Is God Male or Female? by Pastor Seth Watson

God is Holy

One of the main descriptions which the Bible makes about God is that He is holy. Scripture says,
For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. -Leviticus 11:44-55 (ESV)
The word “holy” means to be “set apart”. Often, we think of God’s holiness as His being set apart from sin—His moral purity. Indeed, this is what the verse in Leviticus, which is quoted by Peter (1 Pet. 1:16) in his instructions to Christians is pointed at, a separation from sin.

God’s Holiness Includes Transcendence

However, God’s holiness is not fully summed up by being set apart from sin. Another aspect of God’s holiness is,
The gulf between his infinite majesty and our finitude. In this ontological sense, holiness simply testifies to the Creator-creature distinction. -Michael Horton
We can think of this as an aspect of His transcendence. He is in a category to which we have no access because we cannot, on our own, comprehend what it means to be eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. The gap between God and humanity is infinitely greater than the gap between me and our pet hamster—Snowflake. The prophet Isaiah, in his magisterial book, writes,
To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. -Isaiah 40:26-25 (ESV)
In Isaiah 40, Job 38-40, and throughout the Bible, we meet a God who is holy in a moral sense, but also holy in a transcendent sense. God’s spiritual nature undergirds His transcendence. Jesus said,
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. -John 4:24 (ESV)

A good question is, “how can the transcendent God relate in any meaningful way to people?”

God Condescends to Humanity

For a human being to relate to a pet hamster they must condescend to the level of the hamster. In their dealings with a hamster, they must take into account its size, strength, and brain capacity compared to theirs. They must realize that no matter how many books they read to the hamster, nor how much classical music they play for the hamster, a hamster is a hamster and completely unable to acquire a taste for classical books or literature. Instead, they have to relate to the hamster at the level at which the hamster can understand—hunger, thirst, care, gentleness of touch. In a similar way, the transcendent God necessarily must condescend to humanity in order to have a relationship with people.

One of the ways in which the transcendent God condescends to humanity is through using finite human language to communicate truth about Himself. This is truly remarkable, and to go back to the analogy, would be like human beings trying to use squeaks, body posture, and facial features to try to communicate with a hamster.

This becomes important in answering the question, “Is God a male or female?” because in the Bible we find two undeniable things. First, God created humanity in His image.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. -Genesis 1:27 (ESV)
History and scholarship are united in their understanding of this important verse,
The inner elements of the chiastic lines identify the focus of the poetic verse: the divine image. The third colon specifies that ʾādām (“man”), created in the image of God, refers to both male and female human life. (Matthews)
This verse teaches that both male and female are created in the image of God. The image of God refers to the fact that mankind was created and designed to reflect the one who created and designed them. We were made to be a flesh and blood representation of God on earth.

Notice this applies to both male and female. We have to realize also that male and female, in the Bible, are always connected to male and female bodies. The Bible does not bifurcate a person into their biological sex and gender (inner sense of maleness or femaleness) as our modern society is increasingly doing. To be a male means to be a person inhabiting a biologically male body and to be a female means to be a person inhabiting a biologically female body. The first important fact then is that humankind, both male and female are created in the image of God.

Secondly, as we read the Bible, the large majority of images and all pronouns used to describe God are male. There are occasional female images of God:
“a bear with her cubs (Hos. 13:8), a comforting mother (Isa. 66:13); or a woman in labor (Is. 42:14).” (Moody)
But the overwhelming majority of images and words used to describe God are male. (Moody)

Is God Male or Female?

We’re now in a place to address the question, “Is God male or female?” From eternity past, until the time of Jesus, God existed exclusively as spirit. (John 4:24) He did not have a physical body. In the incarnation of Jesus, God took on a male physical body. But from the beginning of creation mankind both people inhabiting male bodies (males) and people inhabiting female bodies (females) reflected His image. God transcends male and female categories, pronouns, and images. John Piper very helpfully said,
Let me say what I mean first by “God is not male.”… “Male” is a biological word and God is not a biological being. So men and women should not think of God as a man… God in his essential divine being — not referring to his incarnate union with humanity, but in his essential, divine essence — is not male, and God is not female.
So, God is not male, nor is God female in an “essential” sense. He transcends both male and female. Neither one can fully encompass Him. But in the Bible God condescends to human beings by using language and images which our finite minds can comprehend. So, He uses male pronouns and images not to relate that He is male, but to tell us something about His nature. He uses female images to tell us something about His nature as well. It is His transcendent nature to which the words and images of Scripture point.

Does it Matter What Pronouns We Use to Talk About God?

Does this mean that it doesn’t matter which pronouns we use to describe God? Or to put it another way, are we free to talk of God any way we choose? If we truly believe that He is transcendent (eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent) then it seems the only appropriate response is to submit to what He has revealed. Jesus said when we pray we should say, “Our Father.” Though God is not in His “essential nature” male, the way He has chosen to be referred to is using male language. To answer why He chose to do so requires waiting to ask Him someday.
1. Michael Horton, “God,” ed. Daniel J. Treier and Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017), 347.
2. K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 172–173.3.
3. “Does God Have Gender?” By Andrew Moody. August 27, 2016. Accessed 9-6-22.
4. John Piper. “God is not Male.” Accessed 9-7-22.