Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4–5, NASB)
"In many modern churches, only masculine language for God is deemed acceptable. This restriction is historically and, more importantly, biblically unfounded ... 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."
Recent events in the evangelical community—particularly with the release of Todays New International Version (TNIV) Bible translation—have raised concerns over masculine language. Does Jesus ask us to be fishers of people or fishers of men (Matt. 4:19)? Is there a difference? Should we be afraid to use words like people, especially when the ancient text and context warrants this?
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?
The Bible sets forth an ideal and calls the ideal woman an eshet-chayil, which is the Hebrew for a “virtuous woman” (KJV) or a “wife of noble character” (NIV). This Hebrew expression occurs only three times in the Old Testament, but a study of these three passages is likely to reveal what the Bible supports as an ideal of Christian womanhood.
This issue of Priscilla Papers includes an article by Abigail Dolan titled, “Imagining a Feminine God.” Abby’s article was among the winners of CBE International’s 2017 student paper competition. The other winners, also published here, are Haley Gabrielle and Nikki Holland. In this issue you will also read articles on 1 Peter 3 by John Nugent and on wealthy women of the NT era by Margaret Mowczko.
Regular readers of Priscilla Papers will be familiar with those standard biblical texts one points to when discussing feminine imagery for God. We read, for example, of God extending a mother’s care in Isaiah 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” (nrsv). Similarly, Jesus longs to offer such comfort and protection in Matthew 23:37 (also in Luke 13:24), “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (nrsv). In addition to motherly comfort, other common texts speak of God nursing and giving birth (e.g., Num. 11:12; Deut. 32:18; Isa. 42:14).
In the search for a more inclusive understanding of God, the feminine “Sophia” has for many persons become a bridge between traditional Christianity and feminist concerns. So we ask: Who is Sophia, and where did she come from? Is she the long-awaited answer to this search?
Over the past forty years, the remarkable presence of women in Prov 1–9 has drawn an equally remarkable number of studies, a gift from the rise of feminism and women in the academy. The combination of these two forces brings attention to the once invisible women in the text, figures generally overlooked or ignored as males have read and interpreted the text for other males. Now, however, the text again gives birth to these marginalized figures, providing them with bodies, eyes, ears, hands, feet, and especially, mouths for speech. Of 256 verses in Prov 1–9, 132 specifically mention or speak about women and another seventeen verses either introduce these texts or draw conclusions from them;hence fifty-eight percent of Prov 1–9. Yet, ironically, all this attention to women comes because of the writer’s interest and concern for young men (1:4), with a secondary appeal to older, wise men (1:5). For the sages, it would seem that the way to a man’s heart is not through food, but through women. After all, the author seems to assume, what better way to engage the attention of a young man than by speaking about or describing women?