To My Friend Who Believes in “Biblical Gender Roles”

Christi Rooke

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biblical gender roles

letter and pencil biblical gender roles

I wrote this note to a friend who believes in “biblical gender roles” and thought it might be encouraging and helpful to others.

Every girl, boy, woman, and man bears the image of our Creator. And each person has a unique set of gifts that God wants to use in powerful ways so that the Kingdom will be “on earth as it is in heaven”! Sadly, too often the church fails to empower ALL of God’s warriors because their strengths and gifts don’t fit into the right “gender box”. Like Jesse and Samuel not expecting David, many of God’s anointed are passed over because they don’t fit prescribed expectations.

I know too many men who have been shamed because their gifts didn’t line up on the right list of “manly traits”.

Our typical list of Biblical male role models is horribly lacking. May we give as much honor to the humility of Judah–who confessed his brokenness and let Tamar’s righteousness rescue him from his own demise and lead his family into the blood-line of the Messiah— as we give to David for his courage and bravery in slaying Goliath. Let’s affirm and praise Barak—who served under Deborah and requested her presence in battle—as boldly as the book of Hebrews does in listing him as a great hero of faith.

May we remind men of Joseph, who, with quiet strength and tender faithfulness, did whatever was needed, so God’s calling on Mary could come to fruition. And let’s not forget Jesus, who, rather than choke back the emotion welling up within, wept publicly among women and outcasts. Despite living in a world that demanded Jesus “Man Up!”, he constantly laid down. Jesus refused to submit to the religious and cultural gender roles of the time.

Like Jesus, may we empower God’s Ezer Warriors (girls and women) with as much freedom, power, and authority, as we evidence in our sisters in Scripture. Too many girls and women I know—myself included—are told by “spiritual leaders” to bury our gifts and talents because they are “male traits” and only meant to be used by “male” disciples.

My heart grieves as I wonder; how many modern-day Deborahs have had their spiritual and authoritative leadership stifled? How many Huldahs have had their prophetic voices silenced? How many Ruths have had their strength and boldness smothered? How many Lydias have been told their best purpose is to “stay at home and serve their husband’s calling”, when their savvy business gifting could be used to aid missionaries and plant house churches? And how many Junias are relegated to the periphery when God created them to be on the front lines and praised as outstanding among the apostles?

Yes, I am personally invested in this subject, but my passion goes beyond my individual inequity. I believe that one of the Prince of Darkness’ most subversive strongholds is this notion of “biblical gender roles”. Satan continues to effectively disarm at least half the church, drastically diminishing power and gifting that is intended, not just for the church, but for the entire world.

Too many people are robbed of the fullness for which they were created.

Too many life-giving gifts are laid dormant because we improperly label them male or female. And too many people have their gifts suppressed in the name of “biblical gender roles“. Yet ironically, what we see over and over again in Scripture is that there are no “biblical gender roles”!

May we demolish this stronghold and every pretense that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, so that every image-bearer can shine brightly and make known the love of their Creator! Be who God created you to be! In doing so, not only will you find yourself living life to the fullest. You will get to see first-hand what it means for light to pierce the darkness! Shine brightly dear sisters and brothers!

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32 Comments

  • One word sums up everyone’s argument. Balance.
    It’s not weakness to show emotion
    it’s weakness to let emotions rule you
    what’s that mean? I can show how I feel about a situation
    but I can’t fall apart and be effective in certain situations
    women and Men need each other.

  • I was told for years that I was rebellious and promoting the agenda of the devil for suggesting that husbands and wives can work in any roles that works for them, instead of insisting on over/above, lead/follow stuff.
    Based on what I’ve read in scriptures, it didn’t make sense to put everyone in a close lidded box.
    I was mocked and the pastor organizing the forum stated that we shouldn’t allow devilish inspired feminism into our homes.
    This was even before i knew of comp/egal inclinations.
    I repented of my rebellion but was restless.
    Somehow, sexism didn’t augur well with what I think of Jesus
    I started reading, praying Started reading Laura Martin of Enough Light, Tim Fall, which led me here and Marg Mowczko
    Biblical manhood and womanhood detracts from the wholeness of the gospel

  • I know this post is a little old already so it’s probably useless to comment here, but I really just want to thank you and everyone who runs this website. I’m 21 years old and in August I started the first ever college group in my church. So far, the attendance has been dismally small. Currently, its regulars consist of only me, my brother, and a female friend. I know that starting small doesn’t necessarily mean that the group won’t grow later on, but it’s still something that’s been eating at me.

    And then tonight, I encountered 1 Timothy 2:8-15. At first, I was confused. The Lord already told me I would be a teacher–specifically, after I graduate college, I’m going to be teaching English in Japan and getting involved with spreading the gospel there. But then, the doubt started to creep in, and I decided to find some commentaries on the internet to clarify what it meant. And I encountered this: https://bible.org/seriespage/9-what-does-it-mean-not-teach-or-have-authority-over-men-1-timothy-211-15

    It’s a full essay claiming that 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is a permanent limitation on female leadership in the church. I’m not gonna lie; the moment I got to the part where his stance on the matter was made clear, I burst into tears. For years, all I’ve wanted is to be able to do more for God and show other people how much He loves them. Then I find out that apparently my calling is only for matters outside the church, and the reason why nobody is showing up to my college group is because I’m female. I tried to find other stances on the subject, to no avail; all of them said the same thing. By this point I was pretty much sobbing.

    And then, by some miracle, I encountered this website at the bottom of a search page involving Charles Spurgeon (how does that happen?). It took a few articles to convince me, but once I read some testimonies and learned about authentin, I was sold. Even better, I now see that it’s okay to be bothered by biblical gender roles, which was another issue I’ve always grappled with.

    So truly, thank you all. I was considering dismantling the group, but you managed to stop me from doing something I would definitely regret. This website and all its wonderful contributors are a huge blessing.

    • That’s lovely. I saw some YouTube videos of churches in China, they have lots of women preachers and leaders. They’re very inspiring.

  • If I may diverge from the consensus here a bit … in my complementarian understanding of scripture there is indeed no male or female when it comes to justification, nor in being filled with the Spirit and exercising spiritual gifts – sons and daughters may prophesy. In this sense I don’t believe in ‘silent women’ as second class citizens of the Kingdom.

    Yet the same apostle who wrote Galatians 3 also wrote 1 Tim 2, and I take the latter to be universal and permanent rather than temporary and local for reasons I am not angling for a long discussion about!

    It strikes me that in the States too many complementarians have gone beyond the limitation in the text itself and extended it to cover more areas of church life than intended. Some try to apply it to life outside of the gathered church (career, education). I agree on the need to correct this. Yet in doing so the church needs to avoid the gender confusion abundant in the secular world around it.

    There is a distinction of role between the sexes egalitarianism is in danger of fudging. The ‘complement’ of a wife’s submission in marriage is the husbands (sacrificial) love – nourishing and cherishing. Submission isn’t mutual and being head isn’t joint. Husband/wife are not interchangeable. Again, a superstructure has been built on this sometimes going beyond the text. There is plenty of room for sensible discussion of how this works in practice. Such discussion ought not to be an attempt at justifying disobedience to apostolic teaching, as all too often it is, notwithstanding bad experiences of how this teaching is sometimes abused.

    Yet a fundamental (if I may use that word!) designed distinction remains, both in marriage and in the ministry of the church, and we ignore it at our peril.

    • I also am not angling for a long discussion, but it seems helpful to respond to some of what you’ve mentioned.

      Men and women believing they are biblically equal aren’t gender-confused. That is something said *about* egalitarians by those who disagree with them, and it isn’t a fact. It isn’t at all confusing to use the gifts God gave you.

      In reality, it is far more confusing to be taught that you must suppress certain gifts due to your gender and that you must also develop certain areas where you have no giftedness or calling due to your gender. *That is true gender confusion.

      This term, “gender confusion,” arises out of the idea that if men and women are equals, then they’re identical. Here again this is a falsehood circulated by believers in hierarchy (sometimes on purpose, sometimes out of ignorance). Being equal does not mean being identical. We can agree on that, it seems.

      Ephesians 5 is a beautiful chapter focusing on believers’ lives as Christians. The “thought unit” of Ephesians 5:22-29 begins with verse 21: “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” This is important because the word “submit” does not even appear in verse 22–it is carried over from verse 21 as a logical extension of verse 21.

      Verse 21 instructs *all* believers to submit to one another, and the way it is written, it can’t be denied that this mutual submission among believers applies between husbands and wives as well–because the writer immediately goes to that very application. Much more could be said here, but let’s not, right now.

      It’s instructive to note a couple of things: (1) Paul writes a short instruction to wives essentially saying, “Go on doing what you’re already doing and obligated to do by civil law and social custom.” He gives husbands much longer instructions, instructions that go radically against the way husbands were supposed to treat wives in that society. They are called to far greater humility and service than wives, in this passage.

      And (2), instructions to wives to submit are just that–instructions to wives. Husbands who are being honest with themselves have their hands full already in following their own instructions. Look up every passage in the Bible that directly addresses husbands (“Husbands, love your wives,” for example). Not one directs husbands to make decisions for their wives–those verses don’t even *allow* it. They simply don’t mention it. What they do teach is that husbands are to be faithful to their wives, to serve them, to nourish and love them, to sacrifice for them, and so on.

      Bottom line: Given the instructions to husbands, and the Bible’s oft-repeated principles of love, humility, sacrifice, and justice, a husband who seeks and holds power in his marriage is not acting according to the Bible’s instructions to husbands. If/when a husband acts toward his wife in the ways he biblically should, the issue of submission won’t even arise, because conflicts between loving spouses will be solved with unselfishness and true Christlike love. There’s no tincture of coercion or making decisions for someone else in wives’ relationships with Christ; nor should there be in our relationships with our husbands, who are not Christ.

      • Terri–I couldn’t have said it better! You nailed it! Ken, if you are truly seeking to better understand this issue, there are quite a few resources we could recommend.

      • Terri, thanks for this thoughtful response! I have also responded and think you might appreciate some of the links I shared, especially to the most current review of the scholarship on “kephale”, translated as “head”.

        • Thanks, Gail. I’ve read extensively on “kephale” and would really like to read more, so I’ll check out all of your links. One can never learn too much about God’s love in kingdom relationships.

      • Terri and Gail – thanks for the responses. I’ll start with where I disagree with you! I don’t believe the submission of Eph 5 21 is mutual, and I could give several reasons for this. Just one would be Paul maps the husband/wife relationship to Christ and the church, and this relationship is not mutual, let alone between equals. It excludes this. This also rules out culture as being the reason for Paul’s instructions.

        Where I do agree with you (very much so) is that the ‘complement’ of wifely submission is all the many instructions given to husbands, both here and in 1 Peter. These are also not mutual. Love, cherish, honour, live considerately with etc. This is what husbands should concentrate on. Not enforcing their wives to submit.

        The wife submits to her husband as ‘head’. The implication is of difference of rank. I take head to have the sense of ‘head of department’ – a person who takes responsibility, not someone who is lord and master. So there is an element of authority, but ‘head’ is not merely a synonym of authority, and I’m a bit unhappy with how quickly some complementarians substitute words like ‘lead’ let alone assume a husband is obligated to make all the decisions. Christ as head of the church IS lord and master, but husbands should not press the analogy too far with marriage.

        Where this is rejected as sometimes it is, I think wives make themselves vulnerable to spiritual attack, and husbands in particular will find their prayers no longer answered until they put it right. Experience bears this out, but it is rooted in the NT.

        • “These are also not mutual. Love, cherish, honour, live considerately with etc. ”
          So are you saying wives don’t (or shouldn’t) love, cherish, honour, and live considerately with, their husbands?

        • The super-complimentarian couple in our church get loads of spiritual attacks. We must remember Job and his friends though. Let’s not assume disobedience to Our Lord is always the reason.

    • I appreciate what Terri has said and agree that it is hard to understand people separate Eph 5:22 from 5:33 when they are so clearly connected in the Greek text. After making his statement about mutual submission, Paul then fleshes out what that would like in marriage, in families, and in master/slave relationships. It is interesting that each time Paul writes about submission of wives he also tells slaves to submit to masters (Eph 5-6, Col 3-4) and Peter does the same (1 Peter 2-3). Obviously, the instructions to slaves/masters were culturally influenced – no one today would say slaves should still submit to masters.

      I was appreciating your comments until you suggested that disagreeing with your interpretation is “an attempt at justifying disobedience to apostolic teaching”, which is not the case at all. It seems to me that the egalitarian interpretation is more consistent, taking into account the whole of scripture, rather than separating verses from their context to justify one’s opinion.

      Also, it was interesting to me that in a workshop I attended on homosexuality and gender dysphoria, Christian expert Mark Yarhouse commented that some of today’s gender confusion is the result of the narrowly proscribed definitions of biblical manhood and womanhood espoused in some circles today. In his experience (and he is considered the top Christian expert) it is the complementarian mindset more than egalitarianism that contributes to people questioning their gender identity. http://sexualidentityinstitute.org/

      And then of course there is the question of what Paul actually means when he uses the word “kephale” translated as head. The meaning is still widely contested. Here is a link to the most current review of biblical scholarship on “kephale”, https://juniaproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Cervin-Sig-of-Kephale.pdf

      • I don’t want to overfill your comments section! When I talked about disobeying apostolic teaching on this, I’m afraid this comes from experience. The attitude is not ‘how can I put this into practice’ – and of course there are differing ideas about this, there is no way I would claim some kind of infallible interpretation – but rather defiance. ‘I don’t like it and I’m not going to do it’.

        I have in my time read the internet on Kephale. First one side and then the other, with claims of views being refuted until – well – it does your head in! As it were.

    • I’m very gifted in speaking for God, speaking his word, His teaching. It has been prophesied over me that I could save a nation. He could do it without me, and I could bury my ‘tallents’, throw my spare jar of oil away. But He’s told me not to, so I won’t.

      Jesus Christ is head of the church. To try and take His place, even at micro-level, say designating yourself on a church board, is very dangerous ground. He made it very clear that we are all brethren, not parent and child or husband and wife. Your earthly marriage – to your chosen spouse is your business – but I will not behave as if church elders are my husband or father. This is an abomination.

    • P. S. I experience my femininity wonderfully and joyfully when I speak for God. He made us both, male and female in his image. To segregate men and women is to divide us an God. All male rules and regulations and all female rules and regulations go against His prayer for unity. So when you shut the door on women at an elder meeting, then you shut out half of God. And you corrupt His divine plan – two truly complimentary sides of one whole working together in His image. Not sometimes, but all the time.

    • P. P. S If you really are not angling for a lengthy discussion it’s probably best not to post a lengthy comment disagreeing with everyone else who posts here. But if you would like a lengthy discussion that is exactly what you should do.

  • God Bless you!
    I thought it was just me — all these decades.

    “How many modern Deborahs . . . Ruths . . . Lydias . . . Huldahs . . . ”
    Undoubtedly legions. You’re looking at one. Which one, I don’t know — I was never allowed to find out. You wouldn’t believe the things I was told I could not do, in both junior and senior high school, and it always boiled down to “being feminine”. Not talent, not ability, not grades, not intelligence. (Funny how nobody ever said any of those was not good enough.) And I do not mean softness or being gentle either. And I won’t even start on all my workplaces.

    Thank you so much for Saying It.
    Even if it did cause me to burst out crying.

    • My heart grieves that you were so stifled in the name of God. However it is not too late! God can use your story and gifts still! Beauty from ashes are His specialty!

    • Yes as Christi says. Write your story, publish it. We need it.

  • Absolutely right!

    There were no defined gender roles in Eden. Man and woman were each given the same roles and responsibilities by God in the beginning. Man and woman were each created in God’s image (Gen 1:27), each given dominion over the whole earth (Gen 1:28), each told to take care of the garden (Gen 2:15, 2:18), each told to eat a diet exclusively comprised of fruits and vegetation (Gen 1:29), and each told to unashamedly (Gen 2:25) live by faith in God (Gen 2:16-17). The only implied gender role was procreative. They were told to “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28) and to be joined together to fulfill these roles that were jointly given to man and woman by God (Gen 2:24).

    • Amen and amen!! Love you laid out the proof texts so clearly too! Thank you…such a great resource!

  • Thanks this is great. Yes I wonder if Joseph was a ‘baby whisperer’ just like my dad. Mary was clearly the proclaimer in their marriage.

    And I would add to your observations that Jesus waited the table of his disciples. As He promises to wait at ours also. He also had no complaints of being supported by women.

    • Yes! I agree! There are so many incredible examples of God’s people loving and serving him in “non-traditional” ways!

      • Thank you! I love it when people reply to me here… I belong to a church which is just opening its eyes from complimentarianism. But is nowhere near free. God wants me there but I need you folks for balance.

  • Link in email for this article does not work. I guessed that it was an error to post the copy instead of the original and deleted the word “copy” from the URL–that’s how I got here. Might need to send out another email.

    And thank you for the article–it *is* helpful.

  • Thank you so much for the reminder that we need to be celebrating men with non-traditional gifting as well! Your line about some being “robbed” was one I will be ruminating on for a while, beautiful.

    • Glad it was helpful! Some of the dearest men in my life have not been affirmed for their gifts either–because they aren’t “man enough” and it causes me much anger and sadness!

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