Ben Witherington III offers some clear and concise thoughts on familial and gender language in the NT in a recent article in the Biblical Archaeological Review Magazine. While the article cited is not extended or detailed enough to offer a convincing argument in favor of his thoughts, it is nonetheless interesting to read what Dr. Ben Witherington of Asbury Seminary has to say on these things. An excerpt or three:
God is not male, God in the divine essence does not have a gendered identity, and yet God is the Father of Jesus and by extension the Father of all his adopted children as well. How so?
Witherington answers his own question:
…the relationship between Jesus and the Father is one of direct kinship. Jesus and the Father are one…This doesn’t mean that the Son was literally begotten by the Father, only that they had a unique, distinctive, even exclusive family relationship to one another. The language of Father and Son implies intimacy, deep kinship, sharing of a nature (in this case a divine nature) and the like. It is relational language, not gender language.
Thus the attempt to treat the “Father” language used of God as either a bad manifestation of a male-dominated patriarchal culture or a clue to the actual masculinity of God is wrong on both counts. It also ignores an important fact. The reason Jesus did not call God “Mother” is not just because God is never prayed to or directly addressed that way in the Bible, but also because Jesus had an actual human mother.
And a note on language:
When we see male or female nouns or pronouns, we assume they must imply or entail gender. This is false.