FOR CENTURIES Christians have pondered what it means to be created in the image of God. Throughout my own academic career, I’ve been haunted by the mystery of Genesis 1:27: “God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them” (CEB).
What does this passage reveal about us, and consequently, what does it reveal about God? The second half of the passage is equally contentious and challenging. Does “male and female God created them” imply that men and women reflect the image of God equally?
While Genesis 2 to 3, with its narrative of sin and betrayal, is captivating, there is something about the simplicity, mystery, and implications of Genesis 1:27 that resonates even today. I would argue that Genesis 1:27 is the foundation of an egalitarian anthropology where male and female are at the center of theological reflection, where they reflect the image of God without hierarchy or preference. The existence of distinctive genders in humanity does not imply any sort of sexuality within God. Instead, the metaphor retains the unknowability and mystery of God. It reminds us that there are similarities and great differences between the created and Creator. The metaphor “image of God” both reveals and conceals something about the nature of God—and the nature of humanity.
Genesis 1:27 has been a source of inspiration, debate, and controversy throughout the history of Christianity. The church fathers (writing between 150 and 500 C.E.) often implied that women must negate their very womanhood in order to reflect their creation in God’s image. These male writers in the early church viewed female bodies as an impediment to reflecting the image of God. Augustine of Hippo argued that although women spiritually share the image of God, they do soin spiteoftheir bodies—women’s bodies corrupt and diminish their ability to reflect the image of God. In this thinking, women reflect a distorted image; we are inherently deficient.