Re-examining the Status of Women (and Men) from the Start

Genesis 1: 26-28 (NIV, I’ve added bold type for emphasis)

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them

male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.

You may notice one ‘them’ that I didn’t bold: ‘in the image of God he created them.’ The translators of the 2011 NIV, in their desire to make this word gender neutral have opted for ‘them’, rather than the masculine ‘him’ found in most translations. The Hebrew word here is singular, and English doesn’t have a gender neutral singular, apart from ‘it’, so ‘them’ is a best compromise. This problem sums up the problem we are looking at here: is God’s emphasis on him, or her, or them? If we read this passage as a whole the answer is clearly them.

In the beginning God. God is our reference point for looking at humanity. After all, we were created in his (their?) ‘image’. “Let us make mankind in our image.” God is a plural unity that John 1:8 & 16 calls ‘Love’. Love can only be expressed in community. Therefore the ‘image’ of God must also be a loving community; the plural oneness of male and female working together, increasing (creating) together, and ruling together, as expressed in the verses above.

The man doesn’t come first in the initial creation poem; male and female appear together, standing side by side, as God’s image in creation. Even in chapter 2 the male plays no active role in the creation of his perfect counterpart. God is creator of both. The woman is entirely God’s creation, the pinnacle of all his creation, as she completes it all, especially the man (1:18):

The Lord said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

There is no sense of subservience in the term ‘helper’ (Hebrew ‘ezer’). Far from it in fact, as God himself is regularly called Israel’s helper throughout the Scriptures, eg Ps 115:9,10,11:

All you Israelites, trust in the Lord –

he is their help (ezer) and shield.

None of us would consider Yahweh, as our helper, to be less than us, indeed, we are simply helpless without him. It is not good for the man to be alone, yet the man has chosen aloneness throughout history. Thankfully, Jesus promised not to leave his disciples alone, but to send them (us) the Helper after he departed (John 14:16, 26).

Genesis 2: the man and the woman had no names at this stage; it is interesting that God never named either of them. The emphasis is on their oneness, not on their individuality – “Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” (2:23); ‘a man… is united with his wife, and they become one flesh’. (2:24) And out of that oneness, the ultimate expression of the image of God, they work, create and rule together. But…

Genesis 3. In this chapter the ideal is shattered in a moment of grasping at being ‘like God’ (3:4). Instantly the language of oneness is abandoned for the language of individuality: “I heard… I was afraid… I was naked… I hid… I ate it.” Immediately there is distance between man and woman, between humanity and God, and between mankind and creation. In an age when my happiness is what guides our choices, it is a pertinent reminder that sin has always been spelled with a capital ‘I’. The image of God is not about ‘I’, but ‘us’. The image is shattered, but all is not lost, for the God who in the beginning created beauty out of chaos is still God.

This distance is summed up by the man, who seems to blame God and the woman for what he’s done (3:12): “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Verses 14 to 19, need to be re-read with the grieving heart of God in mind. His words are the words of an anguished prophet, who loves his people, but who can see the dire consequences of their actions. With a broken heart, God pulls back the curtain of the coming years for a creation ruled by individualism. Creation and mankind will be at war – the heel of man will crush the serpent, who will in turn bite the heel of mankind. Weeds and thorns will strive against mankind’s efforts to grow food. The woman will ‘desire’ her husband, but he will ‘rule over’ her. None of this was God’s dream for his beloved creation, none of this is his image expressed, it is all the result of grasping to be like God.

No sooner has God finished prophesying when the man, who had never been named by God, named his wife. Naming is an act of dominance and ownership. And so it all began.

Male dominance is not the will of God. It is a symptom of self seeking. Jesus came to save us from this, he came to turn it all around. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Gal 3: 28).

Sin looks to ‘I’. Sin seeks to make ‘me’ unique and somehow superior to ‘you’. To do this it must distinguish in some way between us: race, sex, age, social status, intellect, sporting prowess… Sin grasps to be god. Christ seeks oneness. God is love. Love doesn’t grasp to self promote; love lays itself down to lift the other up. Love is pleased to stand shoulder to shoulder. Love is ‘us’ not ‘I’.

Where will we choose to live? East of Eden, or in Christ Jesus: the image of God (Col 1:15)? The work, creativity and kingdom rule is not masculine, nor is it feminine, it is oneness.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them

male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.

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