I wrote a study about a year ago in response to many of the questions women were asking called The S-Word: Dispelling the Myths of Biblical Womanhood—the “s-word” being “submission.” As believers, we want to please our Father, so we also want to be clear on what is expected of us. Unfortunately, that is sometimes difficult in today’s society where both men and women receive lots of mixed signals about what that entails. Following is one of the chapters of this study about God’s clear intentions and designs when it comes to the roles both play in the man/woman relationship.
Created in God’s Image
Certainly, the Bible supports and teaches that all people, men and women alike, were created equally in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 states,
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
The “man” of the first phrase is the same as the Hebrew word meaning “mankind,” so Moses’ reference here is the creation of all men and women, all of whom were created in the image of God. Since God created us in His image as both male and female, there is the implication of equality of personhood, dignity, mutual respect, harmony, complementarity, and a unified destiny.
· “Equality of personhood” means that men are not less than women nor are women less than man simply because they were created with differences. Simply put, they are equal in their personhood and their differences don’t change that basic truth.
· “Equality of dignity” means that they are to be equally honored as human in the image of God. Peter said in 1 Peter 2:17, "Honor everyone." There is an honor to be paid to persons simply because they are humans.
· “Mutual respect” means that men and women should be equally driven to respect and honor each other. Respect should never flow in just one direction. Since both male and female were created in the image of God, male and female should look at each other with a kind of awe that is tempered but not destroyed by sin.
· “Harmony” means that there should be peaceful cooperation between men and women. We should find ways to develop our relationships so that there is teamwork and a rapport in them.
· “Unified destiny” means that male and female, when they come to faith in Christ, are fellow heirs in this grace.
· “Complementarity” means that the music of our relationships should not merely be the sound of singing in unison. It should be integrated with both soprano and bass, also and tenor. It means that men and women will not try to duplicate each other, but will highlight in each other the unique qualities that make for mutual enrichment.
What we can see from the very beginning is that when God created male and female in His image, He had something wonderful in mind, and He still has something wonderful in mind. In Jesus Christ this plan is redeemed.
In Genesis 1 Moses tells us how God sovereignly created all things out of nothing and put them together in an orderly way so that everything serves man. Then God created “man” as male and female in His own image and declared that everything was very good. But then in Genesis 2 Moses puts the zoom lens on his camera and comes in for a close up on that 6th day of creation, and as we come to the end of Chapter 2 we realize that one of the reasons he does this is to say something very important about the relationship of man and woman.
To summarize, in Genesis 1 Moses has something very important to tell us: both male and female were created in God’s image. In Genesis 2 he says something else very important and even more specific: God had a definite plan for men and women, and this plan was instituted before sin entered the picture. Finally, in Genesis 3 Moses described how man and woman rebelled against God as their center and how He instituted the resulting curse from this rebellion.
The Fall and the Curse (Genesis 3:1-7, 16)
In Genesis 3:1-7 we read where Satan enticed man and woman with the notion that they could then be, their own bosses, instead of God, and from this temptation sin entered Creation. They rejected the Word and instead ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then in Genesis 3:16 we read the description of the curse, and it is a curse:
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.”
This is a description of misery; it is not a model of male-female relationships. This is the way it would be in a world throughout history where sin has the upper hand.
The wording in this curse must be understood in view of the same wording used later in Genesis 4:7 where “desire” constitutes the will to dominate someone or something. God is telling Eve in 3:16 that when sin has the upper hand in woman, she will desire to overpower and subdue or exploit man. When sin has the upper hand in man, he will respond in like manner and with his strength subdue her, or rule over her. What is described in 3:16 is the ugly conflict between men and women that has prevailed throughout history and it is a result of sin.
What we need to understand is that the perfect design for the male-female relationship did not come about after the Fall. As a matter of fact, both Jesus and Paul, when teaching on how men and women should relate to one another, always referred to events before the Fall, not after it.
So, how did God intend this relationship play itself out?
Clear Designs, Genesis 2
We’ve looked at this in part in Genesis 1:26-27. The relationships between men and women would have been perfectly governed by the equality of personhood and inheritance and mutual respect as two beings both created in the image of God. However, this equality cannot be the only governance of roles in relationship because that would not play itself out perfectly. Let me use an analogy I read once in order to illustrate.
Let’s suppose we tell a male and a female ballet dancer that both of them are equally good and equally are regarded well among their peers. Because of this, we could then tell them that they are to seek to be harmonious in their dances, complementing each other’s moves, and then finally sharing the applause together. That counsel is good and will definitely positively affect the performance. However, if that’s all we told them, they would to out on stage and not know what to do. No one has told them the movements; no one has told them their individual parts. They need to know who falls and who catches, who spins and who holds. Otherwise, confusion and poor performance will prevail.
God wouldn’t do that to His creation. He told us the moves. He told us who does what, not so that we would think one was better than the other, but because it will work and be perfect if we do. That’s how much God’s Word does and that’s how much it means. He never leaves us hanging, and for that I am grateful. Yes, we share in equality as co-heirs to grace and co-recipients of God’s image, but there is more to God’s plan than that.
How did He do that?
1. Man was created first. The first thing Genesis 2 does is make it clear that man was created first and then after some intervening events woman was created. 2:7 states, “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed life into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
It wasn’t until verses 21 and 22 that we read of God’s creation of woman, “So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.” (1 Timothy 2:13)
Why this order? Why didn’t He create them both simultaneously from the same lump of clay? Wouldn’t that have established their equality of personhood more clearly?
The answer is that God had already established that equality in personhood in Genesis 1:27. Matthew Henry said, “That the woman was made of a rib of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor of his feet to be trampled by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved.” What we’re reading now in Genesis 2 is what God says further about the relationship between man and woman: when it comes to their differing responsibilities, there is a “firstness” of responsibility that falls to man. This is not an issue of superior value. That issue was settled in 1:27. This is God giving sinless man, in childlike dependence on God, a special role or responsibility.
2. The man was given the moral pattern. The next thing we notice is in verses 16-17,
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Here God is giving Adam the moral laws or rules for living in the Garden of Eden. There is no record of God personally giving these laws directly to Eve, and yet later we can read in Chapter 3 that she did know the law. Furthermore, when we read Eve’s recitation of this law to Satan in the garden in 3:2, we can see a few discrepancies in the wording. This also seems to indicate that she had not heard it firsthand.
I believe that Moses expects us to conclude that Adam had been entrusted with this moral pattern and that he would bear primary responsibility for sharing it with Eve, thereby making him also primarily accountable for it.
3. The man was interrogated by God first. Just in case it appears that we are reading too much into this supposed accountability, we can then read God’s interrogation in Chapter 3. After the moral pattern had been broken by both Adam and Eve, God came to call them to account in Chapter 3, and even though the woman had eaten the forbidden fruit first, God came to Adam first, holding him accountable for the failure to live by the pattern given. Genesis 3:9 and 11 say,
But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, Where are you?...Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
Why would God come to the man first and call him to give an account instead of going to the woman first, especially since she ate the fruit first? The most natural answer is that God gave to the man a primary responsibility for the moral life of the garden and therefore man has a primary responsibility for the failure to live by it.
Make no mistake, however; God absolutely holds the woman responsible for her actions. She is a personal, morally accountable being created in the very image of God, and what man does or does not do relieves her of no responsibility to know and obey God. But in their relationship to each other, God looks to the man and asks, “Have you been the moral and spiritual leader you ought to have been?”
In its purest form, this is a beautiful relationship. John Piper beautifully describes God’s original intent for man and woman before sin entered the world:
“Sinless man, full of love, in his tender, strong, moral leadership in relation to woman; and sinless woman, full of love, in her joyful, responsive support for man’s leadership. No belittling from the man, no groveling from the woman. Two intelligent, humble, God-entranced beings living out, in beautiful harmony, their unique and different responsibilities.”
However, Satan knows it’s beautiful. He knows that God’s pattern of life is designed for man’s good. But Satan hates God and he hates man. He is a liar and a killer from the beginning, and what he does in Chapter 3 is a fourth observation of God’s clear designs for men and women.
4. Satan attacks the woman first. The truth is that if God means for man to bear special responsibility for leadership in the garden, then Satan will do what he can to destroy that. Genesis 3:1 tells us that Satan approaches the woman first. Was it because she is more gullible or weaker? She, like Adam, was created in equality in personhood, which would negate her being easier prey or more gullible. No, the answer is that Satan drew the woman in first, making her the spokesperson and the moral guardian, because that is exactly what should not have happened.
Satan spurns the order that God has created and simply ignores the man, who according to 3:6 was most likely standing right behind or next the woman during the temptation, and takes up his subtle battle with the woman. In approaching Eve, making her the leader instead of Adam, Satan makes man into exactly what he wants him to be: a silent, withdrawn, weak, fearful, passive wimp. And that passive wimp is a very dangerous person. One moment he’s passive and follows his woman, and the next moment he’s angry and blames her for all his problems (3:12).
One can just imagine Satan laughing to himself at that moment. He probably thought, “Now I’ve created such a confusion of roles that they will never sort this out! People will look at the strong man and tell him to be more passive and they’ll look at the passive woman and tell her to be stronger! They’ll never get to the root of the problem!”
God, however, went straight to the root in 3:17 when He said to Adam,
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you ...
God is not in the least confused about what Satan did, and He doesn’t want us to be confused either. God created man first, He gave him the moral pattern of the garden first, He held man accountable for the failure first, and He punished him for falling right in line with Satan’s deception, luring man and woman into the great role reversal of all time.
God’s design for the roles of men and women were clear from the beginning, and it is no coincidence that this is exactly where Satan attacks. The way we relate to one another and our abilities to fulfill our God-ordained roles as men and women are foundational for every other thing we do. If we can get back to truth and clearly identify that these roles are not a result of punishment but of love, then freedom will come.
I’m convinced that the Bible does teach that men have unique God-given responsibilities toward women and women have unique God-given responsibilities toward men, none of which are dependent on their worth or equality. In God’s eyes, we are all His children. Galatians 3:28 says, “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.” There are, however, roles and responsibilities, and though they are not identical, they are based on our manhood and womanhood as God designed them to be. The order of roles is not synonymous with the importance of roles, and that is precisely the way God intended it.
Editor's note: Dr. Deb is our newest contributor and faithfully serves God as the leader of Love Everlasting Ministries. She also authors a wonderful daily devotional on Facebook, which I urge you to check out and subscribe to.
I also couldn't help but to go find the video Dr. Deb put together for her church advertising her study on this subject. Classic!
I also couldn't help but to go find the video Dr. Deb put together for her church advertising her study on this subject. Classic!