Brother Michael Edgecombe, with input from Sister Rebecca Lines and Brother Russell Taylor, authored a series of articles in The Christadelphian from January 2008 to May 2009 under the theme: In the Image of God. These articles have now been published by The Christadelphian in book form. The author in his preface begins: “This book sets out to review Scripture’s consistent teaching on man and woman in the purpose of God, beginning in Genesis, and concluding in Revelation.” Though born out of the circumstances of recent times within our community where Western feminist thinking has been applied to biblical exposition, the book is by no means a polemic. Brother Michael does address the key elements of the misguided expositions which, by asserting that there are no distinctive male/female roles within the ecclesia, undermine apostolic and Christadelphian teaching and practice. This is unavoidable. But Brother Michael addresses these matters within the context of reviewing the broad sweep of Scripture teaching on the roles of man and woman in the joint service of God.

Brother Michael begins by briefly reviewing the changing Western social attitudes which led to modern feminism. He contrasts the oppressive behaviour towards women that applied in the past (and is still prevalent in many societies) with the quite different standards applying in the Christadelphian community from its inception. He writes: “The higher status of Christadelphian women was reflected in ecclesial arrangements. The gospel was carried by women as well as men, to women as well as men. Sisters had an equal vote with brothers from the earliest constitutions. They were encouraged to write for The Christadelphian magazine on a range of topics, and their suggestions on prophecy or expositional questions were treated with the utmost respect. Their status as ‘joint heirs of the grace of life’ equally with brothers was acknowledged.” Brother Michael quotes approvingly both the well-known address by Brother Robert Roberts from 1874 where he speaks with scorn of some who would “consign (women) to cradles, pots and pans”, as well as his later comment: “You can no more suppress a wise woman’s influence and a wise woman’s voice than you can suppress the law of gravitation.”

From these initial comments, Brother Michael begins with the Genesis record of creation, first of man, then of woman “after the man; from the man; to help the man”. He traverses the Scripture record of the first sin and its doleful results, adds a section on “Scriptural advice for wives and husbands” before considering the position of women under the Law. To the present writer, these chapters where the principles of the relationship between men and women in God’s arrangements, and the outworking of those matters in the practical and turbulent realities of daily life are the highlight of the book. Written with grace, compassion and a godly spirit they provide sound teaching and advice for all brothers and sisters and particularly to our young couples, newly setting out on the path of life together.

Consider for example Brother Michael’s exhortation to husbands: “Husbands are commanded to love, and the standard is no less than Christ’s selfless – no, self-giving – love for his people. The focus is spiritual: to sanctify, to cleanse, to purify, to approve. Let every husband ‘examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread, and drink of the cup’: for the Christ whom he comes to remember, before whom he presents himself, will note the spirit in which, through the week, that man has loved his bride.”

In dealing with the position of women under the Law, Brother Michael points out the value of the Law in regulating the national life of the people of God in ways which were intended by the Father to give protection to those of lower status, such as women, in those times. In the matter of divorce for example, Brother Michael writes: “It is not in divorce, but in the regulation of divorce, that God’s character traits of faithfulness and mercy are evident. Marriage was intended to be for life. Relationships were to be committed, not capricious. Difficulties were to be worked through together. Women, though relatively powerless in that society, were not to be thrown into the street at the whim of their husbands. They were to be treated with respect, and cared for. Hard hearts must at least be restrained …”

The lives and work of some of the great women of Scripture are briefly reviewed: Sarah, Miriam and Deborah in particular. The latter two in particular are often advanced as examples for the feminist interpretation of Scripture. The arguments for that perspective are thin indeed. Miriam, a wonderful sister, described as a prophetess, when foolishly aspiring to an equality with her younger brother Moses, is firmly put in her place in a fearful angelic visitation. Deborah “another notable woman of faith”, who guided Israel when there was “a leadership gap” in the nation, eschewed prominence, almost forced Barak forward, and would call herself only “a mother in Israel”.

When he moves into the New Testament to consider the work of our Lord Jesus Christ and his appointed apostles, Brother Michael makes the telling point: “The Lord Jesus chose brothers to be apostles, chose another brother to plug the gap, added another brother when the work of ecclesia-building had to begin in earnest among the Gentiles. The apostles chose only brothers to oversee and lead local ecclesias.” These arrangements, where brothers, but not sisters were allocated leadership roles, were in accordance with God’s determination and in no way a concession to a godless, malecentred society.

Brother Michael deals with the key New Testament passages where the clear and compelling apostolic statements and teachings are challenged by the latter day feminists: 1 Timothy 2:8–15; 1 Corinthians 11:2–16; 14:33–35 and Galatians 3:27–29 among others. These are treated with a brisk, scriptural logic. For example, in considering 1 Timothy 2:8–15 he observes: “The woman was created after the man, from the man, to help the man. Those facts are clearly stated in the second half of the creation account, and that is Paul’s first reason. Eve was to help Adam, not to supplant him. God’s revelation was given to him, and he should pass it on to her, not she to him. Adam, not Eve, was to lead and teach. We are clearly to understand that Adam and Eve are archetypes of man and woman in Christ: and as the logic of Paul’s position is grounded in these Creation realities, they are not culturally bound, but as relevant in the twenty-first century as they were in the first; and in fact, in Eden itself.”

The challenges raised by some to counter the clear direction of Paul’s arguments in 1 Corinthians 11 concerning headship and head coverings are all concisely dealt with by Brother Michael. The attempt to make the term, “the head” mean something else. The assertion that Paul’s comments are restricted to the cultural norms of a specific time and place. The bizarre contention that Paul is quoting Corinthian errors only to put them straight. All these are soundly answered and scriptural truth is seen to prevail. Paul, says Brother Michael as he sums up, “instructs the man in one thing only – that he should uncover his head. And he instructs the woman in one thing only – that she should cover her head. There is nothing more. The actions are symbolic, for male and female the outward expression of an inward orientation to the will of God, and an acceptance from the heart of His arrangements.” This latter sentence really expresses Brother Michael’s challenge to his readers throughout this book, that we bow before God’s will and accept His arrangements.

As he brings this work to a conclusion, Brother Michael details some of the many avenues for positive service by sisters in various aspects of ecclesial work. But in this matter, and throughout his book, his emphasis is on brothers and sisters working together in the things of God. He writes: “There were many opportunities for ecclesial service open to both men and women, according to their skills: and today’s ecclesia should follow this pattern of broadly-based involvement and contribution from both brothers and sisters.”

In the Image of God is a very readable work of some 140 pages and a valuable addition to the Truth’s literature. We recommend it wholeheartedly.