The Feminine Side of God in the Bible

Most believers think of God as masculine. This is true not only of those who embrace patriarchy but of believers generally. It is easy to see why; both testaments were written by people in patriarchal cultures, so the Old Testament often depicts God as a militant, male war God, and in the New Testament God is the loving Father. It is almost natural to assume that God has male characteristics. Just think of Michelangelo’s painting of the bearded creator God in the Sistine Chapel.

One very negative result is that, even today, men are often considered to be much more like God than women are, which leads to a certain denigration of women as not being like God as men are. But if we think just a little bit we should realize that God is neither male nor female; God is probably beyond gender altogether. Our thinking of God in gender terms is only metaphor for an entity we cannot fully comprehend.

Adam's Creation, Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo

Adam’s Creation, Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo

Feminine Metaphors for God in the Bible: Shelter Under Your Wings

However, there are a number of biblical passages that use feminine metaphorical references for God. For example, when Boaz learns how Ruth treated her mother-in-law so well, he says in Ruth 2:

May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.

While a psalmist says in Psalm 17:

Hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who are out to destroy me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.

Psalm 36:

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

And Psalm 57 says:

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.

These are metaphorical images of a caring bird, perhaps an eagle, protecting those under her wings. None of the passages specifically state that the protective wings are female, but Jesus does as he picks up the imagery in his lament over Jerusalem in Luke 13:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

Feminine Metaphors for God in the Bible: God as Mother

Three times the prophet Isaiah compares God metaphorically to a human mother. In Isaiah 42, the prophet says:

For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.

In chapter 49:

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

And in chapter 66:

As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.

Other books of the Bible reflect this as well. Deuteronomy 32:

You forgot the God who gave you birth.

Hosea 11:

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.

In chapter 13 Hosea is a little rough in his motherly description:

Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open.

The writer of Psalm 131 said:

I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.

Luke describes several metaphorical descriptions of God seeking the lost: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. One of the metaphors depicts God as a father, but another likens God to a woman. Chapter 15:

Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

Is God Feminine Then?

Do these passages prove that God is female or at least has a feminine side? Of course not! Just as masculine references to God in the Bible do not prove that God is male. These are simply metaphors; I am convinced that God is actually beyond gender.

I have a good blogger friend; I’ll call her Julie. Because of widespread misuse of God as male, Julie will have nothing to do with a masculine God; she even rejects the word ‘God’ itself as having masculine associations. Her God(dess) is entirely feminine, which might seem to lean a bit to the opposite error but certainly is not harmful as Christian patriarchy is in its misguided view of a male God.

Julie has been greatly influential on my being more consistent in using Father/Mother God or the prepositions ‘he/she’ and ‘his/her’, as I don’t want to support images of an exclusively male God that consciously or subconsciously help drive harmful views both in Christian patriarchy and in general Christianity.

I believe we can think of God in ways that makes sense to us, as long as we don’t take those thoughts as actual definitions of God. And we should especially avoid using perspectives of a male God to diminish women and girls to anything less than full equality in the eyes of our loving Mother/Father God. Let us give this issue serious thought instead of boxing God in with our simplistic assumptions.

Articles from this series: Harmful Christian Patriarchy
See also:

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68 Responses to The Feminine Side of God in the Bible

  1. JJS says:

    I used to attend a church that used inclusive language from the pulpit, which I fully support. I was surprised by how many people struggled with it. It can be difficult and clumsy to implement at first, but I think it does make an enormous difference in exposing and healing the way our use of language divides us. Good post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      JJS, I would love that! I have never been part of a church that consistently used inclusive language.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      As long as this doesn’t tip over into intolerance toward those who inadvertently use a term that is not ‘allowed’. Who defines the sin of incorrectness?

      Liked by 2 people

      • JJS says:

        Such a good point, Chas! Some people, in their enthusiasm, were unnecessarily harsh when addressing a new liturgist or guest speaker who wasn’t quite fluent in inclusive language. Inclusiveness itself can become an idol if it distracts us from grace.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Doug Stratton says:

    I have sought to avoid pronouns altogether when speaking of God, for me, this is much more accurate and also avoids the clumsy himself/herself references. Having said that, the language we use of God is vitally important. I have found that when I consciously change my language, the attitudes that accompany the words change as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Doug, I agree with you: “I have found that when I consciously change my language, the attitudes that accompany the words change as well.” Just consciously changing our language can affect our assumptions and our attitudes. Great point!

      Like

  3. tonycutty says:

    I have also read that ‘El Shaddai’ can be translated as ‘a pair of breasts’. And I’m not kidding; go Google it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lilly says:

    Beautifully & thoughtfully written. The kind of thinking that can draw more people to think about God positively, instead of seeing an angry, vengeful being.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thomas Harp says:

    Regarding feminine imagery for God, consider Genesis 3:21 where God made clothes for Adam and Eve before expelling them from the garden.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. newtonfinn says:

    What an uplifting, liberating shift from the downer of patriarchy to the upper of the “female” attributes of God! I have read in the meaty and fascinating novel “Gospel” by Wilton Barnhardt, who immersed himself in Early Church scholarship before spinning his spellbinding tale of a frantic search for a lost gospel, that the Aramaic word “Ruah,” the Spirit, is of female gender, as it is in Hebrew and Arabic. Among the rich and provocative historical footnotes in the novel, is this gem: “Sophia is the Hebrew spirit of Wisdom, whose Graeco-Jewish and Christian cult peaks from 100 BCE-100s CE; she became popular enough to threaten the all-masculine theology of the time. The Wisdom of Solomon, a song in praise to this female spirit of wisdom (ca. 100 BCE), was the most pervasive work concerning Sophia and elements show up…in Philo and John (who both borrow the preconceived logos), and in Deutero-Paul’s epistles Ephesians and Hebrews. Sophia and the Holy Spirit were synonymous for much of the Early Church; Byzantium’s greatest church, the Haga Sophia in Istanbul, built by the Emporer Justinian in 548, is not to a female St. Sophia (as was later claimed) but to the divine, female spirit of Wisdom.”

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Chas says:

    Tim, you forgot mother of heaven.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “both testaments were written by people in patriarchal cultures,
    One very negative result is that, even today, men are often considered to be much more like God than women are, which leads to a certain denigration of women as not being like God as men are. But if we think just a little bit we should realize that God is neither male nor female; God is probably beyond gender altogether. Our thinking of God in gender terms is only metaphor for an entity we cannot fully comprehend.”

    There is only one problem with your premise, and it is based on your own Site name —Jesus Only.
    Jesus constantly referred to His Heavenly Father for inspiration, never His mother, or brother or sister. Not even His earthly father, and never His Heavenly Mother.

    He came to this earth as a man through a human parent who God the Holy Spirit impregnated and who was female. Had He really wanted to make your point, why didn’t He perform a different miracle and have a man birth a woman savior. Just asking?

    I am certainly not against women, in fact I think it hypocritical to believe that only men can Preach in some American denomination pulpits, or serve as Deacons when most missionaries even they send over seas are women. But I think that possibly in keeping with your doctrine of heaven for all including Hitler, that you must in consideration of the LGABCDEFXYZ community create a Neutral non masculine, (or feminine really) god who would find no fault with any deviation from the norm. Help me here Tim, what is the real reason that God cannot be a man as He is depicted? PS. You need me, things were getting boring without me. Jerry Parks

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Jerry, Jesus also lived in a patriarchal society. And it was he who spoke of the loving Father in contrast the angry god often depicted in the OT. I think ‘Father’ was a useful term in his patriarchal society in terms of relationships. ‘Father’ was not a definition of God’s gender.

      Like

      • So you don’t think that Jesus the Son of God could extract Himself from what in your mind is a false reality in order to share with His creation the truth. I rather think Truth was His main objective since He states “I am the Truth”. It would seem to me Tim, that you have added some garments and baggage to Jesus that just won’t fit.

        Like

        • Chas says:

          attesc, you seem to have missed a point that we discussed previously. Because the bible was written by men (both New and Old Testaments), they portrayed God as male. There is no reason to believe that the Son of God referred to God as his Father, although it was necessary for him to believe that he was the Son of God. Put the bible in its true context and you get rid of all the baggage.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Charles, not sure what the “true” context is to you. I don’t think you mean that the Bible explains itself? So you probably mean the context of history? I normally judge the Bible based on its fulfilled prophetic statements. In which case it judges itself. If a word fails to come to fruition then we have a false prophet or in this case a false book. Of course not all prophetic scripture has been fulfilled, but I expect it will be.

            Like

          • Chas says:

            The true context is that you need to accept that, because it was written by men, it contains errors, so you cannot trust anything in it without verification from an independent source. If you want an example, were ‘Daniel’ and ‘Ezra’ referred to Darius I or Darius II?

            Liked by 1 person

          • You know Chas, you remind me of a professor I had at Liberty University who any time I would bring up a good point against his unsupported doctrinal position would tell me that I just had to accept his understanding because that’s just the way it is. But I guess we all just need to quit writing because we are all men and I’m sure we have made at least one mistake in so doing. Or maybe we should get women to do our writing for us, but then better not cause we would be accused of being sexist. Sorry Chas but I feel relatively sure that you will have a very difficult time finding the truth in the Bible because you seem too interested in locating it’s errors. I love you though Chas, just remember that.

            Like

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Jerry, Jesus had an important message for us–a big one! His purpose was not to answer all our questions about little details.

          Like

          • So in your opinion He didn’t mind misleading us on the Father Mother thing, but expected us to believe Him about His dying for the sins of the world. By the way did He in your opinion actually raise from the dead? I’m not sure I ever heard you pontificate on that issue. But assuming that you believe that He did wouldn’t it be pretty difficult to believe that if He was untruthful about the little things? I’m still confused as to just what you own foundation for truth actually is. Is your truth based on science and the Bible? Or science over the Bible? Science, History and the Bible? You once seemed to like what I wrote concerning the Holy Spirit — is your truth tied to the Holy Spirits Revelation in your life? Jesus is in fact quoted as telling us that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth, and Jesus actually prayed that we would be in unity that the world would know that God Loves Both Him and those of us whom the ___ gave Him. Where do you stand on all of this. You seem to be an expert, but what is your expertise based upon?

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Jerry, I don’t believe Jesus was untruthful in little things; his introduction of God as a loving Father does not mean that God is male. And yes, I do believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Here is one place where I write about it:

            https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/what-is-the-significance-of-jesus-death-and-resurrection/

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          • Chas says:

            attesc, the mother/father thing was man’s concept, so it should not be taken seriously. In regard to the alleged resurrection of Jesus, I do not believe it. Why should I, since it is an idea that was conceived by men. It is not necessary to believe it to enter the ‘kingdom of God’, or to remain in it. The Holy Spirit is man’s concept to account for God’s acting in the world. God will lead us into the truth if we ask Him/Her and are humble enough to be led.

            Like

      • Cheryel Lemley-McRoy says:

        The first Gospel written was the Gospel of the Hebrews by James, the younger brother of Jesus, and the head of the first century church in Jerusalem. It exists today only in fragments quoted by extra biblical writers.
        One quite that survived is a saying of Jesus, ” My mother, the Holy Spirit, lifted me up.”

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Ross Jarvis says:

    On a psychological level I have always found it very difficult to relate to God and I wonder how much of that may have to do with all the “father” references. I presume a fair amount has to do with my relationship experience of my own father. Possibly all the “Father” references we hear about God push us toward imagining Father God in terms of our own fathers. Maybe a more balanced view would be to think of him in terms of “parent” combining experiences of both father and mother. In my case neither of this would probably do much good bearing in mind the parents I was “blessed” with. For those without fathers or mothers maybe this would add other “deficiencies” of experience.

    When it comes to Jesus (also God), the reference is more to a brother.

    Our own experience of God maybe is very much shaped by our own experiences of others in our lives. I’m sure you’re right in stressing the femaleness of God toward us too as this broadens our concept of God. I think the relationship needs broadening further, beyond parent which may just confer feelings of power over us, to bring in brother, sister and friend too, to some level of similarity if not equality.

    Recently I was minded to wonder about compassion toward God as He/she/It/them looked with sorrow on their own creation. Could we go as far as looking on God as child too?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Ross, I absolutely believe that our relationship with our fathers, or mothers, can have a huge influence on our relating to God as ‘father’ or ‘mother. I like your idea of thinking of Jesus as our brother, sister, or friend. In fact, there are many other ways of conceiving of God that improves our relationship to God. Well said!

      Like

    • Chas says:

      It would be necessary to dispute the view that God looks with sorrow on His (or Her) own creation with sorrow. He/She would have been well aware of the possible effects that the destructive forces that He/She put into that creation. These were necessary to change the earth itself and modify the lifeform that He/She put onto it when the conditions were right.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chas, are you saying that God knows and is responsible for every action of man? Don’t we have free will? If so could it not be that men who exemplified evil would cause a benevolent creator to sorrow?

        Like

      • Ross Jarvis says:

        I’m not sure on what grounds it’s necessary to dispute God’s sorrow. Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus, lamented over Jerusalem and in general seemed to be a “Man with Many Sorrows”. (Apparently he also regretted the whole creation so indulged in a fair amount of genecide, specicide and dry-groundicide too). You seem to imply that God created the Universe with the full knowledge and therefor intention that the “Fall” would follow. Personally I’d have to dispute the assurance of that.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Chas says:

        God certainly knows every action of man. He/She is not responsible for them, as we have free will, but He/She knows us so well (much better than we know ourselves) that He/She knows in every situation what we will decide to do. Anyone who exemplified evil would be of use to God as a destroyer, because He/She could put the person into a situation where a decision to destroy would achieve an outcome that God could see would reduce overall suffering. God would know in advance what action that person would make by free will, so He/She would not sorrow at their action.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. newtonfinn says:

    Is it not futile, and potentially dangerous, to try to figure out God with human reasoning? I have no idea how Providence works, or how God’s omnipotence interacts with human free will, but I do not believe that the God of Jesus, in whom I have faith beyond understanding, would use Hitler “as a destroyer” to somehow “reduce overall suffering” by murdering six million innocent people. I don’t think that’s what you meant by your comment, Chas, but some might read it that way. The age-old problem of evil, natural (i.e., hurricane) and human (i.e., Holocaust) is by far the most serious challenge to belief in a loving God and finds no explanation in the teaching of Jesus. He seems to take evil as a given to be overcome, as best we can, by loving actions and transcended, as much as possible, in faith. To echo the observation of NT scholar Dale Allison in “The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus” (highly recommended to all JWB readers), followers of Jesus would be wise to follow him in this respect and let the bigger picture of the interworking of good and evil remain the mystery it is, while affirming, as a matter of faith alone, that good triumphs in the end (as revealed in the resurrection).

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton: “I have no idea how Providence works, or how God’s omnipotence interacts with human free will, but I do not believe that the God of Jesus, in whom I have faith beyond understanding, would use Hitler “as a destroyer” to somehow “reduce overall suffering” by murdering six million innocent people.”

      I must agree. I don’t think God does this sort of thing–not with Hitler and not with Noah. Just as I don’t believe God manipulates physics, weather, and so forth, I don’t think God manipulates history except in that he sent Jesus to teach us about the good news of the kingdom and to overcome evil and death in his resurrection..

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      Newton, if God did not minimise overall suffering, when well able to do so, then He would not be the loving God that I believe He is. Since He used Hitler as you say, it implies that He could anticipate greater suffering if He had not done so. Remember that WWII caused the death of millions of potentially violent men.

      Liked by 1 person

      • newtonfinn says:

        Perhaps our disgreement stems from our different views about how God works in history. While I don’t exclude the possibility of occasional divine intervention, I don’t view God as a puppeteer who controls all historical events. I think that Jesus shared this view in light of two short parables about the nature of this world: that it is like a field in which wheat and weeds are allowed to grow together, or like a net in which good fish and bad fish swim together. Both mini-parables allude to a harvest or drawing in of the net (respectively), only at which time good and evil will be separated. Why things are structured this way Jesus does not explain, and, since a disciple is not above his master, I don’t think we should try to either.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Chas says:

          On the basis that the Bible was written by men, and so does not contain any actual words that the Son of God might have said, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why we should not try to understand God and His ways. If He doesn’t want us to do so, He will prevent it.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Chas says:

          ps, clearly a student who learns from only one master can never be better that the master, but if the student learns from more than one master, and puts together the things learned, or even does their own original research, then they will be capable of understanding more than any individual master.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. It makes my heart leap with joy when someone, especially a Jesus follower, refers to God with feminine pronouns. Like you I know God to be beyond gender, an the exemplar of both. I was brought up to think of God as masculine, but I have come to experience God seemingly in the gender I most need her to be in a given thought or interaction. I don’t think I am making God in my image, as this happened to me spontaneously – it is my subjective experience. I have always had a mystical tendency, but very much more so as I have grown through both ordinary and extraordinary things. At times I perceive God’s “voice” in my mind’s ear to be a gentle male voice, but at other times a gentle female one – again, it seems subject to my relational need. It is uncannily as the gender fluidity of God as depicted in “The Shack.”

    Over a fifth of my life has seen me directly exploring, confronting, rejecting and embracing aspects of gender in,my own being, and much of the rest of my,life I have done this less consciously. As a result, I have come to see “gender” as a mode of being. Most of us inhabit a point along a spectrum where “masculine” and “feminine” exit as poles. A few people experience their “mode” as shifting along this spectrum over time, and others see their modes as existing in another place alltogether. CS Lewis’ series Perelandra touches on this idea, when it describes the “patron angel” (my words) for each planet in our system as having its own gender, where Mars is masculine, Venus is feminine, and the other planets are genders beyond our understanding…it was here that so recognized “mode of being” as a useful way to describe “gender.”

    It also seems clear to me that gender transcends the physical. That is: a male human being is an embodiment of aspects of masculinity, including his physical characteristic; likewise for females. Male & female body’s to not define masculinity nor femininity, rather they are examples of *one way* that these transcendent modes are expressed…

    …In this send, even though I am most comfortable seeing myself, expressing myself and interacting with others as a woman, my actual mode of being (all things considered is quite complex due to my intersex biology and significant portions of my,live lived as a “special sort of man,” and an androgynous person, and now a “special sort of woman.” Though my gender has been stable since I was a young child, my expression of my gender has changed considerably. I was always 100% myself under the circumstances, and I have vlossomed into who I am today as a woman who occupies the blurry space between intersex and transsexual.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Brettany, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. You seem to be very comfortable thinking of God without static gender restrictions, and you demonstrate the same for yourself. Good for you!

      Liked by 1 person

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  20. michaeleeast says:

    Tim,
    Just before I read this article I wrote something for my blog called Assumptions.
    When we make contact with the real God we are prone to assumptions.
    And many of the errors of the Old and New Testaments are assumptions.
    Granting possession of lands, victory against our enemies, being always right…..
    There are numerous assumptions. All that is sure is Love. So love others and make peace.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Michael, I agree. Many of the misguided beliefs of biblical writers were assumptions based on a limited understanding of God and his/her character. The one thing I think I know about God’s character (from Jesus) is that God is love. So yes! We should love others and make peace! Well said.

      Liked by 1 person

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  22. It has long been precious truth to me that God deposited half of Their nature into men, and the other half into women, since Genesis says that we were both made in Their image (I use the pronoun “Their” here, since Elohim is plural). The metaphors in the Bible that illustrate the feminine half are exquisitely beautiful. I had meditated extensively on most of the ones you mentioned, but never before thought about the use of a woman as a metaphor for God in Luke 15. I’m truly grateful for a new one to take in deeply. Thank you for an enriching post!

    Liked by 1 person

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