The New Testament has what appear to be some pretty direct and decisive words about the roles of men and women at home and in the church. In fact, those words can be downright shocking to our modern sensibilities.
In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul makes what seems to be a pretty clear statement about the role of women in the ministry of the church, one that does not sit well with many today.
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
The words seem to be pretty clear. Paul says that women should not teach men the truths of scripture or take authority over them. Those words sound hopelessly old-fashioned and out-of-date today. But they are the inspired, inerrant Word of God through the Apostle Paul.
Paul seems to explain the lines of authority in 1 Corinthians 11:3. He says,
“But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”
Perhaps no passage slaps us in the face quite like 1 Corinthians 14:33-35.
“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” Not only are women allowed to teach or take authority over the body of Christ, but evidently they are supposed to be silent at church and only ask questions at home.
These verses make the instructions on marriage seem almost tame in comparison. In Ephesians 5:22-23 Paul gives wives this instruction.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.”
In a parallel passage (Colossians 3:18) Paul says
“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”
In Titus 2:4-5, Paul gave this rather old-fashioned instruction about how women should live their lives.
“Train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”
Peter joined his voice to Paul’s in 1 Peter 3:1-2, where he says,
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.”
Women are to win their husbands not through nagging or preaching, but through a quiet and gentle spirit, through “respectful and pure conduct.”
It seems to be pretty clear that the Bible teaches that wives are to be submissive to their husbands in the home and that men are supposed to hold the offices of authority in the church. Anyone who gives a cursory reading of these passages will say that the Bible does not support modern feminist doctrines and practices.
In the Spirit of Inigo Montoya
“Inconceivable,” exclaimed Vizzini. Inigo looks at him and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” In the spirit of Inigo Montoya, the egalitarian interpreters of scripture look at those of us who are complementarian and say, “I do not think it means what you think it means” – that the Bible does not actually say what it seems to say about men and women. The Bible, they say, supports egalitarian doctrine.
They generally point to Galatians 3:28 as their core verse, which makes the point that God saves men and women alike.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Though in context the verse refers to the blessing of salvation, egalitarians take this as the foundational verse for all male/female issues and interpret the other scriptures in the light of this ethic.
So, we have an interesting conflict here. A first glance, at least, the scripture seems to present a complementarian view, but egalitarians say it is not so. They tell us that our interpretations of each of these scriptures is faulty and that the Bible in fact advances their egalitarian perspective. How do we solve this conflict? It would seem that the best way is exegesis.
In this study, we are going to go systematically through the scriptures that deal with the roles of men and women. In this post, we will examine Genesis 1:26-28 and see the intent of God’s creation. In the next post we will examine Genesis 2:18-25 and look at the dynamics of God’s creation of the man and the woman. Then, we will look at the fall and the effects of the curse on sin. When we’ve done with the Creation narratives, we will march on through the Bible looking at key passages that inform us on gender issues.
Genesis 1 describes the six days of God’s creation of the world, followed by the seventh day on which God rested On the sixth day, God creates mankind. In Genesis 2, we are given an in-depth look at Day 6 and the creation of the first man and woman. If they were (as I believe) literal days of creation, then day 6 was a long and full day.
Genesis 1 is general; Genesis 2 is more specific. That principle holds true not only in reference to Creation in general, but also to the creation of Adam and Eve. We will examine Genesis 1:26-28 first, and then we will go into much more depth on Genesis 2:18-25, which is much more significant to the issue at hand – the roles of men and women as God intended them to be.
Genesis 1:26-28 “In the Image of God”
Take a moment to read the text before we examine it.
Genesis 1:26-28 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
In verse 26, God purposes to create man “in our image, after our likeness.” Volumes have been written on what that phrase means. It is not germane to this topic. Suffice it to say that human beings have a special place in God’s heart. We are the apex of his creation have a special role and responsibility in it – a place unlike any other created being.
The significant truth here is found in verse 27 – a three line poem. The first two lines are reverse parallelism – essentially saying the same thing twice in reverse order. They state clearly that mankind is made in image of Almighty God. But the third line of the poem expands on the first two. The first two tell us that mankind was created in the image of God. The clear implication is that the image of God, affirmed in the first two lines of the poem, extends to both the male and the female in the third line.
God then blessed the man and the woman and in verse 28 he reveals his plan for them. As the divine image-bearers, they are to multiply and fill the earth and to have dominion over creation and rule it for God’s glory.
Points from Genesis 1:26-28
While there is much to say here, I will focus on two clear truths that can be derived from this passage. It lays the foundation for all of the biblical instruction related to gender.
1) Men and women both bear the image of God.
The fundamental teaching of the creation story in Genesis 1 is that men and women share the place of honor in creation, that we share the Imago Dei. In a sense, the egalitarians are right that the teaching of Galatians 3:28 is fundamental to the Bible’s revelation about gender.
God created male and female as equal bearers of the image of God. God loves men no more than he does women. We are equal objects of his love and grace. The blood of Christ washes away the sins of men and women equally.
While there have been some extreme patriarchalists who have abrogated this teaching, they do not represent the mainstream of complementarian teaching. We believe in the essential equality of men and women. We believe that in terms of value, worth, in terms of redemption and salvation, “there is no male or female.”
There seems to be no other conclusion that can be reached from Genesis 1:27.
2) Men and women can only accomplish God’s work as they “complement” each other
In verse 28, after identifying both men and women as divine image-bearers, God assigns them a two-fold task. First, they were to be fruitful and multiply. Second, they were to oversee God’s creation as Heaven’s lieutenants.
Look at that first command. “Be fruitful and multiply.” This may be a little delicate, but that is unquestionably a complementarian command. It can only be fulfilled when men and women, different as God created them, work together. Reproduction can only be accomplished as a cooperative work of a man and a woman. God created us different. Men are men and women are women. But God created our bodies to fit together perfectly to accomplish the work God assigned to us. Men and women are different, but only by working together can they be fruitful and multiply.
This is the fundamental principle of the complementarian view. Men and women complement each other. It is important to note that the sixth letter of that word is “e” not “i”. To complement is to complete or to make perfect. God created men with certain physical characteristics and women with “complementary” physical characteristics. As the man and woman come together, they complete each other and the task is accomplished.
The physical act of reproduction reveals God’s original intent. God made men and women different, but complementary. Each needs the other to be complete. Men need women and women need men to accomplish the divine intent.
There can be no doubt that this is true in the case of sexual reproduction. It is an established fact (and, I might add, a glorious one!). What we complementarians believe is that the same process is at work in all of our dealings. In the two most significant works God gives us to do in this world – in the home and in the church – the same principles apply. Men and women, equal in value and worth, are different – as God intended. But our differences are meant to complement not compete. Both bear and reflect the image of God. The work of God is only accomplished as men are men and women are women, as each performs their complementary tasks.
This observation is bolstered by the fact that the New Testament revelation about gender fits this pattern. Men and women are equal in the image of God, and in salvation (Galatians 3:28). Yet men and women have different roles assigned to them by God. The home and the church both work best when men and women fulfill their biblical and divinely assigned roles.
I know that this is secondary evidence. Complementarians will see the sense in it and Egalitarians will not. But what cannot be debated is that the first command God gave to men and women after he created them as his co-image-bearers absolutely required a complementarian approach.
I would summarize this with the following thoughts:
- God created man and woman in his image and gave them two tasks to accomplish: multiplying to fill the earth and exercising dominion over the earth.
- The first task required that men and women work together to complement each other. God designed us differently, and it is only as men and women act in the way God created them that reproduction can take place.
- This complementarian pattern fits well within the teachings of both the OT and the NT relative to gender roles.
We are different. God did not make humans, he made men and women. We are significantly different but we are parts of one whole. It is only as we work together in a complementary fashion that the work of God is accomplished.
That is the way that God made us.