The Rev. Alvin F. Kimel
[Because of the growing influence of radical feminist theology in general, and, more specifically, because of overture from the presbytery of Western New York that would require the use of “inclusive language,” we’ve elected to reprise an article from the earliest days of the VOW web site.]
Perhaps the first thing one observes about God as one reads the Bible is that this God talks. On the very first page we see the biblical God speaking the cosmos into existence; and from this point on he is constantly talking to those creatures made in his image, revealing his Name, his will, his nature. He enters into covenant with Abraham. He gives his Name and Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. he sends Amos, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and all the many prophets to proclaim his Word to Israel. Finally, he embodies his Word in his Son Jesus.
In Jesus Christ, interpreted by the prophetic and apostolic witness, we have received the definitive revelation of God. The Deity has stepped onto the stage of human history and given us a language by which we may speak to him and of him.”
The Word cannot be divorced from the words of scripture
“The word of God cannot be divorced from the language and imagery of the Scriptures. By the direction of the Spirit, God chooses the names and metaphors by which he will be known and addressed. They are authoritatively communicated in the Bible and enjoy a normative, paradigmatic status in the life of the Church. baptized into Christ, they are made a constituent part of the divine revelation. Through them we are granted to apprehend the Triune Deity.”
Biblical language serves as canon
“By the grace of God, our human discourse has been appropriated by the Holy Trinity and made a vehicle of his self-disclosure.
In the Holy Scriptures, therefore, we are given a language through which God has elected to be known, a language by which we may speak to him and of him. Consequently this biblical speech serves as canon and rule, governing and shaping the Church’s prayer and theology.”
Is God Masculine? — metaphor and simile
“Our God is beyond human sexuality. The biological distinctions of male and female belong to the created order: As the One who has created the universe ex nihilo, out of nothing, the biblical God far surpasses any such limitations. In the history of Israel, we discern the denaturalization of divinity and the absolute divorce of Godhead and fertility. Yahweh is neither our begetter nor our bearer: He is our Maker. On the basis of the biblical witness, Christian theology insists on the sexual transcendence of the Deity. God is suprasexual, neither male nor female. He does not include masculine and feminine within himself but supersedes both.
Yet it is also the case that our God has chosen to reveal himself predominantly in masculine terms. Throughout the Scriptures, the Deity is manifestly described in masculine imagery and titles. God is Husband, King, Lord, Shepherd, Judge, Master, Father. The references to God as a father occur over 250 times in both Testaments, mostly in the New where God is definitively named the Father of Jesus. Masculine pronouns are always used. Even the Spirit, grammatically either feminine (Hebrew) or neuter (Greek), is ascribed masculine pronouns in the Gospel of John. The biblical identification of God as masculine — but not sexually male — is overwhelming and normative.
It is true that God is, in a handful of instances, spoken of in maternal and feminine terms in the Bible; but it is always in the form of simile and not metaphor. God is compared to a mother, but is never named Mother. This distinction is fundamental. In simile, two things are compared and said to be alike in some specific and self-limiting way. A resemblance is stated within the ordinary meanings of the terms. Simile clarifies the subject but does not identify. Thus, for example, in Isaiah 42:13 Yahweh is compared to a mighty warrior, but is, significantly, not named as one.
Metaphor, on the other hand, predicates and names. Two things are identified.”
“Literary critic Roland Frye explains the significance of this distinction between simile and metaphor as applied to feminine imagery for God:
The similes comparing God to a mother illustrate some phase of divine attitude or intent, as defined in the simile’s context, but they are not and do not claim to be transparent to personal identity as are predicating metaphors such as ‘the good shepherd’ or ‘the Lamb of God,’ and even more broadly God ‘the Father’ and Christ ‘the Son.’
Consequently, the feminine similes for God which we find in the Scriptures cannot be given equal status with the foundational masculine metaphors and names. The latter are a form of definitive speech, transparent to the personal identity of the Holy Trinity.
Needless to say, the biblical identification of the Deity as masculine does not preclude in any way the attribution of feminine traits to God. The Father of Jesus Christ is indeed compassionate and caring and nurturing as a mother.
As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:13)
Maternal and feminine similes help us to see the fullness and depth of God’s heart; they enrich our understanding and imagination.”
Patriarchy and Feminine Language
“Underlying (much of the contemporary discussion) is the conviction that Holy Scripture, and the Church’s traditional speech about God, is critically shaped by male sexism. Thus Joseph Russell writes:
‘There is no question that masculine metaphors vastly outnumber feminine metaphors in the Bible, but this is not hard to understand since the Bible came out of a patriarchal society.'”
“Presumably, patriarchal societies are wont to import their sexist prejudices into the heavens and create male deities. Yet it is precisely this belief, so characteristic of much feminist theology today, which must be vigorously challenged.
The interpretation of the masculine imagery for the Judaeo-Christian Deity as patriarchal projection is purely conjectural and unfounded by the empirical data. Israel was perhaps the one culture during biblical times that did not incorporate the feminine principle into the Deity. The Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Cananites, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans — all had pantheons of male and female deities, yet each were at least as patriarchal and sexist as Israel, if not more so.”
“Patriarchy is no bar to interpreting deity in feminine terms; indeed, Israel’s uniqueness in this regard cries out for explanation.
Why is Yahweh spoken of in masculine terms? Why is a female Goddess not partnered with him? Biblical scholar Elizabeth Achtemeier advances the following answer:
It is not that the prophets were slaves to their patriarchal culture, as some feminists hold. And it is not that the prophets could not imagine God as female: they were surrounded by people who so imagined their deities. It is rather that the prophets, as well as the Deuteronomists and Priestly writers and Jesus and Paul, would not use such language, because they knew and had ample evidence from the religions surrounding them that female language for the deity results in a basic distortion of the nature of God and of his relation to his creation.
What is this basic distortion of which Achtemeier speaks? It is the confusion of God and his creation.
When the divine is construed in feminine terms, immanental religion and the deification of nature and self are virtually inevitable. Deity gives birth to her creation; the cosmos emanates from her being: All participate in the substance and life of divinity. Thus God is indissolubly bound up with her universe. ‘When you have a Goddess as the creator,’ Joseph Campbell observes, ‘it’s her own body that is the universe. She is identical with the universe'”
Masculine language protects the transcendence of God
“Israel and the Church understood the possibility of divinizing the feminine, and its consequences, and firmly rejected it. ‘The biblical authors were more familiar with the alternative than we are,’ Roland Frye comments, ‘and their awareness was both direct and existential.’
Masculine language is essential to expressing and protecting the utter transcendence of Deity.”
(The the foregoing were excerpts from one of several fine documents published by Episcopalians United. They were re-printed with permission. You may find out more about what they have to offer by going to The Episcopalians United Web site  and clicking on Latimer Press; return to this page by pressing BACK on your browser.)