Recently a number of priests in the Church of England publicly called for changes in the church’s liturgies to include references to God as a female and mother alongside the traditional male designations. From Christian Today:
Proclaiming “Jesa Christa, crucified” is among the liturgical changes that could help lessen abuse of power in the Church, according to a leading woman priest.
While there is support at the highest levels for the liturgies to be rewritten to represent the female as well as the male side of God, any change would need to go through the General Synod of the Church of England.
Many priests and bishops already substitute “she” for “he” in parish services around the country. At a recent Westminster Faith Debate on women bishops, a woman rabbi sang ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’ with female instead of male pronouns.
Does God have a gender?
Nevertheless, even though God does not have a gender as such the conversation continues as a factor of human language and a description of relationship. Since God really has no gender, some have concluded that it really doesn’t matter what pronouns or gender specific language one might use in identifying God. While ‘it’ may sound too disrespectful for worship, in that line of thinking, ‘God the Mother’ is just as good as ‘God the Father.’ Better yet, since it supports the feminist movement and is more in tune with our modern Western culture.
However, I believe that we should be careful to use designations for God that are clearly supported by scripture.
First. The Bible should be recognized as the best and most authoritative source for identifying who God really is. Christianity is a revealed religion. So let’s review what we can find in the scriptures.
Many in favor of using feminine designations for God point to the scriptural passages which use feminine metaphors for the Divine (Isaiah 42:14, Isaiah 46:3, Isaiah 49:15, Isaiah 66:13, Luke 15:8-10). So there are scriptures which indicate that God’s personality may include some characteristics which are normally associated with women.
However, there are also scriptures referring to God as a ‘rock’ (Psalm 18:2), a ‘lion’ (Hosea 11:10), a ‘bear’ (Hosea 13:8), and as a’ bird with wings’ (Psalm 91:4) just to name a few. So anthropomorphisms and metaphors of God in the Bible are better understood as evidence for character and personality rather than gender.
Fact is , in the scriptures God is most clearly and consistently named and referred to using masculine pronouns and language.
Second. I believe as Christians we should continue to honor the designations Jesus used during his lifetime. Jesus consistently referred to God using masculine names and pronouns, particularly ‘Father.’
Some have pointed out that he did refer to God once as a woman looking for a lost coin in Luke 15:8-10 but that was actually a teaching parable. But no one would say in a similar passage that Jesus was really calling himself a female chicken (Matthew 23:37 or Luke 13:34) when he refers to himself as a ‘mother hen’ trying to gather together the folks in Jerusalem.
Third. All of the nations and cultures surrounding ancient Israel and Judah featured goddesses even though all of them were patriarchal societies. If the identity of God was merely a function of culture, the ancient Hebrews would have joined the rest of the world by adding a feminine deity to their worship.
However, the Hebrew prophets consistently condemned the inclusion of any goddesses in the homes and the worship of their people. Culturally it would have been a natural response to at lease emphasize a feminine nature of the One True God to combat the problem but that never really happened. Though there is some evidence related to the ‘Spirit of God’ that we will explore later.
Fourth. Traditional Christian Trinitarian theology should not be ignored since the doctrine was formed by carefully analyzing every single scriptural reference to the identity of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is the defining doctrine of God accepted by all major Christian churches and denominations. So I believe it should be included in the discussions since a number of different issues are raised in the process.
-God The Father: The first person of the Godhead was consistently called ‘Father’ by Jesus Christ. Since he had a natural mother- Mary and the scriptures identified him as the ‘Son of God,’ it was natural for him to refer to God as ‘Father.’ But the scriptures go beyond that mere convenience. There really are no references to ‘God The Mother’ in the New Testament. So I don’t see how it can be supported by Christians without appealing to ambiguous and possibly misapplied Old Testament metaphors.
In later Catholic traditions, Mary is called the ‘Mother of God’ but never is elevated to divine status herself. However, I will concede that I have no real problem with Christians using a more generic reference to God as a ‘Heavenly Parent.’
-God The Son: Jesus Christ is fully God but lived on earth as fully a man so it is difficult to see how the second person of the Godhead could ever be successfully identified as a female.
While we are at it, the one statement that really bothers me in the key article above is the reference:
“Jesa Christa, crucified”
There is no way that Jesus Christ can ever seriously be identified as such. One has to totally disregard the Gospel record and his life as an actual man in history.
-God The Holy Spirit: The third person of the Godhead offers the best scriptural evidence for some kind of a feminine identity. The Hebrew and Aramaic word for ‘Spirit’ is feminine. So all the way through the Old testament feminine language is assigned to the Spirit of God (at least 74 references). Also the divine personification of ‘Wisdom’ in Prov. 8:12-31 is feminine. Add to that the fact that Jesus probably spoke Aramaic and there is some real scriptural support for a possible feminine identity for the Spirit of God and a scriptural basis for the inclusion of the feminine in the Godhead. This should not be a complete surprise since God created humankind in his own Image; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).
However, a feminine identity for the Holy Spirit is not supported in the New Testament. In the Greek language ‘spirit’ is neuter. But all the way through the NT all of the pronouns referencing the Holy Spirit are masculine and plus several titles (Paraclete, Comforter) applied to the Holy Spirit are also male. Add to that the fact that in the Septuagint (ancient Greek translation of the OT) all of the references to the Spirit of God are also neuter and do not reflect the possible feminine designations of the Hebrew and Aramaic.
So looking at the evidence in the Biblical languages used throughout the Bible does not completely resolve this issue for us.
-God does not have a gender. But gender designation may none the less be useful as a factor of language identifying personality and relationship.
-The Bible should be recognized as the best and most authoritative source for identifying who God really is.
-Anthropomorphisms and metaphors in the scriptures are evidence for character and personality but not necessarily gender.
-Patriarchal culture did not necessarily force a masculine identity for God since nearly all of the neighboring nations (also patriarchal) worshiped goddesses.
-The references to God used by Jesus should be honored by Christians.
-Triune references of identity and relationships of the One True God should still be respected since their source was Biblical.
-There seems to be a basis for a feminine identity of God in the Hebrew and Aramaic references to the ‘Spirit’ of God and the personification of ‘Wisdom’ in the Old Testament. However, it is not supported in the Greek New Testament nor by the Septuagint.
-There is also a basis for a feminine side of God in creation since male and female were made in the image of God.
Back to the issue before us. There are a number of priests in the Church of England that are demanding changes in the church’s liturgy to identify God as a female and a mother in addition to the masculine language that has been used traditionally. A lot of the pressure for the change is coming from the modern culture and the feminist movement in particular.
It is my view that Christians should continue to use and respect the designations that are clearly supported in the scriptures. One might refer to God as our Heavenly ‘Parent’ without any real departure and referencing the ‘Spirit of God’ and ‘Wisdom’ using feminine pronouns has at least some scriptural support. But the idea that God can be called ‘God the Mother’ really has no Biblical support at all and confuses the Trinitarian identities. And finally, a reference to Jesus Christ as ‘Jesa Christa’ is just plain ridiculous if not offensive.