With the Son and the Holy Spirit, He made man, male and female, in His image.
Today I’m focusing on something that’s not uniquely Wesleyan. Really, nothing in the above statement is uniquely Wesleyan, it’s pretty universally Christian. In theory we all agree that all human beings, male and female, are created in God’s image. Men don’t have more of his image, women don’t have more of his image, we all are created in his image. When our thinking gets skewed, it’s often in the direction of believing that God is male (because Jesus was) and we think that to represent God we have to be more masculine which can also lead to overstated fears of the “feminization of the church”. Thinking can also be skewed toward acting like women are inherently less capable or valuable which can lead to things like abuse and social inequality.
To fight against this skewed thinking we need to be firmly planted in the truth so we’re going to look at where the Bible shows us this equality and why it matters.
Man = Male and Female
When it comes to image bearing, we all (Christians) tend to agree that all men and all women bear God’s image. We’re going to build a quick case for why this is incredibly obvious from Scripture.
Genesis 1:27 (NASB) says,
“God created man in His own image,
in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them.“
The word “man” (in the first line) can mean several things: ranging from one single male (a man) to all of humanity (man or mankind). When Genesis 1:26 & 27 tell us that God has decided to make “man” in his image, we need to be sure which definition of “man” was intended. The context makes it abundantly clear. In typically Hebrew fashion, the author says something, then repeats it again (kind of backwards) saying basically the same thing but a slightly different way.
- God created man in His own image (the original statement)
- In the image of God He created him (repeating the same idea but flipped so “image” is first and “created” is second)
- Male and female he created them (further explains that “him” isn’t just men but males and females)
The context clearly intends that “male and female” modify “man” which, then, must mean mankind (which both the original language and English allow for). Here are how some different translations translate it (with my emphasis added):
NIV: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
ESV: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”
KJV: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
RSV: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Why the difference? When translators translate the Bible they have to decide how closely they want to stick to what the passage says (formal equivalence) vs. what the passage means (dynamic equivalence). For example, when you translate “hot dog” out of English do you use the formally equivalent words (warm canine) or the dynamically equivalent words (bland lunch sausage)? One is word-for-word but looses the meaning, while the other maintains the meaning by translating the concept, not the words. The NIV tends to be heavier on the dynamic equivalent side so rather than translating “man” they clarified that it means “mankind” while the others stuck to the formal equivalence translating it “man” allowing the reader to determine from the context that “man” actually means “mankind.” The risk of dynamic equivalence is over-interpreting in your translation. The risk of formal equivalence is losing meaning.
Nearly all Christians agree that Genesis 1:26-27 indicates that:
- “man” means “mankind” or “humanity” and,
- both males and females are image bearers.
Though not mentioned above, we also see that:
3. there is a distinction between “males” and “females” (but it is unclear, at this point, what the distinction is).
This means that at our core, males and females are of equal value and equal standing before God. A woman, in all her femininity bears the image of God as much as a male in all his masculinity does. (Masculinity and femininity need not be defined according to the expectations of the prevailing culture.) We agree with this equality of essence in theory but that doesn’t always translate to practice.
The challenges come with how we understand and interpret the distinction mentioned in point #3 above. There are two basic camps 1) one that believes that males and females have equal standing before God and that, though there are some distinctions, we should be wary of gender roles and allow each male and each female to flourish in the realm of their giftedness in the home, in society, and in the church (this is called egalitarian) and 2) and one that believes that males and females have equal standing before God and that the distinctions between genders lead to God-given gender roles that give the best avenues for how an individual’s giftedness should be expressed within the home, in society, and in the church (this is called complementarian, a.k.a. wives submit to husbands and shouldn’t be pastors).
This is, of course, an oversimplification for the sake of space. There is a spectrum of equality, distinctions, and understanding of roles within the home, society, and church but these two views capture the major essence of the biblically-based perspectives. Each of these views also can be dangerous when taken to an unbiblical extreme. Those who go too far to equality may loose all gender distinctions. Those who go too far in understanding different roles may treat women as if they identified with their role (less competent or valuable since they have a more submissive role).
Our theology of gender is important because it affects EVERY SINGLE AREA of our lives whether we are female, male, or inter-sexed. So you should do a lot more reading to make sure your theology of gender is on firm biblical footing and explore how this theology is lived out in your real life. But my goal in this post was to focus on what we agree on regarding males and females made in the image of God. So I’m not going to dive into the biblical basis for equality in roles. If you want to explore more, and I think you should, I recommend you explore opposing Christian viewpoints: The Council For Biblical Sexuality (formerly called the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) and Christians for Biblical Equality. I, along with the majority of the Wesleyan Church (though, sadly, not all of it) would largely align, at least theoretically, with CBE.
Some Implications of Image bearing:
As image bearers, we are unique from the rest of creation. Like the rest of creation we are created beings. Unlike the rest of creation we’re in our own category, the category of image bearers. We are above the rest of creation. We are given every seed-bearing plant to eat and commissioned to rule over every animal on land, in the sea, and in the sky.
Being an image bearer means that we are intrinsically valuable. Genesis 9:6 teaches justice for murder based on the uniqueness of the murdered human as an image bearer. James 3:9-10 points out the absurdity of praising God with our mouths while cursing his image bearers with that same mouth because, as his image bearers, respecting us means respecting him, at least at some level. Because we bear his image (and every human being does) we are automatically valuable, even if we’re terrible people.
As image bearers, we have the authority to rule over creation and the responsibility to do it well. In the Old Testament the emphasis on the image in not so much about morality but more about representing God on earth. He has given us the authority and the responsibility to rule over creation, to harness the earth’s resources in a way that respects creations, honors God, and leads to human flourishing. Sometimes we (personally or corporately) do that well, other times we’re terrible at it. It is better to represent him in a way that honors him and is in accordance with what he values (this is where morality/love/respect comes in).
This video explains our role as image bearer representatives better than I can. It’s definitely worth the 6 minute investment to watch (even our six year old is mesmerized by the Bible Project videos).
As gendered image bearers our femininity or masculinity somehow help us image God. If we believe our gender is deeper than just our biology than it most certainly affects our image bearing. I don’t know exactly what this looks like but I do know that as a woman I don’t need to adapt to the prevailing male-dominated culture to effectively represent God to the world. I know that both traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine characteristics and tendencies represent God. My advice to you: Seek God. Be obedient. Long for holiness and love. Change what God tells you to change but embrace the things he doesn’t tell you to change and let your whole self wholey represent God.