The Image of God in Women and Men

It’s important to note that both men and women are made in the image of God—though the creation story is often used to make women feel subhuman and subservient. Many act as though men were put here to do the real work of carrying out God’s purposes in the world while women were put here to take care of men while they do it. This misunderstanding comes about because the creation story identifies Eve as a helper fit for Adam (Gen 2:18). But it should be noted that ezer—the Hebrew word for helper—does not mean inferior or subordinate. After all, God is often called an ezer in relation to Israel, and God was not inferior or subordinate to His people. 

While men and women are certainly crafted in different ways, their differences fulfill one another. Eve fills in the pieces of imaging that God found lacking in Adam alone. Indeed, Adam would have no way to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth without her. She is in no way lesser than Adam and she was not created to be his servant. She is a fellow imager and helper meant to rule the world alongside him and represent God in all of her actions. And the differences that she has in her femininity further echo and represent God in a way that Adam could never echo and represent by himself. She is Adam’s completion—seen in the very fact that she carries his missing rib. He can have it back by becoming one flesh with her and in doing so, complete that which is missing in him. A more complete image of God is made manifest in their togetherness.

Both Jesus and Paul will go on to call women back to their place as imagers in the world, causing them to clash harshly with the culture around them which treated and viewed them as subordinates.

When Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to learn from his teaching like the other men did, Martha was angry that she had to serve everyone alone. What was Jesus’ reply to Martha’s anger? “Mary has chosen the good portion” (Lk 10:42). Mary was a helper in the imager sense, not in the housemaid sense—and Martha was welcome to join as well.

Likewise, when Jesus rose from the dead, all four gospels account to the fact that Jesus entrusted the news of His resurrection to women. Yes, Jesus intentionally told the greatest news in history to women first—and then he sent His bold female disciples from His tomb to go tell His scared male disciples who were hiding elsewhere in a locked room. 

This move would have struck the people of Jesus’ time as madness. In their culture, women weren’t trusted with such important news. I’m sure Jesus was aware of how this would all be perceived, and that’s why His actions are all the more empowering and subversive. He was elevating women in ministry. He was reminding the world that women are the image too. He was showing them that representing God is not the man’s job alone, but the joint effort of female and male imagers working in unison. As Walter Wink says,

“….Jesus treated women as he did, not because he was ‘gallant’ or ‘nice,’ but because the restoration of women to their full humanity in partnership with men is integral to the coming of God’s egalitarian order.”

— Walter Wink (Wink, Walter. Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1992, Kindle Locations, 1980-1982.)

And Paul will further communicate this (despite his many famous uncontextualized and isolated comments about women that seem to say otherwise). Not only does Paul tell us that women can prophesy (1 Cor 14:31), which entails them to leadership positions within the church (Eph 4:11), but his letters show us that he worked alongside women in ministry all over the place! He mentions that Eudia and Syntche labored side by side with him in the gospel together (Philip 4:2-3) and that Mary worked hard for those at the Roman church (Ro 16:6). He calls Tryphaena and Tryphosa “workers in the Lord” (Ro 16:12) and writes two verses about Phoebe, a “deacon of the church” and a patron of many (Ro 16:1-2). There’s also Priscilla who is mentioned six times throughout Paul’s letters (Ac 18:2, 18, 26; Ro 16:3-4; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19) and Junia, a fellow prisoner and apostle (Ro 16:7). As Craig Keener notes, “the percentage of women colleagues Paul acknowledges is amazing by any ancient standards.” (Keener, Craig S. Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2004, Kindle Locations 2142-2143.)

Whether male or female, we are all imagers—and the modern church needs us to live like it. For a church that is male in gender does not image God properly. It cannot; for it lacks the fuller image of God which is seen when men and women rule together and do the work they are both called to do. The church must be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with God’s image, just as He commanded, and men are simply incapable of doing that alone.

“A church that is male in gender does not image God properly. It cannot; for it lacks the fuller image of God which is seen when men and women rule together and do the work they are both called to do.”

When we get this thinking into our bones something wonderful happens in the church: Women no longer have to act like men in order to feel like they can fit into the roles God has called them to. Instead, they can live as the image of God in the way that they were designed to. They can become an ezer without sacrificing their gender or personhood. Then a woman can do what she was made to do: Rule the earth alongside her male counterpart by the divine decree of God and the mission infused into her very DNA.

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