Christianity elevated the status of women more than any other religious or political system during the first century. Jesus’ disciples included several women (Luke 8:1-3), a practice very rare among the rabbis of his day. Not only that, but Christ’s first recorded disclosure of his own identity as the true Messiah was made to a woman (John 4:25-26). This woman, Mary of Magdalene, was an outcast Samaritan. Not even Jewish women would talk to her.
Moreover, Jewish tradition enforced women not to talk to outsiders or teach them their religion. Rabbi Eliezer wrote in the 1st century: “Rather should the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman. Whoever teaches his daughter the Torah is like one who teaches her obscenity.” Jesus overthrew centuries of this tradition. He taught that women and men both had equal value, but different roles.
In this paper, I will explain the biblical understanding of manhood and womanhood from both an egalitarian and complementarian perspective. I will argue that the complementarian perspective is the most biblical position.
There are two basic thoughts. The first theological view is called complementarianism. It argues men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and other areas of service. For instance, women have been naturally created to nurse and care for their children. The man has been designed to use his strength to work and protect his family. These roles are different, but both are of equal value. The Bible makes it clear that Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, equal before God as persons yet distinct in their manhood and womanhood (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:18).
The second theological view is called egalitarianism. It states that “all humans are equal in fundamental worth and social status,” according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. To defend this argument, proponents quote Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11, which both state “there is no distinction between Jew or Greek, bond or free, and male or female, for all are one in Christ.”
Egalitarian advocates might argue women and men are both capable of governing and teaching roles within the church. If a woman is not allowed to have leadership power over their husband, some feel this is discriminatory and wrong.
I believe the Complementarian position is the most biblical for several reasons. First, God created both male and female anatomically different, which shows a distinction to begin with.
Second, while the Bible demonstrates the high value and dignity for both genders (Gen. 1:26; Gal. 3:28), it does affirm the principle of male headship in the family and church community (Eph. 5:21-33; 1 Tim. 2:11-15).
Third, the Trinity displays the role of headship, with the Son submitting to the Father, even though both persons are co-equal and fully God. God’s nature should be an example for us to follow with the wife submitting to the husband just like Christ submitted to the Father.
Fourth, The Danver’s statement says it succinctly: “In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and core for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husband’s leadership (Eph. 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; Tit 2:3-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-7).”
I believe it’s important to recognize the distinction between male and female roles. Both genders are created with a purpose that can only be fulfilled if they are willing to accept how God created them. It’s indisputable that males and females are equal in their value and worth. And it’s not that men have special privileges over women when they have been commanded by God to take on a leadership role. In fact, men are called to sacrificially love their wives and protect them.
Unfortunately, men either abuse this power or they become passive and cowardly. In my opinion, it works best when the woman allows the man to lead, and when the man leads in a humble, gracious, and loving way that gives the most glory to God.