One reader wrote:
“I had a conversation with a work colleague this week who said she believes in God but believes he is neither male nor female. I guess I have always considered God male because of “God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus was male but yet male and female are created in the image of God so that would give the indication that he is both. I’ve always thought of God as “God the Father” and a male figure.
Not sure how important this is but do you have any articles or thoughts on this to further educate me??”
Thank you for your question. This is absolutely important because it ultimately speaks to who God is and how we know the truth about him. There are three things from your question to address. But before that a couple of considerations.
First, we can have no true knowledge about God without him revealing it to us. In other words, revelation precedes reason. So, when defending our beliefs about God our ultimate source for truth must always be the Bible.
Second, while we are relying on the Bible as our source for truth, remember that if your friend is not she must be relying on something else; but what? She says she believes that God is neither male nor female. You should ask her why she believes that. What reason does she have for coming to such a conclusion? This accomplishes three important things.
- Shows her that you are interested in what she thinks.
- Give you further insight into what she believes.
- Cause her to stop and question her own assumptions. Does she even know why she believes what she believes? Most people haven’t given it much thought.
With those things in mind, let’s tackle the three key points your discussion raised.
Point #1: God is Neither Male nor Female.
Your co-worker was actually right. (Although maybe for the wrong reasons). The reason for saying so comes from Genesis 1:27, which says:
As you can see, male and female are created entities. God’s purpose was that mankind, (i.e. every individual) would bear his image. But also, that his image would be reflected by mankind collectively. Hence the repetition of lines two and three. God’s design in creating humanity male and female was so that individually and collectively we would bear his image and fulfill his purpose for Creation.
But God is neither created nor physical. He is an eternal spirit (cf. Psalm 90:2; John 4:24). Therefore, he is neither male nor female since both are created realities. Herein lies one of the most basic tenets of biblical faith; namely that God is holy and therefore incomparable to anything in all of Creation. The second commandment forbids idolatry precisely because it denies God’s holiness by identifying him with some created object. (cf. Exodus 20:4) As the prophet Isaiah declared: “With whom then will you compare God? To what image will you liken him?” (Isaiah 40:18)
So, although we call God our ‘Father’, we realize that in one sense we are using word imagery. It does not imply that God must be male because human fathers are male.
Point #2: God is Our ‘Father’, not Our ‘Mother’.
Some people think that the reason God was called ‘Father’ is that the Bible was written in a patriarchal culture. They argue that since men were in charge, they described the God who is in charge as a male also. They feel that in order to make God relatable to us we need to strip away that cultural baggage and use language more in keeping with our own time.
While recognizing historical and cultural differences is necessary for accurate Bible interpretation, this line of thinking reverses the order of biblical revelation. It assumes that we got the Bible by forming our ideas about God and then choosing the best words to communicate them. But that’s completely backward to how the Bible came to us. As Paul says, “all scripture is God-breathed”. That means the actual words in the Bible came from God’s mouth. (2 Timothy 3:16) The Apostle Peter tells us that the prophets who declared God’s word didn’t devise their messages themselves, but “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)
God clearly identifies himself as ‘Father’
Although there are several places in the Bible where God describes himself using female imagery, (cf. Isaiah 49:15; 66:13) when you look at God’s self-revelation throughout the Bible, his identity as ‘Father’ becomes clearer and clearer.
- To Israel: “Is he [God] not your father, who created you, who made you and established you?” (Deuteronomy 32:6)
- To King David: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5)
- To the Prophet Isaiah: “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay; you are the potter; we are all the work of your hands.” (Isaiah 64:8)
- To Jesus and his disciples: “This, then, is how you should pray: “’Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’” (Matthew 6:9)
- To the New Testament Church: “There is…one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6)
And references to God as ‘Father’ only intensify as you move through the Bible. Old Testament references to God as ‘Father’ only occur fifteen times.But beginning in the New Testament things change drastically. ‘Father’ was by far Jesus’ preferred way of referring to God. He used it sixty-five time in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and over one hundred times in John.
But even more impressive is the intimacy displayed by Jesus’ in relating to God as ‘Father’. He called him ‘Abba’, which literally means ‘Daddy’. This was then carried over to his church. Paul writes to us that “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, and by him, we cry ‘Abba,’ Father.” (cr. Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6)
Finally, we cannot dismiss that Jesus specifically declared his abiding mission as revealing God the ‘Father’. In John 17:25-26 he says:
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them and will continue to make you knownin order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:25-26) (see also John 14:7,9)
Point #3: As God Incarnate, Was Jesus Both ‘Male’ and ‘Female’?
As we mentioned earlier, since male and female are created realities, God is neither male nor female. But what about Jesus? He is God in the flesh, right? So, if male and female are made in God’s image, and God takes on the form of an image-bearer, wouldn’t that image-bearer possess both a male and female nature?
Well, the short answer is ‘no’. What’s important is that we keep the order of creation and image-bearing straight. Since God is not male or female, it is not God’s ‘maleness’ or ‘femaleness’ that men and women reflect. Rather, every human being reflects God’s image through their living expression; whether it’s a man living out a man’s life or a woman living out a woman’s life. Either way, although different from each other, men and women equally share the human capacity to reflect the image of God.
Obviously, Jesus is unique in the sense that he is the incarnate Son of God. He possesses two fully distinct and yet perfectly united natures in himself. He is by nature both God and man. In his nature as God of course, he is neither male nor female. This means that through his incarnation the Son of God did not somehow bring some “divine feminine nature” along with him to join with his human nature. In his human nature, on the other hand, he was a man and therefore male. As such there would be no way for him to also possess a female nature since, contrary to what our culture says, one cannot possess a female nature unless one is born female.
Some women may feel as though they cannot identify with God through Jesus because he is a man. This is unfortunate, but really is a reflection of our human brokenness by sin and not spiritual reality. The truth is that God, through the person of his Son, has personally bound himself to humanity through Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. His gift of forgiveness and eternal life is equally available to men and women. His ministry to believers as our “great high priest” (Hebrews 14:4) and “mediator” (1 Timothy 2:5) before the throne of God is the same for every believer. Our spiritual need and the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ is the same for every man and woman. Jesus is the saviour of humanity.
It’s great to be reminded that our greatest need is to know God and that knowing him means coming to see him as he’s revealed himself. His most perfect revelation of himself to us is of course through Jesus, the Son of God. And in coming to know the Son, we learn the glorious truth about his Father who he came to make our Father. (John 1:12)
Thanks for your questions and for raising this really important topic. There’s probably more that could be said, so feel free to post any additional questions.
I would highly recommend Michael Reeves book “Delighting in the Trinity” as a great place to deepen your knowledge and understanding of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Deuteronomy 32:6; 2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:13; Psalm 22:10; 28:6 : 68:5; 89:26; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Jeremiah 3:4; 3:19; 31:9; Malachi 1:6; 2:10.