God and Gender

A recent post on masculine spirituality generated a firestorm of comments and opened a lively dialogue on issues of masculinity and femininity. Though some comments seemed to focus on tangential issues, the debate itself does beg for a more thorough articulation of matters related to God and gender. This post is an attempt at setting a foundation for further discussion.

Here, then are some “bullet point” summaries of biblical truths related to God and gender.

1. God is Spirit; therefore he is not contained within a human body and is neither male nor female (John 1:18, 4:24, 6:46; Num 23:19).

2. Humanity is created in God’s image and therefore maleness and femaleness both reflect the image of God in different and unique ways. Men bear the image of God in a distinctly masculine way, and women bear the image of God in a distinctly feminine way. Genesis 1:26-27: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

3. Men and women are equal as image-bearers of God. But they play different roles in the working out of God’s purposes on earth. The charge given to the first man and woman was multiplication and dominion – “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). The man’s role seems to fall more heavily on the dominion side of the mandate – subduing the earth by the sweat of his brow (Genesis 1:28, 2:15-25; 3:17-20). The woman’s role seems to fall more heavily on the multiplication side of the mandate – the bearing and raising of children (Genesis 1:28, 3:16). Obviously neither role is possible without the other; they are complimentary, which is why the union of man and woman in marriage provides the clearest picture of God’s image in humanity (Genesis 2:24).

4. God uses masculine pronouns to refer to himself throughout Scripture. This is obviously not because God is anatomically male (see point 1). Rather, it seems to be because God wants to emphasize his headship and authority over all creation; as the man is the head of a marriage, so God is the head of everything in creation (1 Cor 11:3; 1 Tim 2:12-13). John Frame writes: “Scripture wants us to think of God as Lord… Since in the Biblical view women are subject to male authority in the home and the church, there is some awkwardness in speaking of God in female terms.”

5. When the second person of the Trinity stepped into human history in the Incarnation, he took on human form as a man – Jesus of Nazareth. Again, this is not because manhood is superior in some way to womanhood. It is presumably because the role Jesus was to play in redemption – the role of rescuing humanity from ruin and faithfully executing the demands of covenant headship, reversing the failure of Adam – is a distinctly masculine role. It was a man’s abdication of headship that got us into this mess in the first place (Genesis 3:1-7; Romans 5:12). It is Jesus’ faithfulness as our covenant head that puts things right (Romans 5:17; 1 Cor 15:45-49).

In answer, then, to the question, “How should we think of God?” a number of points may be adduced:

a) It is appropriate to worship God for both his masculine qualities such as protector (Psalm 121:7), provider (Genesis 22:14), fighter (Psalm 3:7), defender (Isaiah 38:6), and Savior (2 Samuel 22:3), as well as his feminine qualities such as comforting (Psalm 23:4), helping (Psalm 54:4), and being tender (Isaiah 40:11) and compassionate (Psalm 25:6). [This is not to say that women never fight or defend, or that men are never tender and compassionate. I will assume some measure of common sense from the reader here to allow me to speak about what are generally considered masculine or feminine traits across time and culture – traits which are rooted, of course, in our divine design.]

b) However, it would be inappropriate to think of God as female, because this is contrary to God’s self-revelation in Scripture.

c) The opposite, however, is not true. Because God came to earth as a man, it is appropriate for us to think of Jesus as male and to worship him for his faithful masculine covenant headship which is the ground of our salvation.

d) Jesus is the consummate masculine leader – the perfect Man – and therefore our view of true masculinity should start with him. All godly men should seek to emulate Jesus.

e) Because Jesus was not just the perfect man, but the perfect human, he also sets the bar for godly women. Jesus’ submission to the Father models what a woman’s submission to male headship should look like. Godly women should seek to emulate the spirit and example of Jesus.

f) Furthermore, Scripture gives us both male and female role models to emulate. The virtues of courage (Joshua 1:1-9), sacrifice (Ephesians 5:25), and hard work/provision (1 Tim 5:8; 2 Thess 3:7-12) are held up as some of the marks of godly masculinity. Peter specifically mentions the virtue of submission as a mark of godly femininity (1 Peter 3:1-7). While our definitions of masculinity and femininity will certainly be influenced by our cultural presuppositions, it does seem that God has given us a relatively clear outline of masculinity and femininity, rooted in his own creation order which ordained that men and women should bear his image in distinct yet complimentary ways.


Leave a Comment

  1. Excellent, outstanding, solid, balanced exegesis Bob. This post is worth saving for future reference and study.

    One thing I’d like to see added is a point on the implications for homosexuality (e.g. sinful because it denies the complementarity inherent in mankind as the image of God).

  2. Seriously though,

    What impact do you guys think the info in this post has on corporate worship? That was the original direction of the last post, but what do you guys see as appropriate/inappropriate expressions of love in song/word, etc. . .? Do we want romantic metaphors to be spoken between men or women and God?

    This is great content, . .I wonder if it speaks into that particular issue more deeply.


  3. Aaron, one thought I have had is that the romantic metaphors are not necessarily WRONG, it just seems that they are over-emphasized. As in the Big Daddy Weave post, almost all contemporary worship music leverages the intimacy/romance angle of things.

    One counterbalance (especially for you to work out as a songwriter) is for us to recover the writing and singing of songs which celebrate the very masculine aspects of God’s character and of Jesus’ person and work. Tremper Longman has done work on the “Divine Warrior” theme in Scripture; why not write some songs about that? I was thinking the other day about Luther’s great hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” – a GREAT celebration of Jesus’ victory over our enemies as our covenant head.

    “Did we in our own strength confide / Our striving would be losing / were not the right MAN on our side / the man of God’s own choosing / Dost ask who that may be? / Christ Jesus, it is He / Lord Sabaoth his name / From age to age the same / And he must win the battle.”

    Recovering some of these themes in contemporary songwriting would be a great step toward some more masculine worship expressions.

  4. I’m debating Complementarianism/Egalitarianism for my senior seminar class so the topic has been on my mind. Speaking as a language student (and a woman) I’ve often wondered if the terms tend to obstruct rather than facilitate helpful, accurate dialogue on the topic. I think Complementarianism and headship are okay and do a decent job of conveying the biblical picture of two equals (in value not in roles) working together under male leadership (points 2 & 3 in Bob’s posting). But the terms for the woman’s role (perhaps through cultural usage), “submission” and “helper,” have negative connotations. Helper has a diminutive, patronizing nuance (e.g. “mommy’s little helper”) akin to “assistant” (one doing the same job with a lower skill level) while the biblical idea is that of “complement” (one doing the job that you are unable to). Not inferior, but corresponding. Submission isn’t much better, focusing exclusively on the negative.

    It’s likely that, to a large degree, this is just a hobby horse of a language student (or a female language student) but I think that without carefully nuancing what we mean by things like “submission” and “helper” then male headship can degenerate to male priority and women abdicate their God-given responsibility to exercise their gifting. It shouldn’t be excusable for men to be chauvinists who subjugate women and it also shouldn’t be excusable for women to be airheads who contribute nothing.

  5. Hooley,

    I’d be excited to hear some alternatives you’ve thought of; to the well-worn words you mentioned above. Any others besides “complement”?


    ps. Bob, good word. . . off to the song-writing lab. . .

  6. Bob-

    I’m with you on the first two points. On the third, however, you and I begin to differ. I think there is too hard a line being drawn here between between masculinity and femininity. In my reading, the Biblical picture is much more complex than the binary one presented here.

    Of course you acknowledge that the mandate to fill and subdue is given to both man and woman, and when you claim man’s tendency towards subduing and woman’s towards filling you even offer such qualifiers as “seems to fall more heavily on…”. After that though it seems like the distinction you are drawing becomes thicker and more black and white. I don’t know that God ever really outlines which he intended to do which. The passage from “the curse” that you referenced is a bit unclear. Is YHWH predicting how gender roles will play out in the Fall, or is YHWH offering a mandate for how they should play out? Does God want a woman to “want to control [her] husband”(Gen 3:16), for instance? Is God telling Eve that she should want to control her husband? And for that matter is God really that excited about the increased pains in child birth, the cursing of the ground, the painful toil and the death that now results? I don’t think that God is outlining an ideal for masculinity and femininity here; it seems a lot more like a statement of how things will now be distorted in the newly Fallen state.

    Another point that I think has important ramifications for our discussion of gender goes back a chapter, to 2:18. It should be noted that the word traditionally translated “helper” or “helpmeet” (hebrew – “ezer”), referring ultimately to woman, is a very interesting word. In the OT it often refers to God, and most often in a divine warrior context. Other places it is translated as “deliverer”. Check out Deut. 33:26, Hos. 13:9, Ps. 70:5, 121:1-2, to name a few. Moses even names one of his sons using this word (Eliezer, saying “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”, Ex. 18:4). So whatever picture we are to draw of Biblical views of gender and marriage, I think they should look a bit more complicated than a simple headship-submission dichotomy, because frankly I think that a bit more complexity and mystery is more true to the text.

    On gender and God, here are a few examples of God’s self revelation in Scripture using feminine imagery: Lady Wisdom theme in Proverbs, Is 66:13, Matt 23:37 (and Luke 13:34).

    Tremper Longman, who you referenced appropriately in connection to the divine warrior theme, taught the OT class I took this past summer, and his personal stance is similar to mine. He said, on the subject of referring to God as “she”, that the only heretical pronoun to use for God is “it”. I know that God is not a woman, but God is also not a man. Unfortunately we don’t have an appropriately personal pronoun to refer to our Creator, so “he” and “she” will have to do. Of course you reject the “she” side of that, for reasons that I think I at least somewhat understand, but disagree with.

    I have other thoughts, but I’ll let these sit out there for now.

    Thanks Bob for putting this out there again.

  7. Hooley, you make an excellent point, especially in your definition of complement. It seems we do a better job appropriately nuancing the male words than we do the female words. I look forward to your more thorough explanation of the complementary female role.

    Cabe, thanks for your contribution.

    I agree with you that God’s curse describes the newly fallen reality. However, suggesting that God was unclear in his delineation of roles seems to ignore the thrust, if not the letter, of the passage in question. In Gen. 2, God puts the man to work at dominion before the woman is even created. In Gen. 3, the curses implicitly assume the primacy in the endeavor of the one cursed- the woman is cursed in childbearing, yes- but still retains her role there. Similarly, the man’s toil is cursed, yet his task remains his. The mandate is implicit in the curses. It seems to me that to conclude otherwise requires a disingenuous reading of the text.

    Your thoughts on ezer are very interesting. I think you and Hooley are pursuing the same line of inquiry.

    Lady Wisdom seems to me to be a literary device, rather than God’s self-revelation, for a couple of reasons. First, in Pr. 8:22, Wisdom speaks of being created by the Lord. If your reading is correct, this introduces some weird theology- who is being created? However, this passage introduces no problems in my reading. Second, in ch. 9, there is also a Lady Folly. If Lady Wisdom is God, who is Lady Folly? Given that the audience of Proverbs seems to be young men (not exclusively, of course, but primarily), the imagery of two women, a virtuous one and a treacherous one, beckoning to the reader, makes more sense as a literary device than God, as a woman, beckoning to him.

    “Unfortunately we don’t have an appropriately personal pronoun to refer to our Creator”

    -If God has seen fit to refer to himself as ‘he,’ why shouldn’t we?

  8. Amen, Lane.

    I think God enjoys referring to Himself (via Jesus) as “Father”. So, that’s acceptable for me. It follows then that the biblical masculine qualities that go with “Father” are attributes that God wants aspired to Himself.

    Cabe, your knowledge of the original languages dwarfs my own. . . . .are you saying that you’d use some different English words to translate some of these pronouns? Are some of your issues with the translations that we have?

    Language newbie,

  9. nice. some good discussion finally.

    cabe, I agree with you that the meaning of ‘ezer is deliverer rather than assistant but I don’t think it’s accurate to read warrior imagery into the womans role as presented in Genesis 2. Lane is right to remind us of the importance of a mature reading that takes into account not just linguistic content but also literary structure. In Genesis 2, the angle the author is highlighting is that the woman delivers the man from his aloneness. Which is why the NET Bible translates ‘ever as “companion” in this instance; picks up a little on the relational nuance this passage stresses. But again, it doesn’t do it perfectly. Finding a word that encompasses the entire semantic range is pretty difficult and sensitivity to the usage in each context is important. I’ll keep racking my brain for good dynamic equivalent words, but I’m not sure I’m opposed to having more terms; it can serve as a reminder not to oversimplify.

    I appreciate cabe’s reminder not to oversimplify or dichotomize. I’m, obviously, a firm proponent of Complementarity, but where are we crossing the line from differentiation of gender roles to bifrication of traits/activities? Making it practical, if male headship is a biblical principle (which I think it is), how does that work out in the authority structures of the church? Can only men lead? Can only women nurture? Given that Coram Deo allows for women deacons, obviously that isn’t the case. There is an arena for women to exercise gifts of leadership just as men must also exhibit nurturing traits (the shepherding part of a pastor’s role for example).

    Anyway, I’m sure you guys will figure it all out this weekend. Have fun and eat lots of red meat.

  10. Lane-

    Good stuff.

    So then is it a part of a woman’s role to “want to control [her] husband” (3:16, NET, NLT)? The word here translated “want to control”, often translated “desire”, is the same one in Gen 4:7, when God tells Cain “[Sin’s] desire is for you”, and we all know how that turned out. Sin wanted to control Cain, and it did so a few verses later. I don’t think that God is mandating that women should have such an unhealthy desire to control their husbands. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says of this word and it’s usage in Gen 3:16, “This is obviously neither an intensification nor a warping of a pre-existing hierarchy between the sexes for no such hierarchy is alluded to.” No such hierarchy. Of course I believe that men and women are different, but I think they we are different in a way that cannot be defined and delineated so simply. And I don’t think there should be a hierarchy, whereas concepts such as “headship” and “submission” seem naturally to lend themselves to such a hierarchy, at least in the ways I hear them often used.

    And then there is the bit about death in Gen 3:19. Is this a part of God’s definition of good masculinity, to die? I think that the curse on the man and on the woman certainly hits them in gender specific ways (Dan Allender would say futility and loneliness, respectively, and with many qualifiers), but I think that part of the curse may be our distorting and betraying our true gender, men by “ruling over” and women by “wanting to control” (3:16).

    As far as Lady Wisdom, I still think that she represents God. She is of course the wisdom of God, but I stand with evangelical scholars Longman and Dillard (Introduction to the Old Testament, 2006, p. 275):

    “A key to understanding the nature of Wisdom in Proverbs 9 is the location of her house on the ‘highest point of the city’ (9:3). In the ancient Near East, only one person had the right to dwell on the highest point in the city, the god of that city. In Jerusalem as well, the building on the highest point was the temple on Zion. This observation confirms what we already know about Wisdom from chapter 8; she stands for God’s wisdom and ultimately (as a synecdoche) for God himself.”

    A synecdoche (I had to look it up) is where a part (God’s wisdom) is used to represent the whole (God). I don’t think this creates a huge theological problem with 8:22, because it doesn’t seem that problematic for God to be creating wisdom, I suppose that could be done whenever. But God’s wisdom in this case, especially when set in contrast to Lady Folly (representing idolatry, pagan gods, and their “wisdom”), is meant to represent God.

    I like referring to God as “he”, and do so regularly. But I don’t have a problem with using “she” either. God is not a woman, but neither is God a man. As soon as we say that God is more like a man, or can only be referred to using masculine imagery, then I think we run into problems with the feminine side of our imago dei theology.

    And the smart alec in me wants to say that God’s self revelation in Scripture is primarily in the first person, e.g. “I AM”, and not the third person of either gender.


    I don’t have a problem with “he” used for God; what I do have a problem with is the exclusion of “she”.

    If men and women both bear the imago dei, then it seems to me to somewhat belittle God’s image in women when we draw a line in the sand and say that masculine imagery and language is okay for God and feminine language and imagery is not. Do they bear the parts of the image of God that we’re not allowed to talk about or something? I don’t think anyone is saying that, but I think such an idea follows from the exclusion of feminine imagery. And once again, the Bible does not exclude feminine imagery for God, e.g. Lady Wisdom, mother hen, etc.

    I’m a language newbie too. I don’t know that we should change the way we translate, except where we find an option that remains true to the text while better articulating what it says to a modern English speaker. We should definitely keep the Father language, but we should remember that God here is much more than an earthly father. God surpasses even the eschatological realization of what fathers were created to be. I guess I don’t want our ideas about our God to be limited by our language, though they admittedly will be, and should be, affected by this language. We have to remember though that God is so much more than the word father or son can contain. Similarly I think that our ideas about man and woman are smaller than what they were created to be as well, though on a smaller level of magnitude.


    Great to have a woman in the discussion! Your point of view is clearly and wonderfully unique, and I enjoy and appreciate that.

    The woman in Gen 2 clearly saves the man from being alone, but I think she does a lot more than that. I don’t know that I would advocate for warrior language per say, at least not in the translating of 2:18, but I do want to highlight how noble a word “ezer” actually is. This word has been used to justify heirarchy, men over women, and I think it is notable that it is very often used for YHWH in military situations. When YHWH saves, helps or delivers Israel, it is more than relational. God steps in and fights on behalf of Israel; God saves Israel. Even when Israel is disobedient, YHWH remains her helper. I think companion is a good translation for 2:18, but we’ve got to remember that there is a lot more going on in that word. Man is in really bad shape without Woman, as Israel would be in really bad shape without YHWH.

    I imagine you’re probably with me on most of that, but I guess I probably want to take it a bit further than you do. I see a lot of gray, and a lot of subtleties when it comes to issues of gender and God, and I worry about over-simplification, or us placing our culturally conditioned (and Fall conditioned) ideas about gender and reading them into the Bible.

  11. Two more quick observations:


    I like what you said about worship songs in your comment. I don’t want us to lose romantic imagery in thinking about our relationship with God, but I think in a lot of contemporary worship they are probably a bit over-extended. Let’s not abandon them, but temper them by employing other metaphors as well.


    I like what you’re doing for your senior seminar; let me know what you come up with. I think egalitarianism reminds us of some important things that we’ve forgotten, but it perhaps emphasizes equality to the detriment of difference. Modern complimentarianism, though, I think might be reacting against this by over-defining the differences to the detriment of equality. Perhaps you should try to find a third option that is truly complimentary, completely honoring the beauty and value of the differences without over-defining them, while also paying much more than lip service to equality.

  12. Cabe,

    You are doing some great thinking here, and I really appreciate your good questions and thoughtful nuancing. But two things trouble me: 1) you seem to lean toward a post-structuralist view of language, and 2) you write with all the uncertainty of a single dude in his 20’s who has not experienced the dynamic of marriage and seems primarily concerned not to offend his female classmates. There is something about marriage that brings clarity to a lot of the fuzziness on these matters. My wife has been reading all these threads and feels none of the angst or tension that you seem to feel on behalf of the women who are not commenting.

    You speak of “concepts such as ‘headship’ and ‘submission'” as though they are a chauvinistic, Nietzschean imposition on the text. But last time I read 1 Cor 11 and Ephesians 5, those words are in there, so we have to deal with them. Same thing with the masculine pronoun for God. You write: “It seems to me to somewhat belittle God’s image in women when we draw a line in the sand and say that masculine imagery and language is okay for God and feminine language and imagery is not. Do they bear the parts of the image of God that we’re not allowed to talk about or something? …I think such an idea follows from the exclusion of feminine imagery.” I think it’s probably not a good idea to place your own logical deductions (“such an idea follows…”) above God’s self-revelation in Scripture.

    The doctrine of accomodation means that God, if he wanted to, could have used both masculine and feminine pronouns to speak of himself, but he did not. You express concern that our ideas about God are “limited by our language.” I think this reveals a small view of God. It assumes that language is a cultural vehicle which is not capable of expressing the whole truth about God. While we must always hold to God’s radical transcendence, we must also understand the creation of language itself as God’s act to prepare the world for his self-revelation. Instead of seeing language as something that limits God, I think we must see language as one of God’s gracious gifts to allow us to know him as fully as possible in our finite state. And therefore, if he has nowhere in Scripture used a feminine pronoun to refer to himself, then we may not either.

    More to say, but I’ll put it in another comment post.

  13. Regarding Genesis 3: Lane said everything I was thinking.

    CABE: In response to your further questions on that passage after Lane’s observations, I think some careful nuancing is in order. God is obviously not “mandating” that women should desire to control their husbands. But what God IS doing is cursing his entire creation. This is the interplay of God’s decretive and permissive wills, similar to the way he ordained the crucifixion of Jesus even though he did not “mandate” (or approve of) the sinful actions of human beings which brought that event to pass.

    You say that God is making “a statement of how things will now be distorted in the newly Fallen state,” as though God is doing little more than offering commentary on what “The Fall” (as though it has a personal will) has done to humanity. But the whole thrust of Genesis 1-3 is that the universe is personal, not mechanistic. It is not that the Fall has set into motion a deterministic chain of events upon which God offers his theological commentary. Rather, God the personal Creator of the universe is CURSING the man and the woman. And I think he is cursing them in ways consistent with their unique roles as his image-bearers.

    You also seem to be caught in a tautology on Lady Wisdom, or maybe I’m just missing something in your reasoning. You write: “As far as Lady Wisdom, I still think that she represents God… A synecdoche (I had to look it up) is where a part (God’s wisdom) is used to represent the whole (God). I don’t think this creates a huge theological problem with 8:22, because it doesn’t seem that problematic for God to be creating wisdom… But God’s wisdom in this case… is meant to represent God.”

    If we are going to hold firmly to your point of view, then in Proverbs 8:22, it seems that we have God creating himself.

    To all commenters: GREAT STUFF on this thread! I am enjoying the dialogue. Seems that all of you are following the rules of good debate, interacting with each other’s arguments thoughtfully and logically. You can’t coach that. That’s just natural blogging talent.

  14. Hey Cabe, in re-reading my prior posts, I think I was a little too strong in my statements (to no one’s surprise). I do not mean to imply that you ARE placing your own logical deductions above Scripture – just that it seems that way to me as I interact with your reasoning. Same for the “small view of God” line.

    I make no apologies for the single-guy-in-your-20’s crack, because everyone at Coram Deo knows that it’s part of my calling from God to bust on single guys in their 20’s. Ask Lane. 🙂

  15. Between my language & theology classes and interning at my church, I am frequently one of a small female minority in predominately male fields. In support of what Bob said, far from ever feeling offended by misogyny, I often think men are far too timid to assert the clear teaching of Scripture, which is not oppressive but liberating.

    If wise women like Leigh are reading this, why am I the only woman posting? It’s enough to make me want to resolve to learn in silence and full submission…

  16. Thanks for all the knowledge guys. . . . .

    Cabe, I like what Bob said about subjugating our “common knowledge” and “wisdom” (however obvious it seems to us) to what God has actually said. And, the grand majority (I won’t fight about Proverbs, I have no idea what you guys (and gals) are talking about in the Hebrew 🙂 )
    of God self-references in the scriptures are God referencing Himself in the masculine (or via Jesus, . .in the masculine “Father”, “He”.)
    So, even though, as you said, God’s attributes and qualities go way beyond an earthly understanding of a man or a father. . . . that’s how he chose to characterize himself, . . . so we should go with that.

    Hooley. . . any words that are better than “complement”? I know my wife loves her role and loves to “help” and “complement” me.

    But, I know that those terms can sometimes minimize the essential tasks she has in this family. Most of the literature that tries to fix this “problem” go too far (such as Stacy Eldridge’s “Captivating”) .
    I’d love your thoughts.


  17. Hooley,

    You have SUCH a wonderful mind and expression. I love reading what you write.

    I’m sorry for my silence. Keep talking, please. I promise that I am thinking a lot and learning, too. I will post when I get my thoughts together.


  18. Good theology and understanding of language is very important, I agree with that. But as I read through these posts and blogs as they relate to masculinity and worship, I sense something is missing: practical application and heart transformation.

    How does a masculine biblical man’s view of God affect his worship? How does a biblical women’s view of God affect her worship worship? How does our view of God affect our worship of him today, 5 minutes from now, on the drive home this evening, as we spend time with family and friends? How does our view of God affect they way guys live missionally among men in our culture?

    Now I admit, these issues may have been addressed, but I missed them.

  19. I think there is so much beauty in these posts- so much desire to know and love God with minds, hearts, and spirits. There are many threads to follow, but I think I will pause on Justin’s: how do I as a woman love God on this day?

    My mind goes to the Gospels and watching how the women of the Gospels worship Jesus. I think particularly of Luke 7, where the sinful woman comes boldly and humbly, with an audacity and courage that startles me every time I read it. She breaks religious norms in her desperation to kiss the feet of Christ. I don’t know what to do with this story…I don’t know what it means that God invites me to come and is waiting to embrace my repentance and worship. But, I deeply desire to know how to worship God like this woman…

    In the midst of so many good and challenging and difficult things shared in these posts, I am thankful for the reminder to worship.

  20. There is a lot of good stuff to respond to here, so maybe we should stick to a few exegetical points for now and see where it takes us. This is a good conversation. Thanks to everyone for bringing your points of view.

    I think we’re dismissing the Lady Wisdom example far too easily. Read the ESV. 8:22 reads: “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work”. It turns out that word in Hebrew can mean possess as well as create, so I don’t think we have the problem of God creating God as you point out. Now go back to 8:12 and read from there. “By me kings reign”, “Riches and honor are with me”, “all who hate me love death”. And what about 3:19, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth”, 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. It is curious that a lot of similar language is used to describe God and/or Christ. John 1 would be a great example. Everything that has been made was made through the Word, Christ. There are some parallels here that I find to be fairly obvious. I don’t think I’m reading this into the text, and if I am then I stand in solidarity with some of the best evangelical Old Testament scholarship out there. Lady Wisdom represents God.

    If you’d still like to reject Lady Wisdom, check out Isaiah 66:13. In the midst of a passage that is using a lot of breast-feeding imagery, the text connects this imagery with God: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” Or maybe we should look at the passage in Matthew 23:37 where Jesus describes himself and his desire for Jerusalem as a mother hen. Or maybe we should take a look at the end of Job, where YHWH uses at least a few maternal images, 38:29 maybe being my favorite: “From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?” Is the answer to this rhetorical question YHWH or someone else?

    Feminine imagery is used in the Bible to describe God; God even uses such imagery in Job 38. If the Bible can reveal God using both masculine and feminine imagery, can we not do the same? Once again, we shouldn’t throw out masculine imagery, that would be foolish. But we should allow feminine imagery, because it is in the Bible, regardless of the fact that it is in the minority, it is in there. So why is there the need to shut it out?

  21. Cabe, after further study, I think I’m with you on Lady Wisdom. There is enough range in the Hebrew terms here that I’m OK with the connection.

    And, I have no problem with your point on feminine imagery. But it seems to me that feminine imagery is different than a feminine pronoun. If, in reference to Walker’s pastoral skills, I say that “Walker is like a mother hen shepherding her chicks,” that is different than referring to Walker as “she.”

  22. Though Walker is, anatomically speaking (and as far as I’ve heard) a man, whereas God is not. God did become Incarnate in the body of a man, but that was one person of the Trinity, and I don’t think that it is core to Christ’s being in the same way as it is to Will’s or my own. The Logos was with God in the beginning, without the anatomical equipment to claim masculinity in a strict sense.

    Though the Word was masculine and is masculine. But the Word was also feminine, and since both bear God’s image, I don’t see a problem with feminine pronouns for God. “She” and “He” are, when it comes to God, metaphors. God is not literally a mother hen, and God is not literally a Father either, but both convey something beautiful and true about God’s character. But these are not the whole picture; they are true but incomplete. God is much more than mother hen or father or lady wisdom. God is God, the I AM WHO I AM. And we would be cowards not to try to describe this God, but we would be arrogant to think we have I AM figured out or confined to one gender or one metaphor.

    Thanks for staying in the conversation. More thoughts?

  23. Cabe, I just don’t think we can use theological deductions to counteract clear Scriptural precendents. Though your statements about God’s nature are theologically sublime and correct, the simple fact remains that nowhere in Scripture – God’s own self-revelation, the words that he inspired to teach us about himself – does he use feminine pronouns to refer to himself. I think that should be enough to settle the question for us.

  24. It could also be said that “…nowhere in Scripture – God’s own self-revelation, the words that he inspired to teach us about himself – does he use…” explicit Trinitarian formulations, but that doesn’t make the Trinity un-Biblical. Trinitarian theology is the most Christian Biblical way that I know of to describe our God, yet it’s never spelled out. It is hinted at in a large number of passages, but never stated outright. So should we omit Trinitarian language from our vocabulary because it isn’t found in the Bible? Absolutely not!

    You won’t find the word “Trinity” in your Bible, but you also will be hard pressed to find a more distinctly and wonderfully Christian conception of God.

    I don’t think we can argue by omission with much, if any, certainty. I don’t know of a time where the Bible uses “she” for God either, but that doesn’t make it out of bounds for us to use. Femininity in God is hinted at both in our Imago Dei theology and in a number of Biblical passages discussed previously. So why not?

  25. cabe,

    I have been with you almost every step of the way, agreeing on most every point. i think you have described our god in a delightful way. you are certainly correct that god cannot be contained within a gender specific pronoun. but my question is this: why are you so adamant about people referring to god as she? will it really matter? your discussion has spurred some fantastic thoughts and clarified my view of god, but i wonder what the need is to take it the extra step. at least for me, it is enough to say that god is neither male nor female but we refer to him as he, because that is how he has revealed himself to us. saying he or she is going to be imprecise, and i would rather be imprecise with the pronoun that god has revealed to us through the scriptures. the bottom line is that i just don’t think it is fruitful to refer to god as she.


  26. Hello,

    I wanted to thank everyone that posted to this blog. I started reading through it (three times) and quite literally spent about 4 hours today listening to different sermons on this topic (and caught some others) just to gain a better understanding.. it was a sweet day 🙂

    After everything I listened too, and after re-reading the blog, i started thinking about David and Goliath..

    When you think of the story or when you tell the story, do you focus on the stones? Do you break down whether or not the stones were limestone or granite? Whether or not the surface was smooth or rough? If you do, why (because I may be missing the point entirely)?

    But for now I’ll assume your focus is on the application and the message within the story..

    After reading above, I think there is a lot of focus on the stones, and not the message.

    So I asked myself, would referring to God as She/ Her, impact my worship.. and my internal gut reaction was NO.. because at the end of the day, He, She or otherwise, He’s still GOD.. It’s like saying… if fire was called ice, would it still have the same impact? Yeah, it’s gonna burn 🙂

    So I guess.. bottom line.. I’m confused.. I understand that “God is authority over all”, and that “He wants to emphasize His headship”, but what I’m confused about is.. what are the implications on an individual and community level of accepting and referring to God using female and male pronouns interchangeably? Or the opposite only allowing God to be referred to as only She or only He?


  27. Wow. Derrick and Lisa, and Bob and everyone else thank you all so much. This thread is a blessing to me, and I appreciate the parts you have all played in it.

    And welcome to Derrick and Lisa, thanks for stepping up and bringing your voices; it says a lot about who you are as Christian men and women.


    It brought such a smile to my face to read about your struggle through this thread. 4 hours! That sounds like an awesome day. You’re asking some really important questions (as is Derek). Does this matter? What are the implications of allowing both masculine and feminine pronouns for God? And are we missing the message for the stones, as you say?

    I’ll offer my thoughts on that last question, and we’ll see where it goes from there 🙂

    I think that the great thing about Christianity is that the message is the stones. Unless I’m missing your analogy, the stones represent God’s personality, what God is like, what kind of deity God is, or in the specific instance of this conversation, God’s gender identity. And God is the Christian message. We don’t get just a list of rules to follow (though I would not belittle the beauty of true morality), and we aren’t given a set of steps to happiness or perfection. We are given God, God is the message. God takes the problem of sin and makes it right. The personal-communal Christian God steps into history and redeems us, starts to make us into the images of God we were created to be, and then we are invited into community with God, into the dance of the Trinity. So the nature of the one offering the invitation and doing the redeeming is important.

    And the way that we view this God affects the way we view ourselves. If my God is concerned only with morality, I will either become someone who is always a self deprecating slave to the law, or I will become a self-righteous jerk, projecting my imperfections onto the world around me and trying to fix them, or at least look down on them. And if my God is one that never wants to offend anyone, then I’ll be just as weak an ineffectual as my God, and neither of us will see any change in this world because we will be too obsessed with being nice to stand for anything. How we think about the God that we worship is important, and shapes how we think about ourselves and the world around us.

    This extends to gender. We can say we think that men and women both bear the image of God all we want, but if we exclude feminine pronouns from a God that we claim to be neither male nor female, then there is an obvious inequality with the way we think about women and the image of God. If God can only be “he” then what does that say about people who are only “she”? If men and women bear God’s image, and God sees fit to describe Himself at times by means of the Herself of Lady Wisdom, for instance, then how can we be against feminine pronouns for our genderless (or perhaps gender-full?) God? Plain and simple, if God is absolutely excluded from being “she” then a “she” is less than a “he”. Also, if our God is only “he”, then regardless of how often we say otherwise, our God is a man.

    “He” is a gendered word, and so our God cannot be above gender and at the same time referred to exclusively as “he”.

    Any thoughts on my response, Lisa?

    How about you, Derrick?

  28. I think that by saying the pronoun “she” is not present in the text does not hold too much weight in light of the antecedent (God) being revealed in both feminine and masculine imagery. The antecedent to this pronoun is what matters. Finding ways to remember a fuller picture of God matters to our worship. Are we seeking the nature of a God who is both/and, who is revealed in the interplay of male and female as Genesis claims?

    Personally, “she” is very uncomfortable to me too, because really we just don’t have language to point to the both/and of God. “She” seems to contain God in a woman and I don’t like that any more than I like God contained in “he.” (And of course, “it” is a terrible depersonalization of God.)

    Are we really resisting the word “she” because it is not used in the Bible? I am not going the full route of Derrida’s deconstruction of language here, but at the same time when do we make allowance for the historical moment in which the language is used? God is working within our human frameworks, becoming incarnate into our systems (language being one of them). The nature of the incarnation is that God is coming to us and meeting us, while pointing us beyond ourselves and our constructions. Scripture is both explicit and implicit. Sometimes it ushers us to more rather implicitly, even while living within our human constructions and historical moments. For instance, most of us believe that slavery is wrong, though Scripture does not say it explicitly and the writers did not seem to need to overturn that cultural construction of their time. They seemed to accept it and worked within it. But there are many hints in Scripture that God was pointing us to more there…which the church began to realize in the Abolitionist movement.

    The imagery of God throughout Scripture as masculine and feminine hints at more than the limits of our language can express. We can’t lock language up- we need to see where it beckons us. Church history alone reveals how much we discover new language to speak of our God (like the Trinitarian language of the 4th century). There is movement within language over time, which does not deny the truth of the Bible, but rather is conceived in its pages. Because there is a precedent of feminine imagery for God in the Scriptures, there is compelling evidence to consider more carefully how we practically lean into the interplay of male/female imagery of God. Certainly, how we use our pronouns is just one way to do this. I personally don’t go the route of using “she,” but it is because “she” disappoints me, too. I would probably agree with those that say where we land on the pronoun is not the issue; there is so much more that is.

  29. I don’t think the emergence of the doctrine and language of the Trinity is on point with the He/She debate. We aren’t searching for a word or language to describe a doctrine that God reveals but does not name himself (like theologians did in describing the trinity). Those advocating for a she pronoun are suggesting a shift away from a pronoun that God has explicitly used in reference to himself for thousands of years. Beacuse of the Scriptural precedent for He and not She, I think those advocating for the use of both have a much greater burden of proof.

    I think there are very valid, very true things to be said for both sides, but I have to stick with God’s chosen pronoun for himself. While we can draw out and proclaim the wonderful characteristics of God that are displayed in feminine form on Earth, I don’t think we can presume to have enough knowledge of God’s plan for cultural and linguistic evolution to say to Him that his chosen, exclusive pronoun for himself is no longer adequate.

  30. Thanks all,

    This is an amazing conversation. Cabe, thanks for making me think about things in ways I hadn’t before.

    I’m gonna have to go back to Bob’s post, though. . .and say that God revealed Himself in scripture,. . . the grand majority of the time. . . . in the masculine. This is hit home even more by Jesus referring to God as “He” or “Father”. (Jesus, being in very nature, God)
    This was not metaphorical. . . in a poetic sense. . . Jesus was praying this way in front of other folks. . in worship.

    The examples of “lady wisdom” and “mother Hen” seem to be bringing out characteristics of God. . . while Jesus praying “Father” seems to bring out role/nature/essence. Again, if God would’ve wanted to mix in feminine pronouns. . . I think Jesus would’ve done it.

    Regarding the Trinity,. . . all Three Persons are mentioned individually in scripture, so the concept of the Trinity follows from that. I’m not sure “Lady Wisdom” is in the same league, emphasis-wise, as the Trinity. The concept of Rapture falls into this category as well. (not being mentioned. . .but being indirectly mentioned continually).

    I think we’re comparing Biblical themes that differ greatly in their emphasis.

    Again,.. . thanks everyone. . .great discussion.


    ps. Cabe. . . are you worried that if churches started mixing in feminine pronouns that the goddess movement might seep into Evangelicalism?

  31. Just want to clarify a few things. . . .

    Regarding emphasis. . . ..

    I just think we need to consider biblical genre a little here. “Lady of Wisdom” is located in the poems of the Proverbs. . .where as Jesus praying “Father” is not a part of a poem (both are Holy scripture. . . but I just think we need to take them in context).

    Also, . . forgive me. . .but the “mother Hen” comparisons are also a bit poetic in nature. I know that Jesus echoed this metaphor as he looked out over Jerusalem before Palm Sunday. . . . . but. . . .

    Maybe I’m missing something here. . but the Hen in question, although admittedly female. . . . is a chicken. And, I think scripture is bringing out the qualities of a Mother Hen relating to it’s wings and gathering and such. . . just as much as it is brining out female qualities of nurture and care.

    I don’t want to make a fool of myself here, but I feel like God is longing to bring his children all back together like a Mother Hen would. . . .not necessarily a human woman. A mother Hen does that. . that’s why He used that metaphor. (just like “Rock” for instance, in the psalms. .)

    Ok. . so maybe I need more coffee. .that just jumped out at me a little in this discussion 🙂


  32. Lisa: Every since I went to bed last night I have been thinking about the profound nature of your question: what is at stake in this for both our individual and communal understanding of God? Your words and questions are so significant (and so well-said).

    While I think the question on language is important, as I mentioned in my last comment, I don’t think the issue of pronoun usage is really what this all is about. I do think it is about finding intentional ways to realize God is not a man or a woman, but is somehow beyond gender while being aspects of both.

    So, what is really at stake here in the deeper levels of our conversation? Like Cabe, I would continue to argue that more is at stake then perhaps we have let ourselves discover. If we treat God as though God is a man, that is stripping God of so much of the nature of divinity; it also dishonors how God is revealed in half of God’s creation (wow, it is awkward to get through my sentences without using pronouns!). I don’t think we are tying to explicitly treat God as though “he” is a man, but I think we have much work to do in understanding implicit messages. From my own testimony, I will say that when I discovered God was not just represented in the metaphor of a Father, but yes, the metaphor of a Mother too (see Cabe’s comments for the verses) it felt like I was being given something that profoundly opened my intimacy with God. It was as though I was used to having a “single” parent for a God, and I was beginning to know a fuller picture of God’s love and being. I am still struggling in it, because God has always been much more of a “man” in my imagination….

    I think that beyond the individual, these concepts have huge implications, too. For most of the world, women are second class citizens (consider that in much of the world women live with violence within their homes as an acceptable practice- domestic violence is actually a leading cause of death/injury for women globally). If the Gospel comes into such cultures (including our own) and speaks of a God who is found in and beyond both the masculine and feminine, I believe that is powerful in fighting harm done to women and upholding the dignity of people created in God’s image. As a church we must deal with the reality of how we speak into cultures that do not value women, or see enough the image of God in them.


  33. Cabe,

    You wrote: “Plain and simple, if God is absolutely excluded from being ‘she’ then a ‘she’ is less than a ‘he.'”

    Unless Scripture says otherwise… which it does.

    It seems to me that the question here comes down to whether our fundamental presupposition is the truthfulness and authority of sacred Scripture, or whether our fundamental presupposition is the supremacy of deductive logic and human reason.

  34. Bob,
    I believe in the authority and truthfulness of Scripture, too. And like you, I doubt that our rationalistic heritage is how God is most revealed. It is good to speak that into this conversation; thank you.

    But, at the same time, you must own that you are appying your own deductive lenses to Scripture. This is not an either/or: either we use the Bible or our reason. It never works like this. The text is not unmediated by any of our lenses of heart and mind. I think we must continue to wrestle in this together…and not make a false either/or.

    I think it might also be good to look at Christ more in this conversation and consider how he held the Scriptures and where he saw the religious people failing in their fervent defense of the Scriptures. I think we all could learn from Christ about our own hearts in this matter.

  35. Scripture does say that a man is NOT more important than a woman. Scripture does NOT say that we are excluded from using feminine pronouns for God. That is being deduced from Scripture.

    But there is nothing wrong with deduction in this conversation, though we all would probably prefer deduction is normed by and flows from Scripture, which I think it has been. My most recent deduction that you quoted, Bob, is merely there to point out an absurdity in a well intentioned interpretation of Scripture. We are saying God is neither man nor woman, yet we are permitting God to be thought of/spoken of as a man, and we are not permitting God to be thought of /spoken of as a woman. Something seems to be amiss here; there seems to be a fundamentally assumed but unstated inequality, that I think is un-Biblical, and I think most here agree that inequality between the genders is un-Biblical.

    I’ll return to Lady Wisdom. She, representing God, is referred to as “she”, “her”, etc. I don’t want to toss out or forget Wisdom in this discussion.

  36. Cabe,

    We aren’t permitting God to be thought of or spoken of in any way. . . .He permitted and preferred (yes, a deduction) himself to be referred to as, “Father”. That was Him. . not the modern church.

    Remember. . .”this is how you OUGHT to Pray. . . Father”. etc. . . . (Matthew 6)

    So, while leaving room for God to refer to himself in the feminine in your poetic examples. . . . . the directives of Jesus and Paul are completely in the masculine.

    Jesus’ Matthew 23 discourse is a beautiful section of scripture. I don’t, however think Jesus was hoping for that prayer to lead Christians to refer to Him in the feminine.

    I’d like someone smarter than myself 🙂 to comment on the genre distinctions here. That’s a powerful argument, to me.


  37. On a purely linguistic level, i think we are at a disadvantage in this discussion as English speakers (a language that doesn’t decline/inflect according to gender). I’m not a native Hebrew speaker, but I feel like it would be out of place and unnatural for the author of Proverbs to use masculine imagery for this feminine concept, kind of like how we always speak of ships as “she”

    cabe, I appreciate you’re desire to preserve the dignity and image of God present in both genders, but your argument is still largely one from silence. Isn’t one of the principles of hermeneutics not to make major doctrines on obscure/scant passages, particularly ones invoking figures of speech? The weight of the entire counsel of Scripture falls heavily and clearly on thinking of God in masculine terms. Excessive speculation on precisely how that works out within the ontological Trinity makes me uncomfortable. Using Calvin’s analogy, God’s chosen to reveal Himself in babytalk, presumably because it’s about on par with our level of intellectual sophistication. So, I’ll grant that it’s babytalk to speak of God in masculine terms but, as Bob’s pointing out, it’s the babytalk that God has given us to use.

  38. as an aside, while i don’t recommend it, i’d speculate that it would be easier to make an exegetical case that women bear less of the image of God than men (1 Cor 11.7-9; 1 Tim 2.13; 1 Pet 3.7, etc.) than it would be to make an exegetical case that we should speak of God using feminine pronouns.

  39. Hooley,

    That’s hilarious 🙂

    Thanks for your last post and being eloquent with things that I was stuttering with at the keyboard.


  40. Hooley, thanks again for bringing yourself.

    I think you bring up a good point about words that inflect based on gender. I’m going to play with this concept a bit. The Hebrew word for wisdom is a feminine word, and so it probably wouldn’t make much sense to use a masculine anthropomorphism for that feminine Hebrew word. The Hebrew word for God (or gods), Elohim, is a masculine word, so when speaking of God in the Hebrew Bible it makes a lot of sense to use “he”. The same could be said of Greek. But in English, where we don’t inflect words based on gender, and if we agree that God is not exclusively male or exclusively female, does it make sense for us to always inflect God in the masculine? Unless we define God as an explicitly masculine entity, then it doesn’t make any sense for us to do this in English, and seems a lot more like an ancient linguistic vestige that is unnecessary, just like calling a ship “she”. No one would have a problem if I bought a boat and called it “he”, so why the resistance with God, who is neither male nor female?

    Of course God is a personal being, and a ship is not. But most of us here seems to believe that God exhibits both masculine and feminine traits. So why are we excluding feminine pronouns?

    I also might point out that the argument against feminine pronouns for God is also one from silence. And even if the Bible leans heavily towards masculine images for God, can’t we at least let a “she” slip into our language, 10% of the time, or heck, even 1% of the time? What are we so afraid of? If women and men are indeed both image bearers, then it doesn’t make sense for a “she” to be wrong.

    And are we really limited to thinking and speaking about God using language found explicitly in the Bible? It is good and right to give priority to that language and imagery, but should we stop there? Once again, think of the Trinity. Such a word doesn’t appear in the Text, and indeed didn’t really enter Christian usage for about 300 years, and yet it is a very Biblical concept.

    Speaking of which, I know that we are impoverished when we’re speaking of God, but doesn’t our trinitarian view of God, mysterious as it is, doesn’t that idea give us even more room for femininity in the Godhead? We don’t have to explain how it works, it is all babytalk indeed, but I think a mysterious God that is characterized by both multiplicity and unity can easily be characterized by both masculinity and femininity. If God is both three and one, can’t God also be “he” and “she”?

    It’s like if a small child’s first word was “daddy”, but they never learned how to say “mommy”. We are emphasizing beautiful, holy and certainly worthwhile aspects of God, but if we shut femininity out of the Godhead, then I worry about what aspects of God we miss. We may only have babytalk, but even babies can learn new words and new ways of speaking that improve their ability to relate to adults. We won’t ever completely be “adults” until the eschaton, but if we want to grow in our relationship with God here on earth, we’ve got to grow in our ability to use language to speak to and speak about God.

    Again, these aren’t crazy ideas I thought of myself. It is very common among today’s leading theologians and biblical scholars, including the aforementioned Tremper Longman III, easily one of the most prominent Old Testament scholars alive today.

  41. Cabe, I’m with Hooley on this… to my knowledge Scripture nowhere says the words “a man is NOT more important than a woman.” That statement is no less a deduction than the deduction than the deduction that feminine pronouns are inappropriate when referring to God. And, to Hooley’s point, maybe a more tenuous one exegetically.

    I think both deductions are biblical, but you seem to think only one of them is. So I concur with Clatterbuck’s point: the burden of proof is upon you who would posit Scriptural warrant for using the feminine pronoun.

    You observed: “We are saying God is neither man nor woman, yet we are permitting God to be thought of/spoken of as a man, and we are not permitting God to be thought of /spoken of as a woman.” Correct. Because that is what Scripture teaches.

    Then you state: “Something seems to be amiss here; there seems to be a fundamentally assumed but unstated inequality, that I think is un-Biblical…” If you are going to make that statement, I think there is a significant burden of proof upon you to demonstrate the un-Biblical-ness of this formulation.

    Thanks for your insightful and thoughtful argumentation thus far. Though I think you are wrong on these matters, I greatly respect your reasoning and your articulation of your viewpoint.

  42. Hey Everyone,

    Thanks for making such articulate points… Last night, I thought I was confused, now I am down right struggling

    So.. here is where I am – (Disclaimer: I am reading the bible the very first time ever, and am barely through my first chapter) I fully accept and understand that God has given us the pronoun to refer to Him..

    But…. I’m going to step away from the language debate , yet again.. and the point that I am struggling with.. and to be honest I’m not sure how to articulate it, so please bare with me..

    One of the core values of Coram Deo is to embrace the culture.. Today’s culture, in the US, has a very STRONG opinion about exclusion.. Specifically when referring to a minority group, such as women… When going into the culture to disciple and bring God to those who are struggling.. As a church are we hurting ourselves by focusing so much on grammar? What is our responsibility to incorporate the feminine side of God in our every day relationships and discussions, while ensuring that we uphold Scripture?


  43. Lisa,
    You speak of others who are articulate, but your words hold a bold humility, a wisdom, and a clear expression that is so beautiful. Thank you for joining this conversation and for the things you are teaching me as you come. I think that as we see Christ engage the keepers of Scripture of his day (the Pharisees and others), we can learn more about how to hold our sacred Scriptures. I think Christ asked them to enter beyond the letter of the law to the deeper issues of the Gospel as they mattered to his time and culture. I think you are right on to move us in this direction…because I see Jesus doing this.

    Bob: I notice that of the two of us most in disagreement with your stance (Cabe and I), you are really only addressing one of us? And after our last exchange in a previous post (our struggles to hear one another, my rudeness, the verbal fusillades, etc.) I can totally understand why. But, if you are willing, I would like to try again to dialogue with you. How would you respond to what I have been offering in my previous posts?

  44. HEY LISA:

    You ask a great question. And this blog might not be the ideal place to hash it out, being new as you are to the Scriptures. If you’re a Coram Deo attender, I would love to have this conversation in person so that I can do a better job interacting with your questions. So grab me on Sunday and introduce yourself and perhaps we can chat more thoroughly and constructively about these things.

    But, to answer briefly, you are correct that the issue of gender is an important one missionally in our culture, and so we must engage it with wisdom, love, and insight. At the same time, as we have seen in Romans, sin causes people to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). This includes the truth about gender and about God’s design for men and women. What we now know as feminism has its roots in the Fall (the woman’s “desire” to dominate her husband, Genesis 3:16). All this means that living for the glory of God in our culture requires us to constantly uphold God’s truth about gender, showing how God’s beautiful design allows both men and women to experience the fullness of what God designed them to be.

    Additionally, the ways in which we refer to God Himself (i.e. pronouns, etc) obviously have a direct impact on our worship. A.W. Tozer said, “The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.” It is no small matter how we refer to God, and referring to him in ways that he has not revealed himself is dangerous ground.


    I appreciate your question, and in response to it, I must say that yes, the last thread explains some of my hesitation. But more basically, I simply find blogs a poor medium for this sort of communication. I can interact freely with Cabe because I know him from a distance through a mutual friend. So though Cabe and I have not met personally, I feel enough of a connection with him to establish at least a fair understanding of each other’s points and presuppositions. Not having this sort of personal friendship with you, the blog medium just doesn’t lend itself to the kind of accurate and honest communication that would be mutually beneficial.

    There is an additional dynamic in play: I am a pastor and elder of a local church community, charged by God with the protection and promotion of sound doctrine (Titus 1:9) and judged by God for my faithfulness to this task (Hebrews 13:17). You and Cabe are students, free to explore the boundaries of orthodoxy and heresy without concern for where your own explorations may lead others. That is a beautiful phase of life to be in, and I deeply enjoyed it myself earlier in life. But the charge I now have before our Lord Jesus requires me to hold much deeper convictions, and to hold them with greater exegetical certainty.

    If I were dialoguing with you and Cabe in a classroom in Seattle, I would be much freer in my interactions and perhaps much more provocative in my challenges to you both. But on a blog, I must seek to balance both charity and conviction – a balancing act I have not mastered. I must be kind in disagreement, yet I must resolutely confront bad theology, because I don’t live life in a classroom. The matters we are talking about affect every aspect of my role as a pastor, husband, and father, because feminized men make bad spiritual leaders in the home, and unsubmissive wives destroy marriages (Proverbs 19:13), and those are the issues of spiritual formation we deal with as we shape a community of disciples in urban Omaha.

    All that to say: we aren’t exactly approaching this conversation from the same direction.

  45. Bob-

    You said yourself in point #3 of your original blog post that men and women are equal. If you no longer believe that men and women are “equal as image-bearers of God”, then that changes the conversation significantly. I’ve been working with that as though it were common ground; if it is not, kindly let me know and I’ll change my m.o. My point in saying those things is to show a logical discrepancy between the view that men and women are equal and the excluding of feminine pronouns for God. If you have ceased to believe in the equality of men and women, then that changes things, but if you still hold that view then I don’t think it’s my responsibility to prove something that you already believe.

    Or perhaps I misunderstood what you were saying?

  46. Bob,

    good word.. . . being responsible for the practical outworking of doctrine/heresy/theology. . .gives another perspective on how to blog about it.


  47. Bob:
    I really appreciate your words and how you brought them, and in a surprising kind of way, I feel a kind of solidarity with you, even in our differences. Like you, the hope of my life is to live the Gospel. I, too, desire to resolutely confront bad theology. I, too, hold very deep convictions and desire to stand with grace and truth. Like you were wise to mention, neither of us are living in a classroom; these matters we are talking about do affect every area of our life and so much is at stake. I appreciate it that both of us come to these matters with a sense of their weightiness.

    I do want to make sure you know that I have not offered my thoughts to be flippant or to question authority for the sake of being merely disruptive. I have offered them because, like you, I believe deeply in what I am asking us to see and why it matters for our preaching of the Gospel. I believe the church has failed to fight for the imago dei revealed in men and women– we have failed to hear the cries of those who are suffering because of this. We live in a culture and a world where to bring our preaching responsibly, we need to listen better to the culture, too. For instance, I respect the Complementarian view of submission: Jesus himself modeled submission and Ephesians calls for all of us to submit to one another, even as it specifically instructs wives. Submission in the heart of God is a beautiful thing. But consider that there are women so embarrassed, so shamed, so silenced by domestic violence that they hear us preach submission and keep allowing themselves to be in abusive marriages. Domestic violence is not just an issue outside the church. If there was even one women sitting in your church who is being abused by her husband, wouldn’t you want to qualify when you say “unsubmissive wives destroy marriages?” To teach submission responsibly is to also interact with our culture. And as it stands, 1 in 4 women will suffer domestic violence; some research has found equal numbers among Christian communities, or at the very least, Christian women seem to stay in abuse far longer. We must speak of these things as we bring forth our theology.

    One more thought I wanted to raise as I see your words to Lisa. I am curious when you say feminism, which historical movements you have in mind? That would be a helpful nuance, as there have been several waves of feminism across different cultures and in different periods of time, and they all have very different, even competing agendas. We cannot say that all feminism has its roots in the fall. Some feminists are working to end sexual trafficking of women and children. Others are caring for survivors of rape and exposing the crisis of rape we have in this country. Others are combating pornography. Historically speaking, there are many feminists I would object to, but then again, I am compelled to say “thank you” to many others. Because of them, I can vote and pursue a graduate school education; I can have more understanding and compassion towards silenced issues of domestic violence and rape. The church has not exactly stepped into these matters very well, so even as I critique different feminist agendas as a Christian woman, there is a sense of being humbled too.

    Thanks again for this dialogue and peace on your retreat this weekend.

  48. CABE,

    Yeah, I think you read me wrong… I was just saying that the equality of men and women is a deduction from Scripture too. You seemed to indicate that it was an explicit statement in Scripture when you wrote “Scripture does say that a man is NOT more important than a woman.” So my point was to point out the deductive nature of this statement, not to disagree with it (for I do not).

    Kimberly, I thank you for your wise and insightful concern. I agree with you that “we must speak of these things as we bring forth our theology.” One way you could practically help me is to listen to a sermon I preached earlier this year called “Biblical Masculinity and Femininity” (April 15 07 – under “Vision and Values” on our Resource page) and see if you feel like I adequately dealt with the issues you’re talking about. I think I did, but I’d be interested to have a fresh set of ears on the matter. One of the beautiful things about the community God has shaped at Coram Deo is that it is VERY diverse – so any time I preach on gender, there are always women in the room who are a) in abusive marriages, or b) have suffered sexual abuse, or c) have served Christ in other cultures confronting issues like sex trafficking and prostitution, as well as a good smattering of liberal feminists who think the Bible is a misogynistic text. I think (hope) you’ll find that my preaching on these matters takes into account the diversity of that audience. Thank you for your words on this subject and your loving concern for the church’s witness in this area.

  49. Bob:
    I hear in your words here and your sermon I just listened to that you are a man who seeks to teach integrity; who asks men to stand up and care for their families; who calls forth in men a kind of leadership that is about Christ-like sacrifice. I am so thankful for this. As a culture, I believe we do have at this historical moment a crisis happening in masculine identity and you speak into this.

    From your recent blog comment I hear your your compassion as you name the realities of many women’s lives: domestic violence, sexual abuse, sexual trafficking. In your sermon, you talked about the curse and its implications (both men and women seeking to control each other). Thank you, that is so good to hear that spoken of. But my hope is that you would begin to actually “name” more. In my 13 years of being an evangelical, and going to church nearly every week, I have yet to hear domestic violence every directly spoken out against in the pulpit- named for what it is and adequately addressed in its complexities and causes. I think speaking out against it requires quite a bit of education and time with both perpetrators and victims, as the issue is hard to understand from the outside, but I would like to ask you to consider doing more? I see your heart as a protector and a leader, and I wonder how God might use you to bring more understanding into the church in terms of how we make the church aware of the oppression that comes from the curse?

    In other matters, I think you are right to expose a culture that sometimes seems like it would like to eradicate the differences between men and women. I also see you questioning some of the harmful messages the culture gives women about being women (like their power is in their ability to attract a man sexually). Thank you. This is a breath of fresh air.

    But, I would just caution all of us against how we are reading delineated categories of masculinity and femininity in Scripture. There is difference in gender- carefully designed differences by God, and I rejoice in this with you. But the prescriptions I see you giving have deductions I would question in a million ways. I look in the Gospels and see Jesus doing the craziest things with the women in his life, like asking Mary Magdalene to go preach the resurrection to a crowd of unbelieving men, or praising the boldness of a woman who stormed into his dinner party to kiss his feet: I see Jesus being subversive to cultural, religious notions of appropriate femininity. Would we ever teach a Christian woman to value such audacity and cultivate such a strong voice¬– that she might actually need to disrupt the authority of some men because God has something very bold to say through her?

    I think our Bible holds more beauty, surprise, and challenge in our notions of masculinity and femininity than we are talking about yet…I am so thankful to be in these conversations.

  50. This brings back Bible college debate memories.

    I’m just going to touch on a few things in no particular order from different things I’ve read.

    We are created in the image and likeness of God both male & female first and foremost that is because we are spiritual beings. Our spirit is what lives on and just because God didn’t exist in bodily for until Jesus was born doesn’t mean he isn’t masculine. Bob, Lane, Cade when you guys die and your soul is seperated from your body until Resurrection Day will you stop being men? No. Does anyone know of a female Father? God should only be referred to in the masculine.

    Someone said “helper-mate” seem to be demeaning like an assistant. Notice woman was created from rib, she came from man’s side, not the foot to be walked on and not the head to be over man but from the side. (I robbed this from some Catholic poem). Females are not the lesser sex but we are the weaker sex as Genesis states.

    Marriage is the perfect arena to portray a picture of God as Bob stated in one of his first points. Man is the head of the marriage just as Christ is the head of the church. Christ died for his bride, the church and men are to love and cherish their wives to the death. In doing so they are being Christ-like. Just as women are to be submisive to their husbands because they are the head. Jesus’ chief characteristic was submission. When we are submissive to our husbands we are being Christ-like.

    Lastly for now, I believe it was Lane who spoke of the “curse” of childbirth. I would encourage you to reread that passage. Neither man or woman was cursed. The serpent and the ground were cursed. Men and women were not cursed but there are consequences we must endure for sinning. Jesus took our curse for us. Men & women do not suffer a curse (damnation) unless they die without accepting Jesus as their savior.

  51. Some thoughts:

    Bob said, “…everyone at Coram Deo knows that it’s part of my calling from God to bust on single guys in their 20’s.”

    As a single, 25-year-old male, I can attest to this fact 😉 … but we’re still going to need some Biblical exegesis here!

    Bob said, “…the simple fact remains that nowhere in Scripture… does [God] use feminine pronouns to refer to himself.”

    Considering that the Bible was presumably written by all men, I wonder if there is a correlation.

    Don’t you all know that God is a woman! Haven’t you seen Dogma? *BLATANT SARCASM* … BTW, check out Alanis’ new album!

    Something so benign for me, construed as cruelty
    Such a difference between who I am and who you see
    Conclusions you come to of me, routinely incorrect
    I don’t know who you’re talking to with such fucking disrespect

    This shit’s making me crazy
    The way you nullify what’s in my head
    You say one thing, do another
    And argue that’s not what you did
    Your way’s making me mental
    How you filter as skewed interpret
    I swear you won’t be happy ’til
    I’m bound in a straitjacket

    Straitjacket – Alanis Morissette

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