Why is God Portrayed as Masculine in the Bible?

The Simple Catholic Snapshots:

  • God is revealed in Holy Scripture as Masculine
  • Some people are troubled by the perceived “gender bias” in Scripture to the point of rejecting the Word.
  • I found 5 really good reasons to embrace the idea of God using a masculine gender.
    1. God the Transcendent Creator
    2. God as Trinity
    3. The Church is the Bride of Christ
    4. Jesus’ Message of Salvation
    5. Because the Bible Says So.

The Simple Catholic Truth:

Last week, our parish hosted their annual Holiday Craft Boutique. I’m not a craft fair type of person but decided to participate as a vendor in order to promote and sell copies of my new book Roadtrip – A Journey to Forever. As it turned out I had a really great time meeting many new people and sharing some interesting conversation. While describing the Roadtrip story to one woman, I mentioned the main protagonist was a young man estranged from his father. I continued by saying this relationship is explored throughout the book and my hope is that many readers will reflect on their relationship with God the Father.

At this point, the mood turned as she posed a serious challenge to the idea that God is predominately portrayed as a male figure.god-the-father  I must clarify here that this woman was not a raving radical feminist type. However, she honestly felt that Scripture contained a gender “bias” and was sincerely troubled. Our conversation was polite and constructive but I could see that she wasn’t convinced by my explanation. Since then it seemed to me that many people might have the same question so I decided to do a little research and post the results here at SimpleCatholicTruth.

Before getting started with the list of 5 good reasons God is portrayed as masculine, I think we must first pause and get our terms straight. In English, it is common to use the words “gender” and “sex” interchangeably. Unfortunately, the words “masculine” and “male” (or “feminine” and “female”) are abused in the same manner.

Sex (also male, or female) refers to a person’s physical biological characteristics such as chromosomes, genitalia, internal and reproductive organs.
Gender on the other hand (also masculine, or feminine) refers to behaviors and attitudes and capabilities of that person.

Sex (being male or female) describes a characteristic of your physical body, wherein gender reveals something about a person’s innate being or nature. We must remember this context, i.e. gender is often a revelation of nature, when interpreting verses from the Bible that describe God.

Since God is pure spirit with no physical body (we’ll talk about Jesus a bit later) then it should be clear that the Bible was not suggesting that God was male. When using masculine terms to describe Himself, God used the inspired Word to tell us something about Himself and His plan of salvation. That said, what possibly could gender tell us about God? Actually much more than you think, I came up with five.

God the Transcendent Creator

Some people claim that the description of God in masculine terms was simply the result of the ancient cultural makeup of the authors of the Bible. Certainly, they claim, these men that wrote the Bible were only continuing the cultural idea of male superiority and oppressive power over women. If only the Bible had been written by a modern “progressive” pen, then all the gender bias would be corrected and God would be better for it. These musings however are an attempt to forge the inspired word of God into what they want to hear instead of listening to what God is trying to say. In the Bible, God is referred to as Father to express a theological reality, not a social paradigm.

The word “father” connotes the idea of founder, producer, or creator. Take a look at the opening of the Nicene Creed:

“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of all that is, seen and unseen… We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, …begotten, not made, consubstantial of one Being with the Father…”

Here we affirm that God created the universe (Gn 1&2) but He begat his only Son. In both cases, the terms “maker” and “begotten” reveal to us that God actively and by His will alone produces. God as Father is the reality of His transcendent creative power, and not a male-centered cultural distortion.

Granted, all analogies are imperfect but consider the act of human procreation. From the perspective of the woman’s body, life is not spontaneous. The creation of life is initiated beyond the woman’s nature by the action of man. A man influences a woman’s body to impregnate her and create life. God similarly initiates and causes the creation of life from outside the nature of that being created. In other words, creation is caused by something outside of itself. If we were to refer to God as “mother”, the creator, it would imply the need for some external cause or action for creation.

Similarly, if God were thought of as the “mother” of creation, and metaphorically god-the-motherunderstood to give birth to creation, it would lead to a misunderstanding that creation came out of God’s essence. In other words, we might believe that creation is part of God. This is absolutely false. As the Church teaches us, God created “ex nihilo”, i.e. out of nothing (CCC296).

Obviously, modern biology tells us that the cellular DNA contribution to a new child is 50% from mom and 50% from dad and on that level the above analogy fails. However, we are not talking about humans beings here, we are talking about God. Instead of a gender bias existing in the Bible, we simply see God revealing something to us that otherwise we might not understand. Masculine terminology preserves the fundamental theological truth of God’s transcendence. creationHe is not part of the universe, nor the universe a part of Him. He created it from nothing and causes creation from outside of creation. God did not have a biological sex prior to the Incarnation; yet in relation to the creation He has made, He is masculine and He communicates this divine truth in His inspired Word by using these human terms.

God as Trinity

If understanding the Transcendence of God was not difficult enough, we now look at another revelation – The Trinity. TrinityAgain, through the use of masculine terminology, God gives us a glimpse at this profound mystery.

 

Let’s turn again to the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father…
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

If we understand the word “begotten”, we can better understand the appropriateness of using masculine words to describe Jesus. If the verb used here was “made” or “created” (of the Father) instead of begotten, then it would imply that God the Father came first and that Jesus is somehow different than God. Both are categorically false ideas about Jesus. Jesus is eternal with the Father and also shares completely God’s nature. You can use “make” or “create” for producing a universe but when you use “beget” it only means you produce something that has your nature. Therefore when the Bible (and the Creed) speaks of Jesus as God’s only begotten Son, God is revealing to us the mystery of the Trinity. One God – one nature, yet three persons.

Now of course a begotten child could be semantically and literally a son or a daughter. But the best way to communicate that the Father’s child shares in His nature, is to use the masculine term of Son. Again, we see that these gender terms are used to communicate understanding about God, not to make a statement on social parity.

To call Jesus “the only begotten Son” simply means that he is fully divine and eternal, the very essence of the concept of the Trinity.

The Church is the Bride of Christ

The metaphors of spiritual marriage with God, Jesus as the Bridegroom, the Church as the Bride of Christ and the Great Wedding Feast are pervasive in the Bible. Understood in this context, it could be said that the ultimate purpose of human life and our salvation, is this spiritual marriage. bridegroomWhen this spiritual marriage is consummated, so to speak, our soul is spiritually impregnated by the grace of God, not visa versa. Recalling our previous discussion of human procreation, we once again are reminded that we become a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) by the grace of God from the outside. The new birth—our salvation—also comes from above, from His transcendent power. We do not spiritually impregnate ourselves with salvation or divine life any more than a human women can physically impregnate herself.

Jesus’ Message of Salvation

This fourth reason for God being depicted in masculine terms is more pragmatic in nature and less theological. Generally speaking, women in all times and places and cultures (until the advent of modern feminism) have always been more altruistic, less power-greedy, less violence-prone and more self-emptying than men.cross

In becoming a man, Jesus in a sense focused on men to transform them into himself. He redefined humanness, and especially manliness, as the courage to love and suffer for the sake of others, rather than to lust and dominate. He taught giving instead of taking. Maybe women were a little less in need of that lesson.

The Bible Says So.

And last but certainly not the least of the reasons to accept God in masculine terms is – because the inspired Word of God says so.

Seeing God described as masculine might grate on the sensibilities of some modern geniuses. We must be careful however to remember that the Bible is very much politically incorrect. We must be careful not to judge God and His revealed message through the lenses of myopic human ideology and opinion.

Even if I don’t understand completely, I must accept the fact that this is how God wants me to see Him. Even though I might not understand, I’ll continue trying.

In the meantime, if God wants me to embrace His being in masculine terms and His inspired Word of God says so, then that’s good enough for me.

 

 

12 thoughts on “Why is God Portrayed as Masculine in the Bible?”

    1. Thanks Martha, I’m glad you enjoyed it.
      These Bible verses can sometimes be difficult to understand and accept when viewed through our modern eyes. But when you step back and see the big picture, then things get very clear.
      How interesting that just a couple of days after I wrote this post that the Pope commented about women ordination. That’s the Holy Spirit in action.

      1. I really do think you need to revise what you say. Put aside the construct of feminist thought which is equal to chauvinism.
        Gender is biological and the distinction you make between sex and gender is false. We are male and female at a chromosomal level.
        What you should say is we speak about attributes. Be aware a male is brave in a male way and female in a female way. Both can be brave.

        Jesus refers to God as “Father”. It’s about attributes. Jesus is called Gods son. Well he is male. The Holy Spirit is female. The Church is female. masculinity and femininity are attributes and each possess qualities. These qualities can be masculine or feminine. Its a type of personification.

        It is not true generally speaking, women in all times and places and cultures (until the advent of modern feminism) have always been more altruistic, less power-greedy, less violence-prone and more self-emptying than men

        Of the top of my head I can think of many ancient examples of brutal women. The Roman encountered Gaulish women who fought with more ferocity than their men. Boadicea was merciless and violent. Read the Book of Judith. Plutarch’s Sayings of Spartan Women which tell of Spartan mothers killing cowardly sons themselves. Here are few examples of violent Greek goddeses Alala, spirit of the war cry. Athena, goddess of wisdom, war strategy, heroic endeavour, handicrafts, and reason. Bia, spirit of force and compulsion. Enyo, goddess of war. Eris, goddess of discord, chaos and strife. Female goddesses in many other cultures and their female devotees could be violent, brutal and malicious.

        1. John, thank you for your thoughtful reply.

          First, I’m not sure where you see that I have constructed “feminist thought.” Recognizing the inherent behavioral differences between men and women is hardly chauvinistic.

          Second, even the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines gender as the non-physical: Gender-
          2b : the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.
          I was simply pointing out that the distinction and use of the terms sex and gender has been blurred and misunderstood. I was simply pointing out that there are intrinsic differences (physical, behavioral, emotional etc) between men and women.
          If you are saying that behavior (gender) is also the result of chromosomal “wiring” just as our physical (sex) clearly is, then I have no issue with that.

          Finally, I said that GENERALLY speaking, “women in all times and places and cultures (until the advent of modern feminism) have always been more altruistic, less power-greedy, less violence-prone and more self-emptying than men.”
          You counter this general statement by bringing up specific examples of historical women that were brutal and savage. I could also point out many men that were loving and altruistic. However, I fail to see how any of a few specific examples in either direction refutes my general statement. Women are generally more compassionate and loving, and men generally are more aggressive and violent.

          In our modern “progressive” society of egalitarianism, many people are trying to deny the existence of any differences between men and women. We are all children of God and in that sense we are the same, but to deny our created differences is to deny night and day.

          Blessings
          Tom

        2. The Holy Spirit is female?

          If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees HIM nor knows HIM; you know HIM, for HE dwells with you, and will be in you.

          But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, HE will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

      2. I am not sure in what sense you attribute what the Pope says to the Holy Spirit. He has no authority except to repeat and teach what we know from Christ. It is a impossibility to validly ordain females or men who are incomplete males. Something is not true because the Pope says it and ordinarily the pope just gives his opinion. However when he is in tune with the choir of apostles which is what the Church knows to be true we can assent.
        Pastor Aeternus says: “the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might…make known some new doctrine but that, by His assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles” (s4.c4.6; my emphasis). In other words, if popes want—even with bishops in synod egging them on—to try to invent new doctrine, or “reform” existing doctrine in such a way that it becomes new for all intents and purposes (what Newman would have called a corruption rather than an authentic development), they are on their own. They are not acting with the authority of the Church or their office; they are ultra vires. With Francis we have to watch this because he speaks without thinking often

        1. Hi John,

          If you are referring to my comment to Martha: “How interesting that just a couple of days after I wrote this post that the Pope commented about women ordination. That’s the Holy Spirit in action.” I was only trying to say that the Holy Spirit inspired me to write this post on the masculinity of God, and THEN Pope Francis made his comments about women ordination.

          I was not making commentary on the Pope’s teaching authority, rather, I was simply observing the wonderful “coincidence” and the opportunity to use his comments to expand the exposure of SimpleCatholicTruth. You see, without the Holy Spirit in action, you and I would not have this wonderful opportunity to dialog.

          Blessings
          Tom

  1. I think all your 5 points are correct, but missing enough emphasis on a major point that ties all 5 together: that Jesus, the SON of the God, chose to become SON of Mary. This mystery is at the core of understanding the reason for the revelation of God as Father, Son, Holy Spirit. In fact, this mystery is the first step BEFORE we can understand the reason. If we cannot accept that God the Son CHOSE to be incarnate as a male, then it doesn’t matter what reasons are given.

    And from this mystery, all else flows. Because God the Son became incarnate of the Holy Spirit, born of Virgin Mary as His mother, then we must conceive of God as His Father. Heavenly FATHER makes sense because Jesus has an earthly mother.

    1. Arthur,
      Thanks so much for your insight. You are correct – God’s revelation to us will always be a mystery of sorts due to our own limitations. As you said, there is no denying the fact that Jesus did become the incarnate SON of God. I accept that Jesus as SON is part of God’s plan of revelation. From that starting point, I humbly try my best to understand the SimpleCatholicTruth.

      Blessings
      Tom

  2. Tom, you wrote ” Even if I don’t understand completely, I must accept the fact that this is how God wants me to see Him. Even though I might not understand, I’ll continue trying.”
    I can’t agree. The bible is clear that God is purely spiritual. God does not want to be seen as either male or female. As God’s image, humanity needs both male and female to be image God in our sexuality.
    It is truly beautiful that the Word chose to be incarnate as a male, but this was part of his humility, as was being a poor, human child. God is fruitful, but males can’t be fruitful on their own. By incarnating as a male, God wants us to understand that God has chosen to be fruitful in us. We, the Church, as his Bride, and Christ true man, as our Bridegroom – together we can be an image of God’s fruitfulness. Christ, as God, became a man to show us that neither he nor we can bear fruit in our salvation without each other.

    1. Daniel,
      Where exactly do we disagree? In the text of mine you quote, I was only saying that God chose to reveal Himself in human terms like He, Himself, Son etc etc and that even with that I don’t completely understand God and his infinite nature.

      You state that God is portrayed in masculine terms to communicate that we are an “image of God’s fruitfulness.” I agree with that as one interpretation but as I pointed out in the post, there are other equally compelling reasons why God chose that form of revelation.

      Take the Trinity for example. Even with the inspired Word of God leading me to this revelation, I must admit that I still don’t fully grasp the Trinity in all its divine fullness. Therefore, I must stand on my original statement…”I must accept the fact that this is how God wants me to see Him. Even though I might not understand…”

      Blessings
      Tom

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