In the beginning…
As often as possible I try to do two things when studying the Scriptures. 1) Look back at the beginning for how God intended to world to be, and 2) Look forward to the world as Jesus set it in motion to become. One of my favorite hymns is This Is My Father’s World. That song does exactly that – it looks around to the awesomeness of God’s creation, but it also looks forward to the day when “earth and heaven” become “one” again. And Jesus is at the center of it all.
That’s my hermeneutic. That’s my modus operandi for discovering what the Scriptures are all about. Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but this is as simple as I can make it.
Too often, discussions about the role of women in the church are too quick to jump to the passages in Paul (all two of them) that seem to issue an eternal ban on all female leadership in the church. And if we do that, then we run the risk of thinking Paul is saying something I don’t believe he ever intended us to apply universally.
Ok, so…in the beginning…
What is the very first thing the Bible is trying to tell us about the relationship between men, women, God, and creation?
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
A few key things to notice:
1) Both male AND female are created in the image of God. This is more revolutionary than we realize. I am unaware of a single other ancient creation myth/legend/story that includes the creation of women on the same level as men. The ancient world was very patriarchal. The man was the head of the house, the head of the city-state, the head of the nation, the head of religion, and so on. Men were always featured in the creation narratives, but women almost never were. And if/when they were, they were treated as creations made for the express purpose of being used by the men. What Genesis 1 is trying to establish is the fact that from the very beginning women were on equal created status as men. They both bore the divine image (meaning God is neither male nor female, but includes both within Godself).
2) Both male AND female are given the divine vocation within creation to participate with God in the creative process – tending to and improving upon what has already been made. They are both given special status among living creatures as rulers over the animal kingdom. They are both commissioned to tend the earth, to subdue it, to co-rule with God as his “ambassadors.”
3) Both male AND female are blessed to be fruitful and multiply. It’s not just up to the man to govern the size or location of the family. Women are given a measure of say as equal partners in the relationship.
Male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them…
Again, it’s important to start at the very beginning. Most men are too quick to jump to Genesis 2 (we’ll get there next time) and point out – like Paul seems to do in 1 Timothy 2 – that man was created first and then the woman. They emphasize that woman was created as man’s “helper.” They seem to think that Genesis 2 undoes everything Genesis 1 establishes. But I really don’t think that’s the case.
If we start at the beginning as God intended creation to be, we see “male and female” created as equals in the Image of God. We see male and female as co-regents, joining God in the creative process and co-ruling creation with God.
Even though the Bible was written from within a society dominated by the patriarchy, much of Scripture seems to be written counter to that system, critiquing the ubiquity of male dominance and female oppression – like this insight from the creation poem.
How did we lose sight of that so quickly?