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The original languages of the Bible itself and, to my knowledge, most of Christian history, are replete with the filial language of God being known as a “Father” and Jesus being known as his “Son”. However there are certainly enclaves of folks professing Christianity that claim that this is either given unnecessary focus or is outright misleading. Books have been written that intentionally substitute “mother” and translations are being made that remove the family relationship language altogether.

This is a multi-part question and I’m looking for a broad overview of how these pieces fit together in history, not an argument for or against any position.

  • When in Christian history is God first introduced as a male “father” figure? Have there been any turning points or changes in this imagery through different ages, regions or languages? Have any church fathers or theologians seen this a core issue to the faith?
  • Historically, which groups professing Christianity have attempted to deviate from this filial imagery? Have any notable church fathers or theologians advocated for alternate renditions? If so what works did they write and approximately what size following did they attract?
  • What is the overall (worldwide) view or trend on this issue today? What percentage of translations continue to use the language of father/son to translate the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible and what translations use something else?
  • What modern day movements advocate deviating from this tradition and which (or what kind of) denominations support them? Are there any direct parallels between these groups/translations and historical groups/translations?
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I've looked at trying to answer this question and it's just more than I can reasonably bite off. Your first point is already difficult since there's debate over whether Jesus introduced the concept of God as "Father" or if He was continuing an existing tradition. –  Jon Ericson Apr 16 '13 at 21:46

2 Answers 2

  1. It seems as early as Deuteronomy 32:6 that God is addressed as Father: Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?

  2. Historically, it appears that (at least for people who claimed Christ) that it was gnostics that primarily held a view that God was the Father, the Spirit was the "Mother", and Jesus was the Son. For some background on this an article written by a feminist to support her view of God as "mother" - http://www.womenpriests.org/body/pagels.asp.

  3. Don't know percentages but it appears that Todays NIV and NRSV are the main versions that go the gender neutral route. - http://www.bible-researcher.com/links12.html

  4. Unfortunately modern liberal protestants in general go this route (of course there are others). I've seen this in the Lutheran Church as well as the Methodist church. They go to great lengths to remove any reference to God as Father. They have changed the Trinity from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to The Creator, The Redeemer, and the Sustainer. They have changed popular hymns to remove any reference to gender.

Fortunately Scripture is clear on this matter. First we know Jesus was male, secondly Jesus who is the Son, calls God the Father, and calls the Holy Spirit "He". This wasn't just men calling God the Father, but it was Jesus the Son of God and God Himself. We don't have freedom to try to change God's Word, especially when God calls Himself that.

John 16 5“But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ 6“But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

A good article for reference - http://www.bible-researcher.com/inclusive.html

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Many people will say that God is "beyond gender" (which is a reasonable assumption), and yet go on to use exclusively male language. This has unfortunate implications and unintended effects, which the feminist language is directly intended to redress. Usually, the feminists are merely making explicit what is already an implicit doctrine. That people feel uncomfortable with that is an interesting window into their own biases. –  TRiG Apr 26 '12 at 17:27
    
Extra late reply, but that kind of ignores the terminology that God uses. Gender isn't really the point, the point is really role/position. There are roles given to men specifically as well as roles to women. Eph 5:22-33 is a good example of roles and how it relates to Christ and the Church. I could get more in depth, but to neutralize gender is to also misunderstand our roles. And just to be clear different roles does not mean inequality. As the Son is equal with the Father, but they have different roles. I'd like to hear more about the unintended effects you mentioned. –  Darye Jul 17 '13 at 7:05

That is indeed a very complex question to answer. The complexity rests more on our cultural sensibility like :

  • Not refering a group over an other (in this instance male over female)
  • Male and female equality
  • Try to make every group happy, as if you were a politician

This being said from my reformed, Calvinistic heritage I would say that God has always been seen has the Father and Jesus the son. The idea that God could be a Mother is relatively new. As explain in a book like : "The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism on Church and Culture" by Mary A. Kassian.

The Greek texts uses that terminology Father and Son, and nothing else. I mean that reading in the original Greek (for the New Testament) it is hard to understand, out of the text, how would someone translate God has mother. Especially since there were Greek female divinities, and the language would have support the naming of God in a feminine way.

So when is God introduce has a father before christianity in Jesus life and ministry, christianity is what happend after Pentacost.

16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5.48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Historically, this view has been made more popular for the feminist movement.

There are but a few translation that would go in that direction, because translating the original text in that way prove a ideology, and not the author intent.

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