So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:27
To speak of anything relating to gender today is to court controversy and enter a verbal minefield. The battles over Feminism, homosexuality, and gender identity have not only encroached upon the professing Christian church, but have also assaulted English grammar itself.*
It is true that past societal chauvinism has adversely colored the debate; this notwithstanding, God created mankind with gender distinctions that outfit men and women for complementary roles in His service – we ignore them at our peril.
On the other hand, the necessity of males and females to the divine plan for humanity is taught in Genesis 1-3, as well as in the rest of the Scriptures; to ignore their unity, interdependence, and essential equality (as opposed to functional equality) is also highly dangerous. Happily, the Creator balances the issues beautifully in His Holy Word, and has ordered the world this way for our benefit.
Twice Told Tales
In characteristic ancient near eastern style, God tells the story of the creation of the world in an overview (Genesis 1), and then goes back to one aspect that He wants to highlight in greater detail (Genesis 2.)** What is generally discussed in Genesis 1:26-30 is amplified in the second chapter of Genesis.
Two observations from these passages must be made:
- Man was created first and is given leadership responsibility within the creation (later Scripture will show him exercising this role in the home and in the house of God on earth – which was the Tabernacle, the Temple, or the Church depending on when one lived.)
- Woman is created from man, as an indispensable “helpmeet” (or “fitting helper”) for him. This goes beyond merely assisting in the work of superintending the garden, for animals could be employed in many of these tasks.
After Adam names the animals, the Bible comments: “But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him” (Genesis 2:20.) She is to be a complement to him – someone who is of the same kind as him – who may empathize, comfort, counsel, and love. She was indispensable, for after Adam every human being came through the woman’s womb (1 Corinthians 11:11-12.) Most notably, through a woman’s virgin womb came the Messiah into the world.
Equality And Differences
Space does not permit a full discussion of all the relevant Biblical passages and issues regarding men and women. Therefore, I want to appeal to a basic principle of biblical interpretation.
Often, proponents of viewing men and women as having the same roles bring out verses such as Galatians 3:28. The alternate view appeals to 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11 as well as 1 Corinthians 14 as well as other Scriptures. Since these Scriptures are all inspired by the Holy Spirit, they are clearly not in conflict.
We must appeal to the time-honored principle of context. Each Scripture must be interpreted within the context of its own book and then within the context of the entirety of Scripture. When one does this, it becomes evident that in their essential worth to God, men and women are absolutely equal. The aforementioned verse in Galatians shows that in terms of salvation and their position in Christ, they are equal. To say it another way, this verse is written in the context of the universal church, which is composed of all believers everywhere from Pentecost through the Rapture.
The passages that limit women’s activity fall within the context of the local church, that is, their service in the assembly of believers. At other times their distinct role is noted in the context of the family. Even though they have different roles, they perform functions that are of the utmost importance in the plan of God.
*For example, it used to be understand that one could speak of a non-specified person in the third person singular as “he” – so, one could say: “If someone wants to eat breakfast at McDonald’s, he better arrive before 10:30 a.m.” Now some would prefer “he/she” or just “she” in place of “he.” Likewise, one used to speak of actors (for a male) and actresses (for a female); now it is common to hear them all described as “actors.” Cf. also author & authoress, poet and poetess, etc. This is no mere academic debate, for it directly effects modern translations of the Holy Scriptures.
**For a similar literary device see Isaiah 52:13-15, which is then discussed in greater detail in Isaiah 53.
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