Is Satan female?

Of course not. But there’s an interesting discussion on Michael Liccione’s Facebook page. It caught my attention because of a time I acted like a jerk in seminary.

I was in Greek class with Dr. A.K.M. Adam at Princeton Seminary, who’s now at Glasgow. And I was translating orally, and not using inclusive language. (I’m that kind of guy.) So I got a gentle rebuke. Well, darned if my next turn up didn’t concern something with Satan — maybe the Temptation narrative, or the Beelzebul controversy, I forget.

In any event, of course I here employed the feminine “she” for the pronouns whose antecedent was Satan.

One of my feminist friends, Abigail, blew a small gasket inside. I got a sterner — and deserved — rebuke.

But it does raise a thorny question about translation, doesn’t it? I don’t want to rehearse any arguments about inclusive language for God here. (Though I do think it’s interesting that the new NIV, which I critiqued here, uses inclusive language for humans who do have gender, while it deliberately uses masculine language for God, Who lacks gender.) I do, however, want to make an observation.

Divine beings — whether God, or angels, or demons, or the Devil — lack gender in traditional Christian theology. This is why Jesus in Matthew 22:30 says there’s no marriage in heaven — “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” — and that’s why traditional wedding vows include “til death do us part.”

So far so good. But then we get into the tricky situation of using human, and thus often gendered, language for God and for other divine beings. And we fight about it, at least in the mainlines and in seminary classrooms. It’s a serious fight, with real issues. Should we keep the traditional Trinitarian language of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”? (I would say yes, of course.) Should we use masculine pronouns for God as such? (I’d affirm this.)

Humans, unlike God, are gendered as male and female (leaving aside the special cases of hermaphroditism and intersexuality), and here the problem is obvious: Do we use masculine language for the whole human race and as generics? (e.g., “He who hears my voice…”). A lot of passion here, too, though with some creativity — like being an “equal opportunity offender” by alternating “himself” and “herself” and such — these problems can usually be surmounted. (Though I agree with Anthony Esolen that there’s just no good substitute for “man” in certain cases — “Man does not live by bread alone,” etc.)

But you notice no one ever really fights about gendered language for angels, demons, and the Devil? Of course the archangels have masculine names — Michael, Gabriel (though both have close female equivalents in Michelle and Gabrielle), and we’re accustomed to conceiving of angels, demons, and the Devil as masculine. But why, if  like God they lack gender and if we still wrestle with gendered language for humans?

Two reasons:

(1) We still care about God and ourselves. We’ve really lost a sense of those beings in-between, angels and demons (and the Devil). Our culture’s superficial interest in angels and fascination with the dark side of things don’t rise to the level of serious concern with beings who really can help and harm us — guardian angels and our own personal demons Satan has assigned to us.

(2) We think too highly of ourselves. Everyone, I think, reads the Gospels and in pride identifies with the wrong characters. Few of us — although a few, and usually they need spiritual or psychological counseling — identify with Judas, or Herod. And so too we don’t care if the Devil is male, if demons are masculine. We think too highly of ourselves to spend time worrying about gendered language for demons and the Devil.

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BTW, let me know if the picture is too risque — I thought it tame enough.

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