In the first chapter of Genesis God is undertaking his work of creation. God consciously decides “Let us make” for each aspect of this creation. The last act is the decision “Let us make mankind in our image” (1:26). The result of this decision is that mankind is created in God’s image, and mankind is created to be male and female (1:27). Although it is assumed that for the rest of the animal kingdom the differentiation into male and female is also an aspect of their creation, this is not stated to be an integral part of their creation, nor are they said to be in the image of God. It can be concluded, therefore, that the differentiation into male and female in the animal kingdom is merely functional, to fulfill their need to reproduce, whereas for mankind the differentiation into male and female is bound up with God’s decision to create in his own image, making the differentiation ontological.

Because the female is made out of the male, it is clear that she is not a separate species from the male, rather, she is bone of bone and flesh of flesh with the male (2:23). Indeed, both man and woman are called “Man” (Gen. 5:2), an anthropos. When Paul says that in Christ there is “neither male nor female” he does not mean that in Christ persons become genderless. Paul here is making a statement on the equality of salvation to different persons, not that in salvation persons give up their differentiation.

The purpose of the differentiation in mankind is explained in the second chapter of Genesis. The female is made because “it is not good for man to be alone” (2:18), and no member of the animal kingdom, or even God himself, can fulfill the role of the companion to the male. Although it is only when a male and a female “come together” that they become “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, Mat. 19:5). So while the differentiation causes diversity, its goal is also unity, the two are separate so that they can become one. This oneness is not a monad, nor does it cause the erasure of the distinction between male and female. It is a co-joining, to be a “helper and support” (Tob. 8:6) in an intimate interpersonal relationship. This relational aspect of the persons of male and female is intrinsically tied up with male and female being in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). We are in the image of God because we function in this interpersonal manner.

This raises the question of what being in male and female means for theology proper. First, God is not to be reduced to being a male (or female) in a physiological sense, for both male and female are in his image. Second, the abject loneliness of the single man is recognized by God as being wrong, hence the splitting of mankind into male and female. This can be seen as an example of God himself, who is not a lonely monad of divinity, but a divine three-in-one. While this points to the need to have the Self and the Other, it may be too much to say that God is then ontologically an intra-communal person. In Scripture God is not portrayed as a self-communal person, but is portrayed as having a interpersonal relationship with mankind, first as Yahweh and his wife Israel in the Old Testament (Hos. 2:16), and then as Christ and his wife the Church in the New Testament (Eph. 5:32). In both examples, God takes on the role of the male, as Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), relating to the female, who then responds in turn. Just as in the creation of the female, Israel and the Church are formed as acts of special consideration by God for the purpose of forming an interpersonal relationship.[1]

This assessment of the typological relationship between Christ and the Church with male and female elucidates the meaning of several of Paul’s statements on the proper roles and relationships of male and female. A female is a “reflection of man” having been made from man (1 Cor. 11:7-8) just as Israel and the Church are constituted from the acts of Yahweh and Christ towards them. Male, being Christ, has authority over female, the church, who is to be submissive (Eph 5:22-24, 1 Tim. 2:12). The female, the church, is bound to the disobedient deception, and the male, Christ, has not been deceived (1 Tim. 2:12-14).[2]

As Scripture shows many times, the relationship between Yahweh and Israel or Christ and the Church is an imperfect one. Just as one of the consequences of the disobedience of Adam and Eve is that there is now enmity between male and female (Gen. 3:15), there is a constant rift in the relationships of Israel/Church which is only fully overcome in the eschaton (Rev. 21:9). Between male and female the rift is healed by the male leaving his father and mother, the female coming to the male as the “spotless bride”, which culminates in a marriage and the relationship of that marriage causing the joining of those two as “one flesh”. Any breakdown of this relationship by the intrusion of another, whether of adultery into a marriage, or unfaithfulness of Israel/Church towards Yahweh/Christ, is a direct violation of the relational unity. This is why Jesus was so difficult on the Pharisees who permitted divorce for any reason (Mat. 19:3-9), it separates what should be one into disunity, putting males and females into enmity instead of providing the means for overcoming the enmity. Only when the unity has already been broken by adultery does Jesus permit a divorce (19:9).



[1] One must not take this to mean that the Being of God is dependent upon the existence of humans with whom he can be in relationship with. Clearly, God exists independently of his creation. Nonetheless, in so far as we know God, we know him according to this pattern of interpersonal relationship which he has created. Therefore, it is useless for us to speculate what the relational aspect of God was “doing” before the creation of humans, or to suppose that God was like “Man” wandering in the garden trying to find communion with some being of the animal kingdom before deciding that there was nothing suitable so he had to made humans to be in relationship with.

[2] Here it is clear that Paul is pushing the analogy of Adam and Eve in order to make a true statement about Christ. It is clear in the Genesis account that Adam was deceived, by Eve who persuaded him to eat of the fruit, and was not innocent of this disobedience of God’s command (which had explicitly been given only to him). Paul must put all the guilt of disobedience on Eve alone here to protect the sinlessness of Christ in this analogy.