Gender in the tWorld (Genesis 2)

When God created the heavens and the earth, there was one—and only one—thing that he deemed to be “not good.”  “It is not good for man to be alone,” God says (Genesis 2:18).  From the very beginning, God’s design included the intention for a gendered community—one that reflected and exalted his very image.  As Mark Yarhouse puts it, our gendered selves point us toward a greater meaning found only in God:

“To be human is to experience a longing for completion. Did God create us with a longing for completion that forces us to look outside of ourselves so that the longing itself would be illustrative?  It may be that the longing for the other is related to our biological sex and gendered selves—because it is meant to represent a longing for God—was made possible in the creation of two sexes and is not in any way incidental to the creation.  The creation of two sexes provides, then, a living illustration of a point intended to direct us toward our creator.”[1]

In the tWorld, the world of tradition, we’ll find that man and woman were created in the image of a divine community, and in both the Trinity and humanity we find both equality and asymmetry.

IN THE IMAGE OF COMMUNITY

Genesis tells us that though God allowed the earth to bring forth every other living creature, the creation of humanity was deeply personal.

Then God said,  “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27  So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

What does it mean to bear God’s “image?”  Though the term has been variously understood, the most direct meaning of the Hebrew word tselem or “image” is “representative rule.”[2]  Andreas Kostenberger writes that “just as God rules over a large domain—the whole universe—so humanity is given charge of the entire earth to rule it for God.”[3]

But who exactly is God?  Through the progress of God’s revelation, we learn that God eternally exists as a community of three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.  So if humanity was made in the image of community, then it stands to reason that the need for community would be deeply woven into every facet of human existence.

This is why gendered humanity is so important.  Genesis tells us that God made us male (zakhar) and female (nekevah).  Men and women were designed to complement one another, in exactly the same way that members of the Trinity complement one another.

In his recent book on gender, Sam Andreades writes that men and women have both “equality and asymmetry.”[4]  We find much the same in the Trinity—where Father, Son, and Spirit are equally God, yet there exists an asymmetry in the way their roles are fulfilled.

So if men and women are created in the image of this community, we will find this same pattern of equality and asymmetry in the context of gendered relationships.

EQUALITY: IMAGO DEI

First—and perhaps most importantly—we must recognize that Christianity insists on the absolute equality of men and women.  Having both been created in the image of God, men and women share dignity and responsibility.  This would have been a shocking revelation to an ancient, patriarchal society.  In his analysis of this subject, Bruce Waltke outlines five specific ways that women share in the equality of men.[5]

  • Equality in creation—that is, sharing in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28).
  • Equality in parenting—mothers have an equal authority over their children’s education (Proverbs 1:8; 31:26).
  • Equality in spiritual giftedness—In the Old Testament, women can become female prophets (e.g., Exodus 15:20-21; Isaiah 8:3), and in the New Testament women also receive God’s Spirit to share the gospel (Acts 1:8-14; 2:1-4).
  • Equality in prayer—women are able to pray directly to God without the need for a husband to mediate the process (Genesis 30:22-24).
  • Equality in worship—Women are able to celebrate God through singing, dancing (e.g. 1 Samuel 18:6) and can offer sacrifices along with men (Leviticus 12:6).

In fact, in the ancient world, in all the thousands of ancient texts, there is only one example of God calling a woman by name: God’s address of Hagar in Genesis 16:8.  Within Christianity, women are granted unique worth and significance.

ASYMMETRY: EZER KENEGDO

In Genesis 2, the story moves from the general to the specific.  Now we get a more detailed account of the creation of man and woman.  Adam had been created first, but now God realizes that something in his creation is “not good.”  “It is not good that the man should be alone;” God says.  “I will make him an ezer kenedgo for him” (Genesis 2:18).

An ezer kenegdo?  The word ezer most literally means “helper.”  To be honest, it’s hard to hear that because the word “helper” seems condescending—as if women are little more than Adam’s lab partner.  But when the word is used elsewhere, it is used to refer to God helping his people.  So being a “helper” can’t possibly mean that women are inferior.  The word kenegdo means “suitable,” or “fit.”  So God’s design for women is to fashion “a helper fit for him.”

Here, then , we find the “asymmetry” in design.  Yes; women equally share in the image of God, but they fulfill this role in ways that are unique to their gender.  This creates marked differences in the way gender roles and gender identity is expressed.  Therefore, in the tWorld, the world of tradition, we find a variety of ways to understand what is “masculine” and “feminine.”

But earlier we noted that while gender is not culturally constructed it is culturally expressed.  What factors influence masculinity and femininity in today’s world?  We might think of this as something of a spectrum: at one end we have the relatively fixed world of human biology, and at the other the ever-changing world of Western culture.[6]

Gender tWorld Spectrum

What we’re left with is a series of categories for understanding the factors that influence gender role:

Gender tWorld Int

  • Biologically determined: This includes all the biological factors associated with human reproduction—or, in the case of children, to be developing toward sexual maturity. Granted, we might (sensitively!) point out that there may be singles or couples who are unable to conceive, but even these seeming exceptions also serve to magnify the design present in biology.
  • Morally determined: This includes the morality associated with sexual maturity—including sexual morality and issues of modesty. But this also includes the way that husbands and wives are designed to interact in the context of marriage. Men are called to be leaders within the home (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:25), and women are called to “submit” to his authority (Ephesians 5:22-24).  Submission, we must emphasize, “is not an absolute surrender of her will.”  As a pair of theological writers define it, “submission refers to a wife’s divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.”  Submission is a “disposition to yield to her husband’s guidance and her inclination to follow his leadership.” [7]

Let’s make no mistake: the roles expressed in the tWorld do not necessarily produce weak, demure women whose only role is to say “yes, dear.”  On the contrary: God’s design is that women would be seen as ferociously strong and challenge their men to be better leaders and better warriors for the gospel.

Gender tWorld Final

But there are several ways that masculinity and femininity have been shaped by cultural forces.  As we continue down the spectrum, we’ll see how we move farther from fixed absolutes into areas that, admittedly, are largely cultural.

  • Culturally determined based on biological differences: These are divisions we’ve constructed around our biological differences: men and women use separate restrooms and changing facilities. Because of our physical differences, men and women typically compete in different sports divisions.
  • Culturally determined based on social traditions: These are the standards that say that women wear dresses and makeup, or that men should pay for a date or open the door for a lady. They’re largely arbitrary, though not wholly meaningless.
  • Culturally determined based on harmful stereotypes: This is the prejudice that says that men can be doctors but women should be “just nurses.” Likewise, if a young man are sexually promiscuous, he is likely to be celebrated by his community, while a woman is shunned.  Such stereotypes demean both women and men, because they erode the image of God embedded in both.

The tWorld therefore contains both Biblical tradition as well as human tradition.  In some ways this is helpful, in others quite harmful.  But in either case, the tWorld reveals the ways in which gender fosters deeper relationships and—more significantly—reflects the glory of our Creator.

 

 

[1] Mark A. Yarhouse, Understanding Gender Dysphoria, p. 37.

[2] Hans-Walter Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, p. 160.

[3] Andreas Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation, p. 24

[4] Sam A. Andreades, Engendered: God’s Gift of Gender Differences in Relationships.

[5] Bruce K. Waltke, Old Testament Theology, p. 239-41.

[6] George Alan Rekers, “Rearing Masculine Boys and Feminine Girls,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds., p 307.

[7] John Piper and Wayne Grudem, “An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds., p. 61.

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