As we consider biblical womanhood, there is one verse that does not seem to get a lot of attention. However, it is the first verse that mentions the female species and it is paramount in understanding the value and worth that God has placed on us women. That verse is Genesis 1:27. It is this verse that tells us that we were created in God’s image. My hope is that by the time you finish reading this, you will understand why this truth makes a whole world of difference.
Our Culture Devalues a Woman’s Image
I don’t think it is a secret that most of us women battle with self-image. When we are bombarded with movies, print media, and online images of “perfectly” proportioned women, we look at ourselves in the mirror with a little less enthusiasm. We then inadvertently open ourselves up to jealousy, envy, and comparison, slowly picking away at our self-worth.
The environment that we are in does not help. Since the fall, women, in general, have been relegated to at best, glorified servants, or worse, sex objects. Sadly enough, even historical Bible commentators regarded women in less than glowing terms.
Despite the advancement of women’s rights, not much has changed. Sex trafficking is big business, pornography is running rampant in our culture and in our churches (read my article on Pornography in the Church), and even the most liberated women struggle to find their place in the world (or their self-worth).
The result is a message that affects how women see themselves. It is a message that emphasizes a women’s looks and the services she is able to provide. Only God can change a culture that is outside our control. But there is one thing we can do, pour truth into our minds and hearts of how God sees us, and have a deeper understanding of just how valuable we are. And one of the ways to do that is to understand what it means to be created in God’s image.
Genesis 1:27: Women Were Created in God’s Image
From the beginning, in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, God makes it clear that He created both male and female in His image.
Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his [own] image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Every scholarly commentary that I found agrees that the word “man” refers to mankind. Following the flow of the verse, God tells us that both the male and female elements of mankind were created in His image.
What Does It Mean To Be Created in God’s Image?
Now we know that women were created in God’s image, but what does that mean?
A Summary of Interpretations
There are numerous theological studies and theories on what this means exactly. For the purpose of this blog, I don’t think it is necessary to go into detail on each of the theories and positions. However, here is a list of what different commentators and scholars believe are the key characteristics of mankind that express the image of God.
- Mankind’s soul and/or spirit
- Mankind’s free will and rational thinking
- Mankind’s ability to exert authority over the earth (mankind’s ability to rule)
- Mankind’s intellect and creativity
- Mankind’s innate moral compass
- Mankind’s ability to relate to others
Created in His Image: The Ability to Rule
Despite how you may feel about which one of these (if not all) represents God’s image, I do want to emphasize one in particular, the ability to rule.
If we look at the parallelisms in the sentence/paragraph structure of Genesis 1:26-28, a strong case can be made that the ability to exert authority is an important component of being created in God’s image. (If you really want to go the extra mile, this part of scripture could be an example of a Chiastic Structure in literature. Feel free to look that up and see how it pertains to our discussion.)
26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth
27 So God created man in his [own] image,
in the image of God created he him;
male and female created he them.
28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
Do you see it? The idea of God creating us in His image is sandwiched between two verses that express mankind having dominion over the earth. This is a literary technique meant to get the attention of the reader and bring emphasis to the central statement–that we are created in God’s image. And if both male and female are created in God’s image, both male and female have the capacity to exert dominion. (I want to emphasize that this is God-given dominion exercised in a Christ-like fashion. It is not despotic, but full of nurture, humility, compassion, good stewardship, etc.)
God’s Image Is Overshadowed By Traditional Thinking
Here is where many reading this will begin to shift in their seats and get very uncomfortable. I have belonged to enough conservative churches to know how threatened some Christians can get when we begin to discuss the role of women beyond tending to the kids, running women-only Bible studies, and making sure their husbands are nice and happy. So I want to make my intentions very clear.
This is not a call to arms for women to rise up against established authorities. Not because I fear offending, but because we are all called, both men and women — to humility and submission, even in less than stellar circumstances (unless there is abuse involved).
I would never encourage women to disparage men or their leaders, but I do encourage women to know who they are in Christ and the purpose for which they were created. It is critical for the sake of the church that women do not bury their talents. Sadly, though, what I have often witnessed is men burying their wives’ or daughters’ talents and forcing them into roles that were never intended for them.
If women are to live up to the full purpose of their calling, then they need to know what their God-given and innate abilities are. Based on Genesis 1:28, part of that is the ability to exert dominion and all that it entails. To lead and subdue, the individual must have the intellectual and spiritual capacity to do so.
I believe that an ingrained ability to lead is important to highlight for women because it is something we do not often hear mentioned in both secular and non-secular circles. The emphasis is many times on our looks, our nurturing abilities, and maybe our emotional intelligence, but rarely is that coupled with our ability to lead, rule, or manage.The emphasis is many times on our looks, our nurturing abilities, and maybe our emotional intelligence, but rarely is that coupled with our ability to lead, rule, or manage. Click To Tweet
In Christian groups, the debate on whether the man is the head of the household or not (and whether women should preach or not), has overshadowed this very important God-given characteristic of women. In my blog, What is the Role of Women, Defining “Help-Meet,” I make the case that women should view themselves (and should be viewed by men) as highly capable Executive Officers (leaders) vice “the help” (servants).
How does that translate to everyday living? Both men and women bring different strengths to the table. Whether we are leading our household, a church, or a Fortune 500 company, when we work together we can accomplish great things for God’s glory.
God’s Image and the Human Body
In the discussions among scholars, I found that most shy away from the idea that image could refer to anything pertaining to the physical. The argument is that God is spirit, and therefore, these verses in Genesis could only refer to intangible, non-physical characteristics. However, the Biblical usage of “image” in the rest of the Old Testament, is all about the physical representations of something.
How the Word Image is Used in the Bible
If you are new to Christianity, know that modern-day Bibles were translated from ancient manuscripts that were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Because sometimes things are lost in translation, it is helpful to see how the word is used in other parts of the Bible. In this case, the Hebrew word behind the word “image” is the word transliterated as “tselem.”
“Tselem” is used 16 times and in 14 verses in the Old Testament. Here are my observations on the usage.
- 4 verses are in reference to man being created in God’s image.
- 1 verse in reference to Adam’s son Seth bearing Adam’s image.
- 9 verses in reference to physical representations of something, whether animals, other gods, people, etc.
- 2 verses in reference to phantoms or shadows of people.
The Value of Human Life is Tied to His Image
Because most of the uses of the word “image” refer to a tangible representation of something, I believe that God created the human form, the physical form to represent Him as well (even if it doesn’t look like Him per se since He is spirit). Because of that, the entire human form, in body, soul, and spirit, has innumerable worth. I believe that is supported by Genesis 9:6.
Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. (ESV Version)
The reason that the punishment in the Old Testament for murder was execution, was because mankind bears the image of God. The destruction of the body, the shedding of blood, have dire consequences. We learn in the Old Testament that even the shedding of blood with justified reason has a penalty.
In 1 Chronicle 22:8, God does not let David build His temple because David had shed too much blood on the land. Shedding the blood is a destruction of the image of God, and although necessary to protect Israel, David still bore that guilt upon himself—making him unworthy to build something so precious as God’s temple.
What Does Being Created in God’s Image Mean for Us Women?
It means that we have the stamp of God’s image interwoven in our being. That is where our worth and value lie. Consider the respect with which we would protect the photograph or painting of someone of importance. Well, our bodies are representative of the Almighty, the Creator. We are the paintings, His work of art.
God gave us unmeasurable worth. It is not of our own doing. It is not because we are so brilliant or have reached certain thresholds put there by society or our culture. It is solely because He designed it that way and that is a good thing.
Because our worth is God-given, it doesn’t matter if our IQ is through the roof or not. It doesn’t matter if we are professional powerhouses or Martha Stewart stay-at-home moms. And it certainly doesn’t matter if we look like we belong on the cover of Vogue magazine or not. We have intrinsic value to God and we bear His image. Is there anything more beautiful than that? Could we possibly hold a more distinct honor?We have intrinsic value to God and we bear His image. Is there anything more beautiful than that? Could we possibly hold a more distinct honor? Click To Tweet
Even in a fallen world, even in our sin-ridden bodies, we have worth. God’s image may have been stained by sin. We are Mona Lisas splattered with dirt and grime, but we are still a masterpiece, because our Author, our Creator is God. And that marred image will be completely restored. God paid the high price of the blood of His son Jesus Christ (see Romans 8:32), the only perfect image of God (see Colossians 1:15), to restore us.
The Responsibility of Bearing His Image
I very purposefully addressed our worth first. Those of us that have been neglected, rejected, and abused, need to first understand the love and care of our Creator before we can move on to being instruments of His glory. It is in the overwhelming realization that we are so loved, that Christ died for us as payment for our sins, that we can move on to the responsibility of bearing His image.
But because we do bear His image, God has given us the responsibility of representing Him in the best way possible. I encourage you to look at my study on Ephesians 2:10. Through it you will see that we are to manifest the beauty of what He created through our behavior. And that includes the treatment of others.
Yes, we can now look in the mirror with confidence in our worth, despite what the world may tell us. But as we acknowledge our own worth, we need to acknowledge that each and every human being is also created in God’s image and they too have worth. That should cause us to take a step back before we feel the need to disparage, criticize, or hurt someone (or take joy in watching someone else doing it). It is no small matter to disparage God’s image. It is one thing to correct someone in love, it is a whole other thing to cut someone down.
Passing This Truth to the Next Generation
Every little girl I see, I address them as beautiful. There are well-intentioned groups out there, in reaction to the objectification of women, that would advise not to mention beauty at all. I get their point. But when I see these little girls, I see the image of God. Each and every single one of them is absolutely gorgeous. God created them. How could they not be?
However, to counteract the objectification of women, it is imperative that we pass on these two truths to the next generation:
- A girl’s physical body has the imprint of the image of God. It should be respected as such.
- Girls were also born to have dominion over the earth. They were also born to manage and lead and should be respected as such.
Let’s prepare this next generation of little girls to live out the full purpose of their calling. We do them a disservice when we discuss only their beauty, without emphasizing their intellect. We do them a disservice when we try to fashion them into molds of our own making. God created them with a high degree of intellectual and emotional capacity. Let them use the full measure of their gifts and let us encourage them to do so. (If you want more on promoting a positive body image, read “Tips for Promoting Positive Body Image in Girls” and “How to Love your Body.“God created women and girls with a high degree of intellectual and emotional capacity. Let them use the full measure of their gifts and let us encourage them to do so. Click To Tweet
I leave you with a prayer for our all of our daughters.
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