It seems to me that when it comes to the topic of human sexuality, teaching in the church usually centers on biology and function. Some suggest that the only essential created difference between a man and a woman is the woman’s ability to bear children. Others emphasize the role-relationships between men and women as the only Biblical answer to questions regarding the male/female distinction. And still, others offer no legitimate answers at all to questions such as:
Why did God create humanity as a bisexual creature, i.e., with a male/female distinction?
What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
What does it mean to be created in the image of God as distinctly male or female?
Are those differences only biological and functional – pertaining to matters of child-bearing or role-relationships (headship/submission)? Or are we male and female at a soul level?
What is the appropriate Christian perspective on the socially constructed cultural expressions of the sexual distinction between men and women?
Should we embrace, reject, ignore, or attempt to redefine cultural expressions of masculinity and femininity – or are they irrelevant?
Questions like the ones that I have just listed have been the topic of intense personal study and contemplation for me for about two and a half years now. My increased interest in understanding human sexuality was triggered by a theological debate that at that time was raging in the evangelical world on some issues touching on complementarianism.*
However, the topics of human sexuality and female image-bearing have been something that I have wanted to understand since my earliest day as a Christian (more about this in the next post). But it was the eruption of the complementarian controversy which drove me to a more thoughtful consideration of the matter at hand. As a result of that dispute, I began to study the Trinity, the image of God in man and woman, human sexuality, gender, and other related topics with renewed diligence. You could say that the controversy opened my eyes to my own need to be more careful in my thinking and conversations regarding the male/female distinction.
Redeemed Image Bearing
About a year and a half or so after the genesis of this increased interest, I began to teach a ladies’ Bible study on sanctification. As the Lord so often does, He used my research on the topic of sanctification to drive me to search the Scriptures for a yet even deeper understanding of human sexuality. It was then that I began to search the Scriptures for answers to the following questions:
What does sanctification look like in a man as opposed to a woman?
What does being conformed to the image and likeness of Jesus look like in a woman? After all, Jesus is the God-man, and not a god-woman.
Does redeemed image-bearing look differently in a woman than a man?
What really is holy femininity?
This post-series on Human Sexuality & Redeemed Image-Bearing is my first attempt at putting what I have learned and am learning in these two studies into a written format. Here I will attempt to answer the aforementioned questions (and other related ones) in the following order:
Foundational Thoughts on Human Sexuality and Gender
Why a Bisexual Humanity (a male/female distinction)?
Male and Female in the image of God:
What Is the Image of God?
Female Image-Bearing: Definitions & Implications
Male Image-Bearing: Definitions & Implications
Questions on Sexuality and the New Humanity
Sexual Ethic and Sexual Essence
Pursuing a Sanctified Sexuality.
The first post (after this introductory one) in the series is called From Sexual Ambiguity to Ontological Uncertainty. In this post, I share a little bit of my life experience and how it has fostered in me a desire to understand issues regarding human sexuality and female image bearing in particular. It is an explanation of my personal interest in this topic, it is not part of the study per se. But, for any who are interested, it is an opportunity to get an idea of where I am coming from on this issue.
The last post will include a book/resource list used in my study of this topic.
*2016 Complementarian Controversy Simplified
The controversy was regarding the legitimacy of using the incorrect understanding of the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father as an analogous model for teaching male and female interaction in the home and, by extension, in the church as well. As far as I know, this issue is no longer being discussed with such wild intensity. (It has been a few years. It took me a really long time to feel confident that I understood the issues at hand.) But, read on, if you care to.
There was no argument regarding the obedience of the Son in to the Father throughout His earthly life (within the Economic Trinity) . Christ the God-man clearly was obedient to the Father and in taking on humanity He humbled himself (1 Corinthians 11:3; Philippians 2: 6-8; Hebrews 5:7-10).
Some complementarian theologians were saying that it is wrong:
- to look at the earthly ministry of Jesus as a means to understanding the eternal Intra-Trinitarian relationships and conclude that the Son, i.e., the Word (John 1:1), has always been and will always be subordinate to the Father in a way that indicates a hierarchy or pre-eminence of the Father over the Son.
- And, thus, further conclude that this form of hierarchal subordination should be used as a social model (paradigm) for the husband / wife relationship (to teach headship / submission).
This would be wrong for a number of reasons, but most importantly, because it would eventually necessitate an essential (ontological) inferiority of the Son to the Father (which, among other things would bring into question the divinity of Christ, thus undermining the doctrine of justification). In other words, if the subordination of the Son to the Father existed in such a way that relegated the Son to anything less than being fully and eternally God in essence and being – than everything that we know about God, or that we thought we knew about God and salvation is for not.
All three members of the Trinity share in one essence equally – there is no second class member of the Trinity – they share equally in majesty, dominion, authority, and power because they are of the same essence. That is the Doctrine of the Trinity: the teaching that God is one in three : three in one – one essence (being) in three persons (personal relations) : three persons (personal relations) in one essence (being).
The church fathers and historic orthodox Christian creeds and confessions have always affirmed the total equality and perfect unity of all three persons of the Trinity: one eternal and undivided essence, one eternal and undivided being, one eternal and undivided will, one eternal and undivided mind, one eternal and undivided heart, etc. etc.
None the less, the same recognized an eternal order within the personal relations of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit. But as one Trinitarian theologian aptly states, “the true order is not a rank, but an orderly disposition. In that order, with no diminution of deity or severance of unity or identity, the Father begets the Son and spirates the Spirit.” †
All that to say, the Bible tells us to model our marriages on the Gospel. Ephesians 5:25-33 explains that a man should love His wife as Christ loved the church and that a wife ought to reverence her husband as the church reverences Christ. That paradigm for marriage maybe (at times) hard to emulate in real life, but it is clearly God’s chosen pattern for teaching us how to glorify Him in marriage.
†Letham, Robert. The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship. Phillipsburg, P&R Publishing, 2004. p. 483.
Read the following articles for a greater understanding of this and related issues.
Definitions and Resources:
Complementarianism is an understanding that God created men and women equally in His image, but with different and complementary roles, responsibilities, inclinations, and dispositions for accomplishing His work on earth. This understanding is typically juxtaposed with egalitarianism which is an understanding that that God created men and women equally in His image, but with no distinction of roles, responsibilities, inclinations, and dispositions between men and women. These are simplified definitions. For a more detailed answer see: CBMW.ORG
Immanent Trinity: The Triune God as He actually is, has been ,a nd always will be within Himself – i.e., the being, essence, and nature of the one in three, three in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Economic Trinity: The Triune God with reference to the activities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in creation, redemption, and human history.
These are simplified definitions. For a more detailed discussion of the Immanent / Economic Trinity, read this article by R.C. Sproul: What’s the Difference between the Ontological and the Economic Trinity?
*** Byrd, Aimee (the Housewife Theologian). (2016 June 3). Is it Okay to Teach a Complementarianism Based on Eternal Subordination? and (2016 June 60. Reinventing God [Blog Posts written by Dr. Liam Goligher]. Retrieved 2019 February 25 from:
Emerson, Matt. (2016 June 20) We Talkin’ ‘Bout Taxis: Nyssa on Order in the Trinity. Retrieved 2019 March 2 from: