What the Bible says about relationships

The Creation Order – Part 1

When Paul, in his letters in the New Testament, talks about the relationship between men and women, he constantly refers back to something known as ‘the creation order’. He is not giving arbitrary advice based on his personal assessment of the situation, but he teaches and reinforces the values and principals laid down when God created first humans. Paul saw this information as not only still valid but also necessary, thousands of years later. [1]

To understand what the Bible says about relationships and how God created us to relate to each other, we need to go back to the beginning.
Genesis offers a great deal of information in a compact form. There is enormous depth of meaning in the text, which would be impossible to cover in a few articles. So this is just a summary of some of the more important principles.

People are created in Gods image and likeness

Genesis 1 says that ‘man’ was created in Gods image and likeness. This has in some cases unfortunately led to speculation over whether or not women have also been accorded the same honour. The Bible however is very clear. In Genesis 1:27 it is clearly stated that not just men, but all humans were created in Gods image and likeness: So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

This was, and unfortunately still is, a radical idea in many cultures. Women are regarded as being ‘lesser’ than men; an inferior type of person. However the Bible is very clear that both masculine and feminine traits, male and female, are very much in Gods image.
When the Jews began to spread the good news about the coming of their Messiah and the Kingdom of God amongst the Greek gentiles this was a shocking piece of information. Greek and Roman culture regarded women as inferior beings, not equal to men. They were a necessary evil whose only quality lay in having children. Greek women were either regarded as their personal property – to be kept indoors, do the housework and breed. Or as prostitutes whose only function was the entertainment of men. Women were not allowed to hold a position of leadership, own property or do business and the handful of women that attempted to do so were regarded as dangerous and unnatural. Greek literature is full of shocking references to how depraved and inferior women are.

Converts to the new faith in Jesus Christ brought their heathen cultural values with them. Many church fathers in the early church, otherwise godly men, continued to regard women inferior to men in every way. While the Bible speaks about women who were judges, leaders and prophets, women whose advice was sought by kings, women who owned businesses and property and knew how to handle money. Jesus allowed them to follow Him and learn from Him. They financed his ministry and did a better job of it than even His disciples [2]. He entrusted them with authority, and recognized them as reliable witnesses [3].

Greek cultural values have had an enormous influence on Western European society and values, and still do. During the last several centuries, Greek language, philosophy and literature were regarded as a necessary part of higher education – even in the church. Instead of reading the Bible as it is written, most theological education started with Greek language, philosophy and literature, and then when they had firmly established their grip on the wrong end of the stick, they read the Bible.

All they really needed to do was read their Bible – because both men and women, every male and female characteristic, are created in Gods image. Women –though they are different from men – are neither superior to men, nor are they inferior. Both sexes have divine characteristics.

Dominion – called to reign

God gave both men and women not only a command to rule over creation, but also the authority to do so.
In Genesis 1:26 God gave ‘man’ dominion over all of creation. From Genesis 1:27 it is very clear that ‘man’, includes both male and female. Both male and female were present in one person, one being. Only later did God separate them and differentiate them.
Scripture is also very clear about what exactly they had dominion over: have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth. They were not given dominion over each other or over other people.

In fact God told them to subdue the earth, by force if necessary. The Hebrew word for dominion here is the word “radah” (רדה), which means to dominate, subjugate, to tread down in order to rule. It means reigning by force if necessary.
It is interesting to note that Hebrew has another word for ruling and reigning that is used in Genesis.

Reigning by example

In Genesis 3:16 God says to the woman: Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.
It is important to note that it was not the man, who said this, but God; and God didn’t say this to the man, He said it to the woman.

Secondly the context here is clearly a marriage. Scripture does not teach that men in general must rule over women in general.

The Hebrew word for ‘ruling over’ someone in this text is the word “mashal” (משל). It differs quite significantly from the dominance and subjugation God commanded over creation. “mashal”, means to rule and have dominion, not by treading someone down or subjugating them, but by providing an example for them. Instead of forcing someone, you prepare the way for them and show them how, by doing yourself what you want them to do. The Hebrew word “mashal” also means ‘a parable’. It is a way of teaching someone by giving an example.

When Paul tells men in Ephesians 5 that they are the head of their wife (their own wife and not all women) He explains how it should work. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Saviour of the body. Paul talks about the example Christ set us of loving your wife by laying down your own life in order to sanctify her. He talks about using Gods word as to wash her – to make her clean, and not to accuse her and oppress her and confront her with all her failures. He describes nourishing and cherishing her in the same way Jesus does with this church.

The wife’s role in all of this is to subject herself to her husband, not as a slave or a servant but as an equal who chooses to submit because she recognizes the value of it. They are equals, but in performing their duties they have different roles.

“Mashal” is used for the first time in the Bible on the fourth day of creation in Genesis 1:16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. The two great lights refer to the sun and the moon who ‘rule’ the day and night by giving of themselves, giving light and warmth, providing the means to grow but also to rest, nourishing and cherishing.

[1] For example 1 Timothy 3:12 “Husbands of one wife”: nowhere in the Bible is it explicitly forbidden to have more than one wife, however it is obviously preferable to have only one wife and this is derived from the Creation order. See also: 1 Corinthians 11:3, 7-12, Ephesians 5:23-33,

[2] John 12:6 Judas was stealing. Luke 8:3 The women who ministered to Jesus out of their substance – in other words – financially.

[3] Matt 27:10, John 20:17-18. According to Roman law the testimony of a woman was not legally valid in court.