Why is God called a Him rather than a Her?

By James M. Rochford

God is an immaterial being—not a physical being (Jn. 1:18; 4:24; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15-16). Thus God is not anatomically masculine. And yet, the Bible refers to God as a He—not a She. Is this because the Bible is chauvinistic or misogynistic?

Of course not. God is called a “Him,” because calling God an “It” would make him impersonal. Since God is a personal being, he needed to express himself with a gender. But why the male gender?

According to the Bible, gender distinctions are not merely the construction of cultures or societies. Scripture teaches that humans were created with different genders and these carry different, important qualities. Hopefully, we love both our father and mother, but we relate to them differently. Paul notes that mothers have a certain tenderness for their children that fathers do not have (1 Thess. 2:7). Moreover, fathers have an encouraging and exhorting role that mothers do not have (1 Thess. 2:11). God wanted us to relate to him specifically as a father (Mt. 6:9; Gal. 4:6), and this is because he wants to play that specific role as a leader in our lives.

Psychologist Paul Vitz has demonstrated that a weak, abusive, or passive father figure can play a role in our understanding of God (see “Projecting God or Rejecting God”). Thus our father’s role plays an integral role in our understanding of who God is.

Another factor in this discussion is the incarnation: Jesus incarnated into human history as man—not a woman. Thus if God called himself a Her, this would be very confusing when Jesus came in a male form. Since God could either be male or female at the incarnation, he needed to pick one gender from the start, and this was male.

Finally, we shouldn’t ignore the feminine qualities that God expresses. For instance, God gives birth to Israel (Deut. 32:18); God nurses believers like a mother (Ps. 131:2); God is called a mother in labor (Isa. 42:14); God describes himself as a mother bear and a lioness (Hos. 13:8); he also describes himself as a female hen who desires to “gather her chicks under her wings” (Mt. 23:37). Moreover, even Paul speaks of himself as a mother giving birth to the Galatian believers, using clear feminine imagery (Gal. 4:19). For these reasons, the Bible depicts God as masculine, but he also expresses feminine qualities as well.

For more on this topic, see “Christianity and Women.”