Women and the Gender of God (Eerdmans, 2022, $24.95) is certainly one of the more probing and thought provoking books written about women in the Bible and the larger gender issues written in the last 20 or so years. Professor Peeler, who teaches at Wheaton College has provided us with a detailed, well-researched book that even for readers like me that have read so many books in this field, must say here is something both fresh and challenging in a good way. Just to be clear, if we are talking about the first person of the Trinity, then what Jesus says must be taken absolutely seriously—- God is spirit, and that means God has no body and has no gender. Period. What then could it possibly mean to say that male and female are made in God’s image, and in some sense after God’s likeness. Inquiring minds want to know. My take on that would be that like God, we are made capable of having a personal relationship with the deity, that lesser creatures cannot and do not have, and that we are made for everlasting life, also unlike other lesser creatures. So why exactly is God called Father, though very infrequently in the OT (mostly its an analogy, like a father, God……) and then abundantly in the NT? Why exactly is God not addressed or prayed to as mother? Is this just a result of rampant patriarchy infecting the Holy Scriptures? My answer, and that of Prof. Peeler would be no.
One of the most helpful parts of this book is not merely its detailed coverage of a lot of recent feminist literature on this and related subjects, but the attempt to get rid of the Marcionite stereotypes especially about the God of the OT—-e.g. God is distant, God is stern, God is abusive or oppressive of women, God is male. None of this is a fair assessment of God, even as depicted in the OT.
Another helpful major theme in the book is a detailed discussion of the mother of Jesus, Mary. Protestants historically have not done a very good job of treating women in the NT fairly, including the mother of Jesus. This book seeks to remedy that neglect, and to some extent does a good job. I agree that Mary is portrayed as a faithful responder to the call of God on her life, even when it would endanger her marriage, her honor, her integrity, and Luke spends considerable time in Luke 1-2 contrasting her response to the angel who was speaking for God compared to the priest Zechariah. It is part of a pattern of male-female reversal that Luke plays up in his Gospel and in Acts.
Another very useful part of this book is Peeler’s taking on the monograph by Andrew Lincoln which ends up not seeing the virginal conception as an historical likelihood. Peeler’s critique is detailed and ongoing, and in the end I think she is absolutely right. There are many more positive things I could say about this book but I will leave some of that for the dialogue which follows this post in several further posts. This is a well written book by a thoughtful scholar who is passionate about getting gender issues right when it comes to both the human level and the divine level, while being faithful to the teaching of Scripture on these and other related matters. I commend her as this is a brave book, especially for someone who teaches at an Evangelical college. I hope it will get a wide readership, even though at various points I find myself disagreeing with some of it.