Male and Female: Made in God’s Image

Image of God - Male and Female

In the creation account, it actually is this simple

I’ve now concluded my rebuttals against the complementarian argument. I don’t want to stop there. I don’t want to just present why I don’t like the other side. I want to present why I do support egalitarianism. This first one is one that I don’t think any complementarian would argue with in principle, but would see definite conclusions than I do. Here I’ll look at the idea that both male and female are made in God’s image.

There is a linguistic problem in English, as there was in ancient Hebrew and in Greek (and Aramaic, and any other languages that appear in the Bible). We have no pronoun that is gender inclusive but still personal. It’s either a neutral like “it”, which strips the whole personhood out of God, or you pick one of the genders to favour. So how did the ancient writers refer to God? Most often as a “he”, with some exceptions. Why a he instead of a she? Lot of arguments for it but I’m not sure I’ll bother spend a lot of time on them here except to say that there were good cultural reasons as well as good metaphorical reasons for that linguistic choice. One of the unfortunate side effects is that even when people do not directly argue that God presents himself (or herself) as a male to show that men are supposed to lead – as they sometimes do, although rarely enough I did not include it in prior posts – they still tend to think of God as a male god. At best he knows how to relate to women: a guy with a bit of a feminine side. So even though I think complementarians would have no problem agreeing that women are also created in God’s image, I think this attitude underlies part of the problem. In some way, we do see God as more male than female, and thus we see men as more like God than we do women. What to do about that: I’m not really sure.

There are two creation accounts in the Bible, likely written by different authors: Genesis 1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25.  The first is the big picture, the second is the human picture.  In Genesis 1: 27, “God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (NIV).  In Genesis 2 the man is made first out of the dust, and the woman is (essentially) created out of him.  So 1 implies they were created together, and 2 implies that the man was first, which is why some have argued that men are more important since we were first (although the rest of the creation account is building upwards so really if you want to take that argument of creation order, women are the most important).

They’re easily harmonized in other ways that aren’t quite as plain, so I’m not saying that they actually are contradictory, but it is an interest difference in how it is presented.  Genesis 2 does seem more patriarchal. At least if you read it in a certain way, and this is where another linguistic problem comes in. The first “man” could be understood two ways: the first human being or the first male human being. It was true of English for a long time, and is true of this word in Hebrew as well. Obviously being the first would also be being the first human as well. Not my point. The more interesting interpretation of the word, which has a long standing in Jewish reading of this text, and some Christian reading as well, is that initially the “man” was undifferentiated, both male and female.

That fits with Genesis 1 which says that both male and female were created in God’s image, while retaining Genesis 2’s order of Adam before Eve. When Eve was taken from Adam, it split him in half, the creation of the genders. Which is why Adam saw Eve and said she was “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh… for she was taken out of man” instead of “well, she’s kinda like me, but with…[I’ll keep this post rated G]”. Adam knew that this woman was a part of him, so I buy into that traditional interpretation that Adam was undifferentiated before that point.

Another side note: Eve was a suitable “helper” to Adam, so obviously she is supposed to be following him, right? Fun Hebrew fact: it’s the same word used every time that God comes down to “help” Israel. It is a word of a higher being rescuing somebody in need, not of a caddy carrying your golf clubs. So like the creation order argument, if you really want to go that way, you end up with women as the pinnacle of creation, not men.

What does this have to do with gender roles? Well, if Adam was not first, if Adam was not made in God’s image and then Eve was a derivative of that, if instead both were created together as Genesis 1 suggests, then there never was intended to be any kind of heirarchy. Although I hold to my argument that if you’re using creation order as an argument for the highest in creation then women should be the leaders anyway, but anyway, that hierarchy only came after the Fall in Genesis 3. I think I’ll talk about that more in a later post. Adam is not any more the image of God than Eve is. God even uses feminine references for herself at points in the Bible. I was originally going to put those in this post too but it’s already long enough so I think I’ll just dig them up if people request them.

Here’s my point. Most admit that God is equally male and female. Most admit that men and women are both fully made in the image of God. So why are you only listening to half the image of God by telling the other half they are not allowed to teach, or hold any authority whatsoever, or in some churches even to speak at all? Seems to me like a pretty stupid idea to ignore half of God.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.