Skip to comments.Masculine God, Feminine Spirit? (Should we think of God as male or female)
Posted on 02/09/2012 10:27:16 AM PST by SeekAndFind
John Piper, at a recent pastors conference, declared, "God has given Christianity a masculine feel." This is based, for Piper, on several things: God is revealed in the Bible in male images (king and father). The second person of the Trinity is named as "Son" and is incarnated as a man. The 12 apostles were men, and men are declared to be the heads of the church and home.
But has God really "given Christianity a masculine feel"? Or has Christianity given God a masculine feel?
Granted, there are plenty of male-oriented images, allusions, and references in Scripture that are male-oriented. (And it doesn't surprise anyone to learn that the Bible's authors are mostly if not exclusively men writing in mainly patriarchal contexts). "Father" and "Son" are unmistakably male references. The term "masculine," however, is an ambiguous, socially constructed, and culturally dependent concept. As Scot McKnight points out, the Greek word for "masculine" (andreia) never properly appears in the New Testament.
But I want to focus on another issue. Piper rests his argument on the idea that God is revealed in male terms and images. God (Yahweh) is the eternal "Father" and the eternal "Son of God" becomes incarnate as a human male in Jesus of Nazareth. What do we make of this language? Is "Father" and "Son" supposed to be interpreted literally, or do these terms denote the familiarity and intimacy of the relationship itself? Here we are flung headlong into a debate regarding the nature of religious language. Piper's literalistic hermeneutic involves a univocal view of language, whereby "Father" becomes exclusive of anything "feminine" and is used to prioritize the male over the female. It's a handy move if you want to retain patriarchy.
But is God actually gendered as male and therefore exclusively or primarily masculine (whatever that might actually mean)? Any literal ascription of gender to the eternal divine being (think "ontological Trinity") has generally been ruled quite out of bounds in Christian orthodoxy. Notions like divine simplicity, unboundedness, and incorporeality, long have prevented theologians from taking gender references to God literally.
In the incarnation, the Second Person of the Trinity quite literally becomes in-fleshed in the Jewish, male body of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians rightly take joy and comfort in the particularity of the incarnation for, in Jesus, God was and is healing and reconciling the world. What is not assumed is not healed; therefore God becomes a particular human being in order to redeem humanity. The Jewish flesh of Jesus makes sense given that Jesus was to be the Messiah and his mission was to announce and embody the kingdom for Israel and on behalf of the world. But nothing suggests that the incarnation required male flesh for our salvation. Perhaps, as some have suggested, the Logos became a man because, to become incarnate as a woman, and to sacrifice oneself for the world as a woman, would have been rather unsurprising and unremarkable to first-century observers. That's just what women do. But when this Jewish Rabbi willingly set aside his "rights" and his power for the salvation of humanity, he made quite an impression (Phil 2:1-11).
Furthermore, according to orthodox theology, we must be careful when conceptually transferring from the human particularity of Jesus to his divine nature. The Council of Chalcedon asserts the two natures of Jesus are related "without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence." The human nature of Jesus, having the particularity of male humanity, does not imply that the divine nature of Jesus became distinctively male -- or most certainly"masculine." The incarnation, by the logic of the creed, does not imply that "God is male." Furthermore, we should keep in mind that Jesus' male body was resurrected and ascended to God. Do we have any idea what bodily resurrection and ascension imply for gender particularity?
Also, has Piper forgotten the Holy Spirit? Irenaeus suggested memorably that the Son and the Spirit are the two hands of God in the world. If the Son causes us to think of God in terms of maleness and "masculinity" (which, again, is a constructed notion), then the Spirit might draw our attention to more "feminine" aspects of God. The Spirit (ruach in the Old Testament and pneuma in the New) suggests creative and re-creative (nurturing, sustaining, and life-giving) activities. "Ruach," in fact, is grammatically feminine. In Genesis 1, the Spirit hovers over the waters and gives life to human and animals. The Spirit re-creates the earth (Isaiah 44:3), the Spirit comforts (Jn. 14), teaches (Lk. 12:12) and heals. Images of the Spirit in the Bible include breath, wind, and wisdom (the latter is often personified in Scripture as female).
The prevalence of what could be seen as female allusions in Scripture's depiction of the Spirit led some early Christians to refer to the Holy Spirit in explicitly female language. Consider this one: "By baptism we receive the Spirit of Christ, and at that moment when the priests invoke the Spirit, she opens the heavens and descends and hovers over the waters, and those who are baptized put her on" (Aphrahat's Demonstration 6:14). Several medieval theologians were rather creative with gender distinctions in the Godhead, certainly allowing for a female dimension in God. But while some early Christians were happy to speak of the Spirit as "she," the Spirit is conveniently neglected in these discussions of "God and masculinity." As Elizabeth Johnson pointed out in She Who Is, the marginalization of the Spirit in the church corresponds to the marginalization of women in the church.
So, if one wants to speak in terms of "masculine" and "feminine" traits in Scripture and in God, one should do so hesitantly. Our talk about God must always take into account the mystery of God and the anthropomorphic nature of theological languageyes, even Scripture's inspired language. To the degree that the terms "masculine" and "feminine" are helpful distinctions, the two hands of God in Jesus and the Spirit ought to inspire gender inclusivity and equality. We should not make a habit of saying that God is, in any literal sense, either male or female.
In any case, if one wants to insist that Jesus was "masculine," remember that Jesus redefines what it means to be a human, and therefore what it means to be male and female. We dare not define Jesus' "masculinity" in the image of our culture's ideals. Furthermore, if Jesus is "masculine," then let's agree that the Spirit is "feminine." We, male and female together, are created in the image of the Triune God; God is not created in our image.
God has not given us Christianity with a masculine feel. Rather, Christianity has created a God with a masculine feel, to the extent we have forgotten that (1) God is not literally gendered (except in the incarnation) and (2) The Spirit and the Sonthe two hands of Godsuggest an inclusiveness that affirms the diversity in human creation and values equally, not just both sexes, but all configurations and combinations, in individual persons, of what society has traditionally called "feminine" and "masculine."
-- Kyle Roberts is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Lead Faculty of Christian Thought, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul, MN). He researches and writes on issues related to the intersection of theology, philosophy, and culture
“The only way to the FATHER is through ME”
God was considered masculine long before Christianity.
Except when He was a goddess...
Why lessen God by considering male or female?
> Kyle Roberts is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology
Systematic Theology is one of the most consistent threats to Living Faith. Faith is not an intellectual exercise, nor an academic pursuit.
Look, what was Jesus? Male or female?
Is the Holy Spirit referred to as He or She? Forget that the word for spirit is feminine in the Hebrew and neuter in the Greek. Is the pronoun for the Holy Spirit masculine or feminine?
Does not Jesus Himself refer to God the Father?
Who was formed first, Adam or Eve?
This “theologian” should meditate on the words of “Jesus Loves Me”. There’s more accurate theology in that children’s hymn than anything written in the article.
Probably more like...’has the bible really “given Christianity a masculine feel”? Or has Christianity given the bible a masculine feel?’
We should think of God as He has revealed Himself through the Scriptures. In critical ways, this self-revelation is masculine, as Father and Son. However, He has also, at times, chosen to use maternal imagery for Himself, so He clearly has qualities that we consider “feminine.”
The fact that human beings were created in the image and likeness of God, male and female He created them, tells us that both maleness and femaleness are necessary for humans fully to exemplify the image of God. However, God is not bound by our limited conceptions of “male,” “female,” or even “person.”
God is so powerful beyound our comprehension that God is more than likely beyond gender.
It would be like a bacteria trying to figure out what version of windows a computer is running.
God’s Gender is Pure Love, I will stick with that answer for now.
Yes...one of the maternal references:
Mat 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, [thou] that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under [her] wings, and ye would not!
Since they are “one”, I have no problem with Jesus referring to himself as a mother hen.
Interesting too, Scripture refers to the nature of the Father and Son more than the nature of the HS...
“She” IS somewhat mysterious after all - just the way daddy ‘warned’ me :)
I like your comment. God tells us that he is the only one and there is no other like him.
This "Theologian" has confused the WORD of YHVH andshalom b'SHEM Yah'shua HaMashiach
the heresy created at Nicea by the Roman Pontiff Constantine.
It has been the norm since at least the Cappadocian Fathers for Christians to insist that God transcends all binary distinctions, even the distinction between being and non-being, and surely the distinction between male and female or masculine and feminine.
On the other hand, there is a reason, I think why, for our sakes, God has chosen to “gender” His self-revelation, and it has nothing to do with traditional gender roles or “social construction” of anything: those who conceive of the deity as female, are invariably drawn to thinking of creation as birth-giving, thereby effacing the radical distinction between the Uncreated and the created.
Such questions attempt to bring God down to our level. God is great. He is above all. He made His son to be like us so to save us from ourselves. How can we say God has our traits?
And, frankly, it doesn’t matter one whit. God is God. We are unable to understand all that He is. So be it.
Should we think of God as male or female?
Just think of God——always.
Jesus’s choosing to use a simile that references motherhood, or God’s inspiring a prophet or psalmist with a female image, doesn’t affect the basic identity of Father and Son, particularly with Jesus’s having an unquestionably male human body. It just reminds us that certain qualities of God are associated with motherhood, which I find inspiring, as a mother myself.
I thought “The_Reader_David’s” comment, above, was very perceptive.
It would seem that an Entity able to create ex nihilo would have little need for a procreative role. Just saying
“But is God actually gendered as male ...”
What a deceptive and stupid thing to say at this turn in the article. We’re talking about masculine, not male; gender, not sex.
-—those who conceive of the deity as female, are invariably drawn to thinking of creation as birth-giving, thereby effacing the radical distinction between the Uncreated and the created.-—
I am curious about your statement regarding God transcending Being and non-being. Can you clarify?
Catholics, in the Scholastic tradition, see God’s Essence as Existence Itself, or Being. Non-being doesn’t exist, except as a logical concept. In that sense, it can be said to exist, and that which exists, even as an idea, must exist in the Mind of God.
“...the radical distinction between the Uncreated and the created.”
David - what is the distinction?
Doesn’t the Bible say that G-d is spirit (not a spirit)?
I forget which of the Cappadocian Fathers said “I believe in God, God does not exist.” The point is that when we think of Being (existing) or its negation “non-Being” (not existing) what we think of does not apply to God. The distinction is a merely created one, and not applicable to God. (In the East, we regard “seeing” God’s Essence as anything as mistaken and likely a step on the road to delusion.)
I think it better to keep silence before that mystery. No explanation of the distinction between the Uncreated and the created will explain it.
I always say, a world with boogers and flatulence could never have been created by a woman.
Systematic Theology is one of the most consistent threats to Living Faith. Faith is not an intellectual exercise, nor an academic pursuit.
No actually the most consistent threat to (Christian) living faith is 1. speaking in public on topics of which one knows nothing about, and 2. Stating opinion as fact.
Before you tell other people what they should do, you might consider finding out what systematic theologuy is all about and learn to spot a liberal by their theology. You might be interested in knowing that a lot of greats in the faith are/were systematic theologians. It is a lack of systematic theology that allows the cults to thrive, the "sign gifters" to do what ever feels right at the moment and in some respects gives Rome her ability to contradict herself theologically and keep her members in line.
I would submit to you that the only consistent threat to the faith is a lack of Biblical literacy.
I don’t think Jesus referred to himself AS a mother hen, i.e
that he WAS a mother hen, but that the act of protection
and love and nurturing AS SEEN with a Mother Hen is the
way He would love you. Human men also protect their children,
but not necessarily as tender as human woman do.
Using the term “masculine” when referring to God is problematic,
He is much greater than man (immeasurably), but it is a
reasonable way(though certainly incomplete) to describe some of his
attributes. Fortunately He doesn’t alway behave like men, (i.e. He forgives, and
even blesses people who, while on this earth, hate Him(at least
until the final judgement).
OK, David, but it’s not exactly kosher to use a concept to make an argument and then demur when asked to define the concept.
I remain uninformed, and now slightly piqued.
Well yes, I would insist was masculine. You know beard, son, man, all that. But how “redefine what it means to be human”? People confused humans with cabbages? or chipmunks?
Spirit is feminine? If not masculine why feminine?
Male and female in the image of triune God? We have three heads?
Professors of Theology must feel the need to crank out babble to justify their pay. Better they mopped the floors or bussed tables in the cafeteria.
Yet we will continue to fight each other over our beliefs in God...
In other words, this newchurchgirlyboi clown isn't worthy to tie John Piper's shoes, let alone lecture him about the the Christian "invention" of a masculine God. Yuk.
It’s not every day you see a guy “make it personal” AND ping the mod to the post in which he does it.
Any one who has to even wonder about it, much less deny it does not believe in God any way so why even bother with it.
I’m sorry, but the Eastern in Eastern Orthodox Christianity is a bit stronger than just simple geography. I sometimes like to tell people I’m a adherent of an Eastern religion, and when they ask which one, replying “Christianity”. (Look up the word “apophatic”. It won’t explain the radical distinction between the Uncreated and the created, but you’ll understand why I’m wrote as I did, and won’t attempt explanation.)
One reason would be God's revelation of Himself, through Jesus Christ, as "Father." Clearly the distinction was important enough to Jesus that he used a word with gender (in the grammatical sense) rather than "parent," "ancestor," "progenitor," or another word of neuter gender.
A non-Christian believer in God, of course, would probably not find this point very relevant!
It seems that it should be a fairly short debate:
Q: How did Jesus describe God?
A: As his father
With that I can agree 100%.
But, Faith is not based on scholarly dissection of the Bible or any "system". It is rather by introspective and prayerful reading thereof that we grow in Faith. The Biblically astute will not be swayed by the signs and wonders crowd (A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign) or the cultists and false prophets.
While there were many "systematic theologian" who were champions of living Faith, and who doubtless were filled with the Spirit, there are also many who were bloody tyrants and cult leaders.
I just read the Bible. I try to do what I can understand. What I don't understand, I leave to the Holy Spirit to reveal in His Time. And He does, a little bit at a time.
Let me quote from the Pilgrim Fathers who wrote the Mayflower Compact.
It is great arrogance for any man or Church to think that he or they have so sounded the word of God to the bottom as to be able to set down precisely a Church's practices without error in substance or circumstance, and in such a way that no one thereafter may digress or differ from them with impunity.
From Of Plymouth Plantation, by William Bradford.
Human nature after the Fall.
It’s just playing out as He knows it will. Can’t be any different.
Yep, just think, 10000y ago God knew how people would be going to war and killing each other over how they worship and understand Him.
G-d does not have a body so G-d cannot be a male or a female. G-d is unseen. This is spelled out clearly in the Hebrew Scriptures.
G-d is not a MAN that He should lie,nor a mortal that He should change His mind.(Numbers 23:19)
You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens,with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the L-rd spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw NO IMAGE; there was only a voice. (Deut.4:11-12)