Sons of God

Rev. Chip Hammond

Boy, were they angry with me. How could I be so insensitive in this day and age, they wanted to know. They told me all the things that women did today. They were airline pilots, and fighter pilots, and police officers, and banking executives, doctors and lawyers, butchers and bakers and candlestick makers.

They said when I had preached God's Word I had excluded them. I wished I were in my own church where I am not so misunderstood, where people know I’m not a misogynist. But they didn’t know me, and they assumed the worst.

What was my high crime and misdemeanor? I had read and then preached on Matthew 5:44-45, "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, in order that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."

I repeated those precise words in the sermon, explaining that in Jesus' context to be "the son" of something meant to bear a resemblance to it.

They took umbrage. Why had I not said, "so that you may be children of your Father in heaven"? I pointed out to them (they both knew Greek) that the word there was not teknoi (children), but huioi (sons).

And that's when it happened. I went from misdemeanor to felony: I said, "This push for gender-inclusive language that has so gripped Bible translators and some segments of the church today does no service to women. In fact, it denigrates them." Now I had let my true colors show. It was obvious that I must eat raw meat, and that my knuckles must drag on the ground as I walk.

I really didn't care to justify myself, but I wanted them to understand what the Scriptures said about this topic because it's important for women;  for their identity in Christ; and for the dignity that they are afforded, a dignity that is every bit the equal to that of their male counterparts.

So I continued. I pointed out that in Galatians 3:26, the apostle says, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." 

They pounced. "You see! That's just the problem. Look at the TNIV (Today's New International Version). It says, 'So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.'"

"I know what the TNIV says" I replied. The KJV also translates the word as 'children.' But it's not translated properly. The word is huioi, not teknoi. It is 'sons,' not 'children.' And translating it as 'children' denigrates women."

"You're kidding us, right? How does using the gender-inclusive 'children' denigrate women, rather than using the masculine 'sons'? We’re obviously not 'sons' of God!"

I asked them, "Are you trusting in Jesus as your Lord and Savior?" They replied that they were. I said, "Then you most certainly are sons of God."

"How can you possibly say that? We might be daughters of God, but we're not sons! How can you say we're sons of God?"

"Because that’s what the text says," I replied. "And I don’t think we should change what the text says to fit into some notion of political correctness. Instead, I think we should ask some questions of the text. Why does it call both men and women sons of God?"

I invited them to look at the text. I pointed out that Paul wrote his letter to "the churches of Galatia" (Gal. 1:2). He didn’t write to the monasteries of Galatia (there were no such things then), but to the churches, and churches include women. I pointed out that in chapter 3 Paul said, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (v.28). I pointed out further  that the Greek word "one"  in contexts such as this means "one and the same" (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).

"So," I continued, "Paul writes to a church that was made up of men and women. He affirms that in Christ male and female are one in the same with regard to their status and standing before God. And in that same context, just a couple of verses before he says, 'you [men and women] are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ.'" (v.26). "Now," I said, "why do you think Paul says that they all, including the women, are 'sons of God?'" 

"Because you are misogynous and insensitive to women."

"Well, I probably am. But I was asking you why Paul said that, not why I did."

They looked at me not saying anything, so I proceeded. "Paul says that they are all sons of God because in that culture and time, sons and sons alone received an inheritance. Daughters did not. It was assumed that daughters would be cared for by the inheritance of their husbands, or would stay in the house of their father if never married. But they would not have an inheritance in their own right. Had Paul said, 'You are all sons and daughters through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,' he would have been saying, 'Some of you are second-class citizens in the kingdom and will never receive any inheritance in your own right or have any status or standing. But some of you, some of you are sons.' But Paul wanted them to understand that all of them –slave, free; Jew, Greek, male, female – they all had the privileged status of sons!"

They looked at me as though I were speaking in tongues. "But we're not sons. We’re women. We’re daughters of God." And that was the end of the conversation.

It frustrates me sometimes that although I have been teaching for a long time now, I am so poor at it. I was not upset that they went away slightly angry at me. I was upset, however, that I wasn’t able to get them to see that they had the status of sons, and why that was so important. Perhaps it would have helped if I had pointed out that when Paul says to the Galatians that they are all (men and women) sons of God, he was not making reference to gender, but to status, a particular standing and a place of privilege.

And I hope the dear women of my own church will understand why I am insistent on retaining the Bible’s own wording. It is not because I am a knuckle-dragging misogynist. It is because I believe the Word of God when it affords to the women who trust in Christ the same spiritual status of inheritance that is afforded to men who do so – the status of sons.

I believe that the "Women's Liberation" movement of the 1960s did more to harm to enslave women than did the evils it sought to correct. And I believe that a head-long uncritical steeple-chase after "gender inclusive" language in translations of the Bible will in the long run have much the same effect. There is a reason, dear ladies, why the Scriptures call you “sons of God.” I hope you will glory in it.