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Reading Genesis I'm a little bit confused about these verses:

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 5:1 This is the written account of Adam’s family line.

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind”[a] when they were created.

So we can see that man was created in the image of God = male and female. Does this mean that God has two images, a male and a female one? or is this something lost in translation. Thanks!

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You might be interested to read this answer on a closely related question. The question seems clearly on-topic to me, but it may be close enough to the one I linked to be considered a duplicate. – Jack Douglas Jun 10 '14 at 8:54
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While I don't have research to back it up other than the general pattern of other scriptures (hence a comment and not an answer), my understanding of this has always been that male and female together form the image of God. From the behavior of God (he doesn't reproduce sexually and shows both traditionally male and female tendencies) he doesn't really seem to have a traditional gender, rather I'd argue that men and women working together to create and working as one is the image of the triune God. – AJ Henderson Jun 10 '14 at 13:45

What these verses imply is that, whatever “image of God” implies, sex is irrelevant.

In the Jewish view, since God has no physical form at all, it is meaningless to speak of His sex. The various Hebrew words that translate as “God” all have masculine grammatical gender. (The word for “spirit”, ruach, has feminine gender though, so the “spirit of God” which “hovers over the water’s surface” in Genesis 1 is spoken of in the feminine.)

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You correctly describe the theological position of Rabbinic Judaism, but that's obviously quite different from the Hebrew Bible itself which is replete with male descriptors of God's sex and gender. Any insights on the exegesis (with sources) of this particular text? – Schuh Dec 13 '15 at 8:19
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@Schuh I am not sure it as replete as you think. Hebrew does not have gender neutral actors. There is no "it" in Hebrew and inanimate objects are treated grammatically as male or female despite not actually having a sex or Gender. It would be a mistake to assume that just because the Torah speaks of God using masculine grammar it means that the text views God as actually having a gender. – conceptualinertia Dec 23 '15 at 2:01
    
@conceptualinertia, I agree that grammatical gender is unhelpful in this discussion, and it's unfortunate J.C.Salomon relies on it above (anachronistically, in my view). You might check-out the sidebar and footnote #1 in my answer for a discussion of Elohim's sex, unrelated to grammar. – Schuh Jan 5 at 2:40

A theological answer would indicate that Rabbinic Jewish and early Christian thinkers did not attribute bodily form or sex to God, though most attributed male gender owing to the preponderance of typically masculine imagery and grammatical forms for God they saw in the Bible. Growing gender awareness has challenged traditional assumptions, and most Jewish and Christian communities now posit that God expresses both masculine and feminine attributes, or transcends gender altogether.

The following answer, however, reframes the original question for exegesis rather than theology:

Was Elohim of Gen.1:26-27 both male and female?

It is widely recognized that Genesis contains two, very different, creation accounts; for example:

  • The creator is identified as Elohim in the Cosmic Creation story (Gen.1:1-2:3) and Yahweh in the Garden of Eden story (starting at Gen.2:4).
  • Elohim and ‘adam are both spoken of as plural in the first, whereas Yahweh and ‘adam are singular in the second.
  • ’adam is differentiated as zakar and nĕqebah in Gen.1 (male/female) and 'ish and 'ishshah in Gen.2 (man/woman).
  • Male and female are each created in the creators’ image in the first, and the second emphasizes the man and woman’s likeness to each other.

Because of these and other differences, critical scholars suggest the accounts preserve distinct creation traditions within the development of the text. Both stories could be fully explored, but examining 'Elohim in plurality' in Gen.1:26-27 is highly suggestive: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” This plurality is also present in Gen.3:22, Gen.11:7, and Is.6:8.

SIDEBAR: The sexual ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ of Elohim

There’s no avoiding that ‘image’ (צֶלֶם. tselem) and ‘likeness’ (דְּמוּת,dĕmuwth) allude in some concrete sense to Elohim’s bodily form as the divine pattern after which the male and female humans were modelled (Gen.5:3 and 9:6 suggest the same).1 This parallels the more common use of tselem for sculpted idols (or in Ez.23:14, a painting) where the image’s only physical quality is its presumed resemblance to the original; e.g. bronze Baal, terracotta Asherah, golden calf. Verse 27 therefore describes the images of Elohim as male and female, referring to their physical sex, not masculine and feminine (gender) or some other abstract quality.

Centuries later, when the bodily, predominantly male descriptions of God in the Hebrew Bible were increasingly viewed as theological metaphor, God could be conceived as transcending body, sex, and more recently, gender. But within the earlier worldview, and given the Hebrew Bible’s almost exclusive presentation of God as a male figure, the ’image and likeness of God’ implies ‘of the male sex’. After whom, then, is the female human modelled? As the OP observes, this is a genuine challenge of this text. <+>

Various theories for 'Elohim in plurality’ are posited, some of them theological and anachronistic (e.g. Trinitarian foreshadowing). Four views are considered here:

Option 1: The word elohim referred to ‘the gods’, as it did in hundreds of other Hebrew Bible verses.2 Nothing in the text specifies elohim is the Israelite/Judahite god, and a generic word may have been chosen deliberately for its universality. The plural elohim recalls the pantheons of other ancient Near East religions which included both male and female deities who could function here as the divine models for the male and female human images.3 This would make Gen.1 a thoroughly polytheist creation story, perhaps a foreign story told for contrast to the Yahwist story it precedes (i.e. myth/anti-myth). However, if this reading reflects a very early tradition, it is unlikely to have been shared by later priestly redactors who included this beautifully-crafted story without critique.

Option 2: Elohim (the traditional Israelite god) speaking on behalf of a ‘heavenly court’, also alluded to in Ps.82, Is.6:8, 1Ki.22:19-23, Jb.1-2, Zc.3, and Dn.7.4 An evangelical perceptive, based on the belief that biblical writers expressed only a (more or less) monotheistic conception of God, conceives Elohim’s council as an assembly of non-divine ‘sons of God’ or heavenly beings (often angels) over which God was unmistakably sovereign. So the NIV Study Bible footnotes Gen.1:26: “God speaks as the Creator-King, announcing his crowning work to the members of his heavenly court."

Though the biblical writers do not identify all members of Yahweh’s court, the likely contenders are all male (including angels). Those who hold the non-divine heavenly court view (e.g. Heiser, Sumner) offer no suggestion as to whose female likeness the female human in Gen.1 might have reflected. Many commentators defer, saying the likeness to Elohim is not concrete and sexual but spiritual or moral; and besides, the heavenly court did not participate in creation, even to lend their image. Both caveats seem to contradict the plain meaning of the ‘let us make in our image’ text.

Option 3: Elohim speaking on behalf of a traditional ‘divine council’. Anthropologists note that the mythic motif of the heavenly court pre-dates ancient Israel. In Canaanite religion, El was the chief of the elohim, the gods. Like other ancient Near East pantheons, Canaan’s elohim included males and females: e.g. Asherah, Baal, Astarte, and other gods known to Bible readers as Yahweh’s primary rivals prior to the Exile. Many scholars suggest that as heterodox Yahwism grew in prominence, it assimilated the titles, names, attributes, symbols, and mythology of El and competing cults, including the very names El and ‘sons of elohim’ (El’s divine council of 70 gods and goddesses) and eventually aspects of the dying goddess religions as well.5 It likely took centuries for Judaism’s increasingly exclusive monotheism and increasingly desexualized divinity to emerge from poly- and heno-theist predecessors.6

At an interim step in this development – before the full flowering of exclusive monotheism – Elohim could be seen to speak on behalf of a council that included the divine daughters and sons of Elohim, as suggested in Gen.6:4, Dt.32:8, Ps.29:1, and Jb.1:6 and 28:7. Gen.1 is widely believed to have been written before the early 5th century BCE, that is, before Elohim’s divine council (option 3) was ‘demoted’, in the interpretation of some readers, to the status of non-divine heavenly court (option 2) after the expansion of angelology in late- and post-biblical Judaism.7 According to this view, the male and female humans of Gen.1 were fashioned after male and female members of Elohim’s divine council.8

Option 4: Elohim speaking on behalf of himself and a female consort. As mentioned, Canaan’s pantheon was composed of the 70 children of El; their mother was Asherah. Like its neighbors, Canaan was represented by a divine couple, El and Asherah, his consort. Together they were co-creators in Canaan’s creation story.

There is ample biblical evidence for the Asherah cult in Israel/Judah – 40 mentions in nine books – including the installation of her statue in Yahweh’s temple in Jerusalem (2Ki.21:7). Archeological evidence, including inscriptions and thousands of terracotta figurines likely bearing her image, suggests Asherah was venerated in the folk cults of Israel/Judah from the 10th to the 6th centuries BCE and was, for long periods, also part of its official religion as Yahweh’s consort. Asherah worship was purged with the emergence of monotheistic Judaism after the Exile, but 5th century papyri indicate Anat-Yahu, another wife or consort of Yahweh, was worshiped by Judahite exiles in a Yahweh temple in Egypt. Coogan states that while the entire pantheon of elohim could be the model for male and female humans in Gen.1, “the divine couple, Yahweh and his goddess consort, are more likely.”

Conclusion

It’s unknown what specific cultural referents informed this particular story in its original telling, but critical scholarship, archeological evidence, and comparative religion support the third and fourth options. Both reflect a time when a story could be told in which the traditionally male Elohim was joined by a female divine figure (and perhaps others) in the creation of the first humans as male and female. Echoes of similar henotheistic stories and myths, equally faint and ambiguous, are heard throughout the Hebrew Bible, particularly in its early chapters.
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1 “The general use of the word, therefore, seems to demand the idea of ‘image’ in some concrete sense, and prevalent scholarship always calls for this as the first interpretation. .... Interpretations of the image of God, therefore, may swing between two extremes: the absolute, literal, physical resemblance, which seems to be supported in Genesis 5:1-3 where the image of God is clearly paralleled with Seth as the image of his father, Adam; and over against this, the necessary spiritual interpretation supported by Jesus’ classic definition of God, namely, that ‘God is spirit’.” ‘Image of God’, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915).

2 Grammatically, the noun elohim is always plural; in fact the KJV translates elohim as ‘gods’ 244 times. But when it refers to the primary god of Israel/Judah, English translators follow the LXX model and render it as capital-G ‘God’ (2,346 times), which is also the English word they use for El (213 times) and Eloah (52 times). The Hebrew text retains the original.

3 A conservative reading of the plural elohim in the Bible as possibly including angels (e.g. Heiser, n.55) does not appear to provide a female model.

4 Michael S. Heiser, “Divine Council,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary, John D. Barry and Lazarus Wentz, eds. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012); p.23.

5 Tikva Frymer-Kensky, In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture, and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth (Ballantine Books, 1993). See Levenson's review in First Things 27 (1992):50-53.

6 Also in Michael Heiser’s ‘Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible’, and in Ellen White’s ‘The Council of Yahweh: Its Structure and Membership.’

7 Michael D. Coogan, A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament. Oxford University Press: 2009.

8 "H. Wheeler Robinson pointed out that the image in which humans were created in Gen. 1:26 was that of the 'sons of God' who were members of the Divine Council.” In Christopher Kaiser, n.155.

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As additional information the nouns God, GOD, Lord, LORD appear in the King James Translation of the bible and follow a pattern. God = אֱלֹהִים 'elohiym – Nathan Dec 23 '15 at 3:19

I also think (as in the previous comment) that it is meaningless to speak of the gender of God

And it is unwise, in many cases, to try and equate grammatical gender with actual gender. The word for "spirit" is grammatically feminine in the Hebrew, and grammatically neuter in the Greek, but this tells us nothing at all about the actual gender of the Holy Spirit. It is most likely that the Holy Spirit has nothing like gender.

God created humans in his image. And he made them male and female (just as he did with the animals.) Gender, or sex, in humans is not not necessarily intrinsically associated with "the image of God." God's image does not equal male and female.

As his image bearers, humans are commissioned to act as God's regents on earth. This task is given to both men and women.

God is spoken of in the Bible using masculine and feminine metaphors, but this has been done to help us understand something of God's character. We must not confuse metaphor with reality.

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It could also be argued that due to the Trinity, Yes god it BOTH male AND female due to the point you highlighted - that the Holy Spirit is grammatically feminine. – James Shewey Sep 5 '14 at 22:49

From my comments here: What the ‘Early Church Parents’ said about God’s gender | Catholic Herald:

What does the Church teach?

CCC 370 In no way is God in man's image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective "perfections" of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband.

"What the ‘Early Church Parents' said about God’s gender? This [words in-bold] is just foolish and adds to the confusion. To me, the confusion consistent with and a product of our sex-obsessed culture and influence by what Vatican termed as radical feminine themes. God has no gender as the article quotes St. Jerome.

What does Scripture say?
From the plain reading of Gn 1:7 (RSVCE)? - So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them, and from Church teaching above, it appears that while God in neither male nor female and not in the image of man [no gender], he is Male AND Female [ and made man in this image], and the better question might have been what is the understanding of this, and why is it God chose to reveal himself in male terms. In summary, in relation to man, God, who alone is Father unlike any other father, is father and husband to man and Israel, and Jesus, the Bridegroom, the husband to the Church, his Mystical body and Bride.

From the revelation of the Son, that we should believe him that he is in the Father and the Father is in him [cf. Jn 14:11 (RSVCE)], within the Church there has come the understanding of Circuminsession the mutual immanence of the three distinct persons of the Holy Trinity. This is one of my understanding of God being Male & Female.

Endnote: I hope it does not escape readers that confusion regarding Trinity, the central mystery of the Christian faith and life, is at a time when there is widespread confusion about the nature of man himself [cf. gender ideology, radical feminism, "gay marriage", etc.].


The Father communicates his whole divine essence to the Son [without alienating it from himself]. Here the Father is giving and the Son receiving. The way I see it, within the Godhead, each Person of the Blessed Trinity receives from and gives to Godhead. The Father, Being [=Good], the Son [Truth], and the Spirit [Love/Spirit]. God generates the Son, they both breathe forth the Holy Spirit and ... that's why God is worshiped in Spirit and in Truth, what the Father, who is "the principle without principle", receives. In the Godhead, there is the eternal exchange among the persons of the Blessed Trinity.

The "Maleness" of the Spirit: For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. [Cf. 1 Cor 2:10 (RSVCE)].

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The omnipresent God is non-physical, therefore it doesn't have a gender as we know it and we are just his manifestation.

It's like all the colors of the rainbow (all the genders) are made of white light (God/Goddess).

For example, in Judaism there are two worlds: a "Masculine" world and a "Feminine" world. So it doesn't matter which physical gender you are, but how you feel and God feels everything. See also: Do spirits/souls have genders? or Do we retain our gender in Heaven?

Re: the term which is used as God (Elohim) in Hebrew - it's actually plural. See: Why is Elohim translated as God rather than gods?.

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