In Galatians 3, during Paul’s discussion about the effect faith in Christ has on our understanding of the law, he shows that this truth impacts how societies traditionally thought of gender at that point.
23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
Our inheritance in Christ is not affected by our race, our cultural status, or our gender. In Christ, we are all one. It’s quite beautiful.
Contrast this with Paul’s words in Colossians 3.
9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
I find it interesting that in Paul’s discussion in this passage of being renewed in knowledge after the image of our creator that nationality passes away, social status passes away, and some religious statuses pass away. But gender is not listed as a thing impacted by this putting on of the new self in the image of God. When Paul talks about who gets the inheritance and the oneness believers share in Christ, he is clear that gender is not an issue. But when he talks about reflecting the image of Christ, he does not make this argument.
So I shall suggest some things from his silence in the 2nd passage. And they are suggestions. From silence. I know clearly the problem in drawing too many conclusions from such a thing. However, they are concepts that are reinforced in other places of Scripture. So I feel fairly safe in making these observations.
Here’s my observation – in terms of the image of God, the distinctions between male and female are of value in reflecting the fullness of His character. Now, some conservatives may push back and say that the man, not the woman, was created in the image of God. I Corinthians 11 is the passage in question there. And some egalitarians may push back and say, no, Galatians 3 undoes any need for distinctions between genders. But I feel that the definining passage is the one written before it all went wrong, God’s words over the first man and the first woman in perfection.
Genesis 1 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Here are the things I note in Genesis 1. First, God is talking in the plural. He’s creating man in the image of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. In verse 26, God speaks of not only Himself in the plural, but man in the plural. Is this simply the plural of the male gender after the fall? No, it’s plural of mankind, which He made male and female. Unless the translators did a horrible job with the flow of this chapter, that distinction is fairly obvious in the reading, especially when you get to verse 28.
So, in perfection, God created two genders to reflect the three persons of Himself. And just as there is overlap in characteristics of each member of the Godhead, there is overlap in characteristics of the genders. But just as there are distinctions between the three member of the Trinity, there are distinctions between the genders as well.
Here’s what I think we lose when we are defensive over or downplay the benefits of two distinct (though overlapping) genders. We lose the fullness of God Himself. Some women really struggle with any language that seems to equate role or distinct characteristics with their gender. The reasons for that struggle and defensiveness can be complex and personal. Maybe it’s triggered by background or personal experience. Maybe it comes from a fear that the moment you give ground on the subject, some man is going to take any capitulation and run with it. Or maybe you don’t feel particularly feminine characteristics for youself. Depending on your culture and background, society projects secondary things as being feminine that the Bible doesn’t necessarily project. I dress as many days as I possibly can in jeans, grey, or brown pants and one of my 10 black shirts of various styles. And my birkenstock sandals. Though I cook, my husband is a much better cook than me. Not all of us fit certain stereotypes. That’s fine. And that doesn’t undermine the importance of distinctions in gender.
The fact that God set up male and female in PERFECTION to reflect Him means something important. And I think we downplay the fullness of the spectrum of His character when we downplay distinctions in our genders. I’ve said it multiple times that God created His first daughter to reflect something particular about His character as EZER. Here’s my long treatment of the subject.
I’m not going to apply this principle in the normal way, listing out what men do better or women do better or who should do this or that in the home. I always find those discussions annoying. So often they boil down to “this is what we do in OUR home and of course eveyone else should fit our stereotype.” I have cultural baggage with that discussion, so I won’t have it here.
But here is where this principle has blessed me. When differences between my husband and I start to stress me, this principle reminds me that there is value to our differences and encourages me to ENDURE through it on our way to putting Christ’s image on us. The image of God in us does not automatically make us as a couple respond to each other or our circumstances exactly the same way. Instead, it equips us to bring our different viewpoints and gifts on any given subject or issue to the table and work through it until he comes to my point of view.
Just kidding on that last phrase. I don’t know what the resolution will be or if there will even be a resolution, but putting on the image of Christ definitely teaches us to bear long in the differences.
Seriously, if you don’t VALUE your differences as a couple, the 2000th time after ten years of marriage he approaches something from a 180 degree different perspective than you has the potential to derail you totally. It didn’t take long in marriage for me to say, “Um, men really ARE from Mars.” I perceived myself as the normal one (I’m from earth, not Venus, by the way) and my husband as the one with the issues. I read Shaunti Feldhan’s For Women Only, and it was a God-send to me. I finally realized that my husband wasn’t unique in his way of approaching things, but that he brought things to our marriage that, while I found difficult, most of his gender found quite normal. He started to seem less of an alien to me after that book. Maybe we both were actually from earth.
Of late, I’ve been studying a lot on how woman was created in the image of God to reflect Him as the Strong Helper to the man. I’ve been studying how the fall of man marred that in the woman and how the gospel equips us to reclaim God’s image in His daughters as we are conformed to Christ. But I haven’t paid as much attention lately to the real beauty of what my husband brings to the table. Understanding the value of the DIFFERENCES between he and I in particular and male and female in general has made a big difference in my heart. It keeps me from snide comments (either internally or externally) over the differences. It keeps me from despair when we still have so many differences after so many years of marriage. It reminds me to embrace and encourage him the way I want him to do me (and he does in a way that means so much to me).
It’s too bad that there is so much gender conflict. In perfection, there was value to both distinct genders, and as Jesus’ kingdom grows and spreads, I believe daily we will experience the call back to what it was in perfection along with supernatural empowerment from God Himself to reflect the fullness of His image across the two genders. I see tiny glimpses here and there already, pockets of beauty within the Body of Christ that make me hopeful that despite the public debates and controversies that something beautiful is happening and growing privately among us.
“Therefore, be imitators of God ….” Ephesians 5:1