Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Can God be referred to in the feminine?

Can God be referred to in the feminine?

The post-modern/emergent method of interpreting scripture makes a number of incorrect postmodern assumptions and therefore leads people astray into all kinds of error. The latest example of this I found in the 'South African Emerging Church conversation' is referring to God in the feminine. Not that all emergents do this, but it is another example of how the movement leads people into error and tolerance of it.

Postmodernism and the Emerging Church assume amongst other things:
* The scripture is unclear on all sorts of issues where it is in fact clear. This leaves us free to doubt, question and speculate endlessly about even the fundamentals of theology.
* Belief is a personal and subjective opinion (rather certain truths being absolute) and we should respect eachothers opinions.
* We should refrain from saying that anyone else's opinion is wrong - meaning that errrant beliefs are not corrected.

Tim writes: "I've adopted "Godde" as it is comfortably spoken as "God" - fitting easier into language - and a suitable amalgamation of God and Goddess and being much less clumsy in writing than "God/Goddess" or "God/-ess". I retain "S/He" where it fits and also make use of both "He" and "She" in other places, according to context."

Now to respond briefly to the various arguments raised on the blog links above:

* God has revealed himself as Father (not mother) and Jesus revealed himself in human form as a man (not a woman).

* Yes, I accept the argument that the image of God is shown in both male and female as a unity (as in Genesis 1-2) and not man alone. Nevertheless, I don't believe this permits us to refer to God equally as masculine and feminine. Had this been God's intention one would have found interchangable male and female references in the Bible (which one does not).

* Yes, I accept that prior to the incarnation of Christ taking on human form, God did not have a human physical body and in that sense cannot be male. Nevertheless, this is not an excuse to refer to him in the feminine. Rather the earthly concept of gender revealed in creation is a reflection of the mysterious relationship between men (human beings male and female) and God - in which God always takes the masculine (leadership role) and we take the following feminine role (or sometimes the childl following the father role). That is the pattern of the images of God and Israel and the images of the Church (Ephesians 5).

* The feminists would probably protest that assumption of human gender roles, but that is probably why they attack the gender references to God. Nevertheless, I understand the above quoted writer says he does not base his argument on feminism.

* To respond to the argument that gender ceases in heaven because there is no marriage in heaven: Yes, true, there is no marriage between people in heaven, but there is the macro scale marriage between the people of God (the bride of Christ - female) and Christ (male). Earthly marriages are just a shadow of this great mysterious cosmic marriage. So from this perspective, the gender references to God and Christ continue to be relevant.

* To respond to the argument that Christ ceases to be male, but becomes somehow both genders after his resurrection. I don't know where you get this idea from the Bible? Jesus physical body was the same physical body he had before his resurrection. It could still eat food, talk and be touched. There was no physical body left behind in the grave. It was the same body, but now glorified. Jesus in Revelation is referred to as a king - not a queen. This idea should be dismissed.

* To respond to the argument about references to feminine characterists of God in scripture. These are all in the poetic form of a simile i.e. 'God is like'. They do not say 'God is'. As a generalisation, women are better nurturers than men and tend to be more caring etc. Nevertheless, if a man happens to have such characteristics it does not then make him female.

* All God's names in the Bible are masculine.

Nevertheless, this is only one example of an errant Emerging Church belief. There are thousands of others. But if one starts with the wrong assumptions, then one will end up with a variety of wrong conclusions. Therefore I argue that postmodernism is dangerous when used as a lens to interpret scriptural doctrine and ethics.


Roger Saner said...

"Thousands" of emerging church errors? And you've only just started researching the conversation? Wow! This thing must be BAD!!! You have your work cut out for you! (end tongue-in-cheek-ness)

2 things to respond to your post.

1 - I don't think Tim is in error when referring to G-d in the feminine. If he were *only* to refer to G-d in the feminine, he would miss out on G-d's masculine characteristics, just like if we only refer to G-d in the masculine, we miss out on his feminine characteristics (like Jesus referring to gathering Jerusalem under his wings like a hen gathers her chicks).

This leads into hermeneutics: would it have been possible for the authors of the Bible to refer to G-d in *any other way* other than male? I don't think this possibility entered their consciousness, just like the abolition of slavery was not something which entered their minds.

The Bible has something like 70 names of G-d, because none of them adequate describe Him, and because not even all of them together capture Him. G-d is not female; He is not male. Both genders are an expression of his image, and since G-d allows us to speak of his transcendent self as if we are addressing a person, we then obviously have to pick a gender. Transcendent G-d is above any of our descriptions of Him, yet He allows us to choose words to attempt to point to Him.

2 - Jesus was male. Jesus remains male. I think Tim is wrong when he says that Jesus loses his gender when he ascended into heaven. That would deny that the resurrection body of Christ is truly fully human, that Jesus would keep his incarnated self (although it may imply that Jesus is some kind of male-female-in-one, although that would probably imply his resurrection body changing in ways that his disciples would surely havce noticed). Fully God, fully human.

As a side note, isn't it interesting, Philip, that even though I'm someone who you can accuse of using a postmodern hermeneutic, I just made a statement when I say someone else is wrong? Your task is to find out why and how I can say this, even within a postmodern framework. And this isn't because I'm borrowing from another ideology or system either - this sits quite comfortably within postmodernism.

Anonymous said...


I never said Jesus loses his gender and if you feel that's what I've said can you please reference?

It is in reference to Godde that I make use of "He", "She" and "S/He".

I prefer to focus on the fact that He is transformed and glorified - i.e. though he eats and is physical He does things out of the ordinary like appearing in a locked room suddenly, not always being recognisable by people who knew him, etc.

Whether He retains the full range of masculinity is questionable in light of the economy of creation, i.e. sex and procreation appear to be part of the current economy.

In referencing Jesus I tend to use the capitalised masculine as anyone can trace from my practice (i.e. "He").

As for what is to come, who really knows?

ChristianView said...

To respond to Tim Victor's request where he wrote the above
"As historical person Jesus was male, as risen LORD Jesus is transformed and remains embodied but just as S/He transcends the limitations of our bodies so too does S/He transcend the male gender S/He had prior to the resurrection. Jesus’ humanhood continues but Jesus’ manhood does not."

Roger Saner said...

@Tim: ja, it's the bit that Philip has just quoted, where you say that Jesus transcends gender - his humanhood continues but his gender doesn't.

I disagree! :) In terms of his resurrection body, we know very little about it, except that it looks like the pre-resurrection body and that it behaves in some new (impossible for us now) ways.

You wrote:
"Whether He retains the full range of masculinity is questionable in light of the economy of creation, i.e. sex and procreation appear to be part of the current economy."

That seems speculation on your part - I see no good reason why this wouldn't be the case.

As for sex and procreation being part of the current economy but not the future...let's hope not!

Anonymous said...

blogger sucks, i keep losing my comments.


Jesus' reference to us neither being given nor taken in marriage in the economy to come is surel linked to the fact that in OT and NT sex is linked to marriage.

Surel no marriage makes for no sex according to that logic? It would be mean of Godde to leave us unfulfilled for all eternity thinks you not!!!?

Anonymous said...

Philip & Roger,

To speak of the gender of Jesus as risen LORD being altered from what we understand masculinity to be now is far from a denial of His masculinity.

Further, to wrestle with a way of expressing that is likewise not a doctrinal statement but rather a reflective and speculative statement.

Whether one holds that there is a one-to-one relationship between His gender as resurrected to before is as speculative.

Enuff said.

Anonymous said...

Philip & Roger,

To speak of the gender of Jesus as risen LORD being altered from what we understand masculinity to be now is far from a denial of His masculinity.

Further, to wrestle with a way of expressing that is likewise not a doctrinal statement but rather a reflective and speculative statement.

To hold that there is a one-to-one relationship between His gender prior and post resurrection are equally speculative.

Perhaps the two of you could suggest a better or more articulate way of putting it? I assume I've clarified well enough what I'm referring to when commenting on Jesus transcending His masculinity from this economy?

Simply put, He goes from humanity 1.0 to humanity 2.0 in all areas. I assume we're all agreed on that?

ChristianView said...

To answer Tim's question about us being unfulfilled for all eternity because no marriage or sex in heaven:

No. There is marriage in heaven, but it is not like earthly marriage but is the mystical marriage between Christ and the church. 1 Corinthians 6:15-17 draws a parallel between earthly sex (even immoral sex) and our spiritual union with Christ.

1CO 6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 1CO 6:16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh." 1CO 6:17 But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

Therefore we will not be left unfulfilled, but will be very fulfilled in our spiritual union with Christ. Derek Prince has interpreted these verses to parallel the ecstacy of sexual intimacy with the ecstacy of our union with Christ in worship. So by this interpretation, worship will replace the intimacy function of sex in heaven.

Anonymous said...


My reference is to between a man and a woman - following Jesus' reference in the passage where the Sadducees try to trick Him about marriage.

Are we agreed on that or do you feel the need to continue dotting the "i's" and crossing the "t's"?

How in any way do you understand that to be a denial of the relationship between Christ and the church? If you and Philip can list all potential objections I will respond to them.

ChristianView said...


I argue that the correct relationship is with Christ performing the masculine role (leadership, strength, provision) and the church performing the feminine role (following, loving etc), within the context of a marriage. As soon as one starts to refer to God in the feminine, then the church loses its proper sense of relationship.

Ironically, I think you have hit upon one of the logical implications of postmodernism, which maybe few other emergents have so clearly articulated.

Essentially, the postmoderns invert the proper relationship between us and God. They try to re-image God into the way they would like him to be in order to fit into our culture - instead of trying to transform our view of God according to the Bible and to transform our culture with the truth of God. They wish that God would follow us instead of us following God. I am sure you will protest this interpretation, but that is my view of the whole postmodern lens of viewing Christianity.

Anonymous said...


It seems to me that you and Philip are reading into this subject based on a priori assumptions.

How is a healthier and more balanced view on Godde of necessity a distortion of the relationship between Godde and humanity?

In my experience a healthier view including the feminine has led to healing in the lives of men and women.

Graeme Codrington said...

This comment does not follow on from the other comments. I just want to simply respond to the original post which stated "All God's names in the Bible are masculine." This is where my postmodern side kicks in - categorical statements are the bedrock of any system of thought. The problem that categorical statements create for those who rely on them is that the house of cards can easily come crashing down...

Of the over 70 names for God in the Bible it is just not true that all of them are masculine. One of the first names for God, and one of the most important and well used, is RUACH. We translate this Hebrew feminine word as "Spirit", and we find it first when we read that the Spirit of God was hovering (more correctly, "brooding" or "birthing" or "mothering") over the waters.

God is also described as a mother hen who gathers her chickens under her wings.

God also has no problem using feminine images to self-describe: see Isaiah 42:14, 46:3-4, 49:14-15, 66:12-13, as examples.

In Deut 32:18 the verb form of giving birth is feminine (obviously), and this applied to God. An interesting Hebrew grammatical construction!

Hosea 11:1-4 is in the first person, where in Hebrew there is no distinction between male and female forms - the speaker can be either male or female. The series of activities are those that a mother would be likely to do.

In Ps. 22:9-10a, God is a midwife - this role was only for women in ancient Israel, and the image would therefore have been undeniably feminine.

The list (seriously) goes on and on...

Some are not the "nice" feminine image either: Hosea 13:8.

Now, I grant you that most of these are not "names" of God, so your point is well made. RUACH is a name of God. It is what we call "The Holy Spirit" - so it's an important name of God!

Should we refer to God as feminine? Probably not regularly, or as a norm. But there is also no issue if we do from time to time, since God is both man and woman, and neither man nor woman all at the same time.

Samurai said...

I am amazed at such rank falsehood and poor spiritual insight from some of these posters.
God made man (male) in His image. Not the female. Read your Bible. Genesis 1:27
I am a man and could gather up chicks the way a mother hen does, but it doesn't make me female. I acted as a midwife during my doctors training and neither did that make me a woman etc etc