Does Trinitarian Theology Support Women in the Pulpit? (Part 3 of 3)


What does the egalitarian relationship of the Trinity have to do with being created in the image of God? And what implications does it have in regards to women in the pulpit?


Part 3: Humankind, the Imago Dei


“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them’” (Gen. 1:26-27 NRSV).


What does it mean that male and female are created in the image of God? Karl Barth elaborates on the image of God as male and female, and states that as God is one, “so man as man [humankind] 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.”[1] To restate it succinctly, Barth claims that the singularity of humankind in the distinctive plurality of male and female is the image of the one God who is distinctive in three persons. Clearly, male and female then are not individually images of God, but that communally, male and female comprise the imago Dei. As such, humankind—male and female—is to have dominion and exercise lordship.

“As many thinkers since Karl Barth have noted, this is a community-text. The image of God is a social rather than an individual concept. The clue to the social dimension of the divine image is present in the Genesis text itself. The narrator explicitly links the plurality of humankind, which includes a plurality of sexes, to a plurality found in the divine self-reference.”[2] Humankind is the image of the relational Trinity. The Triune God is not comprised of a hierarchy of one person over and above the other. The Trinity represents the self-giving and mutual love that exists between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It is an egalitarian relationship of love. Therefore, as there is no hierarchy in the relationship of the persons of the Trinity, there is no gender hierarchy in humankind created in the image of God.

The practice and teaching of excluding women from proclaiming God’s word and denying their call as preachers distorts the image of God in the church and contradicts what God said was “very good.” The church is to bear the image of God; therefore, there can be no gender discrimination in calling or in leadership roles. Men and women collectively represent the image of God, are equal before God, and equal to one another. Humankind is relational, and women and men are to live lives that express mutual love in community with one another. Just as the persons of the Trinity do not work independently, as the image of God, women and men both are to work together, even in the ministry of proclamation. Trinitarian theology does support women in the pulpit—a single gender cannot represent humanity as the image of God.


[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 3, The Doctrine of Creation, Part 1, ed. G. S. Bromiley and R. F Torrance, trans. J. W. Edwards, O. Bussey, and H. Knight (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 186.

[2] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing company, 2000), 175.

9 thoughts on “Does Trinitarian Theology Support Women in the Pulpit? (Part 3 of 3)

  1. It seems to me like a lot of Christian ethics (at least these days–or maybe it’s just in my church circles) rests on the notion of each person being made in God’s image and is thus due dignity, respect, etc. Is this not undermined if we say that the entire concept of imago Dei is communal, not individual? Does the image Dei have any bearing on individual value/worth?

    Also, is male/female plurality essentially different from any other plurality in humanity, like ethnicity or personality? Could an ethnically homogeneous group of both genders represent humanity as the image of God, while an ethnically, culturally diverse group of one gender could not?

    I haven’t studied either the Trinity or imago Dei to any great (or even moderate) extent, so I ask to learn more.


    1. Tim, these are great questions and I am no authority. Yet, I will humbly attempt to explain how I have wrestled with these same questions. I agree that there is much focus on our individual responsibility to grow in holiness and live ethically. While this is important and God has given us the freedom to live in love for God and one another, is it really possible or to do so separated from relationships with others? Every decision that we freely and individually make affects others. My decision to spend time studying the word and trying to live In light of it affects my relationship with others. We each have individual value because each of us is needed in the community. We build each other up. This ties into the image of the church as the body of Christ and following Jesus’ example of self-sacrificing love. Our individual distinctiveness is valued in the community of believers because we each have different talents and abilities that complement one another. I think that our individualist outlook in western society has really hurt the church because we are only interested in ‘my rights’ ‘my needs’ and ‘my justice’ rather than being concerned with the needs of others. The image of God being a communal reality gives equal dignity and respect to all humankind. Would someone state that because God has three persons that communally are one God that all three persons are not equally to be respected as God?

      As to your second question, I understand what you are asking me, but it seems like a trick question. So let me first state that in Genesis God creates humankind–male and female. Regardless of ethnicity, race, etc.


    2. Sorry. I didn’t finish and I accidentally hit the reply button. My concern with the second question is: are there communities with only one gender? And if so, it won’t last long without a means to procreate. So I guess I beleive that the plurality of humanity is gendered based.


    3. Tim, I’ve had some sleep (I had been up 21 hrs when I last replied). I’m still thinking about your question on plurality-thank you for making me think! The importance and foundation of community being the image of God is it’s shared agape love for God and one another. So hypothetically, if there would be a community of believers who were all one gender for some reason beyond their control (ethnically diverse or not) and this community had not intentionally excluded the other gender, then I would say that the image of God is seen in them as they share agape love. Jesus said that his followers would be identifies by Thierry love for one another.


      1. Me too! I have a question for you. I’m interested in submitting an article query to Mutuality Mag on this topic. I see that the deadline is July 1st. I didn’t know if that is when articles that are accepted are due or if you are still accepting proposals on the topic of Genesis? I was going to try and send something in the next couple of weeks.


  2. Thanks, that’s really helpful. With the second question I guess what I’m trying to get at is whether gender diversity is fundamentally different from other kinds of diversity, and why? As you mention, it seems there are ways it definitely is different, one of them being that it enables our survival and that is the one diversity that cuts across any group of humans regardless of ethnicity etc.

    It seems to me like diversity generally helps us better reflect God. Would a mixed-gender group of one ethnicity from the same social class in the same area reflect God as well as a diverse, mixed-gender group, generally? We better understand God when we hear a diversity of voices. But maybe that’s different from the imago Dei question?.

    My other reason for the question is the question of gender essentialism. Does community necessitate both genders because men and women are ontologically different from one another? Or is that not entailed in the plurality of humanity?

    My thoughts aren’t very coherent, so I apologize if they don’t make sense…


    1. Tim, I agree with you. Theologically, I don’t want to compare groups to one another to determine which groups better represent God’s image. To do so, is to divide the body of Christ and establish a hierarchy. However, because there is one God, and one Church, ethnic, social and economic diversity is a necessary part. Because there is such great diversity in the Church, I agree with you that in our congregations and smaller communities, diversity only enhances our witness of love for God and one another. It witnesses to the love of God that transcends all our cultural and societal barriers, which makes it difficult to be in community with the “other.” All relationships are difficult, but it is a testament to God, when we work to include the marginalized and no longer see those who are different from ourselves as “other”–then we can fellowship as one while celebrating our individual distinctiveness.


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