Are Men More Accountable to God than Women?

The other day I heard a Christian author say that men and women are assigned different roles in Scripture. “For example,” she said, “men are responsible for their family. That’s in the Bible and I believe the Bible.” She didn’t directly state that women are not responsible for their family, but that was the implication. Nor did she mention where in Scripture she finds this idea. 

Her comment reminded me of the many times and various ways I’ve heard people claim that although women are accountable to God in some sense, men are more accountable. God may call women to account for their personal actions and responsibilities, but men will answer for the overall picture, the larger narrative. A woman may be answerable for her “domain,” but a man is “lord of the earth,” responsible for everything that happens under the sun.[1]

A marriage book on my shelf provides a good example. It asserts that a woman is only answerable to God for her submission to her husband, whereas a man will have to account for all that transpires in the home.[2] Since it’s his job to “build the family,” it’s his fault if the family takes a wrong turn. 

If a wife does anything outside her husband’s preferences she has not only sinned in her own right but has also caused her husband to sin (since he didn’t stop her). The discipline her husband will undoubtedly face is therefore her fault. If the wife submits even when her husband is in error, she will not face judgment because she did the one thing required of her. And if the family endures hardship or even ruin due to her husband’s mistake, a wife can find solace in the fact that by submitting to her husband she was fully obedient to God.

At the same time, although a wife is not accountable for her husband’s behavior, since that would make it necessary for her to exercise some measure of control over him, she may be the cause of it. Why? Because it is likely her bad attitude that is driving him to sin. As soon as she becomes more submissive and respectful her husband will stop being so irresponsible, selfish, and mean.

Another version of the concept argues that men are particularly accountable for the condition of their marriage: Is it happy? Mutually satisfying? Dysfunctional? In this scenario a husband is more answerable for the happiness and satisfaction of his wife than is a wife for the state of her husband. When a wife is sexually unresponsive, lazy, or harsh, it is the husband’s fault. If this man would just do a better job at loving his wife like Christ loved the church, helping out more with the housework and becoming more sensitive to his wife’s emotional needs, she would change.[3]

The Problems this View Engenders

One of the main problems I see with this philosophy is that it implies women get a pass, that somehow when they stand before Jesus all he will consider is how they responded to their man or, perhaps, to men in general. They may believe that as long as they go along with their husband (excepting heinous sin, of course) they need not reflect upon how Jesus may be challenging them in ways that may, in fact, make their husband’s life a bit less comfortable and that he therefore might, at least initially, resist. 

Or a wife may think she carries less responsibility for her marriage and family, that she is not accountable to take some initiative to improve her relationship with her husband or to develop the children. If the marriage and family are the man’s job a woman can be passive, selfish, and even demanding, expecting her husband to solve all their problems. After all, he’s the leader, right?

Another issue might be a husband who responds to the man-is-more-accountable teaching with either domineering control or slavish sacrifice. Since he believes he alone is responsible for the wellbeing and godliness of his family, he assumes all that goes wrong is his fault in one way or another. 

In one scenario a husband does whatever it takes to make his wife and family happy, denying his own needs to an unhealthy extreme. In the other he may become dismissive toward his wife and her suggestions since only he will be held responsible for any missteps. The threat of being disciplined for someone else’s error combined with the idea that God works primarily through men can make it difficult to treat his wife as a co-heir of Christ. 

Do these Ideas Originate in the Bible?

From what I’ve seen, biblical support for these teachings comes principally from the Genesis creation narratives in the Old Testament and the description of the man/husband as the “head” of the woman/wife in the New Testament. 

As far as Genesis goes, what is not stated (the man is more accountable) replaces what is stated (both are held accountable for their sin). From this assumption of greater male accountability all sorts of things are asserted that are nowhere stated. For example, I’ve heard it said that the command was particularly for the man but for the woman only by extension; that the man was supposed to teach and protect the woman yet he allowed her to be deceived; and that the fall was chiefly the fall of the man.[4]

However, if we look at the text God never confronts Adam regarding Eve’s behavior or why Adam didn’t protect her from deception. God doesn’t rebuke Adam for failing to keep Eve from sinning, failing to control what happened in the garden, or for not doing a better job leading Eve or teaching her God’s will. In fact, the text never says that Adam taught Eve the command or even mentions how Eve learned it. God never says the command was primarily for Adam and for the woman only by extension. God never tells Adam that the fall was chiefly his fall.

But God did confront Eve for her sin and Adam for his. God did hold them each accountable for what they did, no matter how they got there or to what extent they tried to place the blame on some other entity. 

Yes, the man was created first; yes, he was given the command before the woman came on the scene; and yes, in the fall of humanity the man retains a representative function as the first human, which Paul later insightfully contrasts with the sinless human JesusAs a result of the sin of the first human being we all struggle to get by and ultimately die. As a result of the perfection and sacrifice of the “last human being,” we receive forgiveness of sin and new life.[5]

Yet the idea that the man is more accountable is simply not found in the text.

Nevertheless, a full-blown system composed of false dichotomies is envisioned and developed that makes wild claims that are nowhere stated in Scripture: men and women are created for different primary purposes; men are made for naming, taming, dividing and ruling; women are formed for filling, glorifying, generating, establishing communion, and bringing forth new life.[6] According to this view:

The woman has to submit to the man’s leadership, not so much because he is given direct authority over her, but because his vocation is the primary and foundational one, relating to the forming that necessarily precedes the filling in God’s own creation activity. She is primarily called to fill and to glorify the structures he establishes and the world he subdues. It’s less a matter of the man having authority over the woman as the woman following the man’s lead. As the man forms, names, tames, establishes the foundations, and guards the boundaries, the woman brings life, communion, glory and completion.[7]

Men lead, women follow; men subdue, women beautify; men protect, women reproduce; man’s calling is primary and foundational, woman’s calling is secondary and supplemental.[8]

If all of this were true, then yes, men would be more accountable.

But it’s not. Not only is there no evidence of this inventive arrangement anywhere else in the Bible, it also directly contradicts Gen. 1:26-28, where the image of God that fully resides in every human being is inextricably linked to ruling and subduing the earth.

Moving on to the New Testament, the same exegetical weakness is evident: what is not stated replaces what is stated. Based on a reading that presumes the metaphorical meaning of the Greek word for “head” (kephale) is the same as for the English term, the assumption that headship means leadership in Ephesians 5 supplants what the text itself asserts: headship means self-sacrificial love. The passage neither states nor implies that husbands are to lead, instruct, correct, or direct their wives, or that men are accountable for the actions of their wives, or even that a man is the leader of the home.

Rather, it simply says love.

In 1 Corinthians 11 the same assumption about kephale leads to the fabrication of a chain of command in which Jesus answers to God, men answer to Jesus, and women answer to men is out of step with a passage that nowhere commands women to obey men but instead assumes that women (and men) will speak the word of the Lord to the gathered assembly (vv. 4-5). It is at odds with a text that presumes a woman’s authority over her own words, actions, and attire (v. 10), her accountability to God for how she employs this authority (vv. 5-6), and the reciprocity of woman and man (vv. 8-12).[9]

What we have to remember about the word kephale is that it doesn’t mean “leader” or “authority” or “boss.” Literally, it refers to that part of the body that sits atop the neck. Every other usage is metaphorical, and for understanding the non-literal sense of a word context is primary. In other words, you can’t argue for a figurative meaning that is not indicated by, or runs counter to, the passage itself.

What Did Jesus Say?

If presuming greater male accountability from these passages goes beyond a careful reading of the text, is there anywhere we can look for insight into possible levels or types of responsibility? Yes. I believe all our theorizing about accountability needs to be grounded in the words of the very One who will one day hold us accountable. That is, in Jesus.

Curiously, one thing Jesus never did was imply a gender-based double standard of accountability. The Son of God never commanded, “men, do this” and “women, do that” or even “you married men, do this” and “you married women, do that.” 

Nothing in the Sermon on the Mount indicates that men are more accountable or women less (Matt. 5-7). When Jesus told us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, he didn’t suggest that men should be wise while women remain gullible (Matt. 10:16). When the Son of Man made the terrifying statement that one day each of us will give account for our every word, he didn’t amend it by adding that, well, husbands will also be held responsible for their wife’s words (Matt. 12:36).

When we consider the parables, there is likewise no evidence of gender-based levels or categories of accountability, not even in those that specifically address the topic. The parable of the bags of gold (Matt. 25:14-30), which concerns not only our accountability but also our authority, does not represent our responsibility to Jesus hierarchically. We don’t see the servant with five bags responsible for controlling how the one with two makes use of his bags, who in turn is accountable for the irresponsibility of the individual given only one bag of gold. 

We don’t see any of them being called to task for what the others did with their bags and, importantly, neither do we see anyone rewarded by being granted authority over the others. Instead, the reward for faithfulness consists of increased authority over “things,” which henceforth will be “many” rather than few. The servants neither begin with authority over or accountability for the others, nor do they end with it. The same is true of the parable of the ten minas (Luke 19:11-27). Each individual is responsible for what they do with their mina, and the reward for faithfulness is greater authority. 

Similarly, there is no indication that the wicked manager who beats the other servants instead of feeding and caring for them is in any way responsible for the actions of the others (Luke 12:42-26). The point, hard-hitting though it may be, is that he is accountable for the task assigned specifically to him.

On the other hand, Jesus is clear that:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:48b).

So yes, there do seem to be levels of accountability: the more you are given, the more accountable you are. And what does it mean to be given much? Being born male? Being a husband? 

Well, no. Jesus defines it for us himself: it is the blessing of knowing God’s will (Luke 12:47-48a). 

But perhaps that is the crux of the matter for the men-are-more-responsible crew; maybe deep down they believe that men are more accountable than women because men have been granted a greater knowledge of God’s will.

What If?

What if this teaching leads a woman to behave like one of the wicked servants? What if she stands before Jesus one day making her excuses, explaining that she kept her mina hidden away because her husband didn’t understand it, that he was happier if she focused on hearth and home and him, that he was afraid of being held accountable if she took a wrong turn and therefore discouraged her from pursuing what she believed Jesus was asking her to do? 

What if she explains to Jesus that she believed her primary responsibility was to support her husband, to submit to him and affirm his leadership, to not press a matter if her husband displayed any resistance and to trust that he knew better than she? That this was the only biblical way to live?

Or what if it causes her to become lazy and passive, constantly criticizing her husband for not “stepping up,” for not being the “spiritual leader” she thinks he ought to be? What if it leads her down a path where she takes very little if any initiative to solve their common problems and instead places all the blame upon her man?

What if this teaching leads a husband to behave like the servant who beat those he was to care for? What if he takes advantage of his family, forcing his will and his way upon them, simply because he believes this is his role? 

Or what if it causes a man to hide his mina in the dirt because his wife and children are happier with their life the way it is? What if his wife digs in her heels and, since he is responsible for her happiness, he pushes aside the conviction of the Holy spirit? What if he disqualifies himself from ministry because he never manages to create that “perfect” family, that “godly” home he alone is responsible to “build”? 

What if this teaching causes men and women to stumble in their commitment to follow Christ?

Woe to the world because of things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! (Matt. 18:7)

Please don’t get me wrong. I believe men will be held accountable for their marriage and family and how they impacted the world at large. But so will women. My discussion here is not to take anything away from men, but rather to consider the validity of claiming different levels or types of accountability based on gender.

Jesus said that each of us will answer for what we do with our mina, with our single or multiple bags of gold, with the knowledge of God’s will that we have been privileged enough to possess. We will answer for how we rule and subdue our domain, for the way in which we manage that arena of responsibility that so often overlaps with that of others, or how we cooperate with these others to cause God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done in those spheres where we have some measure of influence.

And, perhaps unremarkably, Jesus never qualified this accountability according to gender.


[1] Compare the Bible studies Five Aspects of Woman and Five Aspects of Man by Bill and Barbara Mouser.

[2] See Created to be His Help Meet by Debi Pearl. 

[3] See the case study in Gary Thomas, When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom From Toxic People (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), 88. It is important to realize that in some Christian circles this teaching may lead to unfairly blaming men for every marital issue, while in others it places blame upon women. In both cases the myth that one spouse’s behavior is the root cause of the other’s actions is assumed. This is the fundamental fallacy here and one reason the teaching that men are more accountable than women is harmful.

[4] Alistair Roberts, “Man and Woman in Creation (Genesis 1 and 2),” 9Marks Journal, December 2019.

[5] Note Paul’s consistent use of anthropos (human being, person) in Rom. 5:12-21. The apostle is focused on the humanity of Adam and Jesus and how that enables them to represent all people, male or female. In the original Greek Paul is neither emphasizing nor even mentioning the maleness of Christ and Adam.

[6] Roberts.

[7] Ibid.

[8] I am not saying that men and women are exactly the same for I do, in fact, believe that general differences in our perspectives and motivations can be identified. Rather, I am simply arguing that such false dichotomies and oversimplifications do not accurately describe those differences. Both men and women reproduce, both subdue the earth, both beautify, both lead, both follow, both protect, etc., though perhaps with different emphases and approaches. In my opinion the gender paradigm as stated above is a construct that arises mainly out of one’s personal experiences that are then grafted into a particular worldview.

[9] Note the addition of the words “a sign of,” as in “a sign of authority,” to many English translations of 1 Cor. 11:10. These words were added because the idea that a woman retained authority over her own head, as the text asserts, did not fit the worldview of the translators. They therefore added words to “clarify” the meaning. The updated NIV is more faithful to the original: “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head.”

Abigail and David’s Comrades: A Case of Great and Not-So-Great Advice

David, the future king, is on the lam. Except for brief moments of skin-deep remorse Saul is bent on impaling the young man who replaced the troubled king as the focus of public adulation. Seriously, how could the groupies do any less than swoon over the ruddily handsome warrior who took down a lion, a bear, and Goliath? And how could Saul do anything other than become absolutely, insanely jealous? So throughout the second half of 1 Samuel, Israel’s new hero is on the run.

The question the text seems to ask, especially in chapters 24-26, is whether David will stoop to Saul’s level. Under the pressure of the crazy king’s unrelenting pursuit, will David become just as murderous? Will David permit the strain of the continual fighting for his life, barely evading Saul here, there, and everywhere, to consume his heart and destroy his integrity? Will he allow his sense of responsibility for Saul’s ruthless slaughter of the priests of Nob to push him over the edge?[1]

Yet even as the text confronts David with three sterling opportunities to take a wrong turn, it also turns the spotlight on who advises David well and who counsels him poorly.

Guess who lands on the right side of history.

In chapter 24 David faces the wild prospect of doing away with Saul once and for all. What made Saul choose this cave to relieve himself, the very place David and his men were sheltering? It couldn’t be merely coincidence, could it? David’s men didn’t think so. No, they argued, it must be God.

So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. The men said, “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. 

Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way. (1 Sam. 24:2-7)

There is no record of God ever saying he would give Saul into David’s hands, so it’s likely that David’s men were jumping to conclusions. Yet it seems that David was influenced by their argument, at least to some extent, since he responded by creeping up behind Saul and cutting off a bit of his robe.[2] The fact that only afterward is David conscience-stricken, rebuking his men harshly and commanding them not to attack Saul, suggests that the men’s reasoning did affect David’s initial response. 

In the end, though, David makes the right choice.

Skipping ahead to the third narrative (1 Sam. 26) we find David and Abishai sneaking into Saul’s camp at night and stealing his spear and water jug. Saul and all his men of action are in a very deep snooze, thanks to the Lord himself, missing the action and missing the argument between David and Abishai. 

Then David set out and went to the place where Saul had camped. He saw where Saul and Abner son of Ner, the commander of the army, had lain down. Saul was lying inside the camp, with the army encamped around him. David then asked Ahimelek the Hittite and Abishai son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, “Who will go down into the camp with me to Saul?” 

“I’ll go with you,” said Abishai. So David and Abishai went to the army by night, and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. Abner and the soldiers were lying around him. Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I won’t strike him twice.” 

But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the Lord lives,” he said, “the Lord himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.” (1 Sam. 26:5-11)

No delayed response this time. As soon as the words leave Abishai’s lips David jumps all over him: Haven’t you figured it out by now, Abi? We don’t do that!! We don’t stoop to Saul’s level and we don’t kill the Lord’s anointed! To be fair, Abishai must have wondered why in the world they snuck into Saul’s camp if they weren’t going to do anything. He had been bold enough to accompany David, remember, even as Ahimelek mutely passed on this stellar opportunity to put his life on the line. Sneak into the center of a camp filled with ruthless warriors? No problem, Davey. You can hardly blame Abishai for his confusion. 

Once again, despite Abishai’s unhelpful urging, David makes the right decision.

And, significantly, sandwiched between these two hair-raising accounts is the story of David’s encounter with mistress Abigail (1 Sam. 25). This time, unaccountably, it’s David who flies into a rage and is consumed with murderous intent. Offended by Nabal’s insults David displays the passions of a man under pressure, swearing to do away not only with Nabal but also with every man in this wealthy landowner’s extensive household. Sure, Nabal was an arrogant jerk who wouldn’t listen to anyone. And sure, cultural expectations may have dictated that Nabal give provisions to David and his men.

But responding with dagger, sword, and spear? That might be, well, overkill.

Disaster seems inevitable until Nabal’s bold and beautiful wife Abigail intervenes.[3] With diplomatic genius Abigail appeals to David’s better instincts, convincing him that he would not want to carry a boatload of bloodguilt on his shoulders as he ascends the throne, as he surely will one day. 

When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. She fell at his feet and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name – his name means Fool and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. And now, my lord, as surely as the lord your God lives and as you live, since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal. (1 Sam. 25:23-26)

Abigail goes on to affirm that David will indeed become ruler of all Israel one day. And when that happens: 

“My lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself.” (1 Sam. 25:31)

David’s reply to Abigail’s remarkable speech says it all.

David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.” (1 Sam. 25:32-33)

As they say, all’s well that ends well, and in this case it does. David recognizes that Abigail has been sent to him by God and has spoken for God, expressing the Lord’s will and direction for David in this circumstance. And David is not alone in his assessment; even the rabbis thought Abigail was among the seven women – yes, a whole, entire seven! – who had been “graced with the holy spirit.”[4]  

In the end the Lord strikes down Nabal, David marries Abigail, and David (eventually) becomes king.

There you have it. Three splendid opportunities to commit heinous evil, yet our more-than-a-bit passionate hero manages to squeak through unsullied. And while David’s men push their leader to do wrong, an otherwise unknown woman presses him to do right.

My question for you today is why, in a world where literary structure is formed more around thematic than chronological development, the narrator placed the Abigail story where he did. What I mean is that ancient authors weren’t so worried about precisely what happened next, ordering everything exactly to the calendar, but rather about what shed light on what.[5] That is, these three narratives didn’t necessarily come one after the other in the Bible because that’s the way they happened in real life, but because they help to interpret each other.

And that begs the question: Precisely what is interpreting what here?

Numerous scholars note the implicit comparisons and contrasts between the characters. Saul and Nabal are two of a kind, fools who refuse to listen to the voice of reason. By sandwiching Nabal between the Saul episodes, the biblical author can imply that Saul is a fool without ever going so far as to directly say so, which might have been an uncool way to speak of a king.[6] David, who listens to the voice of wisdom (embodied by Abigail), is starkly contrasted with these fools. Though he has several superb chances to embrace folly, David ultimately declines.

But what about Abigail? Is she compared to anyone? 

Well, in an old but influential study Jon Levenson compares the Abigail narrative to the one about David and Bathsheba, arguing that in both cases “David moves to kill a man and to marry his wife.”[7] In the first case David gets his new woman legitimately, after her husband’s death, but in the second, well, you know the story. Levenson’s point is that in 1 Samuel 25 we have “the very first revelation of evil in David’s character” and, according to Levenson, this “evil” has to do with scheming to obtain another man’s wife. 

Are you scratching your head yet? Does the text say that David wanted to kill Nabal in order to snag Abigail? Or because he was offended? 

You tell me.

To me this is where Levenson’s argument falls apart. The reason David sets out to kill Nabal has nothing to do with Abigail; in fact, as far as we know, David hasn’t even met her yet. No, David decides to go after Nabal because his “pride has been wounded.”[8]

Levenson does not contrast Abigail and Bathsheba directly. He simply makes the suggestion and then goes on to make a big deal about Abigail being “the ideal woman,” a living embodiment of the Proverbs 31 archetype. Levenson explains that Abigail is the epitome of womanhood because she manages to covertly distance herself from her dastardly husband, saving the day, while remaining overtly loyal to him. If Abigail had “called a spade a spade,” that would “prove her unfitness for the wifely role.”[9] This would be disastrous, as you know, since Abigail eventually becomes David’s wife.

So although he never states it directly, Levenson does seem to imply a contrast to Bathsheba, that less-than-ideal woman, the dastardly “temptress.”[10]

Comparing the Abigail and Bathsheba narratives and contrasting David’s behavior in each is legitimate, but I think Levenson misses the point when it comes to Abigail. In the immediate context the more-than-obvious comparison is between Abigail and David’s men. Or perhaps I should say contrast. Abigail plays the same role in her narrative as David’s men do in theirs, as advisor to David. 

Yet how they counsel David is wildly distinct.

When the men say kill, Abigail says restrain. When the men mislead, Abigail leads. When the men rely on assumption (Hasn’t God given Saul into your hands?), Abigail relies on truth (You will regret this when you become king). Though in our modern world we tend to imbibe the Bible in piecemeal fashion, perhaps a chapter a day, if you read right through 1 Samuel (or listen to it all at once) the point-counterpoint is patently clear:

Abigail is elevated as a wise counselor — in direct contrast to David’s men.

What might this mean? And how do we apply it to our world today?

Well, not that women are always right or always have the best solution. Or that women are the wisest people on the block or even the church board. Neither does it mean that we shouldn’t listen to men or that men always shoot from the hip. 

Not at all.

But 1 Samuel 24-26 does demonstrate that sometimes a woman brings a perspective that a man hasn’t or perhaps wouldn’t. And that at times a man is better off listening to a woman than to other men. It might also suggest that women can be gifted in diplomacy and could be of great value in those roles.

And considering the many biblical examples of a man bringing wise counsel, this passage also probably indicates that we need both men and women in decision-making positions, working together toward solutions. Too much of one perspective or the other likely leads to an imbalance, an emphasis on one type of response over and above another.

There’s a lot more going on in this text that I won’t take the time to discuss, like how David strengthens his position in Hebron (where he first becomes king) by marrying the widow of one of the region’s most influential landholders,[11] and how the narrator uses the same terms of Abigail (intelligent and beautiful) that he does of David.[12]

But for today, all I want you to ponder is why the author of 1 Samuel intentionally contrasted Abigail with David’s men. 

It’s worth a second thought.


[1] According to Bill T. Arnold, 1 and 2 Samuel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 354, these episodes “are narrated in close proximity … in order to help us measure the development in David’s character.” Arnold applies this principle only to the first and last accounts (chs. 24 and 26), however. The ESV Study Bible, 530, states: “The three episodes in the next three chapters all have the same theme: David, who as a warrior has already killed many of the Lord’s enemies, should not kill for his own advantage.”

[2] Mary J. Evans writes, “David would have known the oracle was not valid, but in this emotionally charged situation he is easily persuaded and probably relishes the challenge.” In 1 & 2 Samuel (Rapids: Baker, 2012), 107.

[3] Abigail “takes immediate and decisive action.” CEB Study Bible, 460.

[4] Jon D. Levenson, “1 Samuel 25 as Literature and as History,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40 (1978): 20.

[5] The extended passage is an example of narrative analogy, “a device whereby the narrator can provide an internal commentary on the action which he is describing, usually by means of cross-reference to an earlier action or speech. Thus narratives are made to interact in ways which may not be immediately apparent; ironic parallelism abounds wherever this technique is applied.” Joyce G. Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1988), 147, quoting R. P. Gordon.

[6] Evans, 113.

[7] Levenson, 24.

[8] CEB Study Bible, 460.

[9] Levenson, 19.

[10] I do not think Bathsheba was a temptress; in this I am reiterating the view of many commentators. As far as the contrast with Bathsheba, others are explicit where Levenson is not. Arnold, 344, writes, “In contrast to Bathsheba, Abigail is the ‘ideal woman,’ whose ‘rhetorical genius’ prevents David from killing her husband.” 

[11] Judging by his wealth and influence Nabal may have been the leading man of the region. By marrying his widow David inherited not only Nabal’s wealth but also his position. See Levenson, 24-27; and Robert D. Bergen 1, 2 Samuel (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 253.

[12] “Intelligent” is used of David in 1 Sam. 18:5, 30; David is “beautiful” in 1 Sam. 16:12.

To Help or Not to Help, that is Not the Question: Gen. 2:18, Woman as Man’s “Helper,” and Issues in Translation

Recently I took the time to do an in-depth study of ezer, the Hebrew word describing the first woman in Gen. 2:18, 20 that is often translated “helper” in English. Though I’ve spent way too many years reading every scholar I could get my hands on, I mean every scholarly comment I could get my hands on, as so far I have not laid hands on any scholars, when I finally studied ezer in depth I could not help being more than mildly surprised. Frankly, unless someone can send me a suitable helper to help me see the light, I can’t help but question the helpfulness of “helper.”

You see, I had heard that while ezer-helpers aren’t always subordinate, they can be. Though ezer is used mostly of Yahweh in the Old Testament, the one being who is vastly superior to anyone and everyone, it is said that the word itself doesn’t tell you whether the helper is inferior or superior to the person they’re helping.[1] So, an ezer-helper could supposedly be either, though when it’s the woman it means inferior. Inferior in rank, that is, not in essence.[2] Continue reading “To Help or Not to Help, that is Not the Question: Gen. 2:18, Woman as Man’s “Helper,” and Issues in Translation”

The Stereotype of the Nagging, Contentious Wife: Understanding Proverbs in its Original Setting

I’ve come across a couple of sources lately that argue the book of Proverbs teaches that wives have a tendency to be complaining, contentious nags. One author believes that in this ancient book of wisdom we learn about “gender sin,” which consists of anger for men and nagging and complaining for women.

A gender sin is a wrongful action or attitude commonly displayed by one gender as opposed to the other. Gender sin may not be in the dictionary, but Proverbs attributes “anger sin” to men and “nag sin” to women. Of course, wives get angry and husbands gripe, but every time Proverbs mentions a nagging, grumbling, contentious person, it is a married woman, a wife.[1]

Others seem to think, based on the book of Proverbs, that if a woman feels like her husband is mistreating her it is most likely her own attitude that is really the problem.[2] After all, Proverbs never says it’s better to live on the corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome husband, does it? Or that dwelling in the wilderness is better than living with a contentious and angry man? No, Proverbs consistently hangs marital dysfunction on the wife.[3] Continue reading “The Stereotype of the Nagging, Contentious Wife: Understanding Proverbs in its Original Setting”

“Does Gender Matter?” My Latest Podcast Interview with Dr. Juli Slattery

It feels strange to post about ordinary things – like the meaning of masculinity and femininity – in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Life has been put on hold in so many ways here in Colorado with school, restaurant, retail, resort, and government office closings. Applications for unemployment insurance have skyrocketed in the state over the past week, as thousands of people are suddenly out of work.

And yet I wanted to let you know about my latest podcast with Dr. Juli Slattery of Authentic Intimacy, if for no other reason than that the Java With Juli podcasts are only available to the general public for six months. After that you have to subscribe to listen.

Here are a few comments about the interview: Continue reading ““Does Gender Matter?” My Latest Podcast Interview with Dr. Juli Slattery”

My First Article Published by Fathom

This week my first article for Fathom Magazine came out. It’s more personal (and shorter) than most of what I write here. So if you’ve been wondering what in my story has made me so passionate about women and their identity as image-bearers of God, take a look! It’s very strange to me now that I did not see anything wrong with the concepts of male priority I was taught when I was young. I was just a teenager though, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. Continue reading “My First Article Published by Fathom”

“Around the House, Women Rule” and Other Marriage Myths

It seems like everywhere I turn these days I’m hearing that women rule the roost. Recently I had a conversation with a Christian leader who said that it’s women who have the power at home. He went on to explain that, for example, men ask their wives for permission before heading out to the golf links on Saturday.

Then I ran across an article at the Love and Respect website where Emerson Eggerichs responds to concerns of wives whose husbands seem less respectful toward them since doing his study. After citing numerous Proverbs that warn about contentious wives, Eggerichs quotes a couple of sources including a USA Today article that claims “around the house, women rule.” Eggerichs goes on to say that the true problem in these marriages may be “a contentious wife who is expressing her disgruntlement over the fact that periodically her husband puts his foot down and breaks the pattern of her getting what she wants.”

And then Christian therapist Kevin Leman, in his book for wives frustrated by their husbands’ irresponsibility and insensitivity, writes that “in the midst of all this struggle for power in a unisex society, guess who rules the roost? No doubt, it’s you women!” Leman references the article Eggerichs cites and another from the same journalist to support this claim.[1]

So here we have three highly influential Christian authors responding to women’s marital frustrations by explaining that wives have misconstrued the situation. In truth, we are told, women have the power in marriage and men are just trying to find a place at the table so they can be equal.

Rooting around on the Internet I found the USA Today articles plus others along the same line. With taglines like “Study: Women Are in Charge at Home,” “Women rule the roost, and that’s OK with men,” “Wives have the marriage power,” and “Women Call the Shots at Home,” one would think wives’ dominance of husbands is firmly established.

Until you look at the research it’s based on, that is.

It turns out that all of these articles are based on the same two studies, one by Pew Research and one from Iowa State.[2] Eggerichs also cites the work of widely respected marriage researcher John Gottman, though he leaves out salient parts of the paragraph and appears to misunderstand the terminology.[3]

I don’t have time to look at all of this in detail today so I’ll focus on the Pew study, a phone survey interviewing couples about who makes more decisions at home, the husband or the wife.

Pew asked 1260 men and women who was more likely to make the decisions in four common household scenarios. Here is the exact wording of the questions: Who decides what you do together on the weekend? Who manages the household finances? Who makes the decisions on big purchases for the home? And who most often decides what to watch on television?

Results showed that in 43% of couples the woman makes more of these decisions, while only in 26% of couples does the man make more. From this arises the idea that “women call the shots at home.”

Frankly, when I read the Pew study I was more perplexed than convinced. Does it really prove that women are “the boss” at home? Does it prove anything? I wondered what the outcome would be if different questions had been asked.

For example, who decides how much personal leisure time each partner gets while the other cares for the home and kids? Is this a decision the couple has worked out together or does one person have the upper hand here? Is the fact that many men let their wives decide what they do together on weekends a function of a mutual agreement they have made – as long as I can play golf Saturday morning, honey, whatever you want to do Saturday night is fine with me – or indicative of an unfair arrangement – I’m playing basketball two nights a week this semester, just so you know – that makes him feel guilty and her resentful, so he pacifies her by going along with her dinner plans? Or is it truly a case of the woman controlling leisure time? It could be any of these, but from the way the survey was set up we have no way of knowing.

Instead of asking who manages the finances, what about finding out who decides how funds are allocated in the first place or, for that matter, who is left with the grunt work of paying the bills and balancing the budget? The women I know who manage the household finances (I am one) do so for one of two reasons: either they and their husbands agreed she would do it (because she is more naturally suited to it or has more time) or their husbands refused so the wife stepped up.

It is true that the person who handles the finances has a better grasp on what the couple can and cannot afford, so a wife managing the day to day finances may result in a husband asking his wife if it’s okay for him to make a purchase. But this may not be about getting permission from his wife, but rather from the budget. In our case, my husband has certain goals for our finances and so do I. We talk about these and agree upon priorities, then I work out the details in a practical plan.

As for big purchases for the home, my question is how things would fall out if the question was about big purchases for the garage. Is the fact that women make more decisions about appliances and sofas related to men’s lesser interest in these items compared to cars, boats and tools? We don’t know since the survey didn’t ask the question. Numerous longitudinal studies do indicate, however, that although men have gained some traction with respect to household purchases women still take the lead in buying toilet paper, cleaning supplies, cooking utensils, and bedspreads.

If that means I call the shots at home, well, I don’t know what to say.

The bias in the methodology here may be comparable to the bias inherent in some studies of who works more, men or women. Some data has indicated that women work an entire second shift compared to men, when total working hours (at home and at a job) are calculated. However, the main study asserting this inequity was based solely on women’s assessments of how much they work compared to their husbands. More accurate research indicates that on average stay-at-home wives/mothers work the fewest total hours, husbands/fathers with full-time jobs work about the same total hours as wives/mothers with part-time employment, and wives/mothers with a full-time job work a total of about one hour more per week than anyone else, varying a bit by country.

When it comes to television I wonder if the survey respondents assumed the couple was watching a show together, since a question about who handles the remote would seem to imply they’re both watching. And when they do, the wife is more likely to decide what they view.

But is that because she dominates, or because he’s fine with what she wants as long as he gets to watch his game on ESPN and play a few rounds of his favorite video game first? And does he even want to watch TV with her, or is she the one looking for some couple time in front of the tube? I don’t know; I’m sure there are couples where the wife is insensitive to her husband’s interests and dominates time spent as a couple, but I don’t think you can prove a general trend by this question.

Beyond these weaknesses, to me the Pew questions seem trivial. Bigger issues in my mind are things like who decides how household responsibilities are divvied up or how much extra work each partner gives the other through their thoughtlessness or selfishness. Is one person tacitly saying, I’ve done my share; the rest is yours? And if a wife manages the family’s social schedule, does that mean she’s dominant or that no one else is willing to do it? Or has the couple agreed that she play this role? It could be any of these.

And how about some questions relating to interpersonal interaction, like who decides when it is okay to be angry and when it is not? Does one partner believe his or her anger is warranted but the other’s is unprovoked? Who decides when a “sin” issue necessities intervention and when it’s “no big deal”? Who decides when something “makes sense” and when it does not, when “this conversation is over” or when it’s okay to say “I don’t need your approval to do this.” I think when either partner dominates does these things it is a much stronger indication that they “rule the roost” and, frankly, that their marriage is in trouble.

Back to the original illustration of a man asking his wife if it’s okay for him to go golfing on Saturday. Is this really an indication of a woman holding power in the home? Or is it simply common courtesy? What else should the man do – announce he’s leaving as he walks out the door, without checking if his wife has an appointment and needs him to watch the kids? And is that what his wife should do as well? Announce her departure as she heads out for a hike with a friend, without asking if her husband needs something first?

Perhaps checking with your spouse about personal leisure time is simply a reflection of the fact that when we live together in family we meld our schedules and priorities with each other, working things out in a mutually satisfying way so that we have time together but also time to pursue individual interests. As Jesus said, if you recall:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Caring enough about your spouse to consider their needs reflects a fundamental Christian principle, not some sort of dysfunctional codependency.

The bigger question in all of this is simply why. Why do some of our most influential marriage teachers think they need to convince husbands and wives that, actually, women are dominating men at home, especially when the studies they cite do not support this claim?

Yes, some research does demonstrate that women place a higher premium on closeness in marriage while men assign a greater importance to autonomy. So a couple may have different goals for their relationship and different feelings about their relationship dynamics. This is where compromise and the commitment to create a mutually satisfying marriage are needed. But perhaps it explains why a man can view running his Saturday plans by his wife as demonstrating her power over him while she thinks of it as common courtesy.

And yes, it is also true that women are more likely to push for change in a relationship no matter who brings up the problem. Husbands, on the other hand, tend to “demand” (press for change) when they point out an issue but withdraw in the face of their wife’s concerns. However, as Gottman notes, in healthy marriages husbands learn to respond to their wife’s “demands” rather than withdrawing from conflict. Though a wife’s compliance in the face of her husband’s withdrawal can lead to short-term marital satisfaction (perhaps this is why Eggerichs’ ideas seem to work at first), it is also highly correlated with long-term marital dissatisfaction and divorce.[3]

So, no, there is no compelling evidence that, in general, women rule the roost. An individual woman may dominate her home life, of course, just as an individual man may. Those things need to be figured out and worked out on a case by case basis, not by broad, inaccurate brush strokes.

Yet all this talk of women having the power at home is causing a lot of damage in circles where it is embraced as gospel truth. If we’re going to make claims about what is universally true in marriage we need to take the time to investigate the research rather than default to unsubstantiated myths.

We can do better than this.


[1] Have a New Husband by Friday, 29-30.

[2] The Iowa State study is also mischaracterized by the popular media, though it does demonstrate that wives are more likely than husbands to press for change in the relationship. Husbands push for change when it’s an issue they brought up but often withdraw and avoid if their wife chose the topic. Husbands are also more likely to be convinced of their wife’s arguments and agree to changes than the other way around, but this may be a sign of a healthy marriage according to the study’s authors. John Gottman would concur.

[3] Eggerichs drops the part that a wife’s “highly emotional” interaction includes “both positive and negative emotions.” He also leaves out the corresponding assessment of men’s interaction: “Men, on the other hand, have been described as conflict-avoiding, withdrawing, placating, logical, and avoidant of emotions.” Also, these comments are located within a section explaining that male socialization that results in avoidance of emotion “will have serious consequences when love relationships bloom and become serious in young adulthood.” John Gottman, What Predicts Divorce? The Relationship Between Marital Processes and Marital Outcomes (Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994) 283. Gottman also explains that a wife’s push for change is positive as long as the husband responds to her needs rather than stonewalling her. In fact, he has a section entitled “Embrace Her Anger” (p. 131). Gottman also notes that a wife’s agreeableness and compliance in the face of her husband’s withdrawal and avoidance correlate to short-term marital satisfaction but long-term dissatisfaction. That is, the stonewall-comply marital dynamic is a high predictor for divorce (p. 131-135). Eggerichs also gets the page number wrong, so it took me a long time to find the quote. The correct page is 283, as noted above.

Who is Struggling More (Men or Women) is the Wrong Question

In my last post I mentioned a conversation I had with a speaker at a recent theology of marriage conference. I have since learned that he is a member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which may explain why our conversation was like two trains passing each other in the night.[1]

Anyway, this man joined my table during lunch, asking what we would have said if we had been part of the panel discussion that had just completed. Since the topic was one of my interests – gender differences – I jumped in and said I don’t believe the difference between men and women is a matter of leading and following, as had been implied by the panel. Ruling authority is granted to all human beings equally in Genesis, and since leadership and authority go hand in hand, it does not seem that there is any basis for claiming men were created to lead and women were created to follow. Continue reading “Who is Struggling More (Men or Women) is the Wrong Question”

What I Learned from the “Perfect” Wife: Sarah, Abraham and 1 Peter 3:1-6

I’ve mentioned this here before, but my marriage went through a radical transformation a number of years ago. For a long time my husband and I tried to work out our relationship according to traditional “biblical marriage” teachings, with him “leading” and me “submitting.”

We were committed to this path since we thought it was the only “biblical” way, even though we ended up far more frustrated than happy. Then about ten years ago we went through a crisis that brought all of our unhealthy relational patterns to the surface. At that point we either had to figure out how to change or face the possibility of losing everything we had worked toward for so long.

After a couple of years of struggle we did end up successfully changing not only our marital dynamics but also our fundamental conception of what a Christian marriage ought to look like. A big part of this process entailed my realizing how I had listened to the wrong voices and embraced the wrong ideas. I found it difficult to change, but in the end it was more than worth it. My life, my marriage, and my heart have been transformed in a beautiful way.

Just not in the way you might assume. Continue reading “What I Learned from the “Perfect” Wife: Sarah, Abraham and 1 Peter 3:1-6″

It’s Good to Be a Woman Day Retreats

A few years ago I was asked to join a team of young women who hoped to reach the women of their generation with a conference designed specifically for them. Feeling that the women’s ministry of our church catered to an older generation, these young leaders were hoping to capture the hearts of their peers.

What struck me that day was what these women hoped to communicate through their conference. A lot of ideas were knocked about but in the end it came down to this: our generation needs to believe it’s good to be a woman. Some of those present expressed the idea that it can be easier to think it’s good to be a woman out in the world than it is in the church. Once a woman becomes a Christian, a whole new set of expectations and limitations is placed upon her that can cause her to doubt the goodness of being female.

We’re at a point in time when women need to know that God created a good thing when he created woman. Rightly understood, what the Bible teaches about womanhood is empowering and freeing. Women are both fully human and fully woman. Women fully represent God in his eternal essence, just as men do. Women also reflect humanity as the object of God’s affection.

There is a lot of confusion in current Christian teaching on gender and “gender roles,” however. In some cases fundamental human qualities are ascribed to men alone, leaving the impression that women are somehow a bit less than fully human. In others, differences between women and men are minimized or ignored. And, very often, the fact that a husband and wife point to the greater “marriage,” that of Christ and the church, is taken to mean all sorts of things that it does not.

For this reason I have launched my It’s Good to Be a Woman day retreats.

Continue reading “It’s Good to Be a Woman Day Retreats”

Paul’s Theology of Gender Part 2: The First Reality

For the next few posts I’m going to focus on the overwhelming majority (96%) of what the Apostle Paul wrote that indicates he believed women and men are the same with respect to their full possession of the image of God. (If you haven’t read the first installment of this series, you may want to check it out before you read on.)

At this point in my life, I’m convinced that Paul believed women are fully and equally human, possessing the same essential human nature as men. I will explain why I believe this by walking you through the books of the New Testament that shed light on Paul’s thoughts, and when I’m finished you can decide if, as Ryan Lochte would say, I’m over-exaggerating. Continue reading “Paul’s Theology of Gender Part 2: The First Reality”

Paul’s Theology of Gender: A Dual Reality

We know we are supposed to look for underlying principles when reading the Bible, since things don’t always pan out the same way today as they did when they were written. At times the transcultural ideas are pretty straightforward and easy to identify; at others the broader ethics can be tough to decipher.

I think the Apostle Paul’s views on gender fall into the tough-to-decipher camp. Continue reading “Paul’s Theology of Gender: A Dual Reality”

Why Adam Was First (It’s Not What You Think)

Much ado has been made about the fact that Genesis 2 tells us the man was created before the woman.[1] Some say this Adam-before-Eve-ness, along with his role in naming her and her status as his helper, means that Adam was created to be in authority over Eve. Others note that Eve is Adam’s bone-of-bone, flesh-of-flesh, in-his-face help,[2] so the point of the Genesis 2 narrative must not be hierarchy but equality.

Then there are a few, not as many for sure, who think Eve’s comparison to God (who is so often called our helper in Scripture) in the context of Adam’s forsaking of his parents to cleave to his sweetie (something no proper Israelite would approve of), means that she is supposed to be the leader of the family.[3] Continue reading “Why Adam Was First (It’s Not What You Think)”

Deformed Males and Lazy Parasites: Ancient Views of Women

mythologcial fountain statue

People have been trying to identify the essential differences between men and women for millennia and, I might add, have come up with some insomnia-inducing conclusions. We have our modern debates, for sure, like whether men are from Mars and women from Venus (figuratively speaking, of course) or whether gender distinctions are nothing more than one big fat delusion. None of the current discussions fascinates me the way ancient ideas of gender do, however. Continue reading “Deformed Males and Lazy Parasites: Ancient Views of Women”

It Doesn’t Take the Combination of Male and Female to Image God

December 28, 2020 Update: When I first published this article it created a bit of controversy. The idea that it takes some combination of women and men to fully image God seems to be pretty entrenched on all sides – by those who believe in the functional equality of the sexes but perhaps even more by those who assert functional inequality along with ontological equality. I believe this is an error that leaves the identification of the imago Dei up to the whims of the interpreter, resulting in passionately espoused yet mutually exclusive theories. Although I see beautiful differences between men and women and therefore the reasons we must, as God commanded, rule and subdue the earth together, I do not believe those differences reside in the imago Dei. Below is the original article.

Original Post dated December 14, 2016:

Practically everywhere I go I hear that it takes the combination of male and female to image God. God is not a man or a woman, it is argued, so it’s only logical that neither gender can fully image God by itself. While this might sound reasonable on the surface, what are we saying when we claim that neither sex is a complete image of God? That men image the “strong,” “decisive,” and “manly” side of God? That women reflect God’s “soft,” “compassionate,” and “nurturing” nature? That sounds like we think women are indecisive and weak and men are neither compassionate nor nurturing. When we assert that it takes both genders to image God, we are also claiming that each gender lacks part of the image. Continue reading “It Doesn’t Take the Combination of Male and Female to Image God”

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