Do different roles equate to gender inequality? Life is full of paradoxes. From “Jumbo shrimp” and the “Beginning of the end” to “If you didn’t get this message call me”, paradoxes don’t seem to make much sense on the surface. However, the point of a paradox is to illustrate a truth, even if the statements seem to contradict each other.
Men and women have been created equal but unique. At first glance this looks like just another paradox. However, my purpose in this article is to demonstrate from Genesis that both male-female equality and male headship were instituted by God at creation.
Genesis 1-3 lays the very foundation of Biblical manhood and womanhood. All other verses must be interpreted consistently with these chapters. Here, the twin principles of male-female equality and male headship are properly defined, instituted, and remain permanent beneficent aspects of human existence.
Equality. Man and woman are equal in the sense that they bear God’s image equally.
Male headship. In the partnership of two spiritually equal human beings, man and woman, the man bears the primary responsibility to lead the partnership in a God-glorifying direction. The model of headship is our Lord, the Head of the church who gave Himself for us. Right here is a distinction that many fail to make in our world. The antithesis to male headship is male domination. By male domination I mean the assertion of the man’s will over the woman’s will, heedless of her spiritual equality, rights and value. This article will be completely misunderstood if the distinction between male headship and male domination is not kept in mind throughout. Feminism acknowledges no such distinction.
Christian feminism argues that God created man and woman as equals in a way that excludes male headship. According to them, male headship was imposed upon Eve as a penalty for her part in the fall. It follows, in this view, that a woman’s redemption in Christ releases her from the “punishment” of male headship. What then did God intend for our manhood and womanhood at the creation?
Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He them; male and female he created them.”
Each of these three lines makes a point. Line one tells us how we got here. We came from God. Line two highlights the divine image in man. We bear a resemblance to God. Line three boldly affirms the dual sexuality of man. We are male and female.
Finally in verse 28, God pronounces His benediction on man. “God blessed them and said to them…” In His benediction, the Creator also authorizes male and female together to carry out their mission to rule the lower creation. To sum up, man was created as royalty in God’s world, male and female alike bearing the divine glory equally. Most Christian feminists would heartily agree with this paragraph. But Genesis 2 and 3 are more controversial. I must challenge a point of feminism before we move on.
As in verse 26 and 27 God refers to both male and female as man in Genesis 5:2. “He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them "man.”
This is a striking fact indeed. It demands explanation. After all, if any of us were Creator, would we after creating humans use the name of only one sex as a generic term for both? I expect not. Our modern prejudices could detect a whiff of “discrimination” a mile away. But God cuts across the grain of our peculiar sensitivities when He names the human race, both man and woman, “man.”
Why would God do such a thing? Why would Moses carefully record such a thing? Surely God was wise and purposeful in this decision, as He is in every other! His referring to the human race as man tells us something about ourselves. Let me suggest that it only makes sense against the backdrop of male headship. God did not name the human race “woman.” If “woman” had been the more appropriate and illuminating designation, no doubt God would have used it. He does not even use a neutral term like “persons”, no doubt to the dismay of the more politically-correct among us.
Genesis 2 So was Eve Adam’s equal? Yes and no. She was his spiritual equal and, unlike the animals “suitable for him.” But she was not equal in that she was his “helper.’ God did not create man and woman in an undifferentiated way, and their mere maleness and femaleness identify their respective roles. A man just by virtue of his manhood is called to lead for God. A woman just by virtue of her womanhood is called to help for God. The very fact that God created human beings in the dual modality of male and female cautions us in an unqualified equation of the two sexes. This profound and beautiful distinction is not a biological triviality or accident. God wants men to be men and women to be women. A man trying to be a woman repulses us, and rightly so. It is perverse. The same is true when a woman attempts be a masculine.
Must the male headship side of the paradox be taken as an insult or threat to women? Not at all. Eve was Adam’s equal in the only sense in which equality creates personal worth. Adoption into God’s family. In a parallel sense, a church member has just as much freedom and significance as a church elder. But the elder is to lead and the member is to support – no cause for offense there. I see this fallacy again and again in feminist argumentation. “Subordination = denigration” and “equality equals indistinguishability.” Where does this convoluted thinking come from? Was the Son of God slighted because He came to do the will of the Father? Is the church denigrated by its subordination to the Lord? Never. Subordination is entailed in the very nature of a helping role (Genesis 2:18).
Why then, do some fellow church members resist this teaching so energetically? One reason is incidences of male domination asserted in the name of male headship. I have seen examples of this, along with examples of hostile, dominating women. Both are wrong. When truth is abused, a rival position (in this case feminism) that lacks logically compelling power can take on psychologically compelling power. In short, feminism is an emotive reaction to male domination, driven by pain or pride. But male domination is a personal moral failure, not a Biblical doctrine.
If we define ourselves out of a reaction to bad experiences we will be forever translating our past pain into the present where it damages ourselves and others. We must define ourselves not by personal injury, or popular hysteria, but by the pattern of gender and sexual truth taught here in the Holy Scriptures. As the head, the husband bears the primary responsibility to lead their partnership in a God-glorifying direction. This is a Biblical principle that stands forever apart from changing cultures. And when we exchange Biblical principles with culture, we can go down all kinds of wrong roads—such as the July 29th vote by the Columbia Union Committee to “ordain” women in opposition to the expressed will of the world church.
Illustration: Christian feminism claims that Jesus’ selection of twelve men as His disciples was merely a cultural accommodation designed to avoid conflict in His missionary enterprise on earth. In others words, Jesus was acting culturally and not on divine principle. Such thinking has a difficult task before it. One, it fails to explain how the foundation of the Holy City itself is based on cultural accommodation (Revelation 21:14). And two, it makes the Godhead guilty of departing from principle in the selection of initial church leadership. It is astonishing that any professed believer could bring such a charge against Him. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, and allow that they simply haven’t thought it through.
The twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem are named after the twelve Apostles, and the gates are named after the twelve Tribes of Israel (Revelation 21:10-14). By permanently building cultural accommodation into the eternal foundation of the home of the redeemed, “christian feminism” makes the Lord guilty of immortalizing temporal cultural “exclusiveness.” This powerfully illustrates the bankruptcy of feminist theology. The Holy City rests solidly upon the principles of God, not upon the shifting sands of culture. Jesus’ selection of twelve men as His apostles was an intentional and principled choice by God (John 17:6).
Summary Male-female equality and male headship are woven into the very fabric of the Bible. Feminists themselves recognize this, to quote one writer “Feminist theology cannot be done from the existing base of the Christian Bible” (Rosemary Radford Ruether). This is the reason for the influx of current reinterpretations of Scripture to support their purposes. Yet it is wrong to wrest the Scriptures for any purpose. All of us have had the experience of discovering to our dismay that we have been making the Bible say what it doesn’t say. This can be turned around. To make such a discovery and then to repent is to grow in grace.
What might be the principle source of feminist angst to the Biblical text? Consider the following: there is no necessary relation between personal role and personal worth. Feminism denies this principle. To them, any limitation in role threatens or reduces personal worth. But why? Why must my position dictate my significance? Simple answer. Because the world reasons this way. But the gospel tells us that our glory, and our worth is measured by our personal conformity to Jesus the Christ. The absurdity of feminism lies in its irrational demand that a woman is not complete unless she occupies a position of headship. And what do we call something with two heads? A monster.