God as Mother – lost in later tradition (Pt 2)

Continued from: God as Mother – more traditional than you might think.  Or go to Table of Contents


The most common reason given for calling God “God the Father”, “Father God” or “Father” is that Jesus did, and told us to do so as well. That is true, of course, only when you read a translation of the New Testament in something other than Greek. Greek had some interesting abnormalities that affect translation – unusual facets that were easy to miss, or to ignore, depending on your perspectives or intentions.

Let’s start with what Jesus calls God in personal conversation. Abba is a term of endearment, a word that has no direct translation or use outside of idioms (slang). Many have surmised that it means “daddy”, and then proceed to use Abba Father as a name for God – Daddy Father seems quite odd, doesn’t it. The truth is, it is Jesus’ personal name for God that only occurs 3 times in the Bible, and context does not give any added meaning.

Next, when we hear Jesus referring to God as “Father”, the word used in the Greek is Pateyr, or one of its other noun forms – pater, patera, pateras, pateres, and paterone. There! Now you know the ways to say “father” in Greek, right? Well, no – not necessarily. In Greek, up until the 5th century when another word developed, these words were understood interchangeably as “parent.” Yes, a female parent was sometimes called pateyr. A similar thing happened with the word for human when English changed from Middle- to Late-English, but that will be the subject for another time.

Why, then, do we “know” it means father? Well, that happened in the 3rd century when the Greek Bible was translated into Latin. You see, Latin had separate words for father and parent, and guess which one was chosen. Very good! You’re catching on. Now, shouldn’t we ask ourselves why this happened? Don’t despair, that is just about ready to happen.


Well, now, this could become a little sensitive. I need to remind all us Christians that, until the Reformation, all Christians were either Catholics or Orthodox. If we go back to the third and fourth centuries, all were Catholic, which simply meant “universal” – all Christians were part of the catholic (universal) church. You’ll catch on why that is important shortly.

As of the Nicean Council in 325, women were prohibited from being priests. Yes, that means there were female priests before that time, which will be the subject of another post sometime. Also, the fact that this was decided at Nicea means that it had been festering for quite some time before that – actually since the late first century. There were essentially two camps: those that cottoned on to the whole “neither Jew nor Greek, male or female” thing, and those that didn’t. Those that didn’t, obviously, won. The winners had an ideology of an all-male priesthood. Why? Because Jesus was male, and by extrapolation, so was God. Do you see a problem with that logic?

The long-standing, and still very common, ideology of the all-male priesthood was based on scripture, read through particular lenses, and pre-existent tradition. The social location was in the Greco-Roman culture of male dominance, into which some of the developing church sought to ingratiate itself. This meant making it look more compatible with dominant culture and less counter-cultural. The particular lenses included those of certain church fathers:

St. Clement of Alexandria … wrote in Paedagogus, that in women, “the consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame.” Tertullian … called women “the devil’s gateway”. Origen … at the tender age of eighteen, castrated himself in his quest to achieve Christian perfection. Origen’s teaching weaved together [a] supposedly Christian disregard for women and abhorrence for the sexual act into one system, in which women were considered worse than animals because they were continuously lustful. St. Ambrose … reminded believers, “Remember that God took the rib out of Adam’s body, not a part of his soul, to make her. She was not made in the image of God, like man.” Jerome, the translator of the Bible from Greek to Latin, called women the “root of all evil”.[1]

Political and social acceptance, and quite possibly the mental illness of at least some of the church fathers, were primary motivating factors in developing traditions that stood, unabashedly, in stark contrast to Jesus’ message in scripture. These misogynist men, because some of their thoughts have had profound significance, found places of power and importance in Christian culture and have been considered primary interpreters and commentators of Christian faith for the church through the ages, despite having raped the scriptures by interpretation through the lenses of their own bias, hatred and self-interest.

Not that I have an opinion.

More to come here.   Return to Table of Contents

Authored by Revs Jenna Zirbel & Andy Little. Written by Andy.

[1] Andrew Little, “‘Women’s Leadership and Contributions to Early Christianity Can Only Become Historically Visible When We Abandon Our Outdated Patriarchal-Androcentric Model of Early Christian Beginnings.’ Discuss!” an unpublished paper defended at Cambridge Theological Federation, Cambridge University, England, April 14, 2004. The sources utilized in this portion of the essay were, among others, Phelips, The Churches and Modern Thought; Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven; Warner, Alone of All Her Sex.

4 Responses to “God as Mother – lost in later tradition (Pt 2)”

  1. January 22, 2009 at 6:31 PM

    After reading these last 2 posts, I’ve become curious to read more. Obviously I look forward to your further thoughts in this series, but would you also have any book recommendations for further research? I’d like to see some of the books in which you found these things…primary texts, even. Thanks for the posts.

  2. 2 Rev Andy Little
    January 22, 2009 at 7:10 PM


    I will be glad to compile a list of resources. It may take me a day or two to look through my library and look back at some of my essays, though.
    I’m glad you’re taking it as offered – simply as food for thought. Happy thinking.

  3. January 23, 2009 at 8:53 AM

    No problem. Don’t go through too much trouble to find anything. I’m not particular. Thanks again.

  4. 4 Christina
    July 24, 2012 at 6:49 AM

    I found your articles while looking for information about this issue after reading a novel that mentioned Deuteronomy 32.18 – I assume the reference was from from Carrie A. Miles’ paper, ‘God as Mother’. And I said to God, ‘I like you a lot better now I know you’re not all male.’

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... or, preaching from both ends


That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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