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Made in the Image of Godde: Female – Shawna R. B. Atteberry
Nov 212007

Gifted for Leadership’s most recent post is What Our Feminity Means. Here is an excerpt that sums up the entire post:

The benefits of modesty aside, femininity became a new way to behave, a role I played, a corset I wrapped around my soul and tightened down to get approval. Femininity quickly became something I did to get what I needed or wanted in life. It was something to use, not something I owned.

I don’t think this is what Godde intended when he created Woman. In Genesis 1 Godde wanted to splash more of the Trinity onto Earth. So Godde made Man and Woman to mirror Godde’s image (Gen 1:27). Femininity in its truest, original sense was one way Godde’s image appeared, and this image was not weak, catty, emotionally crazy, or inferior because Godde is none of these things. Femininity wasn’t a role Eve played to get what she needed; femininity was part of who she was. Even after Eden, as broken image bearers, we reflect God. If a child is humble, she mirrors her Godde. If a man is gentle, he mirrors his Godde. If women are feminine in the original sense, we reflect our Godde.

My main problem with this is that “feminine” and “femininity” are social and sociological constructs, not biblical or theological terms. Genesis 2:26-28 states:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Godde did not make “masculine” and “feminine” in Godde’s likeness. Godde made Male and Female in God’s likeness. And what does this image and likeness look like? According to these verses it means that man and woman subdue the earth and rule it as well as being fruitful and multiplying. Both the man and woman are commanded to have a family and to have a vocation.

In Genesis 2, we find that Godde created a human being and placed the human in the Garden of Eden. Godde decided that it was not good for the human to be alone, so Godde made an ezer cenegdo for the human. After the ezer is made there is now man and woman. What exactly is an ezer? Outside of Genesis 2, it appears 20 times in the Bible*. Seventeen of those times, ezer is used to describe Godde. In each instance military imagery is used to describe God coming to help Israel against its enemies. I found Psalm 146 particularly fascinating:

1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!
2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
5 Happy are those whose help [ezer] is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,
6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;
8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

After telling the congregation not to put their trust in human leaders, the psalmist proclaims: “Happy are those whose ezer is the Godde of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah!” (author’s paraphrase). The psalmist then goes on to describe how Godde helped Israel: Godde executed justice for the oppressed, gave food to the hungry, set prisoners free, opened the eyes of the blind, lifted up those who are bowed down, and loved the righteous. Godde watches over the strangers, upholds the orphan and widow, and brings the way of the wicked to ruin. Godde’s help is not to dominate the people, but to lift them out of poverty and hunger, to set them free from oppressors and oppressive debts (most people in prison then were in debtor’s prison: they could not pay their debts). God helped the orphans and widows: those in society who have no one else to help them and be strong for them. Godde uses Godde’s strength and power to help those that no one else will help because they are seen as weak, poor, and marginal. Again we see military imagery used to describe Godde as Israel’s ezer or helper.

Carolyn Custis James does a wonderful job of exploring the word ezer and its military connotations in her book, Lost Women of the Bible: Finding Strength & Significance through Their Stories, in the chapter on Eve. She translates ezer as “strong helper.” Woman was created in the image of God to be a helper to the man as God was a helper to Israel. But this does not make her superior to the man. That’s where the second word of the phrase comes in: cenedgo, which means standing or sitting face to face. It means equal. So the full translation of ezer cenedgo is a powerful helper equal to. Woman was created to be a powerful helper equal to the man the way God is a powerful helper to God’s people.

Man and woman are created in Godde’s image to image Godde in our world. Psalm 146 gives a description of what Godde is doing in the world. Godde is not only fighting enemies and saving God’s people. Godde is also taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves. This means that both man and woman should be doing the things Godde does to image Godde to our world. This includes fighting systemic and spiritual evil, but it also includes tenderness and compassion toward those who are poor, needy, and those whom society overlooks.

I want to look at two women in the Bible; one in the Hebrew Scriptures and the other in the New Testament. First we’ll look at Deborah from the Hebrew Scriptures. We are introduced to Deborah in Judges 4. She was a prophet and judge, and she led Israel. The Israelite people came to her with problems and disputes, and she mediated Godde’s will as Moses once did. She was married, but she was a working woman. Godde called her to be a prophet and judge, and she answered. When Godde commanded Israel to go to battle with their enemy Sisera and the Canaanites, Deborah summoned the military commander Barak, and told him what Godde said. But Barak would not go into battle without Godde’s representative, Deborah. Both Barak and Deborah led Israel’s armies into battle. Here we see a man and a woman working together to fight the people’s enemies and obey Godde’s words and will. And irony of ironies is that Deborah’s husband, Lappidoth, was probably in the troops following his wife.

Deborah, Barak, and Lappidoth do not resemble or act according to the societal constructs of masculine and feminine, but they are obeying Godde and building Godde’s kingdom side by side. Leading men into a battle is not considered “feminine” in Western society, but Deborah was obeyed Godde. Godde called her to lead her people and protect them from their enemies. She was an ezer who was imaging Godde in her every word and action.

The next woman I want to look at in the New Testament is Priscilla (or Prisca). Priscilla ran a business with her husband, Aquilla. They made tents together. They worked in Corinth with Paul where they heard the Gospel and were saved (Acts 18:1-3). Later the couple would meet Apollos who had heard only of John’s baptism and not heard of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When Priscilla and Aquilla heard him, they took him aside and “explained the Way of God to him more accurately” (v. 26). They also led a home church when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (Romans 16:3-5). It is very odd during this time for a wife’s name to be mentioned before her husband’s, and yet four times Priscilla’s name is put before her husband’s. Many scholars believe that she was the dominant one in ministry: the teacher and pastor of the churches that met in their home.

Again we see a man and woman working side by side making a living and building Godde’s kingdom. There is no mention of what is masculine and what is feminine. They worked together as the team Godde created them to be.

I think being made male and female in the image of Godde has very little to do with modern notions of femininity and masculinity. It has everything to do with faithfully imaging Godde to our world by obeying God’s callings on our lives and working together–both men and women–to build the kingdom of Godde on earth.

*Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:7, 26, 29; Psalm 20:2; 33:20; 70:5; 89:19; 115:9-11; 121:1-2; 124:8; 146:5; and Hosea 13:9.

The New Revised Standard Version is used for biblical quotes unless otherwise noted.

The picture is Thomasz Rut’s Insuspenco.

Crossposted at Emerging Women.

Did you know there are only eight verses in the Bible that discourage women from speaking and holding leadership positions in the church? Did you know there are thousands of verses in the Bible that tell the stories of women who were leaders in their homes, towns, and religious circles? Meet the women in the Bible who were religious & civic leaders, business women, & women who challenged both Jesus and Moses in What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School. What else didn’t you learn in Sunday School? Find out when you buy What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down from Wipf and Stock Publishers or Amazon.com today.

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  8 Responses to “Made in the Image of Godde: Female”

  1. Thank you Shawna. So well “spoken”. I remember the first time I really heard this and understood this, I felt completely empowered. I went to Seminary (your alma mater, I graduated in 1999) with very mixed emotions, having grown up in a household/church where submission/subservience of woman was the only way to view life together. When I went to Seminary, it felt against my will but with a pull towards what I knew in my heart God wanted for me, if nothing else, I believe, to discover my true sense of equality in how me made me. For that reason, and although I now serve as an ordained minister in the same church you do, my experience in Seminary was very personal. And it really helped me discover my equality in God’s eyes as a female. And truly my place on this earth as a person following Christ.

    I had to giggle when I got to the part about Priscilla as I will never forget the day in Systematic Theology when Dr. Noble started his devotions by saying “we shall read from the Letter to the Hebrews, written by Priscilla”. There was a whole “gang of boys” (you know the kind) in the back who literally gasped. I couldn’t contain myself. Such affirmation for me!

    I’m glad I found you (and I know this comment is getting unreasonably long) and did so one night after feeling quite lonely as a woman in ministry. I wanted to find just “one Nazarene woman God” and then in a search, there you were. I have been enjoying your blog these weeks ever since. Thought I’d finally say hello.

    Blessings to you and those you serve… exciting times as you anticipate a new church…

  2. Tammy, I’m glad you find me, and thank you for commenting. I started seminary in 98. Are you the Tammy that went up to Canada after she and her husband graduated? If so, I remember who you are.

    It’s nice to know another Nazarene woman too. I’m glad to know you’re around, and I will be visiting your blog.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to infrom others who have never heard this teaching about the equality of male and female and especially the “ezer cenedgo”. It grieves me to read some of the comments on the other blog. Praise God for women like you who are living examples of being true to God and yourselves. I hope you will continue to comment and in length when necessary.

  4. Thanks, Shawna. As I struggle to define my beliefs, reading your blog truly restores my faith in Christ.

  5. I really appreciate the information in your post, but as I said on the Emergent Women post, I think it’s an overreaction to Jonalyn Fincher’s blog post on Gifted for Leadership. She wouldn’t disagree with much of what you said and even includes this (and a lot more info) in her book, Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Women Brings her Home.

    I think your blog readers would appreciate it too as it continues to expand this much needed conversation in evangelical circles where it isn’t happening.

    I’ve posted two comments to the cross post for this blog at Emergent Women… the link for those is here: http://emergingwomen.blogspot.com/2007/11/made-in-image-of-god-female.html

  6. […] would like to thank everyone for their comments on Made in the Image of God: Female both here and at Emerging Women. I’ve glanced through them, but I have not had time to process […]

  7. God is both male and female. In Jesus and God the Father we see the masculine side of God. In the bible there is reference to wisdom as she and that she existed before all else and would reward those who seek her above all else. Wisdom speaks od the female side of God( Holy Spirit)

  8. […] Posts Made in the Image of God: Female Most Blessed of Women: Jael Everyone Has a Story (Deborah) Career Women of the Bible: […]

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