December 2009 Issue
Female ~ Made in the Image of God
by Randy Stinson
The issue of gender roles and equality has been a hot topic in
our churches and culture in recent decades. In 1998, the Southern
Baptist Convention went against the popular flow when it overwhelmingly
approved the addition of an article on the family (Article 18)
to the Baptist Faith and Message which states in part:
A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership
of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship
of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and
thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect
her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household
and nurturing the next generation.
The outcry was immediate, profuse, and often vitriolic.
Secular and religious critics alike accused the SBC of embracing
male chauvinism and promoting misogyny.
Two years later, the SBC further incurred the wrath of the
prevailing culture when it clarified the biblical position that
the pastoral office is a position assigned to men who meet biblical
qualifications (Article 6 of the Baptist Faith and Message
While both men and women are gifted for service in the church,
the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
It is critical that we remember why Southern Baptists would
take such a stance, lest a new generation concede to mounting
societal pressures to ignore God's Word on the roles and functions
of men and women. At the same time, it is also essential that
we accurately reflect the whole of biblical teaching in this subject,
lest, losing sight of the essential equality of male and female
in the eyes of God, we fall into some form of gender caste system,
Confusion over issues of gender runs rampant among churches
across America today. The current confusion necessitates a continual
reexamination and strong restatement of the biblical position,
for Scripture is absolutely clear on gender distinctions in both
home and church. Whenever families and churches act contrary to
biblical teaching, they do themselves great harm and risk doing
damage to the cause of Christ. Let's take a look at Scripture's
presentation of men and women, equal in the image of God, but
different in role and function.
The Fundamental Equality
of Men and Women
Scripture consistently reveals that God created male and female
as co-equals in their standing before Him.
Revealed in Creation
It is important to begin where the Bible itself begins
in the Garden of Eden, prior to the Fall. It is here that we see a picture of manhood and
womanhood before sin entered the world. Adam and Eve were created
in God's image, equal before God as persons, yet distinct in their
manhood and womanhood. Genesis 1:27 declared that God made man
in His own image as male and female. In the sight of God they
were equal, not in form, nor in function, but in essence. Neither
had more or less value in their standing before their Creator.
The essential equality of men and women, then, is the foundation
from which to deal with all gender-related issues.
Even in assigning Eve as Adam's helper, God emphasized her
equality by designating her as his ezer kenegdo, a helper
perfectly suited for Adam ("comparable to" [NKJV], "suitable
for" [NASB, NIV]; "fit for" [ESV]; "like"
[HCSB]; Genesis 2:18). In order for her to be perfectly suited
for him, she had to be equal to him. She was not to be his property
or his doormat. She was his equal and his complement. This is
further seen in Adam's expression of delight upon first seeing
Eve. He viewed her as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh
(Genesis 2:23). She was from him his same substance, his
Marred but Maintained in the Fall
The results of the Fall extend into every human relationship.
After the Fall, Adam's offspring quickly lost sight of the reality
that humans are created in the image of God. Sinful treatment
of each other followed. The Lord continually reminded His fallen
creatures that they were made in the image of God the imago
dei and grounded our ethics (how we treat one another
as humans) on this foundational truth. For example:
God prohibits murder because man is made in the image
of God (Genesis 9:6).
He forbids oppressing the poor, noting this undermines
their equality since, as Solomon wrote, The rich and the poor
have this in common: the Lord made them both (Proverbs 22:2).
James points out that when we curse men who are made
in God's likeness we undermine the equality of all human beings
Further, Paul taught that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek,
slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus
(Galatians 3:28), indicating that our inheritance before God is
not affected by such things as race, class, or gender. We are
equal in our standing before God in Christ. In addition, Peter
admonished husbands to deal with their wives "according to
knowledge" (KJV) and to show them honor as "co-heirs
of the grace of life" (1 Peter 3:7). Thus God's standard
is still in place. While human beings might neglect or disdain
their commonality in the image of God, they maintain their equality
before God, despite their sinful denial or distortion of this
The Fundamental Distinctions
Between Men and Women
Revealed in Creation
Though Scripture reveals their equal standing before God in
creation, it also reveals that God made Adam and Eve distinct
in their creational roles. This can be seen most clearly in Adam's
headship in marriage. This is developed in the first two chapters
of Genesis, before the intrusion of sin.
Adam was created first. The concept of derivation and
birth order comes into play here and Adam's headship is assumed
inasmuch as Eve is created subsequently. The fact that Adam is
created first is clearly a very important part of the narrative.
He has a natural precedence by order of creation. Paul makes much
of this in 1 Corinthians 11:3, 7-9 and 1 Timothy 2:11-13.
The naming function of Adam also suggests headship.
Adam was given the responsibility by God to name the animals over
which he was given dominion. The responsibility of naming each
animal reflected the nature of each and was a reminder to Adam
that none was his equal (Genesis 2:19-20).
Man's headship is further seen by the woman's creation to
be his helper (Genesis 2:18). Woman was, out of all of creation,
uniquely suited for the man, thus signifying her unique equality
with him. But her designation as Adam's helper shows that there
was a distinct difference in their roles. Upon seeing the woman
for the first time Adam makes his "bone of my bone"
declaration (Genesis 2:23), acknowledging their equality; yet
he also demonstrates his headship in the act of naming her "woman"
as distinct from "man."
The command to leave and cleave was addressed to the man
(Genesis 2:24). It is clear here that the responsibility to establish
the home and marriage was on the shoulders of the man, Adam. It
was up to the man not the woman to establish this
activity, which was an indication of his leadership or headship.
Man was designated "Adam." This was also the
term used to describe the whole human race, and this designation,
since it was given to the man and not the woman, implies his occupation
as head of the relationship (Genesis 1:26-28).
Since roles were a part of the original creation, they are
inherent in the lives of all men and women and thus should find
an echo in every human heart. The idea that men and women are
equal yet different, though rejected by modern feminism and even
many evangelicals, is indeed a result of God's purposeful and
Marred and Distorted by the Fall
The Fall introduced a distortion in the roles between men and
women. When God told the woman, Your desire will be for your
husband, yet he will dominate you (Genesis 3:16), He was not
introducing new roles; He was stating that the previously existing
roles would now be fraught with challenges and difficulties. The
word desire is the same word used in Genesis 4:7 where God described
the attacking and undermining element of sin's posture toward
Cain. Eve's desire, then, was not positive, but the introduction
of usurpation and competition which did not exist before the Fall.
In the home, these difficulties show up in various ways.
To the extent that one partner dominates the relationship,
various scenarios may be true. For instance, if a wife usurps
the leadership of her husband, the husband may have a tendency
to abdicate his God-given responsibility to lead the home. If
the husband is harsh and domineering, the wife may tend to adopt
a servile position. The proper relationship involves the loving,
humble headship of the husband and the gracious, willing submission
of the wife (1 Peter 3:1-7; Ephesians 5:22-33).
In the church, the root problem can be the same: a sinful resistance
to biblically prescribed roles. For men, it can take the form
of domination and power. The Bible teaches that pastoral leadership
in the church is to be fulfilled by men (1 Timothy 2:12), but
every pastor should exemplify the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians
5:22) and reflect the example of Christ's sacrificial relationship
to the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). For women, it can take the
form of dissatisfaction and rejection of biblically ordained structure.
The Bible clearly prohibits women from assuming the office or
role of pastor, especially as it relates to exercising authority
over men (1 Timothy 2:12), but it certainly affirms the role of
women in numerous other ministries especially as they relate to
other women (Titus 2:3-5).
Redeemed in Christ
In creation, the original roles involved male headship and
female submission between Adam and Eve. Sin brought about a perversion
of these roles so there would be resentment and a temptation to
usurp or abdicate one's role. Redemption does not negate the roles
of men and women in the home, but emphasizes them as a picture
of the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-33;
As in the home, men should bear the primary leadership responsibility
in the church. As seen in the Pastoral Epistles, redemption in
Christ does not require or imply an egalitarian structure, but
rather empowers men and women to fulfill their roles according
to God's design for the church.
For those who struggle to harmonize essential equality with
functional submission, it is instructive to note the relationship
within the Triune Godhead. There most certainly is essential equality
between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit;
but there is also eternal functional submission, in which we see
the Son doing the will of the Father (John 6:38) and the Father
sending the Spirit in Christ's name (John 14:26). Do we think
less of the Son or the Spirit because of Their submission to the
The Importance of a Biblically
It is fair to ask why this should matter. Why can't people
just arrange their churches and marriages in ways that seem best
to them? In other words, what is at stake?
The Recognition of Scripture as Authoritative is at Stake
The Bible clearly teaches that men and women are equal in value
and dignity and have distinct and complementary roles in the home
and the church. If churches disregard these teachings, following
the lead of culture instead, then the members of those churches
and subsequent generations will be less likely to submit to God's
Word in other difficult matters as well. Caving in to cultural
pressure to blur the distinctions between men and women will ultimately
soften the theological underbelly of the church and it will be
more susceptible to compromise when it faces other challenges
in the future.
The Health of the Home is at Stake
If families do not structure their homes properly, in obedience
to the teachings of Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, and Colossians 3,
then they will not have the proper foundation from which to withstand
the temptations of the devil and the various onslaughts of the
world. This in turn impedes the husband and wife from modeling
redemption in their home God has called them to (Ephesians 5:22-33).
The Health of the Church is at Stake
Just like the home, if the church disobeys the teachings of
1 Timothy 2, and 1 Corinthians 11 and disregards the structure
that God put into place for the community of faith from the beginning,
the church will be weakened. If the church is weakened in its
convictions, it will be less effective in accomplishing its mission.
Again, when a church compromises the Word of God at one point,
it becomes much easier to do it at other points; this in turn
undermines its spiritual health, not to mention that of future
generations (Deuteronomy 6:1-9).
The Advance of the Gospel is at Stake
Ephesians 5 calls husbands and wives to relate to one another
as a picture of Christ and the church. The picture involves humble,
sacrificial leadership by the husband and joyful, intelligent
submission to that leadership by the wife. Husbands and wives
who model this improperly portray a distorted and false picture
of Jesus Christ, the Head and Savior of His bride, the church.
If a husband is domineering, he is projecting an errant image
of Christ. If he is passive, he is likewise distorting the picture.
The same would be true of a wife who either usurps authority or
becomes a doormat. If we care deeply about the Gospel, then we
will care deeply about the authenticity of the picture of Christ
we are portraying. We should always be mindful of the Gospel ramifications
of the way in which we are living out our roles.
Male headship in the home does not mean that the husband is
in any way more important, more intelligent, or inherently better
than his wife. It is simply the fulfillment of God's design for
the home. Likewise, a wife's submission to the leadership of her
husband does not imply inferiority. Headship and submission, equality
and dignity, are not mutually exclusive but in fact are designed
by God to coexist ideally in marriage.
Husbands should be particularly mindful of Peter's admonition
to live with their wives in an understanding way and to treat
them as full equals and as joint heirs of the grace of life (1
Peter 3:7). Husbands who fail to treat their wives this way and
become bitter against them (Colossians 3:19) will have their
prayers hindered (1 Peter 3:7b). Likewise, wives who willingly
and joyfully submit to the headship of their husbands are modeling
their lives after Christ who yielded Himself to the headship of
the Father (1 Corinthians 11:3) and submitted Himself as one who
came to do the will of His Father (John 6:38).
This is not to suggest that wives are to submit to their husbands
in any and every situation. Wives are never required to submit
to a husband who is leading them into sin. In all of life, God
is our final authority and we should obey God rather than men
The Bible is clear that churches should structure themselves
so that the office of pastor/teacher is held by men. But this
does not negate the multitude of ministry opportunities for women
called and equipped by the Lord. First Corinthians 12:7-21 teaches
that there is diversity of gifts in the Body of Christ by design.
This diversity brings about a certain unity, since each member
of the Body is set there by God as He wanted (12:18). The
biblical position on gender roles is not preoccupied with restriction,
but concerns itself with the participation of all members in the
Body of Christ, within the parameters established by God Himself
in His Word. While the office of pastor is set apart for men who
are equipped and called by God to that role, there are countless
ministries to which women can and do give themselves fully and
freely. No man or woman should feel excluded from ministry since
there are so many genuine needs.
It should come as no surprise that our churches are experiencing
heightened conflict regarding gender roles in the home and church-such
is to be expected whenever secular standards are substituted for
God's Word. Nor should we be shocked at the massive collapse of
our families and the monumental ineffectiveness of churches nationwide
such is the result of rejecting God's design.
But when God's people embrace God's design for gender roles
in the home and church balancing essential equality with
functional submission we maximize the opportunity for God
to accomplish His purposes in our communities through our homes
1 For a more thorough
treatment of this very complicated subject, see Bruce Ware's Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationship, Roles, and Relevance,
Randy Stinson is a member of Highview Baptist
Church in Louisville, Kentucky; is dean of the School of Church
Ministries at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville,
Kentucky; and president of The Council on Biblical Manhood and
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