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.



Learn More

Objections to a Masculine God, Part Two

Last Updated on Friday, 2 December 2011 07:00 Written by Father Bill Friday, 2 December 2011 07:00

god masculinity bible


Before more completely unpacking Paul’s contention that God is masculine in 1 Corinthians 11:7, we are first examining the most common objections to this idea, beginning with objections lodged even by committed patriarchalists. One of the most common objections from their quarter goes like this:

“Masculinity” is not in the Bible’s lexicon. We should, therefore, defer from speaking terms that the Bible does not.

The fact that the lexicon of Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek cannot be mapped word for word to the lexicons of any other language has never hindered anyone from undertaking a translation of the Bible. Masculinity is not the only word in modern English, for example, that has no equivalent in Biblical languages. In fact, most of the Bible’s vocabulary (in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) is only approximated by vocabulary in modern English! Nevertheless, translators have inevitably resorted to “work-arounds” of various sorts (including paraphrase in the target language).

But, this critique of God’s masculinity goes beyond mere lexical equivalents. Because the words masculine or feminine do not exist as such in any Biblical lexicon, some will ruge that the concepts themselves have no meaning within a Biblical mode of expression. This is not true; but before showing this, we must note that these critics’ concern for the primacy of Biblical lexicons does not extend to other terms commonly used by them, terms which also never appear in any Biblical lexicon.

An obvious example, of course, is the word trinity and its related terms (trinitarian, Holy Trinity, triune, and so forth) These are wholly manufactured words, purely theological terms, technical terms if you will, terms applied to a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith. Yet none of these trinitarian terms ever appear in the Bible. This fact is sometimes raised by unitarians or any who would repudiate Trinitarian doctrine. By appeal to what the Biblical lexicons do not contain, heretics score rhetorical points against their orthodox opponents.

Another word missing from the Bible is evangelize. Nor evangelism. But an entire Christian industry arises from these terms! Indeed, name any sub-group of Christendom and you can find within the parlance of that group any number of terms and expressions never found in the Biblical text.

To see this point, try to name each Christian subgroup which is known for using the following terms: (a) sacred heart; (b) move of God; (c) soul competency; (d) supralapsarian; (e) entire sanctification; (f) tight meeting; (g) Kingdom of the Left Hand and Kingdom of the Right Hand; (h) evensong; (i) Theotokos. The answers are given at the end of this blog post.

But, if there is no term within the Biblical lexicons for our term masculine, does this make it unwise or even impossible to affirm that God is masculine? For such an affirmation to be possible and credible does not, in fact, rest on a specific entry in a lexicon, but rather upon equivalent concepts in both the Biblical writings and extra-Biblical languages. And that is precisely what we find various parts of the Bible.

But, before examining these, let us first engage other criticisms of the statement “God is masculine” in the next two blogs.

(a) Roman Catholics; (b) modern charismatics; (c) Baptists; (d) strict Calvinists or the “Truly Reformed;” (e) Wesleyan Methodists; (f) Brethren; (g) Lutherans; (h) Anglicans; (i) Eastern Orthodox.

Learn More

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.

Learn More


Bill’s Blog Posts

Bill's blog Faith and Gender is now migrated onto this website. The comments are now visible!

Access Bill's blog by clicking here.





Copyright © 2012 ICGS