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Yahweh is often called "He" in english bibles. Is it so in Hebrew original?

  • if yes, is there any other evidence of his masculitiny besides the pronoun?
  • if no, why isn't Yahweh called "It"?
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Yes, YHWH is masculine in gender, and no, Hebrew has no neuter pronoun. –  Affable Geek Aug 26 '13 at 13:41
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In English "it" normally indicates inanimacy. This is a linguistic fact. Arbitrarily assigning a gender to deity is considered the lesser of two evils, as compared with stripping God from God's personhood. –  John Peyton Aug 27 '13 at 15:33

3 Answers 3

Many people act as though God is male rather than female or genderless, but theologians often argue that God is genderless [because] the religious systems which rely heavily upon [mono-]theism have traditionally portrayed God as male. On the other hand, the absolute perfection postulated in Greek philosophy excludes the possibility of God having any gender, whether male or female.

The influence of classic philosophy over time has caused religions like Christianity and Judaism to abandon explicit arguments that God is male. Nevertheless, gendered references continue to abound as people refer to God as Him, He, His, etc. Believers defend this by references to things like tradition or the fact that Jesus, the incarnation of God, was male.

English, however, does have the option of using 'it' instead of male pronouns — but people don’t normally use that. Believers object that 'it' is somehow 'wrong' when it comes to God because that pronoun doesn’t normally get used when it comes to persons — but it is certainly no more wrong than the use of 'he' because gendered pronouns aren’t normally used when it comes to genderless objects.

For more information see "God & Gender-Is God Really Male?" or "God and gender - Definition".

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

    
We'd really like to see more than a straight up quote for an answer. Can you tell us some in you're own words how this quote fits into the bigger picture, perhaps mention any relevant counter arguments, and properly identify who you are quoting and why they have any authority to speak to this issue? –  Caleb Dec 23 '13 at 11:30

In Hebrew all nouns are either masculine or feminine; there is no neuter. Verbs, adjectives, and pronouns associated with a noun must match in grammatical gender. In the case of the divine name (YHVH) these words use the masculine gender. So grammatically, God is masculine.

This does not mean, however, that God is actually male (white-haired and elderly or otherwise). In fact, Gen 1:27, in saying "God created man in His own image...male and female he created them", suggests that God is beyond limitations of physical gender.

As for why translations don't just use "it", probably because if people are generally reluctant to call people of unknown gender "it", then how much the moreso would they be reluctant to use that pronoun for God? Further, using "he" matches the original language, so it's a closer translation.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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Others have already responded as far as the grammar and God being masculine there. So I focus on your question as to whether there are other evidences of God's masculinity. Since you've asked about the Hebrew language, I'll limit my remarks to Hebrew texts.

Before I begin to look at various themes, it's worth noting that nothing can be said about God's biology. While the gods of the various neighboring nations had forms that were often hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine, the commandment against images ensured that YHWH was not worshiped as having any form. So while we often think of gender in terms of biology, such categories are inapplicable to a god worshiped only as a spirit.

That said, there were certainly traits and roles that the authors of the Hebrew scriptures would have viewed as particularly masculine or particularly feminine. While there are a small smattering of images wherein God is compared to something feminine (mostly by way of quick analogy), in the Hebrew scriptures the dominant images of God - particularly as he describes himself using extended metaphors - by and large portray God as masculine.

Divine Warrior

God is depicted throughout the Hebrew scriptures as a warrior god. Early in Genesis 9, we see him resting his war bow in the sky as a promise never to destroy the earth again. The dominant theme of the conquest is that God fights for Israel. Passages like Isaiah 59, describe God arrayed in armor ready to destroy his enemies. Examples could be multiplied almost endlessly.

The role of warrior was one considered exclusively masculine in the ancient near east. It was barbaric and shameful to have women fight for your tribe or nation. This can be seen, for instance, in Judges 4:8-9, where even the politically powerful Deborah rebukes Barak for inviting her to battle and honor is taken from him because of it. We see later in 4:14 that while Deborah was willing to join Barak at the site of the battle, Barak alone actually enters into the battle (along with the other men, of course). So the image of God as Divine Warrior is one that is very masculine.

King

Along the lines of the divine warrior motif, God is also portrayed as a suzerain and king throughout the Hebrew scriptures. One easy place to see this is in 1 Samuel 8 where God says that Israel has rejected him as king in asking for a king like the nations have. Psalm 2 is another. Kingship was a highly masculine role in the ANE.

Father

While the idea of God as Father is much more developed in the New Testament writings, the concept is not absent from the Hebrew scriptures. For instance, in Isaiah 63:16 the Israelites appeal to God, "But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name."

Jilted Husband/Lover

The prophets, especially, choose this theme as an image for God. Ezekiel 23, for instance, is an extended diatribe against Israel and Judah who have gone like prostitutes to the surrounding nations, lusting after their large genitals and enraging God to jealous anger. Similarly we find descriptions of God as a scorned husband in Hosea and Jeremiah. These are not short analogies, either, but extended passages in which God as a rejected husband appeals to Israel, his wayward wife.


To summarize: whatever theologians today might think of God's gender, it's reasonable to conclude from a survey of their scriptures that the Israelites largely conceived of God in masculine terms. While the grammar already supports the pronoun "he" as the better choice for translation, the further context of the scriptures confirm this as the best choice.

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And in these traits, it's worth noting that we shouldn't think of God being like a man or warrior or king or husband, but instead that men and warriors and kings and husbands are in part like God: the substance is God and these other roles paint a picture of God, rather than the other way round. God is the true father, and our fathers are only fatherly to the extent that they are like God. God is the true king and our kings are only kingly to the extent that they are like God. –  curiousdannii Dec 23 '13 at 4:08
    
It's also important to remember that both men and women are created in the image of God. Even although the masculine traits are definitely predominant in the scriptures, women are images of God as much as men. –  curiousdannii Dec 23 '13 at 4:11
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@curiousdannii I was just reading this answer (and upvoting it), but thinking exactly the same thing you commented. Perhaps your thoughts are worth expanding into an answer? You'd certainly also get my upvote. –  Jack Douglas Dec 23 '13 at 7:34

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