Objections to a Masculine God, Part One

Written by Father Bill No Comments

god masculinity bibleIs God masculine? Feminists laugh at the notion. Evangelical feminists tut-tut what they claim is the understandable parochialness of the idea. Complementarians bend over backward to grant as much of the feminist critique of patriarchy as they think is needed, in order to defang the challenge they fear by the question itself. And even defenders of Biblical patriarchy will often scoff at the question, declaring that asking this question makes fundamental category mistake when relating our ideas about God to human notions of sexuality.

However, Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:7 makes the point clear: God is masculine. To understand the impact of Paul’s statement today we first need to glance backward at the debate within evangelicalism over the past 40 years or so.

As the feminist revanche against Western patriarchy began to gather steam in academia during the 1970s, evangelical lights within academia were beset with a dilemma. On one hand, they could forthrightly defend Western patriarchy insofar as it grows out of an underlying Biblical patriarchy. The great risk to this approach, however, is that such defenders of Biblical patriarchy would be tarred with the label “fundamentalist” by their feminist colleagues within the academy, and avoiding such disgrace (for it is a disgrace to them to ever allow themselves to credibly be insulted with such a term) is the basic foundation of the evangelical agenda within academe since the beginning of modern evangelicalism in the 1940s.

The other option is the one evangelicals adopted. It has two prongs: (1) to grant to the feminist deconstruction of Biblical patriarchy as much of its critique as possible, doing so with fawning humility, and (2) to posit an explanation of Biblical patriarchy that avoids vulnerability to the feminist slander as persistently as evangelicalism has ever avoided vulnerability to being called fundamentalist.

At the core of feminism’s antagonism to Biblical patriarchy is the Bible’s portrait of God Himself. The bluntly masculine portrait of God that one finds in the Bible gives feminism its chief target. And for so-called evangelical feminists on one hand, or for complementarians on the other hand, God’s patent masculinity in Biblical revelation is ultimately something to be explained away, or explained in a way that makes it of little lasting consequence.

So, again, is God masculine? Let’s begin by evaluating the contention of those patriarchalists who think the question itself is faulty. They think this for any or all of the following reasons:

(1) “masculinity” is a modern concept, unknown in the Bible’s lexicon;

(2) God’s transcendence renders foolish any attempt to speak of Him in created categories; God is “beyond” gender, and so “God is masculine” makes a pointless predication about Him; and

(3) “masculinity” as a predicate for God amounts to an anthropomorphism, and only the spiritually unsophisticated would think such an affirmation is factually true. We will examine each of these objections in turn in subsequent blogs.

Name That Glory!!

Written by Father Bill 2 Comments

Let’s play NAME THAT GLORY!

What is the glory of Paris? The Eiffel Tower, you say? Good answer! Oh, I see. This other fellow says it’s the Arc de Triomphe. Well, okay. There’s no law that says Paris can’t have two glories.

And, so, what is the glory of Athens? The Parthenon! There you go. See? This isn’t such a hard game after all!

What is the glory of Rome? Most folks will say the Coliseum. Or the Seven Hills (though they’re harder to actually see than the Coliseum). No biggie. If Paris can have more than one glory, so can Rome.

How about the glory of Vienna (I used to live there; eat your heart out)? People who’ve never been to Austria might say the Blue Danube. Folks who live there might easily say it’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral smack dab in the center of the city.

You see, when we’re talking about places (at least in English), it is easy to understand “A is the glory of B.” “A” is what comes to mind when we’re speaking of “B.” The glory of a place is what always comes to mind when that place is mentioned. That’s why, in the Old Testament, we find several examples of the cedar tree as the glory of Lebanon.

When we’re speaking of people, however, English speakers don’t often use the formula “A is the glory of B.” However, we have seen that this formula is easily used in the Bible when speaking of people. And, so “strength” is the glory of young men, because strength is what comes to mind when young men are mentioned. Gray heads are the glory of old men, for the same reason – when old men are mentioned, we think immediately of men with gray hair. And, as we’ve seen, skill at psalmistry (composing/singing songs to a plucked instrument such as a lyre or a harp) is the glory of King David in the Old Testament.

Now here is an amazing thing …

I have often presented the subject matter of this and previous blogs in this series, at seminars held in churches or at men’s retreats or similar venues. My students have been able to follow the inductive steps that let them see what “A is the glory of B” means. They can play “Name that Glory!” with complete accuracy.

And then I say, “Okay. We come to 1 Corinthians 11 and Paul tosses off the statement that men are the glory of God and woman is the glory of man. What does each of these phrases mean? Any hands?

No hands!

I wait. Still no one raises his hand. Many puzzled faces look back at me. A few of the faces are not puzzled, but they are suddenly very wary. Many faces go completely blank and unreadable; and long experience has taught me that when this happens in men’s faces, it is because they are alarmed or angry or terrified, and they instinctively grab hold of their emotions and hold them with a very tight rein, refusing to let what’s going on in their hearts show on their faces. It’s a sort of social defensive maneuver, deployed to keep one’s options open.

Why do you suppose this happens? Why does “man [the male, that is] is the glory of God” produce these reactions?

One hundred years ago, I doubt I’d see such reactions. Since the ascendency of feminism beginning in the 1950s through the 1970s, since the dominion of feminist values in politics, economics, academia, and cultural media was consolidated in the 1980s and codified in law and court decisions ever since then, and – most importantly – since evangelicals have more or less made their peace with religious feminism within their own ranks (and, this includes the so-called complementarians), on this side of all these developments over the past 70 years, evangelical men either cannot or will not acknowledge the meaning of “man is the glory of God.”

If they cannot acknowledge the meaning of “man is the glory of God,” it is usually because they are so conditioned against the meaning of that phrase that they are simply incapable of attaching that meaning to the words which convey it.

If they will not acknowledge the meaning of “man is the glory of God,” it is because they know better than to own up to what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 11:7. They know very well how powerful are the deterrents against such an idea, how punitive are the consequences for candidly owning up to Paul’s meaning.

So, let’s put it out on the table and look at it in all its modern scandal: “man is the glory of God.” What this means is this: when God is the subject of our speech or thought, a man comes to mind. A woman does not come to mind (at least not in the Biblical faith!). That is why woman is not the glory of God.

No, it’s a man who comes to mind when Christians speak of God.

When Jesus ministered for three years before He was crucified, the awareness steadily grew in the minds of the religious authorities that this rabbi was saying and doing things that lead inexorably to the conclusion that He was God. And, it because a mere man claimed to be God that Jesus was crucified.

Today, Jesus would be crucified for exactly the opposite claim – that God is a man, not a woman. And, of course, the Apostle Paul would be crucified right alongside him.

We’ll begin to unpack this scandalous meaning of “man is the glory of God” in subsequent blogs. Stay tuned!

“Man, the glory of God” Means What? Part Three

Written by Father Bill 1 Comment

man glory godNow it’s time to tackle the semantic question: what does it mean to say man is the glory of God? Paul says flatly that man is the glory of God but woman is the glory of man. Yet he never expounds these phrases; he assumes his Corinthian readers already know what he means when he uses these phrases. It’s an assumption that cannot be made with much confidence today.

Fortunately, as we shall see, the idea working in these phrases is comfortable in English prose. And even more fortunately, the Old Testament contains exactly the formulaic phrase “A” is the glory of “B.” along with a few more verses easily reducible to it.

So, to get a handle “A” is the glory of “B,” let’s look at a few examples. And, the first example – while not expressed in exactly the formula we have in 1 Corinthians 11 – is close enough to show us the idiomatic sense of the formula.

Read the following two verses from Isaiah 60, which look to Israel’s future when the Gentile nations shall worship Israel’s God in Jerusalem:

13 “ The glory of Lebanon shall come to you,
The cypress, the pine, and the box tree together,
To beautify the place of My sanctuary;
And I will make the place of My feet glorious.
14 Also the sons of those who afflicted you
Shall come bowing to you,
And all those who despised you shall fall prostrate at the soles of your feet;
And they shall call you The City of the LORD,
Zion of the Holy One of Israel.

In verse 13 a number of trees are mentioned. How many? What are they?

Inexperienced Bible students will see three trees mentioned here: the cypress, the pine, and the box tree. More seasoned Bible students will add one more to this list: the cedar.

“Where is the cedar mentioned?” you ask. It is mentioned in that phrase “the glory of Lebanon.” The cedars of Lebanon were so large, so remarkable in their size and beauty, that the region itself became synonymous with these trees. The cedar tree was the glory of Lebanon – it was what came immediately to mind when one thought of Lebanon itself. And, though the trees which originally lent their reputation to Lebanon have largely disappeared, their reputation was so great for so long in history that today the national flag of Lebanon still features that tree at its center.

The cedar is the glory of Lebanon. It is what comes to mind when one thinks of Lebanon.

Now, let’s keep in mind what the phrase “the cedar is the glory of Lebanon” means, and then let us examine a few examples of the exact formula “A is the glory of B.” We’ll begin with something straightforward and simple, Proverb 20:29 –

The glory of young men is their strength,
And the splendor of old men is their gray head.

First, we note that this proverb (like almost all of them) are couplets, two lines in some form of parallelism (formal, rhetorical, semantic, synthetic, whatever). This proverb is called a synonymous parallelism – the ideas expressed are synonymously parallel, and almost perfectly parallel in a formal way as well. For this reason, glory in the first line is parallel with splendor in the second line.

Now, we need to ask, what is the proverb telling us when it says that the glory of young men is their strength or that the splendor (a synonym of glory) of old men is their gray head? Well, if the cedar is the glory of Lebanon because the cedar is what comes to mind when Lebanon is mentioned, then …

When young men are in mentioned, what comes to mind is their strength, their youthful vigor or some other kind of potency arising from youth itself. When old men are mentioned, the color of their hair – the gray color of their heads – is what comes to mind. Again, when A is the glory of B, then when B is mentioned or thought about, it is A that comes to mind.

Will this interpretive formula work in other instances? Indeed it does. Consider, for example, Proverbs 17:6:

Children’s children are the crown of old men,
And the glory of children is their father.

This again is a couplet, though the parallelism is a bit looser than the previous example we examined. “Crown” in the first line is an emblem, it is emblematic of a reward or a prize for meritorious accomplishment. Today we think of a crown as an emblem of royal office – something a king wears on his head – but in the Old Testament that idea is more often expressed by a different emblem of royal office, the scepter.

So, the first line is saying that grandchildren are a reward, a prize of old men.

And, the second line? Ever heard the taunt “Who’s your daddy?” Wikipedia explains this taunt in this way:

Who’s your daddy? is a slang expression that, in one use, takes the form of a rhetorical question. It is commonly used as a boastful claim of dominance over the intended listener. The phrase itself stands out as a noteworthy lyric from the 1968 song “Time of the Season”, by The Zombies: “What’s your name? Who’s your daddy? Is he rich like me?”

The same idea lies behind the second line of Proverbs 17:6 and the contemporary taunt “Who’s your daddy,” namely that one’s worth or identity arises from the identity (and, therefore, the worth) of one’s father.

Interestingly, Jesus’ virgin birth very early on led to the gossipy slander that Joseph did not, in fact, sire his son Jesus, bur rather some Gentile. “Where is YOUR father?” the Pharisees taunt Jesus in John 8:19. Later, in the same argument with Jesus (John 8:41), they challenge him with “We were not born of fornication [implying that Jesus was!]. The taunt “Who’s your daddy” is far older than the Zonbies song in 1968!

Knowing that “A is the glory of B” means that B comes to mind when A is being spoken about helps us to understand statements in the Psalms that would otherwise be very murky indeed.

Consider, for example, the introduction to Psalm 57, written by King David:

1 O God, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and give praise, even with my glory.
2 Awake, lute and harp! I will awaken the dawn.
3 I will praise You, O LORD, among the peoples,
And I will sing praises to You among the nations.

Now, consider that interesting phrase at the end of verse 1: even with my glory. What is that talking about? What does it refer to? If someone were to point to something we could see that is “David’s glory,” what would he point to?

Well, one must know something about David to answer that question. And, the thing we would need to know is listed in 2 Samuel 23:1 which introduces the last words of King David before he died:

Now these are the last words of David. Thus says David the son of Jesse; Thus says the man raised up on high, The anointed of the God of Jacob, And the sweet psalmist of Israel.

Among the things for which David is renowned – things that are his glory, if you will – is the fact that he is “the sweet psalmist of Israel.”

We have lost a sense of the term “psalmist” that was clear to the original listeners of this Old Testament text, namely that a psalm was a song accompanied by a plucked string instrument. No doubt, David developed his musical talent, particularly his skill on the harp, during the long days he spent alone in the fields with the sheep when he was a boy. It was a skill he maintained and matured into adulthood, and it shaped his formation of the Levitical choirs which he created for the worship of the Temple, even before Solomon constructed it.

Now, go back to verse 2 of Psalm 58: “Awake harp and lute! I will awaken the dawn,” David cries out. David addresses his signature instruments as if they are people he awakens from slumber. He declares that he will make such a torrent of music that even the sun will get up!

All that to explain this: when David says in Psalm 58:1 that he will sing and give praise, “even with my glory,” that phrase my glory does not refer to some fuzzy, mushy capacity of David’s soul; rather, it refers to the musical instrument(s) which invariably accompanied the songs which David composed in order to praise God.

So, what does Paul mean when he says “man is the glory of God?” Or that “woman is the glory of man?” It should now be obvious what he means. And, the implications of this are the subject of the next blog in this series.

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