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Women and the Gender of God by Amy Peeler

by
26 May 2023

The incarnation is the key, says Emma Percy

THE suggestion that the Church of England might promote gender-neutral language for God makes headlines. God is beyond gender, and yet male pronouns are often defended, owing to scripture and tradition: after all, Jesus called God Father. They are also defended by those who presume that God is masculine in the way in which he acts in the world. Such thinking has been, and still can be, utilised to limit the ways in which women can represent God. Feminist theologians have challenged these ideas, pointed to a rich variety of divine metaphors in the Bible, and affirmed that women, like men, are made in the image of God. Yet the predominantly male God-language remains.

Amy Peeler’s book addresses the issue in a new and fascinating way. She is not arguing for a different language, though she is clear about the problems of this relentless masculinity. Instead, she is arguing that, if the theology behind the language is properly understood, it cannot be used to suggest that God is male, or more like men. God is Father and Jesus is Son, but neither of these titles can, or should, be equated with male human roles.

Her theology focuses on the incarnation and specifically the virginal conception of Jesus by his mother, Mary. God is Father in the language that Jesus uses, because Mary is Mother. Yet God’s fatherhood is not like human fatherhood.

Importantly, the first Person of the Trinity does not play the male role in the conception by Mary, but, instead, acts in a unique, non-human way, with the Holy Spirit. Peeler’s exegesis of the birth narratives is insightful. She concludes that the first Person of the Trinity is rightly addressed as Father, but is not masculine and cannot be equated with a human male parent.

She explores the significance of God’s choice to become human within a woman’s body. In doing so, God hallows and honours women’s flesh, so that it should never be considered unclean or unable to hold the sacred. Moreover, the flesh of the incarnate God was female flesh from his mother, though he was fully male. So, Jesus redeems all humanity because he is born male of female flesh, the unification in one person of the image of God.

As we grapple with issues of gender and address the ways in which a “male” God has been used to oppress women, it is good to encounter such a scholarly and clearly argued theology of God, who is beyond gender. This is a book that should be widely read, not just by those interested in questions of gender, but also for the author’s theological reflections on the part played by Mary and the significance of the virginal conception.
 

Dr Emma Percy is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Divinity, History, Philosophy and Art History at the University of Aberdeen.

 

Women and the Gender of God
Amy Peeler
Eerdmans £19
(978-0-8028-7909-7)
Church Times Bookshop £17.10

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