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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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Life Theology

Discipleship and Image

It is clear from the Bible that all people are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27; Gen. 9:6; James 3:9). Yet by nature and choice, man has fallen and now carries in himself a broken image (Gen. 3; Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:9-20, et al.). The image of God in man is broken because of his sin nature and consequent sins. This implies that people do not simply do sins they are sinners. Their identity comes before action.

The gospel gives sinners a new identity. This new identity is “disciple.” This new gospel identity motivates disciples to action. What is required for a person to receive this new identity? Repentance and belief in Jesus (Mark 1:15). In other words, people are commanded to abandon old allegiances and follow Jesus. At the foundation, this is a gift of God’s sovereign grace; also, by God’s design, man is responsible to respond to this grace. This continues to be the case as the Christian life progresses. Therefore, the abandoning of old allegiances and striving to follow Jesus is not a one-time event; it is a grace-driven, faith-fueled, disciplined, continual effort to the end.

With all of this in mind, someone recently said to me, “Disciples are created in the image of God, yet fallen, redeemed, and choosing to learn.” For the most part, this is a quality statement that teaches us at least three things. Those who have professed faith in Christ and have therefore become disciples are:

  • Made in God’s image. All people are made in God’s image, however, unlike the rest of humanity, Jesus’ disciples are being renewed and one day they will be fully restored into God’s image (2 Cor. 4:16-18; 1 John 3:2).
  • Fallen and Redeemed. Disciples must not forget that they are sinful and do not move on from the gospel. It is the gospel that saves them, keeps saving them, and will ultimately save them on the last day. Disciples are thus always dependent on the finished work of Christ and his continuing work through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This reminds a disciple that he is not yet perfect and (Phil. 3:12-16) and that he must trust God to work in him (Phil. 2:12-13).
  • Choosing to Learn. Disciples must willfully and continually follow Jesus. Discipleship is an act of the will. Disciples are not made or matured by accident. A disciple must “count the cost” (Luke 14:25-30) and work hard (1 Cor. 15:10; cf. Phil. 2:12). Nevertheless, the disciple knows that he is not alone in his journey. It is the grace of God that upholds, sustains, and equips him to finish his course as a faithful servant (cf. 1 Cor. 15:10; Phil. 2:13; Heb. 13:21; 1 Pet. 1:5; Jude 24-25).

The last bullet brings up the question, “What are disciples learning?” Honesty, probably too much to remember! In all seriousness, however, they learn what it means to be remade into the image of God. In Jesus’ words, they are learning how to: love God and people (Matt. 22:37-40; Mark 12:28-33); serve God rather than other masters (Matt. 6:24); deny themselves and follow Jesus (Matt. 10:38-39; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23; 14:27); do the will of the Father (Matt. 12:50); treasure God above all things (Matt. 13:44); and be true worshipers (John 4:21-24). In Paul’s words, disciples are learning how to: walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-26); renew their minds (Rom. 12:2); put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the flesh (Rom. 13:14); put off the old self and put on the new self (Rom. 8:12-13; Col. 3:5-17); live by faith in the Son of God (Rom. 4; Gal. 3-4; Phil. 3-4).

It is not small task to be a disciple. But once you count the cost, you will realize there is no greater joy in all the world to follow Jesus, your Master.

Categories
Theology

A Primer on the Image of God

The amazing truth about being made in the image of God is that man is the pinnacle of God’s creative activity. Think about it for a moment: you look like God. In Genesis 1:26 the Triune God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The next verse says God’s image-bearers were complete in that they were made “male and female.” Imago Dei (Latin for “image of God”) is the doctrine that humanity, both men and women, is in some respect designed to resemble divine likeness. Millard Erickson writes that the image of God “is the powers of personality that make humans, like God, beings capable of interacting with other persons, of thinking and reflecting, and of willing freely.” Wayne Grudem says being made in the image of God means that we are, simply, like God.

The beauty of God’s creation of man is that it was not complete with the creation of male. If men are honest, we know we are incomplete in ourselves (and for those of us who are married, we’re reminded of that daily). God, in his wisdom, provided a helper for us. Adam was found by God to be alone and this was “not good” (Gen. 2:18, the only time this phrase appears in the first two chapters of Genesis). God therefore decided to make Adam a “helper fit for him” (v. 18). In making Adam a helper, God took a rib from Adam’s side, creating woman, and God brought her to Adam (v. 22). Here we see the first wedding with God, as the Father, walking Eve down the garden aisle to her husband Adam who bursts out into song as he rejoices over his wife (v. 23).

Eve’s creation draws out many implications. Here’s two: 1) Because Eve was made a “helper fit” for Adam, she was meant to compliment and correspond to Adam as one who would assist and challenge him in the cultural mandate that God gave to mankind (see Gen. 1:28). Therefore, wives are to help and support their husbands as they assist them in their God-appointed calling. 2) Eve was taken from Adam’s rib, illustrating the fact that she is to stand beside Adam as equal. She was not taken from behind to be inferior nor from the front to be superior. Therefore, wives are equal to their husbands in worth, value, and dignity. Yet, they are not the same in role and function. Wives stand beside their husbands and operate in the relationship with their unique abilities and skills.

There’s been debate throughout the centuries as to what “image” and “likeness” means. Are they different? Identical? Sparing the details, it’s probably safe to say they mean the same thing. Martin Luther asserted this view, while saying that the uncorrupted divine image is God’s intention for mankind, but only a corrupted image is what is present after the fall. John Calvin adopted a similar view. This seems to be the preferable view in light of several Scriptures (e.g. Gen. 9:6; Acts 17:27-28; 1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9). The fall distorted God’s image in mankind so that now we do not perfectly represent God’s image and likeness. But there’s no evidence from Scripture that men and women have completely lost God’s because of sin. Therefore even non-Christians are to be loved and cared for because of their inherent value as image-bearers of God.

Though we do not perfectly reflect God’s image, we still have hope! Jesus Christ has bested God’s image as the only obedient man. He is the complete revelation of the image of God. One of the reasons God prohibited the worship of images in the Law (Ex. 20:4) is due to the fact that he already had an image of himself, waiting to be sent, whom we would worship: Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:3 perhaps puts it best: “[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” We have failed to represent God as he intended, but praise be to God, Jesus is all that we were supposed to be.

Through his redemptive work in the gospel, Jesus now creates a new humanity (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:20-28). In light of the gospel, we are now being restored back into imago Dei (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:16). On the last day, when Christ returns in great glory, the image of God in believers will be fully restored. The apostle John tells us about this great hope: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

Categories
Theology

Thoughts on Erwin McManus’s Talk at the Global Leadership Summit

I attended Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit this year at a satellite location here in Omaha. There was a lot to receive, some things to redeem, and others to reject. Today, Erwin McManus, pastor of Mosaic in Los Angeles, closed out the Summit with his talk about Christians being culture creators and creative story tellers.

He exceptionally articulated the fact that because God is a creator, Christians are also called to be creative and enter into the redemption that God is working in the world. He told about the time he led Soledad O’Brien to Christ while describing a documentary he was making about the longings and desires every person has. McManus is clearly an innovator, very intelligent (despite barely graduating high school), and no doubt loves Jesus.

The text that McManus spoke from, and formed his argument around, was Ecclesiastes 1:1-11.  Aside from the first ten minutes McManus sounded like a (fairly) orthodox Christian, albeit using post-modern vocabulary.  In those first 10 minutes, however, his use and interpretation of the text was irresponsible, troubling and dangerous at best.

After telling the audience that Ecclesiastes is his favorite book in the Bible, he read the first eleven verses and said that he has been convinced for a while that “Solomon is wrong.” Wrong about what? Wrong that “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (v. 9). McManus described a time he spoke with his wife and she humorously said, “You are going to hell…Don’t tell anyone you think that.” McManus said he waited a “long time” to tell anyone. He also said, “I don’t believe the Bible’s wrong…I believe Solomon is wrong!”  He stated, “Solomon said that animals and men are the same. Do you think that’s true? I don’t.”

McManus went on to argue, as you can imagine, that there are new things in the world. He mentioned various stories in the Old Testament where God did something new, the fact that every person is made unique, the incarnation, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and countless other “new” things. He’s right. New things happen all the time.

But McManus is also wrong. He’s wrong because Solomon is not wrong. It’s not just dangerous that McManus took Ecclesiastes 1 completely out of context (as scary as that is, especially with Ecclesiastes!). What’s more is that he said, “Solomon is wrong.” He told 180,000 people that a biblical author, inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, actually got it wrong. Solomon said there’s nothing new. He’s wrong. I don’t believe him. Let me tell you how the world actually is. If McManus is free to do that (and convince people to do likewise), who is to say that he cannot twist any other passage?

What was Solomon’s point in saying that everything is meaningless and there is nothing new in Ecclesiastes 1? Did he literally mean there is no purpose in live and that literally nothing new ever happens? Moreover, has any respected biblical scholar or pastor ever assumed that’s what he meant?  No and no.

Ecclesiastes is a book of repentance. Solomon wrote it after a long life wasted on sex, drugs, and rock and roll, B.C. style. He was the richest, wisest, sexiest, strongest, and most famous man in the known world. But he turned from the Lord and so nothing was fulfilling to him. His fall is recorded in 1 Kings 11:1-8. Solomon “did evil in the sight of the LORD” (v. 6) and did not remain faithful to Yahweh. He had “hewed out cisterns…that can hold no water” (see Jer. 2:13).  He looked for ultimate satisfaction, just as McManus said every human does, in things other than God himself. Women, money, and fame were never meant to deliver ultimate satisfaction.

Ecclesiastes chronicles Solomon’s journey back to God before his death. The book ends with this: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13-14). That gives us a small peek into how the rest of the book should be interpreted and applied.

When Solomon says, therefore, that “All is vanity,” and that “there is nothing new under the sun,” he does not mean that God does not do miracles or that he cannot “bring into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17). Solomon also does not mean that human beings are not creative agents who partner with God in his redemptive work by creating beauty in this world through relationships, culture, and art. Would a man whose father was the most accomplished musician and poet in the history of the world say that humans don’t create new things?

What then does Solomon mean? He means that living a life apart from God’s commands (see 12:13) is a big waste of time! Living far from God only brings emptiness to life that leaves a person attempting to fill their void in life with truly boring things. Things like drink, food, sex, money, power, pornography, video games, sports, gambling, children’s soccer games, internet, cell phones, books, family, diet and exercise, body image, cars, status, power, and a thousand others. A life lived for anything other than God and his glory brings misery and ultimate meaninglessness. That life produces what seems to be purposeless existence. “I lived for women and fame and wisdom and money and everything else you could try,” Solomon says. “It was all vain.”

What is not vain? When does creativity and renewal and beauty and majesty appear? It appears when we “fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13). Any Jewish person hearing this text would think of Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Jesus said this was the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:37). Jesus even said that this commandment, and “the second greatest” commandment, sum up “all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40). Ultimately, we fear and obey Jesus Christ, who is the exact imprint of God’s nature, the image of the invisible God, and God himself (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15; John 1:1), and we love other people because they are made in the image of God. We fear and obey Jesus, not to simply avoid meaninglessness and escape hell, but because he has saved us from our sin, reconciled us to God, given us rest, and rescued us from the wrath to come. This the the gospel: We are accepted by God through Christ, therefore we obey.

Solomon tells us that a life lived apart from fearing God and obeying him will be meaningless, uncreative, and boring.  Solomon experienced exactly what C.S. Lewis wrote thousands of years later, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Solomon was far to easily pleased. Apart from God’s grace, so are you and me.

McManus was right to say that we are born in the image of God and we are to create beauty in every sphere of life and do it for the glory of God. He had that quite right. At the end of his talk, I was waiting for him to give the real “twist” and say, “Actually, Solomon isn’t wrong. In God’s story, there is true beauty and creativity. When you write your own story, filled with your own pleasures, there is nothing new that will come of that. The final outcome of that will always be misery.” But he did not.

McManus is wrong because Solomon is not wrong. If Solomon is wrong about life, then the Bible itself is wrong. If that is the case, then our faith is null and void and all the beauty we see and create is actually an illusion, a product of random chance, not of God’s sovereign and purposeful design. Therefore, I will go so far to say that no one has been “righter” than Solomon, who experienced firsthand the emptiness and deadness of life outside of God’s loving reign. Thankfully, he repented, which most people do not do.

The Imago Dei has indeed been marred by sin. We are a segmented fraction of our true potential. God is re-creating what is marred, and he will finish his good work (see Rom. 8:29; 1 John 3:2; Rev. 21:5).

All who are being made new–by grace through faith–start now in partnering with God to help, in a small way, to make everything else new, including this world.  That will never happen if you are lost in a slum satisfied with mud sandwich. There’s no beauty, no renewal, no art, no creativity there. There’s only meaningless. And that’s where Solomon was. Until he repented.

Let us go and do likewise.