Maleness and Femaleness Are Essential for Image Bearing
There is an important way in which we humans are like every other creature God has made—he is the Creator and we are his creation. We depend on him and are subject to him. We tend to think too highly of ourselves and quickly feel that we might know a thing or two more than God does about how to run the universe, but at the end of the day, we and the universe fully belong to him and not he to us.
But there is also an important way in which we are quite unlike all other creatures. The text in Genesis 1 has already shown us. We are made in his image:
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.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:26–27)
The uniqueness of humanity was anticipated before our arrival, just in the way our creation is announced. Up until this point God created by summoning the various elements of the universe into existence: “Let there be light,” “Let the land produce,” etc. But at this point God announces his intention to make us before the actual act of creating. Not “Let there be . . .” but “Let us make . . .”
We immediately see what accounts for this special introduction to humanity. We are to be made in God’s image. Everything else in creation reflects something of God’s glory in a general sense, but humanity alone is described as being created in God’s image. Our correspondence to God is on a different level. We glorify God in a unique and more direct way. We image him, which is not only informative; it is breathtaking. No wonder the description of the actual moment of creation is set out in poetic form. This is artistry. And that we are made in God’s image is highlighted again twice in 1:27. Image bearing is our vocation as people.
Being made in God’s image means that we have the capacity and calling to reflect God to the world, to represent him to his creation, which is confirmed by the work God gave his newly created people to do:
God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:28)
In other words, humanity was to be as God to the creation, to tend, develop, and care for it on his behalf, as he would. There is dominion, to be sure, not as an end in itself but as a means of expressing the Creator’s own intention for his world, to “reflect, continue, and to extend God’s own creative rule.”1 Putting it another way, “God made us for the exalted purpose of representing him.”2 But as our image bearing is stressed, so too is our sexual differentiation as male and female. This is no accident. Our sexual difference is bound up with how we are to image God.
There are all sorts of things that distinguish us from one another as human beings. We can have very different temperaments, personality types, and ethnic and cultural backgrounds. We have different tastes, skills, and capacities. But these don’t define us in quite the same way or to the same extent. It is our sexual difference as male and female that gets star billing. As Alastair Roberts notes, “Sexual difference is the one difference that is prominent in the creation narrative.”3 We will not fully understand what it means to be made male and female without understanding how foundational it is to how we image and reflect God.
We Need Each Other
We humans, of course, are not unique in being made male and female. I write this from a room in a friend’s house with two cats in almost permanent attendance, one male and one female. The natural world is full of creatures that display this sexual difference. So what is significant is not the fact of our being male and female, but what it means for us. It reflects something that animal sexuality is unable to.
Ray Ortlund puts it this way: “Both male and female display the glory of God with equal brilliance.”4 We are clearly talking about something far more than reproduction. Ortlund goes on to say, “Animal reproduction is assumed, but human sexuality is celebrated.”5 There is something not merely functional about our differentiated sexuality, but something dazzling. We men and women are equal, yes. But there is more than that.
The interplay of our respective glories enriches all of us. Being male and female is designed to help us be better at being people.
It is not that we each comprise half of what it means to be made in God’s image, and the combination of a male and female together makes up one whole image. No. Each individual human being, male and female, is fully made in God’s image. Instead, what Genesis 1 is showing us is that male and female need each other to better image God. There is something about the interplay between the two that enriches us. Tim Keller has put it this way:
In Genesis 1 you see pairs of different but complementary things made to work together: heaven and earth, sea and land, even God and humanity. It is part of the brilliance of God’s creation that diverse, unlike things are made to unite and create dynamic wholes which generate more and more life and beauty through their relationships. As N. T. Wright points out, the creation and uniting of male and female at the end of Genesis 2 is the climax of all this.
That means that male and female have unique, non-interchangeable glories—they each see and do things that the other cannot. Sex was created by God to be a way to mingle these strengths and glories within a lifelong covenant of marriage. Marriage is the most intense (though not the only) place where this reunion of male and female takes place in human life. Male and female reshape, learn from, and work together.6
We need each other. Each sex alone constitutes the image of God. But that image is more fully reflected by the interplay between male and female.
Reflecting God as male and female may sound rather alien to much of Western society, but there is a level on which we instinctively recognize it. We sense that there are certain contexts where having only one sex present is diminishing in some way. We’re aware, for example, of what some secular leadership spaces might lack if there are only men present. It is not just a question of representation or fairness. The interplay of our respective glories enriches all of us. Being male and female is designed to help us be better at being people. It is not just a matter of biology, but of theology; not just about the multiplication of humanity, but the fuller imaging of God.
- Alastair Roberts, “The Music and Meaning of Male and Female,” Primer 03, Gender and Sexuality (Market Harborough, UK: Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, 2016), 29.
- Ray Ortlund Jr., Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 17.
- Roberts, “The Music and Meaning of Male and Female,” 30.
- Ray Ortlund Jr., “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 97.
- Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, 18.
- Tim Keller, “The Bible and Same Sex Relationships: A Review Article,” accessed December 22, 2016, www.redeemer.com/redeemer-report/article/the_bible _and_same_sex_relationships_a_review_article
This article is adapted from What God Has to Say about Our Bodies: How the Gospel Is Good News for Our Physical Selves by Sam Allberry.
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