The Image of God: Male and Female, Part 1

The Image of God: Male and Female

Part 1

Genesis 1:26-27

It is not uncommon for women of faith to feel marginalized, unequal to men, and boxed-out from significant roles in the culture and in Jesus’ church. Their concerns are often summarily dismissed because they are often viewed as “feminist,” a loaded term in North American culture.[1] But it is unwise to dismiss the concerns of women of faith. Scripture goes out of its way to establish the equality of women with men on the solid foundation of God’s image. So men and women of faith ought not to panic or draw their swords when women raise such concerns. We will be better lovers of God and people if we pause and listen.


Box Out

I’ve coached many types of athletic teams. My least favorite sport to coach is basketball, probably because I wasn’t very good at it. But I remember that a good zone defense[2] in basketball requires that a team on defense learn to “box-out.” “Box out” meant keeping our competitors from entering the key[3] and minimizing the potential for scoring. But women are not our competitors; they’re our team members, created as our partners by God’s design. So, I think it is fair to ask if these inferior status levels and box-like restrictions placed upon women were divinely ordained? Or were they fabricated by the culture or church, due to ignorance or misunderstanding of Scripture, or male ego.

Women: Fans or Team Members?

I’m persuaded from Scripture that women were not meant to be treated as inferior or to sit in the bleachers and watch the game--fenced out. Instead, women were meant be on the court, scoring points with the men for the glory of God and for the benefit of humanity.[4] Are women meant to be bleacher bums, fans of the men, or valued team members with men?

The Foundation of Equality

God created women equal to men. But where does that status of equality come from? What is it that unequivocally establishes women’s equality with men? Asking and answering these questions are non-negotiable in shaping our view of women and the roles God designed for them in the culture and in Jesus’ church.

Three observations from Scripture can help us view women as God views them.

Human Beings are Unique

First, the creation of the male[5] and female is often read without considering how the account is conspicuously marked off from the rest of the earlier accounts of creation. Human beings are depicted as unique.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…’

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them. Male and female He created them.” Gen 1:26a, 27

Observe the subtle contrast in language. Instead of saying, “Let there be…” as was the case with the prior accounts,[6] the Genesis text shifts down into low gear with the striking words, “God said, ‘Let us make man….’” [7] That’s a noticeable change.

Male-Female Relationships: Patterned After God

For the first time, God’s divine plurality (“Let us”) is used. God’s divine plurality is stressed in order to prime us to understand our personal connection to God. The duality of humans as male and female is specified in order to show that they are patterned after God’s personal relationship with Himself.  That means that the relational dynamics between male and female are meant to reflect the dynamics of God’s own personal relationship with Himself. Males and females are to relate to one another in the same way that God relates to Himself. That is an astonishing mandate.

God relates to His own self in unity, cooperation, and unceasing partnership. There is no conflict, competition, or strife in God’s relationship to Himself. Neither is there condescension, inequality, or inferiority. God’s relationship with Himself—marked by mutual equality, mutual esteem, mutual respect—becomes the benchmark for all male-female relationships.

So, how should males relate to females? God sets the standard for the relationship. Males and females are to relate to one another as God the Creator relates to Himself—equals.

I wonder if mutual equality, esteem, and respect characterizes male-female relationships in Jesus’ church. Perhaps women of faith should be asked if they are treated with mutual equality and respect. Men of faith should not be afraid to ask women these questions, unless, of course, they fear hearing uncomfortable truth.[8]  

But there is a second observation from Scripture, a second contrast--equally subtle--between God’s making of humans and the prior creatures in creation.

Humans Made in God’s Image

Up to this point in the narrative of Genesis, all creatures are made “according to their kinds.”[9] Not so with human beings. The narrative gears shift downward once again. Observe:

“‘Let Us make man in our image, in our likeness.’

So God made man in His own image. In the image of God He created them. Male and female He created them.” Gen 1:26a, 27

No Selfies

Human beings are not made “according to their kinds.” Man’s image is not simply of himself. The change in wording grabs our attention. Human beings were made in God’s image.

God Has an Image

So, God has an image.[10] An image is something clearly visible, something we can see and patterned after an original.[11]  Humans are made in that visible image of God. They share a visible likeness to that visible image.

But what is significant is that God’s visible image exists on earth in dual partnership, a dual and equal partnership of male and female. The male only partially fulfills God’s visible image. But, together, the partnership of male and female constitutes God’s full visible image. It is together  that we share a complete, visible likeness with our Creator.[12] Together we constitute the image and likeness of God.

From a New Testament perspective, we constitute the visible image of God’s Son, who is the visible image of the invisible God.[13]

This is why it is contradictory, even blasphemous, for either gender to claim superiority over the other, to treat the other gender or members of another race as second class, or to use put downs to express feelings of superiority. By claiming superiority over another gender or race, we depreciate, deface, and devalue the image of God and defy God’s Word. It is also why giving preferential treatment to males over females is contradictory to God’s design.

Preferential Treatment of Men Over Women

When religious leaders asked Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason (giving preferential treatment to men over women), He referred them back to our passage, Genesis 1:27, for an authoritative answer. He said,

“Have you not read that from the beginning, ‘He made them male and female,’[14] and said,

‘This explains why a man will leave his father and mother and be glued together to his wife and they will become one flesh. As a result, they are no longer two but one flesh.’[15] Matthew 19:4-6a 

Using Genesis 1:27 as His firing platform, Jesus shoots down the preferential treatment of men over women in matters of divorce. Marriage is the making of a one-flesh entity that cannot be broken except by πορνείᾳ[16] or abandonment.[17]

God made humans as male and female, designed intentionally for each other ontologically, socially, spiritually, and physically. The Hebrew word for male means “the pointed one” and female means “the perforated one.”[18] Male and female bodies are shaped physically for each other. Their physical bodies, fitted together like two interlocking pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, brilliantly communicate this ontological oneness and reality.

This divinely intended partnership of male and female (Gen 1:27) explains why, instead of remaining single and staying home, a man will leave his closest relatives—his father and mother—and will form a new and even closer relationship with his wife, a one-flesh relationship, by being glued together[19] in covenant with her (Gen 2:24). The husband and wife are one in the same way that God is also one.[20] Women are protected from male exploitation by the claims of God.

God’s Image: Male and Female in Partnership

There is a third observation.

Gender has not been mentioned in the prior Genesis narrative, despite the fact that the other creatures are also made as male and female. But for humans, gender apparently plays an especially important role. Moses accents that both male and female are made in the image and likeness of God. Equally striking is that only in the dual partnership of male and female is God’s image complete.

Man is male and female. God’s full image is male and female in partnership.

Sharing God’s image and likeness sets us apart—males and females alike—as unique and special in all of creation. It also confers indescribable value and worth to men and women, equal value and worth.[21]

Men and women are peers, temples[22] made for worship by God’s design. They are peers in intellect, personal worth, and dignity. They are peers in their likeness of God. Neither has a monopoly of God’s image over the other. They are superior to the rest of creation, but neither male nor female is superior to the other. The equality of male and female is rooted in the nature of God’s unchangeable essence. 

So, when we look at each other, whether at a male or a female, regardless of color or socioeconomic status, our eyes see a portion of God’s visible image. God’s visible image is standing in front of us.

That divine image establishes indescribable value, priceless worth and dignity, and elevated status for all males and females. We relate to one another, not as competitors, but as equal team members, equal partners in the culture and in Jesus’ church. We are summoned to personally relate to each other as God relates personally to Himself, in mutual equality, love, and respect.

Imagine Jesus’ church living out this equality. It would be a new church.

Sing a New Church[23]

 Summoned by the God who made us, rich in our   diversity,

Gathered in the name of Jesus, richer still in unity.

Radiant risen from the water, robed in holiness and light,

Male and female in God’s image, male and female, God’s delight.


Let us bring the gifts that differ, and in splendid varied ways,

Sing a new church into being, one in faith and love and praise.



Thank you for reading.



Next time in Part 2: “Let them rule/have dominion…God blessed them and said: …fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:26, 28).

Both male and female are given authority to have dominion (to rule equally as kings and queens) over the creation and to subdue it, to harness the power of creation for the glory of God and for the benefit of the human race. Equal in function.



[1] Feminism is often associated with abortion rights or with the depreciation of women who choose to stay at home with their children and can be aligned with the agenda to erase the distinctions between men and women. In the minds of many, feminism is just another term for the lunatic fringe. But feminism is not monolithic. It must be parsed carefully.   

[2] In distinction from a ‘man-to-man’ defense.

[3] Often referred to as ‘the lane’ or ‘the paint.’

[4] The two great commandments: to love God and to love our neighbors in the same way we already love ourselves.

[5] The words ‘male’ and ‘female’ (Gen 1) are distinct from ‘man’ and ‘woman’ (Gen 2) in the Hebrew language. They have completely different nuances.

[6] Gen 1:6,9,14,20,24.

[7] Gen 1:26

[8] The problem of women treated as unequal and inferior in Jesus’ church poses a challenge for women in more ways than one. Most do not wish to be viewed as whiners and self-promoting egomaniacs. Women deserve advocates among their brothers—just as Scripture advocates for them--in the church. It is the men who can advocate for them, affirm their concerns, communicate concerns with them to the church, and actively work for them as well.

[9] Gen 1:21,24,25.

[10] I would argue that not only does God have an image, but that image is His Son. Please forgive the technical aspects here, but the parallel passage which sheds light on the word “image” and “likeness” is Genesis 5:1-3. The Hebrew prepositions ‘kaf’ and ‘bet’ used in Genesis 1:27 should be understood as their parallel usage in Gen 5:1-3. Just as Seth matched his father’s image—he was the visible representation of Adam, he was made in Adam’s own likeness and image, he looked like Adam his father, so also God has a Son who is His image and reveals what the invisible God looks like. Paul suggests the same claim: “He {Jesus} is the image {visible representation} of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by Him and for Him.” Colossians 1:15-16. Cf., John 1:1-3; Hebrews 1:1-3. Humans are made in the image of Jesus Christ, the visible image of God, the visible representation of the invisible God.

[11] Despite the fact that commentators want to convert ‘image’ into something invisible, the use of the word ‘image’ in Israel’s Scripture shows that it means something clearly visible. “Drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images…’ Carved images were the visible representations of their invisible gods. Numbers 33:52; cf. 1 Samuel 6:5, 11.

[12] Genesis 1:27 is parallel to Genesis 1:1 from a lexical and syntactical perspective. The prepositions used in Genesis 1:27 (kaf, bet) are also used in Genesis 1:1 and in both verses are governed by the same verb ‘bara’ (to create). The phrase, ‘heavens and the earth’ in 1:1 is parallel to the phrase, ‘male and female’ in 1:27. While this may seem strange, with no apparent connection between ‘heavens and earth’ and ‘male and female,’ it is not unusual at all. The connection is real. The universe is depicted by Moses as a temple in Genesis 1 by using language of the tabernacle; the same is true in the creation of the man and the woman in Genesis 2. For example, the word, ‘closed up the side’ (Gen 2:21) of Adam is also used of the side of the Jewish temple, the dwelling place of the LORD God. The universe (a Hebrew merism for ‘heavens and earth’) and the male and the female (‘man’) in unity are temples of God where His glory is to be revealed. The New Testament confirms this explicitly (1 Cor 3:16). Men and women of faith are temples of God.

[13] I am currently engaged in an exegetical discussion with an esteemed Old Testament scholar. If we as males and females in partnership are made in God’s visible image, and that visible image is Jesus Christ (we both agree on this), then it seems that Jesus, though he is clearly depicted as male, contains feminine dimensions. This is where we disagree. I concede, though, that the theophanic manifestations of God in Israel’s Scripture appear to be male. But I’m not sure that observation collapses my view. I might be wrong; but I might be right. As one budding female scholar suggested to me, “What about Jesus saying, ‘Let the children come to me and do not forbid them,’” referring to the nurturing quality that women seem to possess and men do not. Brilliant!   

[14] Genesis 1:27

[15] Genesis 2:24

[16] Matthew 19:9

[17] 1 Corinthians 7:15-16

[18] Genesis 1:27

[19] The word traditionally translated ‘cleave’ is the Hebrew word dabaq (דָבַ֣ק), meaning ‘to glue.’ The Greek word used by Jesus in Matthew 19:5 traditionally translated as ‘unite’ is also the word for ‘to glue’ (κολληθήσεται; future passive indicative). Super glue is the idea.

[20] ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.’ Deut 6:4

[21] The image of God confers great value on human beings. This is confirmed when we examine the punishment required for those who shed the blood of human beings—explicitly said to be made in God’s image. See Genesis 9:5-6.

[22] See footnote 7.

[23] Sing a New Church, words by Delores Duffner, O.S.B. (20th c.). We sing this hymn to the tune entitled Nettleton (Come Thou Fount).