top of page

What is God's Gender? Neither male nor female

What does it mean that Humans are in God's Image?

How can each individual, woman or man, be in God’s image (Gen. 1.27) when women and men are different? By realizing God is neither male nor female, but a spirit. Each human is an image of God in the way that ancient peoples used images or statues to represent their gods. Likewise, humans may be male, female, or reflect some of each gender. I have also written about how the original first human may have been non-binary in the image of God.


The Triune God has Plural Pronouns

In the three persons of the Holy Trinity, some may use the terms Father, Son, and Spirit and refer to them as all male. God self-identifies with plural pronouns:

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26 KJV).

When the Bible says God created man in God's it is translating the Hebrew word that literally means 'humans' or 'mankind'. The Bible uses the Hebrew word 'Adam' to mean 'mankind' until Genesis 4 when the word 'Adam' begins to refer to the individual man. The Bible never says that God made males in God's image. In fact, after using the Hebrew word for 'mankind', it continues, explaining that includes male and female (Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 5:1-2). All humans are made in the image of the plural Holy Trinity, containing male and female traits. The Holy Trinity can also be described as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Does the use of gender-neutral terms have a different impact on how you view God?


God's Neutral Pronouns

infographic
The 7 "I AM" statements of Jesus. Source: https://catholic-link.org/images/infographic-the-seven-i-am-statements-of-jesus/

Jesus describes himself with images having neutral pronouns such as 'the Way', 'gate', 'light', the 'vine', or the 'bread of life'. Even calling himself "the good shepherd" is not a male description, since many girls were shepherds.


When Jesus died on the cross, he represented all humans. The sins of both men and women are nailed to the cross. Believers are redeemed regardless of gender. Having the pronoun 'he' is less relevant or important than the unimaginable fact of God becoming mortal, taking on human flesh.


In traditional old English 'it' was used for small children, for example, 'a baby knows its mother". We may use the pronoun 'it' for a pet, as in 'the puppy won't eat its kibble'.


The Hebrew word for spirit (ruach) is grammatically feminine yet we know that spirits are not gendered and neither male nor female. The Bible talks about spirits in heaven having no gender:

"For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven." (Matthew 22:30 NLT)
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16 KJV)

When Jesus speaks to the woman at the well, he says that because God is Spirit, those who worship God must worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Humans are made in the image of a spirit, with both male and female traits. In my biblical fiction, I engage the biblical imagery of God as both male and female:

“Human beings are made in God’s image. God is neither male nor female and we all share God’s spiritual, intellectual, compassionate, and creative nature,” said Salome, Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, Chapter 23.
Image of dove representing the Holy Spirit
Photo: Dove of the Holy Spirit, Saint Peter's Basilica, Wikimedia Creative Commons

God as Female

We frequently see female imagery for God around language for giving birth, raising Jesus to new life, and giving believers new life.


The Holy Spirit is wind or breath giving life in creation (Genesis 1:2 Gen. 2:7, Isaiah 42:5, Job 33:4, Ezekiel 37:5-6, Psalm 33:6).


The breath of the Spirit raises Jesus to life (Romans 8:11, 1 Peter 3:18). In fact, all three persons of the Holy Trinity are involved in Jesus's resurrection.


God says,"I will cry out like a woman in labour, I will gasp and pant." (Isaiah 42:14).


When Jesus predicted his death and resurrection, he explained how their grief would turn to joy by relating it to the pain of labour and the joy of childbirth. In my biblical fiction, I envision the Holy Spirit labouring to give Jesus new life:

“You are sad now, like when a woman is suffering in labour, about to give birth. But when the new life is born, happiness overtakes her pain. In the same way, the Holy Spirit cries and pants in labour, and when she gives birth to new life, I will see you again, and happiness will overtake your pain!”- Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold

The breath of the Spirit is also what gives new life to believers. Jesus tells Nicodemus that you cannot see the kingdom of God unless you are born again. Human flesh gives birth to flesh; It's a feminine view of God that the Spirit gives birth to spirit (John 3:3-8).


The Bible describes God as a mother who gives birth and nurses her baby and holds her baby on her knee. "Thus says the Lord, Behold I will extend peace to her like a river... then shall ye suckle and be borne upon her sides and dandled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you," Isaiah 66:12-13


Jesus describes the Spirit as the wind breathing new life into our spirit. After his resurrection, Jesus breathes on them as he gives them the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). After his ascension, the men and women disciples hear the sound of wind blowing as the Holy Spirit fills them with new life (Acts 2:1-3). In my biblical fiction, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as a life-giving breath:

“At my request, the Father will send the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to your new, eternal life. The Holy Spirit embodies wisdom. She will guide and teach you and remind you of all I have told you.” Chapter 32, Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold

Giving Birth is Neither Male nor Female

Can all humans be creators in God's image? Can both women and men be in labour and deliver new birth and co-creators with God? Both women and men are in God's image when we give birth to spiritual children. Giving the breath of new life is not a male or female trait.

dad and baby
Father and Baby. Pexels image https://www.pexels.com/photo/silhouette-of-father-playing-with-baby-infant-12418709/

Paul calls himself a mother in labour to birth spiritual children (1 Tim. 1:2, Gal. 4:19), and in nurturing them as a mother would (1 Thessalonians 2:7).


Peter and John also use female imagery for themselves 1 Peter 5:13, 3 John 1:4. Likewise, the elect lady of 2 John 1:4 has spiritual children.


The Bible says God gives birth to the nations and nurses as a mother comforts her child (Isaiah 66:8-13).


God uses female pronouns in such things as a mother nurturing her child, a lioness protecting her cubs, and a mother hen comforting her chicks.



God as Male and Female Protector

When the Bible describes God as a helper and protector, it quite often uses female imagery. In fact, the first woman, Eve, is described as an "ezer" helper, just as God is described as our help.


"As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, takes them and bears them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead..." Deuteronomy 32:11-12


In a number of places, God is compared to a mother bird protecting her young (Psalm 91:4, Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34).


While you may think of the male figure as the strong protector, the Bible shows God as a female protector, a lioness and a mother bear (Hosea 13:8). The Women's Ordination Conference has prepared a list of female Images of God in the Bible (2).


Does Creation and the Fall Impact Us Differently Based on Gender?

Creation does not differentiate by gender. From the beginning of creation, God authorized all humans with the same authority and purpose. Males and females were two equal counterparts. The tasks of creating and stewarding creation are not allocated by gender.

classic painting of Adam and Eve taking the fruit
Photo Adam and Eve Peter Paul Rubens, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain
"Then God blessed them and said, 'Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it.'"(Gen. 1:28 NLT )

After the Fall, God does not curse Eve, but the Serpent who attacked her, the true cause of the Fall. God explains there will be sorrow and toil farming the cursed and infertile ground, and God blessed Eve with multiplied conception and fertility. Then God warns Eve that Adam chose to rule himself and her, rather than obeying God's rule (1)

"Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." (Genesis 3:16 KJV)

God also does not curse Adam, but since Adam intentionally disobeyed God and chose to rule over himself, God curses the ground with infertility and humans with mortality. God is the one ruler, and any man or woman acting as a ruler is usurping God's role. Being male or female had no impact on an individual's role or function either before or after the fall.


How Do We See God's Invisible Image? By Action

Our words and actions show God to the world. We impact God's name and reputation. Our actions in nurturing and managing God's earth and all its creatures affect how our Creator is perceived. We honour God when we are the light of the world (John 8:12, Matthew 5:14-16). We show the world who God is by loving others the way Jesus loved us (John 13:35). We show God living in us by how we live and love, which is not unique to gender.


The Holy Spirit is called an advocate/ spokesperson (John 14:16), a source of wisdom, guidance, and teaching (John 14:26) and a comforter, encourager, and helper (Romans 8:26). These actions show God's image and are not unique to gender.


The Bible tells all of us to 'fear not' 365 times! Bravery, courage, and speaking out are the responsibilities of every believer. Paul tells both women and men to be courageous, stand firm, be strong and loving (1 Corinthians 16:13). Paul encourages all believers, regardless of gender, to display love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Maturity in Christ shows God's image and is not unique to gender.


Jesus demonstrates this equality by reaching out to both women and men to be his followers, affirming their decision to learn as disciples, and authorizing women to go out as apostles. In Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, I tell the stories of woman disciples. Jesus calls them, teaches and equips them, and empowers them to go out as apostles.


Paul also affirms this equality, saying that in Christ, there is no longer male or female, slave or citizen, Jew or Gentile (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). Paul names many women as co-workers in ministry, deacons and apostles (Romans 16). In God's family, sons and daughters receive the same inheritance (Romans 8:15-17, 1 John 3:1, 1 Peter 3:7 Matthew 25:34). Jesus and the Apostles affirm that being male or female has no impact on salvation, role, or calling for Christians.


God's Biblical Pronouns: He/ She/ It/ They

The Bible does use male pronouns for God and refers to God as our Father. However, that is only part of the picture. The use of English male pronouns and a historical focus on the male imagery of Father and Son have obscured the Bible’s descriptions of God with male, female, plural, and non-gendered imagery. Seeing God as exclusively male denies the biblical portrayal of God's full image in all humans, regardless of gender. Seeing God as male may lead to seeing male as more godly or more able to represent God or deliver God's words.


Interactive Activity

Let's explore how the Bible uses pronouns for God including plural pronouns (they/their), neutral pronouns (it), female pronouns (she/her), and male pronouns (he/his). With this excerpt from my upcoming Interactive Study Guide for Forgotten Followers, tick the column to consider which gender pronoun the Bible verse uses to describe God.

Male

Female

Neuter

Plural

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. Genesis 1:26 NLT

So, God did just that. He created humanity in His image, created them male and female. Gen. 1:27 VOICE

... you forgot the God who gave you birth. Deut. 32:18 AMP

Pray like this: Our Father in heaven Matthew 6:8-9 NLT

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. Romans 8:16 KJV

I am the light of the world. John 8:12 ERV

So, the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. Luke 1:35 NLT

I will comfort you like a mother comforting her child. Isaiah 66:13 ERV

How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings. Matt. 23:37 NLT

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1-1 KJV

I will encounter them like a bear robbed of her cubs… I will also devour them like a lioness.” Hosea 13:6-8 AMP

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God. Hebrews 11:3 KJV

The Word was present at creation: The Lord merely spoke,and the heavens were created. Psalm 33:6 NLT

He will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep. Luke 15:6-7 NLT

She will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ Luke 15:9-10 NLT

I am the vine. John 15:5 GW

Christ died so that he could give the church to himself like a bride in all her beauty. Ephesians 5:27 ERV

[God has covered me] as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.Isaiah 1:10 (prophecy describing Jesus)

In conclusion, each human is made fully in God's image, regardless of gender. Men and women are not made partly in God's image. God is a spirit, with both male and female traits. God and male apostles have traits that have traditionally been associated with females, such as childbearing and nurturing. Similarly, God made females as God's image bearers, holding traits that have traditionally been associated with males, such as courage, bravery, speaking and leading. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are the same for men and women. The gifts of the Spirit are distributed regardless of gender. Spiritual maturity is the goal for both men and women. The Bible shows that no trait is specific to just one gender. God made women and men equal at creation, again after the Fall, and again after Christ rose. Let us celebrate that in Christ there is no favouritism based on gender. We are free to follow God's individual call on our lives.


 


(1) Bruce C. E. Fleming, https://tru316.com/the-eden-podcast



Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with Christian fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:

  • Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, Book 1

  • The Sword A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role

  • Because She Was Called: from Broken to Bold, Book 2, A Novel of the Early Church, imagines Mary Magdalene's trip to testify before the emperor







Comments


bottom of page