Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. A Book Discussion. (Index here)
Part III: Thinking it Through (Logical and Theological Perspectives)
Chapter 17 (1st Edition) – God, Gender and Biblical Metaphor. Judy L. Brown.
The true God is Spirit, which is difficult for humans to comprehend. How can such an identity be revealed? How can the infinite divine be conveyed to finite humanity? The Bible presents God largely through use of figurative metaphor. (287)
Brown writes that God is referred to as “he” in the Bible, not because God is male, but because there is no Gender neutral way to refer to him in the biblical languages. “She” would clearly attribute sexuality to God. “It” would not work because it is not a personal pronoun. “They” is unhelpful because despite being the Trinitarian God, “they” implies a plurality of Gods. “He” can mean either male or it can mean humankind. Thus, "he" is the only pronoun that works. It is important that our language not assign creaturely qualities to God or misrepresent his character.
The predominate imagery of God is masculine. Father is the primary image but “God is like a father relationally, not sexually." (290) God is no more male than he is an eagle to which he is also compared. Brown points out that the biblical world was a patriarchical one. “Father” connoted the person who is the authority figure as well as the primary protector and provider. Thus, the male metaphor was the most fitting.
But scripture also offers considerable feminine imagery of God as well:
As an eagle stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young; as it spreads its wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft on its pinions, … (Deut 32:11)
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. (Deut. 32:18)
For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant. (Isa 42:14)
I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs, and will tear open the covering of their heart; … (Hos 13:8)
Brown notes that “wisdom” in the wisdom literature is always give feminine identity. We see more feminine imagery in the New testament. Jesus describes his mission in terms of a woman with a lost coin. (Luke 15:3-32). Jesus also declared:
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matt 23:37)
In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures. (James 1:18)
Brown points to two potential dangers in our characterization of God. One is the feminist extreme of calling God by female pronouns and names. God is sexless and to use female names implies a sexuality that is not present in God. Even names like “Father-Mother God” run the risk of letting us think that maleness and femaleness are incorporated into God rather than transcended by God. The traditional language is needed as a safeguard against these errors.
The second danger is the danger of extreme traditionalism. “Just as it is wrong for feminists to impose female gender on God, so it is wrong for traditionalists to impose male gender on God.” (294) Brown writes:
Being a representative is quite different from being a representation. Ambassadors speak for whoever sends them and act on behalf of the one who commissions them, but they do not have to imitate or impersonate that individual. Indeed, female ambassadors have represented men, and male ambassadors have represented women. Representing a person involves the wishes of a person, not embodying that individual’s personal characteristics (such as gender). (294)
This brings us to the theological significance of Jesus’ maleness. Brown writes:
Jesus’ primary title for himself, “Son of Man,” as well as most other New Testament references to Jesus’ being a “man,” use the Greek word for “human being” (anthropos) rather than the Greek word for “male” (aner or arsen). …
In order to be a representative human being (albeit without sin), Jesus had to be either male or female. The choice could not have been based on God’s gender, for God is neither male nor female. Nor could the choice have been based on God’s preference, for God does not favor men over women. What, then, determined Jesus’ gender? The culture into which Jesus was born is the most likely possibility. (295)
Brown points out that while it was theologically possible for Jesus to be born female, there were cultural advantages to Jesus mission in being born male. The culture did not attribute authority to women and their testimony was not legally credible. Furthermore, Brown writes:
Perhaps, for example, the “male dominance, female subordination” consequence of the Fall had to be overturned by the dominant gender rather than by the subordinate gender. Perhaps the first human, who was male, had to be “matched” by a savior who was male. (296)
At the end of her essay Brown turns to questions about being created in the image of God, noting that God declares in the Genesis 1 account that male and female are both fully in the image of God. The idea that Adam was created in God’s image and Eve from Adam’s image is erroneous. The error is made reflecting on Eve's creation from Adam's rib. Eve was created from Adam’s rib being made from Adam’s rib no more meant she was made in the image of Adam then that Adam was created in the image of the soil by be being taken from the dust of the ground.
As brown points out, it is hard to miss the connection between “God [singular] said let us [plural] make mankind in our [plural] image” and the idea that man and woman become one flesh. (297) Brown does not go on to make the significant point that out of the human union would flow more image bearers, just as the first image bearers flowed out of the community that existed in the Trinity. Male and female in community in general, and in marriage more specifically, appear to be in some way a mirroring the nature of the Trinity in community.
This is not to say that unmarried persons are somehow less human. They are part of the human community as well and are part of communities that have male-female associations. As Brown observes, “Gender is probably the single most defining characteristic of someone’s personhood.” (297) The complimentary community of the non-hierarchical Trinity should be at the center of the doctrine of “man.”
Brown goes on to observe:
In light of these considerations, it becomes quite clear that homosexuality is a blatant denial of the very means through which and individual is rightly to reflect God’s image. Likewise, the male chauvinism that has been a blight on society since antiquity and the radical feminism that answers back with equal venom are both diametrically opposed to the will of God. Each so disrespects the other sex as to negate any possibility of men and women’s reflecting the harmony that exists within the Godhead. (298)
She closes making two points.
“First, whatever image of God was given to Adam was given in equal measure to Eve. … Second, whatever the connection between the image of God and male-female relationships, human sexuality is presented by the creation account as both positive and fundamental to what it means to be human. (300)
According to creation, then, if men are called by God to serve as spiritual leaders, women should be expected to be called as well. The church should expect the calling of women, not reject it. (300)
Judy L. Brown received her M.A. from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and Ed.D from Nova Southeastern University. She is ordained with the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel and is currently serving as ministries coordinator of the Great Lake Districts as well as pastor of the Foursquare Church in Ferndale, Michigan. She has authored Women Ministers According to Scripture, Structuring Sermons Step by Step and the Old Testament study notes for the revised Spirit-Filled Life Bible.
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