Kristin Swenson, A Most Peculiar Book: The Inherent Strangeness of the Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), 59.
The Bible simply doesn’t portray a perfectly consistent, laudable, and powerful deity. In the Bible, even the nature of God is a messy affair. What’s a reader to do? First, recognize that the Bible blows away any effort to stuff God into a box of human making, the better to tote around and show off, or presume to quote with definitive confidence. The Bible itself undermines the popular declaration “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”
What we can say is that the Bible portrays a God who is neither male nor female; who is both out there in cosmic neverland and right here, immediately, intimately present; who is punitive and forgiving, capable of experiencing a range of emotions, deeply interested and invested in the affairs of earth, and wildly, extraordinarily dynamic. In other words, the Bible’s representations of God reflect the Bible’s wide-ranging history, its literary diversity and the driving urge of human beings to find our place and purpose and to make some sense of it all.
3 thoughts on “Kristin Swenson: The Bible Undermines Blind Faith In It”
“What we can say is that the Bible portrays a God who is neither male nor female”
I believe that this shows the bias of the writer. I’m not a Christian scholar nor still even a Christian, but my understanding is that male pronouns are used in thousands of places. I suppose you could debate this point in its own book, but implying that the only clear thing that the Bible does show is that it doesn’t specify that He’s male or female is laughable. Someone maintaining that cannot be taken seriously about anything.
Well, Hebrew nouns are gendered (male or female) but that doesn’t necessarily mean they *are* that gender. For example, the Hebrew term for “word” is ‘dabar,’ and is a masculine noun. Does that mean words are masculine? No, but it is the gender used to express “words” in Hebrew. God’s spirit in Gen. 1:2 is feminine because the word for spirit is a feminine noun. So, I think that she’s correct that on some level the God depicted in many biblical texts isn’t strictly masculine or feminine, though the men who wrote the Bible often try to depict him as a male.
I think Swenson’s point would have been better made if she had said he wasn’t depicted as “entirely male” or “entirely female” since there are places where God takes on the role of mother and father. But that’s another discussion entirely.
I think the title should actually be “The Strange Incoherence Of The Bible!” Let’s face it, she doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the inconsistencies, inaccuracies, doublets, contradictions contained in the Bible. They are legion. The gender of god is almost mundane in comparison to everything else. When he said “Let us make man in our own image” what did he mean? A giraff? It doesn’t seem to be that he meant anything other than a MAN, i.e., a male. After all, he refers to “it” as “man” not “humans”.