Gender and the Incarnation

We are currently reading through Thomas C. Oden’s Systematic Theology 3 Vol. Set
in my Biblical and Systematic Theology class (we started off with Christopher J.H. Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, an excellent resource for biblical theology).  One of our assignments for the class is to write a short catechism or personal credo on a subtopic in systematic theology (soteriology, Christology, etc.).  I have chosen to do a short catechism on anthropology, focusing on what it means to be human, created in the image of God, body and soul, male and female, etc. Since I have been thinking through a number of gender issues during my time at HBU, this will hopefully serve to catalog some of my conclusions.

Recently I’ve been particularly interested in gender and the Incarnation… probably because we’ve been reading on the Incarnation in our Patristics class.

What does it mean for Jesus to be male?  Are both genders represented in the Incarnation?  Many of the early patristic writers drew connections between Eve and Mary, the mother of Jesus (e.g., Irenaeus in Against Heresies, Book III).

Oden’s volume on the person of Christ has a relatively lengthy discussion on gender in the Incarnation. In his section Was the Incarnation Sexist? Oden writes,

Did God show sexist bias or partiality against females or males in the birth of the incarnate Lord? The classical exegetes reasoned that both maleness and femaleness were honored equally in the incarnation…

Mary is female, Jesus is male. God’s way of coming involves both genders in a particular way fitting to those genders: female, for the birthing of the God-man without human father, and male, for the mission of the anointed messianic servant, according to the Jewish expectation of a male of Davidic descent.

The core of this classic feminine/masculine incarnational equilibrium is found in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: ‘But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law’ (Gal. 4:4). Paul says: born of a woman, a particular woman, without male assistance, not born of woman and man.

If one takes the premise that the incarnation required birth and that giving birth cannot be done by males–there is no way physiologically–it forms a plausible hypothesis for explaining why the Savior was male: if the mother of the Savior must necessarily be female, the Savior must be male, if both sexes are to be rightly and equitably involved in the salvation event, according to classical interpretation. This hypothesis reverses the sexism argument by making the female birth-enabler the primary basis upon which the incarnate Lord was more plausibly to be male (this in addition to the Hebraic assumption that the Messiah would be of the male line of David). (p. 116)

It is no wonder Mary exclaimed, “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:48-49)

Oden’s argument finds support from some of the early Christian writers (he quotes Augustine a number of times).  This is one area I think Protestant theology is lacking–we have sorely neglected the role of Mary, the Theotokos, in the Incarnation. We pretty much never talk about her (at least from my own experience)! But I, for one, would like to become better acquainted with the mother of my Lord.

I don’t know… maybe I’ve been spending too much time with the Church Fathers?