Saturday, December 22, 2012

Missing Metaphors Make Men Mad

I am currently in a series of messages designed to help people Know God the way He reveals Himself to us in Scripture. The fundamental principle of this series: God is spirit (John 4:24). That means God is formless and has no body and knows no end. He is also not gendered. Both orthodox Christianity and orthodox Judaism affirm the spirit nature of God. God is not a man. God is not a woman. God is spirit.

Yet, the Bible declares that God saves and upholds us by His powerful right hand (Ps. 108:6; 138:7; 139:10; Isa.41:10). The Bible also speaks of God's knowing eyes (Gen. 1:4,31; 6:8; Exod. 33:17; Num. 14:14; Deut. 11:12; Zech. 4:10), His strong arm (Exod. 6:6; 5:16; Deut. 4:34; 5:15), His hearing ears ( 1 Sam. 8:21; 2 Kgs. 19:16; Ps. 5:1; 10:17; 18:6), His beautiful face (Exod. 33:11; Lev. 20:3,5,6; Num. 6:25; Deut. 31:17; 32:20; 34:10; Ps. 114:7), His finger (Exod. 8:19; 31:18; Deut. 9:10; Ps. 8:3), His feet, (Exod. 24:10; Ezek. 43:7), His breasts (Genesis 17:1; Revelation 1:13), His womb (Isaiah 46:3; Genesis 49:25),  His... WAIT!

"God has breasts and a womb? You've got to be kidding me!"

Uh, that's what the Bible states, and no, I'm not kidding. A handful of people who have heard the messages I've preached the last few weeks have been perplexed, puzzled and maybe even a tiny bit peeved that their pastor would preach such nonsense! Others have investigated the truth of Scripture for themselves and have come to the conclusion that their pastor is speaking truth about God, but they remain perplexed. How can God be represented in Scripture as having breasts?

It's a metaphor, people.

Metaphors, Metaphors, Metaphors

Let me explain biblical metaphors.

In the Old Testament, El Shaddai is given as one of the names for God. El Shaddai means "The God with breasts" or even more precisely "The God with many breasts." Some Christians are very uncomfortable with such language. If you are one of those, I remind you that divine revelation (truth) is uninterested in your comfort. Truth is truth whether you can accept it or not.

Hebrew linguist and orthodox Jewish rabbi Justin Goldstein clearly shows the Hebrew meaning of El Shaddai is "the God with breasts."  Herbert Lockyear, the evangelical conservative scholar who wrote the classic work All the Names of God, points out that in the glorious and full revelation of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:13), the Messiah is portrayed as El Shaddai, One who is "girt about the paps (breasts) with a golden girdle." Lockyer goes on to comment on this image of the glorified Christ, "Has Christ not invited us to come to him and drink? (John 6:53-57) [from All the Names of God, page 15].

The inspired revelation (Scripture) reveals the Spirit God in metaphorical language, using male and female characteristics (including body parts) so that we can understand His character. God is not gendered, but He possessess both masculine and feminine attributes. God no more has actual breasts than He has an actual right hand. God no more has a literal womb than He has a literal eye. Because the Spirit God transcends our ability to comprehend Him, He reveals Himself to us using metaphorical, anthropomorphic language.

When the Bible speaks of God's "powerful right hand," it is describing God as one might describe a man--He is strong, powerful, and will give you aid--but God has no actual hand. When the Bible speaks of God's breasts, it is describing God as one might describe a female--He is compassionate, loving and caring, just like a mother who nurtures and suckles her infant at her breasts--but God has no actual breasts. God is spirit, but when He created men and women, He created both genders in His image. God possesses all the wonderful and good attributes of men and women. For example:
I am God, your father, who supports you, the Shaddai who blesses you with blessings from the skies above and from the deep sea below, blessings from breasts (shadayim) and the womb (Genesis 49:25).
The biblical revelation declares the Spirit Creator made us in His image, both men and women (Genesis 1:27)  Ladies, you reflect the image of God. Men, you reflect the image of God. God is spirit, and as such, He could be described metaphorically as the strongest and most powerful man or as the most gentle and compassionate woman suckling her child.

Metaphors are figures of speech. When someone tells you that it is "raining cats and dogs," you don't go outside and look for actual cats and dogs raining down from heaven. Someone has given you a metaphor. "Raining cats and dogs" is comparing the storm outside to the fury, viciousness and wildness of cats and dogs fighting. If you have ever heard a group of cats getting entangled in a fight with group of dogs, then you know instantly the kind of storm outside.

Likewise, when the Bible reveals God with breasts, it does not mean you should think of God as having actual breasts. This is a metaphor. This metaphor means God treats His people like a mother treats her children. When He revealed Himself to Abraham as El Shaddai (the God with breasts), He was saying to Abraham, "I am the breasted God. Walk before me Abraham and be made whole. I am the your Source. I am the One who can enrich you, suckle you and prepare you for your life's journey. I am your All-Sufficient One."

When you begin to see that the Biblical authors constantly mix and mingle gender metaphors in describing God, then you agree with biblical commentators like John Calvin, who in his commentary on Isaiah 46:3 states, "God represents Himself as a female and we are the fruit of his womb."

We need more biblical literacy in our churches. Too many Christians are intellectually lazy. We need an understanding that when God created men and women He created us both in His image. Both genders reflect the character and nature of God. Sure, the Father gave to us the Son, as the language of Scripture declares, but the Father is the transcendent, spirit God who possesses the character and nature of both the masculine and the femine. Sure, Jesus Christ was physically a man, but "in Him all the fulness of the Deity lives." All the character qualities of being human are beautifully and wonderfully blended and fused in Christ. Ladies, look to Him. Men, look to Him.

Some Christians teach that the male is created in the image of God and the woman is created in the image of the man in order to be the servant to man.  God forbid you fall into that fish trap.

God created Adam (mankind) in His image, both male and female created He them. If you want to know the character of God, you must look to both the man and the woman, for Scripture represents God using both masculine and feminine metaphors. Ladies, God understands you because you reflect His image. You are from Him, to Him and for Him. Men, God understands you because you reflect His image. You are from Him, to Him, and for Him.

Do you really believe the Bible, or do you just say you do but you really don't? If you actually believe in the inspired and sacred text (as I do), then you must treat the opposite gender with dignity, respect and honor. Both genders reflect God's image.

(1). Ladies, become intimate with God as a friend would with a friend because you are in HIS IMAGE.
(2). Ladies, don't allow a male physical image of God to limit your understanding of character and nature of the One true God.
(3). Ladies, don't let anybody tell you that you have less worth and significance than men. You are made in HIS IMAGE.
(4). Ladies, when you begin to know God as He really is, "you will be strong and take action" (Daniel 11:32).
(5). And finally, missing metaphors makes men mad. In other words, men,  if you are struggling with the feminine portrayals of God in Scripture, take a deep breath, relax, and realize you may be missing the biblical metaphors of God--missing them as in missing out on an intimate relationship with God Himself.


Victorious said...

And finally, missing metaphors makes men mad

My question is why is this so?

Wade Burleson said...

I think, Victorious, that men are so used to thinking in terms of God being a man that when the metaphors of Scripture are faithfully and accurately dealt with, it ruins their preconceived notions of God. So, rather than wrestle through their own mistaken preconceptions, they just get mad at the challenge to their way of thinking.

JW said...

Funny you should bring this up because God created man in His Image. This is probably the reason why there are men and women? He placed His characteristics in both of them and they are a compliment to one another. In the natural, men choose not to abide by that because of pride and ego and man being the head of the woman. Yet man has abused the woman and so feminists have arisen as a result and even those who engage in goddess worship.

Unknown said...

And nobody can say this is wrong! You've got scripture to back it! This is when it gets exciting!

Wade Burleson said...



Wade Burleson said...


Christians have a tendency to ignore those passages that do not fit into their preconceived ideas.

Victorious said...

Christians have a tendency to ignore those passages that do not fit into their preconceived ideas.

Why do those who have a reputation as "scholars" today ignore these scriptures? Especially those whose whole theology is built around the "masculine feel" of the do they in good conscience not only ignore them, but fail to teach them?

Rather than a preconceived notion of God, I'm of the opinion that it's a very deliberate deception. I see it similar to those who would seek to marginalize women and most of all Jesus by teaching the eternal subordination of Jesus in support of scriptural hierarchy.

Wade Burleson said...


You ask an excellent question, one which I'm not sure I have an answer.

Any scholar worth his salt would see the feminine metaphors of God in Scripture and accept them, as John Calvin, John Gill and other scholars of centuries past did.

Too many Christian men fall in love with mandating "roles" of women that they ignore the theology that sets women (and men) free to serve as the Spirit leads.

Oasis said...

Love this post, really love it. Very helpful.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post!

One of the sad consequences of teaching male superiority is that often even the most ardent egalitarian unknowingly imbibes it.

In their eyes, women are not free to be WOMEN made in God's image, but free to become "just like a man."

Nope, don't have to, traditionally male attributes and roles etc are no more important or valid than traditionally female attributes and roles.

Let men be fully men (whatever that is) and fully human, and women be fully women (whatever that is) and fully human also.

Wade Burleson said...


Well stated.


Thanks for the comment!

Chad Kaminski said...

If one concedes that all these comparisons are metaphors, would you concede that some make comparisons more directly, therefore having more value than others?

Anonymous said...

Wade, thank you for bringing to our attention the nature of language, which consists of word pictures to convey meaning. Jesus used this method when he taught eternal truths by means of parables, and other similes and metaphors. Some information can be imparted more fully and and more accurately through using appropriate figures of speech, than by adhering to the narrow literal meaning of words. Indeed, you might believe the earth is flat and has four corners if you take it literally. But even the most advanced scientists of to-day will use figurative speech to describe a proven fact of science. For example, we all commonly say the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Yet we know the Sun stays put and does not is a manner of speaking.


Wade Burleson said...


I'm unsure what you are asking. A metaphor is a metaphor.

Wade Burleson said...


You are welcome.

Donald Johnson said...

One thing to see is that as far as I know, God is said to (as a metaphor) have breasts and a womb, but nowhere is it stated that God has male genitals.

Wade Burleson said...


You are correct.

JW said...

Another idea to look at in this is that God calls Himself 'Father' to us and not Mother. What does this symbolize? This may not sit well with feminists and goddess worshippers.


Gwen Meharg Art said...

1Might you consider writing about God with fewer He, Him, His in the article. Consider using GOD moer often than the capitalized masculine pronouns.

Anonymous said...

Well done, Wade. But on this subject, as you know, a discussion of metaphors in the New Testament can get danders up in a hurry. We still battle about which of the words about God and Jesus are metaphors and which are not. You may want to expound on that extended subject in a future blog.

I have been away a long time. Glad to connect again.

Blessings. Jim Fitch

Anonymous said...

""God has breasts and a womb? You've got to be kidding me!"

Uh, that's what the Bible states"
... Or is this just what you state?

I think it's rather a long shot to arrive at "breasts" from "Shaddai", and I know you're intelligent enough to realize that as well.
The Latin Vulgate and LXX both nod to "Almighty" in their translations.

Are you saying the oldest, most reliable transcripts of the Bible we have were translated wrong? Or that you, thousands of years removed from the known oldest manuscripts, have the true meaning that has escaped everyone for thousands of years?

What bothers me is throwing down the translation of "breasts" without a nod toward the more orthodox, and reliable translations. I'm not convinced that you actually believe what you've preached, here.

I also find odd your use of John Calvin to support your view of women. You acknowledge (rightly so) his interpretation of God's metaphorical womanhood and manhood, yet fail to carry that idea forward with what Calvin actually believed: complimentarian sexes. A quick view of his commentaries of 1 Timothy should readily showcase this:
"Not that he takes from them the charge of instructing their family, but only excludes them from the office of teaching, which God has committed to men only."
He will go on to say that God designed women to obey in this matter, that it is a "limit" and "condition" of the gender. There is no sense whatsoever that John Calvin supported women in teaching positions, as you preach.

What about a favorite of yours, John Gill?
"but then women are not to teach in the church; for that is an act of power and authority, and supposes the persons that teach to be of a superior degree, and in a superior office, and to have superior abilities to those who are taught by them".
"for one part of rule is to feed the church with knowledge and understanding; and for a woman to take upon her to do this, is to usurp an authority over the man: this therefore she ought not to do"

I believe you attempt to garner support on this view from sources that just don't support it, or only partially represent a source's views on women... up until the point that they begin to disagree with you, they are wonderful sources.

It should not matter whether or not men or women can accept a certain teaching or if it makes them mad. What matters is if the matter is Biblical.