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Why calling God “They” should not upset you

(RNS) — I’m afraid my last column, which advised that our most well-liked pronoun for God be “they,” upset some of us. Offended emojis outnumber blissful ones four-to-one on the RNS response app and the destructive retweets are legion. 

“I assumed it was all imagined to be about the popular pronouns of the person involved, not the pronouns that these round would favor to have them recognized,” wrote one commenter. “I believe God has made His most well-liked pronouns completely well-known all through the divinely impressed Scripture.”

“God has already instructed us his most well-liked pronouns,” wrote one other. “That is about as simple as doable.”

Provided that Biblical Hebrew is the language through which the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob presumably conveyed their pronoun preferences, these retorts are paying homage to the remark, often attributed to Texas Governor  “Ma” Ferguson, “If the King’s English was ok for Jesus Christ, it’s ok for the kids of Texas!”

However the shift from singular (“He”) to plural (“They”) is nothing new in addressing the Most Excessive. Within the Hebrew Bible, God is addressed with the second-person masculine pronoun ‘attah. Previous English (Anglo-Saxon) and, later, Middle English, didn’t differentiate pronouns by gender however did, like Hebrew,  have different singular and plural second-person varieties. Particularly, the Center English singular “thou-thee-thy” and plural “ye-you-your. 

Between the 14th and seventeenth centuries, nevertheless, the plural varieties “you” and “your” replaced “thou and thy” (alongside the strains of the French vous), bringing with them the plural verb kind “are” instead of the singular “artwork.” That’s to say, “You might be” — the plural kind — changed the singular “Thou artwork.” Ultimately the English-speaking world grew to become snug with addressing God with the as soon as solely plural “You.”

An analogous course of seems to be underway as “they’re” replaces “he’s” and “she is” within the third-person singular. I’m ready to guess that God is not any extra bummed about this newest change than they had been in regards to the swap from “thou” to “you.”

In fact it can take many people some time to regulate to having to discuss with any and all beings as “they” — and maybe particularly with regards to the Deity. The King James translation of the Bible, first revealed in 1611, nonetheless employs Thou-Thee-Thy when addressing God, even supposing these had been effectively on their method out of strange utilization.

A lot of my commenters have made it clear that they see my proposal as a rejection of all male phrases for God — half and parcel of the feminist critique that has been beneath method at the very least for the reason that late theologian Mary Daly revealed their influential Beyond God the Father in 1973.

However it’s customary Christian theology that God will not be a gendered being. As early because the 4th century, the Cappadocian Father St. Gregory of Nazianzus contended that “Father” and “Son” within the Trinity are supposed to be understood as metaphors. The present Catholic Catechism teaches the same even because it refers to God with the normal masculine third-person singular pronoun.

On no account is God in man’s picture. He’s neither man nor girl. God is pure spirit through which there is no such thing as a place for the distinction between the sexes. However the respective “perfections” of man and girl replicate one thing of the infinite perfection of God: these of a mom and people of a father and husband. (pg. 370)

This theological place is expressed within the need of many Jews and Christians to avoid calling God “He.” The evolution of the English third-person singular to “they” helps them do this.

However it doesn’t forestall any English speaker hooked up to singular male metaphors like father, husband and king from persevering with to make use of them — not more than the evolution to “you” did centuries in the past.

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