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Commentary Let Her Lead Theology

Genesis 1: Male and Female He Created Them

The first two chapters of the Bible are perhaps as important as any others when we talk about men and women in the church.

Not only do these chapters tell us how the biblical story begins but it’s the only picture we have of what life was like before sin entered the world. These chapters will give us clues to what God’s ideal was (and is) for men and women.

Many complementarians make the case that the major clue for gender roles comes from the “created order.” The argument goes like this: “Because God created men first, they are called to be the leaders, and women are to called follow.”

But Genesis 1-2 gives absolutely no support for that conclusion.

Here’s what we’ll see: Genesis shows us that God created man and woman with equal status, function, and authority to carry out his mandate. In other words, there was no hierarchy or patriarchy before the Fall in Genesis 3.

I will cover Genesis 1 in this post and Genesis 2 in the next.

Humanity: Man and Woman, Together

There’s no shortage of opinion about what is going on in Genesis 1 and how it all happens. Of course, our focus is the creation of humanity and what that means for us as we work through the issue of gender roles today.

In verse 26, God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness.”[1] The word translated “humankind” here is the generic Hebrew word adam. Eventually, it becomes the man’s proper name.[2]

Adam is singular, and that’s why a translation like “humankind” (which is singular) makes the most sense. It’s obvious that adam represents more than one person, however. After all, the very next phrase is “so they [plural] may rule” over every other living thing that is not human.

If that wasn’t clear enough, verse 27 is:

“God created humankind [adam, singular] in his own image,
in the image of God he created humanity (or the human) [ha’adam, singular],
male and female he created them [plural].”

God’s image and likeness is incomplete with only one gender.

Yahweh did not make humanity just male or androgynous or asexual. “Male and female he created them.” They stand together, with equal status before Yahweh as his image bearers. No hierarchy, no dominion one over the other.

We’ll come back to “image and likeness” means in a moment. For now, I want to affirm that each, individual person in the world is made in the image of God (imago dei)–whether a person is single, married, divorced, living in community, or standing alone at the top of Mt. Everest.

Genesis compels me, however, to see something more expansive and beautiful than our individual theology of imago dei. Namely, God’s image and likeness is incomplete with only one gender. To fully reflect his nature, character, and activity, God in his wisdom created two genders.

This means that if I am in a room with only men (like so many church elder teams), then the full expression of imago dei is lacking.

Humanity means male and female, together.

But that’s not all.

A Job Fit for Kings and Priests

The purpose of God creating humanity in his image and likeness, according to verses 26 and 28, is that they may rule over the animals, fill the earth with offspring, and subdue the earth. God created humans to fulfill a particular role and function in creation.

God does not tell the male to rule over the female. Again, they are both commanded to rule over everything else that is not human.

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over…” (v. 28). Two significant things stand out.

First, God blessed and spoke to both of the humans, the male and the female. Both of them, not just the male, received the mandate to populate the earth and bring it under their control. There is humanity–in all its glorious maleness and femaleness–and then there is everything else.

Second, God does not tell the male to rule over the female. Ever. Again, they are both commanded to rule over everything that is not human.

So, we have God giving humans the right and ability to rule over creation.

Just at face value, this is pretty exciting, isn’t it? If we take into consideration the cultural context of the primeval world, however, it’s gets even better.

In ancient times, temples were essential and powerful places. They were the place on earth where the gods lived and met with humans. Temples were sacred spaces where the heavens and the earth kissed.

Genesis 1 (as well as chapter 2) paints the picture of Yahweh creating his own sacred space, the first temple, the place where he would dwell with his people.[3]

How can we know this?

There is an important connection here between “image and likeness” (vv 26-27) and ruling/subduing/receiving (vv 26, 28-30) that was common in the Ancient Near East (ANE).

To ANE peoples, an “image” was believed to contain the essence of whatever deity it represented, and the image was equipped by the deity/essence to carry out its function.[4] To be an image didn’t mean that you physically looked like the essence. Instead, it meant that you represented the essence in your activity.

In ancient Mesopotamia, as well as in Egypt, an image was almost always a king (never an entire people) who represented a deity. The king, then, would carry out the deity’s work in the world, typically on behalf of all the people in his kingdom. As the divine image bearer, the king was the source of the deity’s power and privilege on earth. He was the physical manifestation of the deity, given the capacity and authority to act on the deity’s behalf.[5]

This helps us see what’s going on in Genesis 1 and reveals how the original audience would have understood it.

Our modern debates concerning leading and following wouldn’t have ever entered their minds. Instead, they would have heard, “Man and woman represent King Yahweh on earth as his kings and priests! Wow!”

Both man and woman were created to act on behalf of God in the royal and priestly functions he created them to perform.

As Yahweh’s image bearers, placed in his sacred space, the man and woman represent him in their activity–their role and function. This is what having God’s “image and likeness” means in Genesis 1!

They are his vice-regents, endowed with worth, value, dignity, honor, authority, and power to carry out his commands in the world.[6] Not only were they in charge of all creation. As images, man and woman mediated Yahweh’s presence wherever they went. They are doing thew work of kings and priests in the ANE world.[7] Except they represent the one true God, not a false one.

I can’t say this clearly enough. Genesis 1 gives us no hint of a “male” function of leading or a “female” function of submitting or following. It’s just not there.[8]

What is there is more astounding. Both man and woman were created to act on behalf of God in the royal and priestly functions he gave them to perform. Both man and woman were blessed by God and given the same capacity and authority to rule on his behalf. Equal status. Equal authority. Real mutuality and partnership.

Let’s Recap

God’s creation of humanity in his image and likeness as male and female shows that both genders were created equal in every respect–in their status, function, and authority–since they both served as God’s representatives on earth. The language used in Genesis 1 and its ANE context helps us see that the man and woman functioned as kings and priests in Yahweh’s sacred space.

Consequently, Genesis 1 provides absolutely no foundation to argue for gender hierarchy based on “created order.”

There are many more passages to cover. But if this is true, it has profound implications.

In my next post, I’ll cover Genesis 2.


Notes

[1] “Image and likeness” doesn’t mean two different things. It’s a poetic way (think, “pray” and “cry” in the Psalms) to refer to the fact humans will, in some way, “look like” God in how they live and function in the world God created for them.

[2] While its footnotes make this clear, the ESV unhelpfully translates the beginning of verse 26 as, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image’. Later this summer, I’ll write a post about the gender-bias of the ESV, and other translations, and how this has caused many of us to tend toward patriarchy.

[3] See Lifta Schachter, “The Garden of Eden as God’s First Sanctuary,” Jewish Bible Quarterly 41/2 (2013), 73-77, for a very short introduction to this idea from a Jewish perspective.

[4] “Image and Likeness,” NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, on BibleGateway.com

[5] Ibid.; See also John Walton, “Image of God,” Genesis, NIV Application Commentary, on BibleGateway.com.

[6] “Vice-Regent” in old phrase that means someone appointed to rule because the king is absent, too young, incapacitated, etc. I should add that having God’s “image and likeness” likely means even more than being God’s representatives (aka regents) on earth. Others have made the case it means that we are capable of loving, thinking, deciding, feeling, creating, etc. (all things animals can’t do). That’s probably true. It’s just not what this text says.

[7] Walton, “Day 6 (1:24-31): The Blessing,” in Genesis, points out the word “rule” in Genesis 1:26, 28 can be used of priests or kings, as well as administrators or even shepherds.

[8] This doesn’t mean there aren’t differences between genders! William Webb, in his excellent book that I’ll refer to often, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals, writes, “Even from an egalitarian perspective, mutuality and equality do not have to obliterate complementary roles.” He goes on to say that he’ll propose a “type of egalitarianism [that] functions on the basis of equality but continues to celebrate gender distinctiveness and the complementary interdependence that gender differences bring.” See Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2001), 115-116.

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Theology

God’s Glory Is the Goal of Creation

This is adapted from a post that was originally published on September 9, 2011

In case you need to be reminded (as I often do):

  • We were created for God’s glory (Isa. 43:7).
  • We were made in the image of God, to reflect his glory (Gen. 2:27).
  • Everything we do should be for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31). But, we fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23).
  • Paul says that the human race has “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Rom. 1:23).
  • Jesus came to earth to reveal God’s glory, “glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).
  • Jesus prayed that God’s people would be with him where he is to see his glory (John 17:24).
  • God has provided a solution to our falling short of his glory. Through Jesus, he has saved us so that we would “be to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12). Jesus has granted us the same glory he and the Father share that we might be one with them (John 17:22).
  • In this salvation, God predestines his own people to be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29) who is the “radiance of the glory of God” (Heb. 1:3).
  • One day, God will redeem all of creation by setting “it free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).
  • Forever and ever after, God will receive glory because of Christ’s redemption (Rev. 1:6).
The Bible (and life) is not about us. It’s about God and his glory.
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Theology

Monday Miscellanies: Happiness and the End of Creation

A guest post by Jonathan Edwards

87. Happiness

‘Tis evident that the end of man’s creation must needs be happiness, from the motive of God’s creating the world, which could be nothing else but his goodness. If it be said that the end of man’s creation might be that He might manifest his power, wisdom, holiness or justice, so I say too. But the question is, why God would make known his power, wisdom, etc. What could move him to will, that there should be some beings that might know his power and wisdom? It could be nothing else but his goodness.

This is the question: what moved God to exercise and make known these attributes? We are not speaking of subordinate ends but of the ultimate end, of that motive into which all others may be resolved. ‘Tis a very proper question, to ask what attribute moved God to exert his power, but ’tis not proper to ask what moved God to exert his goodness; for this is the notion of goodness, an inclination to show goodness. Therefore such a question would be no more proper than this, [namely] what inclines God to exert his inclination to exert goodness—which is nonsense, for it is an asking and answering a question in the same words. God’s power is shown no otherwise than by his powerfully bringing about some end. The very notion of wisdom is, wisely contriving for an end; and if there be no end proposed, whatever is done is not wisdom. Wherefore, if God created the world merely from goodness, every whit of this goodness must necessarily ultimately terminate in the consciousness of the creation; for the world is no other way capable of receiving goodness in any measure. But intelligent beings are the consciousness of the world; the end, therefore, of their creation must necessarily be that they may receive the goodness of God, that is, that they may be happy.

It appears also from the nature of happiness, which is the perception of excellency; for intelligent beings are created to be the consciousness of the universe, they they may perceive what God is and does. This can be nothing else but to perceive the excellency of what he is and does. Yea, he is nothing but excellency; and all that he does, nothing but excellent.

92. End of Creation

How then can it be said that God has made all things for himself, if it is certain that the highest end of the creation was the communication of happiness? I answer, that which is done for the gratifying of a natural inclination of God may very properly be said to be done for God. God takes complacence [satisfaction] in communicating felicity [happiness], and he made all things for this complacence. His complacence in this, in making [us] happy, was the end of the creation. Revelation 4:11, “For thy pleasure they are and were created.” See No. 581.

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Reviews

Science and God Review

Scott Petty. Little Black Books: Science and God. Kingsford, Australia: Matthias Media, 2011. 112 pp. $4.99.

Christians don’t have to choose between God and science. In fact, they are quite compatible. In his little book Science and God, Scott Petty succinctly, humorously, and helpfully makes just that point as he analyzes the modern tension between science and faith.

Science and God is a part of the Little Black Book series, authored by Petty, a youth minister in Australia. The series covers a wide range of topics for young people ages 15-20. The books are supposed to be fun and straight to the point, and Science and God is no exception. While it is simple, it is not simplistic or “dumbed-down.” I certainly learned a few things myself! The point of the book is simply to prove that science and God are not enemies. The book is not a complete resource on all things science, but it will certainly be a helpful resource for teens and even adults who are confused about the relationship of science and faith.

Petty gives three main reasons why we don’t need to choose between God or science. First, he says that science and God have historically been good friends. Second, he says that some of the world’s best scientists are professing Christians. Third, and most importantly, science and religion answer different questions. 

This third point is especially necessary for both Christians and skeptics to understand. Petty writes, “Can science tell me anything about the Fall of Rome, or World War II, or your summer holidays? Can I put the events of 11 September 2001 in a lab to examine them scientifically  No. Can I put the day I got married under a microscope so that I may thoroughly understand it. Not likely” (28). So is science unnecessary? Of course not! Science simply isn’t able to provide that sort of information; it cannot provide answers to every part of our existence. Simply put, science is not fit to answer questions of an ultimate kind, like those concerning purpose, meaning, beauty, and love.

So how do we reconcile science with theology? Petty proposes we adopt a layered approach. He gives the example of a book being created. A book came to exist because of the author’s know-how, expertise, and actually putting words on paper. But it also came to be through the invitation of the publisher, editing, and finally printing and binding, along with many other factors. These aspects work together, not against each other. In the same way, science explains some parts of our existence, and theology explains others. They are not opposed. They simply ask and answer different questions. Petty teases out this layered approach throughout the book. He also includes helpful sections on the Big Bang, Darwinian evolution, and evidence for God himself.

Are there any problems with the book? Some may criticize Petty for saying evolution is a scientific theory while ignoring the fact that it is an entire worldview that has become its own religion. Others may be upset that he does not clearly state his position on creation. These people miss the point of the book. This point is simply to show that science and God are not at odds. Regarding the first concern, Petty clearly understands that evolution is the lens through which some scientists interpret everything (chs. 1, 4), which is “a big mistake” (30).

Regarding the second, Petty clearly believes that God created the world from nothing (ch. 4). But is it necessary for him to say how he thinks that happened? No. He does admit that Bible-believing Christians differ on how to interpret Genesis 1. He notes that at least a dozen views have been proposed, and only one holds that God created everything in six literal 24-hour days. There is no way to be absolutely positive on how God created the world because Genesis 1 is not written as a science textbook for our 21st century questions (80). 

This is a solid book. Even if you don’t agree with everything, Petty will challenge your thinking, make you laugh, and put your mind at ease.

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Theology

Monday Miscellanies: Happiness is the End of Creation

A guest post by Jonathan Edwards

3. Happiness is the End of Creation

As appears by this, because the creation had as good not be, as not rejoice in its being. For certainly it was the goodness of the Creator that moved him to create; and how can we conceive of another end proposed by goodness, than that he might delight in seeing the creatures he made rejoice in that being that he has given them?

It appears also by this, because the end of the creation is that the creation might glorify him. Now what is glorifying God, but a rejoicing at that glory he has displayed? An understanding of the perfections of God, merely, cannot be the end of the creation; for he had as good not understand it, as see it and not be at all moved with joy at the sight. Neither can the highest end of the creation be the declaring God’s glory to others; for the declaring God’s glory is good for nothing otherwise than to raise joy in ourselves and others at what is declared.

Wherefore, seeing happiness is the highest end of the creation of the universe, and intelligent beings are that consciousness of the creation that is to be the immediate subject of this happiness, how happy may we conclude will be those intelligent beings that are to be made eternally happy!