Imagining A Feminine God: Gendered Imagery In The Bible -- By: Abigail Dolan
PP 32:3 (Summer 2018) p. 17
Imagining A Feminine God: Gendered Imagery In The Bible
Abigail Dolan is a senior at Oklahoma Christian University and will graduate with a BA in Bible in 2019. Following graduation, she plans to attend seminary and continue her education in biblical studies. This article was among the winners of the student paper competition at CBE International’s 2017 conference in Orlando, Florida.
In Scripture, God is identified using many names and titles, such as God (elohim, theos), Lord (adonai, kurios), YHWH, and descriptors such as “Rock,” “Comforter,” and “Light of the World.” Upon first glance, these words seem fairly neutral in their gendering of God. However, English frequently assigns masculine pronouns to God. God becomes a “he.” This use of masculine pronouns is common in Scripture as well, especially when the context includes a grammatically masculine name, title, or metaphor for God.
In many modern churches, only masculine language for God is deemed acceptable. This restriction is historically and, more importantly, biblically unfounded. The language we use to define, explain, and identify God shapes the way we understand God. By having an essentially masculine view of God, we blind ourselves to other ways we may connect to God and understand God. This not only distorts our image of God, but a purely masculine view also negatively affects the way we interact with one another— most prominently, how the church interacts with women. By broadening our God-language to include feminine imagery, we expand the ways in which we can connect to God; this can begin to rectify a distorted view of God and to change the damaging ways the church has engaged with women.
Biblical Language For God
In order to better understand God-language, it is important to discern the ways in which gender is identified, both in biblical languages and in English. Our manner of referring to God can be linguistically divided into two groups: grammatical and lexical. Grammatical identifiers are features that use gender-specific parts of speech, such as gendered pronouns, articles, or verbs. In English, these gender designators are limited to singular pronouns such as “he,” “she,” and “herself.” However, the biblical languages utilize far more gendered designators, and Greek, unlike Hebrew or Aramaic, has gender neutral identifiers as well. Hebrew and Aramaic have gender-specific forms of pronouns, suffixes, adjectives, participles, and verbs. Greek has gender- specific forms of pronouns, adjectives, participles, and articles.
In contrast, lexical gender identification uses words, as opposed to forms of or parts of words, that have a meaning specifically related to gender, such as “fa...
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