Wednesday, 5 December 2012

In the beginning... (part 1)

What is our basis for understanding humanity, masculinity and femininity? For some, it is just the prevailing cultural attitudes. Others base their understanding on feminist ideology and its construction of ‘patriarchy theory’. Many in the manosphere base their understanding on the precepts of ‘game’ and in the evolutionary psychology that underpins it. But I am not content with any of these approaches.

I want to spend a few posts exploring what the Bible has to say about humanity, masculinity and femininity. Of course, it would be possible to write many books on this, and indeed many such books have been written. But rather than attempt to take on the issue in its entirety, my intention is to start with a couple of key issues and see where things lead from there.

Genesis 1:26-31

26Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.

I contend that any discussion of humanity, masculinity and femininity must begin here. How can we discuss what it means to be a man or a woman without first discussing what it means to be human?

Clearly, fundamental to being human is that we are created in God's ‘image’ (something I will attempt to elucidate shortly). However, too many people stop half-way through verse 26 and so miss the reason why God wanted to make us in his image. “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over [creation].” Therefore, the concept of authority is crucial to understanding humanity – not only are we under God's authority (by his creative authorship), but we are to embody and extend God's authority to creation.

In God's image

I've heard many different theories on the meaning of the term, but most of them are unconvincing. A superficial reading of the translated text leads some to conclude we look like God in physical appearance. Others see it as meaning we have some of God's qualities like being creative and loving. Some preachers I know explain it to mean we are made to function as a community in some kind of trinitarian sense because God is triune. Now, any of these may be true to some extent, but I think we can do a lot better.

We are not made in God's image just for the sake of it. We are made in God's image so that we can embody God's authority to creation. This will be the key to determining what it really means to be created in God's image.

The Hebrew word used for ‘image’ here is צֶלֶם (tselem). The word comes from the Hebrew root word for shade, as in the shade of a tree. I suppose the connotation is that a tree's shade looks somewhat like the tree itself.

The Hebrew word is used 14 other times or so in the Old Testament (not including Aramaic variants). Of course, not all usages will be relevant to its usage in Genesis 1, but since there are not too many I will list all of them for completeness.

Gen 5:3When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.

Gen 9:6Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.

I Sam 6:5,11Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land... They placed the ark of the Lord on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors.

II Kgs 11:18a / II Chr 23:17All the people of the land went to the temple of Baal and tore it down. They smashed the altars and idols to pieces and killed Mattan the priest of Baal in front of the altars.

Ps 39:6Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom; in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be.

Ps 73:20They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.

Eze 7:20They took pride in their beautiful jewellery and used it to make their detestable idols. They made it into vile images; therefore I will make it a thing unclean for them.

Eze 16:17You also took the fine jewellery I gave you, the jewellery made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them.

Eze 23:14But she carried her prostitution still further. She saw men portrayed on a wall, figures of Chaldeans portrayed in red

Amos 5:26You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god – which you made for yourselves.

Taking these verses together, what we see is that an image (tselem) is a representation of an object intended to bear its responsibility, significance, or function. For example, in Genesis 5, Adam's son Seth carries on the responsibility of Adam – of Adam's children, only Seth is described this way; perhaps because Seth is the son whose lineage carries the responsibility given to Adam (leading to fulfilment in Christ). In Genesis 9, we read that it is God who demands an accounting for our blood, but since we are made in his image, it is other humans that typically bear this responsibility. Most of the other verses here speak of idols which are not gods in themselves but rather symbols bearing a god's significance and function of communication in worship.

Mankind bearing God's authority

God was not under compulsion to allow animals or mankind the ability to reproduce. He could have created the Earth fully populated, with everything directly under his authority (and saved all the drama in the process). Instead, he created humanity and gave them his authority to bring about these ends. Therefore, to be made in the image of God means to bear his authority over creation on his behalf.

Having now looked at what it means to be human, in the next parts we shall look at Genesis 2 and 3 and our understanding of what it means to be men and women.

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quoted is taken from the NIV 2011.

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to the rest of the series.