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Ian Wilson

Shameless plug for a good friend: see the article by Stephen Herring in Vetus Testamentum 58 (2008), pp. 480-94, another recent discussion of the image of God.


Thanks, Ian.

The title is:

A “Transubstantiated” Humanity: The Relationship between the Divine Image and the Presence of God in Genesis i 26f.

Abstract: Since the 1960's the consensus in Old Testament research regarding humanity's role as image of God has been along the lines of a functional or propagandistic interpretation. Thus, humanity represents the deity by functioning like him: they rule over the earth by his command and in his stead. This interpretation, however, often overlooks the ontological worldview of the ancient Near East where the distinction between object and referent was not as clear as it is today. The image functioned to make present the referent, be it god or king. In this way, the priestly conception of humanity as divine image is more than mere function but concerns the manifestation of divine presence as well.


It sounds excellent, and dovetails with Niskanen's thesis that the reigning functionalist interpretation is reductive.

shawshank redemption 5

In "Journal of Biblical Literature," Niskanen's main argument is if because God is the divine creator, when we picture the Lord is "it" genderless or rather, male or female. He disputes attempt's to say the terms "male" and "female" are biological, not social. I know from previous classes that those terms are biological. They describe sex, not gender. These are the only two descriptions of sex, which is used to distinguish between male or female genitalia. God alone is the divine creator and thus, has no sex so it's safe to assume the Lord has no genitalia.
God could have a gender because gender describes physical appearance. God could be any one of the five genders: masculine male, feminine female, masculine female, feminine male, and androgynous, which means having either both or neither male and female characteristics. It's more likely that God is androgynous, but we refer to the Lord as "He" because men have always been seen as more powerful.
No living person can truly say what the Lord looks like, but I believe He shows himself to those who need Him. My boyfriend's grandfather Wally passed away on Tuesday and the day before he died, he randomly looked up at nothing and smiled. He then raised his palms in the air, put them down, and smiled even bigger. His wife asked him, "Did you see Jesus?" He smiled and nodded. Who knows what he really saw, skeptics could saw it was onset dementia, but I know that isn't true. Wally was a deeply religious man and I think the Lord knew he needed reassurance that everything would be alright. Now he's in heaven and though he didn't want to leave all of us, I know he was at peace.


Hi SR 5,

I'm not sure that you caught the gist of Niskanen's thesis - I can send you a copy of the JBL article if you don't have one - but I'm impressed by your interest in this topic and your willingness to research it.

The question of God's physical appearance is a thorny one. The descriptions of God in the Bible are very reserved in comparison to those current of gods elsewhere in the ancient world and to this day - think of Buddha or Krishna. The aniconic principle is an essential biblical tenet.

Regardless, Niskanen makes a persuasive case that procreation through the "male and female-ness" of humankind is one of two aspects of the sense in which humanity is in the image of God according to Genesis 1.

Your account of Wally's experience is moving. Scholars of religion refer to this kind of experience as "numinous" - quite different from the kind of experience also found among Jewish and Christian mystics but more typical of ascetic forms of Hinduism and Buddhism: "monistic" experience, in which one feels obliterated in unity with all=nothingness.

Truman 1

Truman 1,

I am not sure if I really fully understand the sexuality and the image of God myself. I do believe that God created us in his image as stated in Genesis 1:27. As for God’s sexuality it is tough to say. During the course of the Bible God takes very motherly approaches to things where God is helping and caring for his people. On the other hand there are times that God takes a disciplinary approach in which God punishes his people. Therefore, as our creator I believe that it is difficult to know if God has a gender. I do know that as our creator God is both a father and a mother to all of us.


It was Mary Daly, a feminist philosopher, who pointed out that God is a "male mother" in the Bible, that is, a motherly figure as seen from a male son's perspective.

There is truth to that, but God is also described in starkly masculine terms, for example as a "man of war" (Exod 15).

But that isn't at issue here. Human sexuality according to Niskanen does not "image" God's sexuality or God's gender; rather, what sexuality makes possible, procreation, images a salient divine characteristic, which is creation. The thesis is persuasive given the context in which Gen 1:26-28 occurs.

Nell 2

In regards to the gender God is, I personally do not have an intake. Whether the Lord is male or female, God is the most powerful being that created all beings and the environment we part take in.

Agreeing with shawshank redemption 5, I too believe that most people refer to the Lord as a male because males are more dominant within our society. Despite my intake, I too refer to the Lord as a “he” sometimes due to the nature I grew up in. I guess what I am trying to say is, through my learning of the Bible and the word of the Lord I have always imagined God as a male. Now that I am in a less-influential state of mind I have made the judgement that wether God is male or female the works performed and set forth for past, present, and future generations is what really matters.

Also to shawshank redemption 5, I am also sorry to hear about your loss. Your interpretation on who actually sees God in this lifetime makes a lot of sense after reading it, and has opened a new way for me to interpret more about the Lord and the wonders he brings along.

Nell 1

I agree that God is a “motherly father”. I have never really thought about the gender of God before now and I must admit that it makes me wonder what God’s gender truly is. We know that Jesus was a man, born to the virgin Mary but no accounts of God’s gender ever seem to be written about. However since God is the Father of the world, it leads many to assume that God has a male role. Everyone has their own mental picture of what God may look like, but how do we even know he looks like us? It is written that mankind was created in God’s image, but when sin entered the world; our human image may have changed greatly due to sin. Would God really want the humans he created, now full of sin, to look like him, being holy in nature? I do not believe that one can argue that God is either male or female. However, I do believe that God is like a father and mother to us all, he created every single one of us. God takes on a motherly role when caring for his people but fathers also care for their children. We also pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven”, therefore indicating that God is the Father of the world he created.


Jews and Christians have always believed that God is like a father and a mother to us. It's right there in the Bible after all.

Beyond that, the usual view is that God is ultimately beyond gender, sexuality, and any or all attributes we apply to him.

It is not easy though to hold onto to both these points of view at one and the same time.

True Grit 1

Right from the teachings of Genesis, and as a child I remember the story of Adam and Eve. I realize it has been mentioned in other blog posts but I believe that God did create the female and male for the purpose of reproduction and creation. But when it comes to the sexuality of the Lord our God, I am at a complete loss. I have never been taught to refer to God as a He or a She, maybe only a Father in the Lord’s Prayer. It would be hard for me to even paint a picture in my head of what God would look like. However, although I do not know what God looks like, many people feel presence and see his characteristics (caring, always there, unconditionally loving, etc.) which is the most important part of believing, I believe. As it was mentioned earlier by JohnFH, “God is far more superior than gender”.

As far as God’s or even Jesus’ appearance, it seems to me most people have their own picture in their heads. I came across this situation once when I was younger. I took a trip to a museum with a friend’s family and saw all of the pictures and portraits the museum had to offer, including those of Jesus. Some of them pictured him to be very similar to the videos I saw during Religion Class, other paintings were even difficult to understand that the artist was actually trying to portray Jesus. It was blogged earlier that the Christian God is one described very little in comparison with Buddhism and Hinduism beliefs. Therefore we are left to decide what God looks like to us.

Pulp Fiction 1

I agree with a few statements above. I myself think of God as a male figure, strictly because males were far more dominant in times of the bible. How big of a role does gender play in the bible. You hear many arguments on the topic of gay marriage, for those against it saying " the bible said men should be with women." Is it the bible that gave us the roles each male and female have today in society or has it changed and changed over time?

Pulp Fiction 4

I guess I have never really thought about the actual "gender" of God. Throughout the Bible, God takes care of his "children" and leads them in a direction to do the right thing, kind of like a "mother" figure would do. But then again, he also takes on the role of punishing his "children", when a lesson needs to be learned, kind of like a "father" figure. All in all I feel that the "gender" of God is too complicated to decide. As a Christian, I believe God plays both important roles as a father and a mother.

Truman Show 2

I do believe that our sexuality and ability to generate offspring as humans was made to resemble the “image” of God. However, I do not believe that it tells us anything about God’s gender. You can compare traits of anyone to be masculine and feminine. Yes God is our creator but when he created Adam and Eve it was in an extremely different way that mothers have their children so I don’t believe that you could argue that God is “female.” That being said knowing what God has done and is capable of you could argue that he is very different than both genders. I am not convinced with this argument as to God having a gender or being both. I obviously do not know, but I can debate on something on which I have no evidence either way. We might see God as a “male mother” from what we read but these are only theories and assumptions. I do think that this blog was very interesting and controversial in a positive manner.

Nell 5

Like most people have stated, I always grew up with the assumption that God was a male. I can say that I’ve actually never seen God displayed as a female. This could be from people referring to God in conversation, or in TV and movies. Like others have said too, I think God was interpreted to be male is because of his power and strength that he has. I don’t know why, but it never has even occurred to me to question God’s sex. A question I would like to bring up, is whether or not God even has a sex. Does god have to be male or female? Do spirits even have sexes? God never reproduces. Yes, God is Jesus’ “Father”, but he was placed in the Virgin Mary’s body and there was no reproduction involved, especially since God never had a wife.

Praying with Lior 2

Until a couple of years ago I always thought of God as a man. I think that had a lot to do with the Catholic school I went to, teachers always referred to God as a man. Since I have came to this university, I have been exposed to people with a variety of religions. This has allowed me to open up my mind to different representations of God. I agree with Nell 2 that, “God is the most powerful being that created all beings…” and this is the only thing I know for certain. I do not believe that God’s gender really matters, because God gave us life and freewill, among other things. What he did for us is more important than what God’s gender is.

Nell 3

This is an interesting question. What, if God in fact has a sex, is it? I don’t think this question will ever be answered. As many people have already stated in my mind God has always been a male. When I pray I imagine I am talking to another man, what I see god depicted in movies or on TV he is a male. But I never thought for one second that there is the possibility that he is a women or even that he has no one sex. In the end I don’t believe it is something that matters. What is important are the sacrifices God made for us and the guidance given to us.

In the Bible it says God takes on both the mother and father figure in our lives, but it does not specify a gender. In that sense I think God has left it up to us to see him as we want, whether that be a man, a women, or something beyond that.

Chariots of Fire 2

I agree with Nell 3. The sex of God doesn't matter. In almost everyone's post they say how they are at a loss of what God's gender is, but I honestly don't think it matters. I think that people should interpret God's gender however they like. I think that most assume that God is a male. I also think that when people read and interpret the Bible the sex of God is not going to interfere with that.

True Grit 4

I do believe that God did create us in his own image, but I do not think that this is a physical image. I think that this image pertains to is a spiritual image and an intellectual image. I feel that in the beginning human beings had the complete knowledge of God or close to complete knowledge of God. I feel this way because how does one make sense of the fact that God created two types of sexes in the Garden of Eden. If God created us in a physical image then why did he create two different sexes. I feel that God doesn’t have a sex I feel that he is whatever he wants to be and I feel that the reason we assign the male gender is because that is the way the Bible is written and I feel that we look at the male gender as the gender of power in society so that’s why we assume that God is only male. But God is everything.

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    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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