Jesus Got a Sex-Change (Sort of…)

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The manliest Jesus ever? Probably...Last week, John Piper claimed that "God has given Christianity a masculine feel". One of my favorite bloggers, Rachel Held Evans, asked her male readers to respond to Piper’s claims. Here’s my response:

In setting up his comment, Piper claims among other things that:

"The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter…".

As a whole, Piper’s claims are riddled with problems, misunderstandings and absurdities throughout, but I would like to address Piper’s claim about Jesus – that he is eternally Son, and therefore eternally masculine in some defining way.

Piper is wrong. Eternally, Jesus embodies both the masculine and the feminine.

John’s Gospel gives us the most theological understanding of who Jesus is. In his first chapter, John presents Jesus as the incarnation of the divine Word, who was with God at the beginning of creation, and who is God:

Medieval Art often pictured Jesus as pierced in the breast. His blood became our milk. Pretty feminine image...In the beginning the Word already existed.
      The Word was with God,
      and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
      and nothing was created except through him…
The Word became human and made his home among us. — John 1:1-3, 14

The connection to Genesis 1 is clear – Jesus is the Word God spoke, the creative aspect of God who shapes the world.

When we look at Jesus, we see God’s creative intention in the world.

John wasn’t the first biblical writer to discuss this aspect of God. The Old Testament scriptures talk about divine Wisdom this same way. Proverbs 8 most clearly presents Wisdom as this creative force:

Lady Wisdom. Definitely femenine.The LORD formed me from the beginning, before he created anything else. I was appointed in ages past, at the very first, before the earth began…

I was there when he set the limits of the seas, so they would not spread beyond their boundaries. And when he marked off the earth’s foundations, I was the architect at his side. I was his constant delight, rejoicing always in his presence.
– Proverbs 8:22-30 (NLT)

The ancient Israelites understood Wisdom to be that creative aspect of God, that labored with God to create, that presence that pervades the created world.

Several New Testament writers understand that divine Wisdom was not just a tool God created to use for creation, but is in fact the Second Person of the Trinity.

Jesus is the incarnation of Divine Wisdom. Divine Wisdom is the Second Person of the Trinity.

Lady Wisdom. Definitely femenine.Throughout the Old Testament, Divine Wisdom is presented as a female. Nowhere is Wisdom referred to with masculine language. Wisdom is always female. Until the New Testament, when Wisdom becomes human. Then Wisdom gets a sex-change, so to speak. Wisdom becomes male.

In the Incarnation, Jesus becomes male. But before the incarnation, if we take the Scriptures seriously, Jesus was female. And that shouldn’t bother us. That should encourage us.

Eternally, Jesus is both male and female. Which is exactly what we should expect, since it takes both male and female to reflect God fully. (Genesis 1:27)

Another disturbingly motherly portrait of Jesus, this time explicitly offering us his breast as nourishment.A full, robust Christianity is both masculine and feminine. Our best understanding of all three persons of the Trinity is both masculine and feminine. And that includes even Jesus.

A Christianity that is only masculine is malformed. Churches that embody only the masculine do not present a full, robust and accurate picture of God to the world.

The Incarnation of Lady Wisdom as Jesus of Nazareth invites both men and women to find their home in Christ.

Because of the Incarnation, all of us, male or female, masculine or feminine find hope in Lady Wisdom’s promise:

Whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the LORD. But those who miss me injure themselves. All who hate me love death.
— Proverbs 8:35-36 (NLT)

YOUR TURN: How do you connect with Jesus? Do you tend towards a more masculine or feminine faith? What can you learn from the other aspect of Christianity?

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  • Anonymous

    I like this and find it to be something I need to consider me. I definitely tend to think of God in more masculine imagery. God “the Father,” Jesus “the Son,” and so on, mostly from cultural pressures to do so, if I’m honest. One question, though: You say, “Several New Testament [writers?] understand that divine Wisdom was not just a tool God created to use for creation, but is in fact the Second Person of the Trinity.” Could you point me to some of those passages so I can mull them over some more? Thanks.

  • http://www.jrforasteros.com JR. Forasteros

    Yes! The writer of Colossians uses a Christ-as-Wisdom hymn in chapter 1. This these is all through John’s gospel (Jesus as Wisdom/Torah, Jesus as greater than Moses) and then in the Revelation, especially the first five chapters.

    And nice catch on that typo :D Thanks!!

  • Filmboi

    I always viewed God as masculine and honestly always saw Jesus as a hipster, sensitive type of dude. Masculine but very much in touch with his feminine side. I guess I’m kinda the same way so it’s not too much a stretch for me. No doubt I view the Holy Spirit as feminine. 

  • Marveling

    “Yes”, to Both Masculine and Feminine attributes,  but really “Yes”, to neither.   While we are created in in the image of the Divine, we are so unable to grasp how unfathomable God is. “we don’t know, what we don’t know.”   God has chosen to reveal to us, glimpses of how to understand aspects of the Divine nature.  The image of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a glimpse of God, Yet we see through this image darkly and try to define the infinite with words of the finite.  I think we are meant to marvel at each of His revelations to humainty.

  • Bryne Lewis

    Piper’s point that Jesus is a “Son” not a daughter can actually lead in an interesting direction. Is Jesus’s incarnation as male an expression of divine maleness? Or is it  more likely a reflection of a first century culture that denied women freedom of mobility, an influential voice and personal autonomy? If Jesus had been born a woman, she would have found it very difficult to challenge effectively the political and religious norms of the day; women did not have access to the public forum, much less the power to occupy it. I think Jesus’s maleness is a historical contingency much more than a proclaimation of masculinity.

  • Markman700

    I think you have missed the point of Piper’s quote.  The fact is that God chose to reveal himself in flesh as a male. Through out the bible the majority of people God uses are male and the minority are female. This does give the bible a heavier masculine feel to it. I do not think God was forced to use males because of the cultural standards, but laid it out that way. 

    Also, you may not was to hear this but you and piper are making the same point about getting both a masculine and feminine view of Christianity, only you are looking from the opposite sides. He look to get more of a masculine feel back into christian you are implying to add more feminine feel into Christianity. 

    Anyway, I think it is important for us to view the parts as they are communicated. What is God teaching us by attributing wisdom as feminine? What is God teaching us  by attributing so many male figures to leadership through out the Bible? 

  • DoctorBombay

     “What can you learn from the other aspect of Christianity?”

    I would say that the need for this argument (or response) does not exist. For Piper to say that, ‘God has given Christianity a masculine feel…’ does not imply that there is no feminine side to Jesus nor does it say that Christianity does not speak to femininity. There is a masculine side and feminine side to every created person…including that of the character of Jesus. Jesus IS eternally ‘son.’ To imply that he is eternally masculine does not imply that He has no feminine traits…as no man is without.

    As there are Biblical teachings for men, and for women, and for
    masculine women, and feminine men, let us be obedient. Let us be godly.
    The world has blurred the meaning of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine.’ To
    address these issues in a Biblical manner separates men and women only
    as much as God intended. Piper was speaking to men; to pastors, about a faith that has a masculine feel.

    There is much teaching in the Bible about masculinity, and much teaching about femininity. Teachings on both are beneficial to men and to women. They are not two separate ‘aspects of Christianity.’

      Let us not be over-anxious to make the Christ into our liking.

  • http://www.jrforasteros.com JR. Forasteros

    Lol… hipster, eh? As in “I was crucified before it was cool”? Thanks for your thoughts; many Church fathers throughout history have interacted with the Holy Spirit as a female (something I learned very recently).

    I’ve always tended to interact with God as a male. That’s how I was raised. I’m still trying to figure out how to relate to God as either/both.

  • http://www.jrforasteros.com JR. Forasteros

    I actually just got off the phone with Tom about this very issue:

    It’s interesting that even though Jesus was born in humility in several ways, he also held some positions of power: he was born Jewish and male. Either being born Gentile or female would’ve made Jesus even MORE of an outsider.

    All that to say, I agree – Jesus’ maleness was primarily contingent, though it’s also pretty awesome that both males and females can find themselves in Jesus.

  • http://www.jrforasteros.com JR. Forasteros

    Piper wasn’t talking about the Bible – which is, as you note, clearly more masculine (having been written exclusively in Patriarchal cultures). Piper was arguing that Christianity is masculine – and not feminine.

    I whole-heartedly disagree with Piper’s position. Any Christianity that discounts the Feminine is missing half of our faith. It takes both Male and Female to bear fully the image of God (Gen 1:27).

    All that to say, what really concerns me about Piper’s comments is that he denigrates women to second-class persons and Christians. Per his comments, women only find fulfillment in a fully masculine Christianity.

    On the contrary, neither men nor women find fulfillment in a FULLY masculine Christianity. We need both.

  • http://www.jrforasteros.com JR. Forasteros

    It’s certainly not about absolutes. Piper acknowledges that Christianity speaks to women. But by claiming Christianity is primarily, dominantly a masculine religion, Christianity only speaks to women as second-class persons. Women can only participate in the Gospel of Jesus if they submit to a system that excludes the fullness of their personhood.

    That Jesus is the Incarnation of Divine Wisdom means that he cannot be eternally only masculine, as Piper wants to argue.

    Further, we have to recognize that Gender is a socially constructed category; as such, terms like “masculine” and “feminine” have different meanings in different cultures (as opposed to sex – male/female, which is biological). So to say that the Bible outlines “true” Gender while the world confuses Gender is reductionist.

    Finally, if masculine and feminine aren’t different aspects of our lives, why have two different words for them? And if they’re different aspects of our lives, then certainly exploring how faith can look different through those different lenses can be fruitful.

  • DoctorBombay

     The Scripture points to Christianity being led in masculinity, and makes no mistake to do so. Piper isn’t formulating that message. Although the Bible was written in a time where women were second-class–as some other replying notes have pointed out–the message of masculinity within the scriptures does not diminish the role of a woman. There is too much masculine (male specific) language, male leadership, and male importance with regard to the Father and the Son in the Bible to say that there isn’t some dominance of masculinity. (Masculinity meaning ‘male’, not ‘spitting on a carburetor.’)

    In the faith-based-on-Scripture sense of the word, masculinity does dominate the leadership of the Christian faith. And Piper was talking to male leaders of the faith.

    Sociologically, we have defined ‘masculine and feminine’ in different ways depending on culture, depending on personal background, depending on suffering, depending on personal preference, depending on….
    Our misuse or mis-definition of the words does not excuse how the Bible actually treats men and women, nor the reasons why God chose to do so. If that is reductionist, then I still choose to look to the Scriptures rather than culture.

    As to looking at masculinity and femininity as different aspects of our lives, two different words in the English language–with separate meanings to our faith, I have no qualms…nor do I respond as such.  They can be seen as clearly defined in the Bible, and I don’t believe matters of gender in the Scripture are accidental (ie. Jesus was born male, God is referred to as Father, the apostles were male, leaders and Kings were male, God created men and women different; with different roles).

    Our culture is hasty to define everything in our own terms. It’s why ‘sin’ is ‘intolerance’, ‘hell’ is non-existent, and ‘love’ is a baby with a bow & arrow.

  • Elissa Jones

    Thanks, JR.  I so appreciate your comments and the calm eloquence with which you make them.

    I was raised in the United Methodist tradition, which has been engaging women fully in ministry for some time.  But it was teaching in a Catholic school (ironically?) which gave me my most powerful image of God’s femininity: Mary, the mother of Christ.  I am too thoroughly Protestant to venerate la Virgen in the Catholic sense, but her inclusion and constant presence helped me to rethink my image of God.  Now that I am a mother, I feel it even more strongly – how God could relate to me as a woman, as a Mama.

  • Bryne Lewis

    yet another reason to love tom. 

  • http://www.jrforasteros.com JR. Forasteros

    We clearly have a pretty sharp disagreement somewhere. I’m going to list my assumptions in order. Help me figure out where our disagreement starts:

    1. There’s no such thing as an ‘objective, acultural’ reading of Scripture. All readings of Scripture are formed by culture. 

    You say that you prefer “to look to Scriptures rather than culture”. But that’s a false dichotomy. Actually, you prefer to look to a reading of Scripture formed in a more masculine, complementarian culture, while I prefer to look to readings formed in a more balanced, egalitarian culture.

    2. The predominance of masculine language in the Bible is shocking not because it’s there, but because it’s not 100% masculine. 

    The Bible was written in cultures where the position of women WAS denigrated (contrary to your claims: in the worlds of the Scriptures, women were considered property. They were not as fully human as men). As such, we shouldn’t find ANY indications in the Scriptures that women can lead. We shouldn’t find ANY references to God or Jesus as a woman. But – as has been noted on scores of other blogs in this recent discussion – the Scriptures are filled with women leading in place of men and God and Jesus often use feminine metaphors for themselves.

    That doesn’t sound like a big deal to our modern ears, but it was positively scandalous in the Ancient World. If we are to be faithful interpreters of the Scriptures, we should let that scandalize our own contemporary complementarian sensibilities as well.

    3. None of this means we should have a matriarchal Church. But it does mean we shouldn’t have a patriarchal Church.

    To bear fully the image of God, we need both men and women. Both the masculine and the feminine. A proper, grounded, historically-attentive reading of the scriptures demands nothing less.

    Finally, this isn’t an assumption, but rather a point of order. In your final paragraph, you seem to be asserting that you are a faithful reader of the Scriptures, while I am following cultural trends. Sin, Hell and Love haven’t come up once. Your comments skew towards ad hominem argumentation, which is neither fair nor helpful.

    I would prefer you engage me as a fellow believer who has as deep a love for the Scriptures and for God as you yourself do. I would prefer you assume (if you don’t know, give me the benefit of the doubt) that I have sound, biblically grounded reasons for holding to the theology I do.

    Okay, where in those points to you disagree?

  • http://www.blackcoffeereflections.com/ Tim Ghali

    I’m with you JR – (post about it too “Does Piper’s “Masculine Christianity” Undermine Women, Men and the Scriptures?” – http://www.blackcoffeereflections.com/?p=3956).  

    While I don’t appreciate Piper’s desire for a more masculine Christianity, I admit that I do tend to impose my subjectivity towards God.  Examples include that a masculine, middle-eastern feel who speaks English.  Could be because I’m a male, Middle-easterner born in the States type of guy though.  

    Given my presuppositions, I intentionally try to seek a fuller understanding of God.  Though it sounds odd, the Scriptures do give feminine descriptions of God and though some find it hard to understand, it’s actually way ahead of its time given it’s a Jewish male-dominated society.  
    See you around JR.

  • Gary

    I am glad to see a masculine image of Jesus. He had to be strong to be a carpenter and to clear the temple of money changers, etc. Our male children need to see a nonfemine Jesus or they will turn away from church as an adult. The problem is that they see the church tailoring worship, and all church designs, decor, and social and worship functions to womans tastes. Adult males know it, see it and feel it the moment they come to church with their wives dragging them. If we don’t have young adult males there won’t be any females. Churches need masculine pastors who are not milk toasts, but it seems that unless males can be males in church they will take  up a desired sport they are good at and not return. Male youth will too. 

    Males need to be male with masculine male leaders in male groups otherwise churches will not retain skilled male leaders in every sense of the word.
     

  • http://www.jrforasteros.com JR. Forasteros

    Thanks for your comments, Gary!

    I guess my problem is that I grew up in the Church and never felt that Jesus was “feminized”. I’ve never felt emasculated by the Church, or that the Church didn’t have a place for manly men.
    What I have seen a lot of is the Church telling women they’re second-class people because of their gender. And that’s what I’m interested in putting a stop to.

  • Donald Borsch Jr.

    Romans 8:14-
    “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”

    The New Covenant is an eternal covenant of adoptive sonship.
    “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”- Galatians 4:6

    In Christ there is indeed no male, female, slave, free, Greek, Jew. There are only sons. Just like Jesus was/is. It is not an affrontage or slam on a woman’s natural femininity to be called as a son. Far from it. Just as God circumcizes our hearts, all of us male or female, He also renders us into the spiritual image of His Son upon Salvation.

    This truth indeed causes feminists to bristle, but The Scripture is pretty clear about it. Besides, knowing that The Kingdom is a Monarchy, what inheritance does a daughter receive as opposed to what a son receives? Exactly.

  • http://www.jrforasteros.com JR. Forasteros

    Thanks for your thoughts, Donald!

    I think a feminist would respond that the Scriptures are communicating a spiritual truth (our relationship with God) through a cultural metaphor (Fathers, Sons and Inheritance).

    Today, inheritance isn’t patriarchal – the eldest son doesn’t automatically inherit the lion’s share of the father’s estate. So the language you cite above can be confusing to modern ears raised in a culture formed by non-patrilinial inheritance laws.

    In other words, Paul calling us all “sons” was a metaphorical, cultural move that doesn’t meant the same thing today. Paul wasn’t calling all women to become men.

    To insist that Paul’s cultural metaphor makes Christianity somehow inherently male (which you did not, but some do) is to make a claim that won’t support itself under full, healthy exegesis of those texts.

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