To use gender-neutral language in the bible is one thing, but to completely feminize God is another thing. A sector of feminism has tried to neuter and feminize God’s male gender in Father God, not just from the bible, but also from our everyday speech. If there are any feminists out, please don’t take this the wrong way. Theological conservatives are not against feminism per se. I must say that feminism has made some positive contributions for more equitable treatment of the marginalized; and I think many conservatives would agree with this. However, our conservatism prevents us from agreeing with some of the ideas in Christian feminism, specifically, regarding the feminization of God. It is an uncomfortable image and I must try not to be reactionary about this myself. But before we begin blaming feminism for “taking society backwards,” we should “remove the log from our own eyes”, then we may critique some of the points we may disagree with in Christian feminism.
No one can dispute Jesus’ gender, but we can dispute our depictions of his color or race. Throughout the history of the Christian Church, we have tried to racialize Jesus as a black Jesus…an Asian Jesus…and a white Jesus. Christians from the first century likely would have been appalled at how we have painted the face of Jesus in many colors. Perhaps the early church would have felt scandalized by our false depictions of Jesus, whom they knew as a Mediterranean man. How many of us have been shown pictures of a white Jesus in Sunday School and thought nothing of it? While growing up, I actually thought Jesus was a white guy. It likely never occurred to many of us that the pictures of Jesus we saw were not accurate depictions of the real Jesus in history. Christians like to conveniently make Jesus into what we want him to be to us. Will the real Jesus please stand up?
Just as there has been a deliberate agenda to repaint the face of Jesus into the color of our choice, we cannot deny that there is also a feminist agenda that wishes to neuter God the Father. Some feminists do want to reconstruct or re-image Father God into a female motherly figure. A book where one can learn more about this might be The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism by Mary A. Kassian (Crossway). If it was so easy to paint Jesus as a white Jesus, a black Jesus, or an Asian Jesus, just think… how much easier will it be to neuter and feminize God the Father who is invisible and unseen to us? If this were to happen, what would this sound like? One might begin the Lord’s Prayer with “Our Mother, who art in heaven.” This does sound kind of hokey to theological conservatives and even to theological liberals. However convenient and necessary to be able to relate to a comforting and loving God, feminism ought to recognize the limits of how far they should go? Where should Christian feminism stop? Some think that it has gone way too far, but some think that it hasn’t gone far enough. Let me ask: If Jesus recognized God as his Father, who are we to change Father God’s gender? (Luke 10:21-22; 23:34). Didn’t Jesus also teach us how to pray to our “Heavenly Father” (Matt. 6:8-9)? As children of God, aren’t we also encouraged to call to “Abba Father”? (3rd picture: Jesus the Guru; the link above is a speculative depiction of what some think Jesus might have looked like, based on a reconstruction of an ancient skull).
We know what a gender-neutral bible is like (TNIV, NLT, NRSV), but what would a gender-neutral God look like? Such a God would be neutered. In other words, we would have an emasculated God. But the God I worship is one I know as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And I do hope that’s how it will stay in the bible. As a supporter of gender-neutral translations, I do not deny that there is a liberal feminizing agenda out there. Yes, this kind of ultra-feminized language does exist in some sectors of Christianity. I have heard some Christians refer to God as “Mother God”. Personally, I cannot handle this language of a feminized God. I prefer to stick to “Father God”. I don’t think I could ever see God as being female. To refer to God as a “she” is just too radical for my conservative taste. Theologically, I do not see any grounds for a “Mother God”. What would the implications be with a “Mother God”? It would mean the end of the trinity, as we know it. There would no longer be a Father-Son-Holy Spirit. Could we have a Mother-Daughter-Holy Spirit? The ultra-feminists view could probably work with that but not conservative evangelical Christians. This radical feminist tendency toward feminizing God is too radical, not only for theological conservatives but also for theological liberals. Our church is definitely not ready for a “Mother God”. It’s just too radical, let alone unscriptural. (picture: Shield of the Trinity)
I was informed about a new blog that calls itself the TNIV Truth. The blogger, who we now know is Wayne Leman, is hoping that the truth about the TNIV gets out there because there has been a lot of criticism about the translation. Like him and others, I also feel that the TNIV has taken overly heavy criticism from other “brothers and sisters.” Why can’t we all get along? I do feel bad about the onslaught of critique toward the TNIV. Its translators are accused of embarking on a liberal social agenda of feminizing the bible, which I am sure does not exist. Both the TNIV and NLT translation teams are still conservative. The names on the translation teams and where they are associated are evangelical. It is difficult to accuse the TNIV of having a left-leaning social agenda. It still renders some definitions of terms in a traditional way. Here is an example where the TNIV has continued using a traditional translation. The TNIV’s use arsenokoitai (Greek: “lying with men”) is rendered in a traditional non-gender neutral way. Note: the Greek use of arsenokoitai in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 is can be translated as “lying with men” (from Scott-Liddell lexicon); but if we use a gender-neutral approach, one could translate this as “lying with men and women”. Both the TNIV and NLT have kept the use of the term “homosexuality” rather than using it in a gender-neutral term like “sodomite” (RE: 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10). If we assume a gender-neutral approach, then the NRSV’s translation of “sodomite” might also be the gender-accurate translation because it is not necessarily a male-on-male act of sodomy. This is only one example where the TNIV and NLT have continued using a traditional approach in translation.
Bible readers might not yet know that the New Living Translation now has a second edition, the NLT(2004). Tyndale’s first edition in 1997 was very good, but the 2004 edition, which I’ll call NLT2, is even better. The new improved quality caught my attention recently. Thanks to Tyndale House marketing for offering to send me their preview booklet (now that’s proactive marketing). The NLT2 is very nice to read, so much so that I have found the Scriptures exciting to read again. It’s almost like reading a new book. Personally, I feel that it is so good that, recently, I have been reading the NLT2 more than any other translation. It is quite apparent that its linguistic styling makes the reading of the text flow smoothly, even more so than the first edition. I compared the NLT(1997) with the NLT(2004) and found a vast amount of revisions. Try doing a side-by-side comparison, and you’ll notice the improvement in the crispness, clarity, and understandability… and if you’re into biblical scholarship, accuracy as well. Tyndale’s bible translation team continues to use top evangelical scholars so I think we can trust it for accuracy and the newest updates in the world of biblical scholarship. It a much higher readability than older dynamic-paraphrase versions, e.g., Good News Translation (GNT), Contemporary English Version (CEV), Living Bible (LB), New English Bible (NEB). And it definitely flows more smoothly than the more formal translations, e.g., T/NIV, ESV, NASB, N/KJV, and N/RSV. As a kid, I read the Good News bible for personal devotions but I predict that the NLT2 will be the next great bible for kids (if it’s not one already). The NLT2 is also a bible for the Gen-Xers and Millennials because it speaks their language.
In comparing gender-neutral/inclusive translations, the NLT2 will be a good stiff competitor to the TNIV. I wouldn’t be surprised if the NLT2 continues to gain a bigger readership than it already has; moreover, it may even keep potential TNIV purchasers at bay. The TNIV is a really great translation and I use it for study amongst other translations. But if readers compare the NLT2 with the TNIV for ease of readability, I predict many will be quite impressed with the NLT2. The new generation of bible readers who prefer the TNIV would do so because they may already be familiar with the language of the NIV and/or want a translation less dynamic but not as formal as the NASB, ESV, NKJV, or NRSV. Let’s keep in mind that the NLT2 is meant to be a dynamic translation. It will win over some, but not all, NIV readers. To date, the NIV has gained such a large readership in the evangelical world that its fortress-like stronghold on the bible market may have seemed impenetrable, but given the NLT2’s new improved quality, the NLT2 has real potential to breakout of its current status of “alternate translation to the NIV.” Who knows? It may even have the potential to compete head-to-head with the NIV as the first bible of choice?
This baptistry of the Lateran was built in the 4th century in Rome. It was one of the first public baptistries built by Emperor Constantine after his conversion to Christianity. Historically, Christian converts were baptized once a year on the eve of Easter. People in droves were baptized by immersion in this octagonal shaped pool. When you look up at the dome inside (which itself is supported by 8 columns), you’ll see an image of the dove of the Spirit in the center. Some baptistries built after this were very large and could hold many baptisms. Before Constantine, baptistries such as this one did not exist. In fact, Christians lived could only live out their faith in secret and were regularly fed to the lions as a game-sport or were burned alive. (Thank God for the working of the Spirit upon political leaders). Before Constantine Christians were likely baptized in secret. It might also be possible that the practice of water baptism was not ritualized like it is today. One thing for sure is that the method of baptism, as a ritual in the post-Constantine period, was done by immersion. It was only in the 6th century that baptism by sprinkling was used with the baptismal font. After the 9th century, infant baptism slowly became popular and fewer baptistries were built.