God’s Preferred Pronouns

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 03/04/2022

God is not a he. That’s what gender theorists claim. God’s pronouns are they/them, we’re told. After all, God is an ungendered spiritual being. He's three persons in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s a plurality of persons. Furthermore, “Elohim”—the ancient Hebrew word for God—is in plural form. Doesn’t all this evidence signal a reason to change how we refer to God? Should we abandon he/him and adopt they/them?

To be fair, there is some truth to what is being said. God is a spiritual, not physical, being. He’s not gendered and, therefore, neither male nor female like a human being. That’s true. Also, God is triune, which means he co-exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three persons in one divine being. Therefore, it does make sense to refer to the three persons of the Trinity as they/them (e.g., “They all have the same divine nature”). Apart from that instance, there’s no reason to assign the Almighty new pronouns.

It’s also worth noting that modern gender ideology is, historically speaking, incredibly recent (and, I’d argue, highly dubious). To grant it full authority and then retroactively impose it on an ancient culture that never operated in those terms is like trying to impose automobile regulations on horse-drawn carriages. It’s anachronistic.

The attempt to map modern ideology on ancient texts is nothing new. Cancel culture is fraught with problems because it assesses past behaviors and expressions of ideas according to modern sensibilities. People have also recently claimed that the Bible doesn’t limit sex to male and female, which, again, attempts to map today’s cultural categories onto ancient texts. There are other examples, to be sure. All of them, however, fail because they are anachronistic. Even so, there’s a better reason to reject they/them pronouns for God.

God has already revealed his pronouns in the Bible, and they are he/him. In one sense, there’s no need to debate this question since God has already decreed his decision. Remember, the Bible is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16). That means the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical authors to write the words of Scripture, and that includes the singular, masculine pronouns he chose for himself.

From the get-go of creation, Scripture says, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (emphasis mine). The Old Testament continues to use singular, masculine pronouns and also describes God as “Father” (Deut. 32:6), “husband” (Isa. 54:5), and “King” (Isa. 44:6). All these terms presuppose a masculine, singular reference that justifies a corresponding pronoun.

There are some verses in Scripture that might suggest a pronoun that is not masculine. For example, the Bible occasionally refers to God with feminine characteristics. God is described as being like a mother who comforts her child (Isa. 66:13) or as a mother bear robbed of her cubs (Hosea 13:8). Notice, though, these verses are similes and refer to God like or as a mother. They are not saying God is a mother.

There are also some verses that might suggest a pronoun that is not singular. I mentioned earlier how gender theory advocates claim “Elohim” is a plural form, which they believe justifies they/them pronoun usage. That, however, fails to consider its grammatical usage in the Old Testament. Scholars recognize that although “Elohim” is indeed masculine plural (and can be used to refer to various deities), the term is grammatically singular when used to refer to the God of Israel. The Old Testament witness, then, doesn’t support they/them usage.

The New Testament provides additional support for the usage of singular, masculine pronouns. For example, the Greek word Theos—translated “God”—is used 1,315 times and is distinctly singular and masculine.

All throughout the Old Testament, God is remote, hidden, and only reveals himself on rare occasions. But when the New Testament era begins, God initiates a remarkable, history-altering event: He reveals himself by entering humanity and taking on the creaturely nature of a man (Phil. 2:6–8). The incarnation is the expression of God himself in bodily form: Jesus, a distinctly male person. Scripture calls Jesus “Immanuel,” God with us (Matt. 1:23). He represents what God is like to the world. Colossians 2:9 tells us that in Jesus, “all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” The bottom line is that Scripture repeatedly refers to God in a singular, masculine way.

Not only was Jesus God in bodily from, but he also spoke authoritatively about how we can better understand God. Jesus routinely referred to God as “Father” (e.g., “I and the Father are one”—John 10:30). When he taught us to pray, Jesus told us to call God “Father” (Matt. 6:9) and personally referred to him as “Abba, Father” (Mk. 14:36), further justifying the use of singular and masculine pronouns.

The biblical data overwhelming supports the position that God wants us to refer to him with a singular, masculine pronoun. Since that’s how God has chosen to reveal himself, we should honor him by using the pronouns used in Scripture.