The Bible has always been controversial and radical when it comes to its teaching on gender. In Genesis 1:27 we are told that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This fundamental verse establishes both gender equality and gender distinction. Male and female are distinct as two categories – but they are also absolutely equal, sharing in the dignity and honour of being made in the divine image. For much of recorded history in most societies, the idea that male and female are distinct has been readily accepted, but the idea that they are equal has been thoroughly radical. And so, for millennia, God’s Word has challenged societies to properly honour and value women.
Wonderfully, the idea that men and women are equal is much more widely accepted in many societies today (although there is still a long way to go before this principle is universally honoured). But, as we all know, the idea that male and female are distinct has become much more controversial. Today, the radical and prophetic edge of the Bible’s teaching on gender is the affirmation that male and female are indeed different – not simply on the biological level, but in the particular roles God has given us within the family and the church.
We have recently worked through 1 Timothy chapter 2 in our church, and we have found refreshment and challenge in Paul’s teaching on the role of men and women in the fellowship. Paul calls men to take spiritual initiative in the gatherings of God’s people (verse 8), and he calls women to adopt a posture of listening (verses 11 and 12). There are many details in this passage that require careful attention – and all of them are hotly debated. But, grounding his argument in creation and not simply in culture (verses 13 and 14), Paul insists that there is a distinction here that the people of God need always to honour.
Our temptation is to set aside such teaching as archaic and outmoded – and even to view it as offensive and embarrassing. But as our culture moves further and further away from accepting biblical gender distinctives, we need all the more to hear, accept, and rejoice in the wholesome teaching of our Creator’s unchanging Word. We need to understand that teaching for ourselves, and we urgently need to model and teach it to our children, who are growing up in a deeply gender-confused world.