Should we stop referring to God as ‘he’?

Last week the polling company YouGov published the results of a survey asking Christians what they thought about God’s gender. Their ‘shocking’ discovery is that very few agree with Ariana Grande’s claim in her latest single:

With Ariana Grande’s recent single being entitled “God is a Woman” a new YouGov survey reveals that British Christians aren’t so sure about that: in fact, just 1% believe that God is female.

There are some basic problems with the report of the poll itself—the main one being that YouGov don’t give any clear indication as to their sample methodology and what they mean by ‘Christian’ when they claim ‘Christians believe that…’ Are these people who are self identifying? Were they sampling outside churches on a Sunday? Did they ask any questions about actual practice and attendance? Without this information, the ‘Christian’ claim is fairly meaningless.

Despite the YouGov headline, Premier correctly reported the less exciting but more accurate observation that ‘Most British Christians believe God does not have a human gender identity’. But Olivia Rudgard of the Telegraph has managed to make more of a story from the survey, by getting comment from Rachel Treweek, the Bishop of Gloucester:

The Church of England should avoid only calling God “he”, a bishop has said, as a survey found that young Christians think God is male. The Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, bishop of Gloucester, the Church of England’s first female diocesan bishop, said: “I don’t want young girls or young boys to hear us constantly refer to God as he,” adding that it was important to be “mindful of our language”.

She raised concerns that non-Christians could feel alienated from the Church if its public pronouncements used solely male language to describe God.

“For me particularly in a bigger context, in all things, whether it’s that you go to a website and you see pictures of all white people, or whether you go to a website and see the use of ‘he’ when we could use ‘god’, all of those things are giving subconscious messages to people, so I am very hot about saying can we always look at what we are communicating,” she said.

It is worth observing the progress of language here, as a sobering lesson on what happens in the publicity process. First, the survey finds that most ‘Christians’ don’t believe God is gendered. Then ‘nearly half’ believe God is male; then ‘young Christians think…’; and finally ‘The Church should not use male language’. In subsequent (copy-cat) pieces, Rachel Treweek goes from being the first female diocesan to the first female bishop, and this is now a ‘growing problem’—so who knows what the story would look like with a few more repeats. And apparently this is a problem of perception in mission and evangelism (without any evidence cited) so we have moved rather a long way from the original survey.


The reason why Olivia Rudgard went to Rachel Treweek with this survey is because it is a reply of comments that she made in 2015, when there was again quite a lot of coverage. But then and now, the headline-grabbing stories collapse a series of separate though related questions about God and gender:

  1. Does Scripture claim God is male?
  2. Are there both male and female metaphors for God?
  3. Are we at liberty to change them?
  4. Should we use feminine pronouns for God?
  5. Is this a missional issue as claimed?

As I have noted previously in this discussion, the most prominent images in Scripture of God are the male images, but the female images are not absent. There is quite a good list of them here; the main references are Hosea 11.3–4 and 13.8, Isaiah 42.14, 49.15 and 66.13, Deut 32.11-12 and 18. Perhaps the most striking ones in the NT are of the kingdom of God being like a women kneading dough (Lk. 13:20-21), God being like a woman who has lost a coin (Luke 15.8–10) and Jesus likening himself to a mother hen (Matt 23.37, Luke 13.34). Most striking of all as a female image in ministry is Paul’s description of himself as a women in labour (Gal 4.19).

Underlying this is a very clear claim: God does not have a gender. Although the gendered identity of humanity has its origins in our creation in the image of God, Gen 1 is very clear that neither gender on its own is the image of God:

So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Gen 1.27)

In a culture and context where gods where male or female, and where for the most part the male gods conquered and controlled the female, this is a striking statement. If we think that the male more truly represents the ‘image and likeness’ of God than the female, we are contradicting a central claim of the biblical revelation about God.

This connects with other central claims about the nature of God. In the discussion with the woman at the well in John 4, Jesus states that ‘God is spirit’ and, despite debates in Judaism about whether God has a body (following from OT language about the arms, hand, eyes and even nostrils of God), Christian theology has consistently believed that (in the words of Article I of the XXXIX) God is ‘without parts or passions’. Gender (or, more accurately, ‘sex’) is a bodily reality; we are sexed as male and female because we have male or female bodies, and if God is not bodily then God cannot be sexed.


If, according to Scripture, God is not male, the question then follows as to why most of the images of God are male in Scripture, and whether these are a reflection of the culture of the time so that they might be open to renegotiation.

New Testament scholar Jon Parker observes something significant about male language in the cultural context of the biblical writings:

To me, the use of masculine language in the ancient world has less to do with “patriarchy” than it does the presumption of the gendered nature of fruitfulness. The masculine was the first stage of progeny. There were (and are) plenty of things to celebrate about the feminine in Scripture. For example, when it comes to long-suffering toil, the exclusively feminine experience of bearing and birthing is almost always reached for, cf. Num 11:12; John 16:2-21; Gal 4:19.

By contrast, the masculine “sowed the seed.” Of course, we now know that men and women contributed equal DNA, but they didn’t. In ancient observation of the world: seed + soil/womb = life. Of course, too, this is metaphorical when speaking of God. But when thinking about the One who created/sourced all things, it was, I think very hard for any ancient Mediterranean person (Greek or Jewish; male or female) to think about that being as feminine. It wouldn’t make sense. That this sense of the first stage of progeny was then used by many to wrongly (and unbiblically) promote men over women is beside the point in why the language was used, I think.

To reflect God’s nature as “unsourced source” is still a good reason to use the masculine about God, despite abusive patriarchy spoiling that language (which of course cannot be ignored as we try to speak about God today).

But, as Alastair Roberts points out, the differences between male and female—and particularly between the meaning of ‘mother’ and ‘father’—and not only contextual, but relate to a fundamental asymmetry in the way that the two function in parenting.

The Scriptures use feminine imagery and metaphors of God, but it primarily identifies God using masculine pronouns, names, and imagery. Male and female imagery isn’t interchangeable.

The fact that God is called ‘Father’ can’t be substituted by ‘Mother’ without changing meaning, nor can it be gender neutralized to ‘Parent’ without loss of meaning. Fathers and mothers are not interchangeable, but relate to their offspring in different ways. A mother’s relationship with her child is a more immediate, naturally given union of shared bodies. It is more clearly characterized by close empathetic identification. A father’s relationship with his child, by contrast, is characterized by a ‘material hiatus’ and more typically involves a greater degree of ‘standing over against’ the child. While motherhood is more naturally given and more rooted in the body through the process of gestation and nursing, fatherhood is established principally by covenant commitment. If he is to be more than a mere inseminator, a man must lovingly commit himself to his wife and offspring. The different nature of the father’s relationship with his child also means that he more readily represents law and authority to the child: he can stand over against the child to a degree that the child’s mother can’t.

All of this matters when we are speaking about God. A shift beyond biblical feminine metaphors and imagery to feminine identification of God will have a noticeable effect upon our vision of God, our ideas of where God stands in relation to us, the way that we conceive of the Creator-creature distinction, and the sort of language that we use when speaking about sin, separation from God, etc.

Let’s recover the feminine imagery of Scripture, but let’s do so in a careful and theologically principled way, rather than presuming that any symbol or language we choose to employ for God is as appropriate as any other.

Given that the ecumenically agreed Apostle’s Creed declares faith in ‘God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth’ and in ‘Jesus Christ, God’s only Son’, and given that the Lord’s Prayer addresses God as ‘Our Father’, then to start changing this language touches on central issues of confessional faith, rooted in the consistent testimony of Scripture. I confess I have never been a fan of the New Zealand Prayer Book re-write of the Lord’s Prayer, even though it has been widely used:

Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven…

Is it possible or helpful to use feminine pronouns when referring to God? It is worth noting that Rachel Treweek (and Jo Bailey Wells, also quoted in the Telegraph article) do not advocate this; if God is not gendered/sexed, then their suggestion is to avoid using pronouns at all. But this is extremely difficult in ordinary speech, and the biblical texts don’t appear to have any qualms about it. The problem that we have in English (and in many languages) is the lack of a UGASP—an UnGender Assigned Singular Pronoun (in French it is common to use on which is such a pronoun). In other words, it is very difficult to refer to an individual without specifying his or her (there, you see?) sex. If we call God ‘Father’ and Jesus ‘Son’, it would be nonsense not to use a masculine pronoun. Some claim that the Hebrew for ‘Spirit’ (ruach) is feminine, which gives us a precedent for using a feminine pronoun (as, curiously enough) I experience from the person leading worship yesterday. But it is well established that grammatical case does not indicate personal gender; in any case ruach is occasionally masculine (Ps 51.12 and elsewhere); in the NT the Greek term pneuma is neutral; and in fact use of a feminine pronoun draws attention to the question of gender, and if anything suggests that God is indeed gendered, rather than suggesting that God is beyond gender.


Finally, it is worth reflecting on whether this is indeed a pressing pastoral or missional issue. Kate Wharton offers customary insight and common sense in the earlier discussion:

We need to make use of the very helpful feminine/maternal imagery we find in Scripture, perhaps most of all in pastoral situations where someone struggles for whatever reason with the masculine imagery. Having said that, I have never been in a pastoral situation where someone has struggled with calling God ‘Father’ and ended up instead calling God ‘Mother’ – rather they have worked through what the issue is for them, what that means for their relationship with their earthly father, and how they can most helpfully know and relate to God as Father, understanding him to be the perfect example of fathering.

And, going back to the YouGov survey, it is striking that more women than men think of God as male, which doesn’t appear to have stopped them coming to faith and coming to church. One of the challenges to this claim about mission is the still high proportion of women in churches which not only lean towards the masculine images of God, but believe that ministry and leadership should be primarily male.


And does it really help the cause of women in leadership in the Church to continue to be connected with this debate? One of my friends on Facebook has hosted some fairly unpleasant comments in reaction to a perception that this issue is about rejecting biblical language and biblical ideas about the nature of God—even though a careful reading of the comments made in the newspaper article doesn’t actually say that. But given that this doesn’t appear to be a serious missional issue, is it time to move on to other things?


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207 thoughts on “Should we stop referring to God as ‘he’?”

  1. Alastair Roberts (who you quote) was a contributor to the recent Think Conference on this type of issue. The Conference focused on ‘Complementarity’, as opposed to ‘Complementarianism’ – tho’ it didn’t necessarily always make the distinction clear.

    Although all the sessions are on Vimeo or the Think Theology Blog, I’d especially recommend Hannah Anderson’s sessions, as she stayed the most tightly focused on scriptural themes and texts, and managed to stay less tangled and inhibited by simple opposition to current ideas or commitment to tradition.

    In this talk (linked) she did an excellent job of exploring the ancient cultural concept (conception!) of Fatherhood and inheritance, within the theme of The Image of God, which is then picked up again in the New Testament.

    She argues that this means that the ‘seed’ issue is connected to our place as the image of God, with creation/earth being the womb/mother, and God being the Creator/Life Giver/Father and Authority/Ruler, and humanity being the Royal offspring, family and representative of that rule.

    That section goes from 19:30 to 33:00 but the whole hour is worth a listen.

    These issues are vital. If non church people are to experience God as Father, we need a well argued basis as to why scripture takes that emphasis (while agreeing that obviously God is not bound to a human gender, and that maternal characteristics and imagery are also Biblical, helpful and vital).

    Without good foundational explanations of The Fatherhood of God, many people will be put off The Church by their own poor or even abusive experiences of fatherhood in our broken culture.

    https://vimeo.com/287443754

  2. So in sum (and to over-simplify I’m sure!), God is not male or female, but he is more masculine than feminine in his attributes, or at least in his relationship to us, for a number of reasons mainly linked to the role of the sexes in procreation, so it remains helpful to use biblical and traditional masculine language. This sounds plausible, but it does seem pretty open to someone to come and make an argument about why the exercise of authority is more naturally male.

    Christianity has always been more popular with women than men, since it’s very earliest days. So this doesn’t seem to be a barrier to mission among women (perhaps the opposite – women do like men after all – perhaps the eros dimension of our love for God comes more easily to women?)

    • ‘This sounds plausible, but it does seem pretty open to someone to come and make an argument about why the exercise of authority is more naturally male.’

      I think you are right—and there is some historical evidence for this! But the first observation, that ‘God is not male or female’, would also be compelling evidence that the exercise of authority should not be exclusively male.

      Because of this, I think that women can indeed be ordained (since this is the C of E expression of the exercise of authority in ministry in the church, for good or ill) but that we would naturally see more men in leadership than women.

      So I agree neither with those at the Reform end of things who think only men should lead, not with those at the Steve Holmes end of things who think men and women should be leaders in equal numbers…as I have posted on before.

  3. Is it to be taken that Jesus has no part in Church Mission, His incarnation, life death, resurrection, ascention?

    Surely we need to go no further than him? Who do you say I am? The fullness of God revealed. There is no God behind him, hidden, nor beyond his address of his, our, father. The fullness of the Triune God.

    He is the I AM God, covenanting God…before Abraham was I am. Yahwey his name. I am his nature. In covenant, all that I Am, I am for you. Saviour, Shepherd,Prophet, Priest, Sacrifice and King and more, Alpha and Omega.

    Look no further than Jesus for who God is. Don’t we know him? Simple, but far from simplistic. He is the embodiment of Christian biblical theology.

    • I agree here with Geoff

      As Christians we follow Jesus Christ and Jesus calls God Father, Abba etc, but always male.

      So we have a Bishop that allegedly follows Jesus Christ as she claims to be a Christian (following Jesus Christ being an essential part of the meaning of the word) and yet she thinks Jesus Christ was mistaken.

      So an unbelieving Bishop – what’s new?

      All of us, whether male or female, have a variety of characteristics. Some might be classified as masculine and some might be classified as feminine. Classification is more a judgmental characteristic of general society than of the individual because, in reality, all of us have a mixture of such characteristics even though we are, scientifically speaking, either male or female. Having a wide variety of characteristics does not make our name for God female.

      • Clive
        I have no idea why you think the Bishop is mistaken. God is Father only in relation to the Son, and the Son is Son only in relation to the Father. God self is not gendered or sexed and it is up to the bishop to find language that expresses that truth and that mystery for her. Whether this is missional is another question entirely.
        Oh, and not all of us are male or female.

          • Yes, but is that not simply analogous. We could also cry to God as mother after the pattern of some of scripture.

          • Penelope – could you point me to texts which do exemplify this pattern of crying out to God as mother? I’m not aware of any, possibly through ignorance. I’m aware of texts which use some feminine analogies, but am curious about the one which you mention as counterparts to the “Abba, father” cry.

          • I think we need to recognise that Scripture appears *extremely* reluctant to call God mother or ascribe feminine characteristics to God, even though it does occasionally do that.

            There are some pretty good contextual reasons for that, in relation to mother goddesses in other religions–but I don’t think we can easily get away from the psychological differences between mothers and fathers, rooted in biological difference, that Alastair Roberts outlines in my quotations in the article.

          • Well – I argued in my thesis that *spontaneous* tongues (the sort that takes the speaker by surprise) was the same language as baby-gabbling or chuntering. But baby language is full of repeated nouns and consonants (‘lellow’ for ‘yellow’ etc.). When Paul speaks of ‘Abba’ he cites the fact that Christians are heard to cry out ‘Abba’ spontaneously as evidence. From which we deduce that they were certainly heard to do exactly that. Which should not surprise us, since it is exactly the same sound a toddler makes.

          • Ian
            I think a lot of the distaste for feminine/female language for God arose as Judahite religion because increasingly monotheistic and Yahweh lost his Asherah. Goddesses were regarded with horror, although the desire/need for the feminine is, perhaps, evident in cultures which tend towards Mariolatry.

          • Penelope
            “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you”

            …is not crying out to God as Mother at all but is describing a characteristic of God clearly seen in the “as … so….” structure:

            In the same way, “as” ….. “so” I (God) will ….. – which does NOT involve crying out to God as feminine.

    • The logic of what you are saying appears to be ‘Jesus was male; Jesus was God; therefore God is male’.

      But that ignores three key things. First, Jesus is not the entirety of God in the sense that heaven was empty when Jesus took flesh and dwelt amongst us. Second, the incarnation imposed limitations on the godhead, and one of those limitations was to be bodily and therefore to be sexed.

      Thirdly, from a theological point of view there has been a clear consensus amongst both Jewish and Christian thinkers that God is neither bodily nor sexed, and therefore not male in the sense that men are male.

      We therefore need to recognise all the male (and female) metaphors for God as metaphors and not literal description.

      The apparent maleness of God in Scripture therefore needs some explanation and exploration, as I hope I have offered…

      • Thank you Ian. Clive and Geoff, Jesus assumed humanity, not maleness (which is the particular part of his humanity). The I assumed is the unhealed. For women to be saved Jesus needs to be human, not male.
        Of course, one of the Problems with construing the divine as male, is that it leads, all too easily to the construal of the male as divine.

        • “Clive and Geoff, Jesus assumed humanity, not maleness”

          Not so – GOD assumed human nature, in the particular form of Jesus – who is male. Is Jesus’ maleness incidental to his Saviourhood? I am not sure we can dismiss this tout court, with a wave of the postmodern feminist hand. All the Messianic prophecies are of a Son. This is a datum you have to deal with – and not speculate about ‘possible’ (but non-existent) worlds.

          • Brian, you might not have realised, but Penny was actually citing Athanasius. ‘What is not assumed is not redeemed’.

            Therefore for Athanasius what was essential is that we see Jesus as the archetypal human, taking up all of our humanity. In other words, theological it is *not* his maleness that matters, just as it is not his height, or hair colour, or Jewishness that matters.

            If what matters is that Jesus was a male man, then we are in some serious trouble. (oh, and we are contradicting Paul’s language about him being a second Adam = second humanity, not a second masculinity)

          • Hello, Ian – I got the allusion to Athanasius all right (in fact I’ve read De Verbi Incarnatione twice – in Greek, it’s not that difficult – in a copy I picked up in Southwell Minster a few years ago for £1). But Athanasius isn’t the last word in biblical theology for me, and my question was whether the maleness of Jesus is simply incidental in his being the Salvator Mundi or if it was actually required in the economy of salvation. IOW, if God the Son had become incarnate as a female, could that female be the Saviour? The whole pattern of Messianic thinking seems to preclude that notion. (I don’t know if this thought ever occurred to Athanasius.) Similarly, was it essential for God the Son to be incarnate as a Jew? I think it was. This is the scandal of particularity I was talking about: if the Saviour is to make any sense in the Jewish matrix, that Saviour has to be a Jewish male in the line of King David. I don’t think a Chinese peasant girl or even a blue-eyed blond Nordic man ( 🙂 ) would fulfil the divine economy.

      • Ian,
        I certainly agree that there are metaphors, but I’d suggest the place to start is the person of Jesus, and work backwards and forwards from there. He is not a metaphor.
        And Jesus coexistently fully God and coexistently fully human. Non of that negates the truth that God is Spirit.
        Neither did I say what you seek to logically deduce. I deliberately left that open. What I said was that you can’t go beyond Jesus. If you want to know what God is like look to Jesus.
        Neither did I say or imply that incarnation places limitations on the Godhead. It does not say nor imply, that heaven was emptied. That is to put a limitation on God.
        So what is Emmanuel, who is He?
        Who do you say He is? Son of God, God the Son?
        I know you don’t always like scripture to be quoted but here is some: Collosians 1:
        15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
        Of course you are more than aware that this chimes with, is of a piece, with the Gospel of John.
        Jesus is the second Adam from whose side comes a new humanity.
        But I’m not theologically adept, nor a scholar.

        • Geoff,
          I would go even further since Jesus Himself indicated that to see Him is to see the Father. The whole narrative of John 14:1-11 is quite clear over that issue including the author of Hebrews in this discussion is also on the side of who God is in Hebrews 1:1-2:4. So also John’s testimony in I John 1:1-4 and Peter’s in I Peter 1 and especially II Peter 1:16-18 referencing the meeting on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17. It seems that the Apostles Matthew, Peter, and John who all knew Jesus would pretty much settle the issue.
          I also think that the issue of “accommodation” has been taken to its extreme. I know that some accommodation is used when referencing God since our language, let alone our brains, cannot fully comprehend the totality and nature of God in His relationship with His creation since “God is spirit” (John 4:24). But, when taking accommodation to its logical conclusion can lead one into quagmire that does not add up. It is what Tertullian in response to Justin Martyr’s use of Greek philosophical language and presuppositions, i.e. God is without passion, that he said, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Let us be careful here. Heresy is a lot closer than one thinks since it uses a “half-truth” to get started.

          • Thanks, Bryant,
            Agreed.
            John 17 is wonderful too. But it is not only problematic for Jehovah’s Witnesses, as is Colossians 1 it seems from the comments here.

            I really do find it incomprehensible why, as Christians, Jesus Christ is not first, central, and last in knowing who God is in the marvel of the Oneness of our Triune God.

            And it is noticeable that there are few if any references here to the Trinity which is unique to Christianity. This is our God who is under attack.

            The church in many places is on shifting sands, or as you aptly put it in a quagmire, as evidenced in the comments

  4. Surprised to see you seem to come down on the side of continued theological inaccuracy. The most striking thing from the survey you open with is not how few people think God is female – but how few know the truth.

    I agree with you that I’ve not heard anyone serious argue anything other than the fact that God is neither male nor female (or possibly both male and female, which makes no difference here). Should we not pursue the truth then? What follows in your argument seems to be a combination of historical ignorance and an attempt to fit God into Alastar Robert’s view of gender stereotypes. Neither work as a theological argument for continuing to use exclusively male pronouns for a God who is neither male nor female. Since the Bible uses both male and female images for God, I don’t see why it is so threatening for the church to follow the Bible.

    It may not be the most pressing pastoral issue, but it is certainly interesting.

    • “Since the Bible uses both male and female images for God, I don’t see why it is so threatening for the church to follow the Bible.” Your conversion to the Bible is to be applauded. But the issue has never been about images – since the Bible also uses animal, avian and geological ‘images’ for Yahweh – but *names and *titles and *pronouns used by Jesus. If you want to be biblical, then follow the practice of Jesus and his Apostles.

    • ‘I agree with you that I’ve not heard anyone serious argue anything other than the fact that God is neither male nor female’.

      Er, except that a lot of unpleasant ‘Christian’ people are arguing that God is male by the bucketful online just now…

    • Alastair Roberts’ view is based on observing that women bear children whereas men sire children. I think that is rooted in biological fact, not any kind of stereotype.

      And I am not arguing *for* using male pronouns. I am arguing *against* using female pronouns, since these don’t undo the idea that God is beyond gender.

      • You don’t quote Alastair Roberts referring to biology – just cultural parenting roles. Also to be clear, I’m not arguing *for* using female pronouns. I just think that exclusively male pronouns makes people think God is a man (as the survey revealed), which is clearly wrong.

        • You need to read it again. His comments are entirely rooted in biology:

          A mother’s relationship with her child is a more immediate, naturally given union of shared bodies. It is more clearly characterized by close empathetic identification. A father’s relationship with his child, by contrast, is characterized by a ‘material hiatus’ and more typically involves a greater degree of ‘standing over against’ the child.

  5. “So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”. (Gen 1.27)
    This is the latest NIV translation. The earlier NIV translation is
    “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”.
    This debate has to consider what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:7
    “A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man”
    And also consider the Bible’s use of marriage to illustrate the relation between God and his people, e.g.:
    Ezekiel 16
    Ephesians 5:18-33
    Hosea 4:12
    Romans 7:4
    Jeremiah 3:14
    Revelation 19:7-9
    As C S Lewis wrote long ago, “With the Church, we are farther in: for there we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or rather, we are not dealing with them but (as we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us”.

    Phil Almond

    • I wonder if the nature of God and gendered human authority are not 2 different questions? I suppose they inevitably overlap. The way I always address questions like gendered human authority is by looking at societies that worked best, and seeing how they did it, and whether there’s a pattern.

  6. The French ‘on’ isn’t really a ‘UGASP’ (wow, that acronym made me gasp as well). Outside phrases like ‘on parle francais ici’, it really functions as an alternative pronoun and can mean je / tu / nous / vous / ils / elles as the situation requires – and then (though it is singular) the adjective and participle will be modified to masc / femin and sing. or plural. ‘On est arrives en retard’ is how the French say ‘(They – or we girls) were late.’ Only the newer textbooks teach this.

  7. In any case, Rachel Treweek is just wrong and unbiblical in her outlook.
    Jesus Christ is the final Revelation of God.
    His language for God is *Normative, *True and *Binding for his disciples.
    What Jesus says, goes for his followers. The Bible NEVER uses female pronouns or titles for God.
    Metaphors are hardly a guide on how to address the Almighty – otherwise ‘hen’ , ‘eagle’ and yes, ‘man of war’ should head up our prayers. I don’t think Rachel Treweek would be keen on that. But who knows? Her gender hesitations are simply a reflection of the massive loss in confidence in the Bible as the revelation of God that has seized the modern liberal Protestantism that she typifies – the same kind of loss of confidence in Christian sexual ethics that the fast-disappearing Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church are demonstrating in their rush to embrace ‘same-sex marriage’ – the failure to understand the male-female dynamic that underscores human nature and human society. I am not surprised that women bishops should promote such an outlook, because their own position is at variance with the Apostolic Church on ministry.

    • It’s ‘normative’ and ‘true’ in a patriarchal discourse. How could it be otherwise? I don’t think the Bishop is necessarily right here, but I applaud her for opening up the discussion, especially for people who have difficulty with God as father for all sorts of reasons. And she, and others, should be quite free to choose their own pronouns for God; otherwise we are divinising maleness, which has been an idolatrous temptation for the Church through the ages.
      And pronouns have no connection with sexual ethics!

      • ‘…she, and others, should be quite free to choose their own pronouns for God…’

        Others, maybe, a Bishop, No! As a Bishop she is decidedly not free to choose her own pronouns for God – she is appointed and has sworn to uphold and teach the faith as once delivered. To address God as ‘she’ is to talk to or about a different God than the Christian God.

        ‘…for people who have difficulty with God as father for all sorts of reasons…’

        Indeed and we must be pastorally sensitive to this. But the answer is not to change the Biblical language and image of God – who is properly not analogously Father – the answer is to bring them into a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit through who sets us free from a spirit of fear and through whom we cry (joyfully) Abba Father.

        • Simon
          It is generally agreed in Christian theology that God is not gendered. All our talk about God is provisional, but since God is a person we must use pronouns. There is nothing heretical in using female pronouns, unless you want to divinise the male.

          • Dear Penelope
            We are so far apart here

            Yes, All our God talk is provisional –
            But it is also revelational
            If I tell you my name is Simon and that is who I am and how I am to be addressed- if you start calling me Lilly not only do you offend me but You are not talking to me.

            God is Father – eternally, ontologically and thus not and never a she. God has co-opted our language to reveal himself and he is who he is in his revelation not our preferred designations.

          • God is father in relation to the Son who is Son in relation to the Father. God never tells us Godself’s name, so we cannot andmust not gender God. Scripture uses both genders to refer to God (male more than female of course in patriarchal cultures).
            Again, figuring God as male is close to divinising maleness; humankind is tempted always towards idolatry.

      • Oh, the irony of liberals declaring freedom to choose their own pronouns for addressing God, while encouraging the State penalise anyone who doesn’t keep to preferred pronouns for addressing transpeople.

        • Oh, the irony of people not realising that choosing our own pronouns for ourselves and to relate to to Triune God whom we worship is a sign of our freedom in Christ.

          Really bad analogy. The State doesn’t decree pronouns. We do.

          • David
            Yes, laws which protect people from prejudice. It isn’t the State decreeing the pronouns (as you say), it’s the State ensuring ‘rights’.
            So, still not a good analogy.

          • There’s no prejudice in resisting those who impose such thoroughly contrived language to curtail free speech.

            The very idea of a ‘right’ which imposes a legal duty on others to censor their free speech to conform to contrived neologisms exemplifies liberalism at its most ludicrous and hypocritical.

            In fact, the notion isn’t even worthy of further engagement.

          • It occurred to be this morning, that the Brighton document which David S linked to shows that it is non-PC to use a gender-specific pronoun which is not wanted by the person referred to by that pronoun. The PC brigade should apply this to God. To be properly PC we cannot refer to a God using a pronoun which lacks God’s sanction. We should not be free to use a pronoun which we find helpful. Has God communicated that ‘he’ or ‘she’ as the appropriate pronoun?

          • David

            Firstly I cannot see what you lose by using a neologism.
            Secondly, words are important. There are terms I would never use for you because they would be hateful and harmful

          • Penelope,

            Firstly, as I’ve explained, freedom of speech is infringed by others prescribing alternatives to pronouns which are already part of polite speech.
            Secondly, I’d agree that words are important. That’s why I support freedom of speech.

            Thirdly, the Public Order Act now clearly distinguishes the criminal nature of “threatening, abusive” language from subjectively perceived insult causing hurt feelings. That’s why Section 5 was repealed.

  8. I wonder if the nature of God and gendered human authority are not 2 different questions? I suppose they inevitably overlap. The way I always address questions like gendered human authority is by looking at societies that worked best, and seeing how they did it, and whether there’s a pattern.

  9. Indeed Brian,
    I can recall having a brief conversation in a pub with a local CoE vicar, who I knew, who is now a Canon. We were in different company, and I can’t recall how we got talking together. He was advocating for a female god, mentioning Jesus wanting to gather like a mother hen. Do we pray to our heavenly hen? I asked, to which there was no reply.
    I’d suggest the sripture shows the deep compassion of Jesus, the character of God, and what it is to be fully male, let alone allusions in that scripture to the Old Testament! Here come the brickbats.

  10. I’m not sure why no one has referred to the clear female metaphors in scripture:
    ‘The wife of Christ’ Eph 5:32
    ‘The Bride adorned for her husband’ Rev 21:2
    ‘the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all’ Gal 4:26
    The missional relationship is Jesus the husband (male) is begetting eternal children by the process of new birth through his wife who is the church (female), her citizenship being in heaven Phil 3:20.
    Perhaps we should be talking to ordinary people about Jesus and letting the theologians argue about God!

    • Such talk was in fact very common 20-25 years ago – I can recall many sermons and ordinary discourse about ‘the Bride of Christ’. Which is of course simply an extension of the OT picture of Israel as Yahweh’s wife. But the emergence of ‘same sex marriage’ makes even this ancient metaphor “problematic” – a sign of how far modern secular feminism has harmed the church. Add to this C of E bishops in same-sex relationships – there are at least two, currently – and you get an idea of how mixed up the C of E is becoming.

      • Actually ,the metaphor of the Bride of Christ is much more authentic since the advent of SSM, since the Bride is a very queer Bride indeed.

        • Clive,
          The question is not who is a theologian, we all are, to a greater or lesser extent, but what sort?
          “A theologian is someone who studies the nature of God, religion, and religious beliefs. ” Collins on-line dictionary
          And from Merriam- Webster on-line dictionary:
          Definition of theology :
          1 : the study of religious faith, practice, and experience especially : the study of God and of God’s relation to the world
          2a : a theological theory or system Thomist theology a theology of atonement
          b : a distinctive body of theological opinion Catholic theology
          Theologians are not all “balconeers” (JI Packers, Knowing God,reference to John Mackays illustration in the foreward but there are theologians who are “travellers “. … Take the problem of the Godhead while the balconeer is asking how one God can be conceivably be three, what sort of unity three could have, and how three who make one, can be persons, the traveller wants to know how to show proper honour, love and trust towards the three persons who are now together at work to bring him out of sin to glory.”
          Packer’s convictionis that ignorance of God bothof his ways and of the practice of communion with him lies at theroot of the church’s weakness today…
          It is often said today that theolopgy is stronger than it ever has been, in terms of academc expertise and the quantity and quality of books published this is probable true: but it is a long time since theology has been so weak at its basic task of holding the church to the realities of the gospel.
          …yet interest in theology and knowledge about God, and the capacity to think clearly and talk well on Christian thememes is not the same as knowing him.
          The question is not whether we are good at theology, or “balanced” in our approach to problems of Christian living; the question is, can we say simply, honestly, that we have known God.”
          JI Packer: Knowing God 1993
          All of that, of course, involves Knowing Jesus, as he is revealed to be.

          • Dear Geoff

            you wrote:
            “It is often said today that theology is stronger than it ever has been, in terms of academic expertise and the quantity and quality of books published this is probable true”

            I don’t really agree at all with that.

            It is not the subject here but in the arguments of feminine priests Elizabeth Schuessler – Fiorenza’s book “In memory of her” is a very well researched and well written book and an academic research showing the early Church did have women leaders (but not always named). By contrast people like Phyllis Trible wrote emotional stuff, flawed argumentation and yet claimed academic position as a means of telling others not to question it, when question it they rightly should have.

            I realise that in high German Schuessler – Fiorenza ought to have an umlaut in it but I have used the proper German language way of putting an e after the vowel which is all an umlaut ever means.

            Whilst it is true that the majority of my qualifications are science and engineering I am one of those annoying people that also have theological qualifications going right up to a masters degree. In my time I have met genuine theologians who make you think. However the current generation of academics pale into insignificance compared to some of the key academics before them.

            There is a double problem. Academics go wandering off into a fantasy world started by a truth and then consistently misrepresented and the misrepresentation gets worse and worse in academic circles.

            People can only correct it by stating the blindingly obvious.
            The clearest example for the layman (or “layperson” these days) is that most academics in the 19th century and right up to WWII in the 20th century claimed that John’s gospel was not written at the same time as the other gospels and was probably written circa 300 AD.
            It was Bauckham who asked the simple question that if John’s gospel was written circa 300AD then why do so many early letters of the church quote it? (He was stating the blindingly obvious against the academic trend).
            It was pointed out that no Roman fort had a pavement outside it. Archaeologists in digging the Roman fort in Jerusalem not only found a pavement but found games scratched onto some of the slabs. Similarly archaeologists found 5 porticoes to the baths as John’s gospel describe.
            So what was said previously by academics that such statements in John’s gospel. Acadeimcs said that such words in John’s gospel were there to make the reader think it was of the time when it wasn’t, but some started to change what was said and started to say “such statements are there because it is a contemporary account”.

            Worst of all the Ryland manuscript fragment of John’s gospel (Papyrus P52) is in Manchester here in the UK and has been for some time. It is written on both sides and so it is a copy of what is likely to have been a scroll originally. That fragment is carbon dated to 125 AD.

            So all the academic talk of circa 300 AD was rubbish, the evidence it was rubbish was here all the time and it took concerted loud voices stating the blindingly obvious to get academics to even begin to change their thinking.

            This site is a mixture of scripture study and theology (they are not quite the same) and I like the site for it, but I think it unwise to claim being theologians.

  11. I can’t help thinking that this issue is largely raised as a cipher for other male/female issues. *Some* people having their axes to grind turning this into a wilderness generating battle ground. I have, very rarely, come across someone with issues relating to the father figure image of God. But it’s been to do with their own issues about how they were parented. No one has opted for “mother” as more satisfactory or was actually criticising God as somehow a father.

    The Fatherhood of God is the undeniable ‘big’ picture. Few people think of God as human surely? It doesn’t strike me as biblically faithful to undo this and to reconstruct some other ’21 century improved ‘ model. Putting a description of “God” into words is best limited to his paperwork on the subject. He (I write without shame ?) has supplied quite a lot of self-description, including imagery nuances.

    “it is striking that more women than men think of God as male, which doesn’t appear to have stopped them coming to faith and coming to church. ” Indeed!

    People making this an issue perhaps are the issue?

  12. Ian Hobbs.
    Amen.
    When we say the Lord’s Prayer at church, our opening words are always ‘Our Father…’
    If I ever hear anyone say different opening words from these, I will not follow suit 🙂

  13. For me, perhaps before we consider how we refer to God in the third person, we should consider how we address God in the second person. How do I talk to God?

    The Gospels are clear that Jesus invites us into the same relationship with God that he has. The fundamental prayer of Christians starts “our Father”. I need not enumerate the other Gospel references. In two of his letters, Paul states that the Spirit witnesses to our relationship to God by enabling us to call out “Abba, Father”. I do wonder if those who have an issue with God as Father, are, perhaps, a little hard of hearing when it comes to the promptings of the Spirit.

    We should also remember that in saying that God is Father, we are not saying that he is like human fathers. Rather, we should realise that God defines what it is to be Father, and human fathers are but a pale and distorted image of this. “If you [fathers], being evil … how much more your heavenly Father…”

    If Christians know in their hearts, minds and spirits God as ‘Father’, then there is no choice but to use ‘he’.

    • Yes, David, I like the interlinear translation in Eph 3:14 “I bend the knees if me unto the Father of whom every fatherhood in heavens and on earth is named”. It has a fascinating eternal viewpoint.

  14. From Ian’s article and the comments here I don’t see any theological discovery which should cause Christians to use female pronouns for God, either exclusively or even occasionally. In fact to do so occasionally would be the less convincing reason, being done as a political signal rather than a theological understanding; in practice it would be confusing and a distraction rather than a help. To go exclusively to the opposite gender would jar horribly with scripture as we have received it and simply reverse the ‘discrimination’ (though no one is arguing for that anyway).

    But let’s be honest. This is not theologically driven; it’s a fruit of today’s sexual politics which are neither Christian in origin nor intention. It’s true that, for a small number of people it’s something that could be a stumbling block if they’ve fallen under the influence of a dogma that breathes discontent; and therein lies one of the costs to the assumption that everything must pass the ‘equality’ test. But, even today, I would guess most people can think past that local difficulty once they start talking about God. Surely as soon as your gaze rests on the eternal the preoccupations of sexual politics fall away?

    • “But let’s be honest. This is not theologically driven; it’s a fruit of today’s sexual politics which are neither Christian in origin nor intention.”

      Of course it is – and anyone looking at the origin of this movement in TEC can see what fruit it has produced – in aging, dying churches where secularism and introspective (and angry) feminism and homosexuality have come to dominate. It is only a staging post to oblivion. Who in their right mind would want to be led by such troubled and anatagonistic people as a Katherine Schori or a Gene Robinson? Who would bring up a family in such a sphere of influence? If human fathers were to model themselves on the Fatherhood of God and if husbands were to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, a revolution in human relationships and family life would follow. But we have a fractured world and the sexual politics of the unbelieving universities have infected liberal Protestantism with its own antagonisms.

      • Sitting here, clothed and in my right mind, thinking how much better it would be to be led by Schori or Robinson- neither of whom is troubled or antagonistic – rather than Okoh, Ashenden or Jensen, all of whom are

        • …in you opinion surely. given the multitude of statements from all of those people you can find some that are troubled / antagonistic and some that are not from all them and yet you choose to label some instead of others thereby being antagonistic!

          • No Clive, I would struggle to find antagonistic statements from Schori, Robinson, or Curry. On the other hand, Okoh, Jensen and Ashenden can’t say good morning without being snide. It’s a vocation for Gomes.

  15. Let’s set to one side (with all due respect) God the Father and Jesus the Son. The fact that Jesus was a man makes it natural to refer to him as he; the use of the title ‘Father’ makes it more natural than not to refer to God as he, in situations where it is impossible to avoid using a pronoun.

    But we haven’t properly discussed the Holy Spirit. Starting from the standpoint that to use male pronouns in talking about God can imply that God is male, it is clearly best to avoid to doing so if it’s unnecessary. Ian, you suggest that while you’re not arguing for male pronouns, you are against using female pronouns, ‘since these don’t undo the idea that God is beyond gender’. True – but the primary difficulty with talking about the Holy Spirit is the tendency for Christians to refer to the HS as ‘it’, thereby implying the HS is like a force or power that is impersonal (and, therefore, less a ‘person’ of the the Trinity than the other two). To avoid this travesty, it seems helpful to use he or she in talking of the HS. Because there is (I believe) no gendered imagery for the HS in the Bible (I’m not talking about grammatical gender here), there is no reason why we should use the pronoun he. This seems like a really appropriate moment to provide some balance in our language by referring to the HS as ‘she’. Ian, you suggest that ‘use of a feminine pronoun draws attention to the question of gender’, and, so long as it remains unusual, that is true – just like 50-odd years ago, using female pronouns in academic discourse must have seemed most disconcerting. However, now it is so taken for granted that male and female pronouns are appropriate in writing about people, it (quite rightly) jars when you read something that talks about ‘men’ all the time in referring to people.

    So why don’t we start referring to the HS as ‘she’ in our theology-talk? As it gets more natural, we might start finding it easier to do so in worship settings… and this will hopefully put paid to the idea that the HS is less than a person. It should also have the additional outcome that our speech about God is both male *and* female, underlining that God is encompassed by neither.

    • Amy,

      “So why don’t we start referring to the HS as ‘she’ in our theology-talk? As it gets more natural, we might start finding it easier to do so in worship settings… and this will hopefully put paid to the idea that the HS is less than a person. It should also have the additional outcome that our speech about God is both male *and* female, underlining that God is encompassed by neither.”

      I do find it irritating when the theologally educated refer to the Holy Spirit as ‘it’. It’s inexcusable in divesting ‘him’ of personhood and coming across as a mere force of some kind, certainly not God himself. I remember 40 years ago being heckled by an elderly lady 🙂 for doing that.

      ….but I think that to use ‘she’ introduces complication of exactly the kind that’s trying to be avoided. There may be ignorance around ;-)but I don’t think the problem is so great that it needs ‘fixing’ like this. For me it feeds back into the idea of God our (contemporary?) male/female images of life rather than make/female attributes flow from God.

      • Thanks Ian, I appreciate your point. I was interested to hear Graham Cray refer to the Holy Spirit recently as ‘he or she’. That’s one option! But a tad awkward – I haven’t been able to bring myself to do likewise yet.

        • That was silly of Graham Cray to do so, as such usage has no NT foundation. pneuma is neuter in Greek but when Jesus speaks of ‘to pneuma to hagion’ in John 14.25 and 15.26, he says ‘ekeinos’. This is repeated in John 16.13, 14.

          • Feminine in Hebrew. Not, as Ian notes that grammatical gender maps onto sexed language. But I always call the HS she, the Trinity needs some female input.

          • “Feminine in Hebrew. Not, as Ian notes that grammatical gender maps onto sexed language. But I always call the HS she, the Trinity needs some female input.”

            I’m sure the Trinity is grateful for your help. Not that the Hebrew Bible has a lot to say about the Trinity. But disciples of Jesus Christ will follow his teaching about the Paraclete.

          • Brian and Christopher
            All our language about God is provisional. Easier, perhaps, to be apophatic. But, of course, we (human beings) decide how to speak about God. The writers of the scriptures chose, the theologians at the oecumenical councils chose how to speak about the Trinitarian God. There are reasons why God is referred to mainly through male pronouns throughout scripture; we would probably disagree on those reasons. But using female pronouns is only a problem if you divinise the male, which I fear you are doing.

          • To add that while in John 14 the demonstrative pronoun ‘ekeinos’, which is masculine, could relate to ‘parakletos’, also masculine, in John 16.13f, ‘ekeinos’ is used with relating only to ‘pneuma’, which is neuter.

            I would also take issue with our language about God as being ‘provisional’, in that this implies that it could change. God has spoken through the prophets and supremely in the incarnate Son. I do not think we will get any new revelation that will change our core understanding. I would prefer to think of our language perhaps as partial or inadequate.

          • Penelope, I didn’t say that everyone who took an apophatic route failed to exercise their brain. I said that one could be apophatic without engaging one’s brain at all, as indeed one can.

  16. Three points
    1) It is surely possible to hold both male and female images and metaphors for God alongside one another without exclusive use of any one metaphor or set of pronouns. It is also possible, though it can be tricky to avoid constant use of he and him by recasting speech to avoid pronouns. We don’t have to do this to the extent that it becomes silly, but it can be done.
    2) There is a danger, already alluded to, that we fall into particular views of male and female in human terms and project those onto God when we talk about God as male or female. Better in my view to recognise the attributes of God, to be careful of our language and to remember that any image or metaphor is temporary and may be problematic for someone.
    3) I have written on the biblical basis of the image of God as midwife. I find that helpful, someone with bad experience might not. I recognise that midwives can also be male and that the image itself crosses gender boundaries while having a particular slant. Using it as one laid alongside others enables a deeper picture of God to be contemplated.

    • “It is surely possible to hold both male and female images and metaphors for God alongside one another without exclusive use of any one metaphor or set of pronouns.”

      Metaphors and images are NOT the same as names. This is the fundamental mistake that people make when they fail to reflect on the Revelation of the Divine Name and the revelation of the Trinity. Instead they treat the Bible and dogmatic (creedal, conciliar) theology as so much fiction in the service of their socio-political agenda. This is the unbelief that lies at the heart of Liberal Protestantism – which J. H. Newman prophesied about in his famous ‘Biglietto’ speech. Feminist-influenced theology usually ends up in a kind of modalism about the Trinity. This is where your idea leads.

        • Really Ian?

          He is not just Father etymologically, is He not “Everlasting Father”, lit. “Father of Eternity”?

          “And His NAME will be called
          Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
          Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

  17. Hi Ian
    This is a very helpful, thought-provoking post. You quoted Alastair Roberts, “The Scriptures use feminine imagery and metaphors of God,. . . .” I’ve tried to find the source, but wasn’t able to. You also quoted Jon Parker. I wondered if you could let me have the sources to these quotations.
    With many thanks
    Blessings,
    Rob.

  18. These comments seem to be pretty sprawling, agreeing on the main substance of Ian’s point but flying off on tangents with ease. I’m going to go all ‘Christopher Shell’ on the comments, and add my thoughts in a numbered list.

    I accept the following propositions:

    1. God is not male, though traditionally masculine characteristics are often ascribed God in scripture.

    2. God is not female, though traditionally feminine characteristics are often ascribed God in scripture.

    3. The fact that incidents of (1.) are undoubtedly more frequent than (2.) does not necessarily mean that God is more masculine than feminine, although it could mean this. (I don’t think it does).

    4. Nor is it necessarily true to say that God is somehow either ‘Genderless’ or ‘Gender-Plural’. To do so is to abuse Genesis 1:27, where humans, both male and female, are created in God’s image.

    On one hand you cannot bear an image that doesn’t exist, so in some sense at least, however hard it is to articulate, God is gendered. But on the other hand our distinctiveness as two sexes means we view the world in a radically different way to God, and so what it means to be gendered is something quite different depending on the object we’re discussing.

    5. That Jesus was male presents only a little difficulty. The theological trajectory, from the earliest NT scripture/letter* right through the teachings of the early church to the church fathers, was that the importance of Jesus’ bodily manifestation is his Humanity, not his masculinity. I might have questions, and I would be first to admit that I wish I felt more confident about this, but ultimately I think Ian is right; in soteriological terms a fixation on Jesus’ maleness is about as useful as his hair or eye colour.

    6. Therefore, in combination of all the above, to call God either ‘He’ or ‘She’ exclusively is mistaken.

    You will not solve the problems of language by simply switching emphasis, which is what frustrates me most about the wider conversation on this issue; much better to remove it.

    I make a conscious effort to simply say ‘God’, as I would use anyone’s name when talking about them.

        • For some people it probably does seem old hat, but for some it’s a live issue – I was asked this very question (why do we use gendered language for God) a few months ago by someone in my congregation. How we speak about God is important. (For what it’s worth, my 12-year-old volunteered the opinion that people should be free to use whatever pronouns they want to.)

          I think we probably need to get used to saying ‘Godself’ more. It grates at first but I expect it gets easier with time.

          • I don’t disagree that it’s live issue, I do think it tends to get elevated and that’s what I was complaining about really.

            I don’t like ‘Godself’ personally, as it projects a human philosophical concept (self) onto God. I don’t think God has a ‘self’; God is ‘I AM’, and ‘I AM’ doesn’t need to be defined against others to gain meaning and distinction.

            Just using ‘God’ sometimes makes talking in the past tense, or in the 3rd person a little strange. But (as I’m hopefully proving here), it isn’t impossible to do without breaking the rules of language. 😉

        • Wow, subtle point, thank you (re Godself). However, I wonder if we need to get too worried about imposing philosophical concepts of self onto God. The NT is quite happy using the reflexive pronoun in all sorts of contexts without implying a philosophical concept of ‘self’. And (just a thought) when we start talking about God emptying ‘himself’, I wonder if it might come in handy?

          • Very true again.

            I’m being pedantic for the sake of a thought-provoking discussion, rather than because I’m genuinely objecting to the proposal. Godself is just a bit clunky, and in all honesty, unnecessary.

        • Hello Mat,
          1 Are you really putting hair and eye colour identity into the same category as male/female?
          2 Is Jesus being the “promised seed “of little or no importance/relevance.
          3 Is his Jewish identity of little or no importance – you seem to completely ignore the Old Testament trajectory, culminating in incarnation and
          4 His Jewish identity as male, which, if I’m not mistaken comes through the mother. What do you do with that?
          5 Really, seriously, what do you are you doing with Jesus? Who is HE.
          6 Really, seriously, what do you do with John 17
          7 “Not this again”, is of first importance, of which God we worship together not neutered, nor neutral, nor godess, or deification of mother – isn’t that what is done elsewhere.”
          8 And Yes God is Spirit, worshipped is spirit and in truth, trinitarian truth.
          9 Just to use the name God is contentless, it could inclue any and all gods.
          10 People may be happy to talk about god, ut run a mile when the talk turns to Jesus
          11 The biblical language for God is male. It does not mean that God is male
          12 And the prayer Jesus taught us -removed from the liturgy?
          13 At times it seems like the church or some theologians in the sobering words of Malcolm Muggeridge have been “educated to imbecility”. Muggeridge with prescience also said this:
          “educated himself into imbecility…”. My generation has embraced a world of intellectual elitism. The “uneducated” are no longer in a position to determine that which is right and wrong. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” a principle espoused by our founding fathers and written in the United States Declaration of Independence can no longer exist, intellectual evidence now reigns supreme.

          If a man argues the principles of God in the world of academia they are cut with the two words that will bring my very generation to its knees. “Prove it.” Man can no longer get his principles from God alone, it must be backed by science or psychology. Only those with a thorough understanding of these subjects can determine that which is best for society.

          In short, my generation has become lawyers of truth and the defendant is God.

          The irony in all of this is that while demanding that the man who defends the principles of God must use psychology and science to defend itself, those who demand it cannot defend their own principles using science and psychology. When questioned of their own ethic, their only response can be that each person can possess their own perception of right and wrong, otherwise they would have to justify their moral doctrine by the very criteria they demand be made of those who argue God. They are, in effect, rendered impotent of creating a moral society by their own argumentation.

          Let me implore, nay, warn the reader to understand the importance of this to its most intrinsic level. There was a time in history when a society eventually embraced completely not the laws of God, but the idea that the elite few with a complete understanding of science and academia could drive man towards a Utopian society. The most sobering realization to my generation ought to be that the holocaust was not driven by madmen, not encouraged by the unintelligent, not espoused by those without an understanding of philosophy but by men who were rational, some of the most highly educated and by those who possessed some of the greatest understanding of the philosophies of their time.
          The difference was only that which drove their rationale, intellect and philosophy. These men were living without God, and if something does not change in western civilization, we may see a different picture all too late.”
          14 To end where I opened in the comments, how does the Church do mission without Jesus, God himself , sinless, ecco homo, to personally take our personal male/female place on the cross. And yes, Jesus, name only could be mentioned, but who, but the most the most genderfluid indoctrinated and hostile would equate Jesus, if they think of Jesus as anything more than a myth, with anyone other than male?
          We really do need to begin and end with Jesus as God incarnate. God descending to this “ememy occupied territory” to redeem and rescue his people, with the ultimate exodus from death to life and life eternal.
          In all of this who or what is getting all the glory?

          • 1. Yes, I was. The category I was putting them in was “biological differences”. I didn’t say they were the same in degree or importance.

            2-6. See my responses to Brian below. They will not satisfy you, but I am not prepared to lay out a full christology for the sake of an internet argument, I am already exhausted by the comments I have written, and am worried that I have already deteriorated it to be less than helpful. Know this however; at no point in this thread have I contested Jesus’ maleness, or played down his Jewishness. I am just contesting that these are separate questions.

            7. My cynicism about this debate is not about it’s importance, but about the way it’s framed; as if we have to chose between two competing emphasis. I do not think we do?

            8. Have I denied this? Or are you building straw men?

            9. I use ‘God’ as opposed to ‘god/gods’ in continuity with almost all religious academic scholarship. Capital ‘G’ for the monotheistic God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, lower case ‘g’ for the pantheistic gods of other religions. It is not contentless, and I repeatedly connected my statements about God with the name “I AM”. I think it is perfectly clear to anyone who and what I referring to.

            10. Aha, agreement! 🙂

            11. Again, agreement. This was my point 1!

            12. Not that I know of.. I certainly didn’t say so.

            13. I think you are exactly right with what you say, but I confess I’m not sure what it has to say that’s in opposition to anything I’ve said?

            14. Again, you are attacking something I haven’t said, and that no one here has said.

          • Mat,
            Thanks. I wasn’t aware that I was duplicating and of Brian’s points, as I was typing these very slowly and it took time to post them.
            point 8 This wasn’t an argument against anything you’d written just making point. However, the cumulative effect of what you are setting out comes across, to me, as a deconstruction of the Trinity. It is the Oneness of our Triune God, that is the uniqueness of Christianity.
            9 I must have missed your emphasis to I AM. It was the person of Jesus who claimed the I am name in Gospel of John.
            But continue to press the point about using the word God. There any many in the church, in my, experience who would equate God with Allah, whereas Allah, begets not, neither does he beget, or even with Diwali festival of lights, godesses, not the father of lights.
            12 Indeed you didn’t say so, but you dilute the Lord’s prayer by reference to alternatives, which seems to imply they are equal merit, free to chose.
            13 The point is that we are trying to be too clever by far and pandering to the spirit of the age, particularly in interpretation. I know no Greek nor Hebrew, nor Aramaic. But we can certainly get the overall gist and biblical, theological sweep from various reliable English translations, or we go down the route of Islam, or pressed further, reading right to left. I recall a wise CoE minister warning to always remember your own personal conversion when delving into scripture and those who contend with it. Really, at that time did you have any problem with Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Or the Lord’s Prayer unchanged, without alternatives.
            12 & 13 aren’t in opposition to anything you said, but are a culmination.

            However, I think, as Brian, seems to show that there is a general lack of cross-referencing the OT with the New, with its, figures, patterns, echoes, allusions, types, antitypes, compare and contrasts all in the redemptive historical setting of biblical theology, perhaps so much so that Brian likens it to Marcionisn. Or that the OT is all about character studies, good and bad, or morals, good and bad. In my experience there are many in church today who think that the God of the NT is different from God of the OT.

            And to be clear, I’m not dissing the study of the original languages. Brian seems to be an exemplar linguist is this regard along with others, but I’m wary of new or personal translations that go against the grain of well-accepted ones and against the context, not only of the sentence, paragraph, chapter, book and where the book is, Old/New but also the bible as a whole. It is far more than semantics. This is not a get at you, more of a hobby horse.
            To end on a different but related note: highly unusually I’ve been asked to preach twice in the space of three weeks on two of the” I am” sayings of Jesus, in this order –
            1 the Good /God (Ezek 34:15-16) Shepherd line the line of Shepherd King David (Ezek 34:23,24) and fulfilled by David’s greater son, Jesus As you are aware, many OT links. Such as this taking place at the time of the Festival of Tabernacles. But are these not enfolded into, and fold out from a “suitcase ” marked (the covenanting making and keeping) I AM – all that I am I am for you, that is my nature, I stake my life on it, lay it down? Yes, the I AM of the burning bush, to shepherd, go with, Moses, as God shepherded his people across the desert, leading them out/from and then in/to, while tabernacling his presence in their midst, under cover and protection, guidance, safety of fire and cloud, the Spirit Isaiah 63:10ff. (Indications here of the trinity in the OT) Jesus the Good shepherd who leads out and in and has other sheep.
            and 2 I am the gate!
            Sorry to go on a bit, have to get on with it

          • I think you are generally right to be wary, but I’m not trying to deconstruct the trinity. Honest.

            A lot of the contention in the comments below, particularly between myself and Brian, is about what I am accused of not saying, rather than what I actually said, and on a few counts you are mistaken about what I said anyway: I did not, for example, mention any alternatives to the Lord’s prayer, only that it exists in two forms (traditional/modern) on the CofE website. 😉

            I draw your attention to my point 5 in the initial comment:

            “That Jesus was male presents only a little difficulty. The theological trajectory, from the earliest NT scripture/letter* right through the teachings of the early church to the church fathers, was that the importance of Jesus’ bodily manifestation is his Humanity, not his masculinity. I might have questions, and I would be first to admit that I wish I felt more confident about this, but ultimately I think Ian is right; in soteriological terms a fixation on Jesus’ maleness is about as useful as his hair or eye colour.”

            So to be absolutely clear about what I was/wasn’t saying:

            1. That Jesus is male is important, and not trivial, but that He is Human is infinitely moreso. The issue at stake is emphasis, not the essential truth of Scripture. I have not defended this well enough below, and I should have, so I take the criticism of clarity as fair.

            2. The fact that I did not mention the OT was simply for space. I did not feel it necessary to assert continuity with the OT, and work out a full and consistent Trinitarian theology justifying a simple point about emphasis in scripture.

            3. I am not ‘pandering to the spirit of the age’, though I do appreciate I wasn’t the sole target of that comment. I am not trying to remove masculine language, or include more feminine language and I have no progressive agenda so-to-speak. As you will know from my contributions elsewhere on Psephizo I am, if anything, an ardent traditionalist on most issues. My desire is to avoid language that assigns God a ‘sex’, as if God is a man or woman, when God is evidently neither of these.

            Thanks for engaging,
            Mat

      • Ian – here you appear to endorse Mat’s idea of trying to use ‘God’ rather than pronouns. But in the post you say this is awkward and besides scripture (and the creeds) have no qualms about use of masculine imagery and pronouns. So now I’m confused about what you think! Can you clarify?

        I also thought you argued that God does have more masculine characteristics, eg in terms of fatherhood, as part of justifying sticking with scriptural language, or did I misunderstand that?

        • Your point about the creeds is odd Will, because you’re wrong in so far as I can tell.

          Neither the Apostles’ nor the Nicene Creed use a gendered pronoun for God the father, only for Jesus. They use masculine language and metaphor but God is always simply ‘God’, and therein lies the historical precedent for my position. 😉

          • Not so simple, Mat. The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed begins ‘pisteuomen eis hena theon Patera’. ‘pater’ is obviously masculine – but so is ‘ hena theon’. – ‘god’ in Greek can be ‘ho theos’ or ‘he theos’ depending on who you’re talking about (e.g. Athene or Hera), and ‘one God’ (female), would be ‘mian theon’.

          • I have no complaints about the ‘Pater/Father’ issues and agree that this is both undeniably masculine and the correct form of address for God (as demonstrated by Jesus).

            I do not know enough Greek to dispute with you. 😉 My understanding was that God (in a generic sense when speaking of a monotheistic deity) was neutral, and that God/god only gained a gender when we know the name/nature of said deity being referred to?

            Please enlighten me.

          • “My understanding was that God (in a generic sense when speaking of a monotheistic deity) was neutral, and that God/god only gained a gender when we know the name/nature of said deity being referred to?”
            In speaking of Greek, that sounds about right to me. But remember that Greek and Hebrew convey meaning through articles and adjectives in a way that modern English no longer does. The meaning of ‘theos’ depends on the article (or adjectives) used with the noun, as well as any nouns that complement the meaning. ‘ho theos’ means ‘the god’ (masc.), ‘he theos’ would denote ‘the ‘goddess’. But there is also the noun ‘thea’ which is only feminine. ‘hoi theoi’ ‘the gods’ comprises both (as in the Olympian pantheon).

          • Hi Mat. It wasn’t really my point, I was stating what I thought Ian had argued above. Interesting to note lack of pronouns.

            Do you really not think that God reveals himself as more masculine than feminine in scripture? Why use so much masculine imagery if not to convey a heavier masculine element in his nature?

            The sexes obviously exist for sexual reproduction, but the way God has constituted the human male as larger, stronger and more emotionally resilient – isn’t there a reason imagery associated with this form is drawn on predominantly for God? And isn’t there special significance in the male role of inseminator, penetrator, provider and protector when we consider the relationship between Creator and created?

            These aren’t rhetorical questions – I’m thinking this through.

          • Sorry for missing the point 😉

            Do you really not think that God reveals himself as more masculine than feminine in scripture?”

            Of course he does. I’m not arguing that he doesn’t, merely that we shouldn’t determine from this that God’s character is weighted more heavily towards a masculine God, or indeed that our definition of ‘masculine’ is a fair one. I’m very wary that this was Jung’s mistake; and leads to the painting of the masculine as ‘Order’ and the feminine as ‘Chaos’. There’s a lot of room to accept that at least some of the masculine imagery is not uniquely so, and perhaps a better distinction is between masculine, feminine and shared characteristics?

            I’m also thinking this through, so perhaps the combativeness was unjustified.

          • Well, I think ‘Father’ is about as “gendered” as you get – and if you back-translate the Greek into Aramaic (or Hebrew), you will have to put a gendered suffix on ‘kingdom’, ‘name’, ‘will’ because Semitic languages distinguish between ‘your’ masc. and ‘your’ fem.
            Can you guess which suffix the translators have used? (Yes, I have checked my Heb. and Aram. NTs.)

          • That there are no third person pronouns for God in the Lord’s prayer is hardly surprising. The prayer is addressed to God. Any pronouns would be second person.

          • “That there are no third person pronouns for God in the Lord’s prayer is hardly surprising. The prayer is addressed to God. Any pronouns would be second person.”/i>

            Touche

          • Thanks Mat.

            Perhaps it’s a subtlety of the phrasing, but I would say that if God reveals himself as more masculine than feminine in scripture then we should determine from this that ‘God’s character is weighted more heavily towards a masculine God’. For it is how he has revealed himself. However, the other possibility – which is perhaps what you meant – is that while scripture contains more masculine imagery, that doesn’t imply that God is revealing himself as more masculine. I’m not sure the best way to resolve this point – theological reflection on the masculine, feminine and divine?

            In terms of definition of masculine, that surely can only be given by the statistically prevalent features of the male form? Eg greater size, strength, emotional resilience, deeper voice etc. Plus the distinctive role of fatherhood.

          • Just because lack-of-male-pronouns is true of the Lord’s Prayer,

            1- it is still addressed to ‘Father’;
            2- second-person pronouns are never gendered anyway, so that is neither here nor there;
            3- there are plenty of other texts it is not true of.

            I sense clutching at straws.

            All this is trivia, methinks. Gives Xnity a bad name, or ought to….

          • Christopher Shell wrote wrt the Lord’s Prayer:

            “2- second-person pronouns are never gendered anyway, so that is neither here nor there;”

            Yes, they are in Hebrew and Aramaic. The pronoun in these versions is masculine. As is every address to Elohim and Yahweh in the OT in the Psalms.

    • “in soteriological terms a fixation on Jesus’ maleness is about as useful as his hair or eye colour”

      – and what about his Jewishness?
      – or his descent from David?

      Let me repeat my questions above which I don’t think have been answered:
      Was it incidental or essential that Jesus was born as a Jewish man in the House of David?
      Could a Chinese peasant girl or a blond Nordic man or [insert your identity politics here] equally have been the Saviour of the world?
      IOW, what does it mean to be the Messiah? [Ian, please feel free to comment as well!]

      • “Was it incidental or essential that Jesus was born as a Jewish man in the House of David?”

        On the most basic level it was essential because that’s what Old Testament prophecy said would be the case. God’s plan was always to bring the world to salvation through the chosen people (so Jesus needed to be born an ethnic Jew) and God’s plan was for that person who lead the chosen people to be both King and High Priest (so Jesus needed royal ancestry). Agree? Connected, but secondary to the point, Jesus needed to be a male because of ancient ideas of authority and power that would have preculded a woman from being the above. Jesus could not have done what he did, said what he said, and had the freedoms he did if he’d been a woman…..

        “IOW, what does it mean to be the Messiah?”

        That’s too big a question for the comments section of this blog. 😉

        Messiah is something like the combined praxis of Prophet/King/Priest completed and perfected in a single person. A person who would finally accomplish, in fullness, plans for the restoration of God’s people, and through them, the world.

        N.T.Wright says it best:

        “What are we therefore saying about the earthly Jesus? In Jesus himself, I suggest we see the biblical portrait of YHWH come to life: the loving God, rolling up his sleeves (Isa 52:10) to do in person the job that no one else could do, the creator God giving new life, the God who works through his created world and supremely through his human creatures, the faithful God dwelling in the midst of his people, the stern and tender God relentlessly opposed to all that destroys or distorts the good creation, and especially human beings, but recklessly loving all those in need and distress. “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall carry the lambs in his arms; and gently lead those that are with young” (Isa 40:11). It is the OT portrait of YHWH, but it fits Jesus like a glove.”

        • “Connected, but secondary to the point, Jesus needed to be a male because of ancient ideas of authority and power that would have preculded a woman from being the above. Jesus could not have done what he did, said what he said, and had the freedoms he did if he’d been a woman…..”

          What a terribly weak and limited idea of Almighty God.

          • I don’t think it’s weak to read it this way, and I’m confused by why you do..

            Would you have preferred that Jesus incarnated in the form we see him in Daniel, or in Revelation (or will see him in the future) with eyes of fire that we can’t bear to look upon and whose very words deafen us? No, Jesus’ incarnation is deliberately humble, and deliberately human. It’s also historically plausible, and rationally credible.

          • “I don’t think it’s weak to read it this way, and I’m confused by why you do..”
            – because you are saying Almighty God was constrained by a particular human culture.

            “Would you have preferred that Jesus incarnated in the form we see him in Daniel, or in Revelation (or will see him in the future) with eyes of fire that we can’t bear to look upon and whose very words deafen us?”
            I don’t know what you mean by the reference to Daniel here. The picture in Revelation is evidently metaphorical, not literal. Ian has made this clear numerous times!

            “No, Jesus’ incarnation is deliberately humble, and deliberately human. It’s also historically plausible, and rationally credible”
            – Incarnation means ‘becoming human’. My point throughout is that if the maleness of Jesus is incidental to his identity and work, then so too s his Jewishness. Marcion and the Deutsche Christen would agree with that.

          • OK, OK

            I didn’t mean to imply God was constrained by the human culture, and I don’t think I did: rather it is that God chooses to act within that culture. That’s not concession. I am certainly not saying the culture is superior to God, only that God acts in a way that would most effective to that culture. Is that a better way to put it?

            John’s vision in Revelation 1: 12-18 is a deliberate echo of Daniel 10: 5-9. . Yes, the examples are not ‘literal’ (did I say they were?), but they are ‘real’, and the experiences of them strongly felt, or is falling on the floor prostrate a metaphor? The Jesus met by Daniel and John is the very same Jesus that became flesh and dwelt among us.

            This was relevant because you seemed to be accusing me of trying to limit Jesus, and I was trying to say that Jesus manifesting himself in different ways to different people at different times is entirely consistent with scripture.

            Lastly, his Jewishness is indeed separate from his maleness. The latter is a biological distinction, unique to, um, approximately 50% of the population. The former is an ethnic distinction, denoting a group set apart by God for God’s purposes.

        • “On the most basic level it was essential because that’s what Old Testament prophecy said would be the case.”
          IOW, God said this is what will be. Which you go on to say:
          “God’s plan was always to bring the world to salvation through the chosen people (so Jesus needed to be born an ethnic Jew) and God’s plan was for that person who lead the chosen people to be both King and High Priest (so Jesus needed royal ancestry).”
          – Therefore … Jesus had to be man. Isn’t that the conclusion? You got so far with the scandal of particularity but didn’t conclude properly. (Plenty of women – like Mary – were Jews of the Davidic House.)

          So I repeat: was Jesus’ maleness incidental or essential to his role as Saviour?

        • “Lastly, his Jewishness is indeed separate from his maleness. The latter is a biological distinction, unique to, um, approximately 50% of the population. The former is an ethnic distinction, denoting a group set apart by God for God’s purposes”

          So are you saying the Saviour had to Jewish but didn’t have to be male? (By the way, Jewishness is a biological distinction as well.)

          • “So are you saying the Saviour had to Jewish but didn’t have to be male? (By the way, Jewishness is a biological distinction as well.)”

            No explicitly, no. I think His Jewishness is more integral to the role of Messiah than his maleness, as I would hope was clear from comments above, but his maleness certainly isn’t ‘incidental’.

            You are right about the other point of course; all ethnic distinctions are biological and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

            I need to think how to phrase that better, so please bear with me, I need to take a break from the screen today, but I will respond. I am not running from the challenging question.

            Thanks,
            Mat

    • So what *are* the implications of male imagery and pronouns being so much more common than female, and how do we pre-empt natural cultural bias?

    • Matt – summing up Ian – ‘Feminine characteristics are often ascribed to describe God in Scripture’

      Often? Really? I think Occasionally even rarely.

      • Often
        -frequently; many times.
        -in many instances.

        I think that’s pretty accurate. The number of times feminine imagery occurs may well be considerably lower than a count of masculine imagery (no one is really arguing otherwise), but there are certainly a not-insignificant number.

        I don’t think you could say that instances of feminine imagery were ‘rare’, or ‘uncommon’ for instance.

        What would you prefer?

        • Women’s Ordination web site in a promotional piece on this theme lists just 12 references – I’d say in a book of some 31,000 verses and 800,000 words, that was ‘very’ rare and ‘very’ uncommon set of motifs.

          Not that we do theology by numbers, and Im the last person to question their presence and importance – but we need to be accurate and your ‘often’ is actually seldom.

  19. My Dutch grandchild will use the word “mens” for men and women. My 7-year old grand-daughter being taught in French was playing with her Playmobile church and white-haired (portly old man)vicar this morning, and was assured that vicars could by female. When speaking. There is surely no harm in speaking of God occasionally as ‘parent’, but as Jesus called God Father, so should we. A much more important discussion is, when talking with Muslims, we explain what we mean when we refer to Jesus as Son of God.

    • …I had to read this three times to be more certain that the portly old man vicar was also a Playmobile figure. I’m 50% sure now. I think.

      That’s theology for you.

  20. “So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them”. (Genesis 1:27 – new NIV)

    I don’t know Hebrew, but browsing the web it would appear that the Hebrew word for the first ‘them’ is different from the Hebrew word for the second ‘them’ – hence the translation in the old NIV. I think this is significant, as is the Genesis 2 account of the creation of Adam and Eve.
    Phil Almond

    • The first pronoun object is the singular ‘otho and is usually translated ‘him’ (the antecedent is ‘adam); the second is ‘otham which is plural and means ‘them’ (the antecedent is zakar unikevah).

  21. Rather than ask ‘Is God male?’ suppose we ask the question ‘Are we collectively (the Church) and individually ‘female’ in some mysterious sense (‘This mystery is great’ (Ephesians 5:32)) in our relationship to God and Christ. Francis Schaeffer thought so. (‘Appendix A – Adultery and Apostasy – the Bride and Bridegroom Theme: The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century’)

    Phil Almond

  22. “God is like…” is always going to fail. God has an essential incomparibility.
    I think part of the confusion in the make/female attribute discussion is this sense that what we see in each other as male or female could/should be fed back into what God is like. “To whom will you compare me?”

    Hence Penelope’s risk of error; “But I always call the HS she, the Trinity needs some female input.” How are you arriving an idea of perfect female attributes (as opposed to tangled and sinful…as with maleness) that can be added to God? It sounds more like an inclusion crusade than enlightenment. ?

    Surely some of this is an attempt to tidy God into our chosen framework rather than live with the (sometimes ragged?) revelation of his choosing. It runs the danger of idol creation and worship. (Not the only way of course)

    • Quite Ian. All our language about God is provisional, so it is no more accurate to call the HS (who is spirit) he rather than she. If it helps people’s conception of the Triune God, so be it. And read Mother Julian.

      • Penelope…..I partly agree… but…

        I think our language about God is also “provided” by scripture not only “provisional”. Isn’t the NT entirely “male” in its “provision” of language for the Holy Spirit?

        Though I understand your “helps people’s conception of the Triune God” I’m no sure that this isn’t playing the ball entirely into the hands of “fitting God out to suit me”. So their conception, however well intentioned, is less accurate than it could be.

        “Accurate” is an interesting measure and minefield. The accuracy that counts is the measurement of our faithfulness to Gods self revelation in the Bible. It’s not seeking the chemical composition of God formula hoping to create him in our mind laboratory. “Am I speaking of God as he speaks of himself?” The balance of that, overwhelmingly, lies with “him” not “her” and, as I think we’re agreed, certainly not “it”.

        Being a self certifying pedant I also rail against the lower case “s” for Holy Spirit. I think his uniqueness demands appropriate spelling signals. 😉

        • Oh, sorry. I simply meant that the HS was spirit in the sense of being composed of spirit stuff (whatever that means).i wasn’t demoting Her!

          • “spirit stuff” ? Even deeper in trouble…?

            Homoousios (Gk.?????????) means “of the same substance,” “of the same essence.” Homo means “same” and ousia means “essence.” The term was used by Athanasius in his correct teaching of the oneness of the Father and the Son in that they are the same substance, the same essence of divinity. The term was used in the Nicene Creed (and creeds thereafter) when it described Jesus as being of the same substance as the Father in its affirmation of the Trinity.

          • Stuff is similar to substance or essence. I meant that the HS was made of spirit. Late antiquity, not being troubled by Cartesian ideas saw spirit as ‘stuff’ just as flesh was ‘stuff’.
            I know what homoousios means. The Spirit shares in the Triune divinity, but She is still made of spirit.

  23. It all partly depends whether we are talking about the God of the Bible or the God of the philosophers.

    The God of the Bible is clearly much more male than female, if we restrict ourselves to the textual data. Further, ‘more male than female’ does not necessarily make sense as a classification, so we can say as a shorthand that the God of the Bible is male. It is an extremely important point that God is over and above gender; however, that does not seem to be a point that the biblical writers thought to be important.

    As for the God of the philosophers (to be discerned from the way things are, and from what can be deduced via logic and noncontradiction etc) it would be very difficult to assign that God a gender with any confidence or plausibility.

    So neither in the case of the God of the Bible nor in the case of the God of the philosophers is the verdict a hard one. In the first case – male or ‘male’, as presented in the texts. In the second case – the jury is out because of insufficient evidence and likely to remain so.

    There is a more fuzzy area (doctrine) between texts on the one hand and philosophy on the other. The trouble is that doctrine can sometimes cherry pick from texts on the right and philosophy on the left, making it potentially too ideological and without parameters to be a proper discipline.

    The danger is, therefore, that whatever is concluded in a discussion like this (and the ‘rules’ and expectation are normally that nothing will be) the status of the conclusion would be uncertain, because that conclusion would be doctrinal. Whereas if the conclusion were a textual or a philosophical conclusion it could potentially have weight.

    • “The God of the Bible is clearly much more male than female, if we restrict ourselves to the textual data.”

      I think you could phrase this better. It’s not that God is ‘more male than female’, but that the language God uses/is used of God is more often masculine than feminine. We’ve had this discussion before. Male/Female is a ‘sex’ distinction, (biological), Masculine/Feminine is a gender distinction, (attribute/trait). While there is clear crossover and undoubtedly they correlate strongly (the source of our contention last time) they are not synonyms. It is completely possible to be (relatively) a feminine male, or a masculine female.

      Further, ‘more male than female’ does not necessarily make sense as a classification, so we can say as a shorthand that the God of the Bible is male. It is an extremely important point that God is over and above gender;..

      I don’t think your shorthand is acceptable, for the above reason. You are confusing your terms. ‘God is masculine’ is a far, far less contentious statement than ‘God is male’.

      …however, that does not seem to be a point that the biblical writers thought to be important.

      Interesting. Can you cite any sources for this? I do not think you are wrong per se, but I cannot think of a work that looks at this in detail.

      • I can’t find any biblical passage that says God is over and above gender, but can find plenty that are happy to associate him with masculine traits.

        As for the sex/gender distinction, I get the point that male/female is not the same as masculine/feminine; however, masculine equals what we’d expect from males and feminine equals what we’d expect from females. So, as you say, sex and gender are tightly connected (and gender has long been a synonym for biological sex). Rather than being as independent as people have suddenly starter asserting in the last 3 years.

        • “…gender has long been a synonym for biological sex.”

          They were certainly more closely correlated in the past than they are now, but I’m not sure they were ever synonyms… I wholeheartedly agree however that this attempt to fade the connection entirely is dangerous and should be fought.

  24. I am only (in theory) concerned about the ‘God of the Bible’. I probably fail.

    What creates fuzzy is that it takes a lot of concentration/focus to avoid importing unconcious assumptions and definitions outside this revelation into my understanding. Policing ones’ own mind is difficult… If only I could see myself that clearly…. like God sees me.

    And/or is the fairly broad human understanding of male / female difference built in by our creator God itself in any case? After all “male and female he created them” must have some meaning in the difference, using two words. So reading ‘back in’ isn’t quite the disconnect it could be. Just asking….

  25. Hi Christopher.

    As far as I know the philosophers did not consider God to have a sex, though in pagan culture the gods were always either male or female, and the chief of the gods was always male.

    Many philosophers considered virtue to make a person like God, and thought that virtue was a masculine thing, so that perhaps that tells us something about their attitude to God’s ‘sex’.

    • The Greco-Roman gods were not what we (or the NT) understand by ‘God’: one who is eternal, all-powerful, morally perfect, uncreated and the Creator. The pagan gods were none of these things.
      But here’s the thing: before all worlds, God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
      What do ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ mean when they arte not used analogically but essentially?

      • The God of the philosophers was typically understood to have those characteristics you list. The relationship between God and the gods in classical philosophy was not very clear, but Plato seemed to think the gods were morally perfect and were like expressions of the one God (ie the creator of all that is good; he thought some other god had to be responsible for the evil and disorder).

        • That depends on which philosophers you are talking about. Plato’s ideas differ from Aristotle’s and then there is Plotinus who was probably influenced by Christian teaching. The traffic in ideas is very complicated. The Church Fathers looked on Plato as a praeparatio evangelica. Aquinas adopted some ideas from Aristotle but critically.

      • Hello Brian,
        Do you take the view that there was a “redemptive covenant” between the eternally existent Trinity, as I’m persuded there is, all to bring glory to the Son who brings glory to the Father, through Holy Spirit.
        God is Father before he is creator, is He not? It is not often heard or spoken about (John 17) Maybe, even less so today. I was in a New Frontiers Church when I first heard it put that way from a Durhan Uni MA Canadian pastor. And even at the popular level Mike Reeves The Good God” and his UCCF and other on line teaching, makes this clear.
        And all this discussion seems to make mockery of much excellent, long forgotten, little practice works of John Owen, particulary his Communion with God (three persons of the Trinity). If we can’t praise and worship our Triune God through Owens writings on scripture in this connection, even in the Banner of Truth version, I’d suggest we may still be dead in our tresspasses and sins.

        • Yes, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit exist eternally as such. Never is the First Person called the Mother, nor the Second called the Daughter or the Child. What is the significance of this fact for theology? Or for speaking about God? I don’t think Mat has thought this through. The Orthodox understand this better. Too much Protestant thought is adoptionist and would do with reflecting on John’s Gospel.

          • “I don’t think Mat has thought this through.”

            Only because you seem intent to focus exclusively on what I have not said, rather than what I did.

            I affirm the Trinity as eternal, and as relationship between Father, Son, Spirit. Like you I find the idea that it is somehow equally valid to say ‘Mother’, or ‘Daughter’, deeply flawed, and would resist the feminisation of our liturgy, or of our Bibles. I have certainly said no such thing, and would not advocate for such.

            My contention from the start has been that language of masculine and feminine is distinct from language of male and female. To think of God in terms of the former, as emanating traits that we as Humans might only experience on a binary spectrum, is quite right. To think of God in terms of the latter risks making God in our image, rather than the other way around. Such is clear from even a casual reading of scripture, and is an idea rooted in Genesis 1.

            I am more than happy to pray “Our Father”, as our Lord taught us.

            I am as uncomfortable with the statement “God is a man” as I am with the statement “God is a Woman”. God is neither. God is “I AM”.

          • Mat – in your first comment here you said:
            3. The fact that incidents of (1.) are undoubtedly more frequent than (2.) does not necessarily mean that God is more masculine than feminine, although it could mean this. (I don’t think it does).

            Now you appear to be endorsing the idea that God might be more masculine than feminine. Can you clarify your thinking on this? Sorry if I’m just not understanding your meaning!

          • Of course Will, it was me being unclear.

            I should have written “….does not mean God is more male than female,….”. I fell into the same mistake I’ve later accused Christopher of making above and said one thing when I meant another. 😉 My apologies to you both.

            The general point remains that I don’t think quantity always equals emphasis, so this alone is insufficient as evidence for assigning God one gender over and above another, especially when (as seem to often happen in the wider debate about this issue) the risk is that project a human sex, or worse, a ‘sexuality’ onto God.

          • Mat,
            Thanks for the reply above.
            This is a rhetorical question if I’m correct in gleaning from your comments on other articles that you are in youth ministry? Please forgive my ignorance. Obviously it goes without saying!! – that you don’t have to respond. If so, do you think it has coloured your comment contributions on this topic in any way at all and in how you speak to youngsters, particularly about the Trinity, if at all? And the Bishop’s points may therefore chime with you at least to a small degree?
            I will leave it with this. It is what you have not said that has caused the difficulty, at least for me. And perhaps all/most of us didn’t start at the right place, where Bryan brought us to. Although I started with Jesus, who he is, to work backwards and forward from there, the context of the pre-existing Triune God was assumed, which Brian, thankfully, has made explicit.
            That is the starting I’d point in all this, I’d suggest, and end point, and all points in between, the foundation of the Good News of Jesus.
            As you know, the (our) I AM God is aslo the covenant making and keeping pre-creation- existing Triune God as he works through(out) history, so even here, I AM is not really the starting place, certainly without further explanation, delving back to the Trinity, as we now have God’s full revelation.
            We all make assumptions at our peril, as did I. Where they can lead we ought not to follow at all times. We perhaps all have had experience of this: saying something, even at pains to be very clear, but nevertheless someone picks it up as the complete opposite of what you’ve said! I’m not sure it is particulary wise to be thinking things through on the internet without knowing where it can go.
            A recent You-tube of Jordan Peterson at the Oxford Union was, to me, exemlary. He has such a grasp of his topic(s) that he is able to field any of the questions asked, bringing them back to his pre -thought through categories. At one question he thought deeply before answering , before deciding where to start. (It was about Trudeau and Canada).
            And, as Ian has posted about radio talks, it’s about, preparation, preparation, preparation. It is similar to being an advocate in court- -preparation, preparation, preparation- and know the court. In court advocacy there is a adaged – don’t ask a question you don’t know the answer to – you don’t know where it will lead! The internet is not a seminar, nor debating chamber -where thinking aloud can pull the rug from under your feet. Sorry, this is not meant to be patronising, and I hope it’s not taken as such.
            But, yes, there will be change. If Ian, or any other preacher of long standing, were to look over some earlier sermons (or perhaps even one or two years ago) they may well consider doing it differently. Not sure if the underlying theology would have changed? Mine changed from Arminianism in Methodism ( but knew I had nothing at all to do with my own salvation!) and I certainly opposed the statement by the tutor that the fall had been dispensed with) to the reformed, 5 points position (though non cessationist) through study and scripture grappling with me. Consequently, I could not vow not to preach and teach against Methodist teaching , so came away. Would that many in the CoE would come away if they could not subscribe to the 39 Articles.
            On ordination, I don’t know if any or what vows have to be made in the CoE or if there is any, or much, or full integrity in adhering to them as the ordinand moves into ministry, or how much, or what type or depth of theological and scriptural training takes place before ordination, so that they are secure in their beliefs to enable vows to be give with intergrity.
            One, perhaps rogue CoE plant, of which I’m aware, preaches/has preached through 39 Articles and has a young vibrant, family based, lots of youngsters, and a guesstimate congregation of 50/50 male/female and an indeterminate number of ze’s, and tee – hees.
            At the risk of going off on yet another tangent, I don’t agree that binary is a spectrum. Spectrum in this context is a contradiction in terms. But please, please don’t go there, not here, not now. This is all about GOD, who is not a spectrum.
            Would you pray “Our Mother” or take part in any Communion liturgical service worded, Mother god. There has been one in the Methodist Church for years. Don’t know about the CoE.

          • Thank you Geoff, I appreciate the thoughts. Genuinely.

            “This is a rhetorical question if I’m correct in gleaning from your comments on other articles that you are in youth ministry?”

            I am a Family(ies) Worker, so yes? My job role is something approximating a CofE curate, but you’re quite right, I spend a good deal of time working with children and youth.

            “If so, do you think it has coloured your comment contributions on this topic in any way at all and in how you speak to youngsters, particularly about the Trinity, if at all?”

            Well, yes, we all contextualise our message to the target audience. I am not sure the details would change substantially, or the meaning I intend to communicate. I certainly have no desire to teach heresy, and I don’t bow to any secular agenda or ideology when I do speak with them. Put it this way; you referenced Jordan Peterson so you’ll know what I mean if I say the conversation happens at a different level of resolution. 😉

            “And the Bishop’s points may therefore chime with you at least to a small degree?”

            Yes, they do. I do not think the problem is as serious as she perhaps does, but I do think the call to caution, and her warning about describing God only as ‘male’, or ‘a man’, is probably right. It is the exclusive use that’s the problem, if that’s clear?

            “Sorry, this is not meant to be patronising, and I hope it’s not taken as such.”

            It’s not, don’t worry. 😉 Part of the reason I find these discussions helpful, and worth the time I’m sinking into this, is because it means I can bounce off greater minds than my own. We all learn in different ways, and sometimes combat across the message boards is as good a training ground as any academic classroom.

            “At the risk of going off on yet another tangent, I don’t agree that binary is a spectrum. Spectrum in this context is a contradiction in terms. But please, please don’t go there, not here, not now. This is all about GOD, who is not a spectrum.”

            Perhaps I wasn’t be cautious enough again… I agree that binary is not a spectrum, and yes, I don’t think tangling this issue up in ‘that’ debate would be helpful either, connected though they may be…

            “Would you pray “Our Mother” or take part in any Communion liturgical service worded, Mother god.”

            No, I would not.

          • Undoubtedly, as evidenced by the very pieces of research/polling mentioned at the top of Ian’s article. 😉 First,

            “A new YouGov survey reveals that British Christians aren’t so sure about that: in fact, just 1% believe that God is female.”

            So we have a survey suggesting that 1% believe God is female, and while we are not given the other stats, it does stand to reason the other boxes (probably ‘not sure’, and ‘male’?) had many more hits, otherwise why make it the subject of a comments piece?

            And then second;

            “The Church of England should avoid only calling God “he”, a bishop has said, as a survey found that young Christians think God is male.”

            ….we have a reference to study that does affirm this. It could be the same study, but as it’s not clear I’m assuming it is two.

            I have done enough work in schools and with young people to know with reasonable confidence that if you put a piece of paper in front of a child between the ages of 7 and about 12 and ask them to “draw a picture of God”, they almost inevitably draw a figure that is:

            1. Male.
            2. Old/Mature/bearded/robed
            3. Big relative to other things in the picture, especially other people.
            4. Above them/in the sky/top of page.

            I can think of only once or twice in my experience have children ever drawn something that doesn’t tick at least two of those boxes.

            One child drew a burning bush.
            Another left the page blank.

          • I am aware that youth (13-18), who’re a bit more worldly and cynical, tend to be able to handle the abstraction of “draw God” a little better and so you get a wider variety of images.

            My experience is that you still tend to get the symbolic relative positioning, where the depiction either fills or tops the page, and that males are more common than females, but there is more space for God to be rendered as an object.

            I’ve had teenagers draw money, musical notes and even the planet before now. It’s all very interesting really. 😉

          • Ok fair enough. I meant anyone teaching about it really. Everyone I’ve heard teaching on it/read on it is clear that God is not male or female, since he is God. I’d be interested if you’re aware of anyone who teaches that God is male?

    • Yes – ‘vir-tus’ = manliness. I was more talking first-principles philosophy-of-religion (not pagan philosophy necessarily).

  26. If we conceive, describe and address God with the names, predicates or pronouns that the Bible does not offer us, then how can we know if the God we address is he who has chosen to reveal himself in Scripture, or merely a god we have fabricated of our own imagination? In the Bible God describes himself – when we deviate from this, Feuerbach’s critique hits home, we have made god in our image.

    • Yes – it’s circular. The very God we are seeking to define in the first place is the one whose contours we gleaned from Scripture.

      • Yes, exactly.

        This issue is way beyond semantics and theological gymnastics in the face of cultural godless norms, it is another assault on God. Some here seem to treat it like ‘play’.

        What is blasphemy?
        What did God mean when he commanded “you shall not take the Lord’s name in vain?”
        Is it the opposite of praying “hallowed be thy name”?
        If we invent our own construct to name God the Father – have we failed to hallow his name and are we blaspheming?

        I think we come close

        • When Moses asked God who he was addressing, for Gods identity even, the response was pretty unequivocal:

          God said to Moses, “I AM who I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’?…..

          and then clarifies,

          “This is my name forever,
          the name you shall call me
          from generation to generation.”

          God’s name is not ‘Father’, God’s name is not ‘Mother’. God’s name is I AM, and anything else, be it father, king, warrior, craftsman, carer, is a form of address to the one who cannot otherwise be defined in human terms.

          Surely, Simon, the real blasphemy is to call God anything other than ‘I AM’?

          • Well, of course technically you are right
            God’s being is the eternal Father
            but we are invited to address our prayers to him in the manner Jesus did – Our Father.

          • Mat
            Just wanted to say, amidst a great deal of heat (my own hot air included) your comments in this thread shine like a light. Thank you.

          • Thanks Penelope,

            Every now and again it’s great to be forced on the defensive; it sharpens the mind and forces one into looking at the flaws in their own position.

            I’ve learned a great deal from peoples’ responses, and if the price I have to pay for that wisdom is that I get implicitly accused of blasphemy, or heresy, then so be it. 🙂

  27. From the sublime to the ridiculous:
    I just remembered a lesson many years ago when I was ‘doing’ pronouns with a Year 8 group.
    Eventually I asked them a test question – I said a sentence to them and then asked them to put up their hands if they could say the sentence with a pronoun in the place of each noun.
    The sentence was, ‘The man sat on the chair.’
    One eager lad beamed all over his face and waved his arms around excitedly. so I asked him to say what his answer was.
    This was his answer : ‘The man sat on the pronoun.’
    He was not winding me up.
    I was so weak with laughter that I almost fell off the chair. The kids loved it.
    I thought I had explained it all quite well well, but apparently not.
    Nor can I explain very well why I refer to our Almighty God as ‘He’…

  28. “I don’t want young girls or young boys to hear us constantly refer to God as he”.
    ‘I don’t want young girls or young boys to hear us constantly refer to Christ Our True God as He’?
    ‘I don’t want young girls or young boys to hear us constantly refer to Christ as Our True God’?
    ‘I don’t want young girls or young boys to hear us constantly refer to Christ’?
    ‘I don’t want young girls or young boys to hear speakers constantly use pronouns’?
    ‘I don’t want young hearers to hear speakers constantly use pronouns’?
    ‘This speaker does not want young hearers to hear speakers constantly use pronouns’?

  29. Apologies,
    I’m not on twitter, but just want to post a like, to the way the comments are ending, and with apologies to 10cc not only do I like it, I love it. Refreshing. Humour is sometimes the best of ways to respond. More than a chuckle.

  30. “But given that this doesn’t appear to be a serious missional issue, is it time to move on to other things?”

    “I don’t want […]”

    Radically problematical is Episcope (apparently) at the service of ‘ne wille’ as ‘nomos’ (effectively) – pastorally, missionally, but also ecclesiologically, and theologically so.

  31. OK, so this has been a very stimulating conversation, but I have a few more thoughts I’d like to throw out there to be digested…..

    One of the questions we’ve not asked explicitly, but that is closely related to what’s under discussion in the comments, would be something like;

    What percentage of the Imagery describing God in the Bible fits into neither masculine nor feminine categories? Or put a different way;

    Which metaphors, if any, are actually neutral? Or better yet, shared?

    Is it perhaps possible that we’re grouping the language into two groups when there should be a third: language about God that reflects something of both men and women? Shouldn’t commonly occurring images like God as craftsman truly belong to both categories?

    How do we define language and metaphor about faithfulness, or trustworthiness?

    Following on from that, what effect would this have on our perceived idea that the imagery is weighted heavily one way?

    (obviously all of these questions inter-weave with questions of cultural bias and context, but let’s not make it more complicated than it needs to be for the moment) 😉

    I’m not defending these propositions per se, just trying to absorb what’s been said and gain some perspective.

    Mat

        • We had a talk at chuch from some gobal mission organisation, can’t remember which, but context is a clear imperative. The key he said was to find the the key to a particular society’s belief world view. An example would be shepherd/sheep in a place /country where no one knows what a sheep is let alone a shepherd’
          But the gospel is such a multi -facetted diamond it can meet all contexts such as honour based families and societies.
          Have found Tim Keller excellent on context and would recommend his book on preaching even for those of us who don’t preach. You only need to look at the list of contents, including preaching Christ from every major image in the bible, from every genre or section of the bible, Christ from every theme Christfrom every major figure of the bible: reaching the people, preaching Christ to the culture, understanding doubts and objections: affirm in order to challenge baseline cultural naratives: gospel offers that push on cultures pressue points: the late modern mind and its narratives: morality/justice: self-authorising morality;engaging science, history science assecular hope: preaching to/engaging the heart , from the heart : demonstration of the Spirit and of Power, and more. On an individual level, it is starting from where the individual starts.
          Yes, yes he’s not CoE. He is orthodox.
          You’ll probably be aware of Alastaire Roberts and Andrew Wilson joint Echoes of Exodus, a theme running through all of scripture.
          They may assist, the certainly have for me. Just passing it on.
          Try “I am the gate” out on someone/self.

      • Such a list would be good. I would suggest that it is important to categorize such imagery in the form it takes. Ian talked about this in relation to Revelation (August 24th) where I learnt a new word. There must be difference between the use of simile “God is like a …” or “God acts as like a …”, metaphor “God is a … “, and ‘hypocatastasis’ when we refer directly to God using the metaphor. These are in increasing strength. When the Spirit prompts us to call on God by using “Abba, Father”, that is the last.

        There is also the form which is not a direct metaphor but the “how much more” comparison. When God says to Zion, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49.15), is that a feminine image of God?

    • “Throughout the entire New Testament, Christ is a “he” and He refers to God the Father and a father, even in this day and age, is a “he”. But what really worries me is the sheer superficiality of this, because the whole objection to calling God “he” is apparently that it puts people off Christianity.

      ‘If you’re not going to be won over by the message of redemption and forgiveness, if you’re not going to be won over by that, you’re not going to be won over by someone saying God’s a “she”.”

      I think Widdecombe hit the bullseye with that last point.

  32. I have a question which I ask only partly in jest – a question about nouns!
    Given that ‘man’ is the root of the nouns ‘woman’ and ‘human’, can we reasonably conclude that the English language is ‘patriarchal’?! I know that ‘man’ can also mean ‘mankind’, as in German ‘man’, but I do find this differentiation interesting.
    This thought occurred to me following a brief twitter exchange I just had on the subject of pronouns – I was outvoted, by the way 🙂

    • “… as in German ‘Mensch’… ” ( not “… as in German ‘man’… “) ‘man’ is a pronoun, of course – I think I might be suffering from a bit of ‘pronoun-overload’!

  33. ‘…it is very difficult to refer to an individual without specifying his or her (there, you see?) sex.’

    It is very easy to refer to an individual without specifying their sex. (Their: you see?)

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