Objections to God’s Masculinity: Part Four

Last Updated on Wednesday, 4 January 2012 03:24 Written by Father Bill Wednesday, 4 January 2012 03:24

masculinity god BibleContinuing to examine objections to the idea that God is masculine, we come to this:

Yes, we find the Bible speaking of God in all sorts of ways that seem to predicate masculinity to him. However, we cannot take these predications as if they were literally true. They are simply a more elaborate version of a common figure of speech known as anthropomorphism – speaking of God as if he were human (or male). The Bible speaks of God as if He had bodily parts such as an arm, or or hands, or fingers, when we know that God is a bodiless Spirit.

The unknown author of Psalm 94, however, construes the relationship of Creator and creature in a different way:

He who planted the ear, shall He not hear?
He who formed the eye, shall He not see?”

God’s hearing is positively asserted here, and that very capacity – God’s actual hearing – underlies His creation of human hearing. That men see is evidence for God’s seeing, for He created men’s eyes. One could easily extend the Psalmist’s statements to the entire human body. If we did so and then summarized the result, we could say that man is the image of God!

“Image” in Genesis 1 is the Hebrew tzelem, the ordinary term for a statue. Nebuchadnezzar erects a golden tzelem of himself [the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew term] in the Plain of Dura. There is no question in either Daniel 3 or Genesis 1 that the respective images fail to precisely, accurately, and fully replicate those whose images they are. On the other hand, there is no doubt that either image corresponds to the one whose image it is.

The golden tzelem is, so to speak, Nebuchadnezzaroid. Nebuchadnezzar is the original, the archetypal schema, the prior reality which determines the shape of the image of himself which Nebuchadnezzar creates, such that the statue on the Plain of Dura is an image of Nebuchadnezzar instead of an image of Abdul the Beer Brewer down on the banks of the Euphrates.

To say that God’s arm or God’s hand or God’s finger are anthropomorphisms is, after a fashion, to put the matter backwards. Man is himself theomorphic. Not all God’s creatures are theomorphic; none of the animals, for example, are ever said to be created in the image of God. But man is expressly said in Genesis 1 to be theomorphic. Whatever this means in the details, the very notion of an image requires that some minimal features of the image mimic in their nature and/or function the Original on which the image is modeled. In these respects, therefore, it is legitimate to assert that any such features apply to the Original, even if we know such features only in the image.

Craig French, in a comment on a previous blog in this series, wrote this:

So if God describes Himself in masculine terms, it isn’t that He isn’t masculine…it’s that our masculinity cannot contain His. His masculinity is on an immeasurable scale.

In a sense, I guess it is better to say He *is* masculine…what we are is analogically masculine. We can only be accommodatedly masculine because He is ultimately masculine.

In this comment, French is getting at the same idea contained in the notion that we human creatures – created in the image of God – are theomorphic. And, if so, then it is not at all out of the question to predicate to God a quality one observes in the creatures created in His image.

Again, these considerations do not establish that God is masculine.  But, they do dispel the criticism of God’s masculinity, that it cannot be literal, that it must be merely figurative.

The same considerations undercut a criticism that other sex-specific predications about God are merely figurative. Among such criticisms is the claim that God’s fatherhood is merely figurative, he is only like a father. The Bible, of course, is awash in similes and metaphors applied to God.  But any objection to the Bible’s description of God as somehow defective or indeterminate because it is cast as a simile or metaphor begs the same sort of question as the claim that some statements are anthropomorphisms.  Any comparison between God and something not-God is obviously pointing to a quality or feature or aspect that is the same in both God and in that thing to which He is compared.  The interpretative challenge is to identify what those features or aspects amount to.

We say, for example, that a beautiful woman’s lips are like a rose.  Do her lips have thorns?  Roses have thorns, after all!  Are her lips colored yellow?  Many beautiful roses are yellow!  No — we mean that her lips have a deep red color, just as the rose has a deep red color.  Seeing the woman’s beautiful lips makes us think of the beautiful rose.  So, even if God is merely like a father, to say such a thing is to positively assert that fathers and God share some quality or characteristic(s) in common.

But, again, with fatherhood, Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:15 that God is the Father (as Mr. French describes in his comment linked above) while all fatherhood in heaven and earth takes its nature from Him.

At this point, a religious feminist can be expected to pounce and to say “Gotcha!! God is just as feminine as She is masculine!” The reasoning here is that man is created male and female, that both male and female are in God’s image, that this datum in Genesis 1 requires us to conclude that God is no less feminine than S/He is masculine.

Paul would disagree, of course. In fact, he does so in 1 Corinthians 11. And, that is the subject of the next couple of blogs in this series.

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Objections to God’s Masculinity: Part Three

Last Updated on Monday, 5 December 2011 05:08 Written by Father Bill Monday, 5 December 2011 05:08

god masculinity bibleWe continue examining the most common objections to the masculinity of God, particularly those found among ostensible patriarchalists. We’ve previously looked at “masculinity is not a concept found in the Bible,” and now we tu rn our attention to an extreme version of this sort of thinking, bolstered by theology as well as lexicography:

 “God is beyond gender. He is infinite, transcending of all things He creates. To say that God is masculine diminishes God’s glory. It puts God in a box that cannot contain Him.”

Among Eastern Orthodox theologians, you will find much discussion along these lines, all to this point: the only thing we can certainly say about God is what we certainly know is not true of Him. God is not this; God is not that; God is not such and such other things. This idea even has a standard name in the study of theology. It’s called apophatic theology.

Opposed to this is a different sort of theology which also has a name: kataphatic theology. A kataphatic way to say something about God would be to say that God is love. The apophatic way would be to express a similar idea would be to say that God is not hate.

But, one might just as well say that God is not love, as He transcends even our notions of love and hate. Ultimately, if we pursue this way of speaking about God, we would even jettison the cocept of the Trinity, or even jettison the idea that God is one, because the Divine is above numberhood. Indeed, if God is truly transcendent in the way that apophatic theology posits, then He is beyond all duality and all distinctions because God contains within Himself all things and is beyond all things.

Logically, to insist that our knowledge of God is apophatic is to insist that we may know nothing at all — in a positive sense —  nothing at all about God. He is beyond any conceptual understanding by His creatures.

I trust you can see that this runs into two problems. The most trivial of these is this: if we may only speak of what God is not, then there is no “stuff” for theology at all. A premise of apophatic thinking a bout God supposes that we cannot know God truly because we cannot know God comprehensively. We cannot know “all of God,” and so we cannot know anything of God. But, this then exposes a second problem: it flatly contradicts what we find in the Bible.

The Bible, of course, is riddled with positive statements about God’s nature and His actions.  His words and His works are the stuff of the Bible.  And, the Old Testament prophets, jesus, and Jesus’ disciples in their New Testament writings — all of them insist that the Scriptures are the Word of God, Scriptures which are composed almost totally of kataphatic, that is, positive statements about God’s words and God’s works.

Of course, the Bible might be completely false, and it’s no surprise to find that  those who insist on God’s ultimate incomprehensibility also discount the Bible’s revelation of God. In fact, the Bible ceases to be revelation in any authentic sense; it becomes “a record of men’s experiences and thoughts about God.” These thoughts and reports of experiences are all kataphatic; they all affirm positively things about God.Yet if the apophatic premise is correct, then even the statements of the Bible fail to tell us anything true about God.

With this objection to God’s masculinity, we find a dilemma. If this objection is valid, then it is also true that we know nothing at all about God. But, if the Bible is, indeed, true, if there is indeed truth about God which we may know, then this objection to God’s masculinity fails. That alone would not establish God’s masculinity, of course. But, it would move past this sort of objection.

The discussion presented above may seem arcane.  Most Christians today  — at least those wtihin evangelical Protestantism in America — have never heard the words kataphatic or apophatic. But, I’d wager that many evangelicals have heard their pastors or Sunday school or home Bible study leaders say something like this:

“It is true that the Bible speaks about God or presents Him in a way that is obviously masculine.  God, for reasons we may speculate about, wishes us to think of Him in these terms.  Jesus wishes us to call God Father.  But all of these forms of address or forms of speaking are metaphorical.  We must not put God in a box!  Just because the Bible speaks of God in masculine terms, this is no warrant to suppose that God is really masculine.”

This is simply a way to say that we do not know anything about what God truly is.  Behind the mask of metaphor, God remains unknown and unknowable to us.

In a later blog, I will lay out the evidence in the Bible that reasoning such as I’ve highlighted above is false  — false, that is, if the Bible is speaking truth.

If, however, the Bible does not speak truly about God, then all bets are off, and those who keep the words of the Bible while emptying them of any truthful content are the same as those who keep a form of religion but deny its power. They are, in spite of the Christian window-dressing, not Christian at all.



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Objections to a Masculine God, Part One

Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 November 2011 06:00 Written by Father Bill Wednesday, 30 November 2011 06:00

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.

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