Image and Order: God’s Design for Men and Women

Joy Arundell, student worker, pastor’s wife, and mum, reflects on what Genesis has to tell us about about the equality and order built into our sexual natures.


When we want to explore what God’s Word teaches about men and women, we usually dive straight into the New Testament. We often begin with Paul’s teaching on how men and women relate in family life and church life. Or we might look at the early Church and consider how men and women worked in ministry partnerships as the church grew. Or we might even look at the life of Jesus and see how he treated men (loving and training the disciples) and women (with extraordinary value and dignity).

But is there more? Is it in the Old Testament too? To answer this question, we have to go right back to the beginning. We’ll see that Genesis reveals a pattern of equality and order that Jesus and Paul constantly referred to when they taught about men and women.

In Genesis 1:26-28 we see the creation of humanity, and a perfect picture of equality. God made male and female as image bearers to achieve His purpose. God bestowed upon women (and men) an inherent dignity, value and worth—simply as humans.

In Genesis 1:26-28 we see the creation of humanity, and a perfect picture of equality. God made male and female. God made them as image bearers to achieve His purpose. God bestowed upon women (and men) an inherent dignity, value and worth—simply as humans. Being equal as an image bearer is the foundation of the Christian’s war against the inequality of women; against discrimination toward women; and against the abuse of women—those things that are so prevalent in our culture and world-over. Women must be valued, not because of what they could accomplish—even those with disabilities are image bearers—nor because of how powerful they are—even the unborn are image bearers—but simply for being a human. God thinks so highly of those who bear His image: “You crowned [them] with glory and honour …” and expects the same of us.

Order and Equality

In Genesis 2 we zoom in on the creation of man and woman and we start to see a picture of order in their relationship. This order doesn’t undermine or trump the equality of Genesis 1. Men and women are still equal: equal as image bearers, and equal in substance—“bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”. Without getting a detailed picture of what this order means, we do see glimpses. We see that (both before and after the Fall) the man names the woman, indicating some kind of priority or authority. We see that man leaves his father and mother, which indicates initiative. We see that woman is to be a helper fit for him, which indicates man’s need for a companion suitable to help him as they fulfil God’s purpose for them.

There is order, but this order shouldn’t threaten our identity. As we’ve already seen, our significance is firm and secure simply because we are image bearers. Our roles as men and women, don’t undermine that. This is how it works out in relationships!

From Order to Disarray

Yet, as we look at Genesis 3, we see the order undone. Satan deliberately defies God’s order by dealing directly with the woman. As the man and the woman fail to relate according to their design, relational chaos ensues.

Often we think, like Adam and Eve, that if we could just be free of God’s constraints and order, then we would find true freedom and equality. But we don’t see this, and we never have. Man and woman cannot flourish in this newfound freedom. They suffer miserably. But God in His kindness, forces his creatures back into the good order that he gave them in the beginning. Here, he takes up His dealings with Adam, giving us an insight again into man’s responsibility for the human family before God. He holds Eve accountable—and she faces just condemnation and punishment for her sin—but God comes first to Adam.

The curses of Genesis 3:16 tell us more about the damage and distortion done to God’s design. Now the woman will be tempted to usurp the headship of her husband and the man will be tempted to become domineering in his authority.

Male domination and male abuse of women can have no place—it fails to treat women with the equality they have as image bearers. But neither should women seek to minimise the differences between the two genders or break down the order that God has created.

These two corruptions and temptations are the two extremes that God’s people must try to avoid as they live out this pattern of equality and order. Male domination and male abuse of women can have no place—it fails to treat women with the equality they have as image bearers. But neither should women seek to minimise the differences between the two genders or break down the order that God has created. Both these tendencies are sins which corrupt God’s design for human flourishing. Both lead to relational chaos.

The Ultimate Template

God himself provides the ultimate model of order and equality in his own life and relationships. Our triune God is one God and three Persons: Father, Son and Spirit. Each person is equally God, and alongside this equality, there is order. Equality does not trump the order within the Godhead, nor does order negate authority. Order within the Godhead never means superiority and inferiority. It never means domination, suppression one person being forced to do what they don’t want to do. What it always means is one person seeking the glory of another; one person having perfect love for another. As we see in the life of Jesus, God the Son submits to the authority of God the Father, and they mutually seek the glory and love of One another. And God the Spirit is consistently pointing people in worship to God the Son. As each Person functions in his role, there is joy, contentment and satisfaction in the order. The order functions perfectly alongside the equality because of a deep commitment to other-person centeredness.

Conclusion

The principles of equality and order introduced to us in Genesis work out differently in different relationships—in the family, the church family and the society. These applications are unpacked throughout the rest of Scripture. There isn’t space to explore them here. But we have seen enough to see that equality and order are core aspects of God’s design for us. They are keys to enjoying the goodness and glory of God’s design for relationships, They are part of what it means for us to live out our creation in God’s image, help each other flourish as men and women.


Image: Peter Wenzel (detail), Jan Brueghel

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