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Father and Son

Let’s Stop Using These Words Together (3): God & Son

Father and Son

God is not a male. God is not three males. God is not two men and a bird. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is not the son of the First Person of the Blessed Trinity in any biological sense.

God has no gender.

The Persons of the Trinity have no gender.

We are in the area of metaphors. “God the Son”, like so many important images, is a metaphorical construct.

Jesus is not “the Son of God” in the biological sense that half his chromosomes are genetically God’s and half his chromosomes are genetically Mary’s. It is not the case that half of Jesus’ chromosomes are divine and the other half are human. Jesus is fully human. Jesus, like you, like me, has 23 pairs of fully-human chromosomes. Jesus is fully divine – not just half divine.

Jesus being “the Son of God” is not dependent on the historicity of the Virgin Birth story. “Son of God” can be understood as bringing together a number of biblical concepts. “Son of God” in the Bible can mean “Servant of God”, representative of God’s chosen people, God’s ruler on earth,… “Son of God” in the Bible includes the idea that if you want to know a (male) person, you can get a very good idea from encountering his son. Son, Image, and Likeness are closely intertwined concepts. In today’s world, “Son of God” is often understood as a claim about Mary’s virginal conception, whereas it is actually more a statement about Jesus revealing God (and God can do that with or without a historical virginal conception).

Jesus loves his Dad
Meme used by many who celebrated Father’s Day recently

Other posts in this series:
Let’s Stop Using This Word (2): God
Let’s Stop Using This Word (1): Believe

Discuss…

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36 thoughts on “Let’s Stop Using These Words Together (3): God & Son”

        1. Fine. But “Hebrew texts and later, Christian texts describ[ing] God in the masculine” does not, thereby, make God masculine. Blessings.

          1. Isn’t Ruach in Hebrew feminine? Certainly Pneuma in Greek is neuter – so should we call the Spirit it or she?

            Grammatical gender is not biological gender. The German for girl is neuter and the Irish is masculine…

            Carys

          2. Thanks, Carys. “Balancing” God’s gender/sex by changing “he” to “she” is a different conversation (not unrelated). All I said above would still apply – “God is not a female. God is not three females….” Blessings.

  1. I don’t wish to offend anyone, but isn’t this a perfectly ordinary, altogether normal exposition of the Trinity?

    1. John, I regard myself as a perfectly ordinary Christian. If this is perfectly ordinary, why do so many people I encounter think that perfectly ordinary Christian teaching is what you and I have said it is not? Do point us to some perfectly ordinary online examples of this normal exposition and let us know how you found them. Thanks. Blessings.

  2. When you say, “The Persons of the Trinity have no gender.” (I think you mean sex) You are saying that Jesus is not truly human with a biological male sex. That separates Jesus from His humanity. God doesn’t go by our time, so Jesus is eternally male, which is infinite. Therefore, God is unquestionably male. To deny that then also denies that Jesus is truly God, as you can’t separate the Godhead by saying one person is this and one person is that. God is One. The Person’s have duties, which are separate. God has the duties of the Father, the duties of the Son, and the duties of the Holy Spirit. One God, different duties.

    God the Son is not a metaphor, it is a title. Jesus’ title points to His duties of the Son, one duty being born of a Virgin to save humanity. People may be confused about the title, but that is due to a lack of education. We shouldn’t change His title in order to adjust to someone’s lack of knowledge.

    1. So, Amy, “if”, according to you, “God doesn’t go by our time, so Jesus is eternally male, which is infinite”, then, following your logic, you must think that “you are eternally female, which is infinite [whatever you mean by that]”.

      “Therefore, God is unquestionably male.” Well, unquestionable as that may be to you, I, and the majority Christian orthodox position, question that.

      Blessings.

  3. I find great comfort in the idea of a divine being packaged as something, like father and son, which I can grasp and with whom I can perceive to have an intimate relationship rather than something more abstract. I know the packaging falls short of reality but the concept rapidly gets too big (for me at least) to manage without that reduction in scale. Because of this I tend to fall back on the old terms like God, Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus and so on because both that’s what I grew up with and because I’m not sure what else to use. For someone like me what alternative titles would you suggest when in prayer?

    1. Thanks, Terry. I am a great advocate for praying the psalms – that is a wonderful place to start for a plethora of titles and images for the Divine. Blessings.

  4. Warren McNair

    1. Jesus is male. He always will be.
    2. Jesus is the Son of God. He always will be.
    3. Jesus called God ‘Father’ and instructed his followers to do likewise. Is God’s Fatherhood a metaphor? Karl Barth didn’t think so, while Ephesians 3.14 states ‘I bow my knees before the Father from whom every ‘patria’ in heaven and on earth is named’.
    4. Faithful Christians are those who obey Jesus.
    5. EVERY reference to YHWH, Elohim, El Shaddai, theos and kurios in the OT and NT uses masculine pronouns and adjectives (and masculine verbs in the OT).
    6. ‘Gender’ is a grammatical term, referring to grouping of words. (Recently in western culture ‘gender’ has come to mean “How do you think of yourself?”, so that some biological males and females now say they are “really” the opposite of what their chromosomes say. Some people need to brush up on basic ontology.) ‘sex’ is the physico-biological word.
    7. Is the Holy Trinity male? Well, if maleness is “really” a mental or spiritual state rather than a chromosomal arrangement, who can say? Do we have a definitive word of revelation on this?
    8. All we have are the words of Jesus Christ who claimed immediate knowledge of His Father; and the words of the OT writers. ‘Who has known the mind of God?’
    9. The Church is charged to repeat the word of Christ in every age and not to claim to know better than Him.
    10. There is a wonderful passage in chapter 5 of Lewis’s ‘The Great Divorce’ where the Bishop in hell remarks: “Jesus (here the Ghost bowed) was a comparatively young man when he died. He would have outgrown some of his earlier views, you know, if he had lived’ (p. 43). It seems to me a lot of speculation today in the post-Christian world (and those exiting orthodoxy) is determined to agree with the Bishop.

    1. Thanks, Warren.

      Really, Karl Barth didn’t think “God’s Fatherhood a metaphor”?! Do you have actual evidence of this claim?

      “All we have are the words of Jesus Christ” – again, really? That’s all we have?! What about Karl Barth? Don’t we have his words?!

      Blessings.

      1. Warren McNair

        “Really, Karl Barth didn’t think “God’s Fatherhood a metaphor”?! Do you have actual evidence of this claim?”

        Yes, I thought this was well-known Have a look at his ‘Credo’ (1962, pp. 19, 27) and the indices of Church Dogmatics on Ephesians 3.14-15.
        What you failed to grasp (or at least express) in your piece is that God’s Fatherhood is not in the first place about the world but the inner-Trinitarian relationships: the Father is the Father of the Son before all worlds.
        That is why God’s fatherhood is *not metaphorical but actual.
        Barth understood this clearly in placing the Trintiy once again in the centre of Christian theology.

        As for your second question, you didn’t quote the rest of my sentence – not good practice! I think (or hope) you know what I meant: that Christianity is a religion of revelation and the ultimate revelation is Jesus Christ. What Jesus teaches is definitive for me. Of course, C. S. Lewis well understood what the Modernists of the 20th century believed, that Jesus was culturally conditioned and could be surpassed (hence the Bishop in ‘The Great Divorce’ and a gaggle of Anglican bishops since – Robinson, Spong etc etc – even some Kiwis among them now). Feminist cultural critique in the spirit of Ludwig Feuerbach (‘religion is just cultural projection of power relations – familial or sexual’) is just another manifestation of 19th century atheism (although arguably it goes right back to Euhemerus). Nihil novum sub sole.

        1. For readers here, Warren, could you please quote the extract from Barth in which he clearly states that “God’s fatherhood is *not metaphorical”. What you seem to fail to grasp (to pick up your approach) is what a “metaphor” is. Metaphors do not stand in contrast to “actual” in the manner you set them in opposition.

          Furthermore, contrary to your claim that I fail to grasp this, the very reason that I used both terms “God the Son” and “the Son of God” was around the inner life of the Trinity that you highlight. I would (if you are being “actual”) be more cautious about “before all worlds”. There is no such “actual” “before”. Time is a creature – a concept Augustine understood, and now reinforced by contemporary Science.

          Blessings.

          1. Warren McNair

            I wasn’t quoting Barth (no blog is long enough!), I said ‘Barth didn’t think etc’ and I referred you to a brief work on the subject. But you can find the relevant discussion on the Eternal Fatherhood of God in Church Dogmatics 1.1, Section 10, esp. pp. 390-94 (or a brief summary in Bromiley’s Introduction, p. 18). After many years of teaching literature and Scripture, I think I know what a ‘metaphor’ is (essentially a compressed simile of equivocal significance). If I describe a brave man as ‘a lion’, everyone understands the metaphor.
            I know what the patristic expression “before all worlds” means as well, which is why I used it: logically and existentially prior to all creation. I am fully aware what contemporary cosmology says about the beginning of space-time. If time began 13.7 billion years ago (give or take a billion), it makes no sense to say that ‘God began to exist then’. God is eternal and his Fatherhood is eternal. That’s what Barth says in CD 1.i, s. 10.

  5. Jesus was male (though note that early Christian artists in the catacombs mainly chose to portray him with androgynous features).
    But God is not male. When God created humankind ‘in his own image…male and female he created them’.
    ‘He’ you say? Well, just like English, Hebrew doesn’t have a gender neutral pronoun available. The language and imagery available are those of a patriarchal culture in which the Lord/Father was the most powerful person, so of course by extension that language was used of God. But no orthodox theologian believed God was inherently male, gender is part of the created order – that’s why, eg, Jesus patiently explains that there won’t be ‘marriage and giving in marriage’ (note the patriarchy of handing women over from man to man is included here as well as marriage itself) in heaven.

  6. I am no academic theologian, but I believe that in both Latin and Greek the word for the Holy Spirit is feminine which means that at least part of God is seen as feminine. Surely the truth is that our descriptions of God are limited by vocabulary and language in a way that God is not. God is not, I think, constrained by gender – he is not unquestionably female, neither is she unquestionably male. God is.

  7. The problem is that in English (as in Hebrew, Latin etc.) we are forced to refer to animate beings with gendered pronouns. We can’t avoid that – it’s either ‘he,’ ‘she’ or ‘it’ – and God cannot be an ‘it’. Speakers of Chinese, Turkish, Maori etc don’t have that problem – in some languages, like Tagalog for instance, you don’t even distinguish between ‘son’ and ‘daughter.’ In short, though it’s all become very politicised, it all comes down to a quirk of grammar. Interesting to note perhaps, that lack of gendered pronouns doesn’t guarantee gender equality in the culture.

  8. Warren McNair

    It’s important also to remember that when Barth insisted in CD 1.1 on the eternal Fatherhood of God within the eternal Trinity, he was attacking the anthropological explanation of Christianity as projection offered by Ludwig Feuerbach which underlies so much modernist revision and its attack on the biblical language for God – an idea taken up enthusiastically by Karl Marx in his ‘Theses on Feuerbach.’.

  9. As an even more “ordinary” Christian, and one with neither theological nor literary training, I confess much of this discussion has been beyond my understanding. Much as the infinite and indescribable nature of our Creator is beyond my understanding.
    So this is what I do have the ability to grasp:
    God is personal, not an inanimate force. Therefore God is not “it”. However as both male and female humans have been created in the image of God, our Creator must contain both the feminine and masculine. As a speaker of English, the pronoun “He” is the one which is most suitable within the limitations of this language.
    God is love, as part of His inherent nature and independent of his creation. Therefore within the character of God there is a plurality. As my very finite mind struggles to comprehend the infinite, I struggle to comprehend how one being can also be plural (in the same way I struggle to visualize what a universe with more than three spatial and one temporal dimensions might look like, even though I know the mathematics of theoretical physics suggests that this is a reality).
    I can see in the scriptures that the person of Jesus and the person of the Holy Spirit are distinct from the one Jesus called “Abba.” But they are also in unity and equal with one another.
    I am content to leave what I cannot understand as being part of the unknowable nature of the infinite.
    What I do choose to focus on is the character and nature of God as revealed to us. That He loves us with a greater love than we can ever comprehend. That He was willing in the Person of Jesus to give his life in order to restore us into relationship with Him. These truths I can hold onto in the darkness, whereas trying to wrap my poor brain around trinitarian theology offers no comfort, only confusion.

    1. Thanks, Claudia.

      Can I build just a little on this, affirming what you say?

      God, in some sense, is more personal than we humans are. The life of the Trinity isn’t for attempting to wrap our brains around – the wrapping is the other way around: We are plunged into the life of the Trinity so that our love and transformation is Trinitarian. You and I are being conformed to the life in Jesus by the Spirit to grow in our relationship with the Father. And I think that in all this, the apophatic needs constant recovering and stressing.

      Blessings.

      1. Thank you Claudia and Bosco for this reflection. I have been reading the arguments and contemplating a reply.
        My reply is very much in line with Claudia’s.
        God transcends our understanding and experience. To say that God is ‘this’ and not ‘that’ is to reduce God to a god. And certainly to assign a fixed gender is make God little more than superhuman.
        However, in approaching God we need our words – limited and ignorant as they are. And in our humility all must remember that they are just words, and all words fail before The Word.

        Blessings

  10. People undergoing gender transition now often refer to themselves as ‘they’. Perhaps we should do the same for God who is all in all.

    1. Thanks, Mags. Yes, “they” is regularly used as a gender-inclusive single. The NZ Prayer Book gets around pronoun issues by using “you”. “You”, of course, is the plural, now pressed into use for the singular. We probably aren’t there yet for the third person pronoun – and I’m not sure that we want to encourage polytheism? Blessings.

      1. Referring to this and some early comments on pronouns – how does Genesis 1:26-27 fit?
        ‘”Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness”
        And while 27 reverts to the masculine pronoun it states
        “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”
        Which clearly implies God is both male and female (and more).
        So I just don’t think we are the first generation to struggle with this truth 🙂

        Thanks again and blessings.

  11. We’re looking at this backwards:

    We don’t call the Father the Father by analogy with human paternity; human paternity is an analogy for that Trinitarian relationship. Don’t get the type and the antitype confused!

    That said, Christ is obviously the Son, not the daughter, since He is male.

    1. “We don’t call the Father the Father by analogy with human paternity” – right, ummm, yeah! Clearly, knowledge of the Trinity and God’s Fatherhood in that was present from the start. Adam and Eve knew this, and when Cain was born, Adam went, “Wow! I get it! Now I’m just like God the Father in the Trinity!” And Adam was called a “father” because of that. Blessings, Peter.

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