Sunday, December 04, 2005

Gender and the Image of God: Gender and Typology

In order to advance the central thesis of this series (i.e., that masculine-representative language has relation to Trinitarian theology), I will first need to firm up the idea that gender has relation to the image of God. In this post I will argue that Scripture both implicitly and explicitly teaches that human gender reflects the image of God in as much as it serves as a typological illustration of God’s relationship to Christ. Essentially I will argue that just as the relationship between a husband and wife reflects the ontological unity and economic diversity that exists between Christ and the Church (and this relationship, as stated here, is clearly meant to be understood typologically) so too the relationship between the man and the woman reflects the ontological unity and economic diversity that exists between God and Christ.

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,
(B) in the image of God He created him (masculine singular);
(C) male (zachar) and female (nikailah) He created them (masculine plural).
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.

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.

Genesis 1-2
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.


Gerald said...

An addendum: I do not intend to suggest here that God is a sexual being. In my mind, our gender has relation to the image of God in much the same way that our eyes (as instruments of perception) typologically portray a Divine Being who sees and perceives. In the same way that we can connect human eyes to the image of God without needing to affirm that he also has physical eyes, so too God need not have sexuality in order for us to see human gender as part of thee image of God.

Isaac Demme said...

It seems to me that there are three possible ways of saying that the creation of man "male and female" is related to creation "as the image of God"

Option 1: Both man and woman are created separately "as the image of God" -- thus the role of image is independent of gender roles and shared by both.

Option 2: Both man and woman are created together "as the image of God" -- thus both genders are required to fulfil the image role.

Option 3: Only man is created "as the image of God", woman is created for some other purpose.

Most of your post here seems to be arguing for option 2, but your citation of 1 Corinthians 11.4 as relevant to the interpretation of Genesis 1.27 makes me wonder if you are arguing for option 3 on some level. Which is it?

Peter Kirk said...

Barth may be right to see a parallel in Genesis 1:17 between the image of God and "male and female" (by the way, the transliterated Hebrew for "female" should be more like neqeba, the first "e" short and the second long). But the implication of this is that God is equally male and female. There is no significance in the pronoun in your line (B) being masculine, as this is simply grammatical agreement with the masculine noun 'adam.

Your argument from Genesis 1-2 omits any consideration of female animals. Were they created from the dust or from their male counterparts' ribs? We don't know. But either answer undermines your argument. Your argument also suggests a femaleness to Christ. The parallels are also weakened in that there is a third member of the Trinity, whom you do not mention, but not a third human gender.

But I do now see what you mean, that there is a possible relationship between gender and the Trinity. However, you are on tricky ground if you are putting forward a hierarchy God the Father > Christ > male humans > female humans, not least because this idea of a hierarchy within the Trinity is not generally acceptable, despite John 14:28.

Gerald said...


I meant to be arguing for #2. I reject #3. I think that there is some legitimatcy to #1, in as much as God is One as much as Three. The image of God in humanity should relate to both the individual and the community.

Gerald said...

Peter, you wrote,

Your argument from Genesis 1-2 omits any consideration of female animals. Were they created from the dust or from their male counterparts' ribs? We don't know. But either answer undermines your argument.

I’m not sure I follow. My point in Genesis 1-2 is that Eve’s creation is uniquely detailed. I don’t see how either answer to your second question undermines my argument that the Genesis account uniquely highlights the creation of Eve as distinct from the creation of the other animals.

Your argument also suggests a femaleness to Christ.

Not “femaleness,” but yes-a certain feminity. C. S. Lewis has suggested that gender is relationally dependent and transcends biological sexuality. Thus to my wife I am masculine, to my pastor, government leaders, boss, etc., I am feminine. So in relation to the Church Christ is masculine, in relation to the Father he is feminine.

The parallels are also weakened in that there is a third member of the Trinity, whom you do not mention, but not a third human gender.

I left this out for sake of room (the post was already too long) but here’s my initial thoughts on the Holy Spirit. I see a parallel between the parent/child relationship and the relationship that exists between the first two members of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is said to be both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. He is both at the same time. He submits himself equally to both the Father and the Son and is said to be sent by both. In a very mysterious way, his presence in our lives exists because of the union that exists between the Father and the Son (John 7:39, 16:5-7). He is fully divine, being in his nature everything that the Father and Son are.

All of this is seen in the parent/child relationship. Like the Holy Spirit, the child submits to both the father and the mother, is the child of both at the same time (I am the son of my father, as much as I am the son of my mother), and is one in nature with both parents. The child, like his parents, is fully human. This is more of a theological argument and thus I don’t want to press it too far. The point is not there needs to be a seperate human gender for each member of the trinity, but rather that there is an ontological similarity that exists between the relations of the three members of the Godhead relate and the iconic relations of the "three" prinicipal members of the nuclear family.

However, you are on tricky ground if you are putting forward a hierarchy God the Father > Christ > male humans > female humans, not least because this idea of a hierarchy within the Trinity is not generally acceptable, despite John 14:28.

I don’t agree that a view of the trinity which affirms economic inequality is “not generally acceptable.” I think it can be found in the patristics and on up to the present day (though I would need to do some digging to cite direct passages). But perhaps most importantly, it can be found here. Further, Christ relates to the Father in ways that are not reciprocal with how the Father relates to Christ. For example, Christ is obedient to the Father (Philippians 2:8), submits his will to the Father (John 6:38), entrusts himself to the Father (1 Peter 2:23), appeals to the Father for help (Matthew 26:39), and will ultimately bring himself and the whole world into subjection to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Scot McKnight said...

Are you also arguing that the Son's nature derives from the Father's? Maybe better yet, are you suggesting the filioque clause?

Peter Kirk said...

Gerald, thank you for your helpful reply. I would just like to clarify my point about female animals.

If female animals were created from male animals' ribs, it is not true that "the creation of Eve is unique in that she is fashioned from the very substance of the man".

If female animals were created from the dust, the relationship between male and female animals is fundamentally different from that between male and female humans, and true femininity becomes something restricted to women. Perhaps this doesn't directly weaken your argument, but it does undermine all the wonderful biblical analogies of mother animals and birds. But, come to think of it, in most of those God or Christ is the mother bird, which mixes up your whole argument.

I tend to conclude that there are some wonderful parallels between gender on the one hand and, on the other, relationships within the Trinity and relationships between God and humanity. The parallels are God-given and inspired, but they are not consistent. This strongly suggests that they are only analogies and metaphors, and are not anything with any ontological significance.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I would argue that we all should seek to represent both the traditional masculine and the traditional feminine virtues. Who would deny a woman taking up arms to protect her children, or a man, feeding a new-born baby from a bottle, if the mother has died. The more we experience both these diverse roles the more we experience the fulness of God.

BTW, whatever happended to the Father and Son relationship? In any case, I have blogged in return here

This is my response to Option #2

Gerald said...


Great question. I didn't intentionally think that through when I was writing the post, nor have I studied the issue enough to want to commit either way, but my post here is certainly consistent with the thought that the HS proceeds from both the Father and the Son, as well as the Son proceeding from the Father. It certianly brings a lot of cohesion to my typology.

Scot McKnight said...

Well, maybe you'll next be studying at St Vladimir's!

Gerald said...


I read your thoughtful post on I tend to agree with what you are saying, but think that perhaps you pose a false alternative between option 1 and 2 (as detailed above). I am not suggesting that we need to either view the image of God within humanity as consisting primarily in the individual or the in the community (specifically the male/female community). I think that both ideas have their place and are vital aspects of what it means for humanity to bear the image of God. (If we were talking about the typological relationship between Christ/Church and Husband/Wife however, then yes, that image is “couple” dependant—but that isn’t the primary image we have been talking abut).

Also, I hesitate to affirm the idea that both sexes should be striving to emulate the characteristics of the other. Certainly this is true to some extent (as the examples you posed illustrate), but there is a good reason that it is “women and children first” when the ship is going down; or that it is more appropriate for the husband to get out of bed in the middle of the night to go investigate the noise in the basement than his wife. The beauty of our differences is that they provide opportunity for the exaltation of the other in ways that would not be possible otherwise. The fact that a group of men would allow women and children to enter a life-boat first, though as men they possessed the greater physical power to use this privilege for themselves, is more beautiful to me than one male giving his life for another. God has placed the male in a masculine role in relation to the woman in order that the man might use his “greater” position to exalt the woman—not in a patronizing, condescending way, but in a way similar to how the Father exalts the Son, and how Christ exalts the Church. In my mind all human authority/power structures—though not always functioning properly—are intended by God to operate in this way. The Son submits to the Father and the Father in turn uses his “greater” position for the exaltation of the Son. Gender provides a unique and universal way for this self-sacrifice to be expressed and I grow leery of arguments that work too hard to mask or cloud our differences.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I accept the physical and biological differences and believe that that has necessarily guided human behaviour. I have yet to hear anyone suggest that men have either greater intellectual or moral strength. If you only mean men are in a more powerful position, then how does this reflect God's *nature*? You must decide if men are more powerful in their position, or in their nature. And if only in their position then you must decide if Jesus came to uphold position or tear it down.

As well, if you admit that it is in position only, are you comfortable always leading when someone else has equal intellectual and moral strength.

In the church, has God distributed gifts to the church across the sexes or differently to each sex.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Gerald, I have responed again on my blog.

Gerald said...


You ask some good questions here. I plan to respond as I have a chance. Thanks for posting a link to your blog.

Gerald said...

Generally, this post was arguing for “position,” in as much as the I think that the man possesses a greater position in relation to the woman as a reflection of God’s greater position in relation to Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3)—though I think that this has most application in the Church and the home—since these relationships are given much attention in Scripture—and has less and less application as one moves outward (such as politics, employment, etc.).

The question as to whether men are more powerful in nature is, I think, a false alternative. That’s kind of like asking, “Which is greater: a hammer or a scalpel? A tenor or a bass?” Men and women are just different. For instance, men are more likely to get into a fight in a bar, go hunting, and spend the afternoon watching sports. Women are more likely to leave a career to stay home with their children, talk to each other face to face (rather than sitting side by side) and have a blog about knitting (how very eclectic of you by the way ). The point here is that men and women are different and are generally better equipped to do certain things. These differences don’t make one “greater” in nature than the other.

You also wrote,
I accept the physical and biological differences and believe that that has necessarily guided human behavior.

I assume this was written in response to my comment about men going down with the ship and husbands going down into the basement. Your comment addresses the latter, but not the former. Men don’t go down with the ship because we are better at drowning than women. We go down with the ship as a reflection of Christ’s teaching that the one in the greater position of power/authority is to use his/her position for the advancement of the one in the weaker/lesser position. The very Christian concept of chivalry (in its best expressions) is not simply driven by biological and physical differences—as though any culture would adopt this mindset. “Men going down with the ship” is very anti “survival of the fittest.”

You also wrote,
you must decide if Jesus came to uphold position or tear it down.

It seems clear to me that he did not come to tear down position, but rather to instruct his followers in the right use of position. The beauty of the way of Jesus is not seen in equals treating each other as equals (even pagans do that) but rather when the greater treats the lesser as an equal and uses his/her position of greater authority as an instrument of blessing in the life of the lesser.

You also wrote,
Are you comfortable always leading when someone else has equal intellectual and moral strength.

Biblical authority and position does not reside in the person but rather in the office. From a biblical perspective, the spoils of leadership do not go to the strong, but rather to the one whom God has ordained to such a position. Just as David’s honoring of Saul was an expression of his dependence and trust in God, so too a wife honors her less capable husband “out of reverence for Christ.” The fact that a more capable individual would willingly submit (be it in the home, church, workplace, etc.) to one who is less capable testifies to the sufficiency of Christ in a way that would otherwise not occur. So yes I am comfortable leading those who are more capable than I, just as I am comfortable being led by those who are less capable than I. (A great example of this in literature is the relationship between Queen Melian and King Thingol in Tolkien’s Silmarillion).

And finally,

In the church, has God distributed gifts to the church across the sexes or differently to each sex?

I answer “Evenly across the church regardless of sex.” Though in keeping with my above comment, I don’t see as to how this bears much on the discussion. The implication of your comment seems to be that one who is gifted should always be allowed to use their gift in any capacity. Generally I affirm the idea that we need to find ways for people to use their gifts—but always within the confines that God has established. Many women have the gift of pasturing, but there are ways to use this gift that do not break down the typological significance of the male/female relationship.

Anyway, I don’t suspect that we will agree here, but thanks for the comments and your participation in this ongoing discussion. You have definitely made it far more interesting than it otherwise would have been.

Gerald said...

I meant "pastoring" in my last paragraph (though i suppose many women have the gift of "pasturing" as well--whatever that is).

Suzanne McCarthy said...


The other interpretation of the lifeboat scenario is that humans have developed altruism to ensure the continuance of their own gene pool. The children and mothers survive to carry on the next generation.

Most women would not accept a daily restriction on their activities just to ensure a seat in a hypothetical lifeboat.

when the greater treats the lesser as an equal

I agree

and uses his/her position of greater authority as an instrument of blessing in the life of the lesser.

Are women to be uniquely at the mercy of their husbands interpretation of what blesses them. And what about those who don't. I can't comment more. I have worked with women in abusive situations who had this teaching from their church.

Good luck with your studies.