Is G-d a 'She'?

20 August 2016

A friend of mine recently asked if I had ever heard the claim that one of the Hebrew names of G-d (שַׁדָּי shaddai) meant "many-breasted one" or that this name revealed the female/goddess aspect of G-d.  I had never heard anything like it, so I investigated this idea and (not surprisingly) discovered it has some severe flaws.

 

Problem #1 is Language

The substance of this claim is rooted in the idea that shaddai stems from the Hebrew word שַׁד (shad).  While shad does mean "breast", shad is a masculine Hebrew noun that does not carry the same predominantly feminine connotation that it does in modern Western culture.  For those unfamiliar with human anatomy, men have breasts, too, albeit of different form and function.  But that's not even the problem. 

The word shaddai doesn't stem from the root shad, it stems from shadad (שָׁדַד) which means to be burly and (in a figurative sense) powerful.  How can we be sure?  Let's examine history.

For over 1,600 years shaddai has been translated into Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, German, and English as "Almighty" or its language-appropriate equivalent.  The Latin Vulgate translated shaddai into omnipotens which is the origin of our English word "omnipotent".  The word shaddai is used forty-eight times in the Tanakh, and every one of them is rendered as "Almighty" in at least twenty-seven different Bible translations*.

There are no translations (none, zero, nada) that render shaddai as "many-breasted one".

 

Problem #2 is Logic

Even if the word shaddai were feminine (it is not) and even if it were related to breasts (it is not) that would not mean that G-d is a woman or a goddess.

Civilizations across the globe view many character traits as feminine: grace, mercy, hope, compassion, charity, etc.  These words have such a feminine connotation that we even use them as names for our daughters!  Now imagine a hulking, burly, 6-foot 5-inch, 300-pound Norwegian manly-man named Karl.  Even if he were gracious, merciful, hopeful, compassionate, or charitable, such behavior does not make Karl a woman.

In the same way, when G-d exhibits a character trait we view as feminine it does not mean G-d is a woman (or a goddess) either.

 

Problem #3 is Paganism

Yet another issue with claiming Shaddai means "many-breasted one" is that this term has only ever used in the ancient pantheistic worship of the false goddesses Cybele (Phrygian), Artemis (Greek), and Diana (Roman).  [Side note: Acts 19:23-41 does mention Artemis.]  There are no historical references (none, zero, nada) that call the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the "many-breasted one".  It is an entirely pagan label.

 

Problem #4 is Self-Revelation

I've saved the biggest problem for last.  Consider this verse from Paul's letter to the Romans:

For since the creation of the world [G-d's] invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

 

Creation, itself, declares the concepts of power and divinity.  The universe exists therefore there must be One who created it.  The creation is unfathomably large and contains an enormous amount of energy; therefore, the Creator must be even greater and more powerful.  Every god or goddess we've invented includes these ideas.  Humanity has created eagle-headed gods with wings because the power of flight was beyond our grasp.  We've created elephant-headed gods because of their great size and strength.  Humanity has even worshiped the sun, moon, and stars. <facepalm>

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.(Psalm 19:1-4 NIV)

 

The heavens shout to us that there is a G-d and yet throughout history, humanity has consistently failed in our attempts to describe or understand G-d.  Why?  What was missing?

The Word of G-d was missing!

G-d spoke directly to Abram (Gen 12:1), Moses (Ex 16:11), Jeremiah (Jer 33:23), and Ezekiel (Eze 5:1) and revealed His person, character, and intentions to them.  The person of G-d, His character and His will, are revealed to us by the Word and ultimately in the Word made flesh, the Messiah Yeshua.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  (Hebrews 1:1-2)

 

Philip asked Christ "show us the Father" (John 14:8) and He responded, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9)  We should only seek to understand G-d based upon the Word because "all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness..." (2 Tim 3:16).

G-d only describes Himself in ways that are true and accurate.  So what do we find in His Word?

Persistent masculine reference: God's revelation of Himself is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

He uses Father (not Mother); He uses Son (not Daughter); and He uses the personal pronoun "He" (not "She") to refer to the Holy Spirit (see John 14:26, Romans 8:26-27, etc.).  G-d's special names (e.g. YHVH, Elohim, Adonai, Kurios, Theos, etc.) are all masculine.  Although He uses feminine similes and metaphors to describe what He is like (e.g. Isaiah 42:14), He stops far short of saying that He is female.  He never chooses a feminine name or refers to Himself in Scripture using a feminine pronoun.

It only makes sense for G-d to describe Himself in masculine terms because He also describes His special covenant people as His "bride".  The entire metaphor of marriage to a bride completely breaks if G-d were female.

G-d uses masculine references when describing Himself.  If we honor Him and respect Him, then we should use the same labels He uses to describe Himself.  If we intentionally disregard His revelation to us and claim that "He" is also a "She" then "we make Him a liar and His word is not in us." (1 John 1:10).  May it never be!

Instead, may we yield to the work of the Spirit in our lives, "testing the spirits to see whether they are from G-d" (1 John 4:1), and become conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

Shabbat shalom!

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Footnotes

* Here are 27 different translations of Scripture that render shaddai as "Almighty" (or its Spanish, French, Italian, or German equivalent) that I have found:

  • American Standard Version (1901 English)
  • Elberfelder (1905 German)
  • English Standard Version (2001 English)
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible (2004 English)
  • La Biblia de las Américas (1986 Spanish)
  • Louis Segond (1910 French)
  • Luther (1912 German)
  • New American Standard Bible (1995 English)
  • Nueva Biblia Latinoamericana de Hoy (2015 Spanish)
  • New International Version (2011 English)
  • New King James Version (1982 English)
  • New Revised Standard Version (1988 English)
  • Reina-Valera (1909 Spanish)
  • Schlachter (1951 German)
  • Douay-Rheims Bible (1610 English)
  • Jewish Publication Society (1985 English)
  • The Amplified Bible (2015 English)
  • Bishops' Bible (1602 English)
  • Darby (1890 English)
  • King James Version (1611 English)
  • Nouvelle Edition de Genève (1979 French)
  • Nuova Riveduta (1994 Italian)
  • English Revised Version (2016 English)
  • Today's New International Version (2006 English)
  • World English Bible (2000 English)
  • Webster Bible (1883 English)
  • Young's Literal Translation (1862 English)

 

Reputable sources in Semitic languages and Biblical Hebrew confirm shaddai = "Almighty":

  • The Hebrew Strong’s Dictionary identifies the origin of shaddai as shadad (שָׁדַד) which means to be burly, or (figuratively) powerful
  • The Brown-Driver-Briggs says shaddai’s origin is uncertain but has the meaning of "self-sufficient" or "almighty"
  • The Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Jenni-Westermann) defines shaddai as "the Powerful, Strong One," from the root shadad

 

About four hundred years before the Messiah was born, Jewish translators rendered the Hebrew text into Greek.  In their translation (the Septuagint), they considered the Hebrew word shaddai so special and unique that they were only able to translate four instances of it into the genderless Greek adjective ἱκανός (hikanos,  able one, worthy one): Ruth 1:20, Job 21:15, Job 31:2, and Job 40:2.

If shaddai meant "breasts" or something feminine, then they could have easily chosen from many possible Greek words... but they did not.

 

Last modified on 02 January 2017
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