Category: Sermons & Bible Studies

The Biblical Data on God and Sexuality

Image via David Hayward @ NakedPastor

(Part 2 of 4)
(continued from Part 1, “The Shack and the Gender of God”)

For some, the gender [1] of God is obvious. The God of the Old Testament is referred to exclusively with masculine pronouns, adjectives, and verbs. [2] For the New Testament, both the Father and the Son are similarly described in masculine terms, while the titles used for God in both testaments are entirely masculine as well. Many believe this alone represents enough data to show that God is an essentially male or masculine being.

Most male headship advocates [3] will assert that the Spirit is referred to as a masculine being as well. [4] In actuality, the data on the Third Person of the Trinity is less decisive. In Hebrew, the word for “spirit” is the feminine רוּחַ, so the adjectives and verbs associated with it throughout the Old Testament are usually feminine—for example, מְרַחֶפֶת for hovered in Gen. 1:3. In Greek, the word for “spirit” is the neuter πνεῦμα with most of its adjectives and pronouns matching that case. Going by gendered language alone, the Spirit is a “she” or an “it.”

The oft-cited exceptions occur in John 15-16 when Jesus is delivering his sermon on the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete, wherein he refers to the Spirit with the masculine pronoun ἐκεῖνος. At first glance this seems significant since a neuter form for this adjective exists (ἐκεῖνο) and John seems to have shunned it in favor of the masculine even though it does not match the case of the noun under discussion. However, the antecedent to ἐκεῖνος is not πνεῦμα, but παράκλητος, a masculine adjective functioning as a substantive noun. This could still be a decisive declaration on the Spirit’s sexuality if John had originated this usage of the term, but he did not. The masculine plural form was similarly used as a substantive adjective by Demosthenes in the 4th century BC. [5] John took the pre-existing masculine concept of a παράκλητος as one’s legal advocate and applied it to the Holy Spirit. It therefore follows that his identification has everything to do with the Spirit’s function in the lives of believers, not its gender.

This poses a dilemma for Christians who assert that God is wholly male or masculine: (more…)

The Shack and the Gender of God

(Part 1 of 4)

I never read the entirety of The Shack, the popular 2007 Christian novel about a man who converses with God about the murder of his beloved youngest daughter. My reasons were not theological. I had a childhood friend who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered when I was 9 and she was 11, so the subject of the novel was a little too close to home for me.

I did read enough of the novel to know that two members of the Trinity, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, manifested themselves as women (a black woman and an Asian woman, respectively), and this became one of the many theological “problems” that was protested in the novel. For example, Mark Driscoll, then at the zenith of his megachurch pastor career, decried this as “goddess worship.” Mary Kassian, writing for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, lamented that evangelical fans of The Shack were “succumbing to the feminist pressure to image God in feminine ways.” In quite recent history, complementarians and other male headship advocates [1] got it into their heads that all three members of the Trinity are quintessentially masculine and/or male, and as such, God could not have incarnated as a woman nor could he ever manifest as one, even if he wanted to.

 

Pictured: Human beings made in the image of God who can’t image God. Makes perfect sense.

The Shack has now been made into a major motion picture starring Sam Worthington. It was released today. Its reviews have sadly gone the way of most Christian films (15% on RottenTomatoes as I write this), but in light of the film, I thought it might be worth it to revisit what the Bible says about whether God has a gender, along with some extrabiblical details and philosophical considerations.

I am of the opinion that gender is created and God does not possess one as part of any eternal nature, so God could theoretically incarnate and/or manifest himself as a woman as well as a man should it please him to do so. And I want to point out that viewing God as genderless is not some novel feminist incursion on traditional Christian theology. It is historic and quite mainstream. (more…)

Review: After You Believe

After You Believe -- N. T. WrightAfter You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N. T. Wright [New York, N. Y.: HarperOne, 2010; HarperAudio audiobook read by Anthony Ferguson, 2010]

If C. S. Lewis had been in favor of women’s ordination and a Bible scholar (two things which naturally belong together ;-)), he would have been N. T. Wright. They were/are both Anglican, English, taught at Oxford, and have/had a preponderance of fondness for being known by their initials. Wright also, like Lewis, possesses a keen ability to reason from the Scriptures in a simple yet logical manner and a creative command of useful metaphors and analogies to bring his points to life. His Simply Christian (which I haven’t read) has been compared to Lewis’s Mere Christianity, with obvious similarities in the titles. No word on whether or not Wright shares in Lewis’s fondness for cigars, but I digress.

After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters is a sequel to Simply Christian, but I can attest that you don’t have to read the first to understand and be edified by the second. As the subtitle suggests, After You Believe is about the development of character and what that means, a call for Christians to return to the pursuit of virtue. Central to Wright’s message is a breakdown of what the “Royal Priesthood” is: that Christians are meant to be both rulers and priests, and that this life is but the small opening part of a much longer existence (there are echoes of deification in this theology, although Wright does not use that term). The pursuit of virtue is not a matter of salvation, Wright is clear, but something we should seek earnestly in anticipation of and preparation for what God means for us to be. Wright makes the case that virtue is not something we are automatically given by the indwelling of the Spirit, but something that we must make a conscious effort to build up and pursue—with the Spirit’s help, of course.

(more…)

Mormon Theology Seminar Conference

I have been in California for the past two weeks participating in the Third Annual Mormon Theology Seminar, sponsored by Brigham Young University’s Maxwell Institute and the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies. You may recall that I am an alumna of BYU (long story!). While I have never been Mormon and am not a believer in the Book of Mormon as Scripture, I regard the book as 19th century demi-Protestant theological fiction (perhaps inspired in some places) and my paper, “Called and Ordained: Alma’s Priesthood of All Believers” is on some theology in the Book of Mormon that I think both Mormons and evangelical Christians can embrace. I will be presenting that paper tomorrow (June 15th) at the seminar’s public conference.

The conference is free and runs from 9 AM – 6 PM. My presentation is at 3:45. Conference program available here.

Mormon_Theology_Seminar
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Good Friday: Jesus Christ and the “Birth Pains of Death”

Image from DayOfEaster.com; I added the text
Image from DayOfEaster.com; I added the text

Today is Good Friday, the day when we remember Jesus’ suffering on the cross, in anticipation of Easter Sunday, when we celebrate his victory over death through resurrection.

Peter spoke of this on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:22-24, when he said (emphasis mine):

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (NIV)

What most people don’t know is that the part I highlighted in v. 24 is a bit of a mistranslation. The Greek for “agony” there, ōdinas (ὠδῖνας), doesn’t just mean “agony.” It quite specifically means “birth agony.” The pains of labor and childbirth. The correct translation of the passage would be, “freeing him from the birth pains of death.”

I know of no English translations that preserve the true metaphor of the original Greek. Why is that? Are we uncomfortable with the idea of a man suffering the pains of labor? Does that make our God too feminine for our liking? Or is it simply because the idea of “birth pains of death” is too confusing? Birth, after all, is supposed to be about life, not death.

(more…)

Of Ephesians 5 Wives & Ephesians 6 Slaves

Jesus_Leader_Leader
Husband-gods not wanted, not needed

Ephesians 5:22, “Wives [submit] to your husbands as to the Lord,” has long been the go-to soundbite for those who preach the subordination of women in Christian marriage. Egalitarians have put considerable time and effort into arguing that this verse doesn’t really teach marital hierarchy, and while my brothers and sisters in Christ make a lot of excellent points,[1] on the whole, I tend to disagree. I think Paul does endorse a hierarchy here, albeit a soft and self-sacrificing one, not the self-serving and hypocritical John Piper man-god nonsense so many “recovering biblical genderhood” Christians endorse and promote. I also think it is very clear that the household code promoted by Paul in Ephesians 5:21 – 6:9 (and repeated in truncated form in Colossians 3:18-25) would be a disaster if applied to our day and age.

Anybody who knows basic Roman history will recognize that, throughout Ephesians 5:21 – 6:9, Paul is alluding to the Roman concept of the paterfamilias, wherein the [male] “master of the household” had “power . . . within the family [that] was almost absolute, unlimited by the state or any other organization outside of the familia unless [the paterfamilias] was demonstrably insane or mentally incompetent.” The paterfamilias was “the legal owner of all family property,” the only one who could “loan, mortgage, or sell [property] or engage in contracts,” and “the source of law within the family . . . his orders . . . recognized by the state as having the force of law.” More direly for the other members of the household, the paterfamilias was the sole “judge of the household, and his rulings normally could not be set aside by any external authority, even though he might kill, mutilate, expel, or give into bondage his sons or housemates, and though he might break or dispose of the household property.” As for women, they were “always subject to the power of some adult male.” [2] 

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Huldah the Prophet

A short but significant account of a female prophet occurs in 2 Chronicles 34. In this chapter, King Josiah of Judah makes the decision to restore the temple of the LORD. In making repairs to the temple, the high priest Hilkiah comes across “the Book of the Law of the LORD”—probably all or at least part of the book of Deuteronomy.  When the book was read to King Josiah, he “tore his robes.” Apparently the people of Judah were unaware of the Law and had not been following the commands contained therein. King Josiah then orders Hilkiah and four other top-ranking Judean officials to “Go and inquire of the Lord” on behalf of himself and all of Israel and Judah concerning the teachings found in the Law of the Lord.

Hilkiah and the other officials seek out the prophet Huldah, who tells them, “This is what the LORD says: ‘I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people—all the curses written in the book that has been read in the presence of the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all that their hands have made, my anger will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.’” (NIV) She then adds as a message to King Josiah, “Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD. Now I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place and on those who live here.” (v. 24-25, 27-28)

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Why Egalitarian

A wall painting (c. 5th century) depicting a scene from the "Acts of Paul and Thecla" wherein Paul and Thecla's mother, Theocleia are both exhorting Thecla, their hands raised in a teaching gesture. Theocleia's eyes and hand have been vandalized.
A wall painting (c. 5th century) depicting a scene from the “Acts of Paul and Thecla” wherein Paul and Thecla’s mother, Theocleia, are exhorting Thecla, their hands raised in a teaching gesture. Theocleia’s eyes and hand have been vandalized. [1]
(Part 1 of 4)

I am a Christian egalitarian. I believe that God calls women as pastors, elders and deacons so that we should be ordained as such, and I believe that leadership of a Christian household should be shared between husband and wife with neither having final authority over the other and Christ being regarded as the head of the household. My position stands in contrast to Christian hierarchist [2] positions which restrict women from certain church leadership and teaching roles (usually pastor, elder, and sometimes deacon) and teach that the husband possesses some kind of final authority or leadership role in the home.

I arrived at this position through years of prayer, study, and personal experience. Here are 12 reasons why I am a Christian egalitarian today:

(1) Because the Creation narrative teaches that, before the Fall, men and women were created equal.

In the first Creation narrative in Genesis 1, both the man and the woman were created in the image of God (1:26-27). Both were commanded to have “dominion” over the earth (1:28). There is no trace of hierarchy in the text here. The man and the woman are equals in paradise, and God calls it “very good”  (1:31).

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Bonding with Mark

I apologize for the slow post ratio. Finals have been keeping me busy.

Speaking of which, this semester, one of the classes I took was NT 6221:  Synoptic Gospels & Johannine Literature, with Grant Osborne. Studying the synoptic gospels largely meant studying Mark and how Matthew and Luke differ from Mark, so I got to spend a lot more time with Mark than I previously had. We were given three questions to prepare for the final, two of which dealt with the Gospel of Mark: trace the Messianic Secret in Mark, and trace discipleship through Mark. It was the latter that appeared on the test, but I thoroughly prepared for all of them in advance.

(more…)