A theological debate is taking place within the Church of England as theologians discuss if they should refer to God in gender-neutral terms.

If God is not a “he,” should our language reflect this complexity? Should the proper theologically based pronouns for God therefore be “they, them, theirs”? After all, for those who doctrinally accept the concept of trinity, does that not implicitly imply plurality in identity?

Since ancient times, God was always understood to be beyond gender. This radical understanding of the God of the Hebrews distinguished this deity from the gods of the surrounding Canaanites.

Canaanite gods were depicted in a simple male-female dichotomy by small, hand-size statuettes. If they were females, they displayed large breasts, conspicuous vaginas and broad hips. If male, the statuettes were depicted with large, protruding penises. Emphasizing genitals symbolically focused on the purpose of gods: fertility – specifically the fertility of the land.

But the God of the Hebrews was different. This God was not simply a fertility deity responsible for creating life. Yahweh was also engaged in maintaining and sustaining all of creation. What made the Hebrew God a revolutionary concept is that this deity was neither male nor female and, thus, was both male and female, making Yahweh beyond gender.

The imposition of patriarchy was made easier when God was referred to as simply a “he.” Feminist theologian Mary Daly probably said it best: “If God is male, then the male is God.” When men are like gods, then women fall short of divinity.

Therefore, the very first commandment considered it blasphemy to make any graven image of the true God (Ex. 20:4), for such a God was beyond the imagination of finite minds stuck in simple dichotomies.

True, our Bible constantly refers to God as a “he.” But the biblical text also speaks of God’s eyes, God’s strong arm, God’s ears, God’s mouth. The anthropomorphizing of God by giving God human features allows finite human minds to conceive that which is beyond their comprehension.

When discussing the eyes of God, the theological debate should not be what color they are. What the biblical text is trying to convey is that God sees, not that God has eyes. The act of seeing becomes comprehensible to humans through the symbolic language of giving God eyes.

Using this symbolic understanding of the biblical text helps us better understand when God is described as a burning bush (Ex. 3:2) or a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). This does not mean God is combustible. The symbolic language of burning fire helps humans comprehend the burning intensity of their deity.

And when God is referred to as a mother who would not forget the child from her womb suckling her breast (Isa. 49:15) or as birthing Israel (Deut. 32:18), this does not mean God lactates or has a womb.

To interpret symbolic language literally leads to ludicrous theological concepts, further leading the believer toward idolatry, including the creation of patriarchy due to what God and males physically share.

When we refer to God as male, as fire or as mother, we speak in symbols designed to convey the inconceivable. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth [saith God], so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9).

But what about Jesus? Wasn’t Jesus male? Obviously, his circumcision attests to this fact (Lk. 2:21-29).

Edward L. Kessel, a biologist, provides an interesting interpretation of the immaculate conception (Lk. 1:26-35).

We know that biological males possess the XY-chromosomes, while biological women have the XX-chromosomes. Each partner, at conception, contributes one of their chromosomes to the fetus.

Women can only donate an X-chromosome. The male can either contribute his X-chromosome, resulting in a female fetus via the combined XX-chromosomes, or the male can provide his Y-chromosome, resulting in a male fetus due to the XY-chromosomes combination.

Those who accept the virgin birth must realize that if there was no human male with an XY-chromosome to contribute the Y-chromosome at Jesus’ conception, then he must lack a Y-chromosome.

This is further complicated when we consider that the Spirit of God who came over Mary has theologically been viewed as feminine. The Hebrew word (ruah) and the Greek word (pneuma) for Spirit are both gendered as female.

If Kessel’s analysis is correct, and the immaculate conception is taken as doctrinal truth, then while Jesus was born biologically male, he lacked the Y-chromosome which defines maleness. This leads us to wonder if Jesus was intersexual. Does it matter?

Here is the theological truth we can accept when reading Genesis 1:27, which states: “God created humanity in God’s image, in God’s image God created them, male and female God created them.” Both male and female and everything in-between and beyond find their worth and dignity in the image of God as revealed in the material personhood of Jesus the Christ.

Thus, God pronouns, since the creation of the universe, have always been “them, they, theirs.”

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