I’m told that from the very beginning, both male and female were made in the image of God. Male alone doesn’t represent who and what God is. Female alone doesn’t represent who an what God is. In recent decades, much has been made of Adam imaging God’s masculinity. But there’s little discussion as to Eve being the image of God’s femininity.
The very language we most often use to describe God is decidedly masculine. He, Him, His, Father, Son … but any whisper of referring to God using feminine language – She, Her, Hers, Mother, Daughter – is almost heretical in and of itself.
When talking about the roles and relationships of the Trinity, there’s a primary focus on the Father and Son, there doesn’t seem to be a female complement within the Godhead of our triune God. Even the Holy Spirit can be difficult to discern what it’s gender should be: Does our decidedly masculine God have a feminine Holy Spirit? Do spirits even have gender? I know, grammatically, the Hebrew words for ‘spirit’ are feminine, but grammatically feminine words generally don’t suggest anything. ‘Vestido’ is a grammatically masculine word for ‘dress’ which is commonly worn by women. ‘Corbata’ is a grammatically feminine word for ‘necktie’ which is commonly worn by men. When it comes down to it, we don’t really know which gender to ascribe to the Holy Spirit. Spanish goes with masculine language: “el Espíritu Santo”, same for Portuguese: “o Espírito Santo”. Even the majority of English translations usually use masculine language for the Holy Spirit.
The other day, I was told that the Bride of Christ (i.e. the church) is the feminine complement of God. I’m not so sure we’re reading out of the same book on that one. After all, Christ is the head of the church, and he’s the groom who will be marrying the church … of which he is the head. I’m not really sure how that works. But that also suggests that there is precious little femininity within the trinity for Eve to have been the image of.
I don’t know how gender complementarians feel about this – saying that men and women are equal yet different when within God (himself?) there seems to be almost no feminine equivalency. We have a Father, but no Mother. We have a Son, but no Daughter. True enough, there are a few feminine metaphors here and there in Scripture – ““Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” But is that enough?
Imagine for a moment we’re in an alternate reality where God is decidedly feminine, we know Her as Mother God, She gave up Her only Daughter so that we might live and through Her become Her sisters and brothers, Her daughters and sons, filled with Her Holy Spirit. Every now and then, there are a few masculine metaphors – but overall, the vast majority of references and stories in Scripture point to her femininity in all things. Any claims that God transcends gender and that the man is just as much the image God as the woman rings a little hollow. After all, any given ‘masculine’ trait, is also present in women, and any given ‘feminine’ trait is also present in men. We know that well enough thanks to cultures the world over showing us as much. So overall, our language reveals that our God is feminine.
And likewise for us, or masculine language for God shows just that – He is our primarily masculine God with precious little femininity in Him. If God’s own femininity is not an equal complement to His masculinity, then how can His follows hope to correctly be mirror images in their complementary relationships? Is it so that our masculine God require only men to lead and officiate worship? Would God want women to be as silent and mysterious as his own femininity that serves as the template for women?
Take a look at the trinity, we talk about the relationship between Father and Son as an example of how husbands ought to lead their wives and how wives ought to submit to their husbands. On one side, two perfect, holy males are used to describe how the relationship ought to be between two imperfect people, one a man and the other a woman. We don’t have a biblical example of the relationship between Father God and Mother God or Husband God and Wife God. It should be no surprise then, that the analogy fails and it leaves people scratching their heads about how to make their relationship work given the parameters of the perfect relationship that serves as their example.After all, it’s all about authority and submission. Men have authority, women don’t. Men don’t submit, but women do. Yet Jesus constantly called himself his father’s son or one with the father, making him equal with the father. Then, of course, people will point to roles; after all, the Father did things that the Son and the Holy Spirit didn’t do, the Son did things that the Father and the H.S. didn’t do, and the H.S. did things that Father and the Son didn’t do. So Husbands/Fathers get to do some things that Wives/Mothers don’t do, and Wives/Mothers get to do some things that Husbands/Fathers don’t do. The problem with roles is that mortals suffer from disease and death, sometimes making it impossible to carry out our ‘roles’. Do we become failures as men or women if we can’t lead or are prone to making really bad decisions or can’t keep the house or are unable to have children? I remember listening to a prominent Christian advise a man to divorce his ailing wife so that he could marry a woman who could clean up the house rather than lower himself to doing his own laundry. I remember listening to my grandmother tell me about her neighbors, a man who never cooked a day in his life and relied on t.v. dinners for all of his meals and a woman who never managed the money or maintained her car so she was often spending more money than she had and always had to ask for help to fix her car. Gender role teachings would tell these widows/widowers that without marriage, they’re a failure for stepping outside of the bounds of their roles. But do you know what impresses me the most? A husband who loves his wife that he sticks through her in sickness and in health, for better and worse, and who knows that when her disease makes her too weak or too tired to cook, clean, do laundry, that his love for her outshines the dictates of gender roles and he cooks, cleans, does laundry, and continues to love her on her good days and her bad days.
Ephesians 3:14-15 says: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” But there is no Mother from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives it’s existence. The masculine side of God tends to get almost entirely male clergy, but few women have managed to break through the stained glass ceiling in order to bring honor to the feminine side of God. I hear the argument: “Well, women get to be mothers which is something that men can’t do, so men get to be priests.” I’m trying to decide if that means: “Because of women’s biology to be mothers, men have the biology to be priests.” I never understood why it was that way – after all, in the course of any given worship, there’s speaking, reading, singing, praying – all of which both men and women both share the same biological requirements to do – mouths, ears, eyes, ability to understand. Biology seems to be a poor argument, after all, not all women can have or will have children.
There’s no question of Adam being the image of God’s masculinity, but there’s no discussion about Eve being the image of God’s femininity, and since there is femininity in God, then humanity is long overdue in treating women with equal respect as it treats its men. But that’s only to be expected in a God whose own feminine side is silenced, hidden away, never talked about or referred to, and might as well not even exist. Odd. That’s how women have been treated for the longest time.
5 thoughts on “Eve’s Image”
In Judaism, the creation story is often seen as myth or fable– that humankind was created as male AND female in one, but that God split us off into two different genders.
It also is sometimes understood as Adam being the masculine attribute of every human being, and Eve the feminine. Which makes sense to me– I am not without masculine attributes, and my husband is not without feminine ones. Where we truly differ is biological and reproductive , not spiritual.
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One explanation I had heard, was the myth of Adam’s first wife, who was created at the same time and out of the same Earth as Adam. Her name was Lilith and she refused to be submissive and she ran away, eventually becoming associated as some demonic force. So Eve was created as Adam’s second wife, made from Adam so that she wouldn’t see herself as equal or the same and she would be more submissive.
The problem is that the Southern Baptists have taught me to view the creation story as prescriptive, like Eve, it is the role of women to help, like Adam, it is the role of men to provide and lead the family. Because there was a real Adam and Eve, then marriage must between a man and a woman. Which proves creation is true because they can’t have evolved. Pull one thread, and the rest come undone.
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Absolutely. Have you read anything by Leland Ryken? I have his book “How to read the Bible as Literature”. It’s very very good.
Most of my own faith formation occurred in Baptist churches– Independent Fundamentalist and Southern. There is a great big theological world outside of the Baptist perspective! A literal, legalistic, all-or-nothing view of God is a very heavy burden for anyone to bear. I became burned out by it all by the time I turned 18.
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There is a good bit of thought on this topic in both early Alexandrian Judaism and Christianity, and in some strains of contemporary eastern Orthodox thought. For example in Philo of Alexandria, an early Jewish theologian, there is something of a conflation of the feminine ‘person’ of Sophia and the attribute of divinity as “logos.” At the very least, in Philo’s extant corpus, the ‘roles’ of Sophia and logos – both in the act of creation, and in God’s providence thereafter – are often interchangeable.
This is also the case in Origen of Alexandria, a Christian theologian who wrote a short time after Philo. But of course, given the prologue of John’s Gospel, and in his letters, there is a stronger emphasis on the Logos, and Christ’s role as the same. Origen does at times venture some thrilling and – to our 21st century Christian perspective – provocative statements, such as when he speaks of Christ as “God’s wisdom [Sophia] hypostatically existing.” (On First Principles, 1.2.2).
It has been the case with many of my churches that Sola Scriptura is the only valid source of doctrine and truth, all of the thoughts of the church fathers are inferior and unimportant. Most of them had no knowledge of church history, church fathers, desert fathers and mothers, or the role of women in church history.