Is God Male?

Patrick Franklin


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is god male

When I teach about the Trinity in my introductory theology class, the topic of God and gender often comes up. “Is God male?” Let’s think about that.

The Bible often refers to God with masculine personal pronouns.

Following this, Christians usually say “He,” “Him, “His,” and “Himself,” when referring to God. Trinitarian language is predominately masculine (“Father” and “Son”) though “Holy Spirit” is more elusive. Many popular Christian books celebrate the more masculine qualities of God (especially books for men and books on ‘leadership’): God is a hero, a conqueror, a warrior, a triumphant king, and so forth.

Even so, I would be extremely hesitant about saying that God IS male; in fact, I would push further to argue that such a notion applied to God, absolutely and without qualification, is both false and misleading.

Granted, Scripture predominately speaks of God with masculine language. However, it also employs female language, images, and metaphors with reference to God.

For example, it portrays God as a mother:

God is like a woman in labor (Isa. 42:14)
A mother suckling her children (Num. 11:12)
A mother who does not forget the child she nurses (Isa. 49:14-15)
A mother who comforts her children (Isa. 66:12-13)
A mother who births and protects Israel (Isa. 46:3-4)
A mother who gave birth to the Israelites (Dt. 32:18)
A mother who calls, teaches, holds, heals, and feeds her young (Hosea 11:1-4)

Other maternal images can be found in Ps. 131:2; Job. 38:8, 29; Prov. 8:22-25; 1 Pet. 2:2-3, Acts 17:28.

The Bible also portrays God in terms of common feminine roles (in biblical times):

A seamstress making clothes for Israel to wear (Neh. 9:21)
A midwife attending a birth (Ps. 22:9-10a, 71:6; Isa. 66:9)
A woman working leaven into bread (Lk. 13:18-21).

The point is not that these tasks are inherently feminine, but that Scripture appeals to common culturally feminine roles to depict God.

Moreover, Scripture speaks about God using female bird or animal imagery:
God acts like a female bird protecting her young (Ps. 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 91:1, 4; Isa. 31:5; Dt. 32:11-12)
Like an eagle (Dt. 32:11-12; Ex. 19:4; Job 39:27-30)
Like a hen (Mt. 23:37; Lk. 13:34; cf. Ruth 2:12)
Like a mother bear (Hosea 13:8)

Finally, the Holy Spirit is often associated with female imagery and functions: such as birth/new birth, life, water, a comforter and counselor, and love that binds together, etc. (e.g., John 3:5-6; John 14; 1 John 4.).

Genesis 1:26-27 teaches that both male and female human beings reflect God’s image.

If this is true, and if there is any meaningful difference between male and female, this implies that it is only together, as both male and female, that we reflect God’s full image. It also implies that God transcends both categories and that God is characterized by both male and female qualities.

So, Scripture can employ both masculine and feminine language to speak about God. Whether one or the other predominates is ultimately not significant. The larger point to grasp is that all such language is analogical, not literal when used with reference to God. All word pictures to describe God are limited. Why is that so?

Male and female are created categories; they are necessary for sexuality and reproduction. God does not need these categories because God does not reproduce that way. God is transcendent and infinite Spirit.

Saying “God is male” –moving from saying God is like to saying God IS without qualification–leads us into idolatry.

Such a statement limits God to finite, anthropomorphic, and created categories. We end up envisioning a god made in our own image (a human projection), rather than seeing human beings in God’s image.

The danger of idolatry is that it tends to support harmful and oppressive mindsets. For example, feminists worry (and not without reasonable warrant) that the problem with viewing God as ‘male’ is that we tend to project our own cultural ideas of ‘maleness’ onto God. Then we use these made-up ideas of God to justify male bias in our own cultures. We have to be very careful about this.

What about classical Trinitarian language that speaks of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

It is important to understand that when it comes to Trinitarian theology, Father, Son, and Spirit refer to the divine ‘persons’ or relations, not the divine being or essence. O.K. That way of putting things is rather technical. Let me illustrate with some practical examples.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was clearly male in his incarnate human form. Does this mean that God IS male? No, this does not follow. Even if it were appropriate to say that Jesus IS male, not just was a male:
(a) we would have to ask about the meaning of such ‘maleness’ in the resurrection (in light of passages such as Matthew 22:30)
(b) we would have to distinguish this from what we say about God’s being or essence. Whatever we say about God, we must say equally of the three divine ‘persons’ (e.g., God is holy, God is just, God is good, God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal, etc.)

BUT, what we say about the individual ‘persons’ cannot always be said about GOD ontologically (God’s essence).

For example, Jesus was a first-century Palestinian Jew – the Holy Spirit was/is not. The Father is not a Son, the Son is not a Father, and the Spirit is neither. The Father is unbegotten, the Son is begotten, and the Spirit is sent from the Father and Son (or from the Father through the Son). The Spirit is the breath of God, the Son is the Word of God, and the Father is the One who breathes and speaks his Spirit and Word. Jesus the Son died and endured physical suffering on the cross; Father and Spirit did not suffer in this way (though perhaps they suffered in other ways). And so on.

So the fact that Jesus was (or even is) male does not mean that God IS male. Everything that God is, Jesus is; but not everything about Jesus applies equally to God’s essential being.

Perhaps, in the end, the better question is not “Is God male?” but rather, “Are we men like God?” and “Are we women like God?”

Do we resemble God in our character, our actions, our dealings with others, our treatment of creation, our vocational goals and responsibilities, and our stewardship of God’s material resources (which really belong to God and are entrusted to us to serve God and others)? Posing the question this way leads us to focus on how God’s character and actions ought to determine how we live out our cultural embodiment of masculinity and femininity, not the other way around.


Dr. Margo G. Houts, “Feminine Images for God: What Does the Bible Say?”


See also:

Is God Male or Masculine?

Is Male Authority “Implied” in the Bible?

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  • Numbers 23:19 God says, “For I am not a man.” The Hebrew under “man” is not “mankind,” ‘ish,’ literally “man,” i.e., a male human being.

  • The first question is “What is a male?” Before we reach conclusions on the question of whether or not God is “male,” we need to determine what such a statement implies. I would like to know how everyone defines “maleness.”

  • Why does the bible tell us to call Him Abba Father and not Abba Mother/Father?

    • I think for the same reason we use Father, as described in the post. It’s a metaphor for our relationship with God. But God is not part of creation, but the creator. Male and female are the created. God transcends human gender.

      • In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus addresses God as “abba.” Abba is not the formal term for “father.” Rather, it is an intimate term, more like “daddy.” Jesus was inviting us into an intimate relationship with God, one which redeems the very patriarchal and intimidating relationship that 1st century people had with their earthly fathers (to whom even grown men owed complete obedience until the old man died). God had never been addressed this way before, and it is not the primary identification with God. Jesus would not have called God “mother” because everyone knew who His mother was.In Numbers 23:19, God explicitly says, “For I am not a man,” i.e., an ‘ish, a male human being.

        • Thank you for the further clarification, Carrie! I wish I had taken a Greek class in college!

          • I think it is Aramaic. It is what Hebrew-speaking children call their daddies. We were once at a Passover meal with Jewish friends, whose three-year old was crawling all over his father saying, “Abba, Abba, Abba.”

  • I would have thought this question is answered by the fact Christianity is a revealed religion, and God has revealed himself in terms of Father and Son. Human fatherhood is derived from God as father, not the other way round.

    The cultures surrounding both ancient Israel and the early church were full of goddesses, in marked contrast to the God of the bible. Personally, I would be too scared to even think of addressing God as mother, no biblical writer ever dreams of doing so.

    Isn’t this move to syncretism with the gender-confused society around us and its resurgent pagan influences in reality idolatry? Making up a God in our image, a distortion of God. Isn’t it also true that those who do so start to drift away from the faith once for all delivered to the saints? It is not difficult to find examples of this.

    • Ken, thanks for your thoughts.

      Two brief responses here: (1) on the first point, what God has revealed as “Father” names not the divine essence, but the revealed ‘person’ or ‘relation’ named Father . . . this is the major point the post makes. (2) I think you bring up a good point about divine revelation: with all revelation, we are called to see ourselves (and the words we use) in light of God, not the other way around.

      I don’t see how the post is syncretistic in any way. I simply say that wee need to pay attention for all of the biblical portrayals of God, which include both “masculine” and “feminine” images.

      Actually . . . I didn’t say this in the original post, but what started my thinking on this was not gender at all; it was actually reading Aquinas on the Trinity and the divine relations (specifically his discussion of substantive and adjectival predication of the divine names). This post is basically an application of that traditional church teaching.

      • Thanks for the reply. I appreciated my post being approved, because it did come across rather starkly as a dissenting opinion, if not trolling, which was not in mind. I should have perhaps mentioned that by coincidence I recent heard a sermon on this theme by Dick Lucas, imo a gift of God in the 20th century to call the Church of England back to its thinking evangelical roots. You won’t have heard of him, but he was in the John Stott tradition. This was fresh in my mind when I saw the topic of this post.

        He made the point about Christianity being a revealed religion, and it struck me very forcibly. Stops the discussion getting unnecessarily complicated.

        The whole issue of gender is one that thinking Christians will not be able to avoid. I’m afraid in this context I was disappointed – but not altogether surprised – to find that the Anglican church’s first woman bishop has recently come out in favour of adding the concept of ‘God our Mother’ to the faith, and wants her male colleagues to join her in this. This goes way beyond some of the feminine language occasionally used in scripture dealing with how God treats his people. I am aware this is there.

        It think it is also an observable fact that those who go beyond this language to start calling God ‘mother’ sooner of later drift away from the faith. It’s bad enough with the gender confusion in society around us – every bit as bad in the UK and Europe as in the States. This requires a well-thought out response from Christians which it doesn’t always get.

        Trying to blur the revelation of God as Father because of the confusion about gender in society seems to me to be a completely wrong approach. It’s not something we have the freedom to do. Soeciety needs to conform to the biblical idea of what father means, not the other way round.

  • Thank you, so helpful. You put words to concepts I think I understand but sometimes have a hard time explaining. Great pastoral reference tool!

  • Seems that “Trinity” leads Western thinkers and English speakers into hierarchical thinking which is a problem when thinking about God. The word “trinity” was not used in the Bible, but I am not a scholar so could be mistaken about that. Trinity leads us to think in terms of our governmental structure and corporate structures. There is ranking and hierarchy and chain of command implied in the term. We want to limit God, in order to understand better. My God is bigger than gender.

    Your anaylsis of making God in our human image rather than making humans in God’s image is profound.

    • Good point. Originally the idea of the Trinity was not hierarchical. Centuries of being co-opted by patriarchal culture has led to the ranking and chain of command concepts around the Trinity. Celtic work can lead us toward a healthier concept.

  • “Perhaps, in the end, the better question is not ‘Is God male?’ but rather, ‘Are we men like God?’ and ‘Are we women like God?'”

    It’s a bit circular in the end, because if male is still defining God, we have a male standard we’re looking at when we ask if we are like God or not. For example, do we emphasize transcendence in our theology–God’s omnipotence, impassibility, etc., or do we have an understanding of God shaped by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, which ultimately may have more or at least as many feminine gender characteristics as masculine?

    Language matters, and that’s where using feminine pronouns along with masculine ones can begin to shake up some of our white/male/man upstairs God images. When we can *only* refer to God in masculine terms, we are stuck in masculine idolatry. Our language is forever saying, “Yes, God is male,” even if that’s not what we mean to communicate. Using “She” is going to offend–but not forever. There is way more discussion about this than even two years ago. Things are changing as people like you have the courage to write articles like these. We just need to go further. (Please see my website, The Mother God Experiment, for my own thoughts the past two years as I have worked to become free of the image of God as white and male).

    • Thanks Susan. Yes, we seem to be caught in a conundrum with language, because at some level all language fails us. Even when we want to escape our finite and sinful tendencies of putting God in a box, we then use words like “transcendence” which in the end can only mean the opposite of what we know (thus still, negatively, dependent on what we know). I think the focus on Jesus is, indeed, the way to go. He didn’t seem to allow gender stereotypes to limit how he thought about God and people.

      The pronoun thing is tough . . . I’m nowhere near done thinking it through. So, I’m hesitant to comment. On a theoretical level, I have no problem with it at all, since God is beyond gender the pronoun doesn’t really matter. But, where I hesitate is, I think, the following: I don’t think the Bible is trying to make a gender or biological sex point when it uses masculine pronouns for God. But when I go to use feminine or other pronouns it seems that my motivation is to used sexed, gendered terms for God (to equal out sexual/gender inequality). Then, it feels a bit strange to me. I also worry about simply replacing masculine stereotypes with feminine ones by simply swapping baggage-laden pronouns. On the other hand, maybe this is part of the risk we need to take to deconstruct and reconstruct our language for God? I guess, in the end, I’m open but cautious . . . and appreciate being challenged to think more deeply about it. Thank you.

      • Thanks for your reply, Patrick. I appreciate your openness; that’s where change begins. I think you’re right; no one consciously set out to construct God in a masculine image in the Bible, but that’s what happened. We’ve come to see the masculine as the neutral zone for pronouns because masculine is standard, normal, etc.; feminine pronouns must be making a special point. We may feel that way for some time as we start to experiment. And we don’t need to swap pronouns–who in the evangelical church is going to completely quit calling God “He”? It’s reflexive. Lauren Winner, author of Wearing God, says that she believes we should use both “He” and “She” for God at different times. It’s uncomfortable for her, she admits, but she tries it out now and again in her book, because she believes “the uncomforting is holy and blessed.” I agree.

      • “…since God is beyond gender the pronoun doesn’t really matter….”

        But it does matter in that ‘he’ is no longer the inclusive pronoun it may once have been – except when it wasn’t. When we teach children and refer to God as ‘he’ they get a male picture of their Creator.

    • One more thing I remembered after posting the response. When I make that comment at the end, I intentionally focus on matters of character, rather than gender stereotypes or cultural roles.

  • The article says,
    “….this implies that it is only together, as both male and female, that we reflect God’s full image”

    I’d be careful about suggesting this sort of thing, because many Christians are already very marriage focused to the point they denigrate singleness, and suggest that an unmarried women is not fully in God’s image, or is somehow lacking, because she does not have a husband to “complete” her.

    Unmarried women are already 100% in God’s image, they don’t need a husband or another man in their life to make them totally in God’s image, in other words.

    I am unsure if we are permitted to put in links in the comments or not, so rather than try that, I will give you the article title, and you can Google for this:

    “It Doesn’t Take the Combination of Male and Female to Image God ”
    It is located on the Sarah J. O’Connor blog.
    Her blog’s sub-heading: “The Importance of Being Human: A Christian Perspective” and the post I am referring to above is from December 2016.

    • Great point! O’Connor’s piece is excellent. Much food for thought.

      • Thanks for the comment. I agree with you, on marriage and singleness, but point out that I wan’t talking about marriage.

        I do think that male and female are connected to the divine image, because in (exegetical) context image is connected to the mandate directly following: be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and have stewardship over it. The solitary ‘adam cannot do this alone (Gen 2). God had created humankind (‘adam), in the divine image, male and female God created them.

        Saying that both male and female are necessary to fulfill the divine image is not the same as saying that only married people image God. I certainly reject the latter.

  • “God is characterized by both male and female qualities.” Huh?

    Are there male and female qualities, male and female roles, or are these culturally determined and ever shifting? You addressed this somewhat but then drifted off a bit into complementarianism?

    Am I ontologically female in my “soul” (Mt 22:30), or does my gender merely inform what I am becoming?

    We shouldn’t say women are more loving or whatever. That is insulting to men. There is a lot of room under those bell-shaped curves for all sorts of qualities for the various genders. (Are there only two genders or is there a continuum?)

    God is not limited by our notions of gender. God is not limited by gender. Not at all.

    Impressive article. Thanks

    • Thanks Violet. I don’t think I said anything that contradicts this. I had meant this sentence to qualify all that was said about ‘male’ and ‘female’ roles and attributes: “The point is not that these tasks are inherently feminine, but that Scripture appeals to common culturally feminine roles to depict God.”

      Again, we’re constrained by language. If I don’t have some idea of what ‘maleness’ is, the very question of the post is incoherent. I tend to think of male-female as pointing to a kind of complementarity, but one that is without hierarchy and can’t be pinned down by stereotypes. Ultimately, there’s a kind of mystery and wonder to it, I think.

  • Thank you for speaking the truth on this matter.
    Recently, I commented on a Christian blog post saying that trying to place God in a gender simplifies him, and someone replied that I needed to “watch out for lightening storms”.
    It’s disturbing yet fascinating how intent people are to creating God in their image.

  • Oh this was such a great piece. One thing I have been pondering a lot in these years as a young mother is the idea of Christ giving spiritual birth to us. I think that this is one perspective that only women can offer the church. I wonder if the strong emphasis on the penal substitutionary atonement theory is that men have been the ones to articulate theology for so long (thinking of Girard’s work on sacrifice). Childbearing is radically different from the sacrifice system requiring the blood of the innocent in order to prevent ongoing violence between enemies. Instead, childbearing is the is the spilled blood of the willing in order to bring new life. (Here’s my further thoughts on it, if you want to read/critique them. )

    At any rate, I am bookmarking this one for a quick go-to when this topic comes up as you’ve summarized the answer so well. Thanks!

  • I wholeheartedly believe that God is either both male and female or he is neither, but I never know what words to use. I still say “He” and “Him” even though that’s not what I believe. I can’t use female pronouns because that’s just the same thing (not to mention people would look at me like I’m nuts or a pagan because way too many Christians won’t let go of the idea of a male being). Sigh.

    • I share your sigh, Anna. In class, I usually try to say “God”, but repeating “God” over and over gets, well, repetitive and words like Godself seem so forced and cumbersome.

      Language is certainly limiting. This is why I think our use of imagery (making full use of Scripture’s diversity here) is better than settling on a pronoun. Also, seeking to deconstruct stereotypical uses of sex and gender can be helpful too. So, whether we use masculine or feminine words, both need to be deconstructed and reinterpreted in light of God’s self-revelation to us. So, God is “Father,” but not like any father we know. He is the true Father, showing human fathers what they should emulate. Same goes for God’s Mother-like qualities.

  • You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; 
    you forgot the God who gave you birth.  
    Deut 32:18 NIV

    Thanks for this reflection. No, Godde is not male. Godde is Spirit. Not having mortal limitations. As we continue to move past the blind spots reflected and perpetuated by using exclusively masculine language, let us work toward using words which honor Godde as both male and female. As Father and Mother, our Beloved Parent who is reflected equally in men and women.

    And while Jesus was born male, was the essence of the incarnation about being male or about being human?

  • Good article. Now I’m wondering …Are our human spirits (not the Holy Spirit within a believer), neither male or female? Like God is neither male or female but Spirit. I’m thinking of Galatians 3:28 and Matthew 22:30. Meaning, the spirit of a person which resides in a human body, is only looked upon as male or female because of which body (flesh) it it placed in. I’m female due to the body my spirit is in, but if I were created with a male body I would be male but I’m thinking….wouldn’t my spirit’s disposition (the real me) be the same regardless of which body it was placed in? Any thoughts?

    • I think we want to be careful about dividing the human person up too neatly. Most biblical scholars today emphasize that the person is a spirit-body unity. The “spirit” or “soul” or whatever, is not reducible to something inside us (like a ghost in a machine), but refers to the non-physical aspect of our existence. So, the real me is a holistic body/soul unity. I lean toward the view that the immaterial part of us is emergent upon (and inherently linked to) our physicality (whether it can transcend and exist, subsequently, separately . . . is a whole other conversation!).

      I’m not fully sure what I think of the “human spirit”. I tend to think, for simplicity’s sake, that there are two basic dimensions to our existence: a physical or material dimension and a spiritual or soulish dimension. The Bible uses lots of terms to speak about that nonphysical (or emergent supra-physical) dimension: spirit, heart, will, mind, soul, etc. They can be used synonymously or highlight subtle emphases with respect to our inner selves . . . but they are not separate “substances”, so to speak.

      • Thanks for the reply. I don’t fully understand the subtle differences between soul and spirit which is why I left the word “soul” out in my comment as I wasn’t sure just how that all fit in. You gave me much to think about! 😀

  • This is good. Believe it or not this question came up at our Bible Study this weekeend. I’m sharing with the group since you expressed what I said far better than I could have.

  • Missing from this analysis is that in Aramaic and in Hebrew the Holy Spirit is gendered female. So when Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit it was in the feminine.

    Jesus was a feminist. In a highly patriarchal society where women were enslaved as the Life Bearers with no rights He spoke to them, celebrated them and stood up for their rights as human beings. It was Mary Magdalene “The Apostle to the Apostles” who announce the Good News of the risen Christ.

    Jesus the man was born male. In Mary’s womb as a “human” He was stripped of the ability to physically bear and nurture new life. On earth man can only help in the creation of new human life through woman. Can we accept that we all come from an all male God and continue to interpret Scripture so that the female was His creation but not his equal?

    Christ is the perfect balance of female and male. We need to shift language in order to honor the 50% of the population who are the Life Givers. Those that give life through their bodies and their nurturing.

    The word “Lord” has no history from Jesus’s time. Shifting the Bible into Latin stripped women of their spiritual center. I believe that we need to reevaluate the language, teaching, preaching and mythology in light of the fact that women need to be equally honored and respected.

    • Thanks for the comment. Lots here to think about.

      On the Spirit as ‘gendered,’ see my comments to Virginia elsewhere in the discussion. I don’t think that’s a fruitful way to go (my Old Testament colleague, an expert in Hebrew, is even more insistent on this point).

      Jesus was a ‘feminist’ – yes, I like this (though I put the word in quotation marks, because it’s a modern term).

      Was Jesus stripped of the capability to reproduce? I don’t think so. With early church writers, such as Gregory of Nazianzus, I affirm that Jesus was fully human in every since (except without sin), entering fully into all that it is to be human. For, as Gregory tells us, “what Christ has not assumed, he has not healed.” I don’t he needed to be both sexes (and more) to do this, but he did have to take on the particularity of a fully sexed body. A sexed body does not diminish his glorious divinity, but it elevates our humanity.

      I wouldn’t speak of the human Jesus as both male and female. But I wouldn’t for that reason hesitate to use female analogies to talk about Jesus. A very interesting example is Julian of Norwich, who referred to Christ as “Mother”! She was not making a point about sex or gender though, but a soteriological (salvation) analogy. For more on that, see my essay on Julian here:

      • Yes, I am definitely more insistent on this point 😊.The “genderedness” of Hebrew nouns is a function of how the language works, not tied to the genderedness of the object per se. same as in French: la table doesn’t mean tables are female. Just categories into how nouns change as they pluralize etc

  • You should also look into the Hebrew word for Holy Spirit, Ruwach. It is actually a feminine noun. And also in the chapter where Jesus tells the parables of the Prodigal Son, a picture of the Father, the Good Shepherd, a picture of the Son, and the final parable, the woman who lost her money, a picture of the Holy Spirit. Great article! Very interesting indeed. I have had similar ideas about God myself.

    • Thanks Virginia. This idea is fairly common, but not a good exegetical strategy. Linguistic gender (e.g., masculine and feminine nouns) are not related to either biological sex or to sociological notion of ‘gender’. For example, the French word for “chair,” “la chaise,” is feminine. But this has nothing to do with a chair having biological sex or being female in a cultural sense. Same goes for ruach in Hebrew (incidentally, the Greek word for Spirit, pneuma, is neuter).

      But, certainly, feminine images and functions are associated with the Spirit (water, birth, etc.). These point to a stronger argument that God is beyond gender. This doesn’t mean that the Spirit simply IS female (we’d then run into the same problems of importing stereotypes of femininity into the Spirit), but that the Bible describes God with both masculine and feminine imagery.

  • Genesis 1:27Amplified Bible (AMP)

    27 So God created man in His own image, in the image and likeness of God He created him; male and female He created THEM.
    I believe BOTH sexes have qualities that represent the Godhead and that women were a part of God’s plan from the beginning. Women weren’t an afterthought.

  • Thanks for this teaching.

    Another aspect is that God is said to be like animals and even objects (other created things). This most certainly does NOT mean God is an animal or a rock!

    One way to phrase things is that sex is a part of Creation. When the Word entered Creation and became incarnate, it was necessary that a sex be assigned to the Word as part of his flesh.

  • I’ve always liked this: “In Hebrew the word for Spirit (רוה) (ruach) is feminine, (which is used in the Hebrew Bible, as is the feminine word “shekhinah” used in rabbinical writings, to indicate the presence of God, س”

  • Thank you for bringing it back to the nature of God and the Trinitarian relationship.

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