In the first two weeks of our series Paul, Women, and Wives, we’ve covered significant ground. During week one, we identified a critical argument dividing the church—the role of women in ministry. We also identified the players on each side—Complementarians vs. Egalitarians—and we listened to some of the arguments (and non-arguments) from each camp.
Last week we looked at the terms minister and ministry. We found that they mean “servant” and to “serve” respectively. These definitions, along with the proofs from Scripture, led us to the conclusion that women are very much welcome in ministry. Not only that, but women have always ministered, and presently do minister, in various ways.
This doesn’t mean that we’ve arrived at any specific ministry roles within our own examination of this topic, but we are moving in that direction.
Lastly, I stressed that this debate is not about the value of men or women (at least it shouldn’t be). The discussion instead should hinge on function alone.
With this point in mind, I want to talk to you today about an issue that has direct impact on our God-given function. I’m referring to what is called the “Imago Dei” or the “image of God.”
A.W. Tozer once said,
“The doctrine of man made in the image of God is one of the basic doctrines of the Bible and one of the most elevating, enlarging, magnanimous (generous), and glorious doctrines.”
So why does the image we bear matter within this particular discussion? This may seem far-fetched but the Imago Dei and what it means undergirds all gender issues. It’s also important because if we don’t start with a proper foundation in a given argument, the conclusions we assert can become—and often are—quite skewed.
Let me give you an example of this from American culture. Everyone is familiar with the second amendment—the right to keep and bear arms. But you are aware of the reason for this, right? If the second amendment were recognized merely to hunt game or protect against home invasion then I think a very good case could be made for certain controls. But that’s not the point of the second amendment? Far from it. But as long as we ignore the actual argument we will never settle the issue.
And so it is with the debate over women in ministry. If we continue to debate only specific passages or zero in on passages with which we agree—instead of looking at the whole of God’s word and the context provided—we will never arrive at any meaningful answer. Because we’re missing the point. The truth is we’ll just keep talking past one another.
Image of God
So what is the “Imago Dei” beside a fancy way of saying the “image of God?” To answer this we have to ask a more nuanced question, “What does it mean to bear the image of God or what does it mean for you and I to be made in that image?”
The first step in finding this answer is to understand that only humans (that is all humans, both male, and female) are said to be created in the image of God.
Genesis 1:26-27 (NASB1995) says:
In Genesis 5:1-2 (NASB1995), we read:
“This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created.”
And finally, in Genesis 9:6 (NASB1995), we see:
So it’s clear that both men and women are made in the Imago Dei. It’s also clear that it’s a very important image to bear. But again, what is it?
As we search for the answer, we encounter many propositions. The first is that the image of God refers to a literal image. In other words, humans actually look like God. Proponents of this idea will say, “Doesn’t the Bible describe God as having human attributes?” And of course, it does. But these descriptions are what we call anthropomorphic language. This is simply a rhetorical tool employed to help finite creatures comprehend what is otherwise beyond our understanding.
At the end of the day, the idea that humans share the literal image of God falls very short. As we read in John 4:24, the Bible says that God is in this sense wholly other than us.
In defending this idea, people also bring up the incarnation–Jesus taking the form of a man. And though the incarnation plays a vital role in our discussion, and it does indeed demonstrate that God can take on the form of His image-bearers, it doesn’t provide an argument that human form is God’s actual image.
The next idea is called the substantive view. This view says that as humans, we resemble God spiritually or psychologically. This often includes rationality, creativity, and an ability to understand morality—right from wrong. But this too falls short. Remember, whatever makes us image bearers must be unique to us as the human species—if we are in fact the only ones made in God’s image.
Let’s take rationality first. Rationality means to be endowed with a capacity to reason. But don’t animals reason? Don’t animals problem-solve? Of course, they do. We have documented evidence of this in many species: rats, birds, and dolphins to name a few.
Closely related to rationality is creativity. But, remember, creativity goes beyond painting pictures and making music. We often say that someone is creative in the way they solve a problem. So in some sense, being creative and being rational are intimately connected. And as we’ve already seen, we observe this in the animal kingdom.
Okay then, what about morality—discerning right from wrong? The first hurdle here comes from the creation account. In Genesis, we seem to learn that we were not created to understand right and wrong. Remember the tree from which mankind was prohibited from eating? The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It appears our intended design was to trust God with the understanding of morality. Even from the beginning, we were supposed to walk by faith.
The second hurdle for this view has to do with angels and demons. Did angels know good from evil, do demons know right from wrong? They had to understand something or they wouldn’t have been able to rebel against God. And so if it’s true that we are the only creatures who possess this imaging gift morality isn’t what makes it unique.
Okay, so what is it, Nathan? What makes us image-bearers?
In Genesis 1:26, God is said to have made (asah) man in His image. In Genesis 1:27 (the very next verse), it says that God created (bara) man in His own image. The word asah speaks to formation (sometimes, although rare, without preexisting material). The word bara, though a bit ambiguous, can speak to election or a declaration of function. And so based on what we see following this text (and what is affected by the curse) the image of God seems to be concerned with the latter. The Imago Dei appears to be our function in the world.
Genesis 1:26-28 in its fullness says,
“Then God said, “Let Us make man in (as) Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God, He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Of course, I’m not merely talking about reproduction here. All creation does that. What I am talking about is the reproduction of kings and priests meant to project God’s image into the world as they rule and reign over the rest of creation. This is what the creation account established. This is also what the Fall cursed.
Look at what Genesis 3:16-19 deals with,
“To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife [this is a contrast to listening to God’s voice not something bad in and of itself], and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
It’s worth noting that the first conflict we encounter following humanity’s expulsion from Eden is Cain destroying this image of God by murdering his brother. Cain murdered Abel, the very one who was functioning properly. Again the creation account established this functional view of the Imago Dei and the fall cursed it.
So what does all of this have to do with women in ministry? The answer in short is, everything! With a proper view of the Imago Dei—the ontological idea of men and women functioning as the image of God—we can find actual peace in this debate. Understanding that this image was affected by the fall and can be redeemed through a life submitted to Jesus changes everything.
God created man and woman as a cohesive unit meant to synergistically portray his image into the world. But through the fall, it has become a fractured unit vying for supremacy and power (Genesis 3:16).
This consequence of the fall is the source of the divide between the sexes. This is the source of the division in the Church.
One side is trying to push down. In rabbinic literature, Eve was viewed as the one who brought death into the world, which is why women were to march ahead of funeral biers. Women were also said to menstruate because it was Eve who shed Adam’s blood. Women kindle the Sabbath lights because “Eve was responsible for extinguishing Adam’s soul.” Much later, rabbis even claimed that Eve was created so that Adam would sin.
Views like these—views meant to push women down—continued all the way to and through the reformation. In his development of the doctrine of creation, John Calvin commented on Genesis 2:18 saying, “although women are equal to men as created in the image of God they are “to a lesser degree.”” In a sermon on Job, Calvin said that “men are preferred to females in the human race.” He went on to say, “We know that God constituted man as the head and gave him a dignity and preeminence above that of the woman…. It is true that the image of God is imprinted on all, but still woman is inferior to man.”
And while one side is trying to push down, the other side is trying to overtake.
Linda Belleville (an Egalitarian) admits in Two Views on Women in Ministry that, “the feminist solution to male domination is a rewriting of history that inverts the hierarchy” but she goes on to say, “rather than equalizes the power;”
And yet even in Linda’s analysis the focus on power still remains. However, the real point is not about equal power—it’s not about power at all!
According to Genesis 5:3 humanity, since the fall, has been replicating itself in the tainted image of the first Adam with all the obnoxious effects of the curse. And this still manifests itself in the debate over women in ministry today.
But now through King Jesus, the second Adam, God’s image has been restored. Through Jesus we see what top-down leadership should look like (coming under/serving/washing feet/dying/sacrifice) as well as what bottom-up submission looks like (same in equality humbled himself to service).
Until each side sees the diametric to their natural inclination (men to come under instead of push down and women to humbly accept service instead of standing on their actual ontological equality as a right to lead) then this divide won’t be conquered.
How do we accept and walk in this? Do you remember the word bara from Genesis 1:27?
Let’s look at another example of bara and the concept of election to something. In Psalm 51:10 David said, “bara (create) in me a pure heart, O God.” God isn’t being asked to form a new beating organ within David, instead He’s being asked to establish a functionally clean heart.
Bara is still a creation of function. Jesus came to set our function right and to re-ordain our function since we no longer understood what it truly was. He can bara a new heart for both sexes. Romans 8:29 says:
Many brethren. This is being fruitful and multiplying all over again. Restored to our correct function, we as the Church proliferate the image of God into the world. In Eden we were commanded to multiply through actual procreation. Now, in the new kingdom, it is through spiritual procreation. In both the creation mandate and the great commission, men and women are equally necessary.
In Eden, marriage was necessary between men and women for this commission to be fulfilled. In the new kingdom, our marriage is to the second Adam and as his church—men and women—we form the second Eve.
This makes sense of “no male, no female” of Galatians 3:28 and “no marriage in the resurrection.” Matthew 22:29-30. In Jesus, our original function has been redeemed and even glorified. Our roles should reflect this, not reflect the curse.
I say should because although we are redeemed, we are still living in a very real tension. While the resurrection reality applies to us, we live in a world where the curse impacts us.
Peter and the writer of Hebrews referred to this as being aliens and strangers in this world (1 Peter 2:9-11/Hebrews 11:13-16). Though we now belong to a different kingdom, we still have to navigate the present reality in which we live. This is why Paul gave us things like the household codes (Ephesians 5:21-6:9; Colossians 3:18-4:1). Paul was showing us how to transition from the here and now into the kingdom, how to faithfully walk this line of tension while projecting the Imago Dei into the world.
As we begin to address the very challenging texts of 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 we have to remember that we are both individually and corporately a new creation. As Jesus’s bride, the Church, our image-bearing function has been restored. What we as men and women do with this reality will play out one of two ways: the Kingdom of God will come or we will experience a continual manifestation of the curse.