This is the second installment of the series, “A Theology of Sex and Gender.” You can find Part 1 here

Creation & Fall: God’s Good Design, Broken

 A Christian worldview begins with God’s great act of creation. The biblical authors, and even Jesus Himself, regularly grounded their arguments in God’s creational design and order (cf. Matt. 19:4-5; 1 Tim. 2:13-14). Furthermore, since Scripture is a story, it is appropriate to start at the beginning. Tracing out the themes of sexuality and gender, then, begins with the book of Genesis.

Genesis chapters one and two are complementary pictures of God’s creation of the world and humanity.[1] God first creates the world and then He creates humanity in His image to live in it and have dominion over it (Gen. 1:26-28). Therefore, any exploration of sexuality and gender roles should rightly begin with Genesis one.

Genesis 1: Man and Woman Created in the Divine Image

 Creation begins with God, “In the beginning, God…” (Gen. 1:1). He made everything. Furthermore, Bible commentators have long noticed the pattern of God “forming” in days 1-3 and filling in days 4-6. There is also a common refrain, “There was evening and there was morning, day [#].” The concise description of God’s creative work in Days 1-5 compared to the lengthy treatment of Day 6 suggests that Day 6 with the creation of humanity is indeed the “highlight” or climax of Genesis one.[2] It is humanity, and humanity alone, which is made in God’s image.

The Image of God: Survey of Views. So what is the image of God? Theologians have debated the exact nature of God’s image for a long time. Some theologians have said the image of God is the soul of man, while others have said it is man’s ability to reason or make moral judgments.[3] Biblical scholar D.J.A. Clines himself thinks the image of God is man’s function–his ruling and reigning on God’s behalf.[4] Peter Gentry, on the other hand, critiques the dominant views throughout church history as well as the functional view.[5] According to Gentry, the function of humanity (i.e. ruling and reigning) is a result of being made in the divine image. He also shows that the “divine image is not be explained by or located in terms of the duality of the genders.”[6] In other words, every man and every woman is fully in the image of God. A man does not need a relationship with a woman to complete God’s image in himself. The same is true for women.

Therefore, the image of God must be something other than the “spiritual” aspects of a person or the purpose/function of humanity. Thankfully, a grammatical analysis of Genesis 1:26-27 can shed much light upon what the image of God actually is.

The Image of God: Grammatical Analysis. A grammatical analysis of the text reveals that a certain immaterial aspect of a person (the “soul”) is not what the divine image is. It also  shows that the teaching on the duality of gender is a feature of humanity’s creation, but not the divine image itself.

To explore the definition of the divine image it is important to note that the normal pattern for Hebrew narrative is for each main sentence to begin with and.” Hebrew narrative usually unfolds with the typical sequence like this: “And this happened…and that happened.” When a sentence does not begin with and” in Hebrew, it marks off a digression or comment to the story.[7] In sum, sentences which do not begin with “and” Hebrew narrative are not the main ideas! They are comments. They are like explanatory footnotes to the story.

When analyzing Genesis 1:27-28, we find both verses have a  “main” sentence and then two “commentary” sentences. Here is a layout of the clauses:

27 And God created mankind in His image, according to His likeness.

A In the image of God He created him.

B Male and female, He created them.

28 And God said:

B’ Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

A’ Rule over the fish/birds/animals.

The overarching idea is that God creates humanity in His image (1:27) and God’s speaking (1:28). Notice how the two commentary clauses under each main sentence match up in ABB’A’ sequence. The initial comment clause prepares readers for God’s commissioning of humanity to rule over fish/birds/animals (A matches up with A’). The teaching on God’s creation of humanity as “male” and “female” then prepares readers for the command to “Be fruitful and multiply” (B matches up with B’). Therefore, the duality of the genders is not the divine image but the way that humanity is intended to be fruitful and multiply. (Peter Gentry, Kingdom Through Covenant, 188-189).

If the duality of genders is not the divine image, then what is?  Studying the terms “image” and “likeness” reveals the nature of being made in God’s image. The word “image” is frequently used of material objects.[8] In the Ancient Near East, kings were typically the “image” of the gods, meaning that the kings were like walking, breathing “statues” who represented the rule of the god in the world.[9] In biblical usage, the term is also connected with “ruling” over the created order as referenced in Psalm 8. So, the term “image” refers to royal status.[10] Humans are like “living statues” of God who are given royal rule over the created order. The term “likeness” speaks of humanity’s personal relationship with God. For example, there is a father-son relationship loaded into the term likeness, especially in Genesis 5:1-3.[11]

Therefore, humanity being made in God’s image means that each person is a “son” of God—he/she has a special relationship with God. Furthermore, humanity is called to rule on God’s behalf as his royal sons and daughters.

So what does this mean for a biblical theology of sex and gender? It means first that all people are created in God’s image: both men and women. Men are not “incomplete” as God’s image if they are not married. The same holds true with women. What the text also shows us, however, is that the duality of the sexes prepares us to receive God’s command to be fruitful and multiply. From the very beginning, God’s aim in the creation of two sexes was for them to be united as one in order to bring forth new life.

This means also that “maleness” and “femaleness” are what we are. They are not roles that we play. Being “wife” is a role. Being a “husband” is a role. Yet, you can still be female and not a wife; likewise, you can still be male without being a husband. Genesis 1 shows that both sexes are made in God’s image and both sexes are different from each other.

Genesis 2: Man and Woman United in Marriage

 If Genesis one provides the basis for man and woman each created fully in the divine image with inherent dignity, value, and worth, then Genesis two shows how the two sexes are to be united together as one in marriage. In the controversy over sex and gender, there actually isn’t much controversy over interpreting Genesis one. Both sides of the debate—those who embrace distinct gender roles in marriage and the church and those who don’t—agree that Genesis one teaches that men and woman are fully created in God’s image.

In Genesis 2, however, the interpretations begin to part ways. On the one side is egalitarians. Egalitarians are those who insist that there is no hierarchy between men and women in general and also between husbands and wives in particular. Surely, husbands and wives “complement” each other. But there is no sense of hierarchy in the relationships.

Complementarians, on the other hand, insist that there is a dynamic of authority and submission between husbands and wives. But even within the complementarian camp there is a split. Some see this dynamic of authority and submission worked out not only between husbands and wives, but also between men and women in general.[12]

There can be a blurring of the lines between the submission of wives to their own husbands and the seeming submission of women to men in some complementarian literature.[13] For example, Mark David Walton speaks generally of male headship and female submission: “The principle of headship and submission in male-female relationships is clearly affirmed in the New Testament.”[14] Walton seemingly blurs the line of headship-submission in marriage to headship-submission generally between men and women. In context, Walton is arguing for gender distinctions continuing in the new creation. According to Walton, this pattern of authority-submission is inherent in how men and women relate to one another. There is nothing wrong with seeing gender distinctions continuing into the new creation, for there is good evidence that racial distinctions will continue into the new creation as well.[15] The question remains, however, whether a dynamic of authority-submission is inherent within male-female relationships.

The context of Genesis 2 seems to argue against such a view. The chapter breaks down into a few main sections. There is an overview of the Garden of Eden and creation of the Adam (2:4-9). There is an aside placing geographical markers in the text (2:10-14). There is the commission of the man to rule and keep the garden and Lord’s command (2:15-17). And then there is the problem: “It is not good for man to be alone” (2:18). The rest of the narrative climaxes in God’s creation of woman and presentation to Adam (2:19-22). When Adam sees the woman, he expresses his delight in the creation of the woman through poetry (2:23). The significance of the creation of woman is then given: “Therefore, man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (2:24).

Contrary to Walton and other complementarians who see an authority-submission dynamic as inherent in male-female relationships, Genesis two narrates the creation and man and woman leading into marriage! It seems correct that the text indicates that Adam has authority over Eve.[16] Yet, two points need to be made. First, the narrative climaxes in Adam’s marriage to Eve. So the authority that Adam has over Eve is in the context of marriage, not men and women in general. Second, there are still indications that Adam and Eve are equal in their dignity, essence, and worth. Adam recognizes that Eve is “bone” of his bone and “flesh” of his flesh.[17] Furthermore, Paul shows the interdependency of man and woman in 1 Corinthians 11:11: “In the Lord, neither is woman independent from man, nor is man independent from woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman.” Matthew Henry’s famous quote seems appropriate to sum up the relationship between Adam and Even in the Garden:

“Eve was not taken out of Adam’s head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.”


Genesis 3: Brokenness of Sex and Gender

Genesis three narrates the fall of humanity into sin. The terrible consequences of sin manifest themselves in a broken relationship with God, each other, and created order (3:16-24). Adam and Eve are kicked out of God’s presence in the Garden of Eden (3:24). There will be enmity and strife in their relationship (3:16). The world will no longer be easily “fruitful” but will bear thorns and thistles (3:17). Immediately, further relational breakdown is seen in Cain’s murdering of Abel (Gen. 4:8). What God had designed for the flourishing of the world was now broken.

A robust doctrine of sin provides much explanatory power to the many problems concerning sexuality and gender we now see manifested in contemporary culture as well. Where man and woman are both made in the image of God, there is a degradation of both. Women are exploited for sex through sex trafficking, prostitution, and pornography. Women are discriminated against in employment and not given the proper pay for their work. There is also an effort to blur the lines between the differences between the sexes. Whereas men and women were created differently, contemporary culture argues against God’s design of a “gender binary” in favor of a spectrum of genders and gender fluidity. Where God’s design was for man and woman to be united as husband and wife, the Old Testament narrates stories of rape, abuse, divorce, and abandonment. Where sexual intercourse was to be used to united a man and woman together in marriage and produce offspring, it used outside of the covenant of marriage. Disease, unplanned pregnancy, and the termination of children through abortion becomes the norm.

It must also be noted that although God’s good design of men and women being fully made in His image, all humans now live in a post-Fall world. It is corrupted by sin. And therefore, God’s good design has been broken. What must be kept in mind when thinking through these issues is the reality of chosen sin versus the reality of being born into and living in a world corrupted by sin. Some people will actively choose to rebel against God’s design for His creatures. Whether through cross-dressing or gender bending, they are making conscious choices to violate God’s standards. But the church must also be sensitive that most people did not get to that place overnight, either. The church must be transparent enough and self-critical enough to ask herself, “Have we committed unkind acts against this person which may have pushed them away?” Christian theology does not need to change, but often the personal response to those who grappling with these issues does.

On the other hand, it should not be surprising, then, to see people broken and damaged by the effects of sin from the womb. Some people are born as intersex which means their genitalia doesn’t fit “with typical definition of male or female.” Christians must be compassionate and recognize that some people didn’t “choose” to be a certain way. Do we have the heart to love people enough to just listen?


[1] Although some scholars see a significant difference between Genesis one and Genesis two, these chapters should be seen as complementary to each rather than contradictory.

[2] Peter Gentry, “Kingdom Through Covenant: Humanity in the Divine Image.” SBJT 12/1 (Spring 2008), 22-23.

[3] D.J.A. Clines, “The Image of God in Man.” Tyndale Bulletin 19 (1968), 54-61.

[4] Ibid., 101.

[5] Peter Gentry, “The Covenant with Creation in Genesis 1-3” in Kingdom Through Covenant, 186.

[6] Ibid., 189.

[7] Duane Garrett, A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (Nashville; B&H Academic, 2009), 285.

[8] William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 16.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Gentry, “Covenant with Creation,” 196.

[11] Ibid., 195.

[12] John Piper, What’s the Difference? (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 43.

[13] Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock, The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them (Ross-Shire: Christian Focus, 2016). Strachan and Peacock write, “Manhood and womanhood are not limited to the home and church because they are not states you can switch off when you step into in a secular world (113).” They also write,  “As we have seen, however, biblical submission is beautiful. It is a central feature of biblical womanhood. It is vital to understand that a woman’s role as a helper, her reverent attitude and her submissive response are tied together in God’s sovereign purposes from creation (as we’ve seen) but also in redemption” (82). Strachan and Peacock’s view, then, seems to be saying that women in their essence (because they were created as women) should have a submissive attitude toward all men in their essence (since they were created as men). The quotes were taken from Rachel Miller, “The Grand Design: A Review” Daughter of the Reformation Blog.

[14] Mark David Walton, “Relationships and Roles in the New Creation,” in Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Spring 2006, 41

[15] For example, people from all different ethnicities will worship around the throne of the lamb (Rev. 7:9). Plus the “nations” are represent in the new creation and “kings of the earth” bring their treasures to Christ in the new creation (Rev. 21:24)

[16] Alexander Strauch, Men and Women: Equal Yet Different (Littleton: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 1999), 20-23. Strauch points out that Adam is the central character in the narrative, not Eve. God made Adam first, which Paul interprets to mean that the man is to be the leader in the home and church (cf. 1 Tim. 2:12). God formed the woman out of man which is interpreted by Paul as woman being “the glory of man” (1 Cor. 11:7). Eve was also created to a “suitable helper” for man. And Adam named Eve which is an act of authority.

[17] Ibid., 23.


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