September 24, 2017
HE CREATED THEM MALE AND FEMALE:
MEN, WOMEN, AND THEIR ROLES
Systematic Theology 2
(4 of 12 in a series on Humanity, Sin, and the Person of Christ)
In Genesis 1:27 the Scripture says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” That is, creating mankind as male and female was God’s design. Therefore, if we are going to look at the doctrine of man (i.e. humanity), we must speak to the issue of the nature of mankind as male and female. We must look at the similarities and differences and the effect therefore of these things in society, the home, and the church.
Indeed, the church needs to address these issues because there is much confusion in our day concerning the sexes. The definition and nature of marriage is being challenged. Homosexuality is growing more acceptable. Arguments are made that women should serve as pastors or elders. The idea that there is an order in the home between the man and the woman is considered archaic. Therefore, we must ask, “What does the Scripture say of these things?” And in order to do that, I want to make a few statements from the witness of the Scriptures concerning mankind as male and female.
Men and women are both created in the image of God
Again, I’ve already read from Genesis 1:27, but the logic of the verse is plain. The first and second lines say the same thing, emphasizing something a bit different in each. They both tell us that God created mankind in his own image, but the first stresses that man was created by God while the second stresses that mankind was made in God’s image. Then, the third line affirms that God made mankind (his image-bearers) as male and female. Therefore, we can affirm that both men and women are made in the image of God.
This is important because throughout the ages either sex (especially women) have been treated as less valuable, and the church needs to stand and speak against this. It is believers who should be the leading voice in speaking to the value of men and women as God’s image-bearers.
Men and women are similar but different
It is also important to note that men and women are similar. Again, we’ve already noted the first similarity – men and women are both God’s image-bearers. They are both humans. But the text really highlights this similarity in that the man named all the animals of the earth but saw none of them that was fit for him. There was none of them that was human. So, the Lord caused the man to fall asleep, took a rib from his side, and fashioned a woman and brought her to the man. The text tells us that then Adam said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2:23). Men and women are both image-bearers; they are both humans (unlike any other creatures in the world).
However, they’re also different. God created the man one to help him, a helper. He didn’t create another man but a woman. One who was like him but different. And these differences between men and women do not mean that one is more valuable than another. This too needs to be heralded in our day because the argument of some who claim that they’re exalting women argue something like this: unless women act like men, do the same things as men, and are thought of pretty much like men, then they are not valuable. But do you see the flaw in this logic? The opening premise is that men are more valuable than women, and in order for women to achieve the same value, they need to become like men. That thought is utterly unbiblical. Women and men are simply different – made different by God. And women and men are equally valuable – to God and in the world.
In discussing differences between men and women, I thought that John Piper had an excellent note in a sermon where he wrote,
Whenever anyone asks me if I think women are, say, weaker than men, or smarter than men, or more easily frightened than men, or something like that, I almost always answer like this: I think women are weaker in some ways and men are weaker in some ways; and women are smarter in some ways and men are smarter in some ways; and women are more easily frightened in some kinds of circumstances and men are more easily frightened in other kinds of circumstances. . . . It's real dangerous to put negative values on the so-called weaknesses that each of us has. Because God intends for all the "weaknesses" that characteristically belong to man to call forth and highlight woman's strengths. And God intends for all the "weaknesses" that characteristically belong to woman to call forth and highlight man's strengths. . . . Men and women as God created them are different in hundreds of ways. And I believe that being created equally in the image of God means this: that when the so-called weakness and strength columns for manhood and for womanhood are added up, the value at the bottom is going to be the same for each. And when you take those two columns from each side and lay them on top of each other, God intends them to be the perfect complement to each other, so that when life together is considered (and I don't just mean married life), the so-called weaknesses of manhood and the so-called weaknesses of womanhood don't make the whole weaker but stronger. . . . If you believe that manhood and womanhood are to complement rather than duplicate each other, and if you believe that the way God made us is good, then you will be very slow to gather a list of typical male weaknesses or a list of typical female weaknesses and draw a conclusion that either is of less value than the other.
I think that says it well, so I will go on because there is more we need to say. Next, we can see from the text that:
Marriage is an institution created and defined by God and is between one man and one woman
After bringing the woman to the man, the Lord unites them in marriage, saying in Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Thus, God created marriage. And because God created and defined it, he hasn’t left it up to societies to define. To have a relationship between one man and two women for example and call it marriage is something like pointing to the sun and calling it earth. It isn’t marriage. Similarly (and of special importance in our day), a relationship between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is not marriage any more than a relationship between a man and a dog is marriage. And if we try to ignore God’s design, there are always consequences. In fact, in Romans 1:18-27 says that homosexuality is the revelation of God’s wrath, his allowing mankind to bear “in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Rom 1:27).
We also find in Scripture that . . .
There is an order in the home and in the church concerning male and female roles
In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul writes: “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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
In this text we learn that in marriage, men and women have different roles. The man is supposed to love his wife and be willing to lay down his life for her, and the woman is supposed to respect and submit to her husband. Therefore, wives are supposed to submit to their husbands, displaying a distinction in roles according to the sex of each and this distinction cannot be reversed. Therefore, it is faulty thinking that to assume that simply because men and women are both made in the image of God and equal in value, there are no distinctions among their roles. There indeed are distinctions, and one place is in marriage.
But we know that there are objections to this in society. It is simply battled against in a culture that does not see a distinction in the roles of men and women. However, there are also challenges to this view from those who want to argue using Scripture. The first of these challenges is an appeal to Galatians 3:28 where Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Thus, they would point out that there can no longer be distinctions, for we are “all one in Christ Jesus.” However, this verse is speaking about redemption, making the point that men and women equally can be saved.
Another challenge would come from the very chapter in Ephesians that we just read. Some might point us beyond our starting point in verse 22 to verse 21 in which Paul says that we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Therefore, they would argue, “Yes, Paul uses the idea of wives submitting to their husbands, but because we see that he has prefaced this section in pointing out that we submit to one another, then we should understand that wives and husbands both submit to one another, not only wives to their husbands.
There are two problems with this, however. The first is that this argument would not work with the rest of the section. For Paul goes on to speak of slaves submitting to their masters and children to their parents. No one would argue that this should be mutual so that employees submit to their employers and employers should submit to their employees or that children should submit to their parents and parents should submit to their children. Thus, it cannot be argued that this is what Paul meant with husbands and wives.
The second reason this challenge cannot stand is because of the nature of marriage. Paul argues that marriage was not some afterthought or accident in God’s mind but a carefully-crafted institution. It was designed to mirror Christ and the church. The man and the woman have specific roles to play because of what they represent. And in marriage, the man represents Christ and the woman represents the church. Therefore, if each decided they wanted to exchange roles, they would consequently begin sending a mixed message about Christ and the church, for the creation of man and woman was intentional in God’s minds as was their placement and roles within the institution of marriage.
A final challenge to men and women having distinct roles in marriage is the claim that any distinction or roles is simply a result of the fall. Some would, therefore, point to Genesis 3:16 and show that any role distinction comes from that curse which surely has been redeemed in Christ.
There are three answers to this challenge, however. The first is that there is clearly an authority between the man and his wife from the very beginning, seen in the fact that Adam names Eve and not the other way around. The second is that Paul, describing the roles of marriage in Ephesians 5, roots his argument back in Genesis 2:24, which is a pre-fall text. And the final answer is Ephesians 5:22-33 altogether. Simply put, if there are not clear distinctions between the role of the man and the woman in marriage, then Paul is simply wrong.
So, what then is Genesis 3:16 saying? I believe it’s pointing us to the reality that because of the reality of sin, from the point of the fall men and women will struggle to accept their roles and carry them out in a right fashion. Therefore, it seems that the message communicated in that verse is that the woman would long to control the man while the man would long to lord over the woman. Therefore, redemption does undo this reality, but not by eliminating distinctions. Rather, we see the effect of redemption in Ephesians 5. Paul pictures Christian marriage as a redemption of the institution, not with the woman longing for the man’s role but submitting to him and respecting him and not with the man lording over the woman but loving her in such a way that he would be willing to lay down his life for her. Such is the picture of Christian marriage.
As aforementioned, there are also clear distinctions in the role of men and women in the church. In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul writes, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”
Again, this should not be a surprising thing that men and women fulfill different functions and roles in the church, for we have already seen it in the home. Nonetheless, let’s note the specific difference in roles noted in this text. Paul says that women cannot perform a certain function in the church, namely, teaching or exercising authority over a man. But why? What reasoning does Paul give in the text? First, Paul points out that Adam was formed first. That is God made Adam before Eve. Paul sees in this order an understanding that the man was created to lead the woman. And indeed, after the fall, Adam is treated as the leader as the Lord addresses him first.
Paul’s second reason is that Adam was not deceived but Eve was deceived in Genesis 3. Now, this text is confusing in part because it tells us that Adam wasn’t deceived when, in a sense, he was, right? I mean, unless he ate the fruit thinking, “This is going to cause me spiritual death, pain, separation from God, a curse to the earth, and usher in a reign of death, but I don’t care,” he was deceived. He obviously thought this was a good thing to do when it wasn’t. So, what does the text mean when it tells us that Adam was not deceived but the woman was?
Well, I think it’s most easily understood if we understand Paul to be pointing out that Adam was not deceived by the serpent, while Eve was. That is, the serpent came to Eve and deceived her. Adam, however, simply listens to the words of his wife. In fact, when god condemned Adam, he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife . . .” (Gen 3:17). But the Scripture gives no record of Eve speaking to Adam. It simply says that after eating the fruit, “she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen 3:6). Perhaps this is to say that Adam was standing beside her the entire time she was talking, listening to her voice without speaking up himself.
Therefore, I think Paul is pointing out that it was not Adam who was approached by the serpent and deceived. He wasn’t. It was Eve. The enemy had subverted God’s very design for the man and the woman’s relationship by approaching the woman first. She was put in a position to lead out, and Adam failed to step up here. Thus, Paul seems to be showing that even the fall itself is connected to a reversal of the man and the woman’s God-given roles. Therefore, he calls on men to take their God-designed role of leadership in the church and does not permit a woman to teach or have authority over men.
But, finally, I want to mention one more thing about this difference in roles between men and women in the home and in the church.
Differences in roles do no necessitate differences in value or personhood
For those who think a difference in role demands a difference in personhood or value, I think Jesus himself is a response. He clearly sees himself living in submission to the Father. But this is God the Son incarnate we’re talking about. So, God the Son takes on flesh, does not cease to be the second person of the Trinity, and yet lives his life as the incarnate Son in obedience to the Father. Clearly this shows what we know to be true, namely, that taking on a certain role, even where that role involves submission, does not necessitate a difference in value. So, even as wives submit to their husbands or men exercise authority in the church, it does not mean that women are less in value or aren’t equal as persons.
Therefore, as believers, we should celebrate men and women’s equality, similarities, differences, and roles in a manner that honors God’s beautiful design and is best for his creatures. May he give us grace to do so. Amen.