I will draw first from Genesis 1:27 and then seek to substantiate my central thesis through a number of theological/biblical arguments. On to Genesis:
(A) And God created man (adam) in His own image,Paraphrasing Karl Barth, whom I have not read extensively on this subject, I would likewise suggest, “What could be clearer from this text than the fact that our gender relates to the image of God?” Barth argues that (B) and (C) form a “synonymous parallelism” typical of Hebrew poetry, and thus zachar and nikailah of (C) are to be understood as synonymous with the image of God in (B). In as much as Barth is willing to see a connection between gender and the image of God, I agree with him (as I am not aware of the full extent of his argument, I hesitate to align myself too closely with Barth on this subject). It seems clear that in as much as humanity exists in the image of God, all aspects of our humanity—or at least something as significant as our gender—must have relation to that which we image. The thought that our sexuality has no relation to the image of God, particularly in light of its close association with that image as detailed in this verse, seems unlikely. My theology has been heavily influenced by Augustine and Edwards in this area, both of whom readily utilized typology not only in interpretation, but also saw the entire created order in some way as manifesting images of the divine/spirit world.
(B) in the image of God He created him (masculine singular);
(C) male (zachar) and female (nikailah) He created them (masculine plural).
Apparently, however, what is clear to Barth (and myself) is not as clear to others. Philip Hughes, author of The True Image, and even John M. Frame, who (ironically) writes a chapter in Piper and Grudem’s book, reject Barth’s conclusion. In my mind, the Genesis text itself remains inconclusive. I like Barth’s treatment, but I think his conclusion must be—and can be—substantiated elsewhere. Frame thinks this can’t be done. Let the reader decide.
East vs. West: Corporate Humanity as an Illustration of the Trinity
Classic formulations of the Trinity usually state something to the effect that “God exists as one substance (ousia), expressed in three persons (hypostaseis).” Thus when we say, “Jesus is God,” we do not mean that Jesus shares the Personhood of the Father, but rather that Jesus participates in the Father’s divine essence. Attempts at illustrating the Trinity have been met with varied success and usually slant toward monotheism/modalism on the one hand, or tri-theism on the other. This can be seen particularly in the differences that exist between eastern and western theology.
Augustine, in many ways the father of western theology, sought an illustration of the Trinity within the individual. He argued that (1) the human mind, (2) its power to know and love, and (3) ourselves as the object of our knowledge and love (Edwards does something similar) all come together to form a anthropomorphic trinity. His attempt to illustrate the Trinity solely within the individual gave a decidedly individualistic slant to western Trinitarian theology and tended to emphasize the oneness of God. But whereas Augustine looked inward for an illustration of the Trinity, the Eastern Church looked outward. The East, under the tutelage of Gregory of Nyssa and the Cappadocian Fathers, looked for an image of the Trinity within corporate humanity rather than in the individual. Gregory suggested that just as Peter, Paul and Timothy can properly be spoken of as possessing the same human substance in that they are all men, they remain yet distinct in their personhood. Thus it is proper to speak of their oneness, yet also their threeness. There’s more to it than this, but you get the idea. Gregory understood the limitations of this analogy (which we need not go into here) but nonetheless, it is interesting to note that he saw corporate humanity, rather than the individual, as the clearest illustration of the Trinity.
In spite of my reverence for Augustine, I would suggest that the Eastern emphasis strikes closer to home. In as much as there is community within the deity, it is necessary that there be community within humanity. It was not good for adam to be alone, for adam as a single individual was not capable of imaging forth the plurality of the Godhead. Consequently, the creation of Eve should be understood in some fashion as completing humanity’s ability to image forth the plurality of the Godhead. Some quick observations from Genesis 1-2, as well as 1 Corinthians 11, seem to verify such a conclusion.
It is worth noting that the creation of Eve stands unparalleled in the creation account. A brief survey of the twin creation accounts in Genesis 1-2 reveal that all living creatures, including Adam, are made from the dust of the ground. Yet the creation of Eve is unique in that she is fashioned from the very substance of the man. Humanity existed as one within Adam and from Adam sprang forth one who was like unto himself, yet not himself. The very stuff of Adam was the very stuff of Eve. Her manner of creation is so unique that it must surely bear some significance. I would suggest that its significance can be found in the fact that adam was created by God to image forth not only the individuality of God, but also the plurality of the divine community. In as much as the individual members of the divine community participate in the one divine nature, so too it was necessary that the members of the human community participate in the one human nature. What clearer way of expressing the unity of nature within the human community than by fashioning one of its members out of the “stuff” of the other? This method of creation harkens closely to our Christological statements that the Son was “begotten, not made.” Just like Christ’s miraculous incarnation, this method of creation forcefully conveys two truths: the man and the woman are one in nature, yet they remain distinct in person.
1 Corinthians 11:3
What can only be typologically deduced in Genesis 1-2 is explicitly stated in 1 Corinthians 11:3. Paul writes,
But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.Here Paul clearly states that there is an analogous (typological) relationship between God/Christ and the man/woman. In other words, what God is to Christ—his head—so too the man is to the woman. Verse 7 further highlights this typological relationship. Paul refers to the woman as the “glory (image) of the man”, using the same iconic terminology with which he elsewhere refers to Christ’s as the image and glory of the Father (2 Corinthians 4:4, Colossians 1:15).
It should also be observed that the obvious differences that exist between male and female, be they physical or psychological, also help to illustrate the reality that God the Father and God the Son are not merely personality clones. In my mind, this helps explain why God did not merely create two men (or two women) with identical natures as an expression of the plurality of persons within the Godhead. Though it is true that there are differences of personhood between two people of the same sex, the real differences between human personhood is seen in the contrast of the sexes. I would submit that these differences are not accidental, but intentional (and full of deep beauty). Just as Jesus refers to the Father as “greater than I” (John 14:28), so too Peter refers to the woman as the “weaker vessel” in relation to the man (1 Peter 3:7). Neither passage should be interpreted in such a way as to suggest ontological inequality, but rather these passages speak to the inequality of power/position that exists in these relationships. In as much as there is a hierarchical structure within the shared-life of the divine community, so too the human community was created with a hierarchal structure. This hierarchal structure would be largely lost if God had created a genderless human community.
Much remains to be said about the beauty and worth of this male/female typological relationship. Not only does it have the potential (through marriage and sexual union) to convey the “one-spirit” unity that exists between Christ and the Church, so too it communicates the unity and diversity that exists within the divine community. There is more to the image of God than gender, and I think that Augustine is right to look for an analogy of the Trinity within the individual in as much as God is One. Yet we must not forget that God is also Three, and that it bears exploring how humanity—specifically the complimentary genders of humanity—reflects this plurality.