The first two concepts of this paper go right back to Genesis 1 and 2 – to the world as God created it, before the fall. Here we see life as it was meant to be, without corruption, without damage, without alienation, without fear, without guilt. Here we see the only ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ human beings (apart from Jesus Christ). From this original, virginal world, unraped by sin and degradation, we can learn God’s perspective on the equality and the differentiation between men and women.

CONCEPT ONE: VALUE AND DIGNITY: GENESIS 1:26,27

© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2015

A. THE IDENTICAL VALUE AND PURPOSE OF MEN AND WOMEN

The fact of creation by God gives value and purpose to everything, including human life:

A.1 Created by God

Both men and women have their life and breath from God’s hand [Acts 17:25]
Both men and women have their origin from God [Romans 11:36, 1 Corinthians 8:6]
Both men and women were created by Jesus Christ [Colossians 1:16]

A.2 Sustained by God

Both men’s and women’s existence at this very moment depends on God [Acts 17:28]
Both men’s and women’s existence at this very moment is ‘through’ God [Romans 11:36]
Both men’s and women’s existence at this very moment is ‘through’ Jesus Christ [1 Cor. 8:6]
Both men’s and women’s existence at this very moment is sustained by Jesus Christ [Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3]

A.3 Created for God

God’s goal and purpose for both men and women is God-centred [Romans 11:36]
God’s purpose for both men’s and women’s life is God himself [1 Corinthians 8:6]
Both men and women were created for Jesus Christ [Colossians 1:16]

This fact of creation by God for God gives to both men and women an extreme value. Each man and each woman is the possession of the almighty God. Both are sustained in life by the word of Jesus Christ. Each was created, not for the other to use or abuse, exalt or belittle, according to our mood and our purposes, but for God and for his purpose. Neither is the possession, the property, the slave, of the other, or of less value or purpose than the other: each is God’s possession and God’s property by virtue of creation.

B. THE IDENTICAL AND EQUAL DIGNITY OF MEN AND WOMEN

When God created human beings he gave them a specific identity which distinguished them from everything else he created. This identity, this being created ‘in the image of God’, gives to man and woman an identical unique value and an identical unique responsibility. It gives to man and woman an identical significance, an identical dignity and an identical role which nothing else in creation can achieve or fulfil, and puts a heavy boundary around the way we view and treat one another. This fact of creation in the image of God is vitally important in our understanding of what the Bible teaches about men and women.

B.1 The human being was created with the ability, role and responsibility to reflect the being and nature of God
Creation in the image of God, means that both men and women, distinct from all other creatures, were created with the capacity for godliness [= ‘God-like-ness’]. The human person, both man and woman, was created with the ability, the role and the responsibility, not to be God, but to express the likeness, the reflection, the qualities, of the nature of God.  

This identity as God’s image-bearers gives an awesome and identical dignity to both man and woman, and holds each one of us accountable to God for the way we as men treat women and the way we as women treat men. He does not allow us to treat his image-bearers with contempt or disrespect. As Jesus pointed out in Matthew 5, the prohibition of murder, which is grounded in the image of God, is also a prohibition of the anger, contempt and disrespect which men and women all too easily express towards each other.  

Genesis 9:6: Prohibits murder on the basis of the image of God.
Matthew 5:22a: Prohibits anger as equivalent to murder
Matthew 5:22b: Prohibits contempt of people as equivalent to murder
Matthew 5:22c: Prohibits despising people as equivalent to murder

Contempt, belittling, despising, and disrespect may not kill a person physically, but they do kill a person emotionally, and short-circuit that person’s ability to live as the image of God.  Our understanding of the Bible’s teaching on male and female roles has of necessity to be within this boundary laid both at the beginning of the Old Testament and at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

B.2 Creation in the image of God identifies humans as moral and spiritual beings
The image of God factor elevates man and women beyond the physical and material and into a moral and spiritual dimension where they both have the capacity and responsibility for communion with God, for inter-personal communion, and for eternality. Though man and woman are different in a physical material way, men and women are not just physical beings.  Men and women are both creatures whose God-given distinguishing essence is equally spiritual, both creatures to whom God has given identical moral capacity, and both creatures whom God intended for identical spiritual communion with others and with himself. In other words, God created both men and women identical as persons, as personal, spiritual beings.

When we view ourselves and one another primarily in terms of whether we are a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ we are embracing the godless, materialistic mindset of the world and ignoring that aspect of the human being which is the most significant in God’s eyes, and which he counts the most significant in our  responsibilities.

Men and women are not just physical bodies or specific physical genders: men and women are also soul and spirit - persons created for communion/communication with God, the high and holy One, who inhabits eternity. The very nature of the man and the woman by virtue of creation in the image of God forbids us to treat one another in a way that focuses on the gender differences, and smothers the essential centre of what being created in the image of God is all about.

B.3 Creation in the image of God assumes a relationship of dependence on God
An image has no significance in and of itself. It is dependent for its existence and its glory on the existence and the glory of that which it images or reflects. For example:

If there never had been an emperor called Julius Caesar, a marble statue called ‘Julius Caesar’ would have little or no significance.
If a mirror is held with its back towards your face, it will never reflect your beauty or good looks; it fulfils its role only when in a face to face relationship with you.

Thus, both man and woman were created in an identical uninhibited, positive, face-to-face relationship with God. Only in this relationship with God can the image of God be expressed by both men and women. Only in this relationship of dependence on God can both men and women maximize their God-given potential as human persons.

What does this teach us about men and women?

That every man, because he is created in the image of God, can only be truly and fully human as he lives in positive, face-to-face relationship with God, dependent on him for his being, his significance and his glory. The man will not seek his significance and his glory, or the meaning of his life, from his maleness or from his perceived role and responsibilities as male, for that would be to put his maleness or his male roles in the place of God, which would be a form of idolatry.

That every woman, because she is a person created in the image of God, can only be truly and fully human as she lives in positive, face-to-face relationship with God, dependent on him for her being, her significance and her glory.  She will know that as a person her significance and glory come not from her femaleness, nor from her perceived female roles, or from taking on male roles, but from God alone, and will find her fulfilment as a human being in God alone. She will not descend into idolatry by taking her identity and her glory from her femaleness.

That neither the man or the woman will usurp the role of God in the life of the other, demanding that the one finds their identity, their glory and their significance in the other, for that would be to make one a idolater and the other a idol; it would also be to eliminate any possibility of either living out their God-given identity as the image of God.