“The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.”
Many post-modern evangelicals dismiss that quote, as well as that line of reasoning, arguing that it equates to “checking one’s brain at the door.” (Do they realize that they’re equally trite?) When gender roles come up, such people particularly assume that accepting the Bible’s declarations at face value demonstrates an unwillingness to reason things out.
Sometimes, certainly, we do need to study a verse in more detail, particular when it appears to contradict the general flow of Scripture (1 Timothy 2:15, for instance), but much of Scripture needn’t undergo massive torture simply because we don’t like it. And therefore, the passages that teach the distinct roles between men and women don’t require a vast amount of explanation. The Holy Spirit pretty much moved on the men who penned Scripture to write clearly.
Moses, for instance, described Eve’s creation by emphasizing that she came from Adam for the purpose of helping him.
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.” ~~Genesis 2:18-23 (ESV)
Clearly, the order of creation places Man in a leadership position. But note that Man’s position in no way suggests Woman’s inferiority or spiritual inequality. Her very purpose as Man’s helper, in fact, demonstrates that she brings something to the table that he couldn’t have brought without her.
In 1 Corinthians 11:3-12, the apostle Paul discusses this headship of Man and the simultaneous mutuality between Man and woman. Let me point out two sections of this passage that I believe refer back to Genesis 2:18-23.
Firstly, Paul establishes male authority within marriage.
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 Corinthians 11:3 (ESV)
Husbands, although they are accountable to Christ, have the responsibility to exercise leadership in their households. Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18 and 1 Peter 3:1-6 all enforce this marital structure by instructing wives to submit (always balancing this command by telling husbands to love their wives). The New Testament consistently promotes male leadership.
Secondly, Paul affirms that husbands and wives, while having leader/follower roles, are mutually dependent.
7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. ~~1 Corinthians 11:7-12 (ESV)
As far as spiritual standing, the Lord makes no qualitative distinctions between men and women. I refer you to Galatians 3:28 (in proper context) and 1 Peter 3:7 as evidence that women share equally in the inheritance that Christ has for believers. The dignity of women that Genesis 2:18-23 implies, therefore, comfortably co-exists with gender specific roles in marriage.
The principle of male leadership doesn’t stop at marriage, however. Scripture also consistently upholds a model of male leadership in the structure of churches. 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:6-9 enumerate the qualities necessary in holding leadership positions, decidedly couching the instructions to assert that only men meet the criteria.
Liberal people typically argue that these passages reflect 1st Century values, and so do not apply to the present-day church. I would counter by pointing out that Paul directly appeals to Genesis when he told Timothy that women should not hold positions of authority or teaching over men.
11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. ~~1 Timothy 2:11-14 (ESV)
As I’ve studied these Scriptures over the past four decades (often looking for loopholes that might permit me to teach men), I’ve repeatedly concluded that churches, to be Biblical, require male leadership. Paul bases this requirement on both the order of creation and Eve’s rebellion against Adam’s leadership when she ate the forbidden fruit. Paul connects the restriction to the Genesis narrative in order to refute claims that he limited the scope of women’s ministry as a capitulation to 1 Century Ephesian culture.
Scripture definitely affirms spiritual equality between men and women, but that equality doesn’t negate the Lord’s institution of gender roles. Post-modern society resists these roles, just as it tries to distort gender and sexuality as a whole, but Christians must accept the Bible’s teaching over culture’s demands. God created us male and female for His purposes, and we should celebrate our gender distinctions as a way to honor Him.