My December Experiment: Female Pronouned God

For 26 years I’ve grown up hearing “God” referred to with male pronouns. Occasionally it’s acknowledge that God is neither male nor female, but following the tradition of our male-centric, paternalistic society (and original bible writers) we refer to God as a male, frequently and often.
For reasons, whether doctrinal or societal, we are hesitant to move away from, in any way, referencing God (specifically the God God part of the trinity [Jesus, Holy Spirit, God]) in any feminine term or pronoun.  Any attempt to do so is often written off as “new agey” or “feminist” as if referring to God as a “he” is one of the central doctrinal issues of our faith. Yet, we do acknowledge that God is spirit, and though extremely rare there is scripture acknowledging female attributes of God.
The truth is that both males and females have been impacted by this “male” God and what that means for us as people, individuals and within our gender. My wife has spoken about the impact she’s felt it’s had on her, not just of seeing God as male, but the near silence or absence of woman’s value and voice in the scriptures she sees as the foundation of her faith.
One month is not nearly enough to reverse any long term psychological impact, but for the month of December (or longer), I’d like to refer to God as a female (with female pronouns). We currently do this to a small degree in our own home, but I haven’t moved beyond.
I’ll refer to God as “she” in my blog posts (I’d encourage others whom I read or read here to do this as well), around and amongst family and friends, and in any other “God” talk. I won’t go out of my way to say it and make a scene, but I won’t shy away from it either.
I’ll write about the impact the experiment has had on me and how I think about God.
I’d love to hear your feedback or thoughts on this topic, and if there are any others who want to experiment with me I’d love to have some fellow adventurers.

39 thoughts on “My December Experiment: Female Pronouned God”

  1. What about the fact that G-d created man before creating woman? Just the first thing that popped into my head while reading.

    Can we presume that since man was created in His image, initially with Adam over Eve (man over choice of woman). You can look at the Bible as a whole and see that it’s from G-d that man is the head of the household. Right? How do we respond to that?

    I do admire the outside-the-box thinking and I’m not mad or offended, I just think there are a number of arguments that invalidate the experiment at hand.

    Love the blog.

  2. I’ve been try to do this off and on for a few years now. Some people are visibly offended, and some people assume that you’re joking. It’s sort of terrifying.

  3. I think it is way to easy to point to an English translation of a Bible and say, look and all the ‘he and hims” and look at ‘head of the households as man” to say the God is a man. For instance, often we have to look at what the language of the time, and written by whom to understand some of the references on the Bible. For this reason, I submit that there of Hebrew words which describe God in a feminine form, such as Shekhinah (- alternative transliterations Shekinah, Shechinah, Shekina, Shechina, Schechinah, שכינה) is the English spelling of a grammatically feminine Hebrew language word that means the dwelling or settling, and is used to denote the dwelling or settling presence of God, especially in the Temple in Jerusalem.

    I am not saying that I am an expert, by any means, but this example alone begs us the examine the text further to understand how gender and God come together.

    In addition, if we are created in God’s image, that means both men and women. After all, you cannot really truly say that women are created in men’s image as a secondary thought can you? I am a child of God. Therefore, I, like my husband, am created in God’s image. Since there are two genders….either God is neither or both genders. Take your pick.

    That being said, I recently asked my 10 year old daughter if God was a man or a woman. She said man. This was because of how the scripture is taught from a gender-specific angle to children in Sunday school and through song, etc. Since then, we’ve talked about God and gender and altered prayers at meal times to reflect both.

  4. Good for you! I am really impressed by the fact that you are constantly examining the accepted/traditional ideas about Christianity and challenging yourself to think outside the box and embrace what you feel God would want you to do/be/believe. So many people are trapped in dogma that they don’t truly understand. It’s admirable and inspiring that you want to get to the truth.

  5. I’ve struggled with this same issue for years…

    However, whenever I referred to God as a she/her it often became a distraction from the actual point I was trying to communicate.

    Also there is something about the tradition of the words he/him.

    Feminine worship has its own issues and baggage as well.

    Can’t wait to hear how your experiment goes!

  6. Ariah –

    Ah, the siren song of post-modernism has drawn you in again.

    The Bible is full of examples of heroic, brave, evil, God-loving, and God-hating men AND women.

    The Bible speaks clearly that every person is created in the image of God, that we have value to him, and that we are loved by him, all without regard to gender.

    If you believe in the inspired nature of the Bible as God’s word, and you believe that God is able to preserve his word, as I believe you do, then don’t you also believe that God is able to know the difference between the male and female pronouns, so that he says “he” only when he says “he”, and “she” only when he means “she”?

    Yes, the Bible, and therefore God, uses feminine pictures at times to illustrate his (oops!) nature, but it never calls him “She”. Why, my well meaning, and truth-seeking friend, would you choose to call God “She” when the Bible never does?

    I think what you have done here is to look outside the Bible (probably not intentionally) and find examples of male chauvinism in ours and in past cultures, and then you have let that brokenness color your view of what the Bible means and what God intended when he made choices about whether to refer to himself as male or female, or when he made choices about who to place in authority in the home or the church. It is we who are broken, not the scriptures.

    It is certainly true that cultures and societies have been full of sinful male chauvism throughout history, and that at times the Bible has been wronglfully used as justification for that. However, that does not make the Bible wrong. Rather, it is the misuse of the Bible that was wrong.

    So, go after male chauvinism with vigor. Celebrate femaleness and maleness, because they are both image-reflections of God. But don’t call in to question the specific and intentional use of male or female in the Bible, or God’s provision for authority as it relates to gender just because some have misused and misinterpreted it.

  7. aaron—

    I’m merely wondering, what exactly would it mean to say that God is male? Since God is spirit, and not flesh, God has no Y-chromosome, no testosterone, no genitalia of any sort. God has no neurochemistry or even, as far as we mean when we use the term, cultural identity. None of the connotations of maleness can possibly refer to God, because God is not human— or, indeed, biological. By limiting ourselves to masculine language in reference to God, we limit our understanding of God to ‘masculine’ traits, which seems to me either dangerous, sad, or worse.

  8. Tim –

    I hope you understand what I am saying here. I am not saying that I prefer that God be referred to as male. I am simply saying that God does refer to Himself as male, and that I think that is the best reference point for how we should refer to Him.

    As I said above, surely God has a mastery of language, given that he surely created language, and therefore it follows that since He refers to Himself with the male pronoun, then I take it that he meant to do so. He certainly is aware that He is spirit and has no body, and yet He chooses to refer to Himself as male. Who am I to question His word choice?

    Should I say, “Hey God, you realize that you don’t have a body, right? So you are not really exactly a male in the way that people and animals are either male or female, right? So why did you use the male pronoung to refer to yourself in the Bible. Nice forsight, dude. Do you realize, God, that people, and men in particular have used the fact that you refer to yourself in your Word as male to justify all kinds of chauvism against women? Don’t you get it, God, that men have wrongfully exploited the way you set up certain roles for men and women, particularly with men being in authority in the home and in the church, and that they have used that to oppress women? Well, as for me, I think you really screwed up, and what you wrote and how you wrote it has not worked out well at all, so I’m just going to change it all around to make it all better.”

    Not me, Tim. I believe that God meant what He said and did when He said and did it. That goes for every sovereign choide He made, including word choice and gender differences and gender roles. (Do not misread in to that any particular interpretation of gender roles. I am not a “keep your women silent, barefoot, and pregnant” guy, because that is not what the Bible teaches. At. All.)

    I believe that any abuse or misuse is our fault, not God’s fault. What needs to change is us, not God and not His Word, much less his word choice.

  9. Or, to answer your question more directly, I don’t know what it means to refer to God as male. He did that, not me.

  10. Aaron,

    In the Hebrew language, grammatical gender is NOT an indicator of actual gender. Every object is masculine or feminine. There are no gender-neutral pronouns in Hebrew. There is no equivalent of the English “it”. Everything is a “he” or a “she”.

    Here are some thought provoking examples: The spirit of God “Ruach Elohim” is a feminine noun. So is “Shekhinah”, the Presence of God. Does that mean the Spirit of God and the Presence of God are female?
    The word “animal” in Hebrew is “hayyah”. It is a feminine noun. When people speak of a hayyah, they have to refer to it as “she”. This does not indicate that the animal in question is actually female, however.
    A book “sefer” is a masculine noun too. So a book is also called “he”. God is no more male than a book is male.

    Since the titles for God in the Bible are Hebrew (Elohim, El, Adonai) and are masculine nouns, God was translated as “he”. BUT translation doesn’t make God male anymore than it makes God female. No matter what we call it. 🙂

  11. Jamie –

    I am familiar with masculine, feminine, or neutral gender traits being associated with nouns in most languages other than English. My point is that God knows about this as well. He is not some being that stumbled on us and had to try to relate to us using the language that we understood, and found himself limited by that language. Rather, he created us AND our language. If he had wanted to refer to himself using feminine or neutral names, then he would have done that. If he had wanted to be Mother, Daughter, and Holy Spirit, then he could have pulled that off as well. If he wanted us to reproduce asexually, or to be brought by the stork, he could have done that.

    But instead, for reasons only he knows and we cannot understand, he chose to create us in his image, including male and female versions. But he also chose to call himself the Father, then to incarnate Jesus as his Son, and to refer to himself with masculine nouns and pronouns.

    The reason this bothers any one here is because you see that people have taken what God created perfectly, and have screwed it up. You are seeing the screwed up way that societies have ordered themselves, and how males have oppressed and dominated women, and then you are letting that color your view of God’s choice to present himself in the masculine. Rather, you should look at the way God presents masculinity and femininity and let that color the way you behave with regard to gender.

    Calling God “he” does not cause men to misbehave. Calling God “she” does not fix the way men have misbehaved in their masculinty. Having men listen to how God tells them to order their lives and treat others is what will fix all that.

    I don’t have much time today, but I hope you get my point.

  12. Aaron—

    But you seem to be ignoring that God is referred to with feminine language in the Bible, as Jamie point out. The problem is not that God is presented as masculine and this troubles us; the problem is that God is presented as neither masculine nor feminine, but is referred to with anthropomorphic language because that is the only language that humans can use to understand God, and then some humans interpret this anthropomorphic language as meaning that God is anthropomorphized. There is constant reference in the Bible to God’s hand, God’s breath, et al., and certainly, as you point out, God could have chosen to be revealed using other language, but this does not mean that God has a hand or breath. Similarly, the use of pronouns or gendered nouns in reference to God does not mean that God has gender, because God is not a creature— we merely have no other way of understanding God than creaturely language.

  13. Ariah-

    Good thoughts. It doesn’t tend to offend me in writing. However, being that through Scripture God calls himself not only ‘he’ but also “Father” (and Jesus calls him Father) I am inclined to use that pronoun. I was also under the impression (although I have not checked it out fully) that in Scripture passages that refer to God as female it does so as a similie (i.e., God is like the mother hen; God is like the mother with a child at her breast).

    Most importantly, I feel there are so many issues that affect the lives of the most vulnerable that we should use our energy toward when it comes to making other Christians see the full meaning of the Gospel. Although your point is right & of the best intentions I feel like it might be one more thing that makes others say, “They’re liberal, they don’t believe in Scripture” or other generalized statements & then also throw out all the amazing things you say about loving our neighbors- which I would think we could all agree is much more importnat than the pronoun for God.

    Give my love to your ladies.

  14. I’m really enjoying the comments on this entry, and I’m learning a lot!

    To add to this lively discussion on gender, language and our understanding of God – I personally believe that God is so big and so outside our realm of experience that we cannot possibly understand him/her fully. We as humans are so egocentric; our idea of “normal” or “standard” is based only one our own experience, and it’s a huge undertaking for us to comprehend a life that’s different from our own. This is the reason that people are divided by race, gender, religion, sexual orientation – we think of people who are different from us as “wrong.” For goodness sake, it’s difficult for some people to understand why others don’t like chocolate or chose to vote for a different candidate.

    If we cannot even comprehend someone with a different family system than our own, or the lifestyle of a man or woman in a different country, how can we comprehend God – a being who has no equal, no earthly standard for us to compare him/her to? Even if a person believes that the Bible is the true and unerring word of God, that person must still acknowledge that the Bible is incomplete and falls short of expressing God fully. How can human words ever contain all the wonder of the creator of the universe? They can’t. It’s for this reason that people have for centuries debated God’s identity, desires, and will. This is why two Bible-believing Christians can argue until their blue in the face over the true path and meaning of salvation – because human words will never express all of God’s truth.

    As Paul said, we see through a glass dimly. Only when we see God face to face will we fully understand him. Or her. Or both, or neither.

  15. A few weeks ago at church our priest asked for volunteers to read different parts in a passage. I quickly volunteered to be God only because I wasn’t quick enough to get the narrator part and it didn’t seem appropriate to be Moses. I honestly wasn’t trying to be a trouble maker. Well, after hearing the voice of God as a woman’s voice, our priest told me that a lot of people came up to her afterward asking questions. She said that it started a couple of good conversations.

    As someone said above, it can be distracting to use “she”. I often will use “God” again in place of a pronoun. For example a passage like this:

    “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.”

    might be rendered like this:

    “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; God is the faithful God, keeping God’s covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love God and keep God’s commands.”

    Obviously this can get a little too repetitive, but it can work in some contexts.

    I think one big thing that applies in this discussion is how we believe that scripture was inspired. Aaron seems to believe that God told the writers word for word what to write while most of the rest of us seem to believe that while God’s Spirit inspired the message behind what the biblical writers wrote, they were free to use the words that were most comfortable to them. And of course, in their society, they would probably not even think about using anything besides male words. In their society it would have distracted listeners from the message. But I think that we are coming to a place in our society where it is becoming increasingly distracting to continue to imply that God is male by exclusively using male words. God is bigger than that and we need to find some way within the limits of our language to express Her otherness. This is going to be uncomfortable to the older folks and insiders, but we need to consider how our words affect how we envision God and how we share that God with the outsiders and the marginalized.

  16. I like the idea…in fact, I think that most the people against this idea don’t know what it feels like not to be able to identify with
    G-d in a very personal way – to feel like it could be possible to display G-d’s attributes in a real and wholistic way THROUGH the vehicle (your body) that G-d gave you. I feel that women have been held back in this way for generations…and I personally don’t believe that a G-d that is NEITHER MALE nor FEMALE would be offended by using the mere little word she. So ha. 🙂

    1. @Ambar, Thanks so much for stopping by! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you stick around for further conversations on other faith related topics.

  17. Ariah, I read one of your posts along these lines a little while ago, and wanted to read more to get a handle on what you were thinking, and to offer my thoughts in response. Well, aaron seems to have articulated exactly what I'm thinking, so for what it's worth, I'll just toss in my agreement with him.

    I hope that your experiment and your conversations around it have gone well, and helped you to understand more about our God.

  18. Phil,
    Thanks for chiming in on the conversation as well. I think the
    experiment went well and lent insight.
    Here's a quick response regarding some of what Aaron said. The case
    was made that God is referred to with male pronouns in the Bible, but
    it was also mentioned and agreed that God is at least occasionally
    referred to with female pronouns.
    My experiment was just one month long, and it was the first time in my
    26 years of life that I'd referred to God as “She” consistently.

    It'd be interesting to calculate percentages of male to female
    pronouns in the Bible for God. I'd then challenge you, Aaron, and
    anyone else to spend that percentage of each year referring to God's
    as a “She.”

  19. I know that God likens Himself to a mother bird, and that the Hebrew word for "spirit" is feminine, etc. But I don't think that God is ever referred to with a female pronoun, is He?

  20. Alrighty, I just read over the comments – and I'm still not seeing it. Is God Himself ever referred to with a female pronoun? I totally acknowledge the good points made in the comments, but if God is never actually referred to in the scriptures He inspired as "She" or "Her," but always as "He" and "Him," then I think that we must likewise refer to God only as "He" and "Him."

  21. You know, honestly, I don't know how the pronoun's and what not work in the Hebrew. So, I'm not sure of the answer regarding male pronouns. I know there is obviously a difference, but, if God is also only referred to in Hebrew, not in an english translation of “God” then shouldn't we also only use the Hebrew name for God, not the English? My point being, that if we are willing to translate contextually to fit our current culture and understanding of the name for God, can we also consider the other factors (as brought up in the post and comments) in how we refer to God? Is that a possibility or is it blasphemy? or somewhere in between?

  22. I'm sorry for my long delay in responding. And I'm going to post this here, since we're had issues with our nested comments.

    As far as I can tell from the interwebs, Hebrew has gendered pronouns much like English does – so there's no issue there. Where the issue arises, though, is that Hebrew nouns are gendered. So this means that, for example, the word for book is masculine, and masculine pronouns are subsequently used for books, so that a book is referred to as "he." So the argument runs that God is merely a masculine word, and the use of masculine pronouns for God no more means that God is masculine (in any sense) than the use of masculine pronouns for books means that books are masculine.

    But let us turn to the Greek of the New Testament. The Greek word for God is θεός, and can be used either masculinely or femininely – as "God" / "god," or as "goddess" – dependent solely on the words used with it. So the Greek masculine article ὁ gives us ὁ θεός – God or god; while the feminine article ἡ give us ἡ θεός – goddess. Similarly, either masculine or feminine pronouns can be used with θεός, to say either "he" / "his" or "she" / "her," as desired by the speaker or writer. And so, if any New Testament speaker or writer had wanted to refer to God as She, or to call something Hers, then he or she could have quite easily and grammatically done so. But such a thing was not done even once. (Unless I'm wrong, in which case I ask you to please tell me exactly where in scripture this is done.)

    It is my contention that if the divinely inspired scriptures always use masculine pronouns for God, then we should do likewise. This does not mean that we should think of God as physically male, or as overly anthropomorphic in any other way – for scripture does not do so. But neither does this mean that we should fear using exclusively masculine pronouns for God – for scripture does not do so. If God inspires speech of Himself using only He and His, then that is how we should speak of Him. We should both speak and think of God as He has revealed Himself, and while this entails realizing that God is not a man, it also entails referring to Him masculinely.

    Lastly, let's consider the issue you raised around translating at all. Should we stick to the original biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek? That's how Muslims treat the Arabic Qur'an, so it can certainly be done. But sticking to the original biblical languages is something which God never commanded, and is something He seems to have presumed against. (I know you're not really arguing that we should do this, so I won't belabor the point – but I have more to say, if it's necessary.) Now comes the heart of what you said: does translating to another language mean translating contextually to fit a certain culture and understanding? I don't think that it does, essentially. Unless you're trying to say that thought is completely determined by language, then it's rather easy to draw a line between expressing a thought in different languages, and and expressing different thoughts. Sure, in practice it can get murky at points, but the distinction is clear in principle. And to illustrate it, consider this scenario: Imagine that you speak only English, and you want to tell a woman who speaks only Spanish to love her enemies. Let's further imagine that I am with the two of you in a room, and I speak both English and Spanish. And lastly, let us imagine that this Spanish-speaking woman's culture and understanding – like most – dictates loving one's friends, but not one's enemies. The question is, how would I rightly transmit your message to her? Would I tell her to love her friends? Or would I tell her, in Spanish, to love her enemies?

  23. Phil,
    Thanks for your thoughts. I think I probably agree with the majority of what you talked about in the first couple paragraphs. I don't have a wealth of knowledge on the subject so I'll trust your research at the moment for how God is pronouned in the Bible that we have.

    My efforts last December, and my continued efforts today, weren't based on a theological stance, but rather an experiment in what I believed would better help me understand the nature of God. I don't think that was jeopardized or even hindered by my decision to describe God with female pronouns. Honestly, I think it was enhanced, as you have seen from my other posts on the subject.

    Regarding translation contextually at the end of your comment, I have a couple further thoughts. Already, most of the translations of the scriptures that we read do a bit of contextualizing. I knew there was something about 'stomach' in the Hebrew and a quick google search found this:

    "For instance, the Hebrew word "chai" is normally translated as "life", a western abstract meaning, but the original Hebrew concrete meaning of this word is the "stomach"."

    The point being that we do some contextualizing, re-ordering of words, and other changes to convey proper meaning of the text in our own culture. In fact, I would say most Sunday sermon's are mostly contextualizing. A pastor will read a short passage and spend most of the time telling stories, metaphors and discussing how what was written in the passage has relevance and application today. I don't see choosing to use female pronouns as radically different then any of those things. I'm not saying that God is a female any more then others are saying God is male. And I think there are benefits to the month we spent only referring to God in the feminine.

    Those are my thoughts.

  24. Hm, thanks Ariah – this seems to put things in a somewhat different light. Framing this as an issue of contextualizing seems different than claiming that "God is at least occasionally referred to with female pronouns."

    But that being said, I'm skeptical of most contextualizing, ha ha! For example, I think you're correct that sermons do a lot that could be called contextualizing – but I would further say that this is one means by which the gospel of Jesus Christ is so softened and diluted in most sermons. But of course, that kind of abuse doesn't indict all contextualizing.

    I guess the question just becomes whether your use of feminine pronouns, if seen as contextualizing, would be the kind of contextualizing which is necessary and helpful, or the kind which alters the word of God, and keeps us comfortable in various ways which we ought not to be kept comfortable. I'm not sure I have anything helpful to say about distinguishing the two kinds of contextualization at the moment, but I'll keep you posted.

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