“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
The most obvious distinction between male and female is biological. Some say it is the only distinction and that other distinctions are made by society.
Certainly, distinctions are made by society; some are biblically valid, and some are not. Surely it is legitimate to have an all-male football team. Certainly, it is not fair to pay a woman less than a man for identical work. But are there innate psychological characteristics unique to each sex?
Traditionally, most societies have held that there are. Is it not reasonable to assume that physical characteristics that enable a woman to bear and nurture children should be accompanied in the design of the Creator by an inner disposition to reinforce those roles? The greater size and strength of the male may indicate something of the role intended by the Maker. But these assumptions have been strongly challenged. The new folk wisdom, following the behavioral scientists, holds that all psychological distinctions between the sexes have been socialized; they are acquired characteristics, not inherent. If the early environment conditioned all girls in a society to be dominant and aggressive and to assume leadership roles, that is exactly the way women would be. Though the Bible in places seems to assume the traditional viewpoint, it nowhere gives a clear-cut answer to this question. So we may safely classify the issue as nonmoral in nature. But what is the significance of the question?
The “unisex” view of human nature recognizes no inherent distinctives apart from the basic physical distinction that all must grant, however reluctantly. Most who advocate the unisex viewpoint are strongly in favor of eliminating all role distinctions. Roles based directly on the biological functions necessary to fathering and mothering (perhaps “inseminating” and “bearing” would be more accurate descriptions) are accepted, but all other role distinctions are negotiable, dispensable, and may, in fact, be pernicious, according to this view. If the Bible is silent on the question of innate characteristics, is it equally silent on the question of role differences?
Role Distinctions. There is no distinction between male and female as image-bearer: Each is equally designed on the divine pattern (Gen. 1:27). Each is equally a sinner, equally under judgment, equally redeemable, and equally a potential recipient of God’s grace. Further, “in Christ Jesus” there is “neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28). This verse is the cornerstone of the Christian feminist movement, and thus the meaning is greatly debated. Perhaps the expression “in Christ Jesus” means simply, “as a Christian” or “before God” or is equivalent to “joint heirs” (1 Pet. 3:7). If so, the meaning is simply that God does not discriminate along sex lines in dispensing grace. This is the interpretation of most Bible scholars. But some hold that Paul here eliminates all role distinctions for the Christian. This interpretation, however, is too heavy a superstructure to build on a verse that also says, “In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no bond or free.” Paul could have added, no adult or child, no teacher or disciple, no elder or younger. But this does not keep Paul from elsewhere insisting on the distinct role responsibilities in one’s position. In fact, he consistently insists on the unique responsibilities of servant and master, parent and child, teacher and disciple, elder and younger, husband and wife.
What role distinction, then, does Scripture make between the sexes? The hotly disputed question of roles in church governance does not fall within the scope of this book. But whatever role distinction Scripture may make in the home and in the church, it is unwarranted to extend these to society at large on the basis of biblical authority. One may see a paradigm of male/female relationships in the biblical model for marriage and apply this to civic or business relationships, but he may not do this on the basis of biblical authority, for the Bible is silent on the issue of female leadership in business, industry, or government. How much more distant from scriptural teaching is the ridiculous and altogether pernicious idea that every woman must be subordinate to any man with whom she is related.
God authorized certain women to be judges, prophets, and teachers, so there is nothing inherently sinful in such roles for women on some occasions: Miriam (Exod. 15:20), Deborah (Judg. 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14 ff.; 2 Chron. 34:22 ff.), Noadiah (Neh. 6:14), Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3), Anna (Luke 2:36-38), Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:9), Priscilla (Acts 18:24 ff.), and many other women (1 Cor. 11:5; Acts 2:17). The issue we must address here is the question: Is it a sin for a woman ever to be cast in a role of leadership over men? The question—at least outside the realm of the home and the church—cannot be argued from Scripture on moral grounds. Those who address the issue must do so from pragmatic or other grounds. The only possible way for Scripture to be introduced would be in drawing analogies from what the Bible teaches about husband/wife relationships, but such analogies must not be pressed as having scriptural authority. Let us not go outside Biblical grounds for placing women in subordinate roles. Oppression is not God’s intent in establishing male and female.