In a move further distancing itself from accepted mainstream theology, the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Washington, D.C. voted to abolish the use of masculine pronouns for God. The change will be implemented in the newest edition of their Book of Common Prayer.
The resolution, passed by Episcopalian delegates to the Diocese at the 123rd Convention, said that “gendered language for God” should no longer be used.
Claiming that gender pronouns limit man’s understanding of God, which the church says adapts with time, the resolution reads, “if revision of the Book of Common Prayer is authorized, to utilize expansive language for God from the rich sources of feminine, masculine, and non-binary imagery for God found in Scripture and tradition and, when possible, to avoid the use of gendered pronouns for God.”
However, the Hebrew Bible includes many names of God that point to God’s masculine and feminine attributes. The sages teach that although God is infinite and beyond human comprehension, one can grasp a small piece of His essence and power through the use of names that are understandable in human terms.
“For those who truly study and comprehend scripture in its original Hebrew language, God’s ‘gender’, based on His names, is understood as a resource for understanding different facets of God’s essence,” explained Roni Segal, an academic adviser for The Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, to Breaking Israel News. The institute teaches Hebrew language and Biblical studies online.
“God’s many Biblical names represent various characteristics rather than a bias,” Segal continued.
Any physical description of God in the Bible is meant to be metaphorical or symbolic. For example, the first sentence of the Bible reads, “בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים(b’-ray-SHEET ba-RA e-lo-HEEM)-When God began to create” (Genesis 1:1).
Even though God is the One and Only God, the name, Eloheem is in plural form, which implies the inclusion of both male and female attributes. This teaches that God created the world with both male and female strengths and energies. In fact, the sages teach that referring to God as Eloheem represents God’s total might and power.
Another name used for God is Shechinah, which is not found anywhere in the Tanach (Bible). The sages however, often use it to describe God’s presence among mankind. The name is in feminine form and represents God’s attributes of compassion.
At the same time, God is referred to as “my Father” or “our Father” many times in the Bible, such as in Isaiah 63:16 where the prophet tells God, “surely YOU are our Father.” Just like a father can be tough, so too can God be tough, and just like a father loves his children, so does God love His children.
Ultimately, God is genderless. However, both His masculine and feminine names are used to help man understand His essence.
Moreover, it is forbidden to write God’s Biblical names down in Hebrew, except in prayer books or Bibles, in order to avoid transgressing the Biblical commandment of not destroying God’s name.
“In Judaism, God’s names are so holy that it is forbidden to erase or take them in vain, as it says in the Ten Commandments,” noted Segal. “In fact, in speech, we say HaShem, which means ‘The Name,’ rather than say casually outloud one of God’s holy names.”
Unfortunately, Rev. Linda R. Calkins a delegate of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Laytonsville, Maryland is pushing an agenda based on erroneous assumptions about God’s various names. For example, in Genesis 17:1, God introduces Himself to Abraham as “El Shaddai,” translated as “God Almighty.” Yet, Calkins follows the “The Inclusive Bible,” written in 2004 by Priests for Equality, a grassroots organization seeking full participation of women and men in church and society. The group mistakenly translated “El Shaddai” as “the breasted one”. (Breasts in Hebrew are shadayim).
“El” alone is actually one of God’s names used to represent kindness and therefore, has a feminine aspect. “Shaddai” includes the Hebrew word, “ddai,” which means “enough.” The name signifies that God can do anything, yet He chooses to hold Himself back.
“Any name of God which has a gender in Hebrew comes to teach us something about God’s actions in this world,” stressed Segal. “God’s various names are used for us to develop a relationship with His essences, not as a judgement on any gender being better or worse.”
“Everything in this world has a purpose and power,” he continued. “It is our job to strive to understand what God is teaching us as we live and explore our lives.”
To learn more about Biblical Hebrew, please click here.
Written in cooperation with the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies.