In my community church we make a decided effort to remove any unnecessary masculine pronouns from our worship reading materials. At first blush this might seem to be just a case of political correctness. But some people, many of them women, have voiced their concerns over what they perceive as an overtly patriarchal depiction of God. One result of this, they say, is the unwarranted and insensitive exclusion of women from leadership roles in much of the Church. The new found fascination with the “Gospel of Mary Magdelene” and the book and movie “The Da Vinci Code” has been attributed to the sense of loss and lack of completeness that some Christians feel in a church that over-emphasizes the maleness of God as both father and son. Do their complaints have any validity? In the Hebrew Scriptures, the book of Proverbs personifies wisdom as a woman, which is apparently no mere poetic tool, as the Hebrew word for wisdom is Sophia. Whenever God’s wisdom is proclaimed then the feminine name ‘Sophia’ (with it’s corresponding feminine pronoun) is used.
Wisdom (Sophia) calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech: Proverbs 1: 20-21
Jesus’ “Way”, as well as Jesus himself, is often talked of as having to do with his, or God’s, wisdom. Jesus’ (or Wisdom’s) way is also alluded to in the Hebrew Scriptures, as in this example from the book of Job;
God understands the way of Wisdom and He knows the place of it [Wisdom is with God alone]. Job 28:23
When written in Hebrew, this last scripture verse would use Sophia instead of Wisdom and feminine pronouns instead of the gender neutral word;’it’. It would also seem to anticipate this statement of Jesus’ found in John’s gospel;
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:6-7
In John’s Gospel Jesus is seen as wisdom, or in the Greek; Logos. When you replace the phrase ‘the Word’ (or Logos) in John’s opening lines with the word ‘Wisdom’ it works just as well. Being a Jew, John would have known that the Hebrew word for Logos was Sohia and in that case would have used the feminine pronoun. When read this way it has a much different ring to it:
In the beginning was Wisdom, and Wisdom was with God, and Wisdom was God. She was in the beginning with God. All things were made through her, and without her was not any thing made that was made. In her was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1
So, is the Church guilty of editing God’s feminine qualities out of the Bible? It is stressed that God has no gender, that we only use masculine terms because we need to use something, and masculine pronouns sound so much more poetic than impersonal, gender-neutral ones. Of course, Jesus did refer to God the Father, not God the Mother. But what about Jesus’ (or the Holy Spirit’s) qualities? If the marriage between man and woman is analogous to the bond that exists within the Trinity perhaps it makes sense to see God as not without gender but instead both male and female.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27