Are women created in the image of God? The book of Genesis clearly says that they are, but some people distort Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:7 and say that only man is created in the image of God.
This post is a continuation of my response to a reader who reprimanded me for saying that women are also created in the image of God. To follow my argument in the present post, you must read my previous post, “Are Women Created in the Image of God? Part 1.” If you have not read my previous post, I suggest that you stop now, read my previous post, and then read Part 2, this present post.
I received an email from a reader reprimanding me for saying that both men and women are created in the image of God (the content of his email is cited in Part 1). He said that “only man is created in God’s image. (1 Corinthians 11:7).” 1 Corinthians 11:7 says, “A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
In response, I mentioned that Genesis 1:27 says that both the man and the woman were created in the image of God, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27 NIV).
In response to my citation of Genesis 1:27, the reader responded, “You are assuming that Gen 1:27 reads to include females. That is a liberal interpretation. More conservative readers do not agree with you. Your view should be supported or in harmony with other relevant versus [sic] in the Bible.”
“Liberal” v. “Conservative”
The whole issue for this reader is the “liberal” v. “conservative” reading of the text. The problem with this reader’s interpretation of Genesis 1:27 is that he interprets the text in Genesis in light of 1 Corinthians 11:7 and misses one of the most important revelations about God’s creation of human beings, that both the man and the woman were created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26–27).
I reject the labels “liberal” and “conservative” because the labels are intended to judge some people’s belief, that is, conservatives believe in the Bible; liberals do not. Many conservative scholars believe and teach the same things liberal scholars do. This label is used to defend some preconceived ideas about the Bible.
Many conservative Christians do not accept the literary and linguistic interpretation of the biblical text. In order to solve difficult and contradictory statements in the text, some people seek to harmonize the text and find creative ways to deal with problematic texts. As an example, read my post, “Defending the Bible,” in which I show how conservative readers defend Mosaic authorship of the book of Deuteronomy.
Another issue that some conservative Christians reject is the fact that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 present two different accounts of creation. All Christians agree that God is the true creator, but Christians differ on how God created the world. And so did the biblical writers. In his study of creation in the Hebrew Bible, Gottlieb wrote, “While the entire Bible is replete with references to Creation, three sources are especially noteworthy for their more detailed description: Genesis 1, Psalm 104, and Job 38-42. Each account serves a different purpose and uses a different style and language. However, they share in a depiction of God as the Creator and Sustainer of all life” (Gottlieb 2016:29).
Although Gottlieb did not mention Genesis 2, the differences between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are real. Unfortunately, in this post I cannot explain the differences between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. At a later time, I will write a post on the two creation stories in Genesis and show how it affects the way we look at women in the Old Testament and in the church today. In order to understand Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:7, we must begin with Paul’s use of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.
Interpreting Paul’s Words
Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 present two different stories of creation. Genesis 1 was written by the Priestly writer, the so-called P source. Genesis 2 was written by the Yahwist writer, the so-called J source. When Jesus taught about marriage, he used Genesis 1. When the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, Jesus answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning made them male and female” (Matthew 19:3-4). This is a quotation from Genesis 1:27. Paul, when speaking about women and marriage, generally used Genesis 2: “man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man” (1 Corinthians 11:8-9). This is a reference to the creation story in Genesis 2.
In his discussion of the practice of head covering for men and women in the church in Corinth, Paul used Genesis 2 in order to explain Genesis 1. In 1 Corinthians 11:7, Paul wrote, “A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man” (1 Corinthians 11:7 NIV). In this passage Paul is using Genesis 1:26–27, but he deviates from the text in Genesis twice.
Genesis 1:26 says that man was created in the image and likeness of God. Paul omits the fact that man was also created in the likeness of God. Rather, Paul says that man is “the image and glory of God.” In addition, Paul fails to mention that the woman was also created in the image of God (read Part 1 of this discussion).
The reason for Paul’s omission that the woman was created in the image of God was probably because Paul was using Jewish views about women. Conzelmann wrote, “the woman is here [v. 7], indirectly, excluded from being an image, or she is one only in a derivative sense. This cannot be derived from Gen 1:26 either—quite the contrary! Once again the Jewish presupposition becomes visible” (Conzelmann 1975:186).
Paul uses his Jewish traditional education in his declaration that man is “the image and glory of God” and that the woman is “the glory of man.” As Conzelmann explains, Paul’s exegesis “presupposes ideas which would not be derivable from the Bible text itself if the exegete were not already furnished with them” (Conzelmann 1975:186).
Paul does not deny that the woman was also created in the image of God; rather, Paul says that “the woman is the glory of man.” Paul has used the “glory of God” in his discussion of eating meat dedicated to idols (1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1). However, the issue is how to understand that the woman is the glory of man. There are three possibilities for Paul’s use of this expression.
In her article, “Paul’s Allusive Reasoning in 1 Corinthians 11.7-12,” Julie Newberry says that Paul’s description of woman as the glory of man may be a reference to 1 Esdras 4.17. The apocryphal book 1 Esdras “is an ancient Greek version of the biblical Book of Ezra in use among the early church, and many modern Christians with varying degrees of canonicity” (Wikipedia “1 Esdras”).
1 Esdras 4:17 says, “Women make men’s clothes; they bring men glory; men cannot exist without women.” According to Newberry, “Paul’s portrayal of man as the ‘glory of God’ in 11.7a may have brought to mind the language of this earlier text, which also mentions men, women and glory” (Newberry 2019:47).
Another possibility comes from Paul’s use of the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament. In the Septuagint, Proverb 11:16 reads as follows, “A gracious wife brings glory to her husband.” It is possible that Paul was recalling Jewish tradition when he referred to the woman as the glory of man.
The most probable source for Paul’s view that the woman is the glory of man is his use of Genesis 2. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, “Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man” (1Corinthians 11:8-9).
Paul’s statement is a clear reference to Genesis 2:23: “The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23 NIV).
When God created the woman for the man, the man goes into this process as ’ādām and leaves as ’iš: “The man (’ādām) said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh she shall be called ‘woman (’iššāh),’ for she was taken out of man (’iš)” (Genesis 2:23 NIV). This again is a reference to Genesis 1:27 where God creates ’ādām as male and female, as ’iš and ’iššāh.
In his discussion of creation, Routledge writes, “The reference of human beings created male and female (1:27) is significant. . . . First, both sexes are made in God’s image. Second, it is only in relation with one another that God’s purpose to fill and subdue the earth, which, as we have seen, is associated with being made in the divine image, will be fulfilled. Third, the relationship is harmonious: there is no sense of a hierarchy, with male superior to female” (Routledge 2008:141).
Paul’s concern was not who has or who does not have the image of God. Paul’s concern was the problem the Christians in Corinth had created for themselves. The contention in the church was about the practice of head covering for men and women. This was a local problem and Paul exhorts the church to stop fighting over this issue, “If anyone wants to argue about this they can’t, because we don’t have any custom like this—nor do any of the churches of God” (1 Corinthians 11:16 GWN).
Paul never said that the woman was not created in the image of God. As for Paul, his view of women was known to all, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). According to Trompf, Paul’s view about women in the church was “radically different” from some of the leaders in the early church. Trompf says that Paul’s attitude toward women is “found in Gal 3: 8, where any discrimination between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, is deemed inappropriate in the new community” (Trompf 1980: 210).
I generally do not write on issues found in the New Testament. If you want a good study on the issues Paul is discussing in 1 Corinthians 11:7, you should read the book Unveiling Paul’s Women: Making Sense of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 by Lucy Peppiatt.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Conzelmann, Hans. 1 Corinthians. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975,
Gottlieb, Fred. “The Creation Theme in Genesis 1, Psalm 104 and Job 38-42.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 44 no 1 (2016): 29-36.
Newberry, Julie. “Paul’s Allusive Reasoning in 1 Corinthians 11.7-12.” New Testament Studies 65 no 1 (2019): 43-58.
Peppiatt, Lucy. Unveiling Paul’s Women: Making Sense of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018.
Routledge, Robin. Old Testament Theology. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008.
Wikipedia, “1 Esdras.”