Posted in Mutuality

Mutual Marriage: Of God and gender

This post begins a series wherein I will discuss the biblical case for what we like to call “Mutual Marriage”. We believe strongly in a mutual model for marriage because we believe it best represents God’s ultimate intention for marriage and also because mutuality has been shown to be a key component in healthy, happy marriages. I will not address the traditional/hierarchical view of marriage point-for-point, but only as necessary to build a positive case for mutuality. Each post in this series will contain links to books and articles for further study.

Photo Credit: Flickr user doozzle

Photo Credit: Flickr user doozzle

When I (briefly) studied the Spanish language, one of its more interesting characteristics was that every noun has a gender. A car is male, a motorcycle is female, etc. In English nouns do not generally have a gender, but with so many loanwords in English this isn’t a consistent rule. (When is anything in English consistent???) The Hebrew language is much closer to Spanish in this respect. In Hebrew, there is no way to refer to something without assigning a gender.

This is one of the reasons I find it exceedingly odd when hierarchical teachers such as John Piper and Mark Driscoll try to define Christianity as a “masculine” religion and enshrine certain masculine characteristics above feminine characteristics. (Simply trying to categorize certain personality traits as either “masculine” or “feminine” is a questionable activity, IMHO.) The presumption seems to be that God is male, therefore Christianity must be masculine. What I find here is a case of projection, of “making God in their own image”. The truth is, the Bible uses both masculine and feminine imagery to describe God. When God explicitly names himself, it is a name without gender. Granted, the overwhelming biblical imagery for God is masculine, but given that the Bible was written in a highly patriarchal society in a language that had to choose one or the other, is that such a surprise? Should we really draw conclusions from that linguistic choice?

After all, the concept of gender is a language construct tied to the act of procreation. Only creatures that reproduce are granted gender distinctions. It is therefore inaccurate to define God using gender terminology. God creates, but does not procreate. He produces, but does not reproduce. The Bible teaches that both male and female humans are equally created in God’s image, so at the very least we must concede that God is equally male and female. A more accurate description is to say that God transcends gender because he created the genders. He is neither male nor female, but a personal being beyond such definitions.

When English-speaking people are passionate about something, they often assign genders to genderless nouns. I have friends who love gardening and refer to their plants as “she” or “he”. I’ve even been known to refer to my motorcycle as “she” at times. Nevertheless, sane people never lose sight of the fact that these objects do not have reproductive organs and therefore have no real gender. Given that neuter pronouns in English imply impersonal objects, it is inconceivable to refer to God as “it”. Since we must choose a gender to refer to God, it is natural to stick with historical precedent and use “he” as long as we remember that God transcends gender definitions. We certainly shouldn’t make theological distinctions about the authority and hierarchy of men and women based on the limitations of human language.

What do you think? What’s the best way to think about God in relationship to gender?

Further study:
Imaging the Biblical God by Daniel Kirk
Is God Male? by Mimi Haddad
Not Only A Father by Tim Bulkeley

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About Bob Mitton

Bob Mitton is an application development manager and teaching pastor at Central Church (Madison Heights, Michigan). He is co-founder of Permanent Passionate Partnership.