Christian Living

Why I’m Not Ashamed of Different Gender Roles in the Church6 min read

May 2, 2017 4 min read


Why I’m Not Ashamed of Different Gender Roles in the Church6 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

God doesn’t make mistakes.

When He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18), He was not saying “Whoopsie daisy!” Instead, He was teaching that a genderless world is not good. To highlight this, God commanded Adam to name every creature in an effort to teach Adam that no animal had the capacity to worship God with him, serve God with him, or bring him the companionship that only an equal could.

Then God gave Adam a helper perfectly suited for Him. The King James Version calls her a “help meet.” She was equal to Adam, but different in role and function. She perfectly complemented him in a way that mirrored both the equality and functional diversity of the three-in-oneness of God.

They were given a mission bigger than themselves: to be fruitful and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28). Adam named his wife “Eve,” which means giver of life (Gen. 4:20). The act of naming someone is a demonstration of headship. Even after they both believed Satan’s lies and sinned, thus losing rights to the Garden of Eden, Adam’s headship over her remained (Gen. 3:16). Together they continued to model the equality and submission of the members of the Trinity.

Just as aloneness wasn’t good in the garden, it isn’t good in the church. A church without gender is just as incomplete as the Garden of Eden without gender. The church today is part of something bigger than itself; it is commanded to multiply and fill the earth with disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). The fact that women, in particular, are commanded to teach the younger women how to be givers of life in both the home and the church (Titus 2:4-5) makes this, in a way, woman-specific. Women can do things that no man can.

Jesus Gave Legitimacy to Women During His Ministry

Jesus teaches us something in how He recognized the inherent equality of women and men, in how He ministered to women, and in the dignity with which He treated them in His ministry. He impartially addressed women directly when in public (John 4:7-26; Luke 7:12-13; 8:48; 11:27-28; 13:12; 23:27-31), which was culturally unusual for a man to do (John 4:27).

As Jesus went through cities and villages proclaiming the good news about the Kingdom, the disciples were with Him, “and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities […] who provided for them out of their means” (Luke 8:2-3). Women served alongside Jesus, even at the cross, for “there were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him” (Matt. 27:55).

God chose to give women crucial roles in the resurrection accounts, despite the fact that in Christ’s day, women were not considered reliable witnesses. Josephus warned, for example, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.”[1] Yet, it was the women who loved Jesus who came to the tomb to anoint and pay respects to His body, only to discover He was missing. They were the first to hear the good news, “He is risen!” (Matt. 28:5-8; Mark 16:5-8; Luke 24:2-12; John 20:1-2). Jesus then appeared to these women before anyone else, saying “Greetings!” and “Go and tell” (Matt. 28:9-10). They faithfully reported what they saw to the disciples, and no doubt continued to tell others for years to follow.

Jesus Recognized Gender Role Distinctions

We should point out that Jesus was not afraid of breaking social customs when He felt it necessary. Against custom (to put it mildly), He publicly condemned many of the Jewish leaders (Matt. 23:13-36), healed on the Sabbath (Mark 1:21-27; Luke 13:14; John 5:8-10), and cleansed the temple (Matt. 21:12-13; John 2:14-17). Against custom, He spoke with women (John 4:7-9), ate with dishonorable people (Matt. 9:11), and even ate with unwashed hands (Mark 7:1-23). Notice when moral issues were at stake, Jesus did not bend to societal pressure.

But Jesus did not appoint any women to be apostles, nor did He choose any women to pen the New Testament Scriptures. Many of the apostles had wives (1 Cor. 9:5) – could not Jesus just have easily appointed them to the position alongside their husbands? It wouldn’t have necessarily been culturally taboo to do so, as both Jewish and Gentile societies occasionally allowed for women leadership (Judges 4-5; 2 Kings 11:3; Acts 17:4, 12). Yet Jesus still had role distinctions in mind when selecting His apostles, and the same is true today when selecting elders in His church.

Not long after His church was established, a problem arose regarding the neglect of a select group of women (Acts 6:1). Plenty of women were numbered among the Christians in that day (Acts 1:14; 5:1, 14). Yet the church was told to select seven qualified men (andras, Acts 6:3), which meant this choice of men to serve in this capacity (presumably deacons) was deliberate.

Regardless of gender, Jesus recognized the intrinsic equality of men and women. He valued their fellowship, prayers, worship, testimony, and financial support. There are no gender barriers between a believer and Jesus Christ. Yet we can also see in Christ’s choice of apostles, writers of the New Testament, and other leadership roles a pattern of male leadership.

The Church Needs Men & Women Who Treasure Their God-Given Gender Roles

Women play such an important function within the body of Christ. There are hundreds and thousands of ways the strength of the church depends on the work and devotion of women. But the devil’s strategy remains the same: “Did God really say you cannot hold a leadership office in the church?” The enemy always downplays the bountiful forest of trees in the Garden to focus on just one. Eating what God has forbidden will never make us like God; it can only separate us from Him.

The leadership of the church is to reflect the created order. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13). Walking with God by faith means submitting to the fact that the Bible only allows for men to hold authoritative leadership offices – preachers, elders, deacons – in the church (1 Tim. 2:8-15; 1 Cor. 14:34-36; 11:2-16). In our day, this is culturally preposterous. But by the grace of God, we will trust God’s commands and celebrate the God-given treasure of complementary gender roles.

It is tempting to give in to the world’s pressure and wave a rebellious, “women can do anything men can do” fist at God. This attitude can only lead to spiritual death. However, the attitude of humble submission to God’s plan of gender roles will lead to salvation (1 Tim. 2:15).

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

[1] Josephus, Antiquities iv. 8. 15.

Ben Giselbach is the pulpit minister at the Edgewood church of Christ in Columbus, GA. He and his wife Hannah have two children, Ezra & Colleyanna. Ben is a graduate of Freed-Hardeman University and has returned to pursue his MDiv. He has written three books in his You Are A Theologian Series: Thinking Right about the Bible, Thinking Right about God, and Thinking Right about Salvation.
  1. Kevin Shimp

    Well thought through. Positive and powerful. Thanks.

  2. Stephen Scaggs

    A pithy, much-needed article on an increasingly-controversial issue in our Christian communities.

  3. Debbie Richter

    Debbie Richter Thanks again Ben. "God wanted the church to reflect the created order." VERY GOOD. And why not? How can anyone have a problem with that? I have had trouble teaching this to women who were born in the late twenties and in the 1930's. They apply "cultural reasons" in order not to submit to scripture even though it clearly states the "created order" as the reason. It all boils down to people having a low view of scripture therefor they can stand above scripture and judge it, and with little thought apply a "cultural attitude" to anything they want to change in scripture. Teaching them to have a high view of scripture takes TIME, therefore I have not had any success in teaching the biblical gender roles as God commanded the church to reflect.

  4. Steve Ramsey

    There is a lot to this article, and I disagree with much of it, but for now I want to focus on why I disagree with the foundational belief that Adam naming Eve shows he was her authority, therefore men are in a position of authority over women. First, Adam does not name her until after the fall. The curses that God delivers to them after the eating the fruit were a change in the way things were. Now they would have to woork for their food. Now childbirth would hurt. And now, man would rule over woman. This implies that man did not rule over her prior to the Fall. So we have to ask which is a better condition--life before or after the fall? Should we aim for a world like Eden or post-Eden? Interestingly, people try to get around the other parts of the curse but often feel compelled to uphold this one. We use fertilizer and tractors to help with farming. Women are given painkillers for childbirth. Yet if we try to get past the man ruling woman, we are sinning. This is inconsistent. Second, naming in the Old Testament was to show the nature of the person being named and was not an indicator of dominance. For example, in Genesis 16:13, Hagar names God "El Roi" (God who sees). She did not have a position over him, but simply named Him based on His nature. In the same way, Adam names Eve based on her nature--mother of all living. I used to hold to the position that men were ordained by God to be in a position of authority over women, but after studying things like the above, I changed my mind. I am glad to discuss this further. God bless all of us as we seek His will.

    • Tony Clay

      Steve, I think you make some good points, but this doesn't make Ben wrong necessarily. While it is true that Adam named Eve after the fall, and his naming her was indicative of her nature -- being the mother of all, that isn't necessarily the be all and end all of this matter. One of the biggest arguments in support of Adam having headship over Eve his wife is the sin of Adam. Looking at Romans 5 and other places, Adam's sin, initiating the fall of Man and the introduction of sin into the world and the consequences borne by all men, was started by Eve's sin. By referring to 'Adam's Sin' they are referring to him being deceived and eating second, breaking God's commandment. Why isn't it called 'Eve's Sin?' it's not called 'Eve's Sin' because Adam was responsible for her; he was tasked with leadership from the beginning. That being said, I appreciate the notion made in 'aiming for a world like Eden.' We should aim to be innocent and undefiled before God in all life, yes in our relationships too.

      • Steve Ramsey

        Tony, thank you for your kind response/rebuttal. I think Romans 5 is an interesting take on the issue. I think one would be hard pressed to make a definitive conclusion on male-female relations from it, though. It is likely Paul refers to it as "Adam's Sin" because of parallelism (Through one man sin entered, through one man sin is conquered). It is also possible that Paul is speaking in terms the culture would use--the man being in charge (This is part of the curse that God said would happen). This is not to suggest Paul is saying it should be this way but when in Rome, speak as the Romans. This is similar to passages about slavery, etc. Jesus was about changing the world, but His plan was to do it one heart at a time and not through revolutionary means. When Paul says for slaves to obey their masters, for example, he was not condoning slavery but was regulating it for the time being. But that is a whole other subject.

        • Ben

          Steve – It’s obvious that this article has really bothered you. I pray it continues to bother you as you work through these things, hopefully back toward the truth. You argue that we should “aim for a world like Eden.” Yet, God does not give us that option in this lifetime. Sure, we can manage the temporal consequences of the fall (medication, technology, etc.; this is simply a matter of “subduing” the world, Gen. 1:28), but we have no right to usurp God’s hierarchy of leadership He has ordained in the home and in the church. Furthermore, when Paul wrote 1 Timothy 2:11-12, he does not point to the Fall. Rather, he points back to creation itself, or pre-Fall Eden (1 Tim. 2:13). Perhaps many today would boldly cry “discrimination” at God for using the word “man” to encompass both male and female (Gen. 5:2; cf. Gen. 1:26). Would you, Steve, use the name of only one sex as a generic term for both? I doubt you would. But God did not name the human race “woman;” He named it “man,” thus whispering male headship in at least some form. To suggest this action is now outdated is to impugn the wisdom and goodness of God Himself.

    • Debbie Richter

      Steve: The biblical text is not speaking of "dominance" as you put it. Male and Female are equal. It is about the created order and the importance of gender. We have a problem with gender today. (Now, according to the state there are many genders, right?). We do not say that God is DOMINANT over us. God does not put it in those terms. God leads us.He leads us as a good Shepherd. A husband is to lead a family as Christ leads his bride--the church.

      • Steve Ramsey

        Debbie, Maybe "dominance" was the wrong word. It is "ruling over." I believe the creation account shows Adam and Eve were equal in terms of there being no "leader" per se. It was only after the Fall that a ruler is mentioned. If we consider creation order, then we have man (Day 7), ruling over animals that were created before him. In other places throughout the Old Testament, even, birth order did not necessitate who was leader or in charge. Consider Jacob and Esau, for example. In regards to husband leading his family, have you looked into the word for "head" in the New Testament? The Greek word is kephale. It is an interesting and emotionally charged study!

    • Donald T. Eaosn, Jr.

      Steve, I agree with you in that man is not the authority over (all) women. God gives men authority over his own wife (woman) , but not all women. In Ephesians 5:22--24, it states that Christ is the head of the church and husbands are the head of the wife and the wife is to be subject to her own husbands... She is not subject to all men, she is subject to her own husband. Christ is the example of how men aught to treat their wives. As it relates to ruling over her, Adam was always head, but not so much a ruler. God is a God of order, Farther, Son, Holy Spirit. there is a order in the God head, but these three are one. They never argue, but there is a order of authority. There has to be a leader in the home and God has given that role to men. But he is also to love, care and keep his wife, not be a dictator. Unfortunately, because of sin rule is needed sometimes, but that should still be in love, never overbearing or evil. Elders and Deacons must be the husband of one wife. The fact that the qualification to be a husband, to be a Elder or Deacon rules out a woman being in that role. But as the Brother Ben wrote there is much for women to do in the roles God gave them. I for one am glad the Elders and Deacons must have a wife. They need her help for balance and understanding sometime, The fact that God made woman a helper to man means there are somethings he needs help with. Which also means she is smarter than him in some areas and her value cannot be understated, she sees the world differently and her perspective is greatly needed. She is actually smart enough to get directions when we get lost. Of course this was before GPS, now even the most directionally challenged among us looks like he knows where he is going. We need her assistance in many things, but God has made man the head and he cannot abdicate his responsibility no matter what the world may say or think. God's word is right and truth.

      • steveeramsey

        Donald, Have you studied the Greek word for "head" (kephale)? It is a really interesting study. In a nutshell, the word did not indicate position or rank as it does in English. Today, we see someone being the "head" and we think of them being in charge. The Greeks did not use it that way. I do not believe we need to have a leader in a home. Husband and wife can work together as one. It is like if you and a friend went out to a movie and food. Who is in charge? Neither one. Each of you will probably be concerned about the other one. "Where do you want to eat?" is much more likely than "We're going to ____." This is how it should be in the home. The fact that men are listed as elders and deacons does not necessarily mean this is how God intended it to be for all time. I do not believe God wanted slavery to exist, but He regulated it until men's hearts were changed. That could very well be the case here. I believe church leadership positions are for an immature congregation until it matures to the point of loving one another as it should (another topic, for sure!).

        • Ben

          Steve – There is no getting around the fact that “head,” as used in the New Testament, does often mean the functional subordination of anyone under the “head.” This is true in the home and in the church. “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Cor. 11:3) “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.” (Eph. 5:22-23) You are suggesting that the New Testament must somehow bow to the currents of culture. If you believe the New Testament is somehow fluid, allowing for mankind’s wisdom to take precedence over time, you believe so at your own peril. It is shameful to suggest that God commanded men to be leaders in the home and in the church only temporarily, or “until men’s hearts were changed.” We come to an impasse. We must believe either: (a) the words of the New Testament are our perfect pattern today (2 Tim. 1:13) and thus sufficient to live godly lives (2 Tim. 3:16-17), or (b) the Bible is merely a “stepping stone” to some sort of convoluted, progressive revelation via man’s wisdom (1 Cor. 3:19-21). Knowing I am on the doorstep of eternal judgment, I choose to stand by 1 Timothy 2:11-14 on this topic. The words of the Lord are "flawless" (Prov. 30:5, NIV).

          • Debbie Richter

            Again, well said, Ben! Excellent response. Are we like Erasmus who sits over the Bible to judge it, or are we, like Luther, who said to Erasmus that he sits under the Bible as it judges him.

  5. Donald T. Eaosn, Jr.

    Brother Ben, I always enjoy reading your articles and I thank you for them. This is a very good and much needed one .You mentioned in this article that they both believed Satan's lies and sinned. But as it relates to eating off the forbidden tree Adam was not treated, he knew exactly what he was doing. In 1 Timothy 2:14 it states that Adam was not deceived. Which is goes to your points about Adam, sin and authority.

  6. Sandy Strand

    Thank you Ben for providing a different approach to this subject. I really appreciate you're speaking the truth in love.

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