Gender Roles: Equal? Different? or Equal But Different?

What does the Bible have to say about gender roles? Are there similarities between males and females? Are there differences? Are these differences just an accident or are they by design? Your answer to these questions will have a dramatic impact on your approach to life.

Gender roles are not an accident. They are God’s idea. We see this in Genesis 1:27. In this verse, we learn that God makes male and female similar (since both are created in God’s image). But we also learn that they are different as the verse specifies that He created them male and female.

So, how did God make us similar? Male and female are:

  • Equal in image (Genesis 1:27; 5:1-2)—Both genders are equally made in the image of God
  • Equal in value (1 Corinthians 11:11-12)—Both genders are equally valued by God in a way that points to the equality of the relationships within the Trinity
  • Equal in purpose (Isaiah 43:6-7; 1 Corinthians 10:31)—Both genders are equally created and commanded to glorify God
  • Equal in corruption (Genesis 3:16-19; Romans 5:12)—Both genders are equally distorted by sin
  • Equal in Redemption (Galatians 3:28)—Both genders are equally united with Christ through His blood
  • Equal in Spiritual Giftings (1 Peter 4:10-11)—Both genders are equally shaped for service through spiritual gifts

Let’s focus in on two of these similarities for a minute. Male and female are equal in corruption (Romans 5:12). The sin of Adam has a leveling effect on both genders—we are all now fallen creatures living in a broken world. Genesis 3:16-19 shows us an interesting aspect of this corruption—the curse of sin strikes at the main function of both genders. For men, there is now a frustration in their calling to subdue the land. For women, there is a frustration in the bearing of children. So, though the manifestations may be different, the reality of corruption is equal in both males and females.

Though we are equally corrupted by sin, male and female are also equally restored in redemption. This is best seen in Galatians 3:28 where Paul points out that there is ‘neither male or female’ in Christ. This text does not mean that there is an end to gender roles but that we all have the same standing before God, regardless of gender, through the blood of Christ.

The repetition of referring to believers as sons of God throughout the New Testament (as in Romans 8:29) also sheds some light on our equality in Christ? Why? Because, in that culture, it was through the sons that inheritance was passed down. If the New Testament writers had used sons and daughters, they would have pointed out that females are not receiving an inheritance. Instead, we are all sons of God and co-heirs with Christ.

We now know that the genders are similar in some ways, but are they different? It depends on who you ask. ‘Evangelical’ feminists will tell you that they are equal in standing yet women are superior in roles. Egalitarians will tell you that they are equal in both standing and roles. Complimentarians (and the Bible) will tell you that they are equal in standing yet with distinctions in roles and authority.

There is a pattern of complimentarianism (patriarchy) that is evident throughout the Bible which is rooted in creation. We see patriarchy established before the fall in several ways: Adam was created first, Eve was created as a helpmate for Adam (Genesis 2:18), and Adam named Eve (2:23). Now, the primary outlets for this complimentarianism are in the home and in the church.

This patriarchy manifests itself in male headship and female submission. Male headship means that the man assumes primary responsibility for leading, providing and protecting . This male headship is intended in both the home (Ephesians 5:23) as the husband sacrificially loves the wife as Christ loves the Church and in the local church (1 Timothy 2:11-15) as men exercise leadership teaching and authority.

Female submission means that the woman honors and affirms male leadership through a disposition to yield. She is to submit in a way that reflects God’s intention for the wife to be a helpmate (Genesis 2:18). She is to submit as the Church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:24). But she is also to submit as an equal to an equal (1 Corinthians 11:3) in the same way Christ eternally submits to the Father. So, although there is submission designed by God, it does not imply the inferiority of the female.

Why are gender differences important? First, they reflect the relationship of Christ and the Church. Second, they reflect the equal but distinct roles within Trinity. Third, they reflect the reality that life is a choice between biblical patriarchy and worldly patriarchy.

In other words, there is always going to be patriarchy. The choice is not between patriarchy, matriarchy or neutrality. The choice is between a biblical patriarchy that affirms the equality of the female through sacrificial leadership and a pagan patriarchy that victimizes and uses women as a means to an end (sexual, physical, financial or otherwise).

Why will there always be patriarchy? Because God created the world that way to most accurately reflect our relationship and His relationship with Christ. The way we handle our gender relationships betrays the way we view our relationship with God.

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