Divinity Schools to Neuter God

The divinity schools at Vanderbilt and Duke Universities have issued guidelines discouraging the use of masculine language when referring to God, encouraging gender-neutral language instead.  In doing so, they cite the desire to make the language more “inclusive” and lessen the influence of “the patriarchy.”

This is part of a larger trend of altering the text, translations, or teachings of the Bible to fit our cultural preferences.  However, if the Bible is truly the Word of God and His self-revelation to us of who He is, who we are, and His relationship and plans for us, then we would be hesitant to change the words of the Bible.  We would especially be cautious in altering those words which He uses to refer to Himself.  Of particular relevance is the fact that core to the Christian Faith is the belief that God is a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Son himself gives us the Trinitarian baptismal formula in Matthew 28, and the Church throughout the centuries has confessed this faith in the creeds and through its teaching.

Thus, to alter the words God uses to refer to Himself and which the Church has been using to talk about Him is a symptom of humanity’s desire to fit God’s Word more to its liking.  Rather than encounter God’s Word as it is, and letting it act upon us, we want to conform it to our preferences.

In support of altering the Bible to use “inclusive language,” it is sometimes argued that perhaps a person has had a poor relationship with their father, so to refer to God as “Father” is hurtful.  I would counter that all human relationships are tainted by sin and that the proper way to address things like this is to point people to the perfect Father who sent His only-begotten Son to die and rise for us and who then together send the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith.

In addition, there is something profound which is revealed in God’s choice of words for Himself and the Church.  The Church is often referred to as the bride of Christ who is her bridegroom.  To remove the gendered language from God’s Word dilutes this image of God’s love for His people which is modeled in the marriage relationship between a husband and his wife.  Indeed, one of the most beautiful images of Christ’s love for his Church is in Revelation 21:2,11:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

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Aaron Simms

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