Gender roles in the family and the church
Gender was invented by God. In the beginning He created male and female people, male and female animals, and some plants are male or female (Gen. 1:27). Gender is involved in the reproduction and propagation of a species.
Males and females are generally similar, but they have some differences. In the animal word, males and females can have different roles. Usually females spend more time caring for offspring than males. But in a minority of species these traditional roles are reversed. For example, male sea horses get pregnant and some male birds, fish and frogs take care of the eggs and newborns. What about humanity? In this article we look at what the Bible teaches about gender roles in the family and the church.
Similarities and differences
According to the Bible, men and women have equal value in God’s sight. They were both created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27; 5:1-2). Children were commanded to honor both their father and their mother (Ex. 20:12). And Jesus died for the sins of both men and women.
Gender makes no difference in terms of salvation (one’s standing before God) and its blessings (Gal. 3:28; 1 Pt. 3:7). In the promised inheritance there is no distinction between male and female.
But men and women are different genetically. They have different sex chromosomes in the nucleus of each cell of their bodies (XX for females and XY for males). And it’s the mother who carries the child from conception to birth, and not the father. Mothers have a unique role in bringing children into the family.
In the family
Paul describes the relationship between husband and wife as, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior” (Eph. 5:23NIV). Consequently, the husband is to love his wife “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v.25) and the wife is to submit to her husband “as the church submits to Christ” (v.24). This is repeated “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies” (v.28) and “wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (v.22). And it is summarized, “each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (v.33). Another example of this respect was Sarah’s respect for Abraham (1 Pt. 3:5-6).
A similar message is given to the church at Colossae, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Col. 3:18-19). And to the church at Corinth, “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is (the) man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). When we look at these three relationships we see that male leadership is to be like Christ’s leadership of mankind; sacrificial and servant-like (Phil. 2:1-8). And female submission is to be like Christ’s submission to God; joyful and willing (Mt. 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 26:39, 42; Mk. 14:36; Lk. 22:42; Heb. 12:2). It is evident that the ordered relationship in the trinity is to be mirrored in an ordered relationship in humanity. Also see Titus 2:5 and 1 Peter 3:1.
God’s design is that the husband be the leader of the marriage and family. In particular, the husband is to love and protect his wife and the wife is to respect and support her husband. This enables order and unity in the marriage and the family.
In the days of large families (before birth control), the care of infant children would have taken a major portion of a mother’s life. This is consistent with the biblical instruction for young wives to “manage their homes” and “to be busy at home” (1 Tim. 5:14; Tit. 2:5). So it is understandable that she spent most of her time at home. Now that we have birth control and labor saving devices at home, she is able to spend more time away from home.
So the biblical pattern for marriage and the family is loving leadership by the husband and respectful submission by the wife and children.
Paul also describes gender roles within the local church.
In the church
He says that the church should be led by a team of men (elders or overseers) – (Acts 20:17; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6). Each elder is to be “faithful to his wife”. Also, Paul prohibits women teaching men (1 Tim. 2:12). Of course they can teach women and children.
In the church, particular men are leaders and teachers. The rest of the congregation (men, women and children) are to respect these men because of their role in the local church. Note, all men aren’t leaders or teachers in the local church.
In the church a woman is to respect her husband and the church elders and teachers. In particular, Christian women are to be characterized by good deeds such as bringing up children well, kindness to strangers, serving other believers humbly, and helping those in trouble (1 Tim. 5:89-10). On the other hand, a man is to love his wife and respect the church elders and teachers.
So the biblical pattern for the church is male leadership by the elders, male teaching at combined meetings and respectful submission by the rest of the congregation. This enables order and unity in the church.
This pattern is consistent with the pattern of gender roles in the family. The male leadership role is indicated by the use of the Greek verb proistemi (Strongs #4291) to describe how a father is to lead his family (1 Tim. 3:4, 12) and how an elder is to lead the church (1 Th. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17).
Order of creation
Another difference between the first couple, Adam and Eve, was that Adam was created before Eve (instead of at the same time) and Eve was to be Adam’s helper (Gen. 2:18, 20). According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexion, the Hebrew noun translated “helper”, ezer (Strongs #5828) means “one who helps”. This word is used elsewhere in the Pentateuch to describe how God saved Moses from the sword of Pharaoh (Ex. 18:4) and saved the Israelites from their enemies (Dt. 33:7, 26, 29). God acts like a servant when He helps people like this. In these instances, He undertook a humble role despite His supreme status. So Eve was created to help Adam; and not Adam to help Eve. She supported him. This doesn’t mean that she was inferior (like a servant) or superior (like God). Adam and Eve were marriage partners; together they were complete. But since the fall into sin, the marriage relationship is distorted whenever there is male dominance or female independence (Gen. 3:16).
So the ordered relationship in humanity, which mirrors the ordered relationship in the trinity, was established when Adam and Eve were created. That’s why the husband is to have a leadership role in marriage and the family (1 Cor. 11:8-9). The same reason is given for the pattern of male leadership in the church and male teaching in church meetings when women are also present (1 Tim. 2:13). So the order and reason for the creation of the first male and female are the principles that are behind these practices.
Just as Adam was the leader amongst equals in the first marriage, a husband is to be the leader amongst equals in marriage, and each elder is to be a leader amongst equals in the church. It’s a pattern of loving and protective male leadership.
In this way, men and women are like the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. They fit together. One is incomplete without the other. They enhance and complete each other. They are like instruments combining harmoniously in a band or orchestra.
We have seen that the Bible’s teachings about gender roles in the family and the church are based on the fact that Adam was created first and Eve was to be his helper. Because of this, in marriage and the family the wife and children are to respect and submit to the husband’s loving leadership. And in the church, the congregation are to respect and submit to the godly leadership of the male elders and the godly teaching of male teachers at combined meetings. These relationships enable order and unity in the family and in the church.
Husbands, do you have a godly vision for your families? Do you serve your wife sacrificially? Wives, do you support your husbands?
Men, if you are qualified, are you willing to take leadership and teaching responsibilities at church? Men and women, do we respect those who lead and teach at church?
Let’s promote harmony, order and unity in the family and in the church.
Written, January 2016