Over the course of the past few decades, it has become common among many English-speaking Christians and in many churches (such as my own, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) to maintain that, when possible, we should avoid using masculine pronouns (“he,” “his,” “him,” “himself”) to refer to God. It is argued that to speak of God as if God were male perpetuates patriarchy, androcentrism, and hierarchical thought, and thus promotes gender inequity. In the famous words of Mary Daly, “if God is male then male is God.”[1] Thus in many circles it has become standard practice to use gender-neutral or gender-free language when alluding to God. The thinking is that this is the best way to address the problem of conveying and perpetrating concepts of God that are non-egalitarian or “sexist” and therefore oppressive, not only to women but also to other persons who do not identify themselves as male in gender. Of course, as liberation theologians often have stressed, it is not only the oppressed but the oppressors who suffer where there is oppression, and therefore an egalitarian society in which people do not face discrimination on account of their gender is actually in the best interest of males as well as non-males

I concur wholeheartedly with such an objective and support any and every effort to promote equity of all sorts, including gender equity. At the same time, however, I would argue that to refuse to use gendered personal pronouns to refer to God ends up doing more harm than good. The reason for this is that, once we begin using a term such as “Godself” rather than “himself” and employ the designation “God” repeatedly in a phrase such as: “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only-begotten Son” (John 3:16),[2] I am convinced that we end up depersonalizing God, that is, depriving God of God’s personhood, or at least diminishing it considerably. Because all persons have gender,[3] when God no longer has a gender, God ceases to be a person.[4] Furthermore, in order to avoid constantly repeating the word “God” when we speak of God without the use of pronouns—which tends to sound extremely awkward—, we are continually forced to alter what we say about God and must resort endlessly to circumlocutions. This awkwardness can lead us to limit the ways in which we refer to God and even to mention God as little as possible when we talk about our beliefs. It can therefore deter us from proclaiming the gospel freely or impede us from presenting the gospel in ways that we might present it otherwise. Avoiding overly repetitive allusions to God and “Godself” then becomes more important than com-municating the ideas and beliefs that we wish to share regarding God. And if we attempt to resolve this difficulty by using instead the nouns “divinity” or “deity” or the adjective “divine,” from my perspective, we only make the problem worse, depersonalizing God even further. We are left with: “For God so loved the world that God—or the deity or divinity—sent the divine Son” (or “child”). In either case, whether we want to or not, we end up giving the impression that God is a “what” rather than a “who,” something rather than someone.

I must also add that, personally, whenever I hear or read the term “Godself,” not only do I have a hard time conceiving in my mind what that term refers to, but the “God” of whose “self” we speak sounds strange and alien to me as well—and I do mean “alien” like an “alien from outer space.” Such a term does not seem to represent faithfully or accurately the caring, intimate, and gracious being whom I call “God,” and much less to endear or attract me to that God. In fact, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I would say that speaking of God in that way even estranges and alienates me from the God to whom “Godself” refers.

Of course, all those who have dedicated time and energy to reflecting on this subject know very well how complicated and controversial it is. Even to talk about it upsets many people, including not only those who have been deeply hurt by the traditional ways in which we refer to God and thus insist on changes, but also those who want to continue using the same type of gendered language for God that has been predominant for centuries, and thus is regarded as “standard.” I would insist, together with many others, that in reality there is no solution to this problem that is entirely satisfactory. No matter how hard we try, we cannot speak of God in ways that avoid perpetrating gender inequity at least to some extent, and thus our success in building churches, communities, and societies that are more just, equitable, and egalitarian with respect to gender by means of the language we use about God will always be limited.[5] One of the phrases I continually repeat to my students is: “Every perspective is problematic—including yours and mine.” Any who claim to have the definitive solution to problems such as this one, therefore, believing that they know how to speak of God in ways that are not problematic, are deceiving themselves.

Due to the complexities involved in attempting to define which pronouns English-speakers should use when speaking of individuals in the third person, in this brief article I do not wish to address that question. Instead, I will limit myself to considering the question of how those of us who are Christians should speak of God in the third person.

Keeping God Personal as a Person

While I fully agree that the long-standing custom of using only masculine pronouns to refer to God is problematic and tends to promote patriarchy, androcentrism, and other forms of inequity, I would also insist that there are some very good things which that custom promotes. Among these is the ability to speak freely about God—that is, about “him”—without having to resort endlessly to circumlocutions. In certain ways, it also allows us to reflect more accurately and faithfully the concept of God that we find in the Christian Scriptures, where it is almost impossible to find exceptions to the rule of speaking of God as if God were male. From my perspective, once we begin distancing ourselves from the concept of God that runs throughout our Bible, the God of whom we speak ceases to have the same liberating, transforming power as the God proclaimed by Jesus and those who shared his vision of God and God’s reign (including not only those who followed Jesus but many of those who preceded him as well).[6] Undoubtedly, as many scholars have insisted, including especially feminist scholars, the biblical allusions to God and the concepts behind many of those allusions can also be oppressive at times. However, as will be evident to any who read my two-volume work Jesus’ Death in New Testament Thought (Mexico City: Comunidad Teológica de México, 2018), I would insist that in many cases what has been oppressive is the interpretations traditionally given to our Scriptures rather than those Scriptures themselves.

According to my reading of the New Testament, the most basic and essential characteristic of the God proclaimed by Jesus (and elsewhere in the Scriptures as well) is not only the love of that God for all people “equally, unconditionally, and unreservedly,”[7] but the fully personal nature of that God. I do not believe that we can speak of a God who loves the world in that way without affirming that God is a person.[8] Impersonal realities or things cannot love, at least not in the way we commonly understand love. However, neither can personal realities or things love. Only a God who is not only “personal”—a designation which paradoxically can be used even of non-persons—but is actually a person and is spoken of as such can truly love human beings with “his” whole being and call on human beings to love one another as well.

To stress this point, I need only rephrase what I have just written by affirming, “only a God who is actually a person can truly love human beings with God’s whole being.” This rephrased affirmation is problematic not only in that it seems to speak of God in an abstract and perhaps even impersonal way, but also in that it tends to imply that “God’s whole being” refers to something or someone distinct from the first God mentioned, as if a first God loved us with the whole being of a second and distinct God. Because it is confusing and complicates thinking about God, such a usage sacrifices the idea that God “himself” loves human beings with “his” whole being in order to avoid perpetrating the oppressive idea that God is (exclusively) male. From my perspective, such a “solution” only makes things worse, since I regard as oppressive anything that diminishes the biblical idea that God is a person who loves all people unconditionally with “his” whole being—we might even say with all “his” heart, soul, mind, and strength, in the same way that we are to love “him” (Mark 12:30).[9] Of course, to speak of God’s heart, soul, mind, and strength is to use anthropomorphisms and to imply that God has a heart, soul, and mind, and perhaps muscles as well, in the way that human beings do. Yet this is precisely the God whom we find throughout both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, which consistently ascribe to God human attributes that have to do not only with spiritual or emotional aspects but physical characteristics as well. In the Bible, God has a face, eyes, ears, a mouth, a mind, arms, hands, a heart, a bosom, entrails, a right and left side, and even a back or “behind” (see Exod. 33:23).

What seems to me to demonstrate more clearly than anything else the impossibility of representing faithfully biblical thought regarding God without using gendered pronouns to refer to God is the fact that, to my knowledge, even among those who advocate gender-neutral or gender-free language concerning God, no translations of the entire Christian Bible that make consistent and exclusive use of such language have found widespread acceptance.[10] Any speaker or author who specializes in the area of biblical theology knows only too well the formidable difficulties involved in attempting to avoid alluding to the God of Scriptures as if “he” were male. While as Christians we can use circumlocutions to find ways of alluding to God today without the use of pronouns, many passages from our Scriptures simply cannot be translated into English in a way that is comprehensible, agreeable to our ears, and in continuity with the original meaning of the passage in question without following the practice of those Scriptures of using gendered pronouns to refer to God.

For me, this is an extremely important point for a reason I have already mentioned above: when we avoid using gendered personal pronouns to speak about God, we inevitably distance ourselves from the biblical texts and the God of whom they speak, with the result that we end up speaking of a different God, a God whom we have altered in our attempt to avoid perpetrating gender inequity. In other words, we cannot represent faithfully the God of Jesus and Scripture in our preaching, teaching, and speaking about God when we refuse to use gendered personal pronouns to refer to that God. And to speak of a different God who has been altered and no longer represents faithfully the God of Scripture is by definition to proclaim a gospel that is also distinct from that which we find in Scripture, in other words, a “gospel” that ceases to be fully the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In order to demonstrate more clearly my point, I will cite several passages from the  New Revised Standard Version of the New Testament, replacing gendered language used there with gender-neutral language:

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to Godself through Christ,” or: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to God’s own self through Christ”(2 Cor. 5:18).

“In past generations God allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet God has not left Godself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:16-17).

“No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and Godself tempts no one,” or: “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and God in Godself tempts no one” (James 1:13).

“If we say that we have fellowship with God while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as God in Godself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus God’s Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:6-7).

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them; they will be God’s peoples, and God’s own self will be with them; God will wipe every tear from their eyes’” (Rev 21: 3-4).[11]

Perhaps some people would find such translations acceptable, though I do not think they could deny that they sound quite odd. From my perspective, they illustrate well the fact that such gender-neutral language tends to imply that we are speaking of a different God each time we refer to “God” or “Godself ” in the same phrase or sentence, as well as depersonalizing God—even though all of these passages ascribe to God actions that only persons perform. In addition, although God is said to do good things in these passages, some of which are in fact very loving and even intimate (restoring friendship with us, giving us rain and fruitful harvests, filling us with food and joy, having fellowship with us, dwelling with us, and even wiping away our tears), this gender-neutral God does not sound very endearing or attractive to me—much less enthralling, captivating, or enrapturing!—or excite in me the immense joy, peace, gratitude, love, friendship, and consolation that these passages describe. Even the God who will remove every tear from my eyes forever seems to do so in a cold, mechanical way, rather than by tenderly caressing me while wiping each of those tears away with great care and compassion, gazing affectionately into my eyes and gently soothing all the pain and hurt I have accumulated over a lifetime. Thus, if we intentionally avoid the use of gendered pronouns to refer to God in these passages, we must either speak of God in ways that sound strange, detached, abstract, impersonal, and perhaps even confusing, or else alter these passages so that they end up affirming something different than what the author originally wrote. We might come up with a variety of circumlocutions that would convey ideas that are similar, but from my perspective this would still involve changing their meaning.

So although in the translations just presented we may have avoided promoting patriarchy, androcentrism, and gender inequity, in my opinion we have done so by castrating, sterilizing, and neutering the God of Jesus, Scripture, and the gospel that I have known, loved, and cherished dearly ever since I was a child. I agree wholeheartedly that we must fight with all our might against patriarchy, androcentrism, and gender inequity, which are indeed tremendous evils that have done great harm to all of us over the centuries. But must we do such violence to God and alter God’s loving nature so drastically in order to accomplish that objective? . . . .

. . . . Unfortunately, in standard English, there ultimately seems to be no way to resolve in a manner that is entirely satisfactory the problems raised by the fact that the only personal pronouns with which we can refer to God are either masculine or feminine in gender. One way or another, our language will convey ideas that can contribute to inequity and oppression. This means that the only choice we have is to attempt to discern which of the various options open to us is least problematic.

For me, however, what matters most is that we not “castrate,” “sterilize,” or “neuter” God and the gospel, which I believe we do when we refuse to refer to God as “she” or “he.” When I say that, by no means do I wish to deny the personhood or capacity to love of those who have been castrated or sterilized, whether voluntarily or involuntarily; nor would I ever affirm that they have been rendered “impotent” in any way except that of no longer being able to procreate children of their own, or that people who have been castrated or sterilized have lost their gender, so that they may no longer identify themselves as fully male or female if they choose to do so. Instead, I have in mind the idea of forcefully and violently stripping God of his and her gender, which I am convinced would be entirely contrary to God’s will. I would argue that God wishes to be known, regarded, and approached as a person, because God is a person; and as mentioned above, I believe that to be a person is to have gender. Most English dictionaries offer as a second or third definition of “castrate” something along the lines of “to deprive of vitality, vigor, or force.” Similarly, they define “sterilize” in terms of making someone or something sterile, infertile, unfruitful, barren, and even lacking in originality or emotive force. We must not deprive God of her power to give life in creative, transforming, vibrant, and wondrous ways that leave us speechless, breathless, and deeply in love with her. Nor must we mutilate God or render him impotent by turning him into some type of arcane, dispassionate, and amorphous being with no eyes to wink at us, no mouth to smile playfully at us, no face to beam brightly at us, no arms to cradle us, no hands to caress us, no lap for us to sit on contentedly, and no breast or bosom for us to cuddle against tightly. Rather, we must let God be himself, the person he wants to be in relation to us, our loving “Abba,” while at the same time letting her be herself as our friend, companion, grandmother, comforter, role model, and confidant. For me, none of these are things that “Godself” can do.

Alternating between Feminine and Masculine Pronouns for God

From my perspective, the least problematic solution to the difficulties discussed above, then, would be to alternate between the use of masculine and feminine pronouns when referring to God. In this way, we once again make God inclusive. I would argue that this way of resolving the problem is better than coining a new but alien way of referring to the God of Jesus, speaking of God as a non-person, “neutering” God,  or giving the impression that each time we say “God” in a phrase that alludes to God repeatedly we are speaking of a different God. The concern for gender equity and justice is an extremely important one. However, there are other forms of equity and justice that must concern us as well. Thus to give priority to concerns for gender equity and justice over concerns for equity and justice in general would be a mistake—though of course we can only seek equity and justice in general by focusing our attention on concrete and particular forms of equity and justice, such as those having to do with gender. And because I am convinced that belief in an intensely personal God—a God who is actually a person—is a necessary and indispensable precondition for the proclamation of a God of love who seeks above all else justice, wholeness, and well-being for all indiscriminately, I propose that we abandon the practice of avoiding personal pronouns when speaking of God in the third person and using the term “Godself” so as instead to use both feminine and masculine pronouns to refer to God

Such a practice may be preferable for another reason as well. Due to the “sexist” way of thinking which has been engrained into all of us and which we all inevitably perpetuate (even when we seek not to do so), we tend to associate the notion of love more closely with females rather than males. The way in which most human beings experience motherhood is no doubt largely responsible for this.[12] As scholars who reflect on questions of gender have often noted, people generally regard characteristics such as tenderness, caring, and compassion as typical of females rather than males. We also tend to understand being masculine in terms of being strong, firm, and assertive. It is common to view womanhood ideally in terms of being “motherly,” while also maintaining that ideally men should be “fatherly,” both of which involve certain traits particular to each. Of course, to promote gender equity and justice, it is precisely these kinds of stereotypes that must be critiqued and questioned. I have long taught my students that they need to analyze critically and challenge traditional conceptions of what distinguishes one gender from the other. I ask them, for example, “When I am tender, caring, and gentle toward my daughters, am I being feminine and motherly rather than masculine and fatherly?” . . . .

. . . . Now that I have had this opportunity to explain why I prefer to alternate between feminine and masculine pronouns in my theological work, however, in the future I would like to have the freedom to follow this practice when I speak publicly or publish things that I have written. While I have already explained above my reasons for this, I think a few illustrations from my 94 Theses would serve to make my point even more clearly and convincingly. While in many of those theses I did refrain from using either masculine or feminine pronouns to refer to God in the third person, in others I did not. Below are some of the theses in which I did not. After citing each one, I will restate it using the gender-neutral language for God that is common in many circles today:

8. God commands that we obey her for our own sakes.


8. God commands that we obey God for our own sakes.

24. For God to have intervened to save Jesus from being crucified by taking him up into heaven before that could happen would have been tantamount to God saying to the world, “I love you all very much and I want you to love one another, but when your activity on behalf of others leads to the threat of suffering and death at the hands of others, then stop immediately what you are doing and run as fast as you can to a safe place where you can hide out perma-nently so that no one can ever bother you again.” From my perspective, a God who really loves us could never ever say such a thing. If God’s love for us only goes so far, then how can God expect our love to go any further than his?

            the final phrase:

If God’s love for us only goes so far, then how can God expect our love to go any further than God’s?

30. After Jesus had offered up his life to God and been raised so that he might continue to be Lord and servant of all in a new and different way, his first followers concluded, “In this man, God has not only given us new revelations, commandments, prophecies, or hopes. God has gone so far as to give us his very self!”

            the final phrase:

“God has gone so far as to give us God’s very self!”

47. Faith saves, not because God has arbitrarily established the acceptance of certain doctrines as the condition for saving people, but because it involves entrusting one’s life entirely to God and looking to God above all else for the help one needs. Nothing makes us whole but faith, which involves constantly fixing our gaze on God rather than on ourselves. God therefore commands us to believe in him for our own good.

            the final phrase:

God therefore commands us to believe in God for our own good.

75. The reason that Lutherans do not pray to the saints is that we believe in a God who loves us so much that she wants us to approach her directly through Jesus.


75. The reason that Lutherans do not pray to the saints is that we believe in a God who loves us so much that God wants us to approach God directly through Jesus.

76. It is not bad or sinful to doubt God, question God, or get angry at God. On the contrary, God wants us do these things when we feel moved to do so. In reality, God is overjoyed when someone yells at him, “I don’t believe in you!” He responds: “I am so glad that we’re finally having this conversation! Let’s go get a cup of coffee and keep chatting.”

            the final half of the thesis:

In reality, God is overjoyed when someone yells at God, “I don’t believe in you!” God responds: “I am so glad that we’re finally having this conversation! Let’s go get a cup of coffee and keep chatting.”

92. The reason why we cannot merit God’s grace, favor, and love is that these things are already ours in abundance. How can we merit or earn something that we have already been given freely? If God already loves us infinitely by pure grace just as we are, how can our behavior bring her to love us more? The only thing that our behavior can merit is a particular form that God’s love for us will take. God responds to our behavior by using many different means to attempt to mold us into the persons she wants us to be for our own good and that of others.

            the third and fourth sentences:

If God already loves us infinitely by pure grace just as we are, how can our behavior bring God to love us more?… God responds to our behavior by using many different means to attempt to mold us into the persons God wants us to be for our own good and that of others.

94. All of the ideas I have shared here have been repeated many times by others long before me. All that I have done is to dress them up in some fancy clothes that will cause people to stare for a few moments before deciding whether or not to shop for the same brand or even design their own label. If that makes you chuckle, stop it. None of these things are laughing matters. One way or another, I just want to make you cry with me so that you will ask God for a handkerchief and start wiping away the tears. Then we can all dance to the music that God has been dying to play for us on his fiddle.

            the final sentence of the thesis:

Then we can all dance to the music that God has been dying to play for us on God’s fiddle.

In most of the theses just cited, it should be evident that to have used gender-neutral language for God would have made the imagery bland, impersonal, abstract, and perhaps even dull. In several of these theses, most notably 24, 30, 47, and especially 75, refraining from using a gendered personal pronoun also gives the impression that, each time it is used, the word “God” refers to some other, different God, rather than the same God himself or herself.  (How could I rephrase what I have just written using gender-neutral language: “the impression that, each time it is used, the word ‘God’ refers to some other, different God, rather than the same Godself?; the same self of God?; the same God in Godself?; the same God in God’s own self?” Of course, I could simply omit the words “himself or herself,” but then the contrast with “some other, different God” would not be as strong and emphatic.) Obviously, in several of these theses, I could probably have figured out some circumlocution to avoid having to use a personal pronoun to refer to God, yet once again this would have weakened the impact considerably and required even more words.

In the case of thesis 8, “God commands that we obey her for our own sakes,” I used the feminine pronoun because the emphasis is on God’s authority, and I wished to stress that being an authority figure is something that can and should characterize not only males, as our culture often presupposes, but females as well. It is important for women to be seen as possessing the same authority as men, and the gender of those in positions of authority should not affect the way we view them and their authority. Because giving commandments is commonly seen as an act of imposition and compulsion—an idea I wanted to question in this thesis—, and because imposition and compulsion are generally considered something that males do through the use of force and power, I also thought that to affirm, “God commands that we obey him for our own sakes” might reinforce the idea of a domineering, overpowering male God that many people associate with the God of Scripture. Thesis 75, which speaks of us approaching God “directly through Jesus,” also conveys the idea of God’s sovereignty and authority over all, and therefore for the same reasons just mentioned I chose to speak of approaching “her” rather than “him.”

In theses 87, 92, and 94, I wanted to stress once more the idea that God is a person: someone we can yell at and chat with over a cup of coffee (87), someone who “loves us infinitely by pure grace” and wants to “mold” us like a potter molds clay (92), and someone who plays “his” own fiddle (94). Because thesis 87 speaks of yelling at God, I thought it was better to use a masculine pronoun there. In our culture, it is considered more acceptable to yell at men than women, since women are to be treated “politely” or “delicately.” Thus I thought the image of yelling at God as a man was preferable, since readers could relate more easily to that image and identify with it more. For me to convey the idea of yelling at a woman might also be seen as promoting violence or abuse of the type that men often practice toward women. Furthermore, since women are generally stereotyped as loving to sit down to chat and gossip for hours on end, often over a cup of coffee, representing God as male here avoids reinforcing such a stereotype.

Because I wished to stress the tender, gracious, caressing love of God in thesis 92, I thought that the image of God as female and motherly would have a stronger impact on the reader, even though this might be seen as falling into a stereotype of women that I have already questioned above. I felt that this potential difficulty was offset, however, by presenting God as a female potter, both because crafting and molding things is often associated with masculinity rather than femininity—something I wanted to question—but also because, for better or for worse, we generally think of women doing pottery at home as a hobby simply for pleasure’s sake, whereas we tend to conceive of men doing pottery in a factory or workplace in a way that is tedious and monotonous, not because they enjoy it but simply because they need to make a living. I wanted to present a loving God who takes great delight in molding and shaping us and does so gently and caringly, paying close attention to detail, rather than forcefully, mechanically, and coldly mass-producing the same object over and over again. Therefore, at the risk of promoting stereotypes that I would question, I portrayed God as a woman.

While undoubtedly there are women who play the fiddle as well and as passionately as men, in thesis 94, I wanted to create in the reader’s mind the image of a fiddler such as those who play on porches or dance halls in the deep South of the U.S. or around a campfire in the countrysides of Eastern Europe, egging others on to dance with uncontrollable gaiety and glee to the tunes they improvise as they twist their torsos back and forth, stamp their foot to the beat of their rapturous, mesmerizing melodies, and gaze on those dancing with a glimmer in their eyes, a grin of unrepressed joy across their face, and raucous shouts of merriment and revelry. Because the only fiddlers I have seen do this are men, I decided to depict God as male in this case. In passing, I would add that this final image says quite a bit about the kind of God in whom I believe, although the previous ones do as well.

In my theses, therefore, I sought not only to alternate between the use of masculine and feminine pronouns to refer to God in the third person in order to promote gender equity, but also reflected carefully on which of the two options best served to communicate the imagery I wanted to create in the readers’ mind. While it is important to keep a balance between the two, I believe it is also important to pick and choose which option is best suited to portraying the concept of God that one wishes to convey in a particular context. . . .

. . . .

In conclusion, I would insist on three points. First, whatever answers are given to the questions raised in this article, it is important that we encourage one another to discuss the language we use to refer to God and that those who are involved in sustained reflection on this subject share with others the results of their reflection. This will allow us to address issues that are important and enable all of us to grow in our awareness of the problems involved. We thereby become more sensitive to questions regarding gender. As a result, we will be empowered to communicate more clearly views regarding God that we find liberating and avoid as much as possible the perpetuation of ideas that we regard as oppressive and unjust.

A second point I would stress is that we must refrain from imposing on others the way of referring to God that each of us has chosen. At the same time, we must not prohibit others from using the language they prefer. I once heard of a female seminary student who was told, “We must not refer to God as ‘Father,’ since to do so contributes to patriarchal and hierarchical thinking.” The student responded angrily, “I grew up without a father. Do not take away from me the only Father I have ever had!” While it is important that we all share our beliefs with one another, we must avoid pressuring others in any way to adopt those beliefs themselves. Let God be God and touch people’s lives as she wishes. Yet for God to do this, we must all be given a chance to share our views on these questions and make the effort to listen to one another.

David A. Brondos

Mexico City, Mexico

Originally written on August 8, 2017 and published on http://94t.mx on October 31, 2017

Revised version published on July 16, 2018



[1] Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985), 19. I feel that it is important for me to add that, while I certainly understand the assertion: “if God is male then male is God,” I would nevertheless disagree with it strongly. According to the Christian God in whom I believe, no human being ever has the right to equate himself or herself with God. Thus if any man would say to a woman, “Because I am male and God is male, you must submit to me as God,” that man is committing blasphemy.

[2] Many advocate translating the Greek huios as “child” rather than “Son” when characterizing Jesus’ relation to God, yet the belief that the huios tou theou (Son of God) became a male when he became human has led most Christians to allude to “him” with the use of masculine pronouns even in “his” pre-existent state. The question of whether to use gender-free language to speak of God’s “Word,” who existed as and with God “from the beginning” (John 1:1-2), is closely related to the question of whether to use such language to refer to God. When Greek speakers referred to that Word as the Logos, they used a word of masculine gender; yet it was also common to speak of God’s pre-existent huios or Logos as God’s sophia, which is feminine. Due to space limitations, however, I will not discuss this question in the present article.

[3] To be sure, some persons consider themselves as being both male and female in gender or see gender in terms of a spectrum in which the gender of a person lies somewhere in between “feminine” and “masculine,” rather than seeing themselves exclusively as females or males. While there are also persons who affirm that they are neither male nor female, I believe that most of those who do so would prefer redefining their gender as something other than male or female, such as “gender-neutral” or “gender-queer,” rather than denying any gender on their part.

[4] Among both Christian and non-Christian thinkers, the debate regarding what it means to be a “person” is ongoing. Once again, out of concern for brevity, I will not enter into that discussion here, though I am well aware that the concept of “person” that I use in the present article is subject to criticism in many forms and involves certain assumptions that are undoubtedly problematic.

[5] Of course, I recognize that even terms such as “equity,” “equitable,” and “egalitarian” are problematic. There are senses in which we are not and can never be “equal” to one another, although at the same time there are other senses in which we are equal to one another or should be, just as there are senses in which “egalitarianism” is both possible and desirable and other senses in which it is not. All of these words are usually defined in terms of being the “same” in some way, yet while in some cases this is good, in other cases diversity is to be preferred over “sameness.” When touching on these matters in my teaching activity, a question I like to pose to my students is: “Are you the same person that you were yesterday?” All of us must answer both “Yes” and “No” to that question, since in some ways we have remained the same, but in others we have changed. Nevertheless, to answer in this way is not to contradict ourselves but to speak the truth in different senses. In fact, we would be speaking an untruth if we answered either “Yes” or “No” exclusively.

[6] On my use of the word “power” here and elsewhere in this article, I would refer the reader to thesis 54 of the 94 Theses that I posted online at http://94t.mx on October 31, 2017. That thesis begins: “The opposite of power is impotence. Both can be good or bad.” I reject the view that power is by nature bad or oppressive, since the lack of power or powerlessness seems to me to be a problem that is just as serious, if not more so. From my perspective, the problem is the abuse and misuse of power or the selfish lust for power, rather than power itself.

[7] See thesis 1 of my 94 Theses.

[8] Of course, according to the doctrine of the Trinity, God is actually three persons. Yet I would nevertheless insist that it is proper and necessary to speak of God as a single person as well, whether we are referring to the “triune God” or to the God traditionally considered the “first person” of the Trinity. The Triune God is not something but someone, a “who” rather than a “what.”

[9] By necessity, we have no choice but to use anthropomorphic language to speak of God. The only language that human beings can use is human language. An interesting question related to this fact is that of the extent to which we consider God to be human or non-human. To address this question involves discussing the ways in which we define a word such as “human,” a discussion which will inevitably be interminable. In passing, I would add that when Paul writes that he was taken up into paradise and heard there “unutterable utterances” or “inexpressible expressions” (arrēta rēmata) that no mortal human can repeat (2 Cor. 12:2-4), I understand this, not in the sense that no human being is allowed to do so (as most English translations affirm), but in the sense that no human being is capable of doing so, since no human words could ever articulate, reproduce, or capture accurately the unimaginable and indescribable things that he heard.

[10] To speak of the impossibility of representing something faithfully once again raises the problem of defining the words we use—in this case, faithfulness or fidelity. We oversimplify when we maintain that a particular representation of biblical thought is or is not faithful to the Scriptures. Instead, we must ask to what extent and in which sense any particular representation reflects biblical thought faithfully (see thesis 9 of my 94 Theses). Such an affirmation also presupposes that we can rightly speak of “biblical thought” in the singular, since even in the writings of a single author we can find a wide range of diverse and at times even conflicting ideas, and this in turn raises the question of how to define the word “rightly.” We could go on and on endlessly debating such questions, yet I would nevertheless argue unhesitatingly that there are some representations of biblical thought that are more faithful to the Christian Scriptures than others.

[11] I am aware that in several of these passages the Greek word used is autos rather than heautos, yet I would nevertheless argue that in each case the autos was added precisely to stress that the allusion is to God “himself.” The fact that the vast majority of modern English versions of the New Testament also translate autos in this way in passages such as these strongly supports such an argument.

[12] I speak of “our experience of motherhood” because even those of us who have not had the experience of being a mother have mothers and have learned what it is like to live with mothers, whether they be our own or those of family, friends, and acquaintances. Of course, we must also remember that many people have experiences of motherhood that for them have been more negative than positive.