“Does God have a gender? Like, is he male?” I’d already dismissed the class for the night, but her question was important. How would you have answered her?
Isn’t it obvious? Didn’t Jesus refer to God as Father? Doesn’t the Bible use he when referring to God?
But please think about how the Bible works. God revealed himself in human language, and our language can never encapsulate all that God is. The only pronouns available are he, she, or it. We have no word for a non-gendered person. You couldn’t use it for God without suggesting God was impersonal. You couldn’t say, “God called the light Day, and the darkness it called Night” (Genesis 1:5). For a personal being, you’re stuck with he or she. They used he not because God is male, but because our language doesn’t provide any other way to speak of God, and the revelation was given in a patriarchal society where authority was predominately male.
In fact, the creation account is explicit that whatever it means to be male and whatever it means to be female both derive from God’s own being. Female is the image of God just as much as male is (Genesis 1:27).
Viewing God as male is a limited perspective. Canaanite gods like Baal needed female gods to bear children. The God revealed to Israel isn’t like that: everything from which male and female are derived already exists within God’s own being.
That’s important when we talk about God as Father. We don’t mean male, as if we also need a mother god. We mean that our life is actually God’s breath in us, the way a child receives her life from her parents. That’s why the Bible can also speak of God as a Mother giving birth to her kingdom (Isaiah 66:7-13).
But what about Jesus? Jesus was God. He was male. Therefore, God is male, right? No, that argument won’t work. For God to become incarnate as a human being, God self-limited. The ruler of the universe emptied himself and took on a servant role when he was born as a human (Philippians 2:7). Part of that self-limitation was to be limited to being male. Why male? It was pragmatic. In first-century Israel, a female would not have been free to travel, teach, collect disciples, and confront the rulers of Jerusalem. Jesus laid aside his omnipotence, his omnipresence, his omniscience, and he was limited to being male.
Using the same fallacy, you could say God was not omnipresent. Jesus was limited to one place at a time (e.g. John 11:21). Jesus was God. Therefore, God is limited to one place at a time. The argument is false for the same reason: incarnation into a human body implies limitations that cannot be extrapolated.
In other words, it’s wrong to think of God as merely male. When all human conflict is over, including the gender war, all of humanity will take our rightful place as God’s children. There will be no privileging of male over female, or any other distinction you care to name (Galatians 3:28).
The way Jesus taught life under his kingship, I think we’re called to live that now. Our twenty-first century culture is ridiculously sexualized. Our clothing, our Facebook profiles, our fashion industry, our social pressures are fixated on our sexuality. The truth is that both are human. Together we image God. What we share in common is far greater than our differences. Can’t we value each other for our humanness, regardless of gender? Wouldn’t that be more reflective of the way God loves us?
What others are saying
Michael F. Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 137–138 (emphasis original):
It is notable that it is maleness and femaleness that constitutes the image of God according to Genesis 1:26–27. It is humanity created as male and female that marks the image and likeness of God. That means that God’s being cannot be confined to masculine qualities. Our humanity has a divine character expressed in the union of male and female. God is the sum of both genders because humanity as male and female are equally rooted in God’s divine being.
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