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A Trinitarian Discussion

December 4, 2007

Over the past several weeks, this blog site has discussed much on a Trinitarian understanding of God and its implications on the Church.  John Beeson and I (John Starke) have been having a lengthy conversation on how to speak of God when it comes to images.  I think it is such an interesting topic that I thought I would post our discussion.  I know John Beeson and I will continue this conversation, both on this blog and in person, but I would like to welcome any other feedback or comments on this topic.  John Beeson and I are both evangelical and complimentarians and it would interesting to hear other opinion within our camp and outside of it.

The discussion below are in response to the post How Does a Trinitarian Understanding of God Shape Ecclesiology (2).

John Beeson November 21, 2007

John, you say:
“Yet, an orthodox position would heavily argue for a masculine use for God and any feminine application to God would be simply metaphoric and not meant to apply to his personhood.”
Musn’t our use of both the fatherhood and motherhood of God be used metaphorically? The Orthodox position, it seems to me, must affirm the preference for referring to the first person of the Trinity as Father (as was Jesus’ custom), however, it is not as though our category of “Fatherness” really defines the first person of the Trinity. It is rather the inverse. The first person of the Trinity should define our understanding of true “fatherness.”

John Starke November 21, 2007

Hey John, Thanks for the comment. I think you are right in the sense that even the masculine use of God is metaphoric, since God is not defined as either, but Scripture does explicitly use masculine terms as “him” and “Father” that does reach farther than a metaphoric use. Surely, his fatherhood defines our fatherhood rather than the reverse, but I don’t think his fatherhood is metaphoric in the same way his “motherhood” is metaphoric. I don’t think Scripture allows us to make that parallel. What do you think?

<!– @ 1:25 pm –>John Beeson November 21, 2007

I think maybe the difficulty here is that “metaphor” doesn’t really quite “do the trick” here… but neither do any other words. says metaphoric is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money); broadly : figurative language.”

Obviously that is not really what I mean when I say the masculine use “Father” is metaphoric for the first person of the Trinity. I think more what I mean is that it is incomplete. Does scripture refer to God strictly in masculine language? Sure. How much meaning can we assess to that? I’m not sure.

In Trinitarian terms I think we must refer to the second person of the Trinity in masculine language. The particularity of Jesus of Nazareth is, in fact, who the second person of the Trinity is.

But when it comes to the first and third members of the Trinity, it’s a little slippier. I think that it is most appropriate to refer to both in the masculine, but I think that the fact is they are beyond the masculine and, in fact, contain feminineness in themselves as well.


Well, if
A) we are made in God’s image
B) being man and women is more than “skin deep”
then the essence of womanhood must be contained in God himself somehow.

Your thoughts?

John Starke November 26, 2007

John, Yes, it is an interesting paradox that God references to himself and is referenced to in masculine terms in Scripture and yet women image God just as much as men. Imaging God, then, does not primarily have to do with our sex. The common feminist phrase, “If God is male then male is God” does not seem to work in my opinion.
Yet, I don’t think this forces God, even the first and third person, to be a-sexual or “pan”-sexual. Since God refers to himself as Father and Son, giving himself masculine pronouns and so forth, there seems to me to be a peculiar masculine sense to him. It is certainly most appropriate to refer to him as masculine and not feminine.
Sorry about the delay is response. Lets keep talking.

John Beeson November 29, 2007I heartily agree with your critique of “If God is male then male is God,” and yet I am fearful of the statement “Imaging God, then, does not primarily have to do with our sex.” Surely I agree that our imaging of God is not primarily a sexual imaging… and yet, I think there is something confusing about that statement as well. It begins to hint at the egalitarian perspective that sexuality is a secondary and even inconsequential human characteristic. (If you don’t understand why I say this, then ask away and I’ll explain.)

Let me ask two questions that confuses me: are the angels (who are asexual) created in the image of God? Does our sexuality have anything to do with superiority to the angels?

Finally, let me ask another question: in the whole discussion as to whether or not God is male, female, or asexual, what exactly do we mean by that (outside of the fact that the second person of the Trinity is clearly male)? Obviously we’re not referring to sexual organs. We’re also not referring to levels of testosterone or estrogen… we’re referring to some sort of “maleness,” right? But what does that mean? Are we referring to the “headship” position of the male? If so, then it seems that is appropriate for the Father, but inappropriate for the Son and Spirit. If all we’re doing is being faithful to scriptural usage, I’m fine with that. I would, in fact, find relating to God with feminine pronouns in a church service unorthodox… but only because I feel like it breaks a scriptural precedent.


John Starke December 1, 2007

John, Thanks for the questions. I think I am able to clarify what I meant by answering those questions. I cannot finish my thought right now, but let me at least start. I certainly think our sex has something to do with how we image God, just not primarily. I just don’t want to say primarily because I think my wife images God as female just as much I do. So my maleness is not the primary category that is imaging God. But there is certainly something beyond sexual organs, hormones, etc. that is “male” about God that does not limit the female creation from imaging him as much as male. I will get back to this soon, but feel free to make any other comments or questions meanwhile. There is certainly a mystery to all this that limits is difficult I believe. I don’t know what I mean when I say that God is neither male, female, or asexual. Do you? ) I will do some more thinking.

One Comment leave one →
  1. John permalink
    December 19, 2007 3:13 am

    Silence… well, I guess the blogosphere isn’t exactly brimming with answers on this one! The fundamental truth has to be that God is the one who defines sexuality, not man. Of course we know that, but it’s easy to slide to the other side of the speak in our fervor to put forward a complementarian theology.

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