Who Is Sophia? -- By: Tina J. Ostrander
PP 8:2 (Spring 1994) p. 1
Who Is Sophia?
Tina J. Ostrander received a U.S. from the University of Washington and is studying for an M.A. in Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is a member of The Episcopal Church.
The quest to find feminine attributes in the Godhead is ongoing, as many women yearn for an understanding of God that they can relate to and identify with. For them, the Church’s traditional view of the “patriarchal God” is not only too limited but too limiting. This view is too limited in light of the richness of the full range of biblical language for God. It is too limited in that it can exclude believing Christian women from full participation in the Body of Christ, although they too are creatures made in the image of God and now equal children of God along with their Christian brothers.
In the search for a more inclusive understanding of God, the feminine “Sophia” has for many persons become a bridge between traditional Christianity and feminist concerns. So we ask: Who is Sophia, and where did she come from? Is she the long-awaited answer to this search?
“Sophia” is a transliteration of the Greek noun meaning “wisdom.” In Hebrew, the word for wisdom is “chok-mah.” In the Old Testament (especially Proverbs 3 and 8), and in several apocryphal texts,1 wisdom is personified as a woman. Some understand this personification of wisdom as nothing more than a literary device. Others are convinced that wisdom is intentionally personified as an aspect of divinity, or as a goddess, distinct from God.
Sophia appears to be gaining popularity among feminist theologians and among some secular women interested in goddess worship. One recent example of Sophia’s popularity was an ecumenical Christian conference, “Re-Imagining ... God, Community, the Church”, which was held in November 1993 in Minneapolis. The conference was part of The Ecumenical Decade: Churches in Solidarity with Women, a program of the World Council of Churches. Sophia was a recurrent theme throughout the conference.2
However, interest in Sophia is not a new phenomenon. In Gnosticism,3 a heresy in the early Christian church, Sophia is sometimes portrayed as a divine being superior to God, who reprimands God for arrogance. In other Gnostic texts, Sophia is a mischievous spirit who indirectly creates a world so evil that God has to rescue it by sending another emanation named Jesus. According to these texts, Jesus taught that we are rescued from evil and returned to God th...
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