God as a Woman: Two New Testament passages characterizing God and Jesus as female


As I’ve mentioned previously, I gave a talk a few weeks ago in sacrament meeting on the love of God. I liked this topic, as it allowed me a lot of freedom to discuss particular scriptures that resonate with me as a woman.

The following two passages from my talk discuss some ways God and Jesus are characterized as female in the New Testament.

In Luke 15: 8-10, Jesus tells the parable of a woman who has 10 silver coins, one of which she has lost. Jesus says, “Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully for it? And when she finds it she calls her friends and neighbors together and says ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

This parable doesn’t tend to receive much attention, since the famous prodigal son and lost sheep parable appear in the same chapter. Also, the story of a poor woman searching for a coin may not seem as interesting to us or as filled with pathos as a father welcoming home his lost son, or a shepherd finding his lost sheep. However, in these three brief verses, verses that discuss something that might seem quite mundane – a woman sweeping for a lost coin – I see a compelling metaphor for the love of God.

Let me give you a little more background on this parable.. Biblical scholars tell us that a silver coin in Jesus’ days would have been equivalent to about a day’s wages. Thus the woman, whose wealth consisted of only 10 coins, was very poor. Also, at this time and place in history, women couldn’t inherit, so whatever money this woman did have of her own, possibly from her dowry, was terribly important to her. Probably vital for her security. And this may explain Jesus’ description of her diligent search and subsequent public rejoicing.

When I read this parable I see the woman representing God and his love for us. Just as this woman, with great dedication and perseverance and finally great joy finds that which is lost, so God unceasingly reaches out to us, seeks us ,and rejoices when his children return to him. I love this image of God’s love – his vital concern, his active seeking, and finally his joy over our return.

Additionally, this parable is special to me as a woman because I see Jesus, directly addressing, understanding, and validating women in it. He knew that at least half of his audience consisted of women, so he very carefully inserts a parable in which a woman represents God and his love, to complement his other parable of the male shepherd representing God. And I, As a woman who was raised by a widowed mother, attended a women’s college, and is vitally interested in women’s issues, I am particularly impressed by the care and attention Jesus shows to his female audience through these verses….

And later in my talk
…As the building block of my own testimony, Jesus stands as the perfect exemplar of God’s love. In both words and actions, Jesus continually epitomizes a love that transcends race, class, gender, age, marital status, etc. One of my favorite descriptions of Jesus is one in which he characterizes himself as a mother hen. He says in Matthew 23:37 “oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chicks under her wings.” This image of Jesus, as a mother hen, offering all Jerusalem sanctuary under his protective, nurturing metaphorical wing communicates to me a godly love and concern that is proactive and personal….

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women’s Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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12 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    In both words and actions, Jesus continually epitomizes a love that transcends race, class, gender, age, marital status, etc.

    This is beautiful. And so very true. I only wish we could hear more recognition of this by LDS feminists. Can we not remember this while also remembering that He chooses male leaders, gives men the priesthood, and has organized the Church as it is, and has, with His Father, given us our divinely different roles? Can we remember that His love is not represented unequally in the roles They have defined for us? It seems to me that if we can focus on this simple and powerful truth as presented here, what seems unfair won’t be so much so, because we trust Him (Them) and Their love and purposes.

    I also think this is a wonderful answer to women who say, “To whom can women look as a role model?” The same principle applies, doesn’t it? His example transcends race, gender, and everything else as well. In our divinely different roles, we can look to Him as our example. We don’t need gender-specific role models. We just all need to look to the Savior.

    Here’s perhaps another example of a scripture that uses a woman to represent the Lord’s love and compassion: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” (Also found in the Book of Mormon.

  2. Caroline says:

    “Can we not remember this while also remembering that He chooses male leaders, gives men the priesthood, and has organized the Church as it is, and has, with His Father, given us our divinely different roles?”

    M&M,
    Thanks for your comment, but I’m afraid we have fundamentally different approaches on this topic. I look to Jesus and I see a life and teachings that show and command us to treat all as equals. (I realize we have different definitions of equality. So be it.) I’m not speaking for other LDS feminists, but I know I am waiting and praying for the day when that ideal will be realized in my own church. I’m more than well aware that you would disagree with me on this.

  3. BrianJ says:

    “I see Jesus directly addressing, understanding, and validating women in it. He knew that at least half of his audience consisted of women, so he very carefully inserts a parable in which a woman represents God and his love, to complement his other parable of the male shepherd representing God.”

    That was a great post! I’ll have to remember to bring that into focus when I teach this lesson. (By the way, you may be interested in this related post on my blog.)

  4. Caroline says:

    Brian, thanks for the link. I checked out your blog. Great post!

  5. m&m says:

    Caroline,
    I’m actually interested to know how you process the way Christ organized the Church in the NT and in the BoM. He did choose male leaders, He did ordain them and give them power. After His death, those leaders continued on in His name. There is no mention at all of female organizations or anything in the NT (which means the Church today seems even furthr along), and yet we know that He loved women, too, and, as you said, taught equality and love. So I guess I don’t understand what you do with that part of the NT (re: organization of the church), and I would sincerely like to understand.

    I really did love this post, and I’m sorry if my comments frustrated you or communicated otherwise.

  6. Caroline says:

    M&M,
    Several scholars believe that women were part of Christ’s church hierarchy in the NT. Because wealthy women often ran house churches, they had power and influence that women in the LDS church do not currently have. Torgesen’s book “When Women Were Priests” is an excellent discussion of othe vital roles women played in the early Christian church.

    One example: Romans 16:7 when Paul says,
    “Greet Andronicus and Junia,my fellow Jews, who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles and became followers of Christ before I did.

    Scholars agree that Junia is definitely the name of a woman. And she was an apostle.

    So I’m waiting for our church to catch up with Jesus and certain aspects of the early Christian church.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for clarifying your thoughts.

  8. m&m says:

    (that was me that just said that.)

  9. AmyB says:

    Caroline, I love your thoughts about this. One of my deeply-held beliefs is that “God” is a divine union of masculine and feminine. It is nice to see that perfect love exemplified in both ways. It also feels good to me as a woman that there is a recognition of women in scripture.

    I’ll have to add “When Women Were Priests” to my reading list. Knowing that the canonized books in the bible are only part of the story, and many of those were chosen to further an ulterior motive (usually to give those who chose it more power), I’ve often wondered what the untold and possibly censored story of women’s involvement might be.

  10. Caroline says:

    M&M,
    Thanks for asking me to clarify. I love thinking about and talking about the roles women played in the early Christian church – and in the early LDS church too for that matter.

  11. m&m says:

    This was actually something I hadn’t heard before. We will likely agree to disagree on these points, too, but at least I understand what you see differently. 🙂 So thanks again for taking the time to explain.

  12. CJ says:

    ‘One of my deeply-held beliefs is that “God” is a divine union of masculine and feminine.’

    A married couple?

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