Gender of God
The gender of God can be viewed as a literal or as an allegorical aspect of a deity. In polytheistic religions, gods are more likely to have literal sexes which would enable them to interact with each other, and even with humans, in a sexual way.
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In most monotheistic religions, one cannot apply a gender to God in the usual sense, as God's attributes cannot be compared to those of any other being. Thus, the idea of a "divine gender" is ultimately considered an analogy, used by humans in order to better relate to the concept of God, with no sexual connotation.
God is an intangible spirit in most religions and is therefore thought to have no gender. The preponderance of references to God in both the Old and New Testaments are in the context of a masculine reference, often "Father". However, there are a significant number of feminine allegorical references to God, most often in some maternal role.
In the Hebrew and Christian Bible
God is usually figuratively imagined in male terms in Biblical sources, with female analogy in Genesis 1:26-27, Psalm 123:2-3, and Luke 15:8-10; a mother in Deuteronomy 32:18, Isaiah 66:13, Isaiah 49:15, Isaiah 42:14, Psalm 131:2; and a mother hen in Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34.
Michael Coogan offered his own interpretation of Genesis 1:26-27, according to which the verses say that the elohim were male and female, and humans were made in their image. This hints at the idea that Ancient Hebrews worshiped a godly pair, Yahweh and his wife Asherah, the word "elohim" originally meaning the Canaanite pantheon.
Although the gender of God in Judaism is referred to in the Tanakh with masculine imagery and grammatical forms, traditional Jewish philosophy does not attribute the concept of sex to God. At times, Jewish aggadic literature and Jewish mysticism do treat God as gendered. The ways in which God is gendered have also changed across time, with some modern Jewish thinkers viewing God as outside of the gender binary.
God the Son (Jesus Christ), having been incarnated as a human man, is clearly masculine. Classical western philosophy believes that God lacks a literal sex because it would be impossible for God to have a body (a prerequisite for sex). However, Classical western philosophy states that God should be referred to (in most contexts) as masculine by analogy. It justifies this by pointing to God's relationship with the world as begetter of the world and revelation (i.e. analogous to an active instead of receptive role in sexual intercourse). Others interpret God as neither male nor female.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church #239 states that God is called "Father", while his love for man may also be depicted as motherhood, but he ultimately transcends the human concept of sex, and that "God is neither man nor woman: he is God".
In contrast to most other Christian denominations, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) teaches that God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit are physically distinct while being one in purpose. The LDS Church also teaches that God the Father is married to a divine woman, referred to as "Heavenly Mother". Humans are considered to be spirit children of these heavenly parents.
Gender of the Holy Spirit
The New Testament also refers to the Holy Spirit as masculine in a number of places, where the masculine Greek word "Paraclete" occurs, for "Comforter", most clearly in the Gospel of John, chapters 14 to 16. These texts were particularly significant when Christians were debating whether the New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit is a fully divine person, or some kind of "force". All major English Bible translations have retained the masculine pronoun for the Spirit, as in John 16:13. Although it has been noted that in the original Greek, in some parts of John's Gospel, the neuter Greek word for "it" is also used for the Spirit.
The oneness of God is of primary importance in the Quran and Islam. In Qur'an, Allah is most often referred to with the pronouns Hu or Huwa, and although these are commonly translated as him, they can also be translated gender-neutrally, as them. This is also true of the feminine equivalent, Hiya. Qur'an 112:3–4 states: "He begets not, nor is He begotten. And none is like Him [Them]." Other references include the first person pronoun, and the relative pronoun ma (that which), as in the phrase "the heavens and that which created them" (Qur'an 91:5).
In Hinduism, there are diverse approaches to conceptualizing God and gender. Many Hindus focus upon impersonal Absolute (Brahman) which is genderless. Other Hindu traditions conceive God as androgynous (both female and male), alternatively as either male or female, while cherishing gender henotheism, that is without denying the existence of other Gods in either gender.
The Shakti tradition conceives of God as a female. Other Bhakti traditions of Hinduism have both male and female gods. In ancient and medieval Indian mythology, each masculine deva of the Hindu pantheon is partnered with a feminine who is often a devi.
The oldest of the Hindu scriptures is the Rigveda (2nd millennium BC). The first word of the Rigveda is the name Agni, the god of fire, to whom many of the vedic hymns are addressed, along with Indra the warrior. Agni and Indra are both male divinities.
The Rigveda refers to a creator (Hiranyagarbha or Prajapati), distinct from Agni and Indra. This creator is identified with Brahma (not to be confused with Brahman, the first cause), born of Vishnu's navel, in later scriptures. Hiranyagarbha and Prajapati are male divinities, as is Brahma (who has a female consort, Saraswati).
There are many other gods in the Rigveda. They are "not simple forces of nature", and possess "complex character and their own mythology". They include goddesses of water (Āpaḥ) and dawn (Uṣas), and the complementary pairing of Father Heaven and Mother Earth. However, they are all "subservient to the abstract, but active positive 'force of truth'" (Rta), "which pervades the universe and all actions of the gods and humans." This force is sometimes mediated or represented by moral gods (Āditya such as Varuṇa) or even Indra. The Āditya are male and Rta is personified as masculine in later scriptures (see also Dharma).
While many Hindus focus upon God in the neutral form, Brahman being of neuter gender grammatically, there are prominent Hindu traditions that conceive God as female, even as the source of the male form of God, such as the Shakta denomination. Hinduism, especially of the Samkhya school, views the creation of the cosmos as the result of the play of two radically distinct principles: the feminine matter (Prakriti) and the masculine spirit (Purusha). Prakriti is the primordial matter which is present before the cosmos becomes manifest. Prakriti is seen as being "the power of nature, both animate and inanimate. As such, nature is seen as dynamic energy" (Rae, 1994). Prakriti is originally passive, immobile and pure potentiality by nature . Only through her contact with the kinetic Purusha she unfolds into the diverse forms before us. The idea of Prakriti/Purusha leads to the concept of the Divine Consort. Almost every deva of the Hindu pantheon has a feminine consort (devi).
The Guru Granth consistently refers to God as "He" and "Father". However, it also says that God is indescribable. Thus, God in Sikhism has no gender. The Akal Purakh ("Timeless Being") is referred to as one of the gender, simply because the Granth is written in north Indian Indo-Aryan languages (mixture of Punjabi and dialects of Hindi) which have no neutral gender.
It is described as energy that prevails throughout the universe.
Animist religions are common among oral societies, many of which still exist in the 21st century. Typically, natural forces and shaman spiritual guides feature in these religions, rather than fully fledged personal divinities with established personalities. It is in polytheism that such deities are found. Animist religions often, but not always, attribute gender to spirits considered to permeate the world and its events. Polytheistic religions, however, almost always attribute gender to their gods, though a few notable divinities are associated with various forms of epicene characteristics—gods that manifest alternatingly as male and female, gods with one male and one female "face", and gods whose most distinctive characteristic is their unknown gender.
Carol P. Christ is the author of the widely reprinted essay "Why Women Need the Goddess", which argues in favor of the concept of there having been an ancient religion of a supreme goddess. This essay was presented as the keynote address to an audience of over 500 at the "Great Goddess Re-emerging" conference at the University of Santa Cruz in the spring of 1978, and was first published in Heresies: The Great Goddess Issue (1978), pgs. 8-13. Carol P. Christ also co-edited the classic feminist religion anthologies Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (1989) and Womanspirit Rising (1979/1989); the latter included her essay Why Women Need the Goddess.
Notes and references
- Elaine H. Pagels "What Became of God the Mother? Conflicting Images of God in Early Christianity" Signs, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Winter, 1976), pp. 293-303
- Coogan, Michael (October 2010). "6. Fire in Divine Loins: God's Wives in Myth and Metaphor". God and Sex. What the Bible Really Says (1st ed.). New York, Boston: Twelve. Hachette Book Group. p. 175. ISBN 978-0-446-54525-9. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
humans are modeled on elohim, specifically in their sexual differences.
- Coogan (2010:176)
- Cf. Herzog, Ze'ev (29 October 1999). "Deconstructing the walls of Jericho". lib1.library.cornell.edu. Ha'aretz. Archived from the original on 10 November 2001. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
- Article "Eloah" by Dennis Pardee in Karel van der Toorn; Bob Becking; Pieter van der Horst, eds. (1999). Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2 ed.). p. 285. ASIN B00RWRAWY8.s.v. "Eloah" "The term expressing the simple notion of 'gods' in these texts is ilm...".
- van der Toorn, Karel (1999). "God". In van der Toorn, Karel; Becking, Bob; van der Horst, Pieter (eds.). Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd ed.). Brill. p. 360. ISBN 90-04-11119-0.
- "G-d has no body, no genitalia, therefore the very idea that G-d is male or female is patently absurd. Although in the Talmudic part of the Torah and especially in Kabalah G-d is referred to under the name 'Sh'chinah' - which is feminine, this is only to accentuate the fact that all the creation and nature are actually in the receiving end in reference to the creator and as no part of the creation can perceive the Creator outside of nature, it is adequate to refer to the divine presence in feminine form. We refer to G-d using masculine terms simply for convenience's sake, because Hebrew has no neutral gender; G-d is no more male than a table is." Judaism 101. "The fact that we always refer to God as 'He' is also not meant to imply that the concept of sex or gender applies to God." Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Aryeh Kaplan Reader, Mesorah Publications (1983), p. 144
- Grudem, Wayne A. 1994. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Page 226.
Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
- Aquinas, Thomas (1274). Summa Theologica. Part 1, Question 3, Article 1.
- of Hippo, Augustine (c. 397). Confessions. Book 7.
- Lang, David; Peter Kreeft (2002). Why Matter Matters: Philosophical and Scriptural Reflections on the Sacraments. Chapter Five: Why Male Priests?: Our Sunday Visitor. ISBN 978-1931709347.
- Achtemeier, P; Longstaff (1996). Harper Collins Bible Dictionary. Harper Collins. pp. 377–378. ISBN 0-06-060037-3.
- Wilson, H (January 2006). "Name and Gender of God". Retrieved 14 August 2009.
- David Bordwell, 2002, Catechism of the Catholic Church, Continuum International Publishing ISBN 978-0-86012-324-8 page 84
- "Deum humanam sexuum transcendere distinctionem. Ille nec vir est nec femina, Ille est Deus." From "Pater per Filium revelatus", Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae. (Citta del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1993): 1-2-1-1-2 ¶ 239. (Official English translation Archived 3 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine)
- "Aaronic Priesthood Manual 3 – Lesson 1: The Godhead". LDS Church. 1995.
- Cannon, Donald Q.; Dahl, Larry; Welch, John (January 1989). "The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: The Godhead, Mankind, and Creation". Ensign. LDS Church.
- Hinckley, Gordon B. (November 1991). "Daughters of God". Ensign. LDS Church.
- First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles (23 September 1995). "Gospel Topics – The Family: A Proclamation to the World". LDS.org. LDS Church. Retrieved 11 December 2013. See also: The Family: A Proclamation to the World
- Nestle and others, Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th ed., (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgeselschaft, 1993)
- John Renard (1999), Responses to 101 Questions on Hinduism, Paulist, ISBN 978-0809138456, pages 74-76
- What is Hinduism?, p. PR17, at Google Books, Hinduism Today, Hawaii
- The Concept of Shakti: Hinduism as a Liberating Force for Women
- Michael Witzel, 'Autochthonous Aryans? The Evidence from Old Indian and Iranian Texts', Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies 7 (2001): 1–118.
- "Religious theism which is central to Hinduism." Robert Lawson Slater, Review of Philip H. Ashby History and Future of Religious Thought: Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 4 (1964): 117–118.
- "We are yet more strongly reminded by the two-fold nature of Phanes of the epicene god-heads, who occur frequently in the Babylonian pantheon." Gauranga Nath Banerjee, Hellenism in Ancient India, (Read Books, 2007), p. 304.
- "per Carol P Christ biography for Signs Out of Time Project".
- "Goddess Tours Greece-Sacred Sites Tour-Goddess Pilgrimage Crete".
- Berke, Matthew. 'God and Gender in Judaism'. First Things 64 (1996): 33–38.
- Dorff, Elliot N. Male and Female God Created Them: Equality with Distinction. University Papers. Los Angeles: University of Judaism, 1984, pp. 13–23.
- Eller, Vernard. The Language of Canaan and the Grammar of Feminism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.
- Harlow, Jules. 'Feminist Linguistics and Jewish Liturgy'. Conservative Judaism 49 (1997): 3–25.
- Johnson, Elizabeth. 'The Incomprehensibility of God and the Image of God Male and Female'. Theological Studies 45 (1984): 441–465.
- Platinga, Alvin Carl. "God, Arguments for the Existence of". Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Routledge, 2000.
- Swinburne, Richard G. "God". In Ted Honderich (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 1995.
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