The Role of Women – Genesis 1:26-28

In the first article of this series on the role of women in both the church and the home, I started by setting out the three major views on the issue:

  • Traditional – Also might be identified as patriarchal. Proponents of this view have somewhat tended to regard men as superior to women, both within the church and outside the church.
  • Complementarian – In the structure of the home, this school of thought sees a mutual and complementary role existing between husband and wife, but the man still carries the lead, or headship, role.
  • Egalitarian – Advocates of this view do not believe men and women are identical in all matters, for there are definitely some differences between the two sexes. But they believe that both sexes are capable of equal standing in both the home and the church.

I, then, posted a brief article with some introductory resources to both complementarianism and egalitarianism. I left out the more traditional-patriarchal view, as this view is not widely held any longer.

Again, I approach things more from an egalitarian view. I was actually more of a complementarian until about a year ago. Of course, even within my complementarian view, I would have given much freedom for women to walk out their callings and ministry gifts in God, even allowing them to teach in the main gatherings of the local church (with men present). I had no problem with such, from a biblical or practical standpoint. But it was mainly with regards to the main lead-headship role within both the church and home that I would have seen as belonging to men. But, after some more in depth study on the issue as I prepared some teaching material for a ministry college in the UK, I moved more towards the egalitarian view.

I say I lean towards or moved towards this view, rather than saying I am egalitarian, because the word carries a lot of baggage for some Christians. Many still identify such a view with feminism. But that is not the case for me. And, though it might be a shocker to some, I recognise I don’t know it all and that I could be a little off-base. So I am willing to not be dogmatic on the issues. Rather, I am looking to approach Scripture in the best light I can through reading, studying, learning from others, and keeping my heart humble before Him.

Also, as I stated in the first article, I will approach Scripture passages that have to do with four major areas concerning the role of women. They are as follows:

  1. The creation  – Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:18-22; Genesis 3:16
  2. The new creation – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17; Galatians 3:27-29
  3. The church – 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
  4. The home – 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22-24

So, let’s move on to…

The Creation

Most people who hold to a complementarian view start out by claiming that their theology is grounded in the creation account, meaning that their understanding of the roles of women is found back in Genesis chs.1-3. Accordingly, from their viewpoint, such debated passages as 1 Timothy 2:12-14 and 1 Corinthians 11:2-3 are easily explained by starting back in Genesis.

Therefore, it will do us well to start with those specific passages in Genesis as well.

Genesis 1:26-28

This is what the text states in the ESV:

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

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

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Most people from the two major views will quite easily recognise that the passage quoted above lays out the precedence of both male and female being created in the image of God. Yet, there still might be some debate surrounding whether or not males are endowed with a greater sense of the image of God. What I mean is that, people can get really disturbed when I tell them that there is a way in which women can image God in a greater way than men. And, of course, the opposite is true as well. There is something men can image about God that women cannot.

You see, men image God and women image God. They both image God. But they both image God in different ways. By viewing woman, one can learn something about God that they could not learn by only viewing man. And vice versa. But there is something about God’s image in my wife that I will never be able to carry. And I believe God meant it that way. It’s just that simple and that true. That is why when a man and woman come together, there should be an even greater imaging of God in the one flesh.

Why would someone believe that the male could image God better than woman? Or, let me phrase it this way: Why would someone believe that there is something inherently better in male for leading as they read Genesis 1:26-28? Because of the passage’s frequent use of the general Hebrew word for man, which is ’adam.

Within this passage, we find multiple statements in regards to man (the beginning of vs26 and the first two lines of vs27) and less frequent statements about the female (end of vs27). But to use such an argument to conclude that women are somehow created less equal than men (in general or in respect to leadership) can only come through a misunderstanding of the original Hebrew and an unwillingness to read the passage carefully.

In regards to the use of the Hebrew word ’adam in Genesis 1:26-27, theologian and scholar Anthony Hoekema (who happens to be complementarian) has this to say:

‘The word translated as man in these verses is the Hebrew word ’adam. This word is sometimes used as a proper name, Adam (see, e.g., Gen. 5:1, “This is the book of the generations of Adam,” RSV). The Hebrew word ’adam, however, may also mean man in the generic sense: man as a human being…not man in distinction from woman, but man in distinction from nonhuman creatures, that is, man as either male or female, or man as both male and female. It is in this sense that the word is used in Genesis 1:26 and 27.’ (Created in God’s Image, p12, italics his)

Also, if we read vs26 carefully, we can easily see how the word man (Hebrew ’adam) is being used as a general word to speak of both male and female:

‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion…”’

Vs27 is very similar as well, with the last line speaking of both male and female. Finally, vs28 confirms this point:

‘And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…”’

Therefore, the Genesis 1 creation summary tells us that both male and female were created in the image and likeness of God, thus being endowed with the same measure of God’s image. And, even more, they were both given the role and responsibility of being fruitful, multiplying, filling the earth and ruling over creation. Both man and woman together received the first ever ‘Great Commission’. This was not simply Adam’s, or the male-specific, responsibility. Genesis 1 grounds this major function and role in both genders.

Now, by no means do I think I have solved the mystery of this debate by solely looking at Genesis 1:26-28. I simply start there because that is where Scripture starts. I believe it a good place to begin ourselves as we form a biblical anthropology.

I think it quite astounding that Scripture sets out an equal standing between the two sexes from the beginning. Genesis 1 is a major passage to give such a foundation to the role of men and women who have been created in the image of GOd. Now, the more controversial passages start in Genesis 2 and Genesis 3. In the next post, I shall look at Genesis 2:18-22.

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8 thoughts on “The Role of Women – Genesis 1:26-28

  1. Pingback: The Role of Women – Genesis 2:18-22 « The Prodigal Thought

  2. Hi,

    In 1:26 “man” is without the definate article and the plural pronoun refers to the race, but in 1:26a it has no definate article and is singular, not collective therefore it speaks only of the first human being that God created. In 1:26b he made them male and female. (This is the same thing that we are told in Genesis 2 when the woman is created, the difference being it is said put in different words) In 1:27 and 1:28 the plural pronoun “them” is being used again because “adam” is again being used to refer to the race, but in 1:27a, it has the defintae article as it is only refering to Adam, the first human being. This is also in line with Gen 2. We know that first there was only one human that was created and then there was two.

    Mark 10
    6″But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7’For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8and the two will become one flesh.’

    Jesus can quote Gen 1 and conbine it with Gen 2 because they tell the same story (just in different words).

  3. Sorry for the typos. I’ve made the corrections. Am typing to fast!

    In 1:26 “man” is without the definate article and there is the plural pronoun so it is used to refer to the race, but in 1:27a it has the definate article and is singular, not collective therefore it speaks only of the first human being that God created. In 1:27b he made them male and female. (This is the same thing that we are told in Genesis 2 when the woman is created, the difference being it is said put in different words) In 1:27b and 1:28 the plural pronoun “them” is being used again because “adam” is again being used to refer to the race, but in 1:27a, it has the defintae article as it is only refering to Adam, the first human being. This is also in line with Gen 2. We know that first there was only one human that was created and then there was two.

  4. “And, even more, they were both given the role and responsibility of being fruitful, multiplying, filling the earth and ruling over creation. Both man and woman together received the first ever ‘Great Commission’. ”

    Right. And the rule was given only after the woman was created. In other words when Adam named the animals he had not been given rule by Gid yet over the earth and the animlas. He wasn’t even given fruit from the trees that covered the entire earth untell after woman was created. Before she was created he was only given trees of the garden.

    Typing fast, fun facts.

  5. I am not so sure that the definite article in v. 27a means that the narrative switched back to the man only before returning to a statement about males and females in v. 27b. Rather, we should see this an anaphoric. In other words “the” man in v. 27a is not saying Adam and not Eve, per se, but “the man” just mentioned in v. 26.

  6. Pingback: Is הָֽאָדָם in Genesis 1.27a Anaphoric to 1.26? | Near Emmaus

  7. Pingback: The Role of Women – 1 Timothy 2:8-15 « The Prodigal Thought

  8. Pingback: The Role of Women Revisited, Again | Near Emmaus

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