Theology in 3D

Gender Questions (Part 3)

Layton Talbert | May 15, 2018
New Testament, Old Testament

Time to wrap up the series of gender questions emailed to me a while back. (For related issues previously discussed, see Parts 1 and 2.)

Since man and woman are both image-bearers, should we look at them as equal halves of a single image, neither of which completely bears that image without the other? If this is true, how was Christ—as a single male—able to perfectly bear the image of God?

Granted, men and women do need each other (Gen 2:16), but that’s not one of the reasons why. Any individual human, man or woman, bears the full image of God. God’s decision to make “man” in his own image is followed immediately by the corollary determination to give them dominion over the rest of creation (Gen 1:26). In other words, it is not “man” as in only “the male” who is created in the divine image, but “man” as in “mankind” or “humanity” that bears the divine image. God created humanity, male and female, in his image (Gen 1:27Gen 5:1-2).

Looked at another way, it’s true that the first created human was male and that he fully bore at his creation 100% of the image of God. If that’s so, and woman was made from man who was himself the image of God, then she too fully bears 100% of the image of God. By analogy, a lump of clay may be 100% Carolina clay; if I fashion a figure from that clay, then take from that figure a portion of the clay and fashion another figure, both are equally 100% Carolina clay.

The point of the creation account is that only humanity bears and reflects the divine image, as opposed to any other created being (including, it would seem, even angels).

The question about Christ (in the original query above) is mitigated, of course, by the fact that he is unique in the full literal sense of that word–the one and only God-Man, fully human and simultaneously fully deity. So that he should be described as bearing fully and flawlessly the image of God should not be in any way surprising (Col 1:15Heb 1:3). Setting aside the uniqueness of his person, however, his solitary reflection of imago dei would be an additional argument against the idea that only man and woman combined can completely reflect the image of God, or that man and woman need each other to bear the full image of God. Here are some others:

(1) The reason for the creation of woman was not to complete the image of God in humanity, but to provide for the man a “corresponding mate”—in both the physical and metaphysical sense of those words (Gen 2:18-23).

(2) If men and women do not bear the divine image individually but only together, then those who are called by God to singleness would be incapable of completely bearing the image of God.

(3) The biblical rationale against murdering someone is that in doing so you are attacking the image of God, not half the divine image (Gen 9:6).

What do those first words describing the woman convey in Genesis 2:18? A perennial error in interpretation is to isolate the phrase of interest from its context—in this case, “I will make him a helper comparable to him” (NKJV)—and examine it as a discrete unit, often ignoring the explanatory boundaries in the surrounding context. There may, of course, be ramifications in the successively larger rings of context outside its immediate grammatical surroundings; but the local context is always the place to begin, and we should be skeptical of interpretations that ignore or contradict that local context.

So what is going on in the context where God speaks those first defining words about woman? The fundamental issue addressed by the creation of woman is the man’s aloneness. And the surrounding context explains the primary ramifications of that aloneness as procreative capacity and the communal companionship of a fellow creature just like (corresponding to) him to help in the divine calling of dominion over the rest of creation (Gen 2:19-20Gen 1:28).

The Genesis narrative describes the creation of both man and woman, as joint representatives of humanity, with the terms ‘asah (Gen 1:26) and bara’ (Gen 1:27). When the narrative zooms in on the specifics of their respective creation, God forms the man from the earth (Gen 2:7); unsurprisingly, this verb (yatsar) is the term for the potter in Jer 18:2and throughout that chapter. But God builds the woman from the man’s rib (Gen 2:21-22); banah is routinely used to describe the construction of altars, houses, temples, and cities.

The creation of man and woman underscores the Creator-ordained distinction between the genders. At the same time, both Adam’s (Gen 2:23) and God’s (Gen 2:24Matt 19:4-5) post-operative conclusion emphasizes the closest possible unity, dignity, and equality between man and woman.

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