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Is God Male? (Part 3)
Mimi Haddad (PhD) is president of Christians for Biblical Equality.
For years, everyone wondered why my father had difficulty getting dressed, reading maps, and fixing appliances. We later learned the root of his trouble. During his pilot’s training course it was discovered that my father is color blind. He confuses primary colors and has trouble discerning colors that are similar to one another. Despite his best efforts, my father was denied a pilot’s license because he could not find the red switch on the dash or locate wires colored orange and pink. Fortunately, once his disability was diagnosed, he was able to compensate for it.
How many of us are left wondering whether some Christians today suffer from a similar condition we might call “gender-blindness”? Christian faith may have a masculine feel because those with gender-blindness do not see the many female leaders in the Bible. Nor do they perceive related concepts such as God is "spirit," and that the work of Christ is inseparable from the work of the Church. Our rebirth in Christ opens doors to service in the church regardless of gender because it was Christ’s humanity, not his gender that made him a sacrifice for all people. Gender-blindness, if not recognized, can lead some to believe that the man they see in the mirror each day corresponds to the leaders they observe in Scripture. Like my father, we all need a little help, so we can overcome our blind spots and perceive the fullness of God’s Kingdom.
Last week we considered the gendered language used for God in Scripture such as “Father” and “Son.” Two weeks ago, we explored the gendered language the church used to emphasize specific qualities of God. Today we will assess Scripture with gender-sightedness to observe the interdependence of male and female in marriage and ministry beginning with the early chapters of Genesis.
Genesis 5:2 explains that God created man and woman in God’s image and declared them “’adam.” Gender-blindness may cause some to presume ’adam to be a male’s name, and thus assume that the male is representative of humanity. However, the 2011 NIV translates ’adam in Genesis 5:1-2 as “mankind,” the corporate/singular/collective term for humanity following the pattern of Gen 1:26-30 where the triune God declares that He will make ’adam in God’s image as male and female. Adam (’adam) is a play on words because the human being, or earthling, comes from the earth or ’adamah in Hebrew (Gen 2:7), a feminine word. Yet, let us not confuse grammatical gender with biological gender. It is not the earth that imparts identity to ’adam, but the fact that Adam and Eve are created humankind, as male and female, in God’s image. Because of this, both share dominion equally over the created world.
What is more, in the second creation account (Gen. 2:18) God introduces woman using the Hebrew term ‘ezer, which denotes strength and rescue. ‘Ezer is found 18 times in the Old Testament. Of these references, 16 are used for God’s rescue, and 2 refer to military aid. Perhaps the most familiar passage where ‘ezer is used for God’s help is Psalm 121:1-2: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help (‘ezer) comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” The source of Eve’s identity is not that she comes from Adam, but that she was created in God’s image and works beside Adam, exercising joint dominion as a source of vigorous help.
In 1 Corinthians 11:3, Paul mirrors the “source” and chronology logic of the creation account in Genesis by using the term kephale—a word that means “head,” as in the physical top of the body. Kephale often implied “source” or “origin” rather than “authority.” Echoing the chronology of the second creation account in Gen. 2: 20-22, Paul notes that Christ is the head or source of man (andros—Greek for the “male” gender of humanity), because Christ as a member of the Trinity was active in Genesis 1:26, “let us make human beings (‘adam—“human being” in Hebrew) in our image,” making them male and female (Gen. 1:26, 2:20-22). As in Genesis, Paul observes, also in 1 Corinthians 11:3, that man (aner, which means specifically “man” or “male” in Greek for the male gender of humanity) is the source of woman because Eve was formed from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:21-22).
Finally, God is the source of Christ, because Christ was born fully human through Mary, and fully divine through the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:31-32). Lest anyone assign authority or an extra portion of dignity to males because man is the source of woman, Paul is quick to point out that source grants neither male nor female elevated status. After all, “as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (1 Cor. 11:12). While others attempt to use source logic to devalue women, Paul makes it clear that source logic, when seen in its fullness, stresses two points: that humanity is interdependent, and that it derives its identity from one source—God.
Because woman comes from man and man comes from woman, we are interdependent as male and female, a point Paul makes in Ephesians 5:21-33. Here Paul makes clear that all relationships in the New Covenant Community are characterized by mutual submission. Therefore, we—all Christians—are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). One example of mutual submission is that of wives submitting to their husbands, just as husbands sacrifice themselves for their wives. Why? Because the husband is head (kephale or source) of the wife, just as Christ is head (kephale or source) of the church (5:23). As Christ sacrifices for the church, so too husbands are to sacrifice themselves for their wives. As head or source of the church, Christ gave up his life that many might become spiritually alive. As head or source of their wives, Paul requires husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, sacrificing even their own lives if needed.
Ten times, Paul asks husbands to love their wives as they love themselves, because her body is his, and his body is hers. Husbands and wives have authority over one another’s bodies, a point Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 7:3-7. How radical this must have seemed to first-century husbands! Remember, first-century men held ultimate authority over women and husbands could require the sacrifice (even the very lives) of their slaves and wives. The freedom, mutuality, and interdependence of the Gospel necessitated a complete reframing of gender, power, and authority.
A new Christian culture was forming. The free are now slaves and the slaves are now free (1 Cor. 7:21-22). Paul places the burden of sacrificial love squarely on the shoulders of those who held the most cultural authority—men. Husbands are those whom Paul primarily addresses in Ephesians 5, asking them to live out kingdom values in imitation of Christ, reminding them not to be deceived by their cultural authority which is temporal. For this world in its present shape is passing away (1 Cor. 2:6, 1 Cor. 7:31).
Paul realized that God was building a new creation—the church, with each member born of the Spirit, and joined equally to Jesus as head. The new wine of Jesus would require a new wine skin where slaves and women can serve equally in accomplishing the purposes for which God had called and gifted them. For this reason, the New Testament does not hesitate to celebrate women in positions of leadership, like Junia an apostle (Rom. 16:7); or Phoebe, a deacon and prostates, or “leader,” in the church of Cenchrea (the only person in the New Testament associated with a church office [Rom. 16:1-2]). Paul and the other apostles do not shy from citing the accomplishments of teachers like Priscilla, who instructed Apollos—one of the most gifted teachers in the New Testament (Acts 18:24-26)—in her home, in the very city (Ephesus) where Paul limits the teaching of certain women who usurp authority and domineer in ways that oppose the gospel (1 Tim. 2:11-12). Priscilla was a leader in her house church, just as Lydia, Chloe, Nympha and Apphia were also house church leaders. Slaves, Gentiles, and women serve with equal authority beside free people, Jews, and men in the purposes for which God had called and gifted them, because they too are born of the same Spirit that gifts Christians with power for service, never limited by gender (Rom. 12:6-8, 1 Cor. 12:7-11, Eph. 4:11-12).
We all have blind spots and some have difficulty with gender-blindness. Perhaps this is one reason Paul reminds us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to, but with sober judgment to count others as better than ourselves, remembering that each person has been given gifts by the Holy Spirit for serving (Rom. 12:5b). “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Cor. 12:21). The parts of the body are not divided from one another, but function best when they have equal concern for, and are mutually submitted to one another regardless of gender. May God give us eyes to see!