Sexist! Abusive! Misogynistic! Old fashioned! Backwards!
I imagine that your initial response to the title probably went along the above lines maybe even to the point of screaming at your computer screen and strangling the air. It’s hardly surprising – biblical truth is rarely popular and no more so in the case of manhood and womanhood. We’re all naturally rebels against God and this shows in our thought patterns. And we’re all coming from a cultural background that is at complete odds with the biblical perspective. Which is why what I’m about to say may make you mad. But adverse feelings do not mean that what I’m saying isn’t true.
So let’s get this straight. This is not the Benjamin Frank Mildred View of Gender Issues nor is it Ye Old Victorian View. Instead, this is God’s view as expressed in the Bible and as our Creator he designed it all to work this way. As with everything I say judge me on how strictly I keep to the Bible. If I stray from that then shoot me down by all means but if not then keep in mind that you’re not going be arguing with me but with God. The only authority I claim is that of scripture.
Man and Woman are equal in worth as beings made in God’s likeness but different in God given role.
This is essentially the biblical teaching and it is my job to a) prove it to you and b) do my best to capture the lofty heights of this view, the wisdom of its conception, the majesty of its application, the glory of its practice and the infinite worth of its truth. A correctly understood biblical perspective on man and woman is a higher ideal than any other opposing view can suggest. I am not here to defend this viewpoint but to proclaim it as greater than any other.
We may as well get started and as with a lot of things in life the best place to start is at the beginning, during creation, when God made mankind, the zenith of his genius, the pinnacle of his creation:
“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”
Genesis 1 v 26 – 27
We’re going to be spending a fair bit of time looking at these verses.
“Then God said, “Let us…” Do you notice the switch from the singular to the plural? Does God not know grammar? No, this verse here is referring to the Trinity – there is One God but three persons in that one God. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all make up the one Triune God. There’s been whole essays written on how the Trinity works but that’s another discussion. The important think to notice is that each person in the Trinity is fully God yet each has their own role to play.
God the Father is in control, he plans everything. God the Son (Jesus Christ) does the Father’s will, he submits to the Father. And God the Holy Spirit does the will of the Son and the Father in his role as helper, comforter and as the Spirit of Truth. All three are perfectly equal as God yet different in the roles they fulfill. (I can give Bible references for all the above statements but due to wanting to keep this concise won’t here)
Why is the Trinity important?
“Let us make mankind in our image…”
We are made in the image of God but more importantly we are made in the image of the Triune God – we are made in the image of the Trinity. That is why there is more than one sex. Grasp this fact fully and most of your struggle with the biblical roles of man and woman fade away.
If God is a Trinity why are there only two sexes?
This question is somewhat academic. Some people have suggested that man and woman represent the ‘special’ relation the Father and Son have. The fact of the matter is that we represent the relationship between the three persons – perfectly equal, different roles.
What does being made in the likeness of the Trinity mean?
It means exactly what I started off by saying: Man and Woman are equal in worth as beings created in the likeness of God. But they are different in God given role.
Just as the Father and Son are both equal as God but different in role so are man and woman both equal as human but different in role. To say this with greater strength and in bold type:
To suggest that man and woman are not equal is to suggest that God the Father and God the Son are not equal. Such a thing is heresy.
I cannot stress this enough: man and woman are equal in God’s eye. But we are not identical in God’s eyes. Man and woman are different from each other.
How do we know man and woman are different from each other?
Well, aside from the fact that common sense tells us so then it is recorded in Genesis 2 that God made man first (note: this is not a claim to superiority). But:
“The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Genesis 2 v 18
Boom, there goes man’s superiority complex – man needed a helper! God looked at the perfect man he had created (Adam) and it wasn’t enough. Man needs help. Man needs woman.
As a more technical point the word’ helper’ is somewhat weak. Many have suggested that ‘sustainer’ is better which suggests more of the mutual dependence man and woman have with each other. It cannot be stressed enough that man and woman need each other. Man and woman together reflect the image of God more than just man on his own or woman on her own ever could.
And so God makes a sustainer/helper/companion for Adam:
“Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
Genesis 2 v 22 – 24
Man sees woman and immediately recognizes her as being different. Adam calls Eve woman because she is not a man. Yet Adam also recognizes Eve as his equal (flesh of my flesh) as he sings her his love song (yes, the above is a love song!). We see from the last verse that marriage is a divine institution, defined by God as such for all times and all cultures. It is also interesting that God takes a bone from man’s side and I don’t think it was done by accident – to get all poetically on you: man and woman are meant to walk side by side in life. Urgh, that was a bit cheesy. Anyway…
What are the different roles man and woman have?
I’m going to quote someone else here because they took the time to very carefully choose their words:
“In the partnership of two spiritually equal human beings, man and woman, the man bears primary responsibility to lead the partnership in a God-glorifying direction”
We see from the Genesis 2 account that man needed a helper and that only woman was ‘suitable’ for him. Thus only woman was found to be man’s equal. Yet she was also his helper. Man was created to be a man. Woman was created to be a woman. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But modern culture constantly tries to assert that women should be men and men should be women.
This is not how God intended it to be. Man, by virtue of his manhood, is to lead. Woman, by virtue of her womanhood, is to help or sustain. And this is something beautiful and noble about this. Man and woman complement each other, where one is weak the other is strong and where one is strong the other is weak.
Men say that they are God’s gift to women. Theologically speaking that’s rather iffy. Man needed an equal helper and sustainer and God gave him Woman.
Man’s headship is not man’s dominance
This is where so many people go wrong. In the Bible leadership or headship always, I repeat, always implies a responsibly leadership, a loving leadership and a mature leadership. There is no room for abusive leadership in the Bible. Man leads woman out of love not any other motive.
Woman’s obedience is not woman’s unquestioning, unthinking, unreasoning obedience
Women are not called to slavish obedience but to be man’s helper as his equal. Man and woman are a partnership. Man leads, yes, but he as a mature leader he naturally factors in woman’s opinions, feelings and thoughts. Women then influence men and there’s everything right and nothing wrong about that.
That’s a paradox
Yes! Man and woman are equal. Woman is man’s helper. It’s a paradox, ok, apparent paradox. Welcome, to Christianity, we’ve got loads more. In the same way that the Trinity is apparently paradoxical (each person equally God yet different) so are man and woman.
Why does it all go wrong?
The biblically ideal is not the reality we find ourselves in. That’s a pretty obvious point. And this is not the case because of the Fall – where Adam and Eve sinned and bought the curse of sin onto mankind. (Interesting point – Original sin is Adam’s fault not Eve’s because he was the head of their marriage. Responsibility works both ways).
Because sin perverts everything then so we find perverted man/woman relationships. We see male (or female) dominance, we see non equal partnerships, we see misogynism, abuse, divorce, rape, all kinds of wrongful thinking and doing. Above all we see a rebellion against and a resistance to the God given roles of man and woman. We see lazy, irresponsible, spineless, weak men rather than mature leaders.
This is for our own good. God designed and created us to function in the roles he assigned us. To spurn these roles is to spurn what we were created for and thus to hurt ourselves. As with all things from God this is for our good and his glory. As a society we need to recapture what it means to be godly men and women who are equal in worth yet different in role.
Well, we’ve come far but we’ve still got a long way to go. I’ll be writing more on this subject specifically on marriage and women preaching in churches. We’ll leave the foundation of Genesis behind and venture into the New Testament and I’ll even try and explain Paul’s ‘sexist’ verses. But everything is going to relate back here: to creation, to the genesis of humanity and the simple fact that man and woman are equal in worth and different in role.