Editor's Note: This article is an edited version of one which was first published in the August, 1987 issue of the now-defunct The Reformed Journal, pp. 13-22.
The quest for inclusive language in theological discussion and worship continues to unsettle many Reformed and evangelical worship communities. In many of the liberal congregations of mainline denominations, gender neutral Bible translations and the Inclusive Language Lectionary are becoming more widely used. Controversy has resulted from the adopting of these and comparable revisions by Presbyterians, Episcopalians (Anglicans), the United Church of Christ, and the United Church of Canada, among others. The effect has been to put pressure to conform on those of more conservative theological persuasions. Discussions-often heated-have spread across a broad spectrum of denominations, from the Roman Catholic to the various Reformed churches. Thus, innovations that have ostensibly been offered to advocate greater unity in the community of faith have in fact tended toward precisely the opposite effect.
Jesus' High Priestly Prayer
In Jesus' high priestly prayer (John 17) we are reminded of the relevance of the issues of unity in the body of Christ generally. In this prayer, the stress our Lord put on unity (or we might say "inclusivity") is clear and explicit in the language He uses. Moreover, the prayer itself emphasizes the central role of language in "defining" those who will follow Jesus, who, as we see from the previous chapter, are literally and figuratively the ones who take up His cross.
Notice in this prayer how Jesus makes both the content of relationship with God and the continuity of the apostolic message unavoidably matters of language. Ultimately, to belong to God is to bear the name of God (vv. 11-12). That is, our Lord has given us the words given him by the Father (v. 8), which, when we receive them, are the basis of our recognition of God in Christ, "…they understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent me" (v. 8b). At the same time these words are also the occasion of our being despised by a world which rejects godliness, "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them…" (v. 14). But that "all may be one," a phrase repeated three times in this prayer (vv. 11, 21, 22), the prayer of our Lord is that we be kept through the name of the Father, through His eternal authority: "Holy Father, keep through thy own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are" (v. 11). Biblically speaking, then, the unity in which Christ desires we be included is that of the "family" of God. Jesus obtains for us the inclusion into this family and the Father maintains it by His authority. On this basis, the use of Christian language ought to reflect and not undermine this order of purposes.
A Crisis of Authority
A crisis of language is always a crisis of meaning-that is to say, a crisis of authority. Linguistic history, intellectual history, and social history converge to reveal that it is at turning points or crises in the history of civilization that the concept of "linguistic validity" is most keenly attacked and defended.1 And this happens, of course, because every cherished and remembered speech-act has occurred at some place in time past. When we use such "historic" or "authoritative" words, we wake into resonance their entire previous history. When people begin to find that resonance oppressive, it is the history, and the relevance of its authority, that they are usually calling into question.
In this context, we recognize an obvious feature of language, which is that none of us, strictly speaking, invents it. The language we speak, like the air we breathe, is a creational inheritance used (or abused) by us as we in our turn make further contributions to that history. Now, as in the case of the air we breathe, it is notoriously easier to degrade than upgrade the linguistic environment: persistent reports of more than one quarter of our population grown illiterate offer discomforting evidence of this.
Attempts to Improve Language
Concerns to improve language, on the other hand, focus of necessity on its superficial features: speech pattern and vocabulary. The desire to improve language can thus mean either to bring idiom into a more precise relationship to contemporary usage or, more narrowly, to revise phrasing to meet certain given criteria (called, naturally enough, presuppositions).
The first of these motives reflects the fact that understood meaning changes with time; sometimes within a few centuries near reversals of original understanding can arise. When the King James Version has the Psalmist reflect on a God who "prevents" him with blessings (Psalm 21:3), it is necessary for even a moderately literate reader to look up in his modern version a translation such as "meets him with blessings" (Jerusalem Bible), or "welcomes" him (New English Bible), if he is not to be misled by the now archaic use of this English verb in the King James text.
There are a number of words like this, and by and large Bible translators and liturgists have done a good job of handling them. But a much larger number of terms are changing meaning in our own time than in any previous period of English language development, and this creates an enormous burden of difficulty for those whose task is to bring forward words from the past into contemporary understanding. For the most part, these are not function words (like my previous example) but value words, and their transformed standing is recent enough that many of you will have already reflected on the ambiguous status of my examples: conservative, hierarchy (in the political arena); fundamental, evangelical, fear of God, doctrine (in the religious realm); wholesome, traditional, obedient, chaste (in the sociological realm).
All of these words have tended to become obscured, or even lost, to positive value association: indeed, in some contexts of general usage-such as in the mass media-each of these is typically used in a negative or pejorative way. In some quarters, the word "religious" is heading in this same direction. In educational circles at least, so also is the word "value" itself.
One example must suffice to illustrate my point. The word "freedom" in our own society (perhaps especially since my own sixties' generation) tends to be identified with "autonomy," "independence," and "personal liberty" from restraint. In the fourteenth century, the time of Wycliff and Chaucer, its primary meaning was none of these, but rather "generosity." (Thus Chaucer's Knight, who "loved truth, honour, freedom and courtesy….") That is to say, the older understanding is really polar from our own, implying entirely an outward-flowing response to others; our modern reflex tends to make freedom, by contrast, almost anarchic, an insular or private value. The old concept now needs to be translated by "charity," or possibly "community spirit"; also contained in it is the idea of "openness," of "liberality."
Without these components, something is lost to us in the words of Jesus, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). "Free" does not mean here simply independent or self-assertive. It means that because we know the truth-the revealed truth of Jesus' word (v. 31)-we are able to be secure in that and experience a freedom from the bugaboos which haunt our contemporaries, be they legalisms or self-assertions of any kind. The truth sustains our own identity in the midst of these things, overcoming bondage to our own sinfulness (v. 34), simply because it is God's truth and therefore not open to variableness or change.
The Evolution of Self-Consciousness
In trying to think about these things, it is worthwhile to bear in mind that, since about the latter part of the seventeenth century, there has been a general shift of western consciousness well documented in many fields. This shift is amply reflected in theological controversies of both Protestant and Catholic churches and, because it is less a matter of vocabulary or phrasing than of what linguists refer to as grammar-the deep structure of language itself -it is both harder to detect and far more influential than any of the merely lexical changes that usually capture our attention.
Let me illustrate this briefly. There is a whole category of relational verbs which have undergone a revolution since the early eighteenth century in their relationship to the grammatical subject and object of the constructions in which they occur.
If, for example, I say of a woman that she is "charming," what part of speech is "charming"? Typically, of course, we recognize in this modern context an adjectival function: "charming" modifies the name of the woman in question: "charming Katherine." If, however, I create another sentence with these words: "Katherine is charming your minister," suddenly we are aware of a value shift of striking proportions; Katherine's "charming" is now pejorative, and its effect is opposite to that of the first sentence where it was used as an adjective. For of course, used in this second way it is not an adjective at all. It is a form of the verb "to charm," its present participle. As such, it requires an object. In modern parlance, when an object is provided, and the quality of "charming" is actually attributed to the subject of the sentence-Katherine-the effect can be social criticism. When, however, I use it without an explicit object and thus adjectivally-which is almost exclusively the way we do use it in modern parlance- what has actually happened is that I have provided, silently, a hidden object. This hidden object in my sentence is actually myself. My sentence, "Katherine is charming," does not necessarily describe anything that Katherine is doing; she may not even know I exist, or be completely preoccupied with other matters. My phrase simply describes the effect she is having on me. I have made myself the imposed object of her "charming," regardless of any willed participation of her part. Strictly speaking, I am not referencing the verb "charm" to her at all.
Increasingly, we use the word "understanding" in the same way. If I say about your minister that he is "an understanding person," I do not mean that he is understanding anything at all. "Alan is an understanding fellow" means nothing more than "it appears to me that Alan likes me," or "Alan and I are getting along." That is all. The power to understand as a virtue has been stripped away from him and focused instead on my own imagination, my own ego. What I am really saying is that "Alan knows what I am like," or perhaps even simply "what I like."
Ego-Centering of Discourse
There is a large category of such verbs which are so defined adjectivally during that period of general secularization of values in our culture which we call, somewhat ironically it seems to me, the "Enlightenment." For the English language, you can clearly trace this general shift in the full Oxford English Dictionary; there are almost no adjectival cases cited for some terms before 1735-almost no verbal uses cited after 1775.
The effect of this major grammatical shift is a radical ego-centering of discourse about persons. Now, such statements are disguised expressions of a consumerist view of reality, in which object-values are replaced by subject-values. Conditioned by such language, we are inclined not to ask whether a rumor is true or false, or a book good or bad, but simply whether or not it is interesting (to us). In much the same way, this shift of centering has tended to affect the language we use about God, and that long before the rise of the particular concerns of today's feminist.
Our language about God, or the Bible, reveals quite clearly how we regard God and the Bible, and that not merely at the level of vocabulary. We make this clear also in the very structure of our grammar. Do we, as the name Christian directly implies, see ourselves as ones who are followers or disciples of Christ or, as in the popular evangelical idiom, as ones who have "accepted" Christ? As a matter of fact, the Scriptures are unequivocal about who it is that does the accepting (Jeremiah 14:10, 12; Amos 5:22; Ezekiel 20:40; 43:27). Some of us who are evangelicals may-glibly, I fear-merely have reflected the secular reversal of order in our grammar of assent, talking for a generation or more of Christ as if he were a commodity. While the New Testament encourages us to receive Christ, it is in the sense of opening our doors (i.e., in hospitality) to allow him to occupy us. In the hospitality code of the New Testament, this makes us his servants; to receive him is automatically to relegate ego to a lower place, to give him preeminence. Because of the association of acceptance in contemporary idiom with the values of the marketplace (e.g., "consumer acceptance"), where ego reigns, "accepting Christ" can become a formulation which does violence to the grammatical hierarchy of both Scripture and traditional English translations, making the crucial biblical business of selfdenial, servanthood, and taking up the cross disappear like the magician's rabbit in the process.
My point about grammatical shift as a measure of the evolution of (self ) consciousness is more substantial than I can develop here. What I want to stress now is simply the fact that grammar-the hidden structure of language to which words are but as flesh on the bones-is much slower to reflect a real change in values, but not at all invulnerable to change, and that changes at this level are far more devastating, by means of their foundational nature and their hiddenness, than change at the level of the words we see on a page. It is often unrecognized assent to grammatical transformation which makes an issue like that of inclusive language difficult both to understand and to evaluate.
Translation and Interpretation
The usual motive for modern English translation has been a sense of fading currency of idiom, a feeling, for example, that the King James Version, especially, has grown not only archaic but possibly unintelligibly so. The Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the American Standard Version, the New International Version, and the New English Version, and many of the less admirable paraphrases, have ostensibly grown up in response to these feelings. Committees engaged in liturgical revision commonly speak of the same imperative.
A difficulty with any type of translation, however, is that every translation is unavoidably an interpretation. Thus, it is abundantly clear to those who compare translations of the Bible that at various times and places the process of rendering the Hebrew and Greek of certain biblical texts has been filtered through a diversity of understandings of the text as a whole, and further shaded by the cultural biases of the translators. Some of this is merely colorful rendition. But not all of the interpretation in translation is incidental to the principal meaning of the text. The distinguished British philologist, Professor Ian Robinson, in deploring the Good News Bible translation, finds that the character of its mistranslation is often to deny to God His transcendence and to humanity its soul. In fact, the word "soul" is conspicuously deleted in many modern translations of the Bible, including much of the Good News Bible. "For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:36 in the KJV) becomes in the New English Bible, a question about losing one's "true self "; in the Good News Bible (perhaps worst of all), the verse asks "Does a person gain anything if we wins the whole world but loses his life?" Robinson asks: can we "gain the whole world without losing life? It was the Devil who offered Jesus that option. He would have lost his soul in accepting it."2
Rules of Translation
The problem of obtrusive interpretation in translation is this: how do translators establish the precise meaning of a word, verse, or passage in the Bible? A translator must begin by establishing as closely as possible what the original text says, and only then take up the question of how most faithfully to express that idea in English. That is, we are not at liberty to act as if the world of the ancient Near East was not radically different from our own, or to pretend that the original text is not saying something different from what we might choose to say on the subject, if we are to translate responsibly. Application of a text-study of it-is open to cultural accommodation and discussion; translation must resist it. I make this basic point because I take it to be central that Christianity is a revealed religion, that the Scriptures themselves have authority over any translator or interpreter, and also because some of what passes now for translation is so often riddled with subversive intention in these respects that what we end up with is effectively a perversion rather than translation of biblical text.
In the case of the Inclusive Language Lectionary, companion work under the National Council of Churches to the NRSV, we have, I am afraid, such a perversion rather than translation of the text. Much of its revision, of course, falls into the area of gender revisions, especially pertaining to the name of God. In propounding a view of God as "bisexual" and as "the motherly father of the child who comes forth," the Committee replaces "God the Father" with "God the Mother and Father" and removes references to God as "Lord" or to Jesus as "Lord" and "Master," arguing that these are male sexist terms.3 In the New Testament, "Lord" is normally replaced by "Sovereign," an archaic and near obsolete word (which suggests a remote figurehead rather than an immediate and acknowledged authority). Male pronouns are never to be used to refer to God, or to the risen Christ: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16) becomes "For God so loved the world that God gave God's only child."
God's Divine Personality
The first problem here is not a feminizing of God, but rather a kind of neutering and abstraction, by means of which the central character of all biblical language about God-that it is personal and intends to reveal divine personality-is blunted or entirely effaced. And most critical of all, de-emphasis of the Lordship of Christ, of the biblical insistence that He is master of the universe and king of kings, entirely opposes the character of the relationship between ourselves and God through Christ which is inherent in the original New Testament language. When the Lectionary consistently replaces "the kingdom of God" with the "commonwealth," what it is doing is rewriting the Bible so as to democratize and socialize it. In so doing, it robs the concept of the kingdom of its power of reflecting the covenant and promise, its eternal and transcendent character. In short, what is being written out of the text-by means of addressing the ostensible problem of male vocabulary for God (whom Scripture says-in Exodus 20:3-7, for example-is above human anthropomorphism, sexual or otherwise)-is that all-pervasive biblical idea of God's absolute authority, and the hierarchy of values to which we are called to be obedient.
The Character of Theological Metaphor
That the issue of authority-divine authority- should be central to discussion of the language of worship is not, according to the Scriptures, avoidable. For any translator the text being translated has authority over the translation. That is the first principle of translation. But in the Bible, and biblical religion, the authority of God is of absolute preeminence. This applies most of all, logically and linguistically, to things He says about Himself.
"God the Father" is, of course, in linguistic terms, a metaphor, the power of which is inherent in its revealing-or "truth-telling"-juxtaposition of two radically dissimilar things. This is particularly evident in metaphors of personification: when an American sings "My country, ‘tis of thee," or a Russian speaks fondly of Mother Russia, the power of these metaphors lies in their providing to things too vast and awesome to relate to in themselves-huge, whole countries-a personal referent which allows Americans and Russians to imagine their national allegiance in filial, family terms.
In theological terms, however, "God the Father" is not really a metaphor at all-at least not in the minds of the writers of Scripture or early interpreters in Christian tradition. For them, it is the Logos of the universe made flesh in Christ Jesus who is the agent of creation out of nothing, ex nihilo, and all creatures of this world derive their being from him, having no existence at all except by participation in Him (Colossians 1:12-29; John 1:3). As Jaroslav Pelikan puts it, "In the fullest sense, therefore, only the Creator could be said ‘to be.' For the same reason, using the name Father for God was not a figure of speech. It was only because God was the Father of the Logos-Son that the term father could also be applied to human parents, and when it was used of them it was a figure of speech. As the Father of the Logos, God was, according to the New Testament, ‘the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,' and in human families both the parents and the children were an ‘imitation' of the divine prototypes. That was also why the Logos could not be a creature, not even the primary creature; for all creatures had been brought out of nonbeing, and as the agent who had brought them out of nonbeing, the Creator-Logos must ‘have being' in the full and nonmetaphorical sense of the word."4
Derivation of "Human Being"
It is in line with this reasoning that before the eighteenth century, English usage of the word being is, on a scriptural basis, cognizant that the term is grammatically verbal-the present participle of the verb "to be." As such, it occurs in a nominative way only in references to God, who is of course Being in the absolute verbal sense (Hebrew "I am that I am" or "I am that I will be" as in Exodus 3:14). Only in this later, secularized period does being become a general noun, as in the term human being. But it remains a reflection of the older order of meaning and hierarchy of values that human being is a derivation from Divine Being (OED). Any sense that divine being is merely an anthropomorphism, or metaphoric term for God based on our being, is thus an unwitting reversal of historical meaning, a projection or attribution of metaphor to Scripture and Christian tradition in which divine names are not metaphor at all, but the given upon which metaphors for our own existence are drawn.
God the Father
In the Scriptures, among the Hebrew people to whom the name "God the Father" was first given (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 2:10, etc.) the power of this name lay in an astonishing conferral of relationship-family relationship -upon the awesome and distant magnitude of God. It brings the divine being into imaginable focus, and elevates the value of human life in relationship to God. This sense of relationship is intensified in the words of Jesus in the New Testament, a striking example of which is His prayer from John 17, with which we began, and also, of course, the more familiar Lord's Prayer. The name Father in all of these passages conveys three essential biblical ideas about God: His personal nature, His authority, and His provident love and care for His people.
People who use such language-and this includes writers of Scripture-realize even as they do so, of course, that God is not a Father in any literal human sense (any more than Russia is a literal mother or America a sweetheart). He is spirit, neither seen nor fully grasped by us at any time, and although He is personal, He is certainly not, as we are, human (from humus, "of the earth"). On the other hand, Scripture presents God as Father in His person, in a way that no state can even be like a mother. Now from a strictly linguistic or philological perspective, this is an important point, and relates forcefully to the matter at hand. From a theological perspective, as Pelikan indicates, it entirely determines what we are able to say on the subject.
Some feminist writers have told us that the Scriptures contain, among a range of metaphors for God, some which attribute to Him qualities which we might well identify as feminine or maternal rather than paternal.5 I think we need to be cautious here. Those most frequently cited often simply arise from linguistic gender in the Hebrew language; the words for spirit (ruah) or wisdom (hokma) are two such words which take the feminine article, much as la table does in French. Strictly speaking, their doing so does not make them metaphorically feminine. This is particularly evident in the case of the Spirit, who is never referred to as feminine in the Bible.
In the case of hokma, that divine wisdom which those who would be wise are encouraged to seek and honor in the Book of Proverbs, feminine metaphor is central to the biblical presentation. She is Dame Wisdom, and her ultimate celebration, as wisdom of a whole life, is personified in the strong woman of chapter 31, who is at the same time both a superb idealization of wisdom in action and a model for a rich and effective womanhood. Opposed to her, of course, is Dame Folly, the woman who entices the simple-minded and unwary from the alleyways, luring them away from obedience to God's law and virtuous pursuit of Wisdom into alternative adulterous liaisons and, as Hebrew scholars have pointed out, into the idolatry of cultic prostitution associated with the fertility goddess religion of the Canaanite neighbors of Israel.
That hokma is an attribute taking its value from God Himself is made explicit in Proverbs 8 (especially vv. 22-31). Wisdom describes her eternal qualities, and her presence at the creation itself, delighting daily both in God Himself (v. 30) and also, through creation's history, in His people (v. 31). This chapter concludes the metaphor with Wisdom still speaking: "Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death."
That is, Dame Hokma is a powerful personification metaphor for that same wisdom which the Scriptures say begins in the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 2-3) and which, finally, is to be identified with it: "the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom" (Job 28:28). The point here? That spiritual wisdom is a quality not derived from ourselves, especially of our carnality, but revealed in God (His wisdom is above our wisdom, His ways not our ways). It is held out to us, therefore, as a quality or attitude we ought to bear toward God. That quality is the fear of God, reverence if you like, absolute respect not only for his authority but for a love so profound that we would do almost anything to avoid offending it. Hence we obey, in freedom. We freely obey, and it is Wisdom that teaches us to do so.
Male Language about God
The fact remains that language about God is overwhelmingly (some radical feminist authors have said "hopelessly") male in its orientation. As Elizabeth Achtemeier has observed: "God is never addressed as ‘Mother,' never invoked as ‘Mother' in the Bible."6
Anthropologically, we can explain this for the Hebrew Scriptures partly in terms of the consistent opposition of Yahweh to the cultic earth-goddess religion of the Canaanites-their panentheism in which the deity is indistinguishable from the earth (not merely, as in pantheism, co-extensive with earth). The Hebrew God is saying, in unequivocal terms, a contrary: that He is to be undersood as Wholly Other than the earth which is, after all, His creation. He stands in relationship to it as an artist to his art (or, to use a specifically biblical metaphor, as a potter to the clay). The art is to be identified with him, but it is certainly not the same thing as he. But while an anthropological perspective is helpful here, it does not provide an explanation or justification for the way God has revealed Himself to us in Scripture. Nor does it allow for wholesale revision of that revelation in the light of new cultural circumstances. The words we use to describe and address Jesus Christ are similarly established in Scripture, and therefore Christians have always taken them to be sacrosanct. A distinguished cardinal put it this way: "Christianity is not a philosophical speculation; it is not a construction of our mind. Christianity is not our work; it is a revelation; it is a message that has been consigned to us, and we have no right to reconstruct it as we like or choose."7
It is this fact, central to Christianity, of the explicit revelation of God to us in His Word which distinguishes sharply between the issue of the language we use among ourselves as members of the Body of Christ with respect to each other, and the language we may use faithfully of God and Christ whose servants we are. The fact that Jesus was given to us, Emmanuel (God with us), as the Son of God and humanly male is not open to our second guessing. If God has chosen to reveal Himself in Christ in time, once and for all time, as a Christian I am hardly in a position to argue about that. When the Inclusive Lectionary systematically deletes "Son," replacing it with "Child," the effect is to rewrite Scripture not only by neutering Jesus, but by denying Him the categories of maturity and princely regality, His oneness with the Father. That is to say, the imposition of the term child is consistent in the Lectionary with its abolition of his titles "Lord" and "Master." Its effect can only be to downgrade His authority, His supreme entitlement to worship.
The desire to abolish a given authority is never, of course, an intention to do away with authority per se, but merely to replace one authority with another. The neo-Marxist bias of much radical feminism is as much to be expected as the concurrent advocacy of goddess religion.
Worship, after all, is what we really are talking about. What gives us our collective identity is just that: we assemble ourselves together to share in worship of One whom we, the many, are all called to acknowledge as having "power over all flesh" (John 17:2).
As a verb, worship means, of course, not only or merely to "engage in worship" or to "take part in an act of worship," but to "regard with extreme respect and devotion," "to adore," "to honor or revere as a supernatural being," "to bow down to"; worship is intimately associated with submission, obedience, and consistent living under the authority of that which is worshipped.
The language of the temple, to paraphrase George Herbert, or of the church, is analogous to the language of the court. It is intrinsically, and not artificially, hierarchical; it is charged with specific value not created by individual worshippers, but by the canons of authority they acknowledge. Accordingly, it is not the language of the street or the marketplace. In the context of Christian worship it is preeminently God's terms that dictate our language of response, not the other way around. The language of worship, as distinct from the language of discussion about worship, or teaching, or sharing, is given in the revelation which is Scripture. We may translate this language, if we do it faithfully, but we abuse it or redefine it at the absolute peril of our unity in Christ and oneness with the Father. To their worship, and by the power of the Spirit, we are called, through the words of the Father (John 17:8, 14) given us through Christ and recorded by the apostles (e.g., Colossians 1:12-29). This is the whole basis of the unity Christ prays for in his great priestly prayer; we most certainly are not being invited in the gospel to reject these terms of reference for some redefinition of our own. There is, we see, a sobering sense in which our language of worship is bound to be indicative; it will always, when scrutinized, reveal what it is we really do worship.
Language about God, language expressing the character of God, and language of address to God is, of necessity, as the Psalmist noted long ago (Psalm 19), provided for us by God-both in His Word and His Word made flesh in Jesus. And the more we discover about the inadequacies of our own language, the more we recognize this as a profound blessing. The Christian life, in fact, is represented to us as one which is created by that Word of God being enfleshed in us, and growing to fullness of expression in the experience of his grace. Our receptivity to that, our humility, is essential. Without that, His gift of life eternal could not grow in us. But both logically and scripturally, primacy clearly rests with what He has given.
Perhaps we would do well to take to ourselves in these matters the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, human mother of our Divine Lord, in whom the Word took on flesh in this primary and life-giving way. Her attitude of heart was quintessentially worship. When the angel came to her to announce God's terms of salvation for the whole human race, in words which confounded her whole sense of human limitations and role determination (Luke 1:1-29ff ), she nonetheless yielded the limits of her own framework of reference to "the power of the highest" which was to "overshadow" her. She said in response,
"Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38). When Jesus prayed in the garden that prayer of prayers for the unity of His people He was offering to us the model for inclusivity for those who would follow Him: "That they may all be one" … "as we are" (v. 11), "in us" (v. 21), "even as we are one" (v. 22). He concluded that prayer by saying, "And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them."
If Mary offers the prototype for our worship, here is the prototype for our fellowship. It is a fellowship in the Name in which we are all included, male or female, "the only name given under heaven whereby we may be saved" (Acts 4:12).
1 C. L. Wrenn, Word and Symbol: Studies in English Language (London: Longmans, 1967), p. 3.
2 Ian Robinson, "The Word of God Now," PN Review 6/5 (1980), p. 27.
3 Though the Committee stopped short of deleting "God" because it may be construed as a "masculine" term (the feminine being "Goddess"), there is no logical reason why this should not be a next step. Cf. Judith Plaskow, "Why Women Need the Goddess," in Womanspirit Rising, ed. Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), pp. 273ff.
4 Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus, Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), p. 66.
5 See, e.g., Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female (New York: Crossroad, 1983).
6 Barry Hoberman, "Translating the Bible: An Endless Task," The Atlantic 255/2 (1985), p. 58.
7 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in The Ratzinger Report (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), p. 97.