God and Personal Pronouns

2021 Jun 6

The personal pronoun we use to designate God is a bit of a hot issue. In general, personal pronouns have controversy in our culture, and so this issue has become related to how we speak of God. I will explain my approach.

Controversial Pronouns

The ascendency of Jordan Peterson into public awareness because of this issue of pronouns has been fascinating. It happened over an issue of free speech. A new Canadian law made forced speech; it required people to use certain personal pronouns. (The law made it illegal to call someone by other than their preferred personal pronouns.) I do not know the status of this law, but it violated staunch traditions of Commonwealth law. If it had been in the USA I expect this law would have been found to be unconstitutional.

I agree with the position that Jordan took regarding this law. He refused to call people by their preferred pronoun because the law would force him. However, Jordan willingly called people by their preferred pronouns in respect for them as persons.

Does God prefer certain pronouns? I don't know that God has ever told us about that.

English Pronouns

English has pronouns. Pronouns serve to make the language flow well. It is possible to use English without pronouns, but it isn't good English. Completely avoiding pronouns substantially distracts from the message.

Other languages may be different. They might help us to be aware of other language possibilities, but they don't set guidance for English.

What about pronouns in English?

  • In English we have singular and gendered pronouns such as he, she.
    • These are the hot-button ones now.
  • English has plural gender-neutral pronouns such as they.
    • This is difficult for use with single persons because it adds confusion.
    • English might be different in the future, but this usage is generally now mis-matched for individuals.
      • If they becomes plural-agnostic then English will loose a way to be specific.
  • English also has singular non-gendered pronouns such as it, but this come with baggage.
    • Referring to an entity with a non-gendered pronoun usually implies the entity is either non-living or not a person.

Pronouns for God

What about God?

  • I believe in a God both living and personal, therefore a non-gendered pronoun for God is insufficient.
  • However, God is spirit and we generally understand that spirits are gender-neutral. In truth, we actually have very little guidance about spirits and gender.
    • angels: Matthew 22:30 says after the resurrection that people, like the angels, won't be marrying
      • implying for spirits that gender is not the same as with humans
    • God: is described as having both masculine and feminine characteristics
      • If male and female humans are both made in the image of God, this makes sense because the two human genders both came from the one God.
      • neither gender is correct for God, therefore
        • using either pronoun gender would not necessarily be wrong
        • this gives no guidance about the best pronoun gender to use

In thinking about God, gender and the English language, there is no best fit.

  • In Genesis 1:26, God says "Let us make man in our image...", using a plural word.
  • The Genesis verse matches to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity which holds that a singular God is a plural of three beings: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • Note that Father and Son are explicitly gendered nouns.
  • In English by long tradition (whether good or bad), mixed genders are included in the male gendered words. "Mankind" includes both genders, but "womankind" is not inclusive of males.
  • When we speak of God, sometimes it means all of God (the plurality of persons), and sometimes it is referring to just God the Father. So, no guidance help here for pronouns.
  • Jesus is God, but Jesus also came to earth as human, and he came as a male human. For Jesus God, the pronoun he is clearly satisfactory. But Jesus is not all of God.
  • Traditionally, male pronouns have been used for God.
  • God has not directed us away from using male pronouns in the time that God has been speaking to us, so those pronouns apparently are satisfactory to God.

I again acknowledge a mis-match of English to the being of God. Nothing fits exactly; nothing is fully sufficient. However, out of the mis-matches, the use of male pronouns for God is as reasonable a fit as any.

When a pronoun should be used for God, I will be using a male pronoun.