Is God More Male than Female? Why Did Messiah Have to Be a Man?

The gold ceiling in St. Mark's Basilica in Venice represents God the Father.

Is God more male than female?

Of course not. Nor is he more female than male. God is spirit (John 4:24), so God has no sex. Father and Son are metaphors, not sexual identities.

The early church never depicted the Father as a male human. But later…well…consider the Sistine Chapel’s “The Creation of Adam.” Michelangelo painted the Father as an old man with white hair and a long beard. But in earlier centuries, it was considered heretical to portray the Father in human form at all. Only Jesus could be depicted in art, because he did indeed come in human flesh. Matt Milliner, assistant professor of art history at Wheaton College spoke about this at Gordon College in 2013 in his presentation, ”Visual Heresy: Imaging God the Father in the History of Art.”  

In earlier Christian art, the Father’s presence might be depicted by gold that covers the entire interior of the ceiling (e.g., St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice), or by an empty throne or a hand. People thus thought of God the Father as spirit—invisible—rather than as male.

About the time we began depicting the Father as a male human, we removed the Virgin Mary from our art. Many Protestants think Mary appeared all over pre-Protestant art because Roman Catholics worshiped Mary. But that is inaccurate. Pictures of the Madonna and Child were pre-literate (think “flannelgraph”) ways of representing the incarnation. This is why often the face of Christ in Madonna-and-Child images is not the face of a newborn, but of a more mature male. And often Mary was and is depicted as gesturing toward her Son, pointing to her redeemer.

Mary had to be physically larger because she was an adult woman when the Spirit overshadowed her. But bigger is not necessarily meant to represent “preeminent.”

All this is to say that we tend to imagine God as we have seen him in visual art. So once the Protestant church lost the Mary-and Jesus visual reminders of the incarnation, and we also incorporated male human images of the Father, we ended up imagining the Father as more male than female. 

Something similar happened when our knowledge of women in Church history disappeared. The Church in pre-Protestant times also set aside days for remembering the holy men and women from ages past. We still know and even celebrate a few of these…St. Valentine’s Day on February 14; St. Patrick’s Day on March 17; the feast of Stephen on which Good King Wenceslas looked out on December 26…. But in the past, people knew about Felicity and Perpetua and Catherine of Siena and Catherine of Alexandra and many other holy women, whom they remembered every year on their “days.” With the loss of these annual reminders, as Protestants emphasized that all Christians are “saints,” we lost even more of the female images in the Church.

In Scripture, God is depicted as both male and female. Through metaphor and simile we get ideas about what the invisible God is like. “He” is a pronoun of personhood, not of sex identification—which is why we do not refer to God as “it,” even though he is spirit and not male human.

In the pages of the Word, then, we see “him” depicted as a weaning mother (Ps. 131:2); as a woman looking for a lost coin (Luke 15:8ff); and as one who gives birth from above (John 3:3). Even as early as Genesis 1:2, we have the reference to the Spirit “hovering” over creation in Genesis 1:2—metaphorical language that calls to mind a mother bird incubating and nurturing her creation. In Exodus, God speaks of bearing his children on eagles’ wings (19:4). In Isaiah, he hovers like a bird on a nest (31:5). And both Matthew and Luke record Jesus telling Jerusalem he wanted to gather the city to himself like a mother hen.

Why did the Messiah have to be a man?

The text does not say. But think about it…. The Scriptures tell us Jesus was conceived by virgin birth through the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18). So genetically, he had a human mother but not a human father. If the offspring of the divine/human union had been a female, the redeemer of all humanity would have been a female with only a human mother. Where would that have left men? Unrepresented! The virgin birth that resulted in a male Messiah involves the perfect participation of male and female in the redemption of all males and females. All humanity. Brilliant!  

Sandra Glahn, who holds a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and a PhD in The Humanities—Aesthetic Studies from the University of Texas/Dallas, is a professor at DTS. This creator of the Coffee Cup Bible Series (AMG) based on the NET Bible is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books. She's the wife of one husband, mother of one daughter, and owner of two cats. Chocolate and travel make her smile. You can follow her on Twitter @sandraglahn ; on FB /Aspire2 ; and find her at her web site: aspire2.com.


  • Joel

    Does that mean we can say “Our Mother in Heaven”? Jesus always called God ‘the Father’.

    Are the depictions of God as a father/mother just … depitctions? Or do they communicate something more?

    Thank You.

  • Sandra Glahn

    Great question!

    Dr. Simon Chan is the Earnest Lau Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Theological College in Singapore. In an article for Christianity Today, he wrote this: “Father is not a culturally conditioned term but the proper name of God given by divine revelation. It is how God is primarily identified or named in relation to his Son. At stake is the Trinitarian identity, which inevitably affects the church’s identity. Playing the inclusive language game has a high theological cost that far outweighs any gains.”

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