Understanding gender.

When investigating ancient British burial sites, archaeologists made a fascinating discovery. During the first and second centuries BC, Men were buried with swords and women with…mirrors!

Whatever one makes of these tokens of masculinity and femininity, they show that it has been quite obvious to previous generations that men and women are different. For all sorts of reasons that has been challenged by more radical thinkers today. And this has left people unsure of what it actually means to be a man or a woman, and somewhat embarrassed or even hostile at any suggestion that there might be particular roles or traits that go with being male or female. But this really does matter for all sorts of reasons. The following spring to my mind:

1.     It undermines a sense of belonging and identity in which a man or woman can have a settled sense of “I know who I am and am comfortable with that.”

2.     Lacking any true sense of masculinity or femininity, it leaves men and women susceptible to unhelpful stereotypes in order to feel they are truly male or female.

3.     It leaves others prey to confusion over whether they fit their gender when they dislike or don’t fit those unhelpful stereotypes.

4.     It fosters resentment from an expectation that children and adults of the opposite gender should “be like me,” rather an appreciation of how their gender may mean they have particular strengths and struggle with particular weaknesses.

5.     This in turn fosters a one size fits all view of education and the discipling of children, rather than one that accounts for generalisations in gender difference and distinctions in future marital roles.

6.     It leads to tension and burdens in marriage as both partners struggle to do the same things rather than recognize and cherish the particular contribution each can make.

7.     It can leave us unnecessarily ashamed of why we find certain tasks or dispositions more fulfilling than others, for example, a mother desiring not to be in paid work so that she can have more time with her children, or a man desiring to be gentlemanly or protective towards women.

I hope this list is sufficient to motivate us to do some good hard thinking about gender in our day. It will not only benefit our sense of self, but our marriages, our parenting and our general relating to one-another. We will give an overview of key Bible texts on the issue, before drawing out some things to consider. If time is short, you could jump the more laborious treatment of bible passages to section 2. But I would urge you not to, as you will jump into conclusions that may be considered controversial in our day without an appreciation of the Bible wisdom behind them.

 

[1] GENDER THROUGH THE BIBLE

Old Testament foundations in Genesis 1-3.

1/ Men and women are equal.

It is critical to be clear that both are created “in God’s image” (Gen 1v27). As the FIEC basis of faith puts it, they therefore “have inherent and equal dignity and worth.” So, their lives are equally precious, and there can be no justification for violence or speaking ill of either gender (Gen 9v6, Jam 3v7-10). This is born out in a strange way in Old Testament law, by God ensuring equal restitution for an injured slave, whether male or female (Ex 21v32). And one application would be that men and women should receive equal pay when engaged in equal work, for the worker deserves their wages (1 Tim 5v18).[1] Another is that at its most basic, true manhood or womanhood is to be male or female and like Christ, the image of God. So, the more godly, the more manly or womanly. Both men and women are to be courageous and caring, forthright and meek, active in fighting the good fight and in weeping over the needy etc.

2/ Men and women are created to operate as a unified team.

Humanity are made “male” and “female,” but given the generic title “man” and tasked together with “subduing” the earth by shaping its resources for good, and “filling” it with children who would in turn know, image and serve God in this way (Gen 1v28). The linking of these two tasks shows that God created the genders with marriage in particular in mind. And so, having been called to work and guard[2] the garden, man’s isolation is deemed “not good,” and God makes woman as a “helper fit for him,” presenting her to him as his wife (Gen 3v18, 20-24). As a supreme affirmation of their oneness in this, woman is made from man’s rib, so their marriage union is a returning to being “one flesh.” This is why there should be such appreciation and care between spouses. Paul writes that husbands should love their wives “as their own bodies” (Eph 5v28-31)

3/ Men and women are created for different responsibilities.

As God committed to making woman a helper in working and keeping the garden, we should reject any sense that a woman cannot work outside the home. Both men and women are called to “fill and subdue.” And in agricultural societies it has always been necessary for women to play some part in the farming. Nevertheless, in marriage, the woman’s primary calling is related to “filling” in the sense that she was predominantly caught up with bearing children, and man’s to “subduing” as he was predominantly consumed with the work needed to provide for the family. This is evident in the fact that when Adam and Eve sin, woman’s punishment is a greater toil in child-bearing and man’s in providing (Gen 3v16-19). These are their particular roles. And we should note that God has designed the genders for them: Only women are able to bear and feed children, and men are generally stronger for working the ground. Indeed, because God’s command was to “fill” the world with godly children, the expectation was that so far as it was possible, women would give the majority of their adult life to raising as many as they could (1 Sam 1v8, Ps 127v4-5, Matt 22v23-30).[3] And by necessity, this would require their husbands to take charge of overseeing things in order to facilitate that. The wife’s calling was therefore largely based at the home, and the husband’s largely outside it.

Given this creational design, it is quite reasonable to expect men and women to lean towards certain inherent behavioural traits that fit them for their particular roles, just as they have physical ones. Awareness of this is helpful in appreciating why husbands and wives may not share the same concerns, priorities or methods when it comes to work or home. Rather than expecting the other to do things their way and airing frustration when they don’t, they can learn from one-another and recognize that their differences can complement one-another in marriage. We might add that this would be something to be considered in the workplace and in education too. Rather than feeling girls/women must act or learn like boys/men or vice versa, their particular strengths can be combined.

4/ Men and women are created with differing authorities.

To the Hebrew mind, deeming both genders “man,” creating man first, and woman from man, and having the man name woman, all signals that God has granted men an authority over women. And despite modern discomfort with the idea, it is a theme born out throughout the Bible.[4] But we should note that the assumptions of Genesis 1-2 mean this is primarily a structure for the husband-wife relationship. In the calling to “fill and subdue,” both are given authority over any children and the wider creation, but with him as head and her as helper. That means that he oversees the welfare and activity of the family, and she assists in that, especially with a focus on children when they are young. He images God primarily as saviour-ruler and her as lifegiver-carer.

This reveals the lie that abortion is somehow pro-women. It displays a most tragic failure of women to fulfil their calling to care for children – and men’s in acting to protect them. Likewise, the lie that sex outside marriage is liberating. By keeping sex for the security of marriage the woman acts for the good of any children that may be conceived, and the man acts to protect her too. There’s nothing manly (or womanly) about promiscuity.

This head-helper authority structure is particularly clear in the fall. Although the focus of the text is on Eve’s action, Adam is the one confronted by God. And his particular sin is that of silently standing by rather than taking charge to protect Eve by turning her from sin and crushing the snake. And he further refuses to take responsibility by then blaming her (Gen 3v1-12). In a culture filled with families that have been abandoned by men who have either left or withdrawn into work or hobbies, it all sounds rather contemporary.

Finally, we should note that after the fall, this husband-wife dynamic is marked by battle (Gen 3v16). The meaning of “your desire will be for your husband” is unclear, but as this verse is about life becoming harder for woman, the sense is that he will “rule over” her in a way that implies oppression rather than care. Interestingly the same phrase is used in Gen 4v7, where it is about one “desiring” to control the other, and the other forcefully supressing that. The point is that sin corrupts the particular roles given husband and wife. And so a particular sin to look out for and address in men is a forceful and harsh attitude, especially towards women, and in women, a controlling or manipulating attitude, especially towards men.

Conclusion.

We must remember that throughout history much of a woman’s adult life would have been taken up with bearing, feeding and nurturing young children, and then experiencing a degree of physical weakness in having done so. The compelling wisdom of God in marriage, is that by overseeing the family, the husband frees his wife up for focusing on all that is required of her, comforted in the knowledge that he is watching over everything for their good.

 

Old Testament examples.

1/ The Father of Israel.

It is Peter who points us to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18 as an Old Testament model of this (1 Pet 3v6). A number of things confirm what we have learnt: First, Abraham calls God “Lord” and seeks to serve and obey him, and Sarah calls Abraham “lord” and seeks to do as he asks (Gen 18v3-5, 6-12). So, we are seeing the husband-wife relationship in marriage is a pattern of God’s own relationship with his people. Second, in this relationship the husband bears an authority as head, with his wife as helper (Gen 18v6). But there is no sense of coercing Sarah in that, which is what Peter commends. Her submission to Abraham’s request is ready and willing. It’s just the accepted way things work.  And it is not even of yielding to his will, which implies reluctance, but rather a deferring to it. This is an obvious challenge to those who resent and resist any oversight from their husband. Third, a traditional understanding of gender roles is not clear cut in how Abraham’s oversight is expressed. He is interested and involved in the matters of the kitchen too (18v6-8).

Fourth, the importance of child-bearing is born out by the tragedy of Sarah’s inability to conceive and the heart of the promise being many descendants (Gen 18v18). Fifth, Abraham is to “command his children and his household…to keep the way of the LORD,” which affirms his oversight as household head, with the special place of families in multiplying those who know, image and serve the Lord. As Malachi puts it: what the one God seeks from marriage, is “godly offspring” (Mal 2v15). We must underline the importance of this. Perhaps the key purpose in creating humanity in two genders, is for their difference to be united in the raising of children who love and serve the Lord. So, there is no marriage in heaven as this purpose will then be complete (Matt 22v23-30).  

2/ The wife of noble character.

This refers to the famous outline of the ideal wife in Proverbs 31. First, we see that she is not consumed simply with children and homemaking. She engages in business, cares for the needy, and provides for her household, which included servants. And because her “wisdom” and “instruction” in verse 26 is not immediately tied to children, the sense is that she gives godly counsel not just to them, but to the servants and all who she engages with. She therefore has a high degree of management and so authority over the household, and of involvement in her community.

Second, the bracketing of this section with mention of her husband implies she nevertheless does all this under his ultimate authority and as his helper. Verse 2 tells us that he “has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value,” and verses 28-31 (with v23) that he praises her to those other elders who govern with him at the city gate. The sense is that as overseer of the family, he can trust her to faithfully get on with what will benefit the family, whilst he engages in service he must do outside the home. In fact, the word for “watches over” (v27) can refer to a guard posted to watch over a city. What this all means, is that the wife does bear an authority, but delegated from her husband, in which she is free to get on with making decisions without micro-management from him. This should challenge controlling husbands.

 

The New Testament.

1/ Christ and the church in Ephesians 5v21-33

Because of its importance, it is worth quoting this passage in full:

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—30 for we are members of his body. 31 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

What we see affirms and develops what we’ve learnt.

1.     The relationship of the husband and wife is patterned on the relationship of God with his people. So, Christ as head to his body as church is akin to the husband as head, but one flesh with his wife as his “own body” (v22-25, v28-32).

2.     The idea of submission in itself should not be resented as all have to submit in one way or another (v21). Everyone is to submit to the Lord. Congregations submit to elders. Citizens to government. Servants/employees to masters/bosses. None of this implies inequality of being or inferiority of worth. In fact, even Jesus submitted to his Father’s will, and in a sense to the authority of Pilate (Jn 19v10-11). It’s about upholding spheres of responsibility. It must be highlighted too, that when it comes to sex we’re told each has authority over the other’s body, and in that sense the husband must therefore submit to his wife just as she to him (1 Cor 7v3-5). 

3.     The wife’s more general submission to her husband is to be equivalent to how as one of the church she submits to the Lord (v22). That means that unless her husband asks her to sin, she should be ready and willing to defer to his will, and not reluctant, resentful, or argumentative about it. This is the “gentle and quiet spirit” Peter commends (1 Pet 3v4), and it’s focus here implies it is may be the essence of true femininity: To image God by sacrificing oneself in submitting to someone for the good of others. Elizabeth Elliot cites Mary as the supreme example of this in her response to Gabriel: “I am the Lord’s servant…may your word to me be fulfilled” (Lk 1v38). She writes: "This is what I understand to be the essence of femininity. It means surrender.”[5] But given this is also to image God, one cannot but also think of Christ himself in Gethsemane: “If you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk 22v42). The reason the wife should submit in marriage is because as head, her husband is working for her good – and that of the family (v24). Of course, in a fallen world husbands can be harsh. However, the wife is still called to submit just as Christ did to unjust authority in government, in the hope they might be brought to better embrace God’s word (1 Pet 2v18-3v2). But this doesn’t mean she shouldn’t respectfully point out bad behaviour, or seek help from her church or even the state if it is particularly bad. And if the husband puts his wife or children in danger, there would need to be separation, and possibly divorce if the behaviour continues and he has effectively abandoned the marriage (1 Cor 7v10-11, 12-16).   

4.     Such submission should be in “everything.” That doesn’t mean the wife has to check everything with her husband. As with our submission to Christ, it means she has much freedom to decide things for herself, but in everything will ensure her decisions do not contravene what she knows her husband would want. This highlights the importance of communication in marriage.

5.     On the same model, husbands must love their wives as Christ did the church, meaning that they are to daily give up their lives for their wife’s good (v25). This surely gets at the essence of true masculinity: To image God by sacrificing oneself in overseeing something for the good of others, just as Christ is the “shepherd and overseer” of our souls (1 Pet 2v25). So, male headship and oversight is primarily given as a means of the husband caring for his wife. Those who want to dismiss these verses as Paul simply reiterating the view of marriage in his day don’t realise how counter-cultural this was. Abuse and unfaithfulness towards wives was quite accepted in Greco-Roman society.

6.     The particular concerns of the husband’s headship and oversight are to help his wife become more godly and so flourish in her faith and service, and to ensure she is sufficiently well provided and cared for. The word for “care” here is also used of the tender feeding and care of young children (1 Thess 2v7). Such authority expressed in care is supported by ideas of Christ’s headship elsewhere in Ephesians. He uses his mighty power in overseeing all things for the good of his church, fights against evil powers to that end (Eph 1v20-23), and causes it to grow to a maturity of godliness and use of gifts (Eph 4v15). So, headship rightly exercised is truly empowering and enabling not restraining. One only needs consider how hard it is for mothers of newborns to nurture their own faith, and how exhausted and emotionally fragile they are, to see how important this role is at that stage in particular. Yet, for many women, menstruation can leave them regularly in need of such care throughout life. This may be why Peter adds that husbands should “be considerate” of their wives, particularly with respect to how they are weaker.[6] The sense is that they are to seek to understand their wives’ particular needs, and honour them in how they care for them. This care should be equivalent to the husband’s own care for his body as his wife is one with him (Eph 5v26-30). At the very least this means that he should not treat her in any way that he would not want to be treated himself.

7.     The idea of protection is also implicit in the concern for discipleship, provision and care, which is signalled by it being summed up as patterning Christ as “Saviour” (Eph 5v23). It is to protect against spiritual danger, and against physical need or harm. This too is supported by Jesus’ commitment to lay his life down to protect his sheep from the wolves (Jn 10v11-13). Moreover, Jenson notes that the phrase “man of God,” used 80 times in scripture, often has “militaristic undertones,” and (in gospel terms) refers to “a warrior engaged in a war.”[7] So, husbands are to engage in spiritual battle by praying for their family, exhorting or correcting them with the sword of God’s word, chasing after them if they go wayward, and acting to fend off detrimental influences. But they also engage in the physical battle of toiling away at work and general oversight, to ensure they are flourishing as they should.

8.     It is not just the husband-wife relationship, but its grounding in their one flesh sexual union that is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church (v31-32). This brings much to the idea of sexuality and marriage. Only heterosexual marriage reflects the difference-dynamic of husband as head who governs, and wife as body to be cared for. And sex in marriage is important for deepening their closeness and awareness of the dynamic. Moreover, the sense of union and mutual delight in sex is intended to give some sense of the union and mutual delight we can enjoy with the Lord, as we serve him in the raising of spiritual children for his family.

 

2/ Men and women in 1 Timothy 2v8-15

Here, Paul’s key request to men is to pray without “anger and quarrelling.” This underlines the importance of prayer in those who have oversight of their families, but also a particular tendency in men to anger. For women, his commendation is of modesty, self-control and “good works” rather than a concern with revealing or showy dress. This shouldn’t be read as a critique of all concern with looks. Beauty is affirmed in the Bible. It seems more a critique of dressing in a way that wants to promote one’s sexiness or status!

We do no not have space to unpack verses 11-15 in any depth. Elsewhere Paul speaks of women praying and speaking the gospel in prophecy (1 Cor 11). So, he cannot be forbidding that here. His point as I understand it, is that because of the importance of male headship, women should be learners not authoritative teachers in the church, as that would require correcting or rebuking men. And he justifies this by saying that they should not be tempted to grasp after a role that isn’t theirs, as Eve did in the garden. Rather they should embrace their particular role of raising children.[8]


3/ The role of men in 1 Timothy 3v1-13

This idea of headship is supported by what immediately follows in 1 Timothy. It is assumed that elders who “oversee” the church  are men. But what is very important here is that they are to be proved by how they manage their own household, because “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church.” The sense is that there is an equivalence between oversight of the biological family and oversight of God’s spiritual family. This underlines the importance of the father’s leadership being one of shepherd-like oversight, and of his taking ultimate responsibility for watching over his family’s spiritual wellbeing (Acts 20v28-30).

Given what we’ve learnt, to my mind “overseer” therefore seems a more helpful word for the husband’s authority that “leader,” as modern ideas of leadership are often to do with vision setting and direction, and there is some sense in which the wife leads in the household too. Oversight better reflects the idea of responsibility being entrusted to the wife, but with the husband watching over the welfare and activity of the family, and only intervening where necessary. We might think then of dad as a pastor or shepherd of his family, who exercises oversight “willingly,” “eagerly,” “not domineering,” but being an example, keenly aware that they are accountable to Christ (1 Pet 5v2-5).


5/ The role of women in 1 Timothy 5v9-16

Paul’s instructions on widows give us much on what was seen as commendable in women. The list of their particular good deeds are “bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble.” Whereas younger widows are rebuked for being “idlers” and “busybodies who talk nonsense,” and urged to “marry, to have children, to manage their homes.” Similarly in Titus 2v4-5 younger women are “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands.”

Three things are noteworthy. First, there is the focus we have seen throughout on having a particular responsibility for young children. Second, is how much this resonates with Proverbs 31. “Manage their homes” translates one word - a verb that describes “giving leadership to a household.” But strikingly, in the same letter men are described as those who “manage” their household too (1 Tim 3v4). However, there the verb just translates “lead” with the addition of “his own household” following (my italics). In other words, both had an authority to manage the household, but in different ways, and with the husband having ultimate oversight.

Some suggest that the call to “manage” and “be busy at” home, is a requirement for the wife to focus on homemaking. Personally, I wonder if this interpretation stems from a stereotype of the modern domestic wife. Given Proverbs 31, the critique of being idle, and the commendation of hospitality and caring for the needy, it seems more likely Paul is simply making the point that women who are at home with their children should not waste any spare time they have, but be busy in using their home for Christian service. I think he would be rather critical of those who are instead consumed only with cleaning, home improvements, or cooking for their family.

Third, although all Christians are urged to “good works,” Paul has twice stressed these in the context of women (1 Tim 2v10, 5v10). And this is what is especially noted about Dorcas in Acts 9v36, alongside “acts of charity,” which describes care of the needy equivalent to this “helping those in trouble.” This may reflect an assumption that women should give themselves to caring ministries in particular, and especially if they did not need to work. Although it is unclear whether the roles of husband as main provider and wife as main carer should continue when children are older, the benefits of maintaining just one income so that the other has time for service in the church and community therefore needs consideration. And often that will fit a mother’s desire to be more at home.

Interestingly, these verses also imply that the ideal for younger widows is not to remarry, so that they can serve Christ in an undivided way. This corresponds with 1 Corinthians 7v25-40. And it signals that with all the emphasis on marriage and childbearing with respect to gender, singleness is a noble path, trodden by the Lord Jesus himself. Single men and women can still be involved in “filling” the world with godly offspring as they play a part in the discipling of children and others through the church, and in “subduing” the world as they bring their own particular strengths to bear in serving society through work, community action, and church ministries.


6/ Upholding the differences in 1 Corinthians 11v2-16

We will not say much about this notoriously difficult passage. But some things are clear. First, there is a hierarchy of headship from God the Father – Christ – man – woman (v3).[9] By consequence, Christ’s equality with the Father affirms the equality of men and women, and his willing submission to the Father the fact that submission is not something to be regarded negatively. Second, a refusal to affirm God’s order for male-female relationships means that men dishonour Christ by implying that their wife rather than Christ is their head, and women dishonour their husbands by not accepting them as their head (v5-6). Third, the idea of head and helper is affirmed in the statement that woman was created “for man” as an explanation for his headship. Fourth, whatever the meaning of the head coverings, the sense is that the difference between the genders should be marked and upheld by their appearance. Men should not take on the appearance of women and vice-versa. We can see today, how a blurring of those distinctives adds to the confusion over gender.


Conclusion.

We can picture the relationship of the genders in marriage as below. Christ governs and cares for all, mediating that through his providence and the church. The husband oversees all aspects of the welfare and activity of his family, with his wife deferring to his will as she plays her own part in this, especially in caring for any children when young.

 


[2] APPLICATIONS FROM THE BIBLE’S TEACHING ON GENDER

1/ Honour is given to God and to men and women by upholding and celebrating their distinctives rather than denying them.

This is the most striking thing from 1 Corinthians 11v2-16. If God has designed an order to how men and women relate, upholding it matters and denying it is serious. By refusing to accept this – or being ashamed of it, husbands and wives do not receive the honour they should for their particular callings, nor God and Christ for their design and headship.


2/ The distinctives are to be supported by a general conformity to cultural gender norms regarding appearance.

This follows from 1 Corinthians 11 too. We must be clear that the concern isn’t with unhelpful cultural norms – such as boys liking sport and girls liking cooking. The concern is with dress. No doubt this is because it is a signifier of identity, just as biological appearance is: “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.” (Deut 22:5).

One needs to guard against Pharisaism, eg. in ruling boys should never have long hair or wear kilts, and girls never have short hair or wear trousers, in a culture where these are all quite acceptable. Nevertheless, as hair length is still a general marker of gender, one might say such conformity is preferable. But the principle is that the genders should not dress in a way that makes their gender uncertain. This is particularly important at church, so that the God-given hierarchy is evident (including to angels!) in who speaks (1 Cor 11v10).[10]

Beyond that, the Bible is silent about cultural norms. To my mind it can be damaging to enforce team sports on an unsporty boy so they feel they belong, or enforce a concern for fashion on an unfashion-conscious girl. But there may be wisdom in helping them to engage with others of the same gender who have the same interests, so they do have a sense of gender-belonging. Gender specific teams or activities may help in this. We might also encourage interests our children do lean towards that are more generalised to their gender. For example, if a boy doesn’t like team sports, is really into fashion and likes mountain biking, we might want to make much of the mountain biking without undermining their interest in fashion. If a girl doesn’t like fashion, is mad about football and likes dance, we might want to make much of the dance without undermining their interest in football. The point is that it is helpful for a sense of identity to, at least somewhere, be into something others of the same gender are particularly into.


3/ As heads, husbands have a particular responsibility and authority to oversee the welfare and activity of their families, and especially in discipleship, provision and protection.

Some examples of what that will look like:

1.     Having an eye on what is needed spiritually and materially for the family, and in consultation with one’s wife ensuring that responsibilities are distributed wisely to ensure those needs are met.

2.     Being watchful for how their wife or children might be struggling spiritually, emotionally, or in any way, and being ready to serve by rearranging responsibilities or take more on to alleviate the burden.

3.     If they are threatened in any of these ways, being ready to fight for them (yes, here men can fight) in prayer, Bible instruction, exhortation, pursuit, discipline (of children) etc.

4.     Being prepared to take on extra paid work if necessary to enable one’s wife to have sufficient time with the children when they are young.

5.     In all this taking the initiative, and especially in the spiritual care of one’s wife and children, in teaching, correcting, rebuking, encouraging and strengthening them with God’s word.

A particular need is for the husband to respect his wife as helper enough to ask: “What do you think about us doing…” and “Would you mind helping with…”

 

4/ As helpers, wives have a particular responsibility and authority under their husband to promote the welfare and activity of their families, and especially in raising young children, and managing the home whilst based there.

Some examples of what that will look like:

1.     Having an eye on what is needed spiritually and materially for the family, and in consultation and deference to one’s husband, agree how responsibilities can be most wisely distributed to ensure those needs are met, and readily accept one’s own role in that.

2.     Being watchful for how the children might be struggling spiritually, emotionally, or in any way, and being ready to point out their needs to one’s husband and liaise with him as to how best they might help them.

3.     If the children or husband are threatened in any of these ways, being ready to fight for them (yes, here woman can fight too) in prayer, Bible instruction, encouragement, pursuit, discipline (of children) etc.

4.     Unless there are good reasons not to, being ready when children are young to limit paid work in order to devote one’s time to caring for them, managing the home so one’s husband can better focus on his responsibilities, and consider giving extra time to serving within the church.

5.     In all this, respecting her husband’s oversight, even when he struggles to fulfil it, encouraging him in all he does that is good, and abiding by what he would want in all things, unless it would mean sin.

A particular need is for the wife to sufficiently honour her husband as head by asking: “What do you think we should do…” and “How would you like me to help with…”

 

5/ Given the importance of gender roles in marriage, we should encourage the shaping of society to accommodate them.

Personally, I find it hard to see careerism as ever helpful. We work to do good with our gifts, and provide for our family, gospel witness, and the poor. Seeking to advance for any other reason too easily keeps men and women from their responsibilities to their families. Nevertheless, some will need to advance. And in that as in all work, we should encourage a reasonable working week and flexible hours where possible, so men and woman can give the particular time they need to give to one-another and to their families – as well as to their other responsibilities in church and community. Moreover, it would be good to question the thinking that seeks to encourage both parents back to work through the provision of free child-care, and the detrimental impact on families of an economy that requires that for a reasonable quality of life. In “careers advice” too, we would want men and women to factor in their God-given responsibilities to a consideration of what they do, and be critical of a model for women that takes no account of what it will mean for them to have children. The man whose primary ambition is to ensure his family thrives before God, should be commended, as should the woman whose is to raise godly children.

 

6/ As men and women are created to play these differing roles, we would expect not just physical but behavioural differences that it would be helpful to appreciate.

Studies do conclusively show that to a small degree men are more oriented towards achievement, being more assertive and concerned with ideas than women, and women oriented more towards nurture, being more “agreeable,” but also more prone to variable emotions and anxiety. The former no doubt helps men achieve for the good of their family, and the latter helps women nurture their children with positive relationships.

In studies: “Women scored higher, on average, on enthusiasm, compassion, politeness, orderliness, volatility, withdrawal, and openness, while men scored higher on assertiveness, industriousness and intellect.[11] 

 


Having said this, the range of behavioural traits is not at all exact as the diagram above shows.[12] There are men who will have more classically female traits than many women and vice versa. And as the Bible doesn’t specify such things, but teaches that both are to image God, we should refrain from saying certain traits are more masculine or feminine. Women are also called to achieve and men also to care.[13] In fact, it is a sign of our security as men or women, that we are unashamed of displaying what might be more commonly linked to the other gender. The Lord Jesus spoke of longing to gather Jerusalem’s “children” like a “hen gathers her chicks” (Matt 23v37). And he commended Mary for sitting at his feet like a male disciple rather than bustling around as her sister was (Lk 10v38-42).

Although these minor differences when added up are significant. More substantial differences between the genders have been noted in “interest:” “Gender differences in vocational interests are among the most important proximate determinants of occupational gender segregation…male adolescents clearly tend to favour occupations which require creating and/or manipulating objects (i.e. “things”), while female adolescents prefer to work in occupations in which interacting with customers or patients is important (i.e. “people").

Put most simply, men are interested in things, preferring things-orientated work environments, and women in people, so preferring people-orientated work environments. This is evidenced by the fact that in the most egalitarian society men still dominate professions in science, technology, and engineering, whilst women dominate in the so called “caring” professions of social sciences and medicine.[14]

Husbands, wives, educators, and workplace managers would do well to be more aware of this difference as explaining different ways of relating and learning between the genders. Just as we no longer expect a left handed person to write as well with their right hand, we cannot expect a “things” oriented man to do as well socially as a “people” oriented woman, nor vice-versa. And so in knowing each others’ makeup, it would be wise for husbands and wives, and workers with different capabilities, to distribute tasks accordingly, seek each other’s counsel, sympathise with each others’ weaknesses, and learn from each others’ strengths. This is one way of serving each other. And what they should not do is mock or get exacerbated with the other because they don’t seem to do, say or understand things as they do. God has made men and women to complement not compete with each other.

Now we need to be clear: All this does not mean that only men should be CEOs and women primary school teachers. But it does mean it is not necessarily due to prejudice if men are more prevalent in the former and women in the latter. It also means that men and women are likely to do these roles in slightly different ways. Moreover, rather than requiring women to be male-like to advance, companies could appreciate their particular strengths. Likewise, schools in not requiring men to be woman-like in their teaching. 

More fundamentally, these differences may explain why some men may be less fulfilled if predominantly at home, and some women if predominantly in the workplace.


7/ When men and women do not display these generalised traits, the distinctiveness of the roles nevertheless needs to be maintained.

Due to gifting, the wife may be suited as the main breadwinner, the more adept at overseeing finances, or whatever, and the husband more suited to childcare as the children get older, and to cooking and being based at home. Indeed, this may be forced on them by circumstance, with the wife’s emotional health suffering by being at home, or the husband’s at work. Nevertheless, under God the husband is still responsible for ultimate oversight and the wife for assisting him. So he should still seek to ensure they properly discuss and decide on this alternate distribution of tasks, that she is not overburdened by that, and that between them the children receive the care and home environment they need, and that they are all properly discipled. He may be the one to cook and clean, and she to do the DIY and call the garage, but as overseer the husband is to ensure they are all done, and in a way that doesn't exhaust or harm the members of his family. See below...

Because these roles are written into the genders creationally, we can assume that maintaining this sense of ultimate oversight would be especially important for the husband, if he is not able to display it in the normal way, and his care of her especially important as she is still likely to feel a particular sense of responsibility for home life alongside her responsibilities at work, that he might not have felt if he was the main worker.

And if she is simply more capable, organisationally or spiritually, she can still ask her husband what he would like them to do on issues, or ask him to read her the Bible etc. And in church life, leaders might be careful not to keep bypassing Christian husbands and going to their capable wives. But talking to the husband about how they feel their wife could best serve, or asking wives to chat over their service with their husband.

 

8/ Given these gender roles and traits, however, it would be wise to consider how they will show themselves in many if not most marriages.

As man is created for provision for the family and women for nurture of the family, he is more likely to feel unfulfilled and in tension if unable to be the main earner, and she to feel unfulfilled and in tension if she is. This may be why in many marriages, the husband tends to be more focused on work matters than home matters whereas for the wife it is often the other way around. This is not to excuse failings that stem from these dispositions, but simply to point out why they might be there so that they are not resented.

Either way we must reject careerism that can dominate both for men and women, and not over commit financially that binds both in work, limiting time for other things. For example, the wife and mother should feel no sense at all of failure in choosing to focus on young children and when she has more time, give that to being at home, ensuring its smooth running, and using the home for doing good in the church and community rather than earning. Likewise, although the husband should ensure sufficient time with his family, he should not feel an unnecessary guilt in being unable to give as much to home life as his wife.

Where this distribution of roles is not possible because of financial need or the husband or wife’s God-given nature, we should be clear the balance of these things between husband and wife is not prescribed. However, God's design means that these leanings will usually be the best fit for husbands and wives. And it means the wife should not expect her husband to have the same home-focus as she has - always pushing him to engage because she rightly wants him to be interested, nor should the husband expect his wife to establish the sort of work-focus he has - always pushing her to advance because he rightly wants her to flourish. Rather, there can be an encouragement that looks out for and accepts a differing focus and concern. But both should be "busy" in their different spheres (2 Thess 3v11).

Moreover, creational design may explain the husband’s frustration when his wife overdoes things, as a distorted expression of his desire to protect and care for her. Likewise, her frustration at his not sharing her depth of concern about the home or children.

 

9/ Although gender roles are limited only to the family and church, it would nevertheless be wise to reflect their creational disposition in society more generally.

Because men and women were created for these differences, and wider society comprises families, the head-helper disposition will always be evident, and is nothing to be ashamed of. For example, we should commend men for wanting to give up their seats and open doors for women, and films where men care for their families or protect or rescue women and children. This is not to imply that women are weak or unequal, nor that they should not do these things themselves. But these are particular expressions of what manhood is. And it encourages boys and men to do likewise. Likewise, when women give up their careers, time, and energy to raise their children, or are concerned with creating a nice home for their family. Again, men can do these too. But these are particular expressions of what womanhood is, and set an example to other women and girls. By contrast we should be critical of unhelpful portrayals of the two genders, eg. dads as bumbling and inept, or of women feeling they’ve achieved in life by marrying a rich prince charming.

 

10/ As behavioural traits are not specified by the Bible, however, masculinity and femininity should be defined by created gender, likeness to Christ, and embracing of one’s particular responsibilities, not particular characteristics.

So, men are most manly when most like Christ and sacrificing themselves in the responsibility of oversight. Women are most womanly when most like Christ and submitting to oversight for the good of others. Being sensitive and caring does not make a man less manly, nor does being sporty or courageous make a woman less a woman. This can be incredibly liberating to grasp for all number of men and women, especially in a day when those who are drawn to the characteristics commonly aligned to the opposite gender can be led to question their own.

This also teaches that we cannot excuse failures in godliness as inevitable outworkings of our gender. Despite their strength, men are to be gentle not harsh (1 Pet 3v7), and despite their sociability women are to restrain their speech (1 Tim 5v13).

What then is true biblical manhood?

  1. To be male and like Christ,
  2. expressing this if married in the particular responsibility of lovingly overseeing, discipling, protecting, and providing for one’s wife and family so that they flourish in knowing and serving the Lord,
  3. contributing any creational traits inherent in godly maleness to wider society,
  4. battling against any corrupted traits inherent in fallen maleness, (those scripture seems to highlight are: withdrawing from responsibility, being domineering, angry, resentful, and lacking in self-control – Gen 3v6, 16, Col l3v18, 1 Tim 2v8, Tit 2v6)
  5. and readily embracing all ministries in the service of Christ.

Given the responsibility for oversight and care of the family, we might add that the following scenarios that are common to men, are particularly unmanly:

·       refusing to ask your wife to help when you have too much or she is better at something,
·       being consumed with work, sport or hobbies rather limiting them for family,
·       spending so much on a flash car that it impacts the quality of home and provision given to your family,
·       shouting and intimidating rather than listening and explaining,
·       being harsh or physical with your wife or children, rather than gentle and patient,
·       watching TV whilst your wife slaves away,
·       leaving your wife to sort problems with kids as you can’t face them,
·       leaving the spiritual input and praying for your children to your wife,
·       being lecherous instead of pure,
·       engaging in multiple sexual relationships rather than committing for life,
·       considering same sex relationships and dressing in a culturally feminine way,
·       showing little concern to be attractive to your wife and gently encourage your sexual relationship,
·       being overly focused on sex rather than delighting in your wife,
·       consenting to the abortion of a child rather than seeking to protect it,
·       jealousy and controllingly limiting your wife’s activities so she is unable to flourish in her gifts or friendships,
·       resenting and resisting your wife's desire to be hospitable because you'd rather it just the family,
·       What would you add?

What then is true biblical womanhood?

1.     To be female and like Christ,

2.     expressing this if married in the particular responsibility of lovingly helping one's husband by respecting, affirming and deferring to his oversight, nurturing any children and managing the home as the context for that,

3.     contributing any creational traits inherent in godly femaleness to wider society,

4.     battling against any corrupted traits inherent in fallen femaleness, (those scripture seems to highlight are: lacking in submissiveness, being controlling, gossiping, interfering, and immodest – Gen 3v6, 16, 1 Tim 2v9, 12, 5v13, Tit 2v3, 5)

5.     and readily embracing all ministries in the service of Christ, except that of authoritative teacher or elder in the church.

Given the responsibility for assisting one’s husband and nurturing children, we might add that the following scenarios that are common to women, are particularly unwomanly:

·       asserting or rejoicing in a sense of independence from men,

·       refusing to ask your husband to help when you have too much or he is better at something,

·       failing to ask your husband if he is happy with a decision you know he should be party to,

·       speaking down your husband to friends,

·       pushing ahead with something you know displeases your husband,

·       neglecting to see or encourage your husband in the good things he does,

·       engaging in multiple sexual relationships rather than committing for life,

·       considering same sex relationships or dressing in a culturally male-like way,

·       showing little concern to look attractive for your husband and encourage your sexual relationship,

·       being uninterested in sex rather than delighting in your husband,

·       seeking the abortion of a child rather than to protect it,

·       focusing on work, hobbies or friendships to the detriment of your children,

·       so busying yourself in home life that you neglect your walk with the Lord or time with your children,

·       leaving the spiritual input and praying for your children wholly to your husband,

·       resenting the need to serve your family or take time out for children,

·       What would you add?

 

11/ In ministry to the genders, all Christlikeness that is frowned on by boys and men should be affirmed as being truly manly, and those frowned on by girls and women should be affirmed as truly feminine.

12/ Likewise, all qualities especially needed in their particular calling should be affirmed as key to what it is to be a man, and those especially needed by women as key to what it is to be a woman.

13/ And, particularly male traits that are ungodly should be challenged as unmanly, and female ones as unfeminine.

For example, although they stand for girls and women too, in boys and men, the following could be encouraged as particularly manly – especially when expressed within their family under the head-helper dynamic:

1.     taking responsibility in oversight,

2.     seeking to protect and provide for people’s needs,

3.     actively caring for women and children

4.     showing a prayerful concern for people growing in faith

5.     being moved to tears in compassion towards another, and to action in caring for their needs

6.     considering marriage only with a woman

7.     intending and maintaining sexual purity before marriage and faithfulness in marriage, out of care for one’s future/current wife and to protect any children

Whereas failing to take responsibility, or using strength, size or forcefulness of character to hurt or intimidate should be challenged as particularly unmanly.

 

Although they stand for boys and men too, in girls and women, the following could be encouraged as particularly feminine – especially when expressed within their family under the head-helper dynamic:

 1.     submitting to the will of others in order to do good

2.     seeking to nurture and organise

3.     actively caring for children and the needy

4.     showing a prayerful concern for people growing in faith

5.     being courageous in standing for what’s right, and taking charge of a situation when no-one else does

6.     considering marriage only with a man

7.     intending and maintaining sexual purity before marriage and faithfulness in marriage, in order to honour one’s future/current husband and protect any children

Whereas failing to submit when one should, or being nagging, manipulative, or immodest in order to get one’s way should be challenged as particularly unfeminine.

 

14/ In raising boys and girls, it would be wise to encourage and mentor these things, and affirm the child when they are displayed.

Studies have shown that although all need to be encouraged to know and image Christ, experiencing good, warm, affectionate, nurturing, parenting from the parent of a child's own sex is especially important for a secure sense of their own sexual identity, as is seeing their father lead and the mother not be over-dominant. Moreover, the high role a boy may have of leading and caring for his family, and the girl may have of having and nurturing children, needs to be talked about, especially when the particular traits needed in those spheres are not being shown.

Obviously both genders need growth in all areas, but given what we’ve learnt boys might need to be especially encouraged to be gentle and care for their mums and sisters, and girls not to be stubborn or belittle their dad or bothers. And we should not discourage girls play acting with dolls the idea of being married, having and breastfeeding children, nor boys if, for example they want to make a camp for their sister to live in, or stick up for them at school. Moreover, as they grow up we should take opportunities to talk about “if you get married and have children you’ll find…” as a way of preparing them for their particular role.

Particularly helpful would be telling girls how they are just like Mum and boys just like Dad. And with that is mentoring. So if Mum or siblings are struggling, Dad could team up with his son to decide how they are going to ensure they are Ok, and commit together to praying for them. And if Mum has a particular task she is doing to help Dad, she could team up with her daughter to do that or to pray for what he does.


Particular examples of what sons might be encouraged in include:

1.     Asking them to organise their siblings in an activity or be in charge as they hang out together.

2.     When confronting their fighting or showing of disrespect towards their siblings or their mother, stress their role is to protect and care for their family, and especially women and girls.

3.     Encourage them not to be lecherous or dismissive of girls, but have a respectful attitude to them, and a readiness to seek help from them.

4.     Ask them to lead prayers or something from the Bible at times.

5.     Involve them in caring ministries.

6.     When they are overly rough or coarse, encourage them to be gentle and self-controlled in action and speech, stressing this is to be truly manly, and help them recognise that inner strength is more important than outer strength.

7.     Talk up why it is strong, respectful of any future wife, and responsible to any future children, to be sexually pure and keep sex for marriage.

8.     Highlight that they are turning into a fantastic young man when they do these things.

 

Particular examples of what daughters might be encouraged in include:

1.     Asking them to organise their siblings in an activity or look after the youngest in particular.

2.     When confronting stubbornness or verbal manipulation of their siblings or parents, stress their need one day to be straightforward with any husband and defer to his will even if they disagree.

3.     Encourage them not to mock or put boys down, but affirm the good in them, and be helpful to them.

4.     Ask them to lead prayers or something from the Bible at times.

5.     Involve them in courageous activities.

6.     When being excessively concerned with relationships or looks, encourage them to be modest and restrained in action and speech, stressing this is truly feminine, and help them to recognise that inner beauty as more important than outer beauty.

7.     Talk up why it is loving, respectful of any future husband, and responsible to any future children, to be sexually pure and keep sex for marriage.

8.     Highlight that they are turning into a fantastic young woman when they do these things.

 

Obviously, boys and girls might do all these things. And each will be lacking in certain areas, which parents might want to try to address with certain activities. 

 

15/ In ministry to men and women, consideration should be given not just to gender differences in behaviour and interest, but also its variety.

Activities for boys and men that are achievement and things-oriented will generally engage them better than things that are nurture and people-oriented and vice versa. So, men may favour sports, walks, quizzes, cinema trip, working parties, and “doing something” with their children, whereas women may favour parties, meals, cafes, simple socials, and chatting whilst their children get up to something. However, we should guard against assumptions on the basis of stereotype. Not all men are interested in sports as a context for meeting, nor women craft as a context for chatting.

We might say then, that the primary goal in ministry to Christian men and women is to develop Christlikeness using means that best fit the ways the different genders are engaged.

 

16/ We must get beyond thinking about gender ministry simply around ideas of authoritative teaching and eldership.

Instead, we can consider all number of different ministries and different strengths the differences of personality between the two genders can bring to these. We must reject the idea that oversight or leadership ministries are somehow superior to caring or children’s ministries. But we must also reject cultural pressure to see the two genders as equally shaped for both. We have seen that some woman may be well equipped to oversee some aspects of church life and some men to engage with children. But as a generalisation, we would expect men to lean towards the former and women the latter. I guess in all this we should just be considering who is best fit for whatever role, given the any restrictions the Lord has placed on it.

 

[3] A SUMMARY.

The Bible teaches a complementarian view of men and women as created equal by God, but assigned and designed for differing roles in family life in which they operate as a team, patterning the union and delight in each other of Christ and the church. Husbands are called to lovingly oversee the welfare and activity of their family by taking primary responsibility for discipling, protecting and providing for them (Eph 5v25-6v4). The compelling wisdom of this model is that that by acting in this way, the husband frees his wife to be able to focus for however many years on her primary responsibility for having and nurturing children if she is able, managing the home as the environment for that, and perhaps having the option of holding back on paid work to give more time to serving her church and community (1 Tim 5v9-14). Although it may grate in our culture, this model spans scripture: In Eden working to provide was impacted for man because that is his creational thing, and the bearing of children was impacted for woman because that is hers (Gen 3v16-19).

But it is important to note that this is about primary responsibilities and shouldn’t be understood in an overly prescriptive manner. The husband is still to engage in the life of home, church and community, and the wife may need to engage in paid work, possibly as the main or full-time earner, which might enable her husband to give more time to his own acts of service (Acts 16v14-15, Prov 31v23-24). But in such a situation, they would appreciate that this may go against the grain of their creational instincts, leading to tension, dissatisfaction, or increased burden as roles are confused and one or other ends up trying to do everything. They would therefore be careful to delineate tasks, and recognize that he continues to take ultimate responsibility as provider through ensuring everything is viable and will grant the family what it needs, and she continues to accept her role as nurturer by ensuring the children are not neglected and have a sufficient amount of her time.

The point is that, with a concern not to undermine their primary callings, and with a consideration of the needs of the children, the couple will agree a pattern for their life together that best fits the circumstances, personalities, and combination of gifts the Lord has given them. The husband will continually oversee that to ensure what is best for the flourishing in life, faith and ministry of his wife and family, just as Christ does for his church. And where differences of opinion cannot be resolved, his wife will respectfully defer to his will.

If a believer’s spouse is not a Christian, however, they are simply responsible for encouraging this model in their home as far as they are able, not resenting the degree to which their spouse my limit it, and ensuring the needs of their children are not neglected.

 

[4] APPENDIX A

Scientific studies detailing gender difference

Differences in “personality” between men and women.

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20161011-do-men-and-women-really-have-different-personalities#:~:text=Taking%20this%20approach,%20the%20researchers,men%20scored%20higher%20on%20assertiveness / accessed 30/4/21

One study showed that across diverse cultures “including Hong Kong, USA, India and Russia, women consistently rated themselves as being warmer, friendlier and more anxious and sensitive to their feelings than did the men. The men, meanwhile, consistently rated themselves as being more assertive and open to new ideas. In the jargon of personality psychology, the women had scored higher on average on Agreeableness and Neuroticism (neuroticism comprises volatility and withdrawal) and on one facet of Openness to Experience, while the men scored higher on one facet of Extraversion and a different facet of Openness to Experience (extraversion comprises enthusiasm and assertiveness).” In another study “women scored higher, on average, on enthusiasm, compassion, politeness, orderliness, volatility, withdrawal, and openness, while men scored higher on assertiveness, industriousness and intellect.” Other research has “shown that the genders begin to differ in personality very early in life…boys were rated as more active, on average, than the girls, while the girls were rated as more shy and as having more control over their attention and behaviour. And gender differences in personality seem to persist into the twilight years.” It was also found that “men and women differed in average personality more in more developed and gender-egalitarian cultures, such as in Europe and America than in cultures in Asia and Africa where there is less gender equality.”

“These findings make sense to evolutionary psychologists who say that our psychological traits today reflect the effect of survival demands experienced by our distant ancestors, and further, that these demands were different for men and women. For example, women with more nurturing personalities would have been more likely to succeed in raising vulnerable offspring, while men with bolder personalities would have been more successful in competing for mates…One scientist commented that studies ““made it clear that the true extent of sex differences in personality has been consistently underestimated.”

Differences in “interest” between men and women.

https://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/223822/1/dp13380.pdf / accessed 30/4/21

“There is a considerable amount of empirical evidence, mainly from psychologists, consistently documenting large and persistent gender differences in vocational interests, especially along the things-versus-people dimension…This concept classifies the task content of occupations according to the extent to which people working in a given occupation deal with inanimate things or with other people, respectively. Empirically, it appears that this dimension can best discriminate between tasks men and women prefer…gender differences in vocational interests are among the most important proximate determinants of occupational gender segregation…male adolescents clearly tend to favour occupations which require creating and/or manipulating objects (i.e. “things”), while female adolescents prefer to work in occupations in which interacting with customers or patients is important (i.e. “people”).”

“Variation in the task content of occupations along the things-versus-people is a very powerful predictor of whether males or females predominantly choose an occupation; actually, it appears that this variable is likely one of the most important proximate predictors of occupational gender segregation...it is, for example, larger than the effect size associated with the gender difference in body height.” And so, “it appears obvious to us that gender differences in these traits are absolutely key for understanding why men and women tend to prefer to work in distinct occupations.”

 

[5] APPENDIX B

Male headship throughout the Bible.

1.       The structure of Genesis 2 as understood in Hebrew culture affirms the primacy of Adam by order of birth, by the naming of the animals and by the presentation of Eve to him.

2.       This is confirmed by the fact that although Adam and Eve both sin, Adam is primarily held to be responsible (Romans 5v11-32).

3.       It is also confirmed by God consistently using the image of groom and bride to describe his leadership and care of his people. The image implies that he exercises a loving authority like that of the perfect husband.

4.       Throughout Israel’s history, a principle of primogeniture was also affirmed by which inheritance would usually go to the firstborn male and they would hold the ultimate authority for the family.

5.       Furthermore, Israel’s history is marked by the principle of the household headed up by the father. We see this with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the nation from that point on.

6.       Because the nation is a family of families, leadership develops from household heads. So the heads of twelve tribes are Jacob’s twelve sons.

7.       For this reason, elders in Israel were only male as they were the more prominent household heads.

8.       The Priesthood within Israel was also reserved for men only, and from one family and one tribe.

9.       Priests and those who served as elders in the synagogues of Jesus’ day were therefore men too.

10.    Commentators agree that the structure of the early churches was based on the synagogue with elders taking the equivalent role of the Jewish elders.

11.    Whatever its application might be today, the principle of the firstborn son being given authority is reaffirmed in the NT by scripture speaking of Christ as the firstborn over creation.

12.    The principle of headship is also reaffirmed in speaking of Christ as head of his bride and family, the church.

13.    The apostles therefore affirm the headship of husbands on the grounds of creation and the pattern of Christ’s relationship with the church. Both grounds transcend culture and so teach that the principle of headship does too. It is portrayed as bound up with God’s order of things (1 Corinthians 11v2-16, Ephesians 5v22-33, 1 Peter 3v1-7).

As the church is also to a large extent a family of families meeting in family homes, it is natural for the principle of headship that applies to biological families to be reflected in the church.



[1] Leviticus 12 does prescribe twice as long a period of purification for a mother giving birth to a girl as opposed to a boy. But we are not told this is because of inequality. Supporting this, is the fact that Leviticus 15 prescribes the same period of cleansing for men and women after a “bodily discharge.”

[2] The word the NIV translates “keep” has the sense of keeping it secure from danger. The same word in 3v24 is translated “guard” in terms of the way to the tree of life. The point is that Adam with Eve, were to keep what was unclean or corrupting from the special place of God’s presence, making his failure to tackle the serpent so serious.

[3] 1 Timothy 2v15 makes this point in a controversial passage, by stating that women will be “saved through childbearing.” In context, the idea is probably that a genuineness of saving faith is proved by our willingness to submit to God’s will. So, rather than seeking to lead in the church which is not what God has called women to, they should give themselves to child-bearing that he has.

[4] See the appendix.

[5] “The essence of femininity” in Recovering biblical manhood and womanhood, ed. Piper and Grudem, p466

[6] This doesn’t mean women are weaker than men in every sense. My observation is that spiritually, psychologically and in readiness to take responsibility, women are often stronger.

[7] “What does it mean to be God’s man” in Men of God, ed. Archer and Thornborough, p24

[8] See the footnote on this verse above.

[9] The idea that men are the glory of God probably means that by submitting to his headship men show God’s excellence by affirming his authority and reflecting his will. Likewise in woman being the glory of man. But we should note that although men are said to be the “glory and image” of God, by not saying women are the “image of man” their equality with men in imaging God is affirmed. See also v11.  

[10] Some argue this should extend to things like girls shaving their armpits as this is something women do. That may be wise given expectations. But because it is not a matter of outer distinctiveness, I am not sure it is a major biblical concern.

[13] It’s certainly possible that at the resurrection these behavioural differences will disappear because there will be no marriage or family then (Matt 22v23-30).