I’ve introduced the topic of gender issues… that is, what is the relationship between men and women in the church and home? Do men and women have differing roles, or should women be permitted (or, encouraged) to do anything and everything that men do (and perhaps vice versa)? Instead of covering a ton of preliminary arguments and finally stating my position, I’ll give my thesis up front: Men and women are different… it’s obvious… the Bible says it… it works better… deal with it.
Well, that was insensitive; forgive me. I’ll word it a bit more carefully… No, I changed my mind, I’ll state my position at the end of this post!
Getting started in our discussion of gender roles, there are first some basic theological principles that have shaped my understanding of this issue that I would like to share.
Our Ultimate Example
For our ultimate example of unity in diversity, we look to the Trinity. The triune God is one in being, and equal in essence, yet three distinct persons, each having unique functions. We see God’s oneness all over the Old Testament (think about the Great Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4), as well as in New Testament passages such as Ephesians 4:5-6. We also see the diversity in the triune God in passages such as Genesis 1, or New Testament passages like Matthew 3. We also see the diverse redemptive roles of the persons of the trinity in Eph. 1:3-8, and their diverse sanctifying roles in Eph. 1:9-14.
So why am I talking about this? Well, we are created in God’s image – we are a reflection of who He is. So we should seek to reflect how He functions. Paul tells the Ephesian church to function as a body, each doing their part, working together with each other, using each other’s gifts… but functioning as one body (Eph. 4:11-16). So, just as the persons of the triune God are ontologically equal in their essence, yet unique in their function, so we as male and female human beings are ontologically equal in essence, being, status and value, yet we have our own unique functions and roles.
God’s Original Design
We see this equality of essence and values, and diversity of roles, in God’s original design as well. When discussing the issue of what the God-given roles of men and women are, does it not make sense to return to the beginning, and see what Scripture tells us about the way God originally introduced man and woman into the world?
God made man in His image, and “male and female He made them.” Somehow, God made man and woman each uniquely, yet equally, in His image. God gave the command to multiply and fill the earth, and to subdue and rule over the earth to both the man and the woman, showing mutual responsibility, yet gave primary responsibility and representation to the man, making him the primary caretaker. We see the unity and equality of male and female in that both are created by the hand of God (2:7, 21), both are created in the image of God (1:27), both are blessed by God equally (1:28) both are charged to be fruitful and multiply (1:28), both are given dominion over the earth (1:28), both are recipients of the provision of God, both relate to God personally, both are accountable to God (3:11-13).
We also see the uniqueness of the man and woman in how the reflect the image of God differently. Adam was created first (2:7), and was created outside of the garden and then brought into the garden, while the woman was created already inside the garden. Gene Cunningham pointed this out in a series he taught on Biblical Chivalry: “It’s the most natural thing in the world for a man to yearn for adventure and danger. Man wasn’t even created in a civilized environment; he was created in the outback. Eve was created in the garden, but Adam was created out in the bush, and then brought into the garden. Wilderness is in our genes. Don’t run from it.” Pastor Dan Phillips comments that since the man was brought into the garden with the charge to care for and keep the garden (2:15), while the woman was then created in the garden, Phillips believes the woman is part of what man is supposed to care for, keep, nourish, protect.
Man is also used as an inclusive name to represent all human beings (1:27), showing his role as representative. Man is given the directives for freedom and boundaries (2:16-17). Man is given authority to name the animals as well as the woman (2:19-20; 2:23; 3:20). Woman was created from the side of the man (2:20-22), while the man was created from the dust of the ground (2:7). Man and woman were created with obvious physical differences, which are, forgive me for being blunt, reflected even in the Hebrew names for male and female, which mean “piercer” and “pierced.” This not only reflects the physical differences of the male and female, but also reflects the nature of the man as the initiator and the woman as responder. Man was not created for woman but woman for man (1 Cor. 11:8-9; I’m shortchanging you for sure by not having a full discussion of this passage). Woman was created as a suitable and indispensable helper to complete the man (2:18, 20). The man defines the woman’s identity as in relation to himself (2:23). And the man leaves the family of origin to initiate and lead a new family unit (2:24).
I am sure much more could be said, and indeed has been said far better. But this was simply a brief overview of some preliminary passages that have affected my view on the issue. And don’t worry, at some point very soon, I’ll provide another list of some of the most excellent online sources to go to for the study of these issues, and that’s when it will really get good! Next time, I will look at Adam and Eve’s fall, and the effects that had on the relationship between the genders.
So, to state briefly my position, (the wording of which I’m sure will be revised and modified countless times):
I believe men and women are equal in essence, or being, absolutely equal in value, and totally equal in their standing before Christ (1 Peter 3:7; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 5:21; 1 Cor. 11:11). However, God has delegated to men and women differing roles and functions within the contexts of the family and the church – which in no way diminishes the value, status, standing, or essence of either (1 Timothy 2:11-15; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1; 3:7; 1 Cor. 11:3-16).
Much more clarification and qualification could be offered, but I’ll leave it at that for now.