Evidence for and Significance of Feminine God-Language from the Church Fathers to the Modern Era -- By: Mimi Haddad

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 18:3 (Summer 2004)
Article: Evidence for and Significance of Feminine God-Language from the Church Fathers to the Modern Era
Author: Mimi Haddad


Evidence for and Significance of Feminine God-Language from the Church Fathers to the Modern Era

Mimi Haddad

Mimi Haddad is the president of Christians for Biblical Equality. She is also a doctoral candidate at Durham University. This paper is based on a lecture presented at The Evangelical Theological Society, 2003.

The author wishes to thank her research assistant, Elizabeth McGrew, for help with the supporting material in this paper.

“The early church resisted making Christ’s gender pre-eminent for fear that this might be transferred on to God. Why would the church seek to avoid this? The early Christians were surrounded by a Greek religious system that worshiped pagan, gendered deities. However, the Judeo-Christian God is spirit.”

Throughout history why did the church frequently use feminine language for God? In what way did this feminine language serve the church? Why do we evangelicals, in contrast, appear so uncomfortable with feminine imagery for God?

To examine the church’s historical use of feminine metaphors for God concerns the realm of historical theology, and as such I will not explore the biblical material upon which the historical writers based their work. Moreover, by offering examples of how the church throughout its history engaged feminine imagery for God, however uncomfortable and unusual it may seem for us today, it is not my purpose here to advocate for feminine language for God. My present concern, rather, is to observe how feminine language for God assisted the church as it was challenged by various theological concerns over the years.

The breadth of this topic is enormous, and therefore this review is a mere airplane ride over the terrain, and a Concord flight at that. We will have time only to touch upon the highest peaks of this fascinating mountain range.

As evangelicals, our tendency to avoid feminine language may be understandable in light of the current radical feminist literature on language for God. By radical feminist, I refer to those who place their feminist commitments above their commitment to the authority and inspiration of scripture. These feminists often object to masculine language for God because, in their opinion, language shapes or creates reality. For example, Neil Gillman, a Jewish feminist, suggested that the “language we use reflects and in turn shapes the way we construct our experience of the world.”1

According to Judith Plaskow of Yale University, “once images become socially, politically, or morally inadequate ... they are also religiously inadequate. Instead of pointing to...

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