Several egalitarians on this blog have repeatedly accused complementarian spokesman Bruce Ware of arguing that women are not fully created in the image of God. As a complementarian, the idea that Ware would argue such a thing is indeed disturbing, since the Bible is unmistakably clear that both male and female are completely and equally the image of God. So I dutifully went to the CBMW web-site and found an article by Ware entitled Male and Female Complementarity and the Image of God.
Does Ware teach that women are not created in the image of God, or that they are somehow less fully the image of God than men? Here are a few statements from that article:
both male and female exhibit full and equal humanness as the image of God
all men, both male and female, are fully the image of God
Man and woman, then, both are fully the image of God and together share the responsibility to steward the earthly creation God has made.
the creation of male and female as the image of God indicates the equal value of women with men as being fully human, with equal dignity, worth and importance
As is often observed, since this was written in a patriarchal cultural context, it is remarkable that the biblical writer chose to identify the female along with the male as of the exact same name and nature as "man." Male and female are equal in essence and so equal in dignity, worth, and importance.
Another clear biblical testimony to this equality is seen in the position of redeemed men and women in Christ . . . These New Testament passages reflect the Bible's clear teaching that as male and female are equal in their humanity (Gen. 1:26-27), so they are equal in their participation of the fullness of Christ in their redemption (Gal. 3:28)
Scripture clearly teaches the full human and essential equality of man and woman as created in the image of God
the full essential and human equality of male and female in the image of God means there can never rightly be a disparaging of women by men or men by women. Concepts of inferiority or superiority have no place in the God-ordained nature of male and female in the image of God
Nowhere in Scripture is the differentiation between male and female a basis for the male's supposed superiority in value or importance, or for female exploitation. All such attitudes and actions are sinful violations of the very nature of our common humanity as males and females fully and equally created in the image of God
From all this, it seems clear that Ware affirms that women are no less the image of God than men. In fact, he repeats that affirmation at every possible opportunity.
Yet Ware also wants to emphasize the distinction between male and female, and it is his effort to do that in connection with the image of God which leads to statements which seem to undercut his assertion of full ontological equality.
while God did intend to create male and female as equal in their essential nature as human, he also intended to make them different expressions of that essential nature, as male and female reflect different ways, as it were, of being human. Now, the question before us is whether any of these male/female differences relate to the question of what it means for men and women to be created in the image of God.
I will here propose that it may be best to understand the original creation of male and female as one in which the male was made image of God first, in an unmediated fashion, as God formed him from the dust of the ground, while the female was made image of God second, in a mediated fashion, as God chose, not more earth, but the very rib of Adam by which he would create the woman fully and equally the image of God. So, while both are fully image of God, and both are equally the image of God, it may be the case that both are not constituted as the image of God in the identical way. Scripture gives some clues that there is a God-intended temporal priority bestowed upon the man as the original image of God, through whom the woman, as image of God formed from the male, comes to be.
Much of what follows is relatively standard complementarian fare. Ware points to passages which speak of man's temporal priority in creation and the fact that Eve was taken out of the man (1 Timothy 2:13 and 1 Corinthians 11:8). He makes much of the fact that both male and female are called adam, a word which is grammatically masculine (a weak argument, but one which many complementarians still insist on using). He wrestles with the statement in 1 Corinthians 11:7 that man is the "image and glory of God" while woman is the "glory of man." In essence, Ware's arguments in this section boil down to this: the order of creation points to a God-ordained male headship. Not something most egalitarians will agree with, but a fairly typical complementarian view.
Ware then discusses the fact that Genesis 5:3 speaks of Adam having a son in his own image and likeness, pointing out the obvious connection to the creation of mankind in the image of God in Genesis 5:1-2. Ware makes much of the fact that Adam only is mentioned here rather than Eve, and essentially argues that the image of God is passed to children through the fatherhood of the man.
This argument is, in my opinion, clearly a stretch. Why is Seth mentioned as having been born in the likeness and image of Adam only rather than Adam and Eve together? The most obvious answer is that Seth was male as Adam was male, and so more closely resembled Adam than Eve. There is no need to postulate some notion that the image of God is transferred via the fatherhood of the man rather than the parenthood of man and woman together.
Ware then connects Genesis 5:3 and 1 Corinthians 11:7 to make the point that both women and children are made the image of God through the prior existence of the man as image of God. He then draws the following conclusion:
What this suggests, then, is that the concept of male-headship is relevant not only to the question of how men and women are to relate and work together, but it seems also true that male-headship is a part of the very constitution of the woman being created in the image of God. Man is a human being made in the image of God first; woman becomes a human being bearing the image of God only through the man. While both are fully and equally the image of God, there is a built-in priority given to the male that reflects God's design of male-headship in the created order.
In a footnote, Ware again asserts that by pointing to this "built-in priority" he does not intend "to communicate any sense of greater value, dignity, worth, human personhood, or sharing in the image of God that the male possesses over the female."
In all this, Ware seeks to establish the notion that male headship is part of the created order and a fundamental aspect of our nature as male and female. That, again, is a fairly typical complementarian assertion. Yet his linkage of this assertion to the image of God is disturbing, in spite of the fact that he repeatedly asserts that men and women are fully and equally image of God. Ware wants to say that while we are both image of God, we express the image of God differently as male and female. But by using terms like "mediated" and "derivative" to describe how woman reflects the image of God, he sounds too much like earlier theologians who asserted that "the woman herself alone is not the image of God" (Augustine) or that "as regards the individual nature, the woman is defective and misbegotten" (Aquinas).
Once again, Ware clearly and repeatedly repudiates such notions of female inferiority, but he still wants to affirm some measure of male priority in the image of God. In essence, he is coming dangerously close to making an ontological distinction between male and female.
Yet even as I write that, I'm not sure Ware would see the distinction he is making as an ontological one. After all, he might protest, we affirm the full ontological equality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; yet we also affirm that the Son is "begotten" of the Father and that the Spirit "proceeds" from the Father and the Son (or just the Father in the Eastern tradition). If these distinctions do not negate equality of essence, then perhaps it does not follow that Ware's emphasis on Adam and Eve's distinct origins necessarily negates the essential equality of the sexes.
At one level, Ware is doing what theologians often do: namely, affirming two seemingly paradoxical notions without necessarily resolving the paradox in detail. Just as we affirm that God is completely sovereign, yet in such a way that he is not the author of sin or one who does violence to the will of his creatures, so Ware is trying to affirm that man and woman are both fully and equally the image of God, while nevertheless asserting that the distinction between men and women is somehow rooted in our very nature and the way we bear the image of God.
The challenge for me is that I can accept that Ware means what he says about the full ontological equality of women, but I'm not sure what to make of his distinction. Saying that man and woman bear the image of God in different ways certainly goes beyond "functional subordination," and it's hard to see how it is anything less than an ontological distinction. Is there some middle category between ontology and function? Or is this a working out of Ware's assertion that "function always and only follows essence"?
The first half of Ware's article is a long and somewhat abstruse discussion of different views of what the image of God is. Ware begins with "structural views," which identified the image of God as some attribute which was unique to humanity (such as reason or the possession of a soul). He then moves on to "relational views," which saw the image of God being reflected in the nature of our relationship to God and to each other. Ware then discusses and promotes a view he calls "functional holism," which sees the image of God as expressing the totality of what humanity is, what we do, and how we relate to one another. Ware summarizes this view as follows:
The image of God in man as functional holism means that God made human beings, both male and female, to be created and finite representations (images of God) of God's own nature, that in relationship with him and each other, they might be his representatives (imaging God) in carrying out the responsibilities he has given to them. In this sense, we are images of God in order to image God and his purposes in the ordering of our lives and carrying out of our God-given responsibilities.
I think this notion is the key to understanding the distinction Ware is trying to make. He is essentially trying to affirm that men and women are both fully human and fully image of God (ontological equality), but that we cannot accurately represent God ("image" God) unless we are rightly related to him and to each other. Thus, Ware's emphasis on the distinction in the way men and women have been created is meant to show that "functional subordination" is just as much a part of what it means to be made in the image of God as is "ontological equality." This view also relates to his view of the Trinity, which I haven't even begun to examine yet.
So where does that leave us?
First, I think we can safely say that Ware does not, in fact, teach that women are any less created in the image of God than men. When he uses terms like "mediated" and "derivative," he does not mean "diminished."
Second, I think we can all agree that Ware is arguing that gender distinctions go beyond mere differences in role, and are rooted in the created order. Most complementarians believe that to some degree or other, and most egalitarians view that notion as incompatible with ontological equality. Ware's view is that ontological equality and functional subordination are both fundamental to the nature of the Trinity, and that being created in the image of God means that they are both fundamental to the nature of humanity.
Third, Ware seems to have a knack for saying things in a way that is sure to offend the sensibilities of most egalitarians. When Ware uses "mediated" and "derivative" to describe how women bear the image of God, does he not see how most egalitarians (and many comps for that matter) will naturally hear "diminished"? Is Mr. Ware so obtuse that he does not understand how inflammatory such terms will be to his theological opponents? Or does he simply not care? Whenever I read Ware, I do not come away convinced that egalitarians are reading him accurately; but I do come away feeling like Ware has framed things in a way which is sure to infuriate them. If Ware wants to communicate with egalitarians, he needs to stop trampling over their hot-buttons.
In the end, Ware's teaching about the image of God is a highly nuanced theological argument which, frankly, is easily misunderstood. To me, this is the greatest area of concern. It is too easy to assume Ware's language of derivation implies some kind of diminishment, and few people will really take the time to analyze all of Ware's caveats and qualifications. As a theologian, Ware crafts his arguments carefully, and clearly repudiates what most egalitarians accuse him of affirming. Unfortunately, Ware seems to be a poor popularizer of his own theological views, and much gets lost when he tries to communicate with non-specialists. He does not seem able to anticipate how some of his arguments will be understood by the average pastor or layperson, much less by the average egalitarian. The end result is that some comps may misunderstand his teaching on the image of God as implying that men are inherently superior to women; while some egalitarians will use it to prove that comps in general and CBMW in particular do indeed teach that women are less "image of God" than men.
In this post, I've tried to interact with Bruce Ware's teaching on men and women in the image of God carefully and critically. Ware has become such a polarizing figure for some egalitarians that I don't expect them to be very satisfied with my critique. Some will no doubt think me too sympathetic or naive to see the clear implications of Ware's teaching. But reading between the lines is not the same thing as reading critically. Judging from what Ware has actually written, egals and comps should be able to agree with Ware's affirmation that women are fully the "image of God." Where all egals, and some comps, will disagree with Ware is in his affirmation that male headship is an important aspect of what it means to be created in the image of God.