Bible Q&A: Is God male or female?

Our Bible Q&A series explores the questions you’ve asked us about the Bible.

This article represents the author’s personal view. It accords with Bible Society’s values, but is not intended to express our position as an organisation.

Question:

If God made male and female in his image, what does that make God?​

Answer:

God has no biological sex as he isn’t material, or made of matter, and therefore has no genes.

However, the question of why God should not be referred to in feminine terms, seeing as God does not have a sex objectively, has been around for a long time. A church in third century Syria treated the Holy Spirit as a female persona, and more recently the Episcopal Church in the US changed the terms in its prayer books to reflect gender-neutral pronouns for God. There is also the book and film The Shack, which controversially depicts two of the persons of the Godhead as women.

If we are to view this question through the lens of the Bible, assuming that Scripture is 'God breathed' and is the means by which God reveals himself to us, then it would be most accurate to say that he reveals himself as male. The Bible most commonly uses masculine articles to refer to God, such as ὁ (masculine) as opposed to ἡ (feminine) in Greek. God frequently relates to us as a father.

However, it is important to understand that the feminine isn’t alien to God. The Bible speaks about God using anthropomorphic images, which are frequently masculine, but the Bible does employ feminine imagery to describe God’s relationship to the world as well:

  • 'As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.' (Isaiah 66.13, ESV)
  • 'Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.' (Isaiah 49.15, ESV)
  • 'Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, "Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child," to the land that you swore to give their fathers?' (Numbers 11.12, ESV)

So why are these images in the Bible? Does this present a confusing view of God’s gender or how we should relate to God?

God’s sense of compassion can be likened to the compassion and tenderness of a mother. The images of giving birth, a child in a womb and nursing are necessarily feminine. But why does it use these images rather than ones which relate to experiences associated with men? Although, obviously, men are compassionate and caring towards their children too, the fact that the Bible uses the image of birth is an acknowledgement of the unique value of all that a mother has to endure as she gives birth, all she sacrifices as she carries and raises a baby, and therefore the depth of her love and connection to that child. This is one of the metaphors it employs to convey how deeply God values his children and wants to bond with them – and it therefore shows that God understands and values feminine experiences.

It should be noted though, that although God is described using both masculine and feminine imagery, he is only directly addressed using masculine terms such as 'father' and 'King'. Jesus also used the image of a female 'mother hen gathering her chicks' to describe himself, but this does not indicate that he thought of himself as female!

So what does Genesis 1.27 say about gender, as male and female are both created 'in God’s image'?

There is some scholarly debate over whether the word 'Elohim' – a plural word for 'God' in this passage – could refer to the heavenly courts, in which there could be beings that were in ancient times thought of as male and female. However, I believe that both male and female are in his image not because God himself fits neatly into these gender categories or is both male and female, but because the characteristics which both males and females have are derived from God’s character.

The characteristics which may be stereotypically, though not exclusively, attributed to men and women, such as compassion or protectiveness, are reflections of God’s character. So God is the origin of the attributes and experiences that are associated with both genders – hence both genders reflect the image of God. Women and men should be able to relate to God, as he created and understands the feminine and masculine experiences.

Have you got a question about the Bible? Let us know and we’ll do our best to answer it!

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