In our church, we have just started a short series on Genesis 1-3. I preached last week on Genesis 1:1-24, and as I was preparing it struck me once again how important it is to understand these foundational texts.

In the sermon last Sunday, we were looking at the next passage, which contained these words:

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, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’

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

28 God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’

Genesis 1:26-28

As I was listening to the sermon, what really hit me is the emphasis on ‘male and female’: it doesn’t simply say that God made people, in the generic sense, but he made them male and female. All throughout Genesis 1 God separates – he separates the land and sea, land and sky, day and night – and male and female. Two complementary things which are designed to work together in harmony.

In the case of male and female, this is all part of mankind’s dominion over creation (v26). And v28 goes on to say that an important part of that is to ‘be fruitful and increase in number’ – clearly a reference to procreation (and therefore marriage).

What struck me this time, however, is the universal nature of this division in humanity. Sometimes I think this passage is referred to as if it only applies to marriage: men and women are to come together in marriage, but not in other ways. But I don’t think this does justice to the scope of what is in view here. I don’t think Genesis 1 envisions men and women ruling over creation, only coming together in marriage to procreate. Marriage and procreation is very important, even foundational – but it is not exclusive.

Mankind is designed to rule over creation, to be God’s image bearers over the earth. If men and women are designed to complement one another, then that ‘complementarity’ should be expressed at every level – not simply within marriage, but all over the place.

Let me try to ground this with one or two examples. You often hear of ministries which are run by a husband and wife together. How often do you hear of things which are run by two friends – a man and a woman? I’m sure it happens, but I don’t think it happens much. I am currently helping to run a baby and toddler group with a female friend, and it seems to be working out pretty well so far. Perhaps the idea of running things as friends could be explored further.

It seems to me that our vision of masculinity and femininity, and how we relate as men and women, has been so clouded by sex for so long that it’s hard to think in another way. But the more I think about it, the more I think there is to think about!

Please comment below and let me know if you have any other ideas.