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Question and Answer

Gender of God

Question:

I'm interested in learning about the Presbyterian church's concept that refers to God as feminine and/or masculine? Please direct me to resources.

Answer:

You ask about the Presbyterian view on feminine or masculine names for God. I can't speak for all Presbyterians. I can speak only for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). The OPC being a theologically conservative church, we believe that the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God. And since God doesn't change, we do not hold that God should be considered feminine or neuter.

As far as I know, all written languages have masculine and feminine names, as well as pronouns indicating people as masculine or feminine. So, since the names of deity in the Bible are all masculine, we do not think of God as, for instance, our "heavenly mother."

The above is a positive answer to your question. But I feel I owe you some reasons derived from the Bible and then conclusions based on those answers.

Reasons first: The historic Christian faith holds that the true God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Bible treats them all as masculine. But you need to understand three things: (1) All the qualities found in human personality—male and female—are attributed to the Persons of the Triune God. The 103rd Psalm, verses 6-18, sets forth characteristics found in both sexes. See also Psalm 27:10. (2) God created mankind male and female (Genesis 1:26-27), and both in His image. So, though men and women are physiologically different, yet they and they alone of all earthly creatures are in God's image. (3) God the Creator is distinct from His creation. The Bible begins with "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." God is eternal; the heavens and the earth are not. See also Acts 17:24-27.

And God tells us why he created woman: In Genesis 2:18 "And the Lord God said, 'it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him ...' " God created Adam to be the representative head of the human race. He could not fulfill that destiny except for the woman that God gave him. And when Adam sinned and fell from his original righteousness, both were subjected to trouble because of their sin. Eve's trouble was that she should have difficulty in child-bearing, and Adam's that he would have to work strenuously to feed himself and his family until he died.

This leads to the consideration of the relation between the sexes in marriage. Ephesians 5:21-33 tells that story. The wife was to be in subjection to her husband, just as the church is subject to Christ. But how did Christ earn the right to be Lord over His church? By dying for the church on the cross, a pretty big price to pay for lordship. And husbands are to be Christ-like to their wives, protecting them, providing for them and their children.

The Bible's concept is not like that of the caveman whirling a club around his head, dragging a woman to his cave. No, it is love and respect for the man who gave her his name and provides for her and their children at all cost.

I put verse 21 in there on purpose, in spite of its belonging to the previous paragraph: "... submitting to one another in the fear of God." Marriage is a wonderful, divine institution; but to make it wonderful there must be mutual submission. Two people need to work at making it a heaven on earth rather than a hell on earth. I had a wife for 57 years until my Lord took her home. If anybody referred to her as my "better half," I would say Amen! We were poor in those early days, but she took our meager earnings and made a home out of what I could provide, never complaining to me that she should have continued teaching school so she could live better.

Another Scripture passage that feminists don't like is 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. Overall, it's a difficult passage to interpret, but a couple of things stand out clearly in verse 3; "But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." Two things are important: Christ, who is the Son of God incarnate in human flesh, though Himself divine, was subject to God, His Father and the first Person of the Trinity. And yet He was subject to His Father. And the man, as an image-bearer of God, is no better than the woman who also bears God's image. And still she is subject to the headship of man. How can that be? Inferiority in status is not inferiority in worth!

This equality in honor is stated again in verses 11 and 12: "Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord [my emphasis]. For as woman came from man [Genesis 2:21-22], so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God."

I could go further, but I've said enough to set forth the biblical position of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church regarding the gender of the divine names. Of course, take God away and you have men warring against women, abusing them and getting all the pleasure out of them that they can, and then tossing them aside. And it works the same way when the roles are reversed. But the Bible is a supremely wise book.

So the conclusion: It's not competition but complementation, not independency but inter-dependency. And because of the secularization of our culture (which I've seen turn almost 180 degrees in my lifetime) the battle lines are drawn—even to feminizing God who made the woman to be "the glory of man" (1 Corinthians 11:7). We need to go back to what God says and rejoice in what He made us, in spite of inequities that are all about us because of our fallenness.

I know I gave you more than you asked. But think about what I've written and see if, under God, we'd all be much happier and hopeful of greater joy, through Jesus Christ, in the world to come. And even if you disagree with what I've written, I'd be glad to hear from you again.


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"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

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