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© Rosemary Bardsley 2013    

[Note: much of the material in this study is from the study series on marriage. ]

We have seen in previous studies that creation by God and in the image of God gives to every human being an awesome value and dignity, prohibiting use, misuse and abuse of this person who is God’s possession and whom God created to reflect his nature and to commune with him. We will now look at three further aspects of the being and nature of the human.



Two extreme abuses of sexual equality are observable in our world today:

1] In some cultures women are valued less than animals and/or treated as tradeable, disposable goods. Female children are valued less than male children; indeed, in some countries the abortion of female foetuses, or exposure of new-born baby girls, is commonly practised. In some cultures women are not considered as the same species as men, or are thought less human than men

2] In some Christian circles women are subjected to a legalistic dominance and condescension by men, both in the church and in the home.

The first of these extremes is the logical expression of cultures without knowledge of the God who created both male and female in his own image. The second stems from a failure to apply knowledge of creation and redemption to one’s view of the sexes. While these are extreme there are other expressions of perceived/assumed inequality in our society that are prohibited by the biblical teaching of equality. To recognize these we need a clear understanding of the biblical perspective.

A.1 God created both male and female, and he created both ‘in his image’
Genesis 1:26,27 confirms an immediate equality:

Both are the result of God’s ‘let us make man …’ and are therefore of equal value.
Both are made in the image of God, so that

Both were created to reflect God’s nature
Both were created spiritual beings
Both were created responsible to God
Both were created for communion with God
Both were created for a dependent relationship with God

This fundamental and irreducible equality outlaws attitudes of superiority in the male and inferiority in the female, domination in the male and subservience in the female. These attitudes ignore the essential role and nature which God embedded in both male and female when he created them in his image:

Task #1: Discuss how the attitudes listed violate the intrinsic equality of the sexes

Lack of respect for the woman

Abuse of the woman

Arrogance on the part of the man

Contempt of the woman

Self-negation on the part of the woman

Servile or cringing attitude towards the man

Woman’s self-perception of being for the man’s use

Woman accepts abuse as part of her lot


A.2 Genesis 1:28-31 affirms this equality of male and female
These verses affirm the equality of male and female.

Male and female were both created by God.    
Both male and female were told to be fruitful and multiply.
Both male and female were commanded to fill the earth and subdue it.
Both male and female were given authority over other creatures.

This teaches a shared and equal blessedness, a shared and equal responsibility, and a shared and equal dominion over creation. Not the man more than the woman, nor the woman less than the man. They are equally blessed, equally commanded, equally responsible to rule over the creation.

Thus before God and before each other, and before the rest of creation, male and female are equal.


B. THE UNITY OF THE SEXES [Genesis 1:26-31]
This essential equality also assumes an essential unity. Genesis 1:26-31 helps us to understand that man and woman together represent ‘human beings’:

Together they are created as ‘man’ (= human beings).
Together they are blessed by God.
Together they are to multiply and fill the earth
Together they are to subdue the earth and to rule over the creatures of the earth.

This unity is seen most clearly in the command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ – it simply cannot be done alone, by one without the other. This leads to another fact: neither equality nor unity mean sameness.


C. THE DIFFERENTIATION OF THE SEXES [Genesis 1:27b; 2:18-23]

Equality does not mean sameness. Unity does not mean sameness. Thus Genesis also teaches us that there is differentiation: that God created human beings male and female [1:27b], and that Adam by himself is not complete [2:18-24]. The unity shared by the male and the female is not the unity of being identical, but the unity in which one complements and completes the other, each enabling the other to live their God-ordained life, each enabling the other to enjoy the divine blessing, and each enabling the other to fulfil the divine command, in a way that one alone can never do. We ought not be surprised to discover that men and women think differently, perceive differently, feel differently, and act differently. Nor ought we try to make the opposite sex conform to ourselves, or try to make ourselves duplicates of the opposite sex: the existence of male/female differences is not wrong, rather, it is an intrinsic part of our creation by God.

This concept of differentiation is brought out in the second account of creation.

C.1 ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’ [Genesis 2:18]
In this verse we learn that:

1] In the original creation, uncorrupted by sin and degradation, God said that it was ‘not good’ for the man to be alone. Because he is a person, with the ability and responsibility for morality and communion with another (because he has the awesome ability to give himself in love to another), he cannot achieve his human potential by himself. He cannot live a truly human life in isolation. We need to keep in mind that this ‘it is not good for the man to be alone’ is God’s word on the matter in the original, pre-sin world.

2] The woman was made by God to be ‘a helper suitable for him’. God did not make another man to be the ‘helper suitable for’ the man to address the ‘not good’ of his aloneness. As a ‘helper suitable for him’ the woman corresponds to the man as his counterpart and complement. She stands opposite him (face to face with him), not as an identical duplicate, but as a person who complements his person, a person who interfaces with his person. Although this is true in a purely physical way, it is, more significantly, true at the deeper levels of human life – those aspects of personhood which distinguish us from animals and identify us as created in the image of God. It is at these levels of morality, responsibility, communion, communication and love that the male/female differentiation in the human is far different from the male/female differentiation in animals.

C.2 ‘For Adam no suitable helper was found’ among the animals and birds [2:20]
It is possible to love animals, to enjoy animals, and to have a level of interaction and communion with animals. But the God-ordained relation of man to animals is that of ruling over them [Genesis 1:28]. This dominion over the animals is also expressed in Adam’s naming of the animals [2:19-20]. Adam found no equality or unity with them, and no counterpart among them. When God brought the woman to him, however, he immediately recognized her as corresponding to himself: ‘this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.’ [2:23]. In the Hebrew the emphasis is on the ‘this’: this now – in contrast to all the creatures he has just named. Here was someone with whom he recognized an equality and a unity; here was someone who was a counterpart of himself, corresponding to him, communicating with him, with the same capacity for morality and love as he himself possessed. Here was someone with whom he could relate in a personal and intelligent way in which he could never relate to the animals.

C.3 The sexual act is blessed, commanded and intended by God [Genesis 1:28; 2:22, 24]
This God-created differentiation between man and woman includes their physical, sexual differences, and identifies heterosexual intercourse as part of God’s creative purpose for humans:

Task #2: Read the phrases below. Discuss their implication for out attitude to and understanding of the sexual act.

‘God blessed them and said to them ….’

‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth ’

‘The Lord God made a woman … and he brought her to the man’

‘For this reason a man will … be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh’

We learn from the above phrases that the sexual act between man and woman is blessed by God, commanded by God, designed by God and intended by God. These phrases endorse the sexual act between man and woman within a lifelong monogamous relationship with God’s sanction, endowing it with dignity and responsibility.


Task #3: Discussion points: In what way in do Genesis 1:28 and 2:22 & 25 outlaw:

[1] Adultery

[2] Polygamy or multiple partners or changing marriage partners

[3] Homosexual acts

[4] Bestiality


C.4 Union within differentiation [2:24] [Quoted in NT: Matt 19:5; Mk 10:7; 1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:31.]
The significance of the union of a man and a woman is identified in three different ways in this verse, which Moses, impelled by the Spirit of God, included when he wrote Genesis:

[1] ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother’.
God holds the relation of a person to his/her parents highly significant and filled with awesome responsibilities [Exodus 20:12; 21:15,17; Leviticus 20:9; Deuteronomy 21:18-21;27:16; Proverbs 19:26; 20:20; 23:22; 30:11,17]; heavy penalties were imposed on those who despised or mistreated their parents. This verse, however, indicates that a man’s union with his wife involves him in a commitment that is so significant that it takes priority over his responsibilities to his parents. This is heavy stuff.

[2] ‘and be united to his wife’ [the word means cling or adhere to, stick, be joined together, abide, cleave ]
This leaving father and mother and being united to his wife refers to the totality and comprehensiveness of the marriage relationship. It is far more than the sexual act. It is a commitment of the whole person of the husband to this relationship, this personal union with the wife, and, though not mentioned, of the wife with the husband. It does not envisage a severance of the relationship.

[3] ‘and they will become one flesh’
This becoming ‘one flesh’, while including the sexual act and the resultant children [one flesh made from two], also includes the fact that the man and woman become a unit. Adam Clarke comments: ‘These two shall be one flesh, shall be considered as one body, having no separate or independent rights, privileges, cares, concerns, etc., each being equally interested in all things that concern the marriage state’ [Commentary on the Bible].

Optional Task: Read and discuss Matthew 19:3-6 where Jesus used this verse to teach that divorce is not part of God’s purpose for man.  


C.5 Mutual inter-dependence [Genesis 2:18-23]
Within the equality and unity there is also a mutual dependence:

1] By God’s affirmation, the man needs the woman [Genesis 2:18]
2] By God’s mode of creation, the woman was created from part of the man and for the man [2:18,21].

In Genesis 1 and 2 neither of these facts was threatening. They are part of the original order of creation which God called ‘very good’. God’s purpose for the man and the woman together and individually was to be fulfilled in the context of this mutual inter-dependence, not in isolation and independence.

C.4 Differentiation without division [Genesis 2:25]
This verse encapsulates the perfect peace and unity of the original creation: there was no shame. Nothing intruded into this relationship that caused a self-focused awareness of any lack, any failure, any incongruity, any inferiority, any conflict, any criticism, any fear, any perception or possibility of lust or unworthiness. These two did not even know that there was such a thing as shame or guilt. Criticism (negative thoughts about themselves, each other, their roles and their relationship) simply did not exist.