Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Is God Male or Masculine?

This article is also available in Urdu here.

Do you think of God as male? In some ways I do. This is probably due to the fact that God is typically referred to in the Bible with masculine pronouns such as “he”, and masculine terms such as “father”. But does this masculine language really mean that God is male or masculine?

Masculine Metaphors for God

God’s transcendent nature and divine character are beyond our human understanding. To help our understanding, God is often portrayed in the Scriptures metaphorically – using imagery and similes that we humans can identify with. These Biblical metaphors of God are primarily designed to help us understand God “relationally and analogically” and should not be taken literally. (Houts 2002:356)

God is sometimes portrayed in the Bible with metaphors we tend to associate with maleness and masculinity. He is referred to as a father,[1] a king and a warrior, etc. These masculine metaphors have dominated the Church’s view of God. However the Scriptures also refer to God using metaphors we tend to associate with femaleness and femininity. These feminine metaphors of God have been largely ignored by the Church. We will be looking at some examples of these feminine metaphors below.

Men and Women in the Image of God

Genesis 1:26-27 clearly shows that both men and women were created in the image of God.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV 2011)

Not only are men and women made in God’s image, these verses, and the following verse in Genesis 1:28, say that the dominion and stewardship of God’s creation was given to both men and women. Genesis 1:26-28 contains profound truths about the equal worth and purpose of men and women. [More on gender in Genesis 1 here.]

Is Leadership Male?

Despite the fact that the Bible nowhere teaches that men better represent God’s image and likeness, the Church has traditionally taught that men are the superior sex, that men more fully represent God, and that only men can be ministers and leaders. In many regards, this message continues today. Some well-known Bible teachers state that God is only to be understood in masculine terms, and, following on from that understanding, they teach that church leaders must be male. This is especially true for many Christian denominations which regard their church leaders as priests.

J. David Pawson, in his book Leadership is Male, is emphatic that God is only to be understood in masculine terms. Pawson dismisses Biblical feminine metaphors of God because he regards “the proportion of these ‘feminine’ references as infinitesimal, compared to the male.” (1997:19) (His emphasis in italics.) This masculinist view of God has also influenced how Pawson views leadership in the Church. Pawson states that he is “thus far convinced” that the leadership of God’s people “must be male”. (1997:10) Pawson’s view does not take into account the leadership of Deborah and several other female prophetic leaders mentioned in the Bible (cf Num. 11:12; 1 Thess. 2:7).

Masculine Pronouns

The God of the Bible is neither male nor female (sex), nor is he masculine or feminine (gender). If God is understood in gendered terms, this would contradict the affirmation that God is Spirit (John 4:24), lacking physicality (Deut. 4:15-16), and that he is the Holy One who is qualitatively “other” (Isa. 6:2-3; Hos. 11:9; Rev. 4:8). (Houts 2002:356)

Despite the fact that God is Spirit and should not be understood or defined in terms of sex or gender, many of us believe, either consciously or subconsciously, that God is somehow male. This masculinist view is exacerbated by the fact that, in the majority of English translations of the Bible, God is only referred to with masculine pronouns, such as “he”.

The reason God is referred to as “he” is largely due to the limitations of language. There is no “divine” non-gender in the Biblical languages (or in English) that we can use when talking and writing about God; so we are limited to the grammatical genders of masculine and feminine in the Hebrew, and masculine, feminine and neuter in the Greek.[3] Many Biblical names and titles of God, such as Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai, Theos and Kurios are grammatically masculine which is the reason why  masculine  pronouns are used.

The Greek word for “Spirit” (pneuma), however, is grammatically neuter, and so neuter pronouns (corresponding to “it”) are often used in reference to the Holy Spirit in the Greek text of the New Testament (e.g. John 14:17; Rom. 8:16, 26b).[4] These Greek neuter pronouns, however, are usually translated into English as masculine pronouns (such as “he”) so that the Holy Spirit does not seem impersonal.

The Hebrew word for “Spirit” (ruach), on the other hand, is grammatically feminine, and some early churches referred to the Holy Spirit in feminine terms. The Syriac Church used feminine pronouns (corresponding to “she”) when speaking and writing about the Holy Spirit until about 400 AD. (Houts 2002:357)

The fact that the word “Spirit” is neuter in the Greek Scriptures and feminine in the Hebrew Scriptures does not mean that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is actually neuter or feminine. Similarly the fact that God is referred to with masculine pronouns in the Scriptures does not mean that God is actually masculine.

[It is important to note that in many languages, including Greek and Hebrew, the grammatical gender of a noun may or may not correspond to the actual gender of the person or thing being named. The concept of grammatical gender is sometimes misunderstood by people whose only experience with language is English which has very little grammatical gender.]

Why More Masculine Metaphors?

While God is not male, he is often associated with masculine imagery. Perhaps God, through the Biblical writers, used masculine imagery and terms to make a clear distinction between himself and the pagan goddesses of the nations surrounding Israel. One of the most pervasive concepts of divinity in the Ancient Near East was of the “Great Mother” goddess. Many religious customs and rituals associated with the worship of the “Great Mother” involved immoral, sexual practises which were the antithesis of the practises outlined in the Old Testament Law.  The Old Testament mentions many times that the Israelites took part in idolatrous worship practises associated with the Semitic mother-goddess Asherah.[5]

Margot Houts (2002:356) suggests, however, that God sometimes associated himself with masculinity to accommodate the ancient patriarchal culture of Israel, “in which the masculine line was used to dignify and elevate.”[6] The fact that there are more masculine metaphors than feminine in the Bible does not necessarily mean that God is somehow more masculine than feminine. Rather, the fact that there are more masculine metaphors merely reflects the patriarchal culture of Bible times where women were largely excluded from official roles that involved spiritual and civil influence and leadership.

God, through the Bible writers, used metaphors that the people of Israel could identify with, and they could identify with patriarchy. The cultural norm of patriarchy makes the feminine metaphors of God all the more significant. [See endnote 6.]

Feminine Metaphors of God

Mistress: In the Old Testament, the feminine metaphors of God are largely of maternal images. One of the few exceptions to the maternal imagery is in Psalm 123:2 where both a master of male servants and a mistress of female servants are used as similes for God.

I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
As the eyes of a female servants look to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy. 
Psalm 123:1-2

Mother: In the patriarchal society of ancient Israel, women’s roles were greatly restricted and women were mostly identifed with the role of motherhood.[7] In the Scriptures, God sometimes describes his activity and emotions as the activities and emotions of a mother. [8]

In Isaiah 42:14, God describes himself using the simile of a woman in labour giving birth.

“For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back.
But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. 
Isaiah 42:14 (NIV 2011)

In Isaiah 46:3-4, God is described as a mother who had carried Israel from birth.  It was primarily the mother’s role to care for infants in ancient Israel (cf Isa. 45:9-12). Commenting on this verse, John Calvin wrote: “God has manifested himself to be both Father and Mother so that we might be more aware of God’s constant presence and willingness to assist us.”[9]

“You who have been borne by me from birth
And have been carried from the womb.  Isaiah 46:3b (NASB)

In Isaiah 66:13, God compares himself to a mother who comforts her children,

“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.”  Isaiah 66:13 (NIV 2011)

In Isaiah 49:14-15, God compares himself with a mother who does not forget her children. Calvin writes in response to this verse: “God did not satisfy himself with proposing the example of a father, but in order to express his very strong affection, he chose to liken himself to a mother, and calls His people not merely children, but the fruit of the womb, towards which there is usually a warmer affection.”[9]

In Hosea 11:3, God describes his love and nurture of Israel using maternal imagery and actions. In some verses God is described as both a father and mother (Deut. 32:18; Isa. 45:9-12).

Midwife: In ancient Israel,midwives were always female. Occasionally, God describes himself as acting like a midwife, assisting in the delivery of a newborn. The following verses depict God as the one who brings the newborn baby from the womb (Psalm 22:9-10; 71:6); and who assists in the delivery of the newborn nation of Israel (Isa. 66:9).

Yet you brought me out of the womb . . .  Psalm 22:9a; Psalm 71:6.

“Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?” says the LORD.
“Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?” says your God. 
Isaiah 66:9 (NIV 2011)

Housewife: When teaching about the Kingdom of God, Jesus used illustrations in his parables that ordinary men and women of that day could understand and identify with. In two of his parables, Jesus used the illustration of two women engaged in household duties as metaphors for God’s activity.[10]

In Luke 13:20-21, Jesus compared God’s activity in the Kingdom using the metaphor of a woman working yeast into bread. This parable is parallel to the preceding parable of the mustard seed planted by a man, in Luke 13:18-19.

In Luke 15:8-10, Jesus used the analogy of a woman sweeping her house to look for a lost silver coin. (The inference is that the coin was part of the woman’s dowry.) The parable of the lost coin parallels the preceding parable of the shepherd looking for his lost sheep, in Luke 15:3-7.

Is God Male or Masculine?

Not only could women listening to Jesus easily identify with the woman adding yeast to bread or the woman sweeping a house, but the actions of the women in the two parables metaphorically represent God’s Kingdom activities of (1) causing his Kingdom to grow, and (2) carefully searching for a lost soul, with great rejoicing when a soul is found and restored.

It should also be noted that God is sometimes metaphorically referred to in the Scriptures as inanimate objects such as a “Rock”, “Fortress”, or a “Horn” (which symbolises strength), etc. Occasionally God is even compared to animal mothers. [See endnote 7.] The purpose of all these images, metaphors, similes, and descriptions is to help us understand a God who is above our understanding. They are not meant to indicate or imply gender.

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church correctly states that God is neither man nor woman. It states that God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the differences between the sexes. But the  respective “perfections” of man and woman reflect something of the infinite  perfection of God: those of a mother (Isa. 49:14-15; 66:13; Psalm 131:2-3) and  those of a father (Job 31:18; Jer. 3:4-20) and husband (Jer. 3:6-19). (CCC  370.)

Jesus is Male

God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are beyond sex or gender because they are “pure spirit”. However, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, came to earth as a male human being.[11] Perhaps Jesus came as a male so that he would be able to speak in synagogues. Or perhaps it was to fulfill the role of the ultimate Passover Lamb which was male (Exo. 12:5ff; cf 1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).

Carrie Bates (2011:11) suggests that “Teachings about self-sacrifice and the treatment of women as social equals would have lost their radical force had those teachings come from a woman. Christ came into a specific historical culture; in order to gain a hearing for the message of God’s liberating love, he came as a male.” If the second person of the Trinity had come as a woman, and willingly lowered and sacrificed herself in the same way as Jesus had, the full implication of that humiliation and sacrifice, and the profound example it provided, could well have been lost, especially for men (Php. 2:7-8 cf Eph. 5:25).[12] This is because many cultures reinforce the stereotype that it is more usual for a woman to be humble and servile than it is for a man.

Eric Weiss suggests a different reason altogether which I find compelling.[13] Eric writes,

“I think a reason Christ came as a male was so God’s salvation would be seen as involving and including both males and females. Had Christ, born of Mary, been a female, then salvation could be seen as being from and for and involving only females and the female nature. But the male Christ was born of a woman. And as the first Eve was brought forth from the first Adam, so the second or last Adam was brought forth from the second Eve (as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches regard Mary). (Cf 1 Corinthians 11:12.)”

Conclusion

Apart from Jesus, God is not male or masculine, neither is he female or feminine; and yet God has chosen to reveal himself in ways that people in ancient times could identify with – in roles and activities that those people associated with masculinity and femininity. It is extremely important to be aware that the Biblical metaphors are merely images to help us understand God relationally and analogically; they are not meant to define God’s nature and character. This is true for both the masculine and feminine metaphors of God.

God is beyond our human understanding and transcends gender, yet we do know that both men and women are made in his image and in his likeness. Moreover, he has commissioned both men and women to care for his creation. Because of God’s great love for all people, he has made the way for both men and women to be redeemed, and he has called us to be his children and heirs. Furthermore, he has given his Spirit to all believing men and women, equipping them both for service and ministry (Acts 2:18).[14] In Christ, men and women, though having some fundamental differences, are completely equal, and together they reflect the image and likeness of God.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28


Endnotes

Some theologians also believe that “Wisdom” (Hebrew: hokmah; Greek: sophia) is a feminine metaphor for God. Wisdom is one of God’s attributes and is an agency of God’s divine action in creation. Wisdom is sometimes personified as female, as is Folly (e.g. Proverbs 9:13ff). Wisdom’s female personification is particularly clear in Proverbs chapter 8 (cf Prov. 1:20-33; 9:1-6). Furthermore, Jesus is referred to as “the sophia of God” in 1 Corinthians 1:24 (cf 1 Cor 1:30). However, wisdom is not a metaphor for God, because God is wise. Wisdom is one of God’s defining traits in the same way as love is one of God’s defining traits. Wisdom is not an image or simile that helps us to understand God; therefore I have not included wisdom as a metaphor for God.

[1] The Biblical names and titles of God: Yahweh, Elohim, Shaddai, Sabbaoth, Adonai and Kurios are grammatically masculine, which is the main reason the masculine pronoun is used. It would have been confusing if the Bible writers had switched between masculine and feminine forms of words such as Adonai and Kurios, especially as one of the characteristics of God is that he doesn’t change.

[2] Christians typically refer to the first person of the Trinity as “Father”, and yet the Scriptures which speak of God as being our Father are usually metaphorical in the Old Testament. The New Testament verses which refer to God as Father are fairly few (excepting the verses where Jesus speaks of God as being his Father.)

[3] The Chinese language has a special genderless pronoun used in reference to divinity. The Chinese character for “he” contains the character for “human” and so is unsuitable when referring to deity.

[4] The neuter, singular article, is frequently used with pneuma in the Greek. Any agreeing adjectives and participles, etc, are also neuter singular (e.g. Matt.10:20).

[5] Asherah shrines (wooden poles) and worship are mentioned forty-nine times in nine Old Testament books: Exodus, Deuteronomy, Judges, 1 and 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Micah. Jeremiah refers to Asherah as the “Queen of Heaven”.

[6] Patriarchy is a form of social organisation in which men are the leaders. In patriarchal societies, men are the leaders of the community, the leaders of the clans, and the leaders of the families and it is difficult and rare for a woman to have official power and influence. Patriarchy was a result of the Fall (Gen. 3:16) and does not represent God’s ideal in the home, in the Church, or in the society. Jesus’ redemptive act on the cross has purchased equality for all people regardless of gender, race, or social status.

[7] God also describes himself using the metaphors of animal mothers. In Hosea 13:8a God describes himself as an enraged mother bear robbed of her cubs. In other Scriptures God is likened to a bird who protects her young under the safety and shelter of her wings (Ruth 2:12 cf Psalm 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 91:1,4). In the New Testament, Jesus described his longing to protect Jerusalem using the analogy of a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings (Luke 13:34; cf Matt. 13:33).

[8] God clearly describes himself as having emotions.

[9] John Calvin, Commentaries, Volume 8, Isaiah 33-66.

[10]  In Old and New Testament times, the prevailing patriarchal culture greatly restricted the roles of women. Most women, but not all, were limited to domestic roles in the home.

[11] It is important to note that while Jesus is a man, his maleness is never emphasised in the New Testament. For instance in Philippians 2:7, 1 Timothy 2:5, and 1 Corinthians 15:47, the Greek word translated as “man” (anthrōpos) actually means a “person” or a “human being”. In fact Jesus is rarely referred to in the Greek as anēr (man); he is most commonly referred to as anthrōpos (a human being). Jesus became our saviour and mediator primarily because he became human, not because he became a male human.

[12] As it is, Jesus’ example of humility and self-sacrifice, and his counter-cultural teaching on leadership has been poorly understood and demonstrated in the church.

[13] Eric’s comment is taken from an informal internet discussion.

[14] New Testament ministry is based on the equipping of the Holy Spirit and not on gender. The Holy Spirit gives his ministry gifts as he determines, seemingly regardless of gender (1 Cor. 12:11). This website has several articles about women who were church leaders mentioned in the New Testament.


Bibliography

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Vatican Archives website, http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2c1p6.htm

Bates, Carrie L., “Gender Ontology and Women in Ministry in the Early Church” in Priscilla Papers, Vol 25, No 2, Spring 2011, p6-15.

Calvin, John, Commentaries, Volume 8: Isaiah 33-36, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005.

Hilton, Julie Ann, “Isaiah-Commentary” in The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary,  Clark Kroeger, Catherine, and Evans, Mary J., (eds), Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002, p355-369.

Houts, Margo J., “Images of God as Female” in The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary,  Clark Kroeger, Catherine, and Evans, Mary J., (eds), Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002, p356-358.

Pawson, J. David, Leadership is Male, Guildford: Eagle, 1997.


Related Articles

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The Complementarian Concept of “The Created Order”
The Portrayal of Women in the Bible and Biblical Inspiration
Paul’s Masculine and Feminine Leadership
Old Testament Priests and New Testament Ministers
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
Women Leaders in the Early Church
The Trinity and Marriage

Posted June 22nd, 2011 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Marriage, Equality in Ministry, , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

54 comments on “Is God Male or Masculine?

  1. […] It is important to note that God is neither male nor female.  He is a genderless spirit. […]

  2. […] I have suggested reasons why Jesus came to earth as a male towards the end of my article entitled, “Is God Male or Masculine?” […]

  3. […] Masculinity covers a wide spectrum of personalities, attitudes, values and behaviours.  While it is difficult to define what comprises masculinity, some Hierarchical Complementarians state that the main masculine qualities are courage, honour and duty. Perhaps men are more concerned with honour than women. (Jesus certainly was not concerned with honour. Php 2:7.)  However, many women have proven that courage and duty are not tied to masculinity. […]

  4. […] God describes himself using maternal metaphors in the Old Testament; as did Jesus in the New Testament (Mat 23:7; Luke 13:34). […]

  5. […] Jesus is rarely referred to as an anēr, that is, a “male human being”, even though Jesus was undoubtedly male.  This repreated use of anthrōpos in reference to Jesus, rather than anēr, may be to reinforce the fact that Jesus is the Saviour of human beings and not just men. […]

  6. Cynthia Meg says:

    When wisdom is personified as a female in Proverbs, specifically a female prophetess boldly preaching to the public, I immediately took the passage to be referring to the Holy Spirit. So would I be incorrect to call the Holy Spirit Sophia, since Sophia is the term for wisdom? Not to say I believe the gnostic texts that refer to wisdom or the Holy Spirit as Sophia; I just think that there may be some legitimacy to the name. I personally don’t feel like calling the Holy Spirit Sophia would be wrong, I’d probably just keep it personal and not public so people wouldn’t label me misguided Lol.
    Also, I have an observation: I’ve noticed that when God is referred to in masculine terms, metaphors are usually used and when God is referred to in feminine terms, similes are usually used, however this isn’t always the case. I don’t know if that sheds light or not, I just noticed it.

  7. Marg says:

    Your metaphor/simile comment is interesting. I’ll have to have a closer look at that.

    I don’t think that the Holy Spirit is especially feminine, or masculine for that matter.

    I personally have a problem with Wisdom, or Sophia, being thought of as a member of the Godhead, even though people who are much smarter than me think this. God is not “like” wisdom, metaphorically or literally; he is wise.

    As I mentioned at the beginning of my endnotes, both Wisdom and Folly are personified as women in Proverbs. So I’m not sure how these two “personalities” fit with describing the Godhead. If we call a member of the Godhead “Wisdom,” what do we do with “Folly”?

  8. Cynthia Meg says:

    Hhhmmm… well if wisdom does not refer to the Holy Spirit, then it at least refers to an aspect of God. There is just too much personification of wisdom as a she to be dismissed. I don’t really think that God is male or female; but I do think that there is significance to the various scriptures that portray God as masculine and feminine, and traits of God as masculine and feminine. Proverbs does mention that God created wisdom, so perhaps that excludes wisdom from being the Holy Spirit? But then again, I see wisdom referred to in two ways: the characteristic and the she. Idk, it is a fascinating mystery to me. It’ll definitely be fun to research! But wisdom as Sophia or the Holy Spirit seems quite plausable.

    • Virginia says:

      As I study the Proverbs, what makes sense to me is that Wisdom is the “specifications” of how things were designed to operate in the world–and in the universe. It’s the essence of Law, natural law, which describes what God made and how it all works.

      Moral Law, then, is a teaching that helps us to live in harmony with the way we were created to work, in harmony with God, with nature, and with each other. And even as in nature cause is followed by consequence, so in the spiritual realm: we reap what we sow–which is both threat and promise [it all depends on what we sow!] Also, as in the natural realm the spectrum of electro-magnetic energy is all the same stuff, only different wave-lengths, so in the spiritual realm the Law has various manifestations–and various time frames–but the cause/consequence fact always persists…except for Grace, but that’s a whole ‘nother story! 🙂

      This, then, is the Wisdom that Solomon presents in the Proverbs. Yes, God is saving us for the Kingdom of Heaven, but this is where we are right now. And we are called to live Kingdom lives to God’s glory, here…and now. And *that* is where Wisdom meets Reality!…or so it seems to me. 😀

  9. Cynthia Meg says:

    Oh yeah, I forgot… Is folly itself personified as a she? I see a woman used to demonstrate foolishness, but I’ve not yet seen folly itself personified as a she. But ya know, I’ve not read much of Proverbs, so please enlighten me! Lol

  10. Marg says:

    I see the personification of Wisdom and Folly as a literary device used by Solomon to teach his son (or student) about wisdom and folly (Prov 1:6). There are some prophetic elements in the proverbs about wisdom which seem to point to God, but by and large, I do not think they are about God.

    It is important to keep in mind the purpose of Solomons’ proverbs:

    To know wisdom and instruction,
    To discern the sayings of understanding,
    To receive instruction in wise behavior,
    Righteousness, justice and equity;

    To give prudence to the naive,
    To the youth knowledge and discretion,

    A wise man will hear and increase in learning,
    And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,
    To understand a proverb and a figure,
    The words of the wise and their riddles.
    Proverbs 1:2-6

    And, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (as well as wisdom.) Proverbs 1:7 (cf Proverbs 9:10; Psalm 111:10.)

  11. Cynthia Meg says:

    Great insight!
    Yes, I see folly personified directly as a she one time, and then I see other references.
    I have been doing nothing but research this for the past while. I’ve been reading scripture after scripture, and have been praying for God to give His wisdom to me. The conclusion which I have come to is that yes, wisdom personified as a she is in fact referring to the holy spirit, without a doubt. I am going to write an essay about it. When it is finished, I will send you the link. I realize that many will disagree with me, and that is okay.

  12. Marg says:

    I’d love to read it. I think it’s okay for Christians to respectfully disagree on some of the finer points of interpreting the Bible. I’m sure plenty of people disagree with me. 😉

  13. Cynthia Meg says:

    😀
    It’ll take time, as I’ve found a wealth of discovery, but I’ll share my article with you when I finish. I promise 🙂

  14. Judy says:

    Hi Margaret, thanks for posting this article. Out of interest, why do you think God is often referred to as Father in the bible? I didn’t notice this in what you wrote, so apologies if I missed it.

  15. Marg says:

    I think God is sometimes referred to as “Father” because the patriarchal culture of Bible times typically recognised fathers, and not mothers, as leaders and authorities. You can even see this thinking in some names: Abimelech – “my father is king”; Abraham – “father of many nations”. (The Hebrew word for father is transliterated as “ab” or “av”.)

    Also, look above to the paragraphs under the heading of “Why More Maculine Metaphors?”

  16. Anne Vyn says:

    This is such an important message, Marg!
    Thank you for all the examples you’ve included to show how God is our Father AND our Mother. It baffles me that so many Christians feel threatened by this concept.
    For me, it just makes God more awesome and more able to meet my EVERY need according to his riches in glory….needs that my earthly mother and father could never meet.

  17. Marg says:

    I can understand them feeling threatened. I still feel a little uncomfortable about calling God “mother” and yet he clearly refers to himself with maternal metaphors.

    I know someone who works with battered women, and she says that it is helpful for some of these wounded women to focus on the feminine metaphors rather than the masculine metaphors of God. That makes sense to me. God lovingly and powerfully supplies all our needs.

  18. Peggy says:

    Love this, Marg…thanks for being so very thorough! I will have to go back to my posts on patriarchy and the feminine aspects of the Spirit and link to this post. Be blessed….

  19. Marg says:

    Hi Peggy, thanks for your kind words and for linking to me. 🙂

  20. […] When did Christians get so caught up in God being male? I mean, it took both male and female to represent the image of God in creation, God is described in both masculine and feminine ways in scripture, and the only name God seems to prefer above another is “I AM” – a name completely void of gender.
    […]

  21. […] And this one from Marg at newlife.id.au: “Is God Male or Masculine?“ […]

  22. […] Is there truly no feminine imagery of God within scripture? Of course there is, and while I do not wish to reproduce an expose of the numerous passages that attest to such, here is a link to but one of many competent pieces that deal with these passages. […]

  23. adrienne says:

    My dad says God could be a male spirit and no where in the bible does it say God is genderless

    What do u say?

    • Marg says:

      Hi Adrienne,

      I wonder what your Dad means when he says that God could be a male spirit. What makes anything or anyone male?

      Sex (male or female) is clear in many animals, and is determined by their chromosomes and genitals. Does a spirit have chromosomes and genitals?

      It seems that the main function of being male and female is to reproduce. Does God reproduce with a female spirit? I don’t think so.

      The Bible does not say that God is genderless, but it also doesn’t say that he is male. One of my friends thinks that God might be “genderful” and have attributes that we associates with masculinity and femininity. (Gender, masculinity and femininity, is different to sex, male and female.)

      • Adrienne says:

        Wow I didnt see that!! Wow thanks! Ya what makes someone male or female is there genitals! I guess my Dad sees God male cause of the references of him as father and that Jesus called him father. One thing my Dad believes is leadership is male ordained for males only, but also I big thing is he talked about how there are only male angels, im guessing he got this from their names. He said no where does it say the angels are genderless or we will be genderless but that we wont pricreate, my dad is saying he believes angels are male and they have male genitils and in haven we will have male or if women femal genitals, what do u say about this angel thing? Also when it talks about the angels in rev as his and
        he?

  24. Adrienne says:

    I think what my dad was saying is because God is always refered to as he ir his or him and father and Jesus being a male and holy spirit being called he, that God must be masculine sins only masculine is used to describe him.
    I think my Dad is actually trying to figure all this out to, he relies a lot of creation order and 2 timithy 2 11-15
    Please pray that his heart is softened, I tried talking to him about ezer kenegdo and he kept saying wonen are equal in value but not role, then I asked do u believe genesis talking if woman as a helpmeet is a role? He said yes, then I said ezer kenegdo means a strength equal to, so that means also a womens role is equal to men, then my dad saud nono! Woman are only equal in value, then I said is helpmeet a role and he said YES! Then I told him what help meet translation is… and he didnt see…. please pray earnestly for him. Also my old church is getting woman to wear hats and teaches christ is subordinate to the father like a woman should be of a man, the pastor said he would pray for my conviction of wearing a head covering again… which scared me since I forgot that his prayers have no way to change God’s mind, but anyway maybe I should be praying too. So can u pray for ian goligher and his church plz? Very much appreciated and that God shows him why headcoverings and that it wasnt mentioned anywhere in the ot as a command well unless someone was married but then God gave no specific command, and usually all commandments from NT go with OT perfectly, laws fullfilled or affirmed but no new laws exept for Jesus`s new commandment is new. This is what I thought about earlier today

    • Marg says:

      Hi Adrienne,

      I understand your concerns. Some angels are indeed referred to as “men”, probably because some angels looked just like men for some assignments. But I really don’t think that they stayed in that form. Other angelic beings look nothing like human beings (e.g the four living creatures).

      In Hebrews 1:7 God is quoted as describing angels and says: “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants [also angels] flames of fire” (cf Psalm 104:4).

      I don’t think angels are male, and I don’t believe God, apart from Jesus, is male. God refers to himself in motherly and fatherly terms as you can see in my article.

      Also, Your Dad is incorrect about the Holy Spirit being called a “he”. In English translations the Spirit is traditionally called “he”, but not in the original languages of the Bible – Hebrew and Greek.

      I think prayer is the answer. It is very hard to change someone’s mind about this. But the Holy Spirit can soften hearts and change minds, and bring new, life-giving understanding.

      I pray that God blesses you as your seek to know him more; and I pray for your Dad that he may begin to recognize that God used women, as well as men, as leaders and prophets, etc. I have said a prayer for Ian too.

      You ask good questions.
      God bless you.

  25. Adrienne says:

    But I turn to 1 corinthians 11 and paul talks about keeping the ordinances as he delivered them to us… so idk… it doesnt seem cultural when it says ordinance and
    There were new ordinances that were in the nt and not in the old like baptism and communion…

  26. Adrienne says:

    But then ot refers to communion through the manna that fells and Jesus then says he is the bread( somthing like that)
    Also OT talked about water bringing puriy and I think elisha mebtioned water cleansing a keper of his uncleaness? So idk

    Again

    Im stuck on this ordinance thing and also the part saying if any is to be contentious we have no other custom neither tge churches if God so that must mean every church everywhere at that time then

    • Marg says:

      The correct translation from the Greek is “we have no such custom.” Unfortunately “we have no other custom” is misleading and wrong.

      You might want to have a look at my article about 1 Corinthians 11 here: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/the-chiasm-in-1-corinthians-11_2-16/

      The ordinance, or tradition, in 1 Corinthians 11 is the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:2, 23). This tradition is not about a created order. In fact Paul warns about divisions and factions (or ranks.) (It seems as though the wealthy were eating more at the Lord’s Supper, and ignoring and excluding the poor.)

      Paul does not want divisions between rich and poor, or between men and women and states that “in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (1 Cor. 11:11-12) We all have our source and origin in God; the “created order” is meaningless in the church where the first is last and the last is first, etc.

      There are lots of new ways in the New Covenant.

  27. Adrienne says:

    Thank you for answring my many questions 🙂 but if the oridance is not headcovering why does he talk of headcovering right after oridances?

    • Marg says:

      Paul never uses the word head-covering in relation to veils or hats in 1 Cor 11. In fact he speaks of hair as being a woman’s head-covering.

      Paul praises the Corinthians for observing the traditions he has passed on to them and then (beginning with the word “but”) he addresses problems associated with how the Corinthians were celebrating the Lord’s Supper: firstly the inappropriate blurring of gender distinctions and secondly the poorer Christians being left out (cf 1 Cor 11:17).

      Most meetings in the first churches were “Lord’s Suppers”.

      I have never heard anyone state that women wearing head coverings is an ordinance. I find that teaching disturbing and a distortion of scripture. Since I have hair on my head, my head is covered as far as Paul was concerned (1 Cor. 11:15)

      After correcting the behaviour of the Corinthians, Paul then resumes his teaching on the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor 11:20. The tradition, or ordinance in chapter 11 is the Lord’s Supper.

  28. Adrienne says:

    How does the change to no such custom be a big change? Also why would paul go into detail then sau after, but nevermind that?

    • Marg says:

      Paul’s whole letter was written in response to a message and a letter he received from the Corinthians. (The message came from people sent by a woman called Chloe.)

      There were problems in the Corinthians church. Differing ideas were causing divisions. Paul is offering a solution to the church as Corinth, but this problem and his solution was not practiced in other churches because they did not have similar customs and thoughts concerning men and women and how they wore their hair.

  29. Adrienne says:

    It seems when talking about the angels as a metaphor?
    Idk if this could be or is to be taken literally? Any more passages that would speak direct terms that angels are spirit? Sorry to bug XD I just dont want to read it into somthing? I hope u understand, cause if I show somone they could be like oh but its a metaphore or simile

    • Marg says:

      It definitely sounds metaphorical, but might convey some element of fact.

      The Bible does not tell us much about God’s angels, but I really don’t think they have male genitals with which they pee and have sex and reproduce. (Is there any other use for male genitals?) The Bible just doesn’t tell us anything about this (cf Matt. 22:30; Mark 12:25).

      Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. Luke 20:34-36

      Also, some angelic beings look like women (Zech 5:9).

      • Adrienne says:

        I heard that passage could have been just metaphorical like how he also saw a flying scroll.

        • Marg says:

          I think it’s interesting that the angel verses are seen as metaphorical, but the verses that speak about God as “Father” are not.

          God isn’t actually my father. He didn’t marry my mother. I don’t have his genes and DNA. But he is metaphorically the Father of all his people.

          As I said, the Bible does not give us much information about angels, but angels and human males are not the same thing. And since Jesus indicated that angels don’t marry and hinted that they don’t reproduce I can’t see why they would all have one sex, or any sex, whether male or female.

          Do you think angels have babies and families?

          The primary purpose of a differentiation of sexes, male and female, is procreation.

          Anyway, I can’t say anymore about angels than what I have already written.

  30. Adrienne says:

    OK thank you,

  31. legacypac says:

    Strangely when you talk about the Holy Spirit and female side of God you use male pronouns.

    • Marg says:

      Hi legacypac,

      I’ve been brought up to use masculine pronouns when speaking about God and the Holy Spirit in English, and I really have no intention to change this habit, even though the Bible, in the original languages, does not use masculine pronouns, articles, and participles, etc, for the Holy Spirit (except when he’s referred to as the “counsellor” paraklētos, etc).

      I don’t think of God as having different sides, especially not a male side or female side. Although the first human being in Genesis 2 may have had a male side and a female side. More on this here: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/human-man-woman-genesis-2/

      At this point in time, I believe that the masculine and feminine metaphors and imagery that are used in the Bible to describe God are just that: metaphors and imagery. Except for Jesus, God is not human and does not have sex or gender as we do.

  32. Adrienne says:

    I stand corrected! when it says God is not man, it uses the Hebrew word ‘is which means male
    so God is saying he is not male!

    http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/reviews/god-and-sex/

    ‘is means male and not human right?

    • Marg says:

      Hi Adrienne,

      The Hebrew word used in Hosea 11:9 refers specifically to a male human:
      For I am God and not a male human (ish), the Holy One in your midst, and I do not come to destroy.”

  33. Adrienne says:

    Hey in context is it possible I could be husband?

    • Marg says:

      In God’s speech in Hosea 11 there is lots of affectionate motherly and fatherly imagery, and Israel is depicted as a God’s child, not as his wife. So I cannot see that “husband” is a possible interpretation for ish in verse 9.

  34. […] From Moses’ words, we can see that God does not necessarily associate leadership with masculinity; and that God did not want his people to be led in a purely paternal or masculine manner. In fact, God describes himself using maternal metaphors in the Old Testament; as did Jesus in the New Testament (Mat 23:7; Luke 13:34). […]

  35. Ana says:

    I think your argument would be sound were it not for one thing.

    If Jesus, who is God, taught us to pray to God the spirit, as Our Father, and of course God reserves the right to tell us, His creation how to both address Him and speak of Him, then this, in my view, is a deal breaker.

    Whether God the Father is a man with genitals is neither here nor there, Jesus was/is human and God, and a man with genitals. Therefore, since God is one, and he both refers to himself as He Son and Father,this will be the reason people baulk against discussing God’s gender. He has already made it clear how to see Him.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Ana, I’m not sure that I’m fully following your idea, but I will have a go at replying.

      God the Father is neither male or female, even though we call him (metaphorically) “Father”, etc.
      God the Holy Spirit is neither male or female, even though “spirit” is feminine in Hebrew.
      Jesus is definitely male, and yet his maleness is never highlighted. (See endnote 11.)

      Jesus has shown us many things about God (John 1:18; 14:9) but sex (or gender) isn’t one of those things.

      The fact that many (but not all) terms and metaphors for God are masculine is explained in the article.

      I still maintain that God is neither male nor masculine.

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