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 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.

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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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