Tanakh. ... 11th century manuscript of the Hebrew Bible with Targum This article discusses usage of the term Hebrew Bible. For the article on the Hebrew Bible itself, see Tanakh. ... This article is about Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). ...


In some ways this passage is anthropomorphic; it is attributing human characteristics to God. However, less recognized is that the viewpoint of the Israelite biblical writers was theomorphic: humans are seen as having Godly characteristics.


The Hebrew Bible often refers to God as a father. In one case, God is compared to the bridegroom and his people to the bride.

For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee. (Isaiah 62:5)

If the feminine is used in connection with the divine nurturing, it is usually ascribed to an intermediary entity personified as feminine – for example, the City of Jerusalem. Isaiah the Prophet in Hebrew Scriptures was depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo. ...

Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her:
That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.
For thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be borne upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees.
As one whom his mother comforts, so I (God) will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:10-13)

God promised to provide comfort as a mother, but indirectly through the blessings that would flow from Jerusalem. Zion is another example of a mother metaphor. (Isaiah 1:27) Isaiah the Prophet in Hebrew Scriptures was depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo. ... Isaiah the Prophet in Hebrew Scriptures was depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo. ...


The Biblical Hebrew word for spirit is ruah, meaning wind, breath, inspiration; the noun is grammatically feminine. Hebrew (עִבְרִית ‘Ivrit) is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family spoken by more than 7 million people, mainly in Israel, the West Bank, the United States and by Jewish communities around the world. ...


Jewish views of God and gender

In regard to translating Hebrew names of God into English, most Orthodox Jews and many Conservative Jews hold that it is wrong to use English female pronouns for God; their reason is not because God is of the male gender, but because doing so among English speakers tends to draw attention to God as having gender. Another reason is that the Hebrew Bible usually uses names of God that are grammatically masculine. Hebrew (עִבְרִית ‘Ivrit) is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family spoken by more than 7 million people, mainly in Israel, the West Bank, the United States and by Jewish communities around the world. ... Orthodox Judaism is the stream of Judaism which adheres to a relatively strict interpretation and application of the laws and ethics first canonized in the Talmud (The Oral Law) and later codified in the Shulkhan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law). It is governed by these works and the Rabbinical commentary... Conservative Judaism, also known as Masorti Judaism, is a modern denomination of Judaism that arose in United States in the early 1900s. ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... For information on the musical collective, please see Tanakh (band). ...


Among many Reconstructionist Jews and Reform Jews there has been an increasing tendency to stress feminine characteristics of God. In these communities God is sometimes spoken of as a "She". Classical Hebrew names for God such as HaQadosh Baruch Hu ("The Holy One, praised be He") are sometimes being rewritten in both Hebrew and English as HaQ'dosha B'rucha He ("The Holy One, praised be She"). However, those in Reform Judaism who hold more closely to traditional Jewish belief (as well as Conservative Jews and Orthodox Jews) hold that this rewriting of Hebrew names for God is both a theological and linguistic error; it presupposes the belief that grammatical gender implies sexual gender, which it does not. As such, people who make these translations imply that other Jews worship a male God, which they do not. Reconstructionist Judaism is a movement of Judaism with a relatively liberal set of beliefs: an individuals personal autonomy should generally override traditional Jewish law and custom, yet also take into account communal consensus, modern culture is accepted, traditional rabbinic modes of study, as well as modern scholarship and critical... Reform Judaism can refer to (1) the largest denomination of Judaism in America and its sibling movements in other countries, (2) a branch of Judaism in the United Kingdom, and (3) the historical predecessor of the American movement that originated in 19th Century Germany. ...


Some Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis have experimented with incorporating explicit anthropomorphic characteristics into their prayers. Reform Rabbi Rebecca Alpert (Reform Judaism, Winter 1991) writes about a feminist siddur (Jewish prayerbook) she used: Rabbi (Classical Hebrew רִבִּי ribbī;; modern Ashkenazi and Israeli רַבִּי rabbī) in Judaism, means teacher, or more literally great one. The word Rabbi is derived from the Hebrew root-word RaV, which in biblical Hebrew means great or distinguished, (in knowledge). In the ancient Judean schools the sages were addressed as רִבִּי (Ribbi... The siddur is the prayerbook used by Jews the world over, containing a set order of daily prayers. ...

The experience of praying with Siddur Nashim ... transformed my relationship with God. For the first time, I understood what it meant to be made in God's image. To think of God as a woman like myself, to see Her as both powerful and nurturing, to see Her imaged with a woman's body, with womb, with breasts-this was an experience of ultimate significance. Was this the relationship that men have had with God for all these millennia? How wonderful to gain access to those feelings and perceptions.

Most Jews reject this theology as unacceptable; a separate criticism is that it misrepresents what other Jews actually believe. Classical rabbinic Jews in the past, and Orthodox Jews today, would vehemently dispute the claim that they imagine that God has male sexual characteristics, and that they use these beliefs to create a close relationship to God. Many traditional rabbinic commentators, such as Maimonides, viewed any such beliefs as avodah zarah, "idolatry". Commonly used image indicating one artists conception of Maimonidess appearance Moshe ben Maimon (March 30, 1135–December 13, 1204) was a Jewish rabbi, physician, and philosopher. ... Judaism strongly prohibits any form of idolatry. ...


While primary male sexual characteristics are absent from Jewish descriptions of God, secondary male sexual characteristics occur in some piyuttim (religious poems.) Some of these poems incorporate allegorical male images of God, such as a description of the beard of God Shir Hakavod, "The Hymn of Glory", and similar poetic imagery in the midrash Song of the Seas Rabbah. Traditional meforshim (rabbinic commentators) hold that this is valid imagery, but purely metaphorical, and warn readers not to imagine that this describes God as being male. Midrash (pl. ... Meforshim is a Hebrew word meaning commentators (or roughly meaning exegetes), and is used as a substitute for the correct word perushim which means commentaries. In Judaism this term refers to commentaries by the commentators on the Torah (five books of Moses), Hebrew Bible, the Mishnah, the Talmud, responsa, even...


Some traditional Jewish prayers refer to God as Avinu Malkeinu, "Our Father, Our King". Feminine forms of this phrase "Our Mother, Our Queen" have traditionally never been used in Jewish prayers. Some hold that there is no a priori reason why such terminology is not used, but nonetheless most Jews today do not use this terminology, as they see these terms as being associated with polytheism.


Christian views of God and gender

If God is male, then the male is God. The divine patriarch castrates women as long as he is allowed to live on the popular imagination.
Mary Daly
Chapter 1, Beyond God the Father (1973)

In Christianity, one Person of the Trinity, the Son, is believed to have become incarnate as a human male. Most Christians believe that the other Two Persons in the Trinity, the Father and the Holy Spirit, have never been incarnated. Mary Daly (born 1928) is a radical feminist theologian, a mother of modern feminist theology and thealogy. ... Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on the life, teachings, and actions of Jesus as recounted in the New Testament. ...


Female terms for the Holy Spirit were used in some early Christian communities, specifically within the hymn book, entitled "Odes of Solomon". The Biblical Hebrew word for spirit is ruaḥ, meaning wind, breath, inspiration; the noun is grammatically feminine. In the "Odes of Solomon"; the oldest surviving Christian hymnal, the word for "Holy Spirit" is grammatically female. The Greek word for spirit, "pneuma", has neutral grammatical gender. The Holy Spirit is translated in masculine terms only in languages such as Latin and English. Hebrew (עִבְרִית ‘Ivrit) is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family spoken by more than 7 million people, mainly in Israel, the West Bank, the United States and by Jewish communities around the world. ... Latin is an ancient Indo-European language originally spoken in the region around Rome called Latium. ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ...


God the Father is often pictured as a male in traditional Christian artwork. In Western Christianity, the Holy Spirit has been referred to using male pronouns and, in languages with grammatical noun gender, the masculine grammatical gender.


Some Christians today, especially those inspired by feminism, do not consider this tradition to be binding. These Christians claim that the first century church worshipped the Holy Spirit as a female deity. Passages in the Nag Hammadi library scrolls from second-century Gnosticism refer to the Holy Spirit as female. The grammatical gender of "Spirit" in Hebrew is feminine (ruaḥ) and in Greek is neuter (pneuma); debate rages about what significance this holds for the person of the Holy Spirit in Christianity. Feminist theology is a movement, generally in the Western religious traditions (mostly Christianity and Judaism), to reconsider the traditions, practices, scriptures, and theologies of those religions from a feminist perspective. ... The Nag Hammadi library is a collection of early Christian Gnostic texts discovered in the town of Nag Hammadi in 1945. ... Gnosticism is a historical term for various mystical initiatory religions, sects and knowledge schools which were most active in the first few centuries of the common era, around the Mediterranean and extending into central Asia. ...


The Greek pronoun (αὐτός) translated "Him" in John 14, speaking of the Holy Spirit, refers to self in all persons: him, her, it. Otherwise the New Testament refers to the Spirit (πνεῦμα) with grammatical neuter. "Him" in John 14 is a pronoun without gender. The Gospel according to John is the fourth gospel document in the sequence of the canon of the New Testament, and scholars agree it was the fourth to be written down. ...


Some modern Christians feel that it is important to speak of the Holy Spirit, especially in the role of Comforter and Reconciler, with a feminine pronoun. One argument used is that the functions of the Holy Spirit as characterized in Biblical texts are often those which have been associated with women: consolation, inspiration, emotional warmth, and birth of the spirit. Others dispute this. Some claim that assigning the Holy Spirit gender in accord with His role is a subconscious endorsement of stereotypical gender roles. Others argue that since Mary gave birth to Jesus, who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, this makes the Holy Spirit analogous to a male; otherwise, we have a rather obvious biblical lesbianism. Modernists somestimes claim that this argument misses the fact that it is God the Father, and never the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus calls "Father," but it is important to note that God the Father is as such to Christ as He had eternally begotten Him, but God the Holy Ghost is the One responsible for the Virgin Birth. The Virgin Birth is a key doctrine of the Christian faith, and is also held to be true by Muslims (Quran 3. ...


Several passages in the Jewish scriptures used by Christians refer to the divine Wisdom as if she were a person (e.g., Proverbs 8-9, Sirach 24, Wisdom 6:22-11:1, Baruch 3:9-4:4), and this Wisdom is given female gender. The most common opinion among the Church Fathers was that this Wisdom was the Second Person of the Trinity before His Incarnation. Others held that it refers to the Holy Spirit, or that it refers to created wisdom rather than to God. The Book of Proverbs is a book of the Tanakh/Old Testament. ... The Wisdom of Ben Sirach, (or The Wisdom of Joshua Ben Sirach or merely Sirach), called Ecclesiasticus by Christians, is a book written circa 180 BCE in Hebrew. ... Wisdom, also known as the Wisdom of Solomon, is one of the deuterocanonical books of the Bible that are not translations of Hebrew originals. ... The Book of Baruch is a deuterocanonical book, found in the Greek Bible (LXX) and in the Vulgate Bible, but not in the Hebrew Bible, although it was included in Theodotions version¹. ... The (Early) Church Fathers or Fathers of the Church are the early and influential theologians and writers in the Christian Church, particularly those of the first five centuries of Christian history. ... Look up Incarnation in Wiktionary, the free dictionary Incarnation, which literally means enfleshment, refers to the conception, and live birth of a sentient creature (generally human) who is the material manifestation of an entity or force whose original nature is immaterial. ...


The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that God is not male, but that his role in our world makes the term "Father" more appropriate than "Mother", although both terms remain informative: The Catechism of the Catholic Church, or CCC, is an official exposition of the teachings of the Catholic Church, first published in French in 1992 by the authority of Pope John Paul II.[1] Subsequently, in 1997, a Latin text was issued which is now the official text of reference...

In no way is God in man's image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the differences between the sexes. But the respective "perfections" of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother (Isaiah 49:14-15, 66:13; Psalm 131:2-3) and those of a father (Job 31:18; Jer 3:4-20) and husband (Jer 3:6-19)."
By calling God "Father," the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that He is at the same time goodness and loving care for all His children. God's parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood (Isaiah 66:13; Psalm 131:2), which emphasizes God's immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents.... (CCC 239)

Many liberal and feminist-orientated Christians will sometimes refer to God as "Mother" and use feminime pronouns such as "Her" and "She" to refer to God, although they usually do not think of God as a female, but rather as having both masculine and feminine aspects and can be referred to as either. Isaiah (Hebrew ישׁעיהו Yeshayahu or Yəša‘ăyāhû) is a book of the Jewish Hebrew Bible as well as the Christian Old Testament, containing prophecies attributed to Isaiah. ... Psalms (Tehilim תהילים, in Hebrew) is a book of the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh, and of the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... For jer, an alternate spelling for the reduced vowels in Common Slavic, see yer. ... For jer, an alternate spelling for the reduced vowels in Common Slavic, see yer. ... Isaiah (Hebrew ישׁעיהו Yeshayahu or Yəša‘ăyāhû) is a book of the Jewish Hebrew Bible as well as the Christian Old Testament, containing prophecies attributed to Isaiah. ... Psalms (Tehilim תהילים, in Hebrew) is a book of the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh, and of the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. ... The Catechism of the Catholic Church, or CCC, is an official exposition of the teachings of the Catholic Church, first published in French in 1992 by the authority of Pope John Paul II.[1] Subsequently, in 1997, a Latin text was issued which is now the official text of reference...


Mormon views

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Latter Day Saint or Mormon) teaches that both God the Father and Jesus have distinct, perfect male bodies of flesh and bones. God is literally a celestial man. The Holy Spirit has a spirit body and is also considered to be male. Mormonism is a religion, movement, ideology and subculture that originated in the early 1800s as a product of the Latter Day Saint movement led principally by Joseph Smith, Jr. ... In many religions, the supreme God is given the title and attributions of Father. ... This article is about Jesus of Nazareth; for other uses, see Jesus (disambiguation). ... This article does not cite its references or sources. ...


Most Latter Day Saints believe in a distinct Heavenly Mother who has a perfect, glorified and celestial female body. A Latter Day Saint (LDS) is a person who identifies with the Latter Day Saint movement and is a follower of Mormonism. ... In some sects of Mormonism, Heavenly Mother (also called Goddess, Mother in Heaven, or God the Mother) is the wife and feminine counterpart of God the Father. ...


The official doctrine of the Church is that the prayers should be directed to the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Spirit. The Heavenly Mother is not worshipped.


Some people deny that Mormons can be Christians because these views of the deity do not agree with their own. But, Mormons believe that "there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah" (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:8). They point out that Christ is in the name of their church and at the center of their faith. They believe that Jesus has spoken through a prophet in modern times, as in times of old, and restored the original Church of Jesus Christ with the true priesthood authority held by apostles, seventies, elders, pastors, and all other offices in the New Testament. (Ephesians 4:11-14)


See Godhead (Mormonism); Mormonism and Christianity. In Mormonism, depending on the era and the denomination within the Latter Day Saint movement, the concept of the Christian Godhead has included a diverse range of views including forms of modalism, binitarianism, tritheism, henotheism, and trinitarianism. ... Mormonism has had an uneasy relationship with traditional Christianity since its earliest days in the 1820s, when its founder Joseph Smith, Jr. ...


Translating the names of God into English

There are a number of ways that one can translate the names of God into English from Hebrew. The Tetragrammaton is composed of the Hebrew letters Yod-Heh-Waw-Heh. (If your web-browser supports a Hebrew font it is written thus: יהוה.) Hebrew (עִבְרִית ‘Ivrit) is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family spoken by more than 7 million people, mainly in Israel, the West Bank, the United States and by Jewish communities around the world. ... The Tetragrammaton in Phoenician (1100 BC to AD 300), Aramaic (10th century BC to 1 BC) and modern Hebrew scripts. ...


In English the tetragrammaton is usually written as YHWH or YHVH. The original meaning of this form is connected with the "I AM" of Exodus 3:14 (and it probably contains a Hebrew masculine verb prefix). This word is usually rendered into English by translating Hebrew Adonai (instead of attempting to directly translate YHWH), in accordance with ancient Jewish practices.


The Hebrew word "Adonai" literally means "my lords" (with pseudo-plural), and is usually translated as "Lord" or "LORD" (in small capitals). A gender-neutral translation of this is "Sovereign". The Hebrew names "Elohim", "El", "Shaddai",and "Yah" are usually translated as "God". "Elyon" translates as "Most High".


There are a number of compound names for God. "YHVH Tzevaot" is translated as "Lord of Hosts"; a gender-neutral translation is "Sovereign of Hosts". YHVH Elohe tzevaot would be "Lord God of Hosts". Among non-Orthodox Jews, there is a growing tendency to avoid translation-created gender problems, and to simultaneously reclaim the vocabulary of Hebrew itself, by not translating these names in English prayers.


An example of a traditional translation is: "The earth belongs to the Lord, and all it contains; the world and its inhabitants." (Psalm 24) Psalms (Tehilim תהילים, in Hebrew) is a book of the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh, and of the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. ...


An alternative translation is: "The earth belongs to Adonai, and all it contains; the world and its inhabitants."


Shekhinah is Hebrew for the imminent presence of God; this name of God appears in some traditional Jewish prayers. Within Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) the Shekhinah represents the feminine aspect of God's essence; other terms represent the male aspect of God. This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ... Kabbalah (Hebrew קַבָּלָה reception, Standard Hebrew Qabbala, Tiberian Hebrew Qabbālāh; also written variously as Cabala, Cabalah, Cabbala, Cabbalah, Kabala, Kabalah, Kabbala, Qabala, Qabalah, Kaballah) is an interpretation (exegesis, hermeneutic) key, soul of the Torah (Hebrew Bible), or the religious mystical system of Judaism claiming an insight into divine nature. ...


See also Names of God Monotheistic faiths believe that there is a supreme being, who is necessarily unique, and the different names given to that being in different languages could in principle be translated as English God. ...


Third person pronouns: He, She or It?

Many prayers use one or more of the names for God many times within the same paragraph. The first time it appears a proper name is used, while further instances use a third person pronoun. English speakers usually use masculine or feminine third person pronouns to refer to people, and the third person pronoun "it" to refer to non-people. Traditionally, in both Jewish and Christian cultures, the third-person pronoun "He" has been used to refer to God in English translations. Functionally, even in non-religious contexts, English speakers have generally used the word "he" as a substitute for a gender-neutral third person pronoun. While grammatically male, the word "he" is often functionally used in a non-male sense.


In all languages with grammatical gender, the grammatical gender of words often has little or no relation to biological or sexual gender. With regard to the pronouns employed in speaking of the Holy Spirit, in Indo-European languages (and some other languages as well), the masculine pronoun can be used in either a masculine or a gender-indefinite sense, while the feminine pronoun is always feminine. The Indo-European languages are a group of several hundred languages and dialects (specifically 443 according to the SIL estimate), including most of the major language families of Europe, as well as many languages of Asia, which belong to a single superfamily. ...


In English, it is improper to speak of a person with the neuter pronoun "it". Since the Bible teaches that God is in many ways like a person, English speakers have avoided using "It", and instead used "He". Further, all Christians that believe in the Trinity by definition believe in the Three Persons that are One God. Thus many say referring to God as “It” not only is improper, but heretical.


The idea of God being an "It" rather than a "he" or "she" does have some support in Jewish, Christian and Islamic medieval thought, much of which was based on Neo-Aristotelian philosophy. Some medieval philosophers of all three of these religions took great pains to make clear that God was in no way like a person, and that all apparently physical descriptions of God were only poetic metaphors. Given their description of God as a process, or as a prime-mover, or as an ultimate source of reality, the reference to God as "It" could well be justifiable. This article is on Aristotelian and Neo-Aristotelian definitions of God. ...


Mankind and Humankind

Translations of the Bible and prayerbooks traditionally have used words such as: man, men, his, mankind, brotherhood, etc., In their historical usage these words in most places have always meant human, human beings, his and hers, humankind, peoplehood, etc. For a number of reasons women are frequently left out of both the mental structures and the social structures of many cultures. Some believe that the usage of these words when speaking of all people, and not men only, contributes to this condition, which they perceive as an injustice. As such, many liberal religious Jews and Christians now translate works in a more gender-neutral fashion.


The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible tries to correct this by changing words like "man" to "person", and "brothers" to "brothers and sisters", in all cases where the text is not referring to specific individuals but to people in general, or to a group of people that is most likely comprised of both men and women. In keeping with this approach, the NRSV does not change the traditional male pronouns that refer to God. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, released in 1989, is an update of the Revised Standard Version (RSV). ...


A recent translation known as Today's New International Version (TNIV - sometimes referred to derisively as "The Neutered International Version") attempts to avoid sexist language by using "they" as the pronoun for a single person of unknown gender, a practice that has been common in spoken English for over six hundred years but is often avoided in formal writing. Critics of this translation dislike the usage of "singular they" both because conservative prescriptive grammarians sometimes consider it improper grammar, and because it sometimes may obscure the meaning of verses where it is significant that the pronoun is singular. Todays New International Version (TNIV) is an English translation of the Holy Bible. ... Gender-neutral language (gender-generic, gender-inclusive, non-sexist, or sex-neutral language) is language that attempts to refer neither to males nor females when discussing an abstract or hypothetical person whose sex cannot otherwise be determined, as opposed to more traditional language forms, which may use male or female... In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun phrase. ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... Singular they, sometimes called epicene they, is the usage in the English language of the gender-neutral third-person plural pronouns they, them, etc, to refer to a single person, usually but not always of indeterminate gender. ... In linguistics, prescription is the laying down or prescribing of normative rules for a language. ...


However, the continued usage of words such as Father, men, mankind, brotherhood, etc., has been increasingly called into question by some readers who believe these words destroy the Bible's original prose style. Convsersely, traditionalists believe the use of gender-neutral turns itself is an aberration from the original books. Moreover, in such works as the Letters of St. Paul, when masculine terms are used, they might very well have been originally intended to refer to males exclusively, as it was common to segregate houses of worship sexually; this practice continues among Orthodox Jews to this day, and it is perfectly conceivable that the Apostle was addressing the males in these communities. This article does not cite its references or sources. ...


New translation solutions

Most modern-day readers of English Bible translations are not familiar with Hebrew; they read the translations literally, through the view of modern feminist thought, and thus sometimes read the text as if it were describing a male God. Many readers feel removed from the text, as they either do not want to worship a male God, or they also want to worship a female God as well as a male God. Hebrew (עִבְרִית ‘Ivrit) is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family spoken by more than 7 million people, mainly in Israel, the West Bank, the United States and by Jewish communities around the world. ...


While this problem does not exist if one prays in the original Hebrew (or Arabic, Aramaic, etc.), many prayer-book editors in the non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism, and in liberal denominations of Christianity, have become sensitive to this issue. Several solutions have been proposed:

  • Keeping the standard translation, which uses the term "He", and using commentary to explain the issue more fully. This is the approach used by Orthodox Judaism and most branches of Christianity.
  • Translating God as "It". For theological reasons, this has been rejected by all branches of Judaism and of Christianity. But, see above for a discussion of why it could be considered legitimate.
  • Translating God as both "He" and "She". A few experimental prayerbooks by Reconstructionist Jewish feminists have tried alternating "he" and "she" within the same prayerbook, and sometimes even within the same prayer. This approach has failed to win widespread approval; critics object to it for many reasons, one of which is that this gives the appearance of dualism or goddess worship. Some liberal Protestant Christian denominations use this approach on occasion.
  • Rewriting all prayers in the second person, only using the term "You". A few experimental prayerbooks by Reconstructionist Jewish feminists have tried this, but this approach has failed to win widespread approval. Interestingly, Contemporary Christian Music often addresses God in this manner, although probably for different theological reasons (that is, to emphasize a personal relationship with the Divine).
  • Gender-neutral translation involves rewriting prayers to remove all third-person pronouns. Sometimes this involves changing sentence and paragraph structure. This approach has been adopted by the editors of all new Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish prayerbooks. Some liberal Protestant Christians also have rewritten prayerbooks in this way. Conservative Judaism has rejected this approach because there are many cases where no such changes are possible without totally rewriting the sentence, thereby moving the English far from the Hebrew structure. (Gender-neutral translation can also be accomplished by replacing third-person singular pronouns with third-person plural pronouns, repeating "God" each time to avoid "he". Some Christian translations of Scripture, including the New Jerusalem Bible, use this technique when referring to humans, but naturally this technique is not used in the case of God.)
  • Gender-sensitive translation. This approach is a modified form of the above. In this approach, one rewrites most sentences to remove third-person pronouns, but occasionally the pronoun "he" is allowed in order to preserve readability and the original sentence structure. This is the approach taken by Conservative Judaism. Most inclusive-language Christian translations take this approach.
  • Some Christian groups have created a new pronoun: God (subject or object), God's (possessive), Godself (reflexive). While the Catholic Church officially frowns on this, a significant number of American Catholic parishes alter the Mass responses by repeating "God" each time to avoid the third-person singular male pronoun. The use of the reflexive Godself is more rare.

(It should be noted that some critics object to this terminology. Particularly for those who believe feminist interpretation is misogynist (see above), terms such as “gender-neutral” and “gender-sensitive” can be offensive. Critics charge that these terms imply traditional interpretations are not sensitive to women. Nevertheless, in the lack of acceptable alternatives these phrases are used in this article.) The Beautiful Letdown, a 2003 CCM album by Switchfoot. ... The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) is a Catholic translation of the Bible published in 1985. ... Conservative Judaism, also known as Masorti Judaism, is a modern denomination of Judaism that arose in United States in the early 1900s. ... Non-sexist language (gender-generic, gender-inclusive, gender-neutral, or sex-neutral language) is language that attempts to refer neither to males nor females when discussing an abstract or hypothetical person whose sex cannot otherwise be determined, as opposed to sexist language, which attempts to refer to males. ...


Over the last twenty years many Jewish prayerbooks have been rewritten to be gender-neutral (Reform, Reconstructionist Judaism) or gender-sensitive (Conservative). Examples are shown in the following translations of Psalm 24. The following is a traditional translation excerpted from Siddur Sim Shalom, a Conservative siddur. (Ed. Jules Harlow) Psalms (Tehilim תהילים, in Hebrew) is a book of the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh, and of the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. ... Jules Harlow (born June 28, 1931) is a rabbi and liturgist; son of Henry and Lena Lipman Harlow. ...

A Psalm of David.
The earth belongs to the Lord, and all it contains; the world and its inhabitants.
He founded it upon the seas, and set it firm upon flowing waters.
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may rise in His sanctuary?
One who has a clean hand and a pure heart, who has not used God's name in false oaths, who has not sworn deceitfully.
he shall receive a blessing from the God of his deliverance.

A modern gender-sensitive translation of Psalm 24 now appears in the revised editions of Siddur Sim Shalom.

A Psalm of David.
The earth and its grandeur belong to Adonai; the world and its inhabitants.
God founded it upon the seas, and set it firm upon flowing waters.
Who may ascend the mountain of Adonai? Who may rise in God's sanctuary?
One who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not used God's name in false oaths, who has not sworn deceitfully.
shall receive a blessing from Adonai, a just reward from the God of deliverance.

Criticism of feminine reconstructions of theology

Grammatically, most of the Hebrew names for God are masculine; a few are grammatically feminine; the grammatical form of words has no biological or literal significance. Many modern readers of the Bible, especially those influenced by 20th century feminism, often misread English translations of the Bible as literal translations of the Hebrew text; this leads to errors of understanding, as for grammatical reasons literal translations are not always possible. English does not have grammatical gender in nouns, but it does have grammatical gender in pronouns. In contrast, all Hebrew nouns have grammatical gender. Hebrew (עִבְרִית ‘Ivrit) is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family spoken by more than 7 million people, mainly in Israel, the West Bank, the United States and by Jewish communities around the world. ...


For example, the Hebrew words "yom tov" and "shavua tov" are grammatically male, and are translated as "day" and "week"; the Hebrew phrase "shanah tovah" ("Have a good year") is grammatically feminine. No one conversant in Hebrew imagines that days and weeks are conceived of by Jews as male, or that years are thought of as female. However, when it comes to translating Biblical names of God this is the idea that exists among many modern day English speakers. The modern reader often assumes that the Hebrew text is referring to a male God. In response, some feminists have attempted to construct a female-God image, or feminine way of speaking about God, to rebut the male-God image that they perceive.


Many feminists say the society in which the Bible is written was patriarchal, and that the use of male words for God would have been expected. Some Christian and Jewish objectors to gender-sensitive translations hold that there are profound theological reasons for masculine references to God, whereas feminine references have pagan connotations that cannot be avoided.


An argument for using female symbols for God arises from the practical effects of God-language on the readers. Imagery for God helps people understand the world. The way a faith community talks about God indicates what it considers the highest good, the profoundest truth. This language, in turn, molds the community's behavior, as well as its members' self-understanding. The fact that Jews and Christians ordinarily speak about God in the image of a male ruler can be problematic. For feminist theology, the difficulty does not lie with the male metaphors. Men as well as women are created in the image of God. The problem lies in the fact that the specific male images reflect a patriarchal arrangement of the world, casting God into the mold of an omnipotent, even if benevolent, monarch. God's maternal relation to the world is eclipsed.


Some traditional religious figures reject gender sensitive translations, and reject feminine names for God, as feminine names cannot be ascribed God, as God created the universe ex nihilo. In this view, it is proper for God to beget (as fathers are often conceived of acting), rather than for God to be the passive recipient of begetting (as mothers are often conceived of as acting). This is related to creation ex nihilo, as a feminine deity would have birthed the universe, making it a "part" of herself in much the same manner as children can be spoken of as "parts of their mothers." Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ...


See also

Feminism is a diverse collection of social theories, political movements, and moral philosophies, largely motivated by or concerning the experiences of women, especially in terms of their social, political, and economic situation. ... Michelangelos depiction of God in the painting Creation of the Sun and Moon in the Sistine Chapel) This article discusses the term God in the context of monotheism and derived henotheistic forms. ... God, as a male deity, contrasts with female deities, or goddesses. While the term goddess specifically refers to a female deity, words like gods and deities can be applied to all gods collectively, regardless of gender. ... Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture A goddess is a female deity, in contrast with a male deity known as a god. A great many cultures have goddesses, sometimes alone, but more often as part of a larger pantheon that includes both of the conventional genders and in some cases... The Goddess movement is a religious movement in the West focussed on goddesses or more usually a single Great Goddess. // Terminology In the Goddess movement is commonly found a distinction between goddesses and The Goddess: goddess (small g) refers to a local or specific deity, linked clearly to a particular... The sky father is a recurring theme in pagan and neopagan mythology. ... In Hinduism there are diverse approaches to the understanding of God, of Brahman, which is reflected in the gender by which God is addressed or described. ...

External links

Bibliography

  • Elliot N. Dorff Male and Female God Created Them: Equality with Distinction, University Papers, University of Judaism, Los Angeles, 1984, pp. 13-23.
  • Paula Reimers Feminism, Judaism, and God the Mother, Fall 1993, Conservative Judaism
  • Jules Harlow Feminist Linguistics and Jewish Liturgy Conservative Judaism Vol.XLIX(2) Winter 1997, p.3-25.
  • Matthew Berke God and Gender in Judaism in First Things, June 1996
    • God and Gender in Judaism
  • Bible Translation and the Gender of God, S. T. Kimbrough, Jr. Theology Today, Vol.46, No. 2, July 1989
  • The Incomprehensibility of God and the Image of God Male and Female, Elizabeth Johnson, Theological Studies, Vol.45, no.3, 1984, pp.441-465.
    • The Incomprehensibility of God and the Image of God Male and Female

  Results from FactBites:
 
God and gender (3908 words)
In Christianity, God is thought to be a trinity in which there are three persons that are united in a single unit.
Neopagan duo-theistic philosophies tend to emphasise on the God and Goddess' (or Lord and Lady's) genders as being analogous of a concept similar to that of the oriental Yin and yang; ie, two complementary opposites.
The idea of God being an "It" rather than a "he" or "she" does have some support in Jewish, Christian and Islamic medieval thought, much of which was based on Neo-Aristotelian philosophy.
NationMaster - Encyclopedia: God and gender (6900 words)
God the Father has traditionally been described with male imagery, and God the Son is believed to literally have become incarnate as a human male, with male sexual anatomy (some Christian teachings are derived from this point).
God the Holy Spirit has been referred to using male, female or neutral grammatical gender depending on the language (the Hebrew word רוח ruaḥ is grammatically feminine, the Greek word πνευμα pneuma is grammatically neuter, and the Latin word spiritus is grammatically masculine).
In this view, it is proper for God to beget (as fathers are often conceived of acting), rather than for God to be the passive recipient of begetting (as mothers are often conceived of as acting).
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