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Why God...He in Scripture?

David Capes is the Thomas Nelson Research Professor at Houston Baptist University. He is the author of numerous publications and is one of the top scholars and writers for The Voice, a new Bible translation that reads like a story with all of the truth and wisdom of God's Word. Recently Dr. Capes was asked why the translators of The Voice used masculine pronouns to refer to God?

When it comes to pronouns, English provides three options: masculine, feminine, and neuter.  Think of it this way.  It is either God…He or God…She or God…It.

Well, you can rule out the 3rd option because “it” is used with impersonal antecedents. We don’t use “it” to refer to persons; we use “it” to refer to things. Remember too our theme is built around the idea of “the voice” that has been and continues to speak. Things might make a sound but they don’t have a voice. Only a person has a voice and the Christian Scriptures are clear that God is not an impersonal force or thing; God is a person.

So we are left with two options: God…He or God..She.

When you look at the original texts (Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic), the pronouns used to refer to God are masculine: God…He. Likewise much of the language used to refer to God is masculine. God is referred to as “Father,” “King,” “Warrior,” “Shepherd.” These are masculine words and images. Now this is not to say that God is male in the sense that I am male. In fact, Genesis 1:26-27 makes it clear that God’s image in humanity includes both maleness and femaleness:

So God did just that. He created humanity in His image, created them male and female.

So males have no more claim on God’s image than females. Both equally share God’s relational richness and image.

Still we, as translators, are left with a choice: do we use masculine pronouns or feminine to refer to God? I have seen some scholars try to use both.  In one sentence they write:  “God…he.” In the next they say: “God…she.”  But this only leads to confusion. Others want to do away with any pronouns at all. But this leads to redundancy and makes it difficult to read (pronouns are very useful!).

In the end the decision was made to use masculine pronouns in reference to God because (a) it reflects the original texts, (b) it is consistent with many of the images and metaphors used to refer to God, (c) it is consistent with the Christian tradition, and (d) it leads to less confusion. 

Not everyone will be happy with that decision. In fact, some of the translators and scholars who worked on the project were not happy with it. But when we looked at the overall project, we felt it was the best way to go. 

Finally, as we talked to many women in our target audience, we discovered that they were not concerned and certainly not bothered by referring to God as “He.” They understand the limits of language. They understand the Bible was written at a time and in a culture far different than our own. They do not think that we today have some superior moral or spiritual stance in regard to these issues. They realize that our culture is broken and our lives are messy.They do not feel excluded or “second class” by reading of God in these masculine terms.

These are tough issues. We struggled with them. But we entrusted that struggle to the One True God, who in the end will help us sort them out.

So, what do you think? Women, I’d especially like to hear from you. Do you feel left out or “second class” because the Scriptures use masculine pronouns to refer to God?
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