DOES IT MATTER HOW WE ADDRESS GOD?

There is a theological revolution taking place in Christendom that seems to be gaining more traction with each passing year. It is a revolution that is seeking to transform the very structure and composition of the Christian faith. As the walls of gender identity continue to be torn down in the secular realm, we see exerted efforts by those who support the feminist reconstructionist agenda to abolish gender identity in regard to the doctrine of God. Their goal is to permanently eliminate from Scripture the use of the masculine pronoun when referring to God by either substituting “God” with feminine terminology or using neuter terminology when referring to Deity.

Is such a change warranted? Does it really make any scriptural difference as to whether one uses masculine or feminist pronouns when referring to biblical Deity and if a terminology change was made to accommodate feminist reconstructionists would it affect the integrity of Scripture and the presentation of the Gospel message? While it is recognized that a blog of this nature cannot give adequate attention to such a broad topic, the issue at stake is of such vital importance as it relates to the integrity of Scripture and the Gospel that the issue needs to be addressed, although somewhat briefly.

The contention of those who seek to reconstruct gender identity is that all masculine pronouns as it relates to God are only metaphorical and come from an antiquated time when women were considered nothing more than property with little or no rights; therefore, such terminology should be changed to better adapt to the changing times so as not to offend women or foster the idea that women are inferior to men. Those who champion such a change in biblical usage do so by pointing out there is female imagery found for God in the Old Testament. Let it be pointed out that there are only four instances of incontestable feminine imagery for God in the Bible, all found in the book of Isaiah (42:14; 45:10; 49:15; 66:13). While there are a few OT similes that allude to God’s care as that of a mother bird (Duet 32:11-12. Isaiah 31:5), Hebrew scholar Mayer I. Gruber writes that only in Isaiah does the “prophet explicitly compares the Lord to a mother, while throughout the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures the Lord is explicitly compared to a father but not a mother” (Gruber, “The Motherhood of God in Second Isaiah,” Revue Biblique, Paris, 1983, 351-359). While found in Isaiah are four instances where a mother’s love and comfort for a child is used as a simile for God’s love and comfort for hurting Israel, in the Old Testament God is NEVER called mother. And let it be added, in the New Testament God is NEVER addressed as mother. In both Testaments God is referred to as Father some 250 times, but NEVER as mother.

It is understood from Scripture that God is a Spirit (John 4:24); therefore, He has no sexuality. If that be the case, then why not attach to God neuter language? If one believes the Bible is inspired and if one believes the Bible is the self-revelation of God, then the Scripture teaches the self-revelation of God as Father. Elizabeth Achtemeier correctly states, “The Bible uses masculine language for God because that is the language with which God has revealed himself. The biblical, Christian faith is a revealed religion. It claims no knowledge of God beyond the knowledge God has given of himself through his words and deeds in the histories of Israel and of Jesus Christ and his church” (“Exchanging God for ‘No Gods’: A Discussion of Female Language for God,” 1992, 5).

Alvin Kimel writes, “‘Father’ is not a metaphor imported by humanity onto the screen of eternity; it is a name and filial term of address revealed by God himself in the person of his Son…No matter how other groups of human beings may choose to speak to the Diety, the matter is already decided for Christians, decided by God himself. To live in Christ in the triune being of the Godhead is to worship and adore the holy Transcendence whom Jesus knew as his Father” (Kimel, A New Language for God? A Critique of Supplemental Liturgical Texts – Prayer Book Studies 30, 1990, 11-12). If God has been revealed through the Son, then God has made Himself known as “Father.” As Jesus told Phillip, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” (Jh 14:9).

The Triune God has self-revealed Himself in masculine terminology. Why did God reveal himself in masculine terms? The addressing God in masculine terminology is a mark of Judaism and Christianity in contrast to the world’s other religious traditions, as God sought to distinguish Himself from the surrounding cultures of other nations who worshipped female deities. The God of the Bible being revealed in masculine terms was unique in the world of that day, as feminine deities were the norm. Let it be noted that religions where worship centered upon feminine deities the worship of nature/the natural instead of the Creator was prominent and the slide into unrestrained passions and moral debauchery was rampant. So, it was not man who attached masculinity to God, it was the result of God’s self-revelation to differentiate Himself from the feminist-based paganist religions of other nations. Achtemeier observantly writes, “It was not that the prophets were slaves to their patriarchal culture, as some feminists hold. And it is not that the prophets could not imagined God as female: they were surrounded by people who so imagined their deities. It is rather that the prophets, as well as the Deuteronomist and Priestly writers and Jesus and Paul would not use such language because they knew and had ample evidence from other religions surrounding them that female language for deity results in a basic distortion of the name of God and of his relation to his creation” (Achtemeier, Female Language for God, 2006, 109).

One finds in the New Testament Jesus always addressed God as Father. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told his disciples that when they prayed, they were to address God as “Father” (Matt. 6:9). Throughout his ministry Jesus set the example by always referring to God as “Father” (Matt. 7:21; Mark 13:32; John 10:36; 14:6, 9, 28; 20:17). In the New Testament, “Father” is always the preferred personal name for the first person of the Trinity. Jesus before ascending back to His “Father” instructed His disciples that when they baptized new converts they were to do so in the name of the Triune God, “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The Triune formula given to the Church by Jesus clearly identifies and linguistically defines the first person of the Trinity as Father. In our addressing God, there is no greater authority for which we are to appeal than the mandate of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Triune God who is confessed in the baptismal creed as given by Jesus, became normative and authoritative. Basil the Great (329-379) stated that all other terminology that sought to be substituted for the verbal identification of the Triune God as given by Jesus should be rejected. He wrote that “it is enough for us to confess those names which we have received from the Holy Scriptures and our Savior” (Basial, Ep., 175).

The Apostle John, a disciple of Jesus, followed the example and mandate of his Master, as he uses the term “Father” when referring to God 122 times in the gospel he wrote. Matthew, also a disciple of Jesus, in the first book in the NT uses the term “Father” 64 times when referring to God. It is clear the disciples addressed God as they were taught to do so by Him who came to reveal God—as “Father.”

Paul in obedience to Christ who transformed his life, did not deviate from the Master’s terminology of “Father” when speaking of the First Person of the Triune God (Gal. 1:3; Eph. 6:23; I Cor. 8:6; Col 1:2). In Romans Paul affirms that as the result of Christ’s atoning work we have been enabled to address God as Father. He writes, “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). Addressing God as “Father” was not one of many designations used by Paul to speak of the first person of the Trinity, but “Father” was the only name used by Paul. Paul in identifying God as “Father” was using intimate and personal language by which believers were to address the One who is Wholly Other: “Father” being the very name which Jesus used to address God.

Kimel profoundly writes of the Christian usage of the word “Father”: It is a filial, denominating title of address revealed in the person of the eternal Son. “On the lips of Jesus,” Wolfhart Pannenberg states, “‘Father’ became a proper name for God. It thus ceased to be simply one designation among others. It embraces every feature in the understanding of God which comes to light in the message of Jesus. It names the divine Other in terms of whom Jesus saw himself and to whom he referred His disciples and hearers.” Jesus names the Holy God of Israel Abba, “Father,” thereby expressing, and indeed effectuating, the intimate inner communion between them, a unique relationship of knowing and love. “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son” (Matt. 11:27). By this historical address God is acknowledged as the hope, joy, ultimate source, and final authority in our Lord’s life; by this address he is constituted as the Father. The dominical naming occurs within the being of the Godhead. It is an event of the divine biography, an eternal act of self-differentiation occurring in time. When uttered by the incarnate Word, “Father” (defined exclusively by Christ himself in the totality of his filial existence) is a created, performative word of eschatological power–analogous, on a different level, to God’s speaking forth the universe in Genesis 1–which eternally calls into being the One who loves his Son beyond all imaginings, beyond all conditions and limits. The Father receives from Jesus, through the power of the Spirit, his hypostatic identity as Father. (Kimel, “The God who Names Himself,” Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Feminism, 1992, 204-205)

For one to seek to alter the name of God to other than “Father” strikes at the core of biblical authority and what was normative for our Lord Jesus Christ and the whole of the OT and NT writers. To identify God other than “Father” is to abandon how He is clearly addressed in Scripture and Church history. To call Him other than His self-revelation as “Father” is not “adjusting” the Christian faith for the twenty-first century, but in actuality is creating a new god different from the God of biblical revelation. And anytime  there is a departing from the authoritative biblical normative, a god is created by one’s own hands that has not the power to save nor the power to change one’s life.

The God of the Bible has distinguished Himself from a culture that desires to gravitate toward religiosity that identifies itself with feminine deities, which invariably follow the path of substituting the God of the Bible for the worship of the creation and the creature leading to a rejection of the Triune God (Romans 1) and a de-personalization of God. When God is de-personalized inevitably a laxness in biblical morality is embraced as the norm.  We always err and start down a slippery slope when we seek to “update” God’s Word and “dumb-it down” to conform to the culture. God’s Word doesn’t need adjusting or updating, it needs to be unapologetically and boldly proclaimed.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3).

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

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