What about inclusive language for God?

Mark KellyThe problem of gender in language is a complex subject. We ought to be open to the pursuit of inclusive language. English is a difficult language on this count. It doesn’t have a gender-neutral third-person pronoun that can be used to refer to people. (“It” just isn’t acceptable!) Our language simply hasn’t caught up with the radical, powerful truth of Galatians 3:28 – “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians – you are one in Christ Jesus.”

As an editor, I encourage my writers to alternate using “she” when traditionally they might have used “he,” but we are not aware that anyone has found a way to avoid the gender issue altogether. Sometimes we are able to reword a sentence to avoid a gender-specific construction. For example, we could say “the revelation of God in Scripture” instead of “God’s revelation of himself in Scripture.”

In Scripture, there are passages that use a masculine pronoun when the meaning is inclusive, and no one should be reluctant to be inclusive when explaining a passage like that. You have to be more careful when the masculine is intended. Our egalitarian culture chafes at the Bible’s teachings about the relationships between men and women, but we would not encourage anyone to tinker with what the Bible clearly means to say.

That brings us to the question of God’s gender. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that creating humanity in God’s image involved making us both male and female, and there are a few places in the Scripture that use female metaphors to talk about God. God transcends gender, but the Scripture says God has eternally existed in three persons, two of which – the Father and the Son – are clearly described in masculine terms. Jesus referred to his “Father,” so we do not feel free to refer to God as “she.” And as mentioned above, we are not aware of a neutral word that could be used, even if one was so inclined.

There is room for us to be inclusive in our worship and writing, but we need to be very cautious when it comes to the revelation of God in Scripture, which we respect as the supreme source of truth for Christian beliefs and living.

Copyright © 2006, Kainos Press All Rights Reserved

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About Mark Kelly

Jesus follower, Bible reader, husband/father/son/brother/uncle, rider, hiker, snapshooter
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