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Why our most popular pronoun for God ought to be ‘they’

(RNS) — Writing final week in The New York Instances, linguistics professor John McWhorter waxed enthusiastic concerning the introduction of “they” as our all-purpose third-person-singular pronoun. As in, for instance: “Roberta desires a haircut, and so they additionally need some highlights.”

“Language change is a spectator sport,” McWhorter writes. “It isn’t whether or not however how issues will change over time, and attending to witness a serious change like what’s occurring to ‘they’ is a sort of privilege, a prime ticket.”

Not that I’ve a selection, however I’m down with this specific privilege. And right here’s a modest proposal: Let’s prolong it to God. 

In distinction to human beings, it has lengthy been accepted that God is just not gendered, not less than inside the principle Abrahamic theological custom. A phrase similar to “God the Father” ought to be handled as a metaphor — and for these involved concerning the embedded misogyny of the custom, to say nothing of post-binary of us — a deeply problematic one.


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Because of this, now we have been confronted liturgically in addition to theologically with the crucial of gender-neutral language, which implies being obliged to repeat the phrase “God” the place a gendered pronoun would usually be used and to have recourse to the unattractive neologism “Godself” lest, God forbid, we discover ourselves saying Himself. 

“They,” “Theirs,” “Them,” and “Themself” (or perhaps “themselves”) solves the issue. As in: “Reward God from whom all blessings move; / Reward Them, all creatures right here beneath,” and so forth.

However, Mark, I hear a few of you protesting, wouldn’t this grammatical démarche undermine monotheism, the concept of the singular God that lies on the very coronary heart of the Abrahamic custom?

Nicely, no. Monotheistic Abrahamic theology has needed to take care of an embedded grammatical pluralism ever because it got here into being.

That’s as a result of the phrase for god in historical Hebrew, elohim, is a plural type, used just about each the Hebrew god and every other god or gods — as distinct from the singular type of the Hebrew god’s precise identify, JHWH (typically translated into English as “Lord”). Right here’s how that works at first of the E-book of Exodus’ twentieth chapter, the place God is laying down the ten Commandments:

And elohim spoke these phrases, saying. I’m JHWH your elohim who introduced you out of the land of Egypt. out of the home of bondage. You shall don’t have any elohim earlier than me.

Students have found cognate phrases in different historical Semitic languages — phrases in plural type used to indicate one divinity and a couple of divinity. Whether or not it signifies an embedded polytheism in historical Judaism is a query for the consultants to debate.

The nice Twelfth-century Jewish theologian Maimonides took a relaxed view of the matter, writing in his “Information for the Perplexed”: “Each Hebrew is aware of that the time period Elohim is a homonym, and denotes God, angels, judges, and the rulers of nations.” Much less relaxed  was the fashionable Jewish thinker Hermann Cohen, who called it “an virtually insoluble riddle.”


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So, positive, it sounds unusual to confer with the biblical god with what now we have been accustomed to think about plural third-person pronouns, however little doubt there have been individuals who felt equally when fashionable English jettisoned the singular “thou artwork” in favor of the heretofore completely plural “you’re.”

Try verse 10 of Psalm 86 in your Bible Hub. The King James Model interprets it, “For thou artwork nice … thou artwork God alone.” Nearly each fashionable translation has, “For you’re nice… you alone are God.”

When you’ve not bought an issue with that, it is best to be capable to stay with Exodus 15:2 as follows:

The Lord (JHWH) is my energy and my music;
    they’ve grow to be my salvation.
they’re my God, and I’ll reward them,
    my father’s God, and I’ll exalt them.

Now that may be prime ticket.

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