The Image Of God: Masculine, Feminine, Or Neuter? -- By: Henry F. Lazenby

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 30:1 (Mar 1987)
Article: The Image Of God: Masculine, Feminine, Or Neuter?
Author: Henry F. Lazenby


The Image Of God: Masculine, Feminine, Or Neuter?

Henry F. Lazenby*

We have often been instructed to define the image of God without consideration of the sexual identity we possess as human beings. Theological discussion about the imago Dei has been largely confined to stressing the moral, personal, or intellectual qualities that supposedly constitute it.1 The image itself is presented as somewhat generic in character. Both male and female possess it, but their sexuality as male and female has little if anything to do with its essential nature. The image of God is conceived of as an asexual sort of likeness to God in which human sexuality does not play a significant role. It has something to do with reason, original righteousness, human personality, or perhaps with ruling over the universe, but not of course with sexuality. 2

When human sexuality is mentioned by theologians in connection with the image of God, the intent is usually to demonstrate how male and female differ with respect to it even though both may possess it. As Thomas Aquinas explained:

The image of God, in its principle signification, namely the intellectual nature, is found both in man and in woman. But in a secondary sense the image of God is found in man, and not in woman; for man is the beginning and end of woman, as God is the beginning and end of every creature. 3

Aquinas’ comments echoed the thinking of many patristic and medieval theologians.4 Interpreting passages like I Cor 11:7–10 and I Tim 2:13–14 in the light of Greek ideas about the physical, moral and intellectual superiority of male over female, these Christian thinkers contended that while men and women are both created in the image of God, a woman possesses it in a secondary and somewhat diminished sense. The woman was created after the man and from the man. This implied that she actually possessed the image of the man, not of God. But because man himself was created in the image of God, it was legitimate to affirm that woman also possessed it to some degree. However,

*Henry Lazenby is professor of systematic theology at Oxford Graduate School in Dayton, Tennessee.

the secondary sense in which she possessed the image of God was well illustrated in the Genesis account of the fall when she, not the man, was deceived by the serpent. It seems that her fragmentary possession of the image limited her ...

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