June 22, 2009 by

The Two-Fold Image of God


Categories: food for thought, healing wounds, theological questions

In my recent posts concerning releasing and restoring the woman, particularly in the church (which you can find by clicking the category “healing wounds” in the right-hand column of this blog)…I’ve pretty much stayed away from in-depth theological discussions about gender roles. I’ve done this firstly because theological arguments have been (over)done on both sides of the debate, and don’t seem to make much headway. (People that deep into theology aren’t usually looking to be convinced of another viewpoint.) Secondly–because I figured I wasn’t going to sway complementarians to become egalitarians, I also figured most of the folks I was talking to already believed (at least somewhat) that women should have an equal footing among men in the church…so the focus ought to be on how we are being inconsistent in carrying out that belief. (This is what moved me to stand in support of Jonathan Brink when he raised some questions. )

Thus, I’ve kept my Bible references pretty general most of the time, simply admitting that we have based the suppression of women on the misinterpretation of Scripture, and focused more on dealing with the passivity and latent sexism that still floats around our minds–the practical application.

But today I’m chucking that approach, and talking theology. 🙂 (Sorry, Jim.)

Actually, I guess a better way to put it is that I’m musing over the Scriptures and how we apply (and mis-apply) them on gender issues…and where the disconnect began with all this. And IMHO…I think it began at (or near) the beginning. So let’s start there–Genesis 1:27:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

This verse, written poetically, says to me that both male and female are created in the image of God. The Hebrew word for man (adam) is basically “human”, and different Hebrew words are used for male and female. Point: male and female are both adam. “Man” is the species here, not the sex. Thus, both genders are created in God’s image.

Now, I’m not going into the debate about God’s gender here. Scripture makes it clear that God carries both male and female qualities (and since woman was taken from man, it can be assumed that Adam had both qualities initially). But since the Bible always uses male pronouns in reference to God (without God correcting it), I’m true to that without getting hung up about it. God is who He is (Ex. 3:14). The problem seems to lie in our understanding of humanity and gender in relation to God, so that’s where my attention is; and it’s important that we start with the baseline understanding that men and women are both reflections of God equally, because this is how the Bible describes us. Woman is not a “reflection of a reflection” because she was taken from Adam. Different, but equal–the same species, the same image of God. This is how we began.

The other thing I find intriguing is that the word “God” here in Genesis 1 is Elohim, which is God plural…which coincides with God saying, “Let Us make man in our image.” I love how Timothy Keller discusses the Trinity in his book The Reason for God; he paints a word picture of a symbiotic triune collective Being in a circle of love, in constant motion, like a dance–each part confirming and making way for the other two in every way conceivable. How God can be Three and yet One always seems to boggle the human mind; but suffice it to say there isn’t any evidence that Father, Son, and Spirit are a hierarchy. None outranks the others, but each lifts up the others. Each person of the Trinity is GOD–just as male and female are both MAN.

Now as to why God is Three-in-One, and would make adam into two-in-one–that’s just too much math for me. 🙂 But I think the foundational idea of the relationship is much the same. If we are created in the image of God, both male and female, then it stands to reason that the relationships between the two genders should reflect the mutual love relationship of the Trinity. In fact, one thing God seems to enjoy doing consistently through Scripture is to separate entities into parts, with the intent that they rejoin as one. This is the case with man and woman (specifically husbands and wives); and it is also the case with the Body of Christ (many members, many gifts–one body).

All this sums up to tell me that male and female, being both the image of God, were also created to carry the same sense of mutual equality that exists in Elohim. If we understand that this is how it was meant to be, then we will also understand that it is within God’s redemptive plan to restore this relationship to what it was meant to be. God does not change; if this was in His heart from the beginning, it is in His heart now.

So how did we get so messed up? When we messed up. Genesis 3:16, spoken by God after Adam and Eve sinned:

“To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.'” (NIV, emphasis mine)

I think this verse gets gravely misinterpreted when it comes to gender issues in the church and the place of woman, because it gets interpreted as God’s will for the woman to be under the man. But this was not how God created it to be; this was the consequence of their sin–part of the curse! I see the ruling thing not as a command for Adam to rule Eve, but a prediction of what was going to happen between man and woman. When sin entered, it broke the symbiotic relationship between male and female, causing a rift between the two parts of God’s image, and one began to dominate the other. It interrupted the dance. And it has been a struggle for us ever since to find the beat again.

So if we understand that the woman’s suppression by man is part of the curse of sin…where does this now fit in God’s plan of redemption? Does the cross of Christ speak to this issue?

I believe it does, for this reason. The Bible makes it clear that God’s purpose in redeeming us was not simply to give us a ticket to heaven when we die. It is His purpose to redeem all things to Himself–to eventually right every wrong brought upon us by the sin of man. Not just to forgive us our sins, but to redeem us from the curse of sin itself. And in my opinion, that includes the full restoration of the two-fold image of God, the restoration of how God initially intended it to be between men and women.

Jesus set a standard of respect for women that far exceeded the attitudes of His day; and the New Testament (despite misinterpretations of a few verses) actually upholds this standard. There is much evidence that women operated with authority and respect in the early church, right alongside their brothers. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts–the verses in the New Testament that we have historically used to affirm female subjection in the church, we have interpreted in the light of our own male-dominant culture over the centuries. But when you start from the beginning premise that God created both male and female in His image, that it was not His initial intent that one rule the other (but that both serve each other)…it causes you to see those verses in a different light, to re-evaluate the conclusions we have drawn about them.

And when we begin to recognize that the restoration of woman runs much deeper than the human efforts of the modern feminist movement–that the true restoration of woman is ultimately part of God’s redemption for us all–we begin to approach things differently. For men of faith, it carries a holy conviction that as we have historically been perpetrators in the oppression of our female counterparts, we must now become partakers in the healing. And more and more men are getting the message. This is part of the restoration God desires, and it affects not only husbands and wives, but brothers and sisters, and indeed all relationships between the genders.

Because we are male and female, both the image of God…when we partake in this healing, we aren’t just healing the wounds of the woman–we are healing ourselves. We are finding the beat again, as God brings us back into the divine dance that the Trinity has enjoyed all along. This is how it once was, and how it must be again…male and female functioning together on equal footing, with mutual admiration and respect, and in the love of Christ. A two-fold reflection of a Triune God.

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

15 Responses to The Two-Fold Image of God

  1. Arthur Sido

    I think that is a real stretch. God created man in His own image and then He created woman out of man. 1 Cor 11 references the creation order and Paul makes claer that it is important:

    For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. (1Co 11:7-9)

  2. Jeff McQ

    I fully expected this issue to be raised (so thank you). Again, I reiterate that revisiting how it was in the beginning will cause a re-evaluating of how we interpret what comes afterward. (Paul needs to be interpreted through Genesis, not Genesis through Paul.) I have some specific thoughts on how this relates to the issues of "covering" mentioned in 1 Corinthans 11 and other passages, but it would have made the post too long. Another post, later, perhaps.

    For the time being…the footnotes in the study Bible I'm reading 1 Cor. 11 from makes a statement about this that's worth pondering: "God created lines of authority in order for his created world to function smoothly. Although there must be lines of authority, even in marriage, there should NOT be lines of superiority…one sex is not better than the other." Also, the "headship" thing refers to man being "the source of" the woman, not indicating supremacy over the woman.

    All that being said, I'm sorry if you feel what I said is a stretch, and it's certainly your prerogative to disagree. But I do not see 1 Cor. 11 as being in conflict with how I interpreted Genesis 1-3. I affirm Paul's assertion that that woman came from man and even was created for man…but that does not make her any less the image of God.

  3. J. R. Miller

    Good start Jeff.

    I agree with your interpretation of Gen 1 which says,

    "God created Man in His image, Male and Female He created them."

    Both men and women bear the image of God and share equally in his character and beauty.

    FYI, you may be interested in this post from some time back called, "Algebra In The Church". Maybe you will find something of value in it.

  4. Jeff McQ

    Thanks for the link; I enjoyed the article. Thank you for helping me with my math. 🙂 BTW…like your new blog layout, and especially your profile pic!

  5. Amy

    This is soo good! I think you sincerely are speaking Truth here, as my heart radiated and resonated with all you shared here.

    Honestly, you can delete previous mentions of past posts being your best (in my opinion, of course) and now, I believe this is tops!

    Love what Papa Jesus is speaking into you through the Holy Spirit, Jeff!

    ~Amy 🙂

  6. Arthur Sido

    Jeff you are saying the NT needs to be interpreted through the OT? That seems a bit odd, should we examine the cross in light of the temple or the temple in light of the cross? The temple precedes the cross, so wouldn't it follow that we should place the cross under the examination of the temple? A consistent hermeneutic would demand we do one or the other.

    No one who is a serious theologian and a complementarian is suggesting that women are inferior or not made in the image of God. What we are talking about is submission, creation order, calling. Women are not called nor are they permitted to teach. That is not a knock on their ability, it is simply the commandments of the Scriptures. I am sorry, but the footnotes in your study Bible are no more authoritative than the study notes in my study Bible which call for complementarianism.

  7. Jeff McQ

    I am saying that how God set it up in the beginning (i.e., Genesis 1, before the fall) gives a glimpse into God's heart and intent for what redemption will look like. I am saying that many serious theologians have got Paul's intent wrong because they are interpreting his words from the female-suppressed worldview of Greco-Roman thinking (and ignoring the specifics he was dealing with the Corinthians about), rather than from the heart of God expressed from the beginning. Regardless of what testament it is…I am saying that Paul, a Jewish theologian, would not RE-interpret Genesis 1 to say woman is *only* the glory of man and not the glory and image of God the same as the male, when Genesis 1 clearly says otherwise. I am saying we cannot lift Paul's words out of their original context to make it say what we want it to say, ignoring Genesis 1.

    I mentioned nothing about the temple or the cross. But if you want to go there, I believe Jesus interprets both Testaments for us. And Jesus reflected the heart of God from Genesis 1 by breaking existing protocol and showing great respect and honor for women (talking to a wayward Samaritan woman was a huge cultural no-no, for example).

    You say that women are not called nor permitted to teach. I find it amazing that God would "command" that, and yet I know many women who can out-teach any man I've heard. Amazing that God would give them that gift only to tell them to stuff it, that it's not their place to use it. Wasn't he listening to Paul? (Sorry for the sarcasm. I'm trying to make a point about how our allegedly tried-and-true theology has done our sisters a great disservice, and this is why I issue the challenge to re-evaluate our conclusions.)

    I merely said my Bible footnotes were worth pondering, not that they carried authority. And the theologians you claim do not suggest women are inferior–I suggest that many of them do say so by their very actions, if not by their words.

    Having said all that, Arthur…I am afraid you are confirming the very reason I didn't want to go into theology here. I don't pretend that I'm going to convince you, any more than you are going to convince me. I respect your right to believe as you do, even though I disagree with it firmly. I only go to the trouble of saying this much because I believe our sisters who read your words here are probably feeling slapped in the face by them, and I will stand in their behalf, against opposition from my brothers, if necessary.

  8. Arthur Sido

    Jeff, have you considered that ability is not the issue here? Sure there are women who are great teachers. No one is arguing that. My wife is a great speaker, having delivered messages to audiences of thousands. But if you are saying that your perception of the ability of women to teach trumps the Biblical restriction against them teaching, I have to raise my hand and say hold on. Paul is not RE-interpreting Genesis 1, he is reaffirming what Genesis 1 teaches. This is the bottom line: Whether or not a woman is perceived as able to teach is irrelevant when deciding if she should teach.

    You raise all sorts of issues and none of them address the core isssue of whether women are called to teach and lead in the church. Did Jesus reach out to women? Of course. Did Paul teach that in salvation there is no distinction? Of course. But none of that does anything to negate the submission of a woman to her husband in the home or the restrictions against a woman teaching in the church. You have made a bold statement that Christians have "oppressed" women for centuries but you offer nothing as proof except your own opinion and some text plucked out of context.

    The problem is that complementarianism is not something that is made up from inference but is a prevailing theme throughout the Bible, whether in 1 Cor 11 or Ephesians 5 or Timothy or Titus or in the Old Testament. All of the explicit Biblical evidence supports the complementarian position and none of it expressly or implicitly supports egalitarianism.

    If any sisters are offended, I will encourage them to tell me from Scripture where I am wrong, whether wrong in interpretation or in tone. This is an issue I feel strongly about and it gets at the heart of Biblical authority and that is something I cannot and will not compromise on or stand by when someone else does.

  9. Jeff McQ

    I have to say I pondered for awhile whether to publish your latest comment, because I'm concerned that this may be descending into an unfruitful argument between brothers. I don't want to violate one mandate of Scripture in an attempt to discuss another. I'm tempted to once again take certain of your statements point by point, but I think you would only do the same back to me, and we'd be in the same place. Round 3, then Round 4…

    The truth is, I was pondering and processing some theological issues here, not attempting to "prove" anything. I do not need to prove that the church has oppressed women. All we need to do is *listen to their pain*. The pain is real, and God is not the One causing it. We are. That is all the proof we need that something is wrong, that *somewhere* along the way we have missed the intent of Scripture on this matter. Simple humility dictates that when this happens we should at least be willing to take another look at the Scriptures, and the conclusions we draw from them.

    I say one more time that my intent was not to engage in a theological debate; I wasn't trying to convince you of anything, nor did I expect to. Thus…we disagree, you and I. And for now, we're going to have to leave it at that.

  10. J. R. Miller

    If I may,

    Arthur, I don't think Jeff has addressed the specifics you bring up in your post.

    I fall into the complementation camp myself (see the link from my first comment above). I enjoy the resources from BCMW very much.

    That being said, I don't see anything in Jeff's post that directly contradicts a complementation view. We could quibble about a few words here and there, but overall what I hear Jeff saying is simply women in the Church need to be valued as an equal creation and as equals disciples.

    Maybe you don't like his word choice, but I don't see Jeff's use of the word "oppression" in regard to women as a direct attack against a healthy complementation ecclesiology (some would see it that way, but I do not and have not read anything form Jeff that suggests he does either.). What he wrote is demonstrably true, women have at times and in certain traditions been oppressed (although I don't like the word much as it has too much cultural baggage)

    Word choice aside, I would contend that oppression did not come from those who hold to a biblical complementarianism, it has come into some segments of the church as a result of Christians adopting the dominant Western culture instead of a Kingdom culture.

  11. J. R. Miller

    Jeff, on the other side of things I would also suggest that "listening to their pain" may not be the best thermostat. I think we must be careful to recognize that the goal of church community is not compatible with a male dominated culture nor is it compatible with a feminized culture envisioned by the radical feminists of the 1970's. It is possible that women who have been raised to value a cultural perception of "equality" would see a biblical view of "equality" as oppressive.

    for example, take the issue of sin. The world sees any discussion of "sin" as a tool of opression used by the church. The response is not to "feel the pain" of the oppressed, but to present a counter-cultural view of sin and holiness which, we must admit, will not be received well by those who are lost.

    I contend that the same thing must be true of our approach to male/female relationships in the church.

    Hope that makes some sense… my baby is crying and I have to go for now.

  12. Jeff McQ

    I almost turned comments off after my last response. I'm glad (for the moment) that I decided not to. Thanks for chiming in.

    I want to respond to your comments both to Arthur and to me.

    First, I think for the most part you captured the essence of what I was saying in your re-stating them to Arthur, and I appreciate that. I purposely did not respond to his specific remarks this time because I felt it would be unfruitful to do so. It might be a wrong assumption, but I got the vibe from his previous remarks that this was not going to remain a healthy dialogue if I responded in kind. (Arthur, sorry for referring to you in the third person here.) It was as much for my sake as for his; I am too easily tempted to engage in debates that will inevitably end in a stalemate and simply waste people's time. Just didn't want to go there.

    Regarding your remarks to me…I wasn't trying to say that "listening to their pain" was a thermostat for changing theological viewpoints, only for re-evaluating them…which is something we ought to be secure enough to do, anyway. As I said to Arthur over on his blog, I am not basing this view on popular feminist ideas, but attempting to take into account the Scripture's original intent and context. Also, I understand what you're saying about the world playing the oppression card over sin, but I can't reconcile that with what is happening with women in the church, because to me it reduces their situation to a "Hey, that's not fair!" kind of thing, when in fact brothers are truly treating their sisters as inferiors using Scripture to back their actions, and that hurts them–period. And that happens regardless of whether the men are egalitarian or complementarian in theology.

    One reason I didn't want to argue theology was that it actually clouds the real issue I'm trying to raise with all these posts: we need to *listen*–I mean *really listen*–to our sisters. Not just what they say, but how they feel, how they sound. This is the heart of the issue. Forget the semantics of where/when they can teach. We have stopped them from having a voice, in the name of Scripture.

    For that matter, look at this conversation, where it is going. Except for Amy's kudos earlier, it has become *three guys* debating theologically whether women should be allowed to speak in church! No women in the conversation. This tells me that either they aren't paying attention and we're all alone out here :); or perhaps they don't much care for three guys talking *about* them like they're some kind of problem to be solved, arguing about their rights as though we know better. (Can you understand why I didn't want to let this get into this kind of debate? To me the whole thing seems a bit disrespectful to our sisters.)

    I say this not to you directly, but just in general…I would challenge any man who doubts me on this to put himself *alone* in a room full of Christian women, and have the guts to ask them how they feel overall about how the men treat them, and their place in the church….assure them they can speak freely…and then SHUT UP AND LISTEN FOR REAL, without getting defensive. I think any man who honestly did that would be unable to keep his perspective from being dramatically altered.

    So believe what you want about the role of women in the church, and let's shut the debate down about how/when women ought to speak in church. If you, or Arthur, or any other man forgets everything else said here, just please remember this one thing: Stop just talking *about* them and LISTEN TO THEM. If I can get just that one point across, then we can call it a day and move on.

    Sorry for rambling, J.R…I just happen to feel pretty passionate about this. Have a good night, bro.

  13. Erin

    Jeff, since you asked…I've been following this conversation, but to be entirely honest I haven't been able to come up with anything kind enough to publish. I've written four comments and erased them all. Yeah, it's that bad.

    Someone once told me "never argue with a pharisee, you will never win". So I'll just be quiet except to thank you for continuing to encourage men to "listen" to us. I think that is the only thing that will ever help.

  14. Jeff McQ

    Erin, thank you. You do not know how glad I am that you chimed in to say that much.

    That settles it for me. This conversation is not productive. Comments are turned off after this note. We'll try to go another direction in future. Meanwhile, Erin, although I cannot speak for the other men in the "room", I will speak for myself: Forgive me for my pride and lack of sensitivity in how we've handled this.

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