Early in 2018 a fellow church member sent me a short newspaper cutting referring to a church in Sweden which suggested that Christians shouldn’t refer to God as “the Lord” or “He”. The reason given for this was that God is not human and is beyond our “gender determinations”. So, we may well ask why God should be called either Father or mother when it would appear obvious that God is sexless. The question is then, how do I respond to this view which would seem to be inspired by misunderstanding and perhaps feminist theology?
First, it is worth noting that despite the Bible’s reference to God as Father both as Creator (e.g. Luke 3:38; Acts 17:28; Eph. 3:15, cf. Rev 4:11) and Re-creator (e.g. John 1:13; 3:8; Eph. 4:6), the assumption among feminists and others seems to be that the word is an anthropomorphism. In other words, it is borrowed from the world of man and is wrongly applied to God. This assumption is questionable, as we shall see.
While it must be strongly affirmed that in the Bible both male and female are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26f., cf. Gen. 5:2; 9:6; James 3:9), nonetheless in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul distinguishes between man and woman asserting that the former is the image and glory of God and the latter is man’s glory (1 Cor. 11:7). (1* Arguably, a case can be made out for this differentiation in Genesis 6:2. See my Who Are The Sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4?.) Unless we draw the unwarranted conclusion that the apostle is contradicting what is so clearly taught in Genesis 1:27, he is making a point highly relevant to our discussion. Rather than asserting inherent male superiority as opposed to chronological priority, in light of the chapter in general and other teaching of Scripture (2* For instance, for Jesus the woman with a disabling spirit, Luke 13:16, is as much a child of Abraham by faith as a man, Zacchaeus, Luke 19:9.), he is pointing up a difference of role or function which has its roots in creation and reflects the activity, even the nature, of the Creator himself. Let us probe further.
We are told by Isaiah who clearly had an eye on Genesis 1 that God created the world to be inhabited (Isa. 45:18, cf. v.12. Note also Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2). This being so, when we consider that God created man (and the animals for that matter, Gen. 1:24; 2:19) out of dust (see espec. Gen. 2:7), it is difficult not to draw the conclusion that God had to make the otherwise desolate land in which he delighted (Dt. 11:12; Jer. 12:10, cf. 1 K. 9:3) fertile by ‘marrying’ it (cf. Isa. 62:4). (3* Scripture makes some pointed comments regarding desolation. See note below.) In other words, man and animal since they derived from both (the Spirit of) God as Creator (Father) and the earth (mother) became animated flesh, dust or clay (cf. Job 10:9; Ps. 103:14; 1 Cor. 15:47). If this is the case, it is reasonable to infer on the assumption of recapitulation, the repetition of an initial pattern, that since all animals and plants were created as seed-bearers, the intention was for them to reproduce their own kind (Gen. 1:11 passim). But the point seems to have been universally missed that when procreation took over from initial creation (Gen. 2:1f.), men as the image and glory of God imitated their Creator and fertilized or inseminated their wives who were their delight and glory. (4* Genesis 6:2. Ezekiel’s wife is referred to as the delight of his eyes, Ezek. 24:16, cf. vv. 21,25. Note also Jer. 12:7; 24:6.) It was surely in this way that Eve (or woman) who typified the earth became the mother of all living (Gen. 3:20). This becomes all the more plain when we realize that Adam as the prototype of all human beings according to the flesh was created as perishable seed (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23) and as such was placed, or rather sown, by God in the Garden of Eden, the womb of the race, to gestate (Gen. 2:8,15). In view of this, we are led to infer that Adam’s progeny who were also created in his image and the image of God (Gen. 5:1-3) followed suit in their turn by sowing their seed in the garden womb of their wives (e.g. Gen. 5:6-32).
Given the above and the plan of salvation in general, it is hardly surprising to learn that just as the earth is meant to be sown, bear fruit (Gen. 1), be fully inhabited and eventually to produce a harvest (Mt. 13:1-8, etc.), so is a woman who typifies it as the book of Deuteronomy in particular emphasizes (Dt. 7:13; 28:4,11; 30:9). In fact, the image of a woman giving birth first in pain then in joy is a frequent one in the Bible. It is used by Jesus (John 16:20f.) and even by Paul of himself (though a male) in Galatians 4:19 (cf. 2 Tim. 4:6-8,18.). What is more, it is used even of creation giving birth to a final spiritual harvest (Mark 13:8; Rom. 8:22). (5* Indeed, we might note that God’s rest and satisfaction occurred when he had finished creation, Gen. 2:1-3, and note still further Jesus’ own pain at his crucifixion and his eventual joy after it was finished, John 19:30; Heb. 12:2.)
So, we can sum up the evidence produced thus far by saying, first, that just as God as Creator Father fertilized or inseminated the earth (mother) at creation to produce inhabitants, so man, the image of God, inseminates his wife (cf. Heb. 7:10; Prov. 23:22; John 1:13) at procreation to produce children. In this way Eve who was dust (Ps. 103:14) as derived from Adam becomes the mother of all living (Gen. 3:20). Second, just as a pregnant earth or field (Mt. 13:38, cf. Rom. 8:22) produces fruit leading to harvest (cf. Mark 4:26-29), so a woman’s womb likewise produces fruit which is eventually harvested (Mt. 3:10,12; 13:30,39-43; 24:31). And it is worthy of note that even Jesus as truly human (incarnate) was the fruit of his mother Mary’s womb (Luke 1:42, cf. Job 15:14; Gal. 4:4). Furthermore, it was he who became the first fruits of the resurrection from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20-23) and the firstborn of all creation (Col. 1:15).
Of course, feminists, even women in general, might take offence at the idea that they resemble productive land, all the more so when they become aware that Paul goes so far as to claim that they will be saved through child-bearing (1 Tim. 2:15). They might well feel that they are being regarded merely as baby factories! But that would be to over react, for there is much more involved. Child-bearing, like fruit-bearing, both physical and spiritual as such, is hugely important in the Bible (see e.g. Ps. 127:3-5) and is integral to the formation of the race, human society, family life and ultimately the kingdom of God (Mt. 6:33) where it is no longer necessary (Luke 20:34-36, cf. Heb. 7:23; 1 Cor. 15:50. (6* Cf. Hurley, pp.68,223). Commenting on the general blessing of God in Genesis, Gordon Wenham (p.24) adds: “God’s blessing is most obviously visible in the gift of children, as this is often coupled with being fruitful and multiplying.”
But another point must be addressed. Some women, like land, are barren as the stories of Sarah (Genesis 16), Hannah (1 Samuel 1) and Elizabeth (Luke 1:7) remind us. In the event these three overcome their problem and in accordance with the divine intention, first indicated in Genesis 1 (cf. 9:1, etc.), prove wonderfully fruitful. Not so Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 12) and Tamar (2 Samuel 13). Their lives involved tragic loss emphasizing the fact that virginity, implying fruitlessness, was a matter of deep regret, even reproach (Isa. 4:1; Luke 1:25), and as such normally contrary to the will of God (cf. 1 Tim. 4:3; Heb. 13:4). (Pace Roman Catholicism which idolizes Mary’s putative perpetual virginity.) This, of course, prompts questions with regard to Jesus, the second Adam, who never married, at least on earth but conspicuously will do so in heaven (cf. Mt. 22:1-10; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27; Rev. 14:4, etc.). He, however, was the son of God in a much more fundamental sense than the first (cf. Luke 3:38). The latter was created out of the earth; the second was the eternal Word incarnated. (7* Arius, an early church heretic, was wrong! Jesus pre-existed as the Word and was created as flesh, John 1:1,14; Heb. 10:5. Of course, his divinity was compatible only with man who was not merely flesh but also made in the image of God. The difference at this point between the baby Jesus and the animals in the stable at Bethlehem was fundamental.)
But Jesus (and perhaps Paul) was not alone as one who never married for one reason or another. The question arose in OT times as Isaiah 54:1 (the desolate woman) and 56:3-5 (the eunuch) make apparent. The point is that the physical infertility or barrenness of both men and women made in the image of God does not render them spiritually fruitless (cf. Gal. 4:27). And from a biblical point of view this is much more important. The reason why Jesus did not marry and to all intents and purposes became a physical eunuch or dry tree was that his reason for coming into the world was to epitomize, inaugurate and foster the spiritual kingdom of God (Mt. 19:12). In light of this, it is helpful to bear in mind the fact already noted that in the next world there is neither flesh (dust, 1 Cor. 15:50) nor death thus making marriage and procreation unnecessary (Luke 20:34-36). (8* According to the Bible there are two things that are said to be the way of all the earth: procreation and death, Gen. 19:31; Jos. 23:14; 1 K. 2:2, cf. Heb. 7:23f.) Thus, even as Christians still in this world, we are taught to seek the things that are above (Col. 3:1, cf. Phil. 3:14) and to consider ourselves as already citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20, cf. Eph. 2:6; Heb. 12:22). After all, the Jerusalem above (Gal. 4:26) is a mother who is fertilized by the Father who creates new creatures by his Spirit (John 1:13; 3:1-8; Heb. 12:9b). So, we are not simply born again but more importantly from above! Otherwise expressed, we are the very seed of God in the process of gestation before being born into the new world or regeneration (1 John 3:9; 5:18; Heb. 12:23, cf. Mt. 13:38a). No wonder John speaks in awe when he states that we are called the children of God (1 John 3:1).
In light of the evidence presented above, we are virtually forced to infer that the designation ‘Father’ is not an anthropomorphism as many nowadays imply. Scripture assures us that all fatherhood (Eph. 3:15) stems from the God who is the God and Father of us all (Eph. 4:6). In fact, he is the Creator of all things (Rev. 4:11) and without his activity the earth would be barren, uninhabited like a desolate woman without a husband. In other words, the word ‘father’ far from being an anthropomorphism is in fact a theomorphism, a word stemming from the Creator God himself who formed man made in his image out of mother earth to populate it by procreation with woman, the mother of all living (Gen. 3:20).
Note on Desolation
Desolation is frequently referred to in the OT especially with respect to land. It occurs when it is untilled, unworked, unsown, unplanted (Jer. 2:2,21), and unfruitful because it is uninhabited (Gen. 2:5; Isa. 6:11; 27:10; Ezek. 36:33-38, etc.) or neglected (Prov. 24:30-34, etc.) and requires man to exercise his dominion over it. Here we may note the nature of the created earth early in its evolutionary development from its apparently chaotic beginning (Gen. 2:5, cf. 3:23). But desolation is by no means confined to land. Women like Jephthah’s daughter and Tamar are also its victims (cf. Isa. 54:1; Gal. 4:27). Mary, Jesus’ mother knows full well when she is visited by the angel Gabriel that she is a virgin (Luke 1:34, literally ‘since I do not know a man’) little realizing that the father of her promised child will be God himself. Normally, a woman without a husband is desolate and cannot bear fruit (Luke 1:42). But when she is overshadowed (Luke 1:35) by the Spirit of God like the earth (cf. Gen. 1:2) she can become fertile (cf. Isa. 62:4f.). On the other hand, it is when temples (Mt. 23:38) and bodies (James 2:26, cf. 2 Pet. 1:13f.) lack the spirit that they are dead (cf. Job 12:10; 34:14f.).
Every normal man is a seed-bearer and, in imitation of God whose image he is, he looks for somewhere to sow his seed. Whereas God as Creator sowed Adam as seed (cf. Ps. 139:15f.) in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8,15), man as procreator sows his seed in the garden womb of his wife (cf. Ps. 139:13) who duly bears fruit (Dt. 7:13; 28:4,11; 30:9, etc.) in children. (9* Not without reason did Job (3) and Jeremiah (20:14-18), who suffered much, curse the day they were born into this harsh, inhospitable world that we all know so well. By contrast, life in the womb was (making the necessary changes) as paradise had been for Adam. It is by no means surprising then that the heavenly paradise sketched in Revelation 22:1-5 is reminiscent of the Garden of Eden or paradise regained.) The latter then proceed to recapitulate the experience of and to repeat the practice of their parents and so on transgenerationally (Gen. 5:1-3). Since the race as a whole develops like the individual who is the race in miniature, it eventually achieves the perfection or maturity of Christ (Eph. 4:13-16, cf. 2:18-22; Heb. 11:40). It is then that the fatherhood of God is perfected or consummated (Eph. 3:14-21, cf. Rev. 4:11; 7:12). Thus finished or perfected ourselves we enter God’s rest as he himself did (cf. Heb. 4:8-10, cf. Rev. 14:1-5,13). So, at last we form the household of God (Heb. 3:1-6, cf. 10:34; 11:10; 12:22f.; 13:14; Eph. 2:19; 1 Pet. 2:1-6) under the headship of Christ, our elder brother (Heb. 2:10-13), to whose image we are conformed (Rom. 8:29). This was our heavenly Father’s intention from the start, the very plan of salvation (Eph. 1:1-6, cf. John 14:1-3).
James B. Hurley, Man & Woman, Leicester, 1981.
Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Waco, 1987.
See further my:
What is all too briefly written above reflects my long-held dissatisfaction with the traditional ecclesiastical worldview inherited from Augustine of Hippo who died in 430 A.D. His belief that God originally brought into being a perfect world including a perfect (adult, mature) holy and righteous Adam and Eve followed by a fall and a universal curse on creation is really unbiblical nonsense. For those that hold such views the modern scientific teaching about evolution, even shorn of its naturalism, constitutes an insoluble problem. Creation, like procreation, is a beginning and without evolution it is a miscarriage, at best a stillbirth; evolution without creation is just an enigma beyond rational comprehension. See further my Worldview; The Biblical Worldview; Augustine: Asset or Liability?, etc.
Points to Ponder
1. If the second Adam, Jesus, was sown as seed in his mother’s womb, the first Adam mutatis mutandis (making the necessary changes), who was his type (Rom. 5:14), must have been too. The womb of his mother, the earth, was the Garden of Eden (cf. Gen. 2:8,15).
2. Just as David was formed like Adam as seed in the depths of the earth (Ps. 139:15; Gen. 2:7; 3:19,23) before being sown in his mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13, cf. Job. 10:11; Jer. 1:5), so Jesus pre-existed on high before he was sown as seed in Mary’s womb to begin his gradual evolutionary ascension into heaven as man (John 3:13; Eph. 4:9f.).
3. Just as God initiates the creation of a man in his image, so a man initiates the procreation of his own offspring (Gen. 5:1-32; Heb. 7:10).
4. If Adam was created perfect or full-grown without development or evolution as traditional fundamentalism would have it, far from being the prototype of all humanity, he wasn’t a man at all, least of all the father of all others (contrast Gen. 5:1-3). He would have been as much a myth as Athene who is said to have sprung full-grown from the head of Zeus in classical mythology. In the Bible the egg precedes the chicken! If, as some claim, Adam looked as if he was thirty when he was created, he was not obsolescent (subject to the aging process) like all other men including Jesus (cf. Luke 2:42, etc.). Furthermore, he was not the product of an aging earth (Ps. 102:25-27; Isa. 34:4, cf. Heb. 1:10-12). Again the conclusion must be that he was not a man at all! Clearly, the traditional Augustinian worldview which posited initial perfection (maturity) was wrong. All human beings as the product of the earth have a beginning followed by growth and development. Thus we recapitulate the experience of the race beginning with Adam himself. We must listen to the Bible, not to the traditional church.
Having said this, however, we must bear in mind that when Adam completed his gestation in the Garden he was physically full-grown and doubtless resembled a man of thirty. If this was not the case, it is difficult to see how he could have survived in the harsh environment into which he was plunged (Gen. 3:22-24). In other words, he looked as if he was thirty not when he was created but when he was ‘born’. (* See on this Eveson, pp.66,71)
5. Jesus had a father, that is, God: he also had a mother, the Virgin Mary. Adam also had a father, that is, God (Luke 3:38): he too had a mother, the earth (Gen. 2:7, cf. Ps. 139:15). Thus all who are born of woman who derived from dusty Adam are flesh including Jesus himself (Ps. 103:14, cf. 1 Cor. 15:42-50; Gal. 4:4).
6. All the children of Adam are created in the image of their Father God (Gen. 5:1-3). They are also born of woman and are hence flesh (dust, clay).
7. If Adam did not begin as seed, he was not a man at all. Furthermore, he was not our first father but an alien being, a figment of the imagination.
8. God is the creator of the spirits of the natural man (Num. 16:22, cf. Isa. 42:5; Zech. 12:1). He is also the Father of the spirits of the regenerate man (Heb. 12:9, cf. John 1:13; 3:6-8).
9. God creates animals from the earth (Gen. 1:24; 2:19) but they are not made in his image (cf. Gen. 1:26-28). They do not obey their Father’s voice but their master’s!
10. God has only one “wife”, the earth which is inhabited (Gen. 1; Isa. 45:18). All the other planets are ‘unmarried’ and unloved (cf. Isa. 62:4f.), desolate and fruitless!
P.H.Eveson in The Forgotten Christ, ed. Stephen Clark, Nottingham, 2007.
For Further Reflection
1. I am not the first to note the similarity between Genesis 1:2 and Luke 1:35.
2. For the sexual overtones characterizing creation and procreation, see Isaiah 45:9f.
3. See also Isaiah 62:4f. Just as God delights in and marries both his people and their land, so a young man marries and rejoices over his bride (cf. Gen. 6:2, etc.).
4. The law of creation is development, evolution in man’s case for he undergoes significant change. Animals once created simply develop, mature, that is, reach (physical) perfection, decline and die either naturally or are killed (2 Pet. 2:12). Man on the physical level does the same (cf. Num. 16:29) but on the spiritual level, as made in the image of God, he evolves and so changes. First, he acquires rational consciousness by which he apprehends natural law, then, if he is a Jew, the law of Moses. Next, if he succeeds in keeping that law which is the precondition of eternal life (Lev. 18:5) as Jesus did, he is born again or from above. This is in preparation for his resurrection ascension and transformation when he is given a spiritual body like that of Jesus. (Women of course are never circumcised nor strictly speaking under the law. They like all others who are sinners attain to glory through faith in Jesus, their pioneer.) While (animal) flesh remains statically uniform apart from physical growth and is finally destroyed (1 Cor. 15:50; 2 Cor. 5:1), spirit is subject to dynamic development and change till it achieves the perfection of God (cf. Mt. 5:48; 19:17,21). Thus Jesus as man was perfected in the image of God till he was able to sit at God’s right hand (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 1:3, etc.). Once he had achieved this position of perfection or complete maturity, he ruled and continues to rule the universe (Mt. 11:27; 28:18; 1 Cor. 15:28; Eph. 1:21; Heb. 1:6; 1 Pet. 3:22). He is Lord!
Since writing the above I have come across the ruminations of Russell Aldwinckle who in his More Than Man (p.164) maintains that “God is neither father nor mother in the literal sense, but both …. God transcends the sexual differentiation completely, and this has to be frankly said.” I disagree! Aldwinckle is misled by his false belief in God as Eternal Father and Jesus as Eternal Son (p.167).
God is first presented to us as Creator, a point strongly stressed especially in the OT (see e.g. Gen. 1; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 90:2; Isa. 42:5, etc.). While he is somewhat obliquely presented as the Father of Adam (Luke 3:38, cf. Acts 17:28), it is primarily in the NT that he is termed a father, indeed the Father of the Lord Jesus himself who taught his disciples to address God likewise.
But to be a Father he had to have a wife. Who was that wife? Surely (mother) earth. Thus at his incarnation Jesus became his Son (cf. Heb. 1:5) born of woman who typified the earth (Gen. 3:20). In other words, God in the words of Isaiah delighted in and “married” the land (Isa. 62:4, cf. Ezek. 24:16,25) to produce the inhabitants he desired (Isa. 45:18). And just as he initially created them from (mother) earth, so subsequently after creation (Gen. 2:1-3) the rest were procreated by man the image of God and woman his glory or Delight (1 Cor. 11:7).
So our inference is that our God who is love is a passionate lover who is the inventor of sex which is fundamental to man and his proliferation. Failure to recognize the importance of woman who along with man is the image of God (Gen. 1:27) is failure to recognize that sex and reproduction is the way of all the earth (Gen. 19:31). One, perhaps the main one, of the goals of creation is the marriage feast of the Lamb (Eph. 5:31f.; Rev. 19:7-9).
In sum, without a wife who is a mother God would not be a father and Jesus would not be a son. This suggests that the idea of the eternal Sonship is an ecclesiastical invention. Both John (ch.1) and Paul (Phil. 2:6f.) fail to refer to the eternal Son which term seems inherently contradictory. See further my Eternal Son?, Understanding God.
R.F.Aldwinckle, More Than Man, Grand Rapids, 1976.