The Father was a boy. The Holy Spirit was a boy. Jesus was a boy. The disciples were boys. Elders and deacons were boys. They didn’t like women too much. Wasn’t Christianity like a gay bar?
There was even drag queens.
I’m fine with gay bars, but what I really didn’t like was a theology that banished the female. It felt . . . unnatural?
When I started reading Bible scholarship, I didn’t think I’d learn much. Hadn’t I heard it all in church? What I found, however, was a Bible I’d never read. There she is in Genesis 1:27:
And God made humankind;
according to the divine image he made it;
male and female he made them. (NETS)
If humanity is the image of God, and we’re male and female, then as Johannes C. de Moor observes, “God himself too was both male and female.”
We hadn’t been able to see her? But in the Bible, God is often female.
Mimi Haddad notes: “Holy Spirit (in Hebrew is feminine, ruah; in Greek, neuter) is frequently associated with the birthing process (John 3:5; cf. John 1:13, 1 John 4:7b; 5:1, 4,18).”
Ann Nyland explains: “The pronoun used to refer to the Holy Spirit in the original Hebrew language of Scripture is ‘she, and the pronoun used to refer to the Holy Spirit in the Greek is ‘it’. In the English language, people choose to substitute ‘she’ and ‘it’ with the English pronoun ‘he’.”
The first Christian gospel, known only in quotation, has Jesus calling the Holy Spirit his mother. The later gospels omit it . . . or let you discover it?
The Holy Spirit, in New Testament theology, teaches humans, and this process is often discussed as breastfeeding (cf. 1 Pt 2:2–3; 1 Thess 2:7–8; 1 Cor 3:1–3; Heb 5:12–13, etc.).
Do fathers often breastfeed?
That God is understood in female terms is admitted by even traditional Christians. A Desiring God post, prompted by the movie The Shack, notes: “God chooses to reveal himself in Scripture through language that is both masculine and feminine.”
Robert A.J. Gagnon, the Evangelical attack dog on gender, prompted by a debate on transgenderism, notes:
It is true that the Hebrew Bible describes God in both masculine (predominantly) and feminine imagery (for the latter, see Isa 42:14; 49:15; 63:13; Hosea 13:8; by inference Num 11:12; Deut 32:11, 18; Hos 11:1–4).
But there’s a lot more than that. In Numbers 11:15, Moses says to God: “If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me . . .”
In Hebrew, the ‘you’ is female. God is addressed with a female pronoun.
Nicholas Ansell explains: “Moses’ insinuation, that YHWH is the mother who has given birth to Israel even though he has been stuck with the burden of nursing and carrying them all on his own, has long been recognized in mainstream scholarship.”
He suggests the description of the tabernacle in Numbers 12:12 should be read as “our mother’s womb.”
I began looking at other references.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
The frequent refrain to honor parents, as first found in Exodus 20:12, is typically understood to refer to human parents. When did that become much of a biblical concern?
In Genesis 12:1, God tells Abraham: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” No prompt even to say goodbye. A human mother isn’t mentioned.
This is honoring ‘father and mother’?
In Luke 14:26. Jesus says: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Your parents gave birth to you, but your life is God’s creation, not theirs.
Biological parents were never the focus of the Bible’s activity. The religions never understood: Father and mother . . . were God.
We see God the mother even when she’s not there. In Genesis 49:25, the dying Jacob is speaking of God.
because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and womb.
This is what you’ll find in a usual translation, reflecting Hebrew manuscripts that Jews preserved. What are those ‘breasts and womb’?
W.F. Albright notes the manuscript appears to be “defective,” and the phrase “‘blessings of’ was repeated at least once more.”
The Septuagint, the early Greek translation used by Christianity, adds a phrase at the end: “blessing of breasts and of womb, a blessing of your father and of your mother . . .” (NETS)
To speak of God, for Jacob, was to speak of father and mother.
The name for God used in Genesis 49:25 is translated ‘the Almighty’, translating ‘Shadday’. The meaning of this word has been extensively debated. It seems to derive from the Hebrew shad, which means ‘breast’.
El Shaddai would be: ‘the breasted one’.
Maybe El Shaddai is how God the mother is known. That seems to be the case in Ruth 1:22, when Naomi is thinking she’s gotten on the wrong side of the divine. “The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me,” says the usual translation.
Two names for God are used. Yahweh, and El Shaddai.
Father and mother.
God is a mother bird caring for young in Deuteronomy 32:11. The translations vary wildly, with the NET adopting ‘he’ — “for clarity,” a note explains.
It’s like the femaleness of God was a problem we didn’t want to face? It was easier to change the translations.
To go back, and read the Bible from the beginning, is to understand a divinity continually expressed in male and female forms.
The “spirit of God” hovers over the water in Genesis 1:2. Margaret Barker notes: “‘Moving’ here is a feminine form: she was hovering, fluttering over the face of the waters.”
We might then think of the female bird of Deuteronomy 32:11. Or the Holy Sprit who descends as a ‘dove’, the feminine Greek word peristera (cf. Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Lk 3:22; Jn 1:32).
She might be the ‘Wisdom’ of Proverbs 8, the female spirit who is helping with Creation. “For she is the breath and power of God and an emanation of the pure glory of the Almighty,” says the Wisdom of Solomon 7:22–25.
We seem to see her in Job 10:11–12, doing her work: “You clothed me with skin and flesh . . . “ We see her in Deuteronomy 32:18 — with a little help.
“You have forgotten the Rock who fathered you, and put out of mind the God who gave you birth.”
Do fathers often give birth? Noting the effort to “obscure or remove feminine imagery from the masculine image that has been ecclesiastically imposed on God,” John D. Garr notes that ‘fathered’ here is yalad . . . as used of the human female in Genesis 3:16: “In pain you will bring forth children…”
Though “gave you birth,” he notes, fails to capture the meaning of the Hebrew word cholelecha: ‘writhed in labor with’.
The pain women experience in labor is . . . the pain that God feels in giving birth to new Creations? I never heard that in church.
Whenever God’s mercy is present, God the mother seems to be in view.
“The Hebraic conception of compassion and love is grounded in the essentially feminine image of the womb, which holds, nurtures and protects the fetus,” notes Esther M. Shkop.
When Jesus is “moved with compassion” in Matthew 20:32–34, we might then see a shift into the female aspect of God. Perhaps he should always be read in dynamic exchange, moving between male and female.
Tim Bulkeley offers a literal translation of Psalm 22:9–10, where God is the midwife attending the birth:
You took me from the belly.
You kept me safe on the breasts of my mother.
On you I was cast from the womb,
and from the belly of my mother my God, you [are].
David cries out in Psalm 27:10: “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” God replaces both.
In Psalm 131:2, David speaks to himself with God, “like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.”
Proverbs 1:8 is about God: “Listen, my child, to the instruction from your father, and do not forsake the teaching from your mother.”
Or Proverbs 6:20: “Listen, my child, to the instruction from your father, and do not forsake the teaching from your mother.”
The Hebrew word muser, ‘instruction’ or ‘discipline’ is paired with ‘teaching’, which is the feminine word: torah.
In the Torah, your mother is teaching you.
The mothering of God is a frequent image for the prophets. In Isaiah 42:14, God is the speaker: “Like a woman in labor I groan; I pant and gasp.”
God is the subject in Isaiah 45:10: “Danger awaits one who says to his father, ‘What in the world are you fathering?’ and to his mother, ‘What in the world are you bringing forth?’”
God does not like their children’s existence questioned.
To have been created is to be divine.
In 46:3, God is a mother ‘carrying’ the family of Jacob, which is to say, Israel.
God speaks in 49:15: “Can a woman forget her baby who nurses at her breast?” God the mother remembers her children.
And in 66:13: “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you . . .”
In Jeremiah 31:15–22, a mother laments her children. Via a parallelism, this is Rachel and God. Emmanuel Katogole explains: “The voice of Rachel is the voice of God the mother . . .”
In Hosea 13:8, God the mother looks at her children’s enemies: “I will attack them like a bear robbed of her cubs — I will rip open their chests. I will devour them there like a lion — like a wild animal would tear them apart.”
You don’t mess with God the mother. I’m not sure why Christianity did?