Karl Barth on Sexual Difference in the Imago Dei

I’m currently deep in the final/writing stages of an essay for an Old Testament module, looking at the image of God (as ever) and the importance of ‘male and female, he created them‘. One voice that finds its way into the commentaries, monographs, and other things I’ve read is the German Karl Barth. Being a bit of a footnote hunter (I see myself as Indiana Jones, which makes footnotes fun), I tracked down what Barth is saying to his Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Creation, III.i, 41.2. Yep, thats how you can find it.

Anyway.

Barth offers us some powerful observations on the importance of humankind being made ‘male and female’;

The only thing that we are told about the creation of man, apart from the fact that it was accomplished by the Word of God in and after the image of God, is that “God created them male and female”. Everything else that is said about man… has reference to this plural: he is male and female” (CD III.i, 41.2)

This is the reference point for what it means to be human, the place where everything else relates to – humankind is male and female.

This is important, as it is here that man (and woman, equally) image God, and in that image are the recipients of Grace;

But as God is One, and He alone is God, so man is one and alone, and two only in the duality of his kind, i.e., in the duality of man and woman. In this way he is a copy and imitation of God. In this way he repeats in his confrontation of God and himself the confrontation in God. In this way he is the special creature of God’s special grace” (CD III.i, 41:2)

I think that is rather beautiful. And also challenging – in our very being there is confrontation, relationship, engagement with something other. And yet, at the heart at that confrontation, as the copy and the image of God, as we repeat confrontation, we find Barth sharing something startling about humankind;

the special creature of God’s special grace

This is the powerful and important core of what it means to be made in Gods image, to be made for relationship with God. We are creatures, embodied and moving, and we are relational. And in this creatureliness, in this relational nature, regardless of anything else (our own merit, background, parentage, etc), we, special we, are recipients of Grace.

Barth goes on to describe the importance of all this, looking forward to the saviour who will come;

The fact that he was created man and woman will be the great paradigm of everything that is to take place between him and his fellows. The fact that he was created and exists as male and female will also prove to be not only a copy and imitation of his Creator as such, but at the same time a type of the history of the covenant and salvation which will take place between him and his Creator. In all His future utterances and actions God will acknowledge that He has created man male and female, and in this way in His own image and likeness” (CD III.i, 41.2)

Barth has gone big here, emphasising the importance placed on the two sexes by the Genesis account. Even in that, in that mutuality, that confrontation, we can see “a type of the history of the covenant and salvation which will take place between him and his Creator“. The emphasis is mine, but the relationship of male and female, the importance of the physical being of the image of God, is tied up in the way creation, redemption, and everything is going. This is why I find the topic of the Image of God so fascinating – it relates fascinatingly to the greatest story ever told, the greatest marriage ever, the union of Christ, the bridegroom, with us, his bride, the Church.

Thats why, in Colossians, when Paul is writing about the supremacy of Christ in all things, we read;

He is the image of the invisible, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him” Colossians 1:15-16

I close with a question – what do you make of this? This male/female importance? And more crucially, what do you make of Christ, the supreme one, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation?

 

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