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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.

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
Life Theology

Sermon 4: Is there another way to talk about abortion?

Is there another way to talk about abortion?
Series: Debated: Answering Hard Questions About Christianity
Guest Preacher Ed Noble, Journey Community Church, San Diego

At our church, we are unashamedly pro-life, but we are not angrily or condemningly pro-life.  This is not a political issue.”

  • God 101: Unpacking God’s Heart for Life
    • God as Creator.  He has directly created everyone everywhere.  He did not just get the world rolling so that people just “happen.”  He fashioned us specifically and carefully (cf. Pr. 22:2; Acts 17:26).
    • God as Owner (Ezek. 18:4).
    • God as “Holi-izer” (sanctifier) of all life (Gen. 1:27).
  • Our situation: When it comes to abortion we are all polarized and in pain.
  • Is there a new way to talk about abortion?
    • We must live the Imago Dei (the “Image of God”).  This implies that the strong are responsible for the weak (Acts 20:35).  Who is weaker than a helpless, unborn baby?
    • Live the Jesus Shema.  The shema is found in Mark 12:28:31.  “Shema Yisrael” is the Hebrew phrase for “Hear, O Israel,” found in the Torah, which is the centerpiece for Hebrew worship.  It calls Jews to remember that God is one and they are to worship him only.  But Jesus goes a step further.  He gives the greatest commandment (love God) and tells us another commandment (love our neighbor).  This was a huge paradigm shift for Jews.  We are to love every person.
  • When it comes to abortion:
    • Our hearts should break for all the victims. The victims are also the perpetrators.  Our hearts should break for the doctors performing the abortions.
    • We (the church) should become a safe place to be broken and find healing.
    • We need to remember that love is patient.  And we must wait for God’s timing. Saint Ephraim said, “Remember that every person you meet is fighting a great [spiritual] battle.”
  • Everyone can be forgiven.  But remember that Jesus just didn’t come to forgive us.  He came to restore us into his image.