Sunday, February 4, 2018

As to the gender of God

I am having an interesting discussion on FB about the gender of God. This conversation was stimulated by this article

It turns out that one of my FB friends was actually at the meeting in which this resolution was adopted and feels that the article that I cited mischaracterizes the resolution.

The correct language of the actual resolutions adopted at this convention can be found from links on this page

where it will be noted that nothing is being "stopped" at all, as mischaracterized by the right wing website, but rather that people are encouraged to use more gender inclusive language.

Now I've been doing some experiments in getting people outside my echo chamber into my discussion group and they are commenting in this thread that the original language of the New Testament is Koine Greek, and, in that language, the pronoun "he," or rather its equivalent is used.

In response, I wrote rather a lot that I would like to memorialize here.  Perhaps there will be more to be added, as the discussion progresses, but this is what I had so far.  Perhaps even this blog will get some more information documented for me.  A lot of what I write on my blogs is for my personal reference.  I supposed that this topic is old hat for many theologians, but I'd like to have a place to look back on this stuff.

One of my conservative Christian correspondents was indicating that Greek has masculine, feminine, and neutral -- implying that if God were not male, then that could have been implied.  I asked

In English, we have "it," but this pronoun is mostly applied to inanimate objects. Is that so in Koine Greek?
But he didn't know.

So I made the following comments

But the point is that if the original Greek said "he" and if Koine Greek had same tradition as English to say "he" to mean "he or she," then using "he" is not definitive as to the gender of God. I would note that I also studied French and there also the masculine pronoun was used to include both male and female. In English, for instance, "they" is understood to be gender neutral, but in French they only have "ils" and "elles." The feminine form -- elles --traditionally was only used for groups that had no males at all. The masculine form --ils-- was used for groups that had both males and females.

Of course, feminists have pressed us to say "he or she" or the invented form "xe" rather than "he" when female was possible. Trans people have urged us to go back to a middle English usage of singular "they" to mean "he or she." However, back as recently as the mid twentieth century, "he" was understood to include "he or she," as in "everyone has his own taste in clothing" meaning to include females as well as males.

It has to be understood that languages are living things that change over time. If we assume, hypothetically, that Koine Greek had the same usage as English up to the mid twentieth century, in other words that "he" could include "he or she," then up until that point "he" would have been a correct translation of the the Koine Greek. On the other hand, now, in the 21st century, it is not so well accepted amongst many speakers that the English pronoun "he" includes "he or she." Therefore, it could be, under this hypothesis, that "he" in English is no longer a correct translation of the Koine Greek. Now I personally have not studied any Greek other than the alphabet; though I have studied French, Spanish, Russian, and tidbit of Chinese -- and was always quite interested in grammar. However, I know that Episcopalian clergy are extremely scholarly and typically have masters' degrees in theology and have studied Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Therefore, I suspect that the action reported here indicates that the clergy in this diocese have concluded that, in 21st century English, "he" is no longer a completely correct translation of Koine Greek.

Now another  conservative Christian correspondent stated that the Hebrew word "Elohim" is plural, because God is triune.

Jewish and Muslim people criticize Christians for use of the Trinity, considering that this concept is contrary to monotheism. It is certainly not a Jewish interpretation of Hebrew that Elohim means that God is a trinity. I don't know if [omitting name of Jewish person in thread] knows any Hebrew or traditional Hebrew interpretation of why "Elohim" is plural or what it means, but I'm quite certain that it's not what [omitting name of conservative Christian thread participant] is saying. If [omitting name of Jewish person in thread]  doesn't know I could tag in a more scholarly Jewish person here.
For me, in any case, as I think I mentioned before, the idea that God has gender is nonsensical to me. God is a spirit. In the Jesus story, God is depicted as playing a male role in conceiving a child, but that does not mean that God is restricted to male. I feel quite persuaded that, if I could go out in a Star Trek like vessel and cruise the universe, there would nowhere be found a giant genitalia nebula that would prove the gender of God.

And, final comment,

When [name of conservative Christian thread participant omitted] friended me on FB, I was nervous, because I suspected that we would disagree on almost everything. However, I was mindful that, during the 2016 elections, FB was criticized for creating echo chambers, in which people would only hear their own opinion echoed back at them. This was polarizing groups. I hoped that I could make my own little efforts to to venture into other echo chambers. Here we see that happening, which is good. 
Earlier in the thread, there was a remark that Jesus always used the male "Abba" to refer to God, not ‘Imma’ (Mother) -- to which I replied

Given that Mary was his mother, it wouldn't have made sense for him to call God mother. On the other hand, though I don't know Hebrew, it's my understanding that they don't have the kind of gender related pronouns that we have -- so that the Bible is not at all clear about assigning a gender to God. Moreover, I find the idea of God having gender incomprehensible. This is a spirit we're talking about. 

Some links

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