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Chapter 4, Part 2

Headship, Submission, and Equality in Scripture

Samuele Bacchiocchi


Part I - Genesis 1: Male and Female

1. Equal, Yet Different Before the Fall

Genesis 1:26-31 contains three key statements: (1) God created mankind in His own image and likeness; (2) God created mankind as male and female; (3) God gave mankind dominion over all the living things with power to increase and multiply, that is, to become a race. These three statements embody two vital concepts, equality in being and differentiation in gender.


Equal Yet Different

Equality is suggested by the fact that both man and woman were created in the image of God. Genesis 1:26-27 says, "Then God said: `Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea . . . .' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." "Man" is mentioned twice here and refers inclusively to man and woman. This is indicated first by the Hebrew word for "man" ('adam) which can be translated as "mankind, humanity": "Let us make mankind in our own image." The second indication is the plural "them," which points to "man" as being a plurality consisting of both man and woman. The fact that Genesis 1:26-27 moves back and forth three times between the singular "man" and the plural "them" clearly indicates that the term "man" is used collectively to refer to both man and woman.

Genesis 1:27 corroborates this conclusion. The statement, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him," is clarified by the following statement, "male and female he created them." From these data, our Women in Ministry chapter argues that "the equal pairing of male and female in parallel with ha'adam [man] in this verse [shows that] there is no hint of ontological or functional superiority-inferiority or headship-submission between male and female. . . . Both participate equally in the image of God."6

The conclusion that the "pairing of male and female in parallel with ha'adam [man]" excludes any hint of a headship-submission distinction between male and female ignores two important considerations. First, equality must not obscure the sexual differentiation which is made unavoidably clear in this passage: "male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). The two sexes are part of God's original purpose for the human race and both are good. Both men and women are essential to the proper functioning of the human race. Denying or perverting sexual differentiation is a rejection of the order established at creation and is condemned in the Bible as "abomination" (Deut 22:5; Rom 1:26-27).

Genesis 1 does not say much about the roles of men and women. It simply affirms that man and woman are equally created in the image of God but are sexually different. The implications of the gender distinctions are explained subsequently in the Bible, beginning with Genesis 2.

The second important consideration is the fact God designated both the male and the female as "man--ha'adam." We see this again in Genesis 5:2, where the word man denotes both male and female: "He created them male and female; at the time they were created, he blessed them and called them `man.'"


Paul's Use of Genesis 1:26-27

Supporting the above conclusion is Paul's use of the terms "image" and "glory" in 1 Corinthians 11:7 in his discussion of the manner in which men and women ought to participate in public worship.

Paul alludes to Genesis 1:26-27 when he writes, "For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man" (1 Cor 11:7). Paul is not implying that a woman reflects the image of God to a lesser degree than does man. The focus of his discussion is not the personal dignity or worth of men and women implied in Genesis 1:26-28, but rather the headship of man in marriage and worship implied in Genesis 2:18-23. Paul refers specifically to the man's headship in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9. It is in this context that man images God and that woman does not. It is obvious that women bear God's image in other senses, as Paul himself recognizes in Ephesians 4:24, where he speaks of all believers as being renewed according to God's image in terms of "righteousness and holiness" (cf. Col 3:10).

Paul is careful in 1 Corinthians 11:7 not to say that the woman is man's image. Rather he says that "woman is the glory of man." The language of Genesis 1:26-27 in the Septuagint is "image" (eikon) and "likeness" (homoioma) and not image and glory (doxa). Thus Paul's use of the term "glory" is significant. To understand its meaning we must note that Paul uses "glory" in the context of the relation of man to God and of woman to man. Man images God and gives Him glory by being submissive to Him and by being a loving, self-sacrificing head (Eph 5:25-29). The wife is the glory of her husband in the way she honors his headship by her life and attitude. This meaning is well expressed in the Septuagint version of Proverbs 11:16, which says, "A gracious wife brings glory to her husband" (cf. Prov 12:4).

What is significant about Paul's use of "image" and "glory" is the fact that he interprets Genesis 1:26-27 in the light of Genesis 2 to explain why the woman is the glory of man, namely, because she was created from and for man and not vice versa (1 Cor 11:8-9). All of this shows that Paul understood the image of God in man and woman mentioned in Genesis 1:26-27, not in the light of the egalitarian model but in terms of the functional distinctions mentioned in Genesis 2:20-22.

In light of these considerations we conclude that Genesis 1:26-27 does affirm male-female equality, but that it also alludes to male headship by twice calling the human race, "man--ha'adam" rather than "woman." Furthermore, by differentiating between man as "the image and glory of God" and woman as the "glory of man," Paul shows that the equality between men and women implied by Genesis 1:26-27 does not negate their functional distinction implied in Genesis 2:18-23.


Next Page
Chapter 4, Part 1
Chapter 4, Part 3

Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph.D., is Professor of Religion, Andrews University.

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