Equal But Different
When men and women sing together, their voices blend. Sometimes the women will sing a part by themselves, and then the men will sing another part by themselves. We become aware of the difference in their voices. We do not think of the male voice being superior and the female voice inferior. Each has its own range and quality. When men and women are able to sing their different parts in harmony, the result is rich and fulfilling. As we learn to draw upon the value of what is distinctive to men and women, our life together becomes stronger and more beautiful. This is the teaching of the Bible.
From The Beginning
When Christ is asked about marriage and divorce in Matthew 19, He goes back to the beginning for the answers. He lays down an important principle: to understand how God wants us to live, we must see His purpose in creating us. The New Testament passages dealing with the roles of men and women refer back to first three chapters of Genesis: 1. the creation of mankind; 2. the forming of Eve; 3. the Fall and its consequences (1 Cor. 11:2-26; Gal. 3:26-28; Eph. 5:22-31;1 Tim. 2:9-15).
In Genesis 1, God (plural) creates man (singular) in His image and likeness, as male and female. This teaches us that both men and women are good and important to God. There is no suggestion of one being superior and the other inferior. Is there a parallel in thinking of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as equal but different? “Christ … did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Phil. 2:6). Together, the Trinity made us in the divine image. We, on our greatly different level as creatures, were made equal, as male and female. There is no gender inequality in creation.
In Genesis 2, God forms Eve from Adam’s rib, to be a help compatible with him. Immediately there is a difference between men and women. There is no inequality, but there is distinction. We were made in a different way for a different purpose. The building of woman from man’s rib does not indicate inferiority. On the contrary, it makes possible equality through the sameness of nature: both came from the same lump of clay in the Creator’s hand. They stand as equals, compatible but distinct. Acceptance of these distinctions is critical to a person’s well-being.
No Role Reversals
Adam and Eve were made differently to fill different roles. To reverse these roles is to ask for trouble. It’s like hooking up a battery to the wrong terminals. We have to believe that God knew what He was doing when He made us. He provided an occupation and a wife for Adam. This encourages men to seek their distinctive role in responsible leadership. When men do so, women are encouraged to find the unique role God has for them. The feminine role, though subordinate, is in no way inferior.
The Divine Model
It helps to view the relationship between the Father and the Son. There is total equality, but as divine Persons, the Son is subordinate to the Father. The Son obeys the Father. The Father delights in the Son, and honors Him in every possible way. They are seen in a relationship of love and joy. Together they work in unity and harmony. There is no conflict of roles in the Godhead. On another plane, God made us in His image, male and female, equal but different. These two principles are found throughout Scripture.
In Genesis 3, both the man and woman are involved in the Fall. However, there is a difference between them. The woman is the first to be tempted. She is deceived by the serpent. The man accepts what the woman has done and follows along. God confronts him first, and holds him accountable. He bears the primary responsibility. In typical male fashion, he blames his wife for his actions. Both seek to shift the blame. But God holds them both responsible for the consequences of their action. They are equal as persons before God, but they are different in their strengths and weaknesses. Being deceived was the way woman is vulnerable. Being disobedient was the way man is vulnerable. However, if the woman was the first to believe the serpent, she was also the first to believe God in resurrection (Jn. 20:15-18).
Distinction In Consequences
After God’s interrogation of Adam and Eve, He pronounced a curse upon the serpent, and announced the good news about the seed of the woman. Then, He outlined the painful results of the Fall, first to Eve, and then to Adam. Woman is affected in her child-bearing and marital relationship, as wife and mother. Man is affected in his work. God sees them as equal but different both in the innocence of the original creation, and in the guilt and pain of a fallen world. The coats God provided offer our first parents some relief from the pain, pointing to the ultimate solution of the perfect sacrifice on the cross. But even they remind us that we are equal but different.
Distinction In The Gospels
When we study the Gospels carefully, we find that the Lord Jesus demonstrated both these principles in His teaching and in His serving. Mary was particularly blessed to be the mother of our Lord. When it came to decisions and leadership in the family, Joseph, her husband, was given the instructions. Mary had a unique and honored role, but as a woman, it was subordinate.
No Double Standard
Christ never put women down. He treated them with honor and respect, condemning men for even a lustful look (Mt. 5:28). He knew the injustice and hurt they have suffered down through history. Women felt secure in His presence. There was no double standard with Him. He dealt with their sins as He dealt with those of the men. He came to save not to judge. His judgment was reserved for the world of the Pharisees, where men saw themselves superior to women. Those who believed were called equally sons and daughters of Abraham.
At the same time, Christ demonstrated the difference in roles in His choice of the twelve. In His kingdom, leadership and administration were the responsibility of men. That in no way detracted from the importance of the feminine roles. Of the women who followed Him, Martha and Mary are outstanding examples, as is Mary Magdalene at the resurrection. To say that this was just custom and culture is to miss the point. Christ never changed or violated divine principles. He taught and applied them within the setting of each situation.
In Family And Church
When it comes to roles, in the Epistles the teaching concentrates in two areas – the family and the Church. In both there is equality and distinction. There is never concession or adaptation to local custom or contemporary culture.
The Epistle writers taught an approach that made Christians different from their neighbors on a number of points, and they did so out of conviction that they were following God’s way. They took stands against external influences, and would not be pushed beyond limits they believed were right. Their teaching was grounded for the most part in five things: teaching about Adam and Eve; God’s purpose in creation and redemption; the example of the patriarchs; the order of headship (God-Christ-man-woman); the parallel between the marriage relationship and Christ’s relationship to the Church.
In the family and the Church, men have leading and governing responsibilities which correspond to their gender identity. Women have equally important but different roles which express their identity as women. There are many models in Scripture of women of great faith, great wisdom, great gift, great service – women of action and courage.
Together, as brothers and sisters in the Lord, we compose the Body and the Bride of Christ. Let’s thank God for making us equal but different.
By Maurice Muller
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org