It is essential to my argument that I begin today’s writing with a disclaimer:
Before even beginning to address specific gender roles as they are outlined in the Bible – especially as it pertains to why God is consistently, throughout the biblical narrative, referred to with male pronouns – we must establish that we are discussing things from a strictly Christian perspective. It is easy to object to the biblical ideas of masculinity and femininity when considering the sinfulness of man and the oppression that submission might so easily espouse within power-hungry and demeaning individuals, but we must accept, going into the argument, that we are speaking from the ideal as established by God in His creation of man. In this, we must discuss matters such as submission, sacrifice, headship, and leadership not according to the negative connotations established by a prideful and lustful society, but rather according to the biblical standard to which we all must strive. When you give a man a gun, he may use it to either protect or to slay – we may guide him towards the former, but the option by which he uses it is up to him. All rules and roles in any governance or society stand the possibility of being abused; the Bible seeks to establish gender roles in a manner that is holy and set apart, glorifying to God for the betterment of mankind. A rational and concise conversation regarding such matters is impossible if we do not first establish a stable worldview which we can then extrapolate. Thus, for the purposes of this article, it is my request that we set aside secular ideologies and rather read the “He” of God the Father according to the Biblical context, that we might better understand Christian ideals and even more greatly come to grasp the beauty of God’s love towards us.
I will begin my argument by stating this: God is spirit. Of course, He stepped into the flesh via the person of Jesus Christ and thus lived on the earth for approximately thirty-three and a half years as a Middle Eastern man, but from eternity past to eternity future God is, according to His divine nature, spirit. Thus, He is neither male nor female; however, the way in which God manifests Himself is masculine in nature, in that he designed man as an image meant to reflect Him. Therefore my thesis is that our use of the pronouns “He,” “Him,” “His,” etc. are essential in comprehending our own selves in relationship to God.
The Imago Dei
First and foremost, we must discuss the manner by which man and woman were created, found in Genesis 1:27:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
So we see, from the very beginning, that man and woman were both created in the image of God, which is to say that we are mental, moral, and social in nature. The chief end of mankind is, thus, to reflect God, to live in a manner by which His image is not distorted before those to whom we testify (which is, to say, “all nations,” cf. Mt. 28:18-20). This image of God was, of course, distorted by the Fall of Man – wherein sin entered the world – but it was not lost.
We also see here that, since both man and woman were created in the image of God, we were quite evidently not made in His physical image. (As we said, He is spirit.) Further, this fundamental concept – bearing the Imago Dei, the image of God – thus makes man and woman equal in nature, while distinct from one another. The question then arises: Why the need for two genders? Why did God not simply make man or woman? They both bear the image of God and are given dominion over all creation, so what then becomes the purpose of their distinction?
It is at this point that we must look towards the creation of woman, as it is recounted in Genesis 2:18-23:
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 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. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
Many people take issue with the word helper here, but far from serving as an insult, it is actually quite complimentary to the woman. It was not good for man to be alone, but through the woman’s presence, suddenly something beautiful was introduced into the world – something so beautiful, in fact, that Adam breaks into song, as any romantic would. Further, the very word “helper” implies that she is capable of helping the man – she is capable of allowing him do something which he could not do on his own. The word for “helper” here, the Hebrew word ezer (עֵזֶר), is most often used in reference to God being a helper of man, as seen most prevalently throughout the Psalms. So we see that, rather than denoting one who is inferior to another, this word most often implies equality (in the sense of woman) and even superiority (in the sense of God), yet coupled with the humility of aiding another in accomplishing some goal.
Further, we must note that the Greek equivalent of this word, paraklétos (παράκλητος), is used to describe our relationship to the Holy Spirit in John 14 when Christ says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” and that “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (v.16, 26). So we see that the concept of a helper does not suggest inferiority, but rather a specific role specified by God to help accomplish a greater mission that He Himself has established. A helper is a gift to be cherished, apart from which we are incapable of doing that which the Lord has set before us. Just as we are united to Christ by the Spirit (1 Co. 6:17) and just as the Spirit makes known to us things of Christ (1 Co. 2:10-16) and just as the Spirit makes us capable of doing that which we were previously incapable of doing (Rom. 8:1-11) and just as the Spirit gives birth to new life (Jn. 3:3-8), so the role of a helper – especially in regard to their relation to that whom they are helping – is to bring unity, to points towards Christ, to make possible that which one could not to alone, and to bring new life into the world.
And, lest somebody assert that in saying this I am claiming that a woman’s purpose is limited purely to how she can serve man, I will remind you that the Spirit, while our Helper, is not merely our Helper – He is so much more. Similarly, woman, while meant to be the helper of man, is not purely a helper. That is merely the role as designed by God, and it is a positive, rather than a negative, thing. I will remind you that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:43-45). Service is not an attribute of the lowly, but of the wise. “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (Jn. 13:16, 17).
The Father and the Son
Having addressed the Holy Spirit’s relationship to us, I find it fitting to our argument that we now turn to the other two members of the Godhead: The Father and the Son. In this, we see the biblical idea of submission as it is manifested in its perfect form:
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:4-8, emphasis mine)
Here we see that Jesus Christ – Yeshua Hamashiach – though being equal with God and God Himself, “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Elsewhere, we read the bold claim of Christ that, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30), and it is testified throughout the Bible that, though “The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4), He manifests Himself in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. From this we reach the mysterious concept of Trinity, one God (in essence) manifesting Himself in three persons, each equal with one another yet serving distinct roles. It could be said that the Father formulates a plan while the Son implements the plan, and the Holy Spirit administers it. They are equal yet serving different roles.
What does this have to do with our current discussion on gender? Well, consider the words of Christ: “The Father is greater than I” (Jn. 14:28). “For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Lk. 22:27). “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” (Jn. 5:19). “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (Jn. 6:38). “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Mt. 20:23). Even hours before the cross, as He sweated blood and prayed on that dirty garden floor, our Christ declared, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mk. 14:36).
Christ, though being equal with God, willingly submitted to His will and His plans – and not only did He submit to the Father, to whom He was equal, but He also submitted to serve man, to whom He was superior! (Though, it should be noted – as will become pertinent to our argument later – that He only submitted to man insofar as God’s will was advanced, or by which was God was glorified through such service.) His submission to God did not occur through the oppressive grip of an abusive father, but rather through the willing service of a humble Son who trusted His Father’s will and placed total faith in that which His Father set before Him, even to the point of death. And how grateful are we for Christ’s submission, or else we would be without hope!
Man and Woman
In discussing all of this, we must now turn our attention to the church, in which we must note that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). This is not to say that we are without distinctions, but rather that, despite our distinctions, we can still be one. Jews were still the chosen people of God by which God revealed Himself to us all, but they could not be unified with the Greeks (and all Gentiles) through the blood of Christ, united as one family despite their different roles. Similarly, slaves and free men still existed, but whether one was a slave or free, they could rejoice as brethren in that same grace that had been shared to them both. In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul describes it like this:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (v.12-27)
So we see that, as believers, we are all viewed as one body with Christ as our head, but we each serve different functions (or roles) when it comes to that body. Some are called to be teachers while others might be called to be students, but that does not make the teacher greater than the student; they are merely fulfilling their roles as allotted by God. The Lord has given each of us spiritual gifts and have given each of us particular callings, and we are not to assume that one calling is greater than another – He loves us all equally, yet in making His relationship with each of us unique and personal, He has called us to different things, that we might accomplish His mission and goal.
This all leads us to the biblical concept of submission as it relates to the roles of man and woman. In Ephesians 5, Paul states thus:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (v.22-33)
In the light of biblical submission as demonstrated by Christ to the Father, this text should not come across as offensive or controversial as it so often does amongst secular circles. The key, as always, is context.
The implication, here, is not the inferiority of women. As we have already seen, the Bible testifies to the equality of man and woman – just as it testifies to the equality of the Father and the Son and the Spirit – but here Paul begins to lay out the different roles that the genders are meant to play. So yes, the Biblical command is that wives are meant to submit to their husbands, but the key to understanding all of this is the simply statement found in verse 32: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Here, Paul, in a plain yet profound manner, unveils God’s purpose in designing man and woman, as was the mystery from the beginning of creation: It was meant to reflect our relationship with Him! Just as food serves to display Christ’s ability to fill us (“the Bread of Life,” Jn. 6:35) and shepherds serve the purpose of displaying Christ’s patient and gentle guiding of His constantly wandering flock (“the Good Shepherd,” Jn. 10:11), so man and woman were given their specific roles to more greatly display the relationship of God to His church, like that of a Groom to His Bride.
Further, the role of a man is to love his wife, and love as the Bible speaks of it is not merely the emotive love of modern culture. Rather, biblical love – ahava (אַהֲוָא), agape (agapé) love – is the love of the will, the love of action. This love “is patient and kind; [it] does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Co. 14:4-8) A man is to love his wife in a sacrificial manner, just as Christ loved the church. Just as “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), so a man is to love his wife in sacrificing his very life for her, whether that be physical death, or rather straining earnestly and putting all on the line that she may be provided for. And this is all to be done for her sanctification: the husband, in serving his wife, is meant to by all manners point her back to Christ, by offering himself for her just as Christ did for the church. Oh, what a beautiful truth! And so we see that the picture of marriage – from first attraction to the depths of greatest intimacy – are a picture of our relationship with our Savior. “My beloved is mine, and I am his… I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Son 2:16; 6:3).
This all being said, a distinction must be made. Paul asserts that wives “should submit in everything to their husbands”…to what extent? If a husband conspires to commit a murder, is a wife to submit to such action? If a man is abusive, is a wife to merely submit? I think that the clear answer, to even an irrational mind, is quite clearly a resounding “No.” I mentioned earlier that in Christ’s willing emptying of Himself during His service on this earth, He likewise became a servant of men, but only insofar as that service did not delay or distort the work of the Father by whom He had been sent. In the same way, so a woman should submit to her husband: She is called to submit in matters that further the Lord’s commission to us or else has no effect either way, but in matters that blaspheme the name of God or lead to sin, she is free. In fact, this is how the Christian is called to respond to all authority, all of which “have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1).
However, it should likewise be noted that the husband is likewise not called to lord his headship over his wife (i.e., “I am the man, therefore you must listen.”) Rather, all because a woman is called to submit does not mean that her opinion is invalid or should not be considered. We submit to God, yet He still hears our prayers and is even willing, at times, to adjust His plans according to our requests. So it should be with marriage: the man and woman, in equality, should be able to discuss matters with equal voice, but from a Biblical standpoint, the man has the last say. Once more, this is not to say that a woman is inferior, but rather to point us towards the picture formulated by God from the beginning of creation. As we have discussed, our Lord in Gethsemane prayed, “Not my will, but yours, be done” – He vocalized His request, but in faith and trust of His Father’s righteousness ultimately submitted to whatever decision His Father made. For Christ, He was willing to submit even so far as to be spat upon, mocked, flogged, stripped of His clothing, and impaled upon a cross – the God of creation, the majesty of all majesties, the King of all Kings, suffering the humiliation of all humiliations, dying an undeserved death on the most excruciating torture device known in all human history, simply that we might be restored to life and returned to Him. He did this in trust; though terror seized Him and the wrath of God was placed upon His innocent self, He did it because He trusted that the Father knew best. Similarly, a woman should speak freely with her husband, but should likewise trust him and place such faith in him that she finds rest and comfort in whatever ultimate decision he makes, placing her faith in the fact that he will decide what is best for them and, chiefly, what is most glorifying to God.
If you, as a woman, object to this because you do not trust your man with making wise and God-fearing decisions, I must ask you a question: Why are you with him in the first place?
While it might always be said that I, as a man, am incapable of truly grasping this “severe injustice” done against women through such Biblical commands, I think there are two points that need be made to address this issue:
I. I am the Bride.
While on this side of eternity I might certainly be the male of the equation, it remains true that I would do best, in my present situation, to actually learn from the roles of women, for they most accurately point to my relationship – to the entire Church’s relationship, as it is – to Christ Himself. The Bible has been described as God’s love letters to the world, and so my position, as the Bride of Christ, is to receive these love letters from my Beloved and respond with humble submission to His every will, trusting that He, my holy and righteous Christ, will ever lead me along the best path that leads to His ultimate glory. As a man, I am called simply to love – “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35) – and the manner by which I can do this is to reflect the love of God insofar as He has revealed Himself through Scripture. So it could be said that, as a man, I cannot understand what it is like to be the one forced to submit, but I will contest two things: (1) no one is being forced, but rather they are called to submit, and must make the choice; and (2) how can I fail to understand it when the entire purpose of such submission was meant to point us all to our greater submission to Christ? Both man and woman would do well to learn from both gender roles, for the one points towards Christ and the other towards the church.
II. Life isn’t fair.
And thanks be to God that is isn’t! Perhaps many women will despise the fact that it was they, and not men, who were chosen to submit, but I will remind you that God’s choice of submission is no sign of partiality or favoritism, nor is it a curse to be despised. (Easy for a man to say, eh? But it is true – we are all called to serve!) Rather, God’s call to submission is a blessing! I am confident that, during their wanderings in Sinai and their periods of captivity under the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, there were times when the people of Israel despised being the chosen people of God – “Oh, what a bother to be judged more strictly by being set apart to a life of service!” – but it remains true for us that “salvation is from the Jews” (Jn. 4:22). God chose them to serve by His own sovereign will and by no merit of their own, and yes, it was a greater obligation upon them, but the world has reaped the blessings, and it was by them that God has become most fully known. I will remind you of these words: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mt. 19:30). “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt. 23:12). If life were fair, we would all have a one-way ticket to hell, but God, by His grace, has called us back to Him, hallelujah!
Resurrecting God the Father
This all having been firmly established, I think my case has been made as to why it is so essential that God – whether it be the Father, the Son, or the Spirit, or all three in one – must be referred to as a “He.” It is not because God Himself is a glorified man, nor is it because the “patriarchy” is not-so-subtly trying to subdue women under their mighty reign (as some claim), but it is rather because, by calling Him a “He,” we are granted the beautiful picture of His majestic design, and, further, we are granted the ability to see how every aspect of creation, in its truest and most unblemished form, is meant to serve as a reflection of Him and His character in some form or fashion. We are to live lives of submission to God – and by submission, I mean simply to “submit” to His “mission,” as the word implies – and so He is the Groom to our Bride, the Husband to our Wife, the Man to our Woman. God the Father is not dead, nor will He ever die, and this is because He cannot die – our God lives forever more, and He will reign throughout all eternity! “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).
God is a person, and by His love has given Himself up that we might be restored to life. May we, as His Bride, go out into the world and sing the odes of our Beloved, living according to His will and giving birth to new life in His name and by His power, trusting Him and living daily from faith to faith, as a faithful wife to a righteous and holy groom, He who will never lead us astray or lead us into destruction. As a man and woman are united and become one flesh, so Christ suffered and died so that “that they (we) may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn. 17:21). We have been united with Christ – let the wedding bells ring! Oh, may the Lamb receive the glory due His sufferings!