Is the only reason God is identified in the Bible by masculine titles such as Father, Husband, Son and King and not also as Mother, Wife, Daughter and Queen because of the “misogynist” and “patriarchal” times the Bible was written in? Many non-Christians and sadly even professing Christians today would have us belief this.
On the other hand, we have Bible believing conservative Christians who tell us that “Everything created in woman that sets her off from man comes from God and reflects something of him… God is not male and God is not female… And yet God’s self-chosen titles matter”. So, these Bible believing Christians are basically saying God is not masculine or feminine and they don’t understand why he chooses masculine titles or even why he established male headship, just that he did and we must accept it. It is a mystery to them as to why God consistently reveals himself in the masculine sense.
What if I were to tell you that God’s Identification as male in the Bible is not because of the “misogynist” and “patriarchal” times the Bible was written in nor is it a mystery we must just accept. What if I were to tell you that understanding why God identifies as male can actually answer the greatest question any man or woman could ask and that is “Why am I here?”
Recently I received an email from one of my readers asking me to tackle this issue. She told me she had people throwing verses at her that seemed to present God in a feminine sense. The people who gave her these verses claimed these passages proved God was both male and female – or that God split the attributes of his nature into male and female human beings so only together do man and woman represent the nature of God.
While writing a response to her concerns I decided to look into a few other conservative Christian sites to see their response to this issue in comparison to my own. I found an article written by Tony Reinke on DesiringGod.org called “Our Mother Who Art In Heaven?”. In this article he was reviewing “The Shack” movie which came out in 2017.
I decided that I would answer this reader’s question by reviewing this “review”. The reason is that while Reinke was right in some of his condemnation of the gender fluid portrayal of God the father in “The Shack” the problem is he really did not go far enough in his explanation of why it was wrong. In fact he and John Piper are both wrong in their position on the nature of God as it relates to gender.
So, I think this will more than answer this reader’s questions and show that even in conservative Bible believing circles there is unfortunately a great degree of ignorance regarding the nature of God.
Reinke starts out his review with the following synopsis of “The Shack”:
“With the recent launch of The Shack movie, we are reminded of a whole mix of theological questions raised by the novel, and the problems of projecting the divine onto a screen. One of the lead characters in the book, for example, is a woman named Papa, who plays the role of God the Father, and her character reignites questions over divine identity and gender language.
“I am neither male nor female,” Papa self-discloses in the novel, “even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or woman, it’s because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning.”
So now let’s look at Reinke’s response to the issue of God’s nature in relation to gender. He starts off quoting the Words of Christ and then John Piper:
“It’s worth saying from the outset, in the words of Jesus, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). God is not a sexual being, nor is he a biological male. He is spirit. “From eternity,” says John Piper, “God has not had a physical body and, therefore, he doesn’t have male features: facial hair, musculature, male genitals, no Y chromosome, no male hormones. Male is a biological word, and God is not a biological being” (Ask Pastor John, episode 294).”
And here is the first mistake in theology which comes from John Piper and then is repeated by Tony Reinke. Male is not just a “biological word”. Male, in the sense of male human beings, describes a set of both physical and psychological characteristics that are common to men. Here is a list of psychological differences between the typical man and the typical woman:
- Men are systemizers and women are empathizers.
- Men are logical and duty driven and women are emotional and feelings driven.
- Men are physical and women are relational.
- Men are competitive and women are cooperative.
- Men are aggressive and women are gentle.
I could go on with many more comparisons, but the fact is there is more to male and female than just genitalia and chromosomes. And before the transgender and gender fluid folks say “ya that right!” let me help you here. In Genesis 1:27, the Scriptures tell us “male and female created he them” and God makes the following declaration in the book of Deuteronomy:
“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.”
Deuteronomy 22:5 (KJV)
What that means practically speaking is if you are born in a male “vessel” as the Bible refers to our bodies, then you are required by God to dress and act like a male. If you are born in a female vessel then are you are required by God to dress and act like a female.
In other words, being cisgender is not just “a privilege” as some call it today, but is in fact the command of God.
So, in this case, both sides are wrong. I know for sure that Reinke and Piper both oppose transgenderism but they are wrong in limiting male to simply a biological term. Male describes both biology and nature.
Reinke then goes on to list 26 passages where he says “God’s character and actions are revealed by feminine imagery”.
Let’s take a look at a few of these passages that he mentions:
“As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
Isaiah. 66:13 (KJV)
“I have long time holden my peace; I have been still, and refrained myself: now will I cry like a travailing woman; I will destroy and devour at once.”
Isaiah 42:14 (KJV)
“Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”
What do all these passages have in common? They are metaphors for behavior, not titles for God. And Reinke acknowledges this when he states “But even taken together, the evidence does not warrant us praying to “our Mother who art in heaven” and then he gives his “three compelling reasons” why.
In his first point Reinke states:
“in Scripture we find many masculine titles for God: Lord, Father, King, Judge, Savior, Ruler, Warrior, Shepherd, Husband, and even a handful of metaphorical masculine titles like Rock, Fortress, and Shield. While feminine titles for God — Queen, Lady, Mother, and Daughter — are never used.”
And this is a point I have made several times on this blog. Every title for God in the Bible is a masculine title and never ever feminine title.
His second point is in my opinion is quite silly. He tries to show that with the incarnation of Christ in “biological maleness” that there is a “sharp drop-off with the feminine metaphors for God”. He seems to be saying God became more male after Christ took on a male biological form.
I mean no disrespect to Reinke but this argument really is foolishness. The Trinity did not become more masculine because Christ took on a biological form, but rather Christ took on the form of a man because God ALWAYS had a masculine nature as we will show here in this article.
Now that I have been so hard on Reinke for his second point, I will give him some credit on his third point. For his third point as to why we should not refer to God as “Our Mother in Heaven” he states:
“Third, as theologian John Frame points out, it is not uncommon to see in Scripture feminine imagery intentionally applied to men (as in 2 Samuel 17:8). This makes sense to us, as we often speak of the feminine side of men today, meaning that men can (and should) display qualities often associated with women, like gentleness.
The apostle Paul’s anguish over the growth of his churches was for him like the pain of birthing a child (Galatians 4:19). And Paul’s apostolic gentleness was something like the kindness and patience of a nursing mother (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Obviously, Paul’s maleness is never brought into question by these female metaphors.”
That is a fantastic point about the Apostle Paul comparing himself to a mother in his behavior several times.
The point here is that just because I, the Apostle Paul or God himself uses a metaphor invoking the behavior of a woman does not mean we are saying we are both male and female. It has nothing to do with our identity as men.
But even on his third point Reinke makes this statement that needs correction – “we often speak of the feminine side of men today, meaning that men can (and should) display qualities often associated with women, like gentleness”. While I am not against men being gentle when a situation warrants it – one of the worst parts of our modern society is the teaching that men should be more like women. And sadly, this is even taught in many of our churches today.
Reinke concludes his review with the following statement from John Piper on this subject:
““Everything created in woman that sets her off from man comes from God and reflects something of him,” stresses Piper. “Woman was not modeled after some other god. There is no other god. She was modeled after God. When the Bible says she and he were created in the image of God, it means she is also made after the model of her Creator. So, it is important to say that in his essential divine being, not referring to his incarnate union with humanity, but in his essential, divine essence, God is not male and God is not female. Maleness and femaleness are God’s creation, as biological bearers of masculinity and femininity, both of which are rooted in God” (Ask Pastor John, episode 294).”
There are many false statements made here by Piper and repeated by Reinke. But before I show why they are false I need to show you a passage of Scripture that is not mentioned in this review:
“7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. 9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
I Corinthians 11:7-9 (KJV)
The word “man” in I Corinthians 11:7 is a translation of the Greek word “Aner” which literally means “male human being” while woman is a translation of the word “gune” which literally means “female human being”. Throughout the New Testament aner is translated as “man, men or husband” depending on the context it is used in and gune is translated as “woman, women or wife” depending on the context it is used in.
What this passage is saying is that the male human being is the image and glory of God, but the female human being is the glory of the man. It is a clear comparison and contrasting statement.
In fact, the passage above gives the very reason for which God created man and woman. He created man to image him and thereby bring him glory and he created woman to be the glory of man. The Old Testament tells us that God created the woman for the man as a helper (Genesis 2:18) and it also tells us that a woman is to be her husband’s “crown” or glory (Proverbs 12:4). The New Testament goes further into man’s imaging duties telling us that “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body” (Ephesians 5:23). All of these Scriptures passages and many more confirm for us why God refers to himself in the masculine sense in the Scriptures. It is because the masculine human being is the one who is his image bearer.
John Piper even blatantly denies what I Corinthians 11:7 so clearly states for us in another article he wrote specifically on I Corinthians 11 entitled “Creation, Culture, and Corinthian Prophetesses”.
In that article Piper states:
“Verse 7 tells why a man should not have a sign of authority on his head: “He is the image and glory of God’ but woman is the glory of man.” This is parallel to verse 3 (NAS): “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman.”
These verses do not necessarily imply that Christ is not woman’s head nor that she is not the image and glory of God. Paul’s point is that man was created by God through Christ and woman was created by God through Christ through man. The point is not to lessen the intimacy of her relation to Christ (she is receiving prophetic revelation!), but to clarify and establish her relation to man.
Man is God’s glory in that he came from God through Christ without coming through woman, and so is to reflect Christ’s true nature as his divine head. Woman is man’s glory in that she came from God through Christ through man, and so is to reflect man’s true nature as her human head.”
Is there anything in this passage that states “Man is God’s glory in that he came from God through Christ without coming through woman”? Absolutely not. These verses do not just “imply” that “she is not the image and glory of God”, they EXPLICILTY state it!
This is why I always chuckle when people act like John Piper is this big traditional gender roles guy. He is NOT. Yes, he teaches male headship, but like most complementarians today he does not teach the REASON for male headship.
God did not just flip a coin and put men in charge of women. He put men in charge of women because the male human being “is the image and glory of God”. And because Piper and most Christian teachers refuse to acknowledge this truth that is staring them in the face – they cannot fully understand the purpose in why God placed men over women.
Now let’s return to the final statement by Piper that Reinke uses in his conclusion. I will take several key statements comparing them with the Scriptures:
“Everything created in woman that sets her off from man comes from God and reflects something of him”
This is FALSE. There is not one Scripture passage that says everything that sets a woman apart from man reflects something of God’s nature. In fact, in I Corinthians 11:9 we are told this truth:
“Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
That means that everything that “sets her off from man” was created in her FOR MAN, not to further reveal the nature of God.
“Woman was not modeled after some other god. There is no other god. She was modeled after God.”
This is what is called a strawman argument. Who said woman was modeled after some other god? The false argument Piper is pushing is woman must be modeled after a god, and therefore since we know there is only one God then woman must be equally modeled after God in the same way man is.
The fact is that woman is NOT modeled after God or man while she does share common attributes with man whom she was taken from and therefore God as well because man was made in the image of God.
I used to say in error “Man is the image of God, and woman is the image of man” but I realized that statement is also theologically incorrect. The Bible never states that woman is the image of God nor does it state she is the image of man. She shares a common human nature with man but she is not his image as her nature is still very different.
Woman was given her core human traits like self-awareness, creativity, the ability to feel emotions, the ability to appreciate beauty and the ability to learn to make her a “help meet” (Genesis 2:18) for man. Man was given these same core human traits and then addition traits of increased strength, competitiveness, aggressiveness and many other traits we understand as masculine for a different purpose.
Man was given his masculine human nature to image God and thereby bring him glory. Woman was given her feminine nature not to be God’s image bearer, but instead to be a HELP to his image bearer. This is the truth of the Word of God.
“When the Bible says she and he were created in the image of God, it means she is also made after the model of her Creator.”
This is FALSE. No passage of the Bible says “she and he were created in the image of God”. Piper like many Christian teachers attempts to build this false argument on the following verse from Genesis:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
Genesis 1:27 (KJV)
Does that passage say God created “she and he” or “male and female” in his image? It does not. It states two different things. First, it states that God created “him”, not “them” in his image. Secondly it states that he made “them” – male and female. Nothing here states that the female was made in his image as well. Many of tried to argue that the Hebrew word for man here “adam” means “mankind” and sometimes it does. But not when it is used with speech about a particular man. The Hebrew translated as “he him” literally means “this same man” and it is speaking of particularly of Adam the man.
We then learn from the Apostle Paul giving us divine commentary that it is all male human beings “aner” that are “the image and glory of God”. Mr. Reinke and Mr. Piper need only to accept the clear and explicit teaching of I Corinthians 11:7.
“So, it is important to say that in his essential divine being, not referring to his incarnate union with humanity, but in his essential, divine essence, God is not male and God is not female.”
Again, the statement that “God is not male and God is not female” directly contradicts the reading of I Corinthians 11:7 which Piper chooses to explain away and ignore:
“For a MAN (“aner” – the male human being”) indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he IS the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.”
I Corinthians 11:7 (KJV)
If the male human being is “the image and glory of God” then we can we rightly say God IS male in the sense that the Trinity is imaged in the masculine human nature. Now does that mean God is biologically male? Yes and No. Christ is the God man, but God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are spirit as the Bible tells us:
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
John 4:24 (KJV)
God using feminine metaphors to picture his behavior or feelings no more makes him female in his nature than the Apostle Paul using female metaphors for his behavior made him female in his.
There is no conflict in saying that God is spirit and yet God has always possessed a masculine nature even before the incarnation of Christ. God did not become more masculine after Christ took on the form of a man, but rather Christ took on the form of a man because God was always masculine.
To women reading this. The truth that you were made for man and not to image God does not mean God loves you any less than man. The lie you are taught in America and Western civilization is that equality equals humanity.
We are told that if we embrace the truth of God’s Word that woman was not made in God’s image then we are saying women are less human than men, and less valuable to God. This is false. God loves men and women equally and men and women are equally saved by Christ and can both become part of the body of Christ as the Scriptures tell us:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 3:28 (KJV)
“Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”
I Peter 3:7 (KJV)
The male and female, like marriage itself, is for this world and this time as the Scriptures tell us:
“For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.”
Matthew 22:30 (KJV)
But in this world and in this life, God has made “male and female”. If we are born in a male vessel than our life’s mission is to be the image bearer of God. We are to display his masculine attributes throughout our life. If we are born in a woman’s vessel, then we are called to find and dedicate our life to serving a person in a male vessel in marriage. This service of the female vessel to the male vessel was designed by God to picture the relationship between himself and his people.
And what I have just described answers the most important question that we as human beings can ever ask and that is “Why I am here?“. If we not only accept that God identifies as male, but accept why he identifies as male then we as men and woman, can know the meaning of life. But if we do as so much of the world today does and reject the fact that God identifies as male and why he identifies as male then we reject our very purpose for being here.