Gender in Genesis 1
This article is available in Spanish.
Many Christians regard the first few chapters of Genesis as fundamental to our understanding of Christian doctrine. These chapters contain important information about humanity as male and female, and about our roles and relationship to God. In this post I look at what Genesis chapter 1 says about men and women, and what can happen when we get it wrong (by listening to the Ancient Greeks instead of to God.)
In Genesis chapter 1, we read that God took the earth which was empty and dark and useless and ugly. And he made it into something beautiful and useful; he gave it light and he filled it with plants and animals. And God saw that it was good. One of the main themes of Genesis 1 is that God’s creation is good.
The pinnacle of God’s good creation is people – us.
In Genesis 1:26-28 we read about God’s creation and his commissioning of humankind:
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion [rule] over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion [or rule] over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Genesis 1:26-28 (NRSV)
In these few verses we see that both men and women are:
~ Created by God
~ Created in the image and likeness of God
~ Blessed by God
~ Spoken to by God
~ Told to be fruitful and multiply (have children)
~ Commanded to rule over the animals
~ And are part of God’s “very good” creation
The following looks at some of these aspects of humanity.
Men and Women are Created by God in his Image and Likeness.
Many Christian theologians in the past have stated that only men are made in the image of God, or that women only bear God’s image when joined with a man.
For example, Augustine (354-430), a highly influential Christian theologian, wrote:
. . . the woman together with her own husband is the image of God, so that that whole substance may be one image; but when she is referred separately to her quality of help-meet, which regards the woman herself alone, then she is not the image of God; but as regards the man alone, he is the image of God as fully and completely as when the woman too is joined with him in one.
Augustine, On the Trinity. Book 12 7.10 (Source)
There is nothing in the biblical creation accounts, however, that supports the assumption that women bear God’s image to a lesser or different degree than men.
It’s not just the theologians of the past that have got it wrong. Just last month a woman named Nadia left a comment on my website saying that only men are the image and glory of God. She was quoting 1 Corinthians 11:7 out of context. [It is so important to read the whole passage of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, and not just a few verses from the first half, because it is in the second half that Paul addresses the previous statements and gives balance and corrections. More on this passage here.]
In Genesis 1, men and women are both created by God and made in his image and likeness. They are both blessed by God and spoken to by God. Women are not lesser than men in regard to God’s image and blessing. Moreover they do not need a male mediator to hear from God.
God Speaks to Men and Women
God spoke to his image bearers and told them both to be fruitful and multiply. Some Christians believe that God speaks primarily to men and that men are the “priests” of the home (even though there is no Bible verse which states this.) Yet we know from numerous examples in the Bible that God speaks to women, often bypassing husbands and fathers. God continues to speak to men and women, today. God can even speak to, and through, animals if he chooses (Gen. 1:22; Num. 22:28ff).
Men and Women are Co Creators in Reproduction
Procreation is a joint responsibility of fathers and mothers. When we try and pin more responsibility on one of the sexes, either men or women, we end up with heresy.
Heresy 1: The Priority of Men in Reproduction
Before we had microscopes and modern scientific knowledge about reproduction, men were seen as primarily responsible for procreation; and Jewish and Greek philosophers wrote about the superiority of men in procreation.
Aristotle (300s BC) said, “A woman is an infertile male; [she] is female [because she] lacks the power to concoct semen.” . . . With his repeated statements of the female’s inability to produce semen, Aristotle showed that women were necessary but far less ‘divine’ then men, since only semen carried life. Aristotle, Plato, and generations of scientists believed that semen contained miniature human beings. The belief that the males were the sole begetters of life, providing the ‘seed’, with the female providing only the ‘soil’, underscored women’s inferior status.
David J. Hamilton, “Daughters of Pandora” in Why not Women? Loren Cunningham and David J. Hamilton (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2000) p80.
Just in case you’re wondering what Greek philosophy has to do with Christianity: For many years, clergy in many parts of Europe received a classical education which meant reading Plato, etc. And the early Church was set within a culture heavily influenced by Greek culture and thought. These Greek influences have left their mark on modern Christianity.
Centuries later, Thomas Aquinas (1200s), a Christian philosopher and theologian, who also had no idea about how reproduction really worked, wrote,
. . . the active power of generation belongs to the male sex, and the passive power to the female . . . woman is defective and misbegotten for the active power in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex, while production of woman comes from defect in the active force.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica First Part, Question 92, Article 1. (Source)
According to Aquinas, when everything was working properly, a boy would be born; but if something was amiss or ailing, a girl would be born. A girl was a dud, a mistake of nature, a misformed male.
In 1827, it was discovered that women produced ova (eggs), and that men and women were actually co-creators. Women are not just passive incubators of the male life force. More recently it has been discovered that mothers contribute just as much genetic material to a new child as fathers, and that male and female children are equally the healthy offspring of mothers as of fathers. These scientific discoveries have huge sociological implications regarding the worth of women.
Heresy 2: The Priority of Women in Reproduction
Since the Reformation there has been an emphasis on motherhood. The Reformers’ repudiation of everything about the Roman Catholic Church, including monasticism and celibacy, caused some Christian theologians to start teaching that motherhood is the highest calling for women. Even today some pastors, and even seminary professors, emphasise the mother’s role in procreation, while ignoring the father’s, and have made a doctrine based on one verse in the New Testament that is genuinely difficult to understand: 1 Timothy 2:15 (NRSV).
Jim Hamilton, an associate professor of biblical theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a preaching pastor at a Baptist Church in the USA, has stated that “All Women must embrace their role as women by bearing children and, if they do this in faith, they will then be saved.” [I have written about Jim’s statement here: What must a woman do to be saved? And I have written about 1 Timothy 2:15 here.]
The blessing and command to multiply in Genesis was given to both men and women. Yet, while many Christians state that motherhood is the highest calling for women, they almost never say that fatherhood is the highest calling for men. I believe being a parent is a wonderful blessing and a huge responsibility. I love being a mother. But I am not limited to motherhood. Many Christians who extol the virtues of motherhood seem to be limiting women to the domestic sphere, to the home.
Men and Women are Co Regents of God’s Created World
God has charged both men and women to rule the animals: the fish, birds, livestock and wild animals. And, in chapter two, we see that the first human was charged with caring for the garden in Eden – the land and the plants. From these passages we can see that God made people to care for his created world. He has given men and women “the rulership of creation through stewardship.” (Richard Hess, Equality With and Without Innocence, p81)
As people made in the image of God we are his regents. In the Ancient Near East (the setting of most of the Old Testament narratives, including the creation narrative) kings of vast empires erected images of themselves in areas where they were not physically present. These images represented “their power and rulership over far reaching areas of their empires”. (Hess, Equality, p81) As God’s image bearers we are representatives of God and his dominion, even though he is not ‘physically’ present.
It is important to note that we have been authorised to rule the animals. God does not say here, before the Fall, that some people are given authority to rule other people.
Men and Women are a Part of God’s Very Good Creation
God’s creation of men and women was very good. This is in contrast to the creation stories from other societies.
Hesiod (c750-650BC), who was an important Greek poet, wrote an epic (long poem) called Theogeny. In his epic he wrote about the creation of the first woman whom the Greeks call Pandora.
Theogeny is “like the book of Genesis for the Greeks, and for the later Romans. But unlike Genesis where the creation of Eve was the loving act of the Creator, the story of Pandora’s creation was drastically different. According to Hesiod, a time existed on earth when men lived blissfully without any women. This paradise was lost when Prometheus stole fire from the Olympic gods and shared it with other men. In a vindictive fit of rage, Zeus conceived the most horrifying punishment possible. Woman was created as man’s eternal curse . . .” (Hamilton, Daughters of Pandora, p76)
The Greek’s contemptuously low view of women has permeated the church for most of its history. But this view is not supported by scripture. It is time to set the record straight. There is no gender hierarchy in Genesis 1, and there are no so-called gender roles in Genesis 1. Rather, each and every statement in Genesis 1:26-28f applies equally to men and women. This passage affirms gender equality.
Genesis 1:26-28 is relatively easy and straightforward in regards to gender. Genesis 2 is less straightforward. One of the rules of interpreting the Bible is to use the clearer, easier-to-understand passages of scripture to help us understand the less clear passages. We need to keep Genesis 1 in mind when we read Genesis 2. Genesis 2 does not contradict Genesis 1 but gives a different perspective and emphasis of the creation of man and women. (Hess, Equality, p82) The message of Genesis 2 is about the profound affinity and unity of the first man and woman, and their equality. [More on this soonish.]
 “Because this text is absolutely fundamental to all of Christian theology in general and all Christian thinking about the sexes, there is no more important text to study.” Kevin Giles (2010-06-11). Better Together: Equality in Christ (Kindle Locations 225-226).
 The command to be fruitful was seen by the Jews as a sacred duty, and it is one command that humanity has actually obeyed. Interestingly, Jesus and Paul did not promote procreation, but allowed singleness and celibacy for the sake of the kingdom and ministry. Some Jews in Jesus’ time, who are traditionally known as Essenes, were celibate for the sake of the kingdom and ministry. (Martha, Mary and Lazarus may have been celibate, ascetic Jews.)
 Aquinas believed that the only help woman provides for man is her passive role in reproduction. Aquinas was echoing the sentiments of Augustine:
“I don’t see what sort of help woman was created to provide man with, if one excludes procreation. If woman is not given to man for help in bearing children, for what help could she be? To till the earth together? If help were needed for that, man would have been a better help for man. The same goes for comfort in solitude. How much more pleasure is it for life and conversation when two friends live together than when a man and a woman cohabitate?”
Augustine, quoted by Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven (Penguin, 1991) p88.
 In past times, women were unjustly blamed if children were not produced, or only female children were produced. In some cultures and situations “barren” women or those who failed to provide a male heir could be divorced – a cruel penalty.
 This command, to both men and women, to rule the animals is important to keep in mind in chapter two (Gen 2:19-20). It was not just the first human being who had dominion of the animals but all subsequent humans, men as well as women, also.
Augustine, On the Trinity, Book 12 7.10 (Source)
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 92, Article 1. (Source)
Kevin Giles, Better Together: Equality in Christ, INgrooves, Kindle Edition (2010-06-11)
David J. Hamilton, “Daughters of Pandora” in Why not Women? Loren Cunningham and David J. Hamilton (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2000) p71-83.
Richard S. Hess, “Equality With and Without Innocence” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity with Hierarchy Eds. Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 2004) p79-95.
Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven (Penguin, 1991)
The Complementarian Concept of “The Created Order”
A Suitable Helper
A Suitable Helper in the Septuagint
Is motherhood the highest calling for women?
Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry
The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Leading Together in the Home
This entry was posted on Saturday, August 31st, 2013 at 10:29 am and is filed under Equality and Gender Issues. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.