Male and female as the image of God

God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

According to Frances and Paul Hiebert, the humanity that images God is a co-humanity constituted by men and women in relationship. Stated negatively, men alone and women alone do not express fully the image of God (see the Hiebert's essay, The Whole Image of God: A Theological and Anthropological Understanding of Male-Female Relationship, in Incarnational Ministryedited by Kettler and Speidell).

This makes sense in light of the biblical revelation that our triune God is a relational communion of three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), in which there is unity, diversity (distinction of persons) and equality. God's communitarian nature is imaged in humanity when a similar unity, diversity and equality are found in us - particularly in our male-female relationships.

According to the Hieberts, differing male and female reproductive functions produce a unity-in-diversity expressed in "one flesh" intimacy (p270). God's intent in this is shown in the first chapters of Genesis. There all that God creates he pronounces "good," with the exception of Adam in his state of aloneness. This is intentional, but subsequently resolved by God when he creates woman - recognized by man as his equal ("bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh"), sharing both his strengths and weaknesses. The Heiberts comment:
They each shared the full spectrum of human characteristics. But because either of them alone would have been 'not good,' they were made to be mutually interdependent. They were "for" each other - "for" in the sense of being in support of, not in the sense of being used by (p271).  
God gave the woman to the man to be his "helper" (Heb='ezer; Gen 2:18) - not a role of inferiority or servitude, but an exalted role like that filled by God himself, who in Exodus 18:4 is called our "Helper" ('Ezer). Indeed, the original design for the woman with the man is that of co-equality:
When everything still was good in God's creation, the man and the woman, thrilled by the discovery of their mutual humanity, were fully equal. They both mirrored the image of God; they both were honored by God with the gift of responsibility for the earth. With singing hearts, they lived in harmony with God, with each other, and with the rest of creation" (p272).
Sadly, their disobedience changed everything. The image of God in their co-humanity was splintered as the relationship between woman and man was shattered and "the world is still reeling from that terrible, cosmic disaster" (p273). And though it is typically understood that this disaster brought alienation between God and humans, it is less well understood that it also brought alienation between humans, particularly between men and women.

In the New Testament, male-female alienation is seen principally as conflict instead of cooperation. In defending their self-interest in this conflict, men tend to dominate, while women tend to manipulate. Both approaches express the twin sins of pride and independence. Thus the New Testament solution is restoration and reconciliation, which stand at the heart of the gospel (Col 1:15-20):
The broken body and shed blood of Jesus restores the broken image to wholeness; what was lost in Eden is recovered by his life, death, and resurrection. Because of Jesus, it is possible for humans to be reconciled to God and to each other, male and female, and to live in the awareness of what God means by good through the strength of the indwelling Spirit of God.... In the new era inaugurated by Jesus, man and women, rather than being at war for the dominant position, are restored to the position of equality that constituted their life before the fall (pp 274-5).
In Christ, men and women are set free to be "equal to" one another in order that they may be "for" each other as God originally intended. According to Jesus, the appropriate metaphor for this is being a servant of one another, rather than lord (Mat 20:25-28). Indeed, the way Jesus treated women was an indication of this restored equality within the kingdom of God. Sadly, this was not practiced by the early church for long. This was largely because the church embraced the deprecation of women as practiced by surrounding peoples.

But the church is called to live in this present age out of the truth of the image of God, revitalized by the breath of God, the Holy Spirit. History shows that when it does so, men and women begin to relate more as equals. This is seen in the New Testament record, and in church renewal movements since. For example, there was a significant move toward female ordination during the American Great Awakening of the 18th century in the northeastern United States. Breathe on us breath of God!


Ted Johnston said…
For an earlier Surprising God post on this topic, see
Anonymous said…
Excellent post Ted.

Especially the idea that we are all each others helpers...that even God is our helper. I think much good would happen in our marriages if we could see a more accurate view of how God really relates to 'himself', and how he truely has related to humanity. The Father has given all things to the Son. The Son does all for the glory of the Father. All of God was in Jesus redeeming us at the cross, before we could show any willingness to reciprocate. Grace is really how the universe works, but we have been shown a power-brokering, authoritarian style system.

I believe the real problem wasn't Adam and Eves' disobedience which caused the brokeness. The act of sin came because distrust was introduced, humans were shown that it was wise to reduce their dependence on others, especially God. Suspicion, reading between the lines, acting in your own best intrest, these became the new paradiem. Without trust,(faith), there can be no unity.

Your comment on the Great Awakening doesn't fit my understanding of how that went down. I have always understood that fear-preaching led to large numbers of converts, but it didn't last long. How could anything good come from such misguided nonsense? Actually, this is plan A of Satan, to use fear to drive mankind from our only hope. Religion has always been his best tool.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for your comments. I like the way you are thinking out of the "logic of grace" - for that is where the truth truly is to be found.

Concerning your comments on the Great Awakening being the fruit of fear-based preaching. I think this is a common viewpoint, but I'm not sure it is accurate. I have consulted at length with experts of American church history, and they tell me a different story. Of course, like all renewal movements, it was not all pure, but I think there was more grace there than you might be allowing for. A book I'd recommend that touches on this topic is "America's God" by Mark Noll.

Also, some full disclosure here. I'm a descendant of Jonathan Edwards (through my maternal grandmother). So maybe I'm a bit biased.
Anonymous said…
You were right Ted. I watched some of a PBS documentary on “God in America”, which covered the Great Awakening. How accurate the theology was represented, is hard to guess, because they were more interested in our formation of religious freedom. It seemed that the first travelling evangelical preachers were spreading a new idea, that individuals must seek their own relationship with God. They said people should choose their own church; that the denomination wasn’t all that important, and that each was responsible for his own relationship with his Maker.

I had no idea that, for instance, in the state of Virginia, life was governed by an elite class, who controlled the government and the Anglican Church. The Church was supported by the government, and no preaching could legally be done without a license. It was feared that society must be maintained by the careful guarding of truth, correct forms of worship, etc. Much good has come as a result of the legal downfall of this system.

We must all “work out our own salvation”, in this sense, and take it very seriously. I know of many who believe in God, but are content to let ‘professionals’ figure out how they can stay on his good side. That is like having somebody go see the Grand Canyon for you, or pay someone to keep in touch with your best friend.

However, I tend to be suspicious of large-scale conversions, because of the human proclivity to follow the crowd. Friendship isn’t something that can be mass-produced. The camp meetings seem to have been designed to play on the emotions, to an extreme. I do believe that it is impossible to be human without lots of emotion. I do think that many actually met God as a result. I know I find it almost impossible to keep from tearing up when it hits me how good He is. However, whenever I hear of the “glories of heaven, and the terrors of hell being exclaimed”, I recognize humanly-devised motivation. God’s deep pockets, and big stick, have no lasting motivation for righteous living, and absolutely no ability to let us see his face, (become his friends). The problem with grace, is that it works so slowly!

I believe, the problem with Evangelicalism, has always been its failure to understand the completeness of Christ’s work. Because so much is up to us, we came to the opinion that humans must be saved now. This has led to fear, striving, and a general lack of peace. We look at the majority, and see them headed for hell, without much hope, since God seems unconcerned. This has led to our inability to love God, especially the Father. Because we don’t understand our Union, we are stricken with an ‘us-them’ view of humanity. Most are seen as unforgiven, and we wonder if our own repentance is genuine enough to get us home. We speak of the unending mercy of God, but we don’t believe it. Because God seems to care so little for us, we are powerless to obey him, obligated to seek our own forms of fulfillment.

If you see a weakness in this understanding, by all means, please comment! I am a member of GCI, but have found few who want to discuss the wonders of Trinitarian theology, so far.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for this lengthy comment. I resonate with your thinking!

You might enjoy reading Jonathan Edward's own comments on the Great Awakening in which he notes that there were some things happening that were not of the Holy Spirit. But that does not invalidate that much was Spirit-led. You can find excerpts of what he wrote at

The Wesleys were also accused of whipping up emotions and thus producing false conversions. However, I think these accusations are sometimes leveled by people who simply were not involved directly, and perhaps were a bit jealous of the fruit being borne. One must look at the fruit over a long season to judge it valid or invalid. What I see coming out of the Great Awakening through the ministries of such leaders as Edwards and the Wesleys is a fresh move of the Spirit in our nation, leading us on to many new experssions of church. The Wesleys, for example, sparked a huge church planting movement that eventually spread across North America as far as the Rocky Mountains. One of my paternal great grandfathers was a Methodist circuit rider in Nebraska who planted and nurtured dozens of little churches on the plains of Nebraska in the off-seasons when his farming work had been finished.
Anonymous said…
For a helpful GCI article on the image of God, see