How We Have Been Created: With Different Roles and Responsibilities

The doctrine of man as created male and female teaches that man was created for personal relationship, and that both male and female are created with equal value and importance in God’s sight, but male and female have also been created with distinct roles and responsibilities. This is the final characteristic of the doctrine of man as created male and female. Because this is the most expanded teaching of this doctrine in both the Old and New Testaments, it will take longer to explain it fully. We must both acknowledge that these differences were established by God prior to the Fall, and understand that there are differences in roles in marriage and the family because of this.

The difference in roles and responsibilities were established by God before the Fall, and they are not a result of sin. The Scripture offers a substantial account for these differences in roles and responsibilities. Scripture’s testimony conveys that man has been created with a role of headship and authority, distinct from woman, who has been created with a role of submission and nurturing. This does not mean that man is superior to woman, or woman superior to man, as we shall see below. But it does mean that while God created men and women of equal value and importance, they have also been created with different roles so that they will complement each other, and reflect the same complementary fellowship among the members of the Trinity.

For example, it may first be seen in that God created Adam first, then Eve. It is clear that God saw him as having a leadership role in his family, for Adam was already about doing work because God had “put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Second, Eve was created as a helper for Adam. Since it was not good for Adam to be alone, it is clear that God made Eve for Adam, not Adam for Eve. Even Paul states in 1 Cor. 11:8-9, “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” This does not mean that man is superior to woman, for in the same passage Paul says that man is just as dependent on woman as she is on man, for “man is now born of woman” (v. 12). Third, these distinctions in role can be seen in that Adam named Eve. He was given that authority by God over the animal kingdom (Gen. 2:19-20), and in a similar way he named Eve “Woman” because she was taken “out of Man” (Gen. 2:23). Fourth, God named the human race “Man,” and not “Woman.”  This suggests, again, that a leadership role belongs to man within God’s created order. Fifth, it is interesting to notice in the account of the Fall that the serpent came to Eve first. Grudem rightly says regarding this, “It is likely that Satan (in the form of a serpent), in approaching Eve first, was attempting to institute a role reversal by tempting Eve to take the leadership in disobeying God.”[1] Since Satan’s desire and object is to thwart the created order of God, it is obvious that this was his intent, thus revealing that Adam was created with a leadership role. Sixth, God spoke to Adam first after the Fall. Even though Eve had sinned first, God came to Adam first and called him to account for what had taken place (Gen. 3:9). It is evident that God saw him as the one to be responsible and accountable for what had happened in the family. Seventh, Adam represented the human race instead of Eve. The Bible teaches, especially in Romans 5:12-21, that Adam sinned as our representative. This indicates that God had given Adam headship over the human race, and this was a role that was not given to Eve though she was also responsible for sinning. Eighth, the curse as a result of sin brought distortion of previous roles, not new ones. When sin was introduced into God’s good creation, so introduced was both a mutilation and abuse of the distinct roles given to men and women. Adam would still be the leader of his family, working the ground and harvesting crops, but the land would not bring forth “thorns and thistles” (Gen. 3:18). Eve would still give birth to children, but now it will take place in great pain (Gen. 3:16). Though Adam and Eve still complemented each other in every way, they will now have conflict and Adam’s authority over his wife Eve would be abused (Gen. 3:16). Finally, we see in the New Testament that God is redeeming those distinct roles through Christ. This must mean that they are part of God’s original created order, if God seeks to redeem these roles in the life of the church through Christ. The New Testament is replete with the imperative to be subject to husbands, and for husbands to love and care for their wives (Col. 3:18-19; Eph. 5:22-23; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1-7).

It is clear from the substantial evidence in Scripture that these differences in role were established by God Himself, and are not a result of the Fall. Any view that says men and women are absolutely equal in their roles and responsibilities simply fails to consult and nuance all the biblical data on the subject. Some argue that the differences in roles between male and female are actually a distortion of God’s creation, and are actually a result of the Fall. Professor and writer Gilbert Bilezikian says,

“The ruler-subject relationship between Adam and Eve began after the fall. It was for Eve the application of the same death principle that made Adam slave to the soil. Because it resulted from the fall, the rule of Adam over Eve is satanic in origin, no less than is death itself.”[2]

While the relationship between male and female is not “ruler-subject,” Bilezikian (and many others in the theological camp of egalitarianism) views the differences in roles as a consequence of the Fall. The implications of this view are drastic. First of all, it fails to take into account the enormous biblical evidence for difference in roles before the Fall (as noted above). Second, it causes a hermeneutical problem by interpreting the Bible (especially the New Testament) through an unbiblical lens. If men and women have equal roles, then there is no need to emphasize submission and leadership in marriage, which the New Testament does so frequently (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:21-24; 1 Tim. 3:5; 5:8). Third, this view does injustice to the heart of this doctrine—having been created in the image of God. We have already seen that being created in the image of God means that we reflect Him, and in many ways His attributes are seen in us because we have been formed and fashioned in His image, after His likeness. Clearly, the Father is seen as having a distinct authoritative role as the Father. So the Son is seen as being submissive (though equal) to the Father. So if men and women have equal roles, then in what way do they reflect the Godhead where there are clear distinctions in roles? Indeed, they do not.

But it is clear that the difference in roles and authority were indeed established before the Fall, but through the entrance of sin there will be a distortion and misuse of those roles. Michael Horton aptly states, “As male and female humanity was the image of God (Gen. 1:27), but now they are at enmity not only with God but with each other.”[3]

Implication(s) for Church Life Today

Theology should always lead to doxology, that is, doctrine should move us to obedience in our Christian lives. Having discussed the doctrine of man as created male and female, there are several implications it bears upon our lives. Too much is at stake for us to carelessly leave this doctrine on a bookshelf. This doctrine carries several connotations concerning the difference in roles and responsibilities. In our American culture, more than ever before, the doctrine of man created male and female is being both neglected and distorted. It is now acceptable in our culture for a biological woman to identify as a man, and be considered just as much a “man” as a biological man, and vice versa. And what’s worse is that this is viewed as equality by its proponents. This movement of transgenderism in our culture should be combatted apologetically, firmly, and gracefully with the biblical doctrine of man as created male and female. The clear differences in biological makeup and roles and responsibilities must be recognized, and they should be encouraged.

Also, in the church those different roles should be acknowledged and encouraged. There are differing roles between men and women so that the church acts as a body, with all the parts “working properly” (Eph. 4:16). Women are called to certain ministerial duties that men are not called to, and men are called to certain ministerial duties that are exclusive to only men. This is God’s design for humanity, the family, and the church. So it should be encouraged and taught in our local churches. There should be opportunities to serve the church for both men and women, and there should be ministries to both men and women. As our churches seek to redeem the family, we should teach men how to be the leaders of their homes, and likewise we should teach the women to be the nurturers of their homes.

Conclusion

Like the most expensive and rare treasure in the world, we are God’s most valuable creation because we have been created in His image. No higher honor could have been given to man than the privilege of being an image of the God who created him. What is truly breathtaking about this is that we have been created in God’s likeness, not as one uniform human race, but as male and female. We have been created as male and female for personal relationships, we have been created with equal value and importance, and we have been created with different roles and responsibilities. This is God’s plan and created order, and we can surely say with David, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14).


[1] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) , 463.

[2] Bilezikian, Gilbert G. Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says About a Woman’s Place in Church and Family (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 41-42.

[3] Horton, Michael. Pilgrim Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 145.

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