Egalitarians Need to Locate Genesis 2 in the Grand Narrative of Scripture

Probably most egalitarians have been accused of claiming there’s no difference between men and women.[1] It’s a common response to the view that both women and men are full image-bearers of God and therefore equally participate in the fundamental human calling of leadership on this planet. 

Mine came in a private conversation with one of the speakers at a theology of marriage event at my seminary. I was surprised he assumed that everyone in attendance agreed with his belief that men lead and women follow, and he was surprised when I said I did not think this paradigm described the difference between women and men at all.

Incredulously he asked, “Are you saying there are no differences?”

It’s just as well I didn’t know he was a council member for CBMW when he plopped himself down at my table and asked, “What would you have said if you had been part of our panel discussion on gender differences?” I could have wished, though, that he had been willing to hear me out before he jumped to the conclusion that I deny distinctions.

We don’t like being inaccurately labeled as promoting full and complete androgyny when what we are really saying is that men and women are the same in our fundamental human essence, which happens to be a full-orbed reflection of God’s eternal essence as Creator, Lord, and King, however humble this likeness may be in comparison to the greatness of God. 

And since the foundational text on human identity, Gen 1:26-28, links authority with our human – not our gendered – nature, it seems patently obvious that all humans are created to lead (rule and subdue) in their spheres of influence. This we are called to do neither unilaterally nor domineeringly, but in cooperation with those who share our domains. 

Which, by the way, is a key point: no single person and no single sex has authority over all the earth. At best, each of us is responsible in some limited sphere that is invariably shared with others.[2]

OUR APPROACH TO GENESIS 2

As of late I have been wondering, however, if part of the reason for this misunderstanding lies in our approach to Genesis 2. It is true that egalitarian scholars have done an impressive job refuting the common hierarchicalist assertions, such as “being created first means possessing authority over the one created second,” “helper means subordinate assistant,” and “naming demonstrates authority.”[3]

In response to claims that the whole passage points to a hierarchical ordering of male and female, egalitarians have noted that neither hierarchy nor authority is ever mentioned in the passage, the first man himself does not view his “role” as one of authority over the woman, the text reaffirms the equality and sameness of the woman and man, and the idea of unity is paramount.

While these contributions are essential to any valid understanding of Genesis 2, is it possible that so much focus has been placed upon responding to complementarians that too little has been expended in considering what overarching message the text may intend to convey and how that might provide insight into our gendered identity? Or do we avoid this avenue of investigation because we fear what we discover will be used against egalitarian views of equality? 

I do admit this is a real concern. Yet I am convinced that as long as we leave this to hierarchicalists we are left with an inadequate response to their assertions. Citing Gen. 2:24, Paul tells us that in some sense husbands and wives reflect the relationship humans enjoy with God through Christ, that human marriage is somehow a picture of something far greater that has now become reality (Eph. 5:31-32).[4]

If people who believe in the functional equality of women and men – not just our ontological equality – cannot explain from Genesis 2 what that sense is and is not, we leave the door wide open to all sorts of claims regarding the potential import of male-female differences.

For example, most complementarians teach that Genesis 2 reveals the man and woman as a beautiful depiction of an assumed “Leader-follower” relationship that God enjoys with humankind. Though they do not and would not couch it in these terms, it seems to me that Lord-servant, Shepherd-sheep, and Father-child work just as well. Lords decide, shepherds lead, and fathers teach. Isn’t that the male “role” according to complementarians?

Oh yes, complementarians add, the link between men and women illustrates God’s love for his own bride, the Church. But primary to the human echo of the divine-human relationship, without which the whole reflection falls apart, is male authority and female submission. 

SINCERE CHRISTIANS AND THEIR QUESTIONS ABOUT GENESIS 2

Besides potentially opening the door to misunderstanding and misinterpretation, this defensive approach to Genesis 2 can leave many sincere Christians grappling with valid questions. I for one struggled for years as I read every egalitarian explanation of Genesis 2 that I could get my hands on. 

My biggest question was whether the overarching theme of the text, the reason we have it in the form presented, is to affirm the essential and functional equality of women and men and to demonstrate that men and women need each other.[5] To me it seemed clear that although Genesis 2 cannot contradict Genesis 1, the primary intent is not to restate what we have learned about God and humanity thus far, but to add to it, and that the text, as it stands, is more about the man’s need for the woman than their mutual need for one another.

Some egalitarian scholars do note this focus on the man’s need but do not venture to consider why the problem is presented in this way in the first place. Is there any reason the text presents the man (not the woman) as the one who had to go through the whole process of realizing he was alone and the woman (not the man) as the one who met his existential need? Yes, the text focuses on the man’s need for a suitable partner. But why?[6]

What I am trying to say is that there is an inherent weakness to any interpretation of Genesis 2 that could just as easily be derived from a man-from-woman scenario. Just as “no animal is a suitable partner for the man,”[7] so also no animal is a suitable partner for the woman. Just as the “man is no longer alone,”[8] so also the woman is no longer alone. Just as the woman “saves the man from his loneliness,”[9] so also the man saves the woman from loneliness. Just as Adam needs help to “till and guard the garden,”[10] so also Eve needs help to fulfill the dominion mandate.

If the text can so easily be reversed and yet achieve fundamentally the same meaning, why does it take the form it does?

Beyond this foundational issue, I had questions about the details. For example, if being first doesn’t mean having greater authority, what does it mean? Nothing? Why is the woman created from and for the man? If alleviation of solitude in a context of equality is the point, wouldn’t it have made more sense for God to create the pair separately yet simultaneously, then bring them together?

If receiving the command directly from God does not imply greater responsibility, then what does it imply? Anything at all? Is it really enough to say that the woman didn’t receive the command or the charge to keep the garden because she wasn’t created yet?[11] Why are those details even included if they’re insignificant? And, if it is agreed that the term ‘ezer does not indicate subordination but partnership, is there any reason God gave the woman (and not the man) this particular title? What did God intend by it and does it, perchance, suggest a gender difference?  

Not everyone stumbles over these issues, to be sure. For many, the numerous egalitarian discussions of Genesis 2 more than suffice, and no doubt some people will view my suggestion that we take things a bit farther unnecessary, distracting, and potentially dangerous. So, I acknowledge the challenges inherent to what I am suggesting. On the other hand, I have known too many open and honest believers for whom these very questions pose a giant roadblock to the acceptance of the functional equality of women and men. 

It is for their sake that I propose the following.

GENESIS 2 IN THE GRAND NARRATIVE OF SCRIPTURE

What I want to suggest is that locating Genesis 2 in the grand biblical narrative of who God is to us and who we are to him can answer these questions in a manner consistent with the view that women and men are equal in terms of God-given and God-ordained ruling authority, responsibility, and drive. 

To understand precisely how that is possible we need to recognize that we discover not one, but two key concepts regarding human identity in the first chapters of Genesis that are surprising, remarkable, and completely unparalleled in the ancient world. Together they form the conceptual background to a proper understanding of human identity. 

The first is addressed in Genesis 1, where the Bible stunningly and counterculturally asserts that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of the one God who is the Creator-King of all that exists. As in all the surrounding cultures, this divine image-bearing is specifically and inextricably linked to ruling, to the exercise of dominion over the earth.[12]

In contrast to its ancient context, where the ruling designation “image of god” was reserved for the few and the powerful while the rest of humanity existed to serve these image-bearers (and thereby serve the gods), the Hebrew scriptures insist that every human being images God and therefore every person has the responsibility, authority, and ability to participate in the proper ruling and subduing of this planet. 

And just to make perfectly clear that this human calling of dominion includes women, an idea that never crossed another ancient mind, the words “male and female” are included. This means not just every man, but also every woman, fully reflects who God is in and of himself in his eternal nature, and therefore possesses all the human qualities necessary for ruling such as spiritual awareness, moral consciousness, reason, emotion, intelligence, decisiveness, discernment, initiative, creativity, rationality, and relationality. 

Surprising and countercultural as it was to contend that every human being images the divine King, that no person, female or male, is a lowly peon whose only role is to serve other humans, the Bible doesn’t stop there. Not only are we created as God’s image and likeness, reflecting who he is in his essential nature, we are also the object of his affection, his “beloved.” 

This is where Genesis 2 comes into play. In a world where “the gods” flaunted their romantic and sexual relationships with one another, scheming and cavorting, backstabbing and murdering their way through their sexual escapades, the Hebrew scriptures reveal a single God who, stunningly, creates humanity as the focus of his “romantic” love. 

In a milieu that emphasized how the many gods must be feared, revered and, most of all, appeased, the Bible introduces a Creator God who is to be loved wholeheartedly. In a cultural context that believed people were created to bear the work the lesser gods found a drudgery, the grand narrative of Scripture shows that human beings are created for an unheard-of intimacy with their Maker, that despite God’s fulness in and of himself he chose to create a race upon which he might shed his boundless love.[13]  

Make no mistake: nowhere else is human identity described in this way; no other belief system locates humankind as the focus of divine affection.

Because this was so astounding, so ridiculously unfathomable to the ancient mind, God placed within the human experience, within our sex-differentiated beings, some small echo of who he is to us and who we are to him.[14]

Yet not as Creator and created or Lord and servant or Father and child or even Shepherd and sheep, but as Lover and beloved. God accomplished this in his own wisdom and in his own way, creating us male and female with our natural and sometimes overwhelming desire to unite in intimacy with one another. 

It is the shocking incomprehensibility of God as Lover and humankind as beloved that explains the intricacies of Genesis 2. 

GENESIS 2 AND THE HUMAN REFLECTION OF ETERNAL TRUTHS

So, for example, maybe the fact that in Genesis 2 it is the man who leaves and cleaves, who sacrifices intimacy with his parents in order to pursue a woman, pictures the fact that it is God who relentlessly pursues us, who has sacrificed in order to unite us to himself. And because our entire beings are so engaged with the human echo, our hearts – not just our minds – are primed to grasp the overwhelming beauty of Jesus’ sacrifice, how he left his Father in heaven and emptied himself so that we might become his bride and enjoy intimacy with him. 

Maybe the way the woman is created from the man and for the man throws wide the stunning truth that all human beings, male and female alike, come from God and are created for God as the focus – not of his authority and dominion – but of his love.[15] And the way the man exults over the woman reveals some microscopic inkling of how God exults over his own bride, how he rejoices when those he loves so deeply respond to him. 

Of course God retains authority and dominion over all, ruling over the earth and the seas and the skies and the heavens and, yes, over human beings. 

But that is not what God is revealing to us through our gendered natures.

Hierarchy is not the point of Genesis 2 and not the point of male and female and not the point of any of our differences that make life so much more interesting and full. As egalitarians have aptly demonstrated, there is no hierarchy in Genesis 2; that was never, ever, ever the point.

Truly, if what God really needed and wanted were servants and peons upon whom he could off-load his more tedious work, he could have achieved that in some other way. But that was never his intent; what the Creator of the universe desired, more than subjects and objects and rejects he could rightfully and imperiously command, was a bridea beautiful, faithful, responsive beloved. 

And I, for one, doubt we would have possessed the faintest hope of grasping the depth of our beloved status without an echo in our very human and very humble experience. To me, this is the point of Genesis 2 and the reason we must locate it within the grand narrative of Scripture. 

When we don’t, we not only miss an opportunity to convince but we also lose sight of the beauty, the love, and the very heart of God. 


Image by kalhh from Pixabay.

[1] Kevin Giles writes that “almost every ‘complementarian’ book presents egalitarians as denying male-female differentiation.” Giles, “The Genesis of Confusion: How ‘Complementarians’ Have Corrupted Communication,” Priscilla Papers, 2015.

[2] And yet I was taught, based on Gen. 1:26-28, that a woman is “mistress of the domain” while a man is “lord of the earth.”

[3] Key egalitarian discussions of Genesis 2 can be found in: Andrew Bartlett, Men and Women in Christ (2019); Lucy Peppiatt, Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women (2019); Kevin Giles, What the Bible Actually Teaches on Women (2018); Philip Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ (2009);  Richard Hess, “Equality With and Without Innocence,” in Discovering Biblical Equality, 2nd edition (2005); Linda Belleville, “Women in Ministry: And Egalitarian Perspective,” in Two Views on Women in Ministry, revised edition (2005); Rebecca Groothuis, Good News for Women (1997); Stanley Grenz and Denise Kjesbo, Women in the Church (1995); Gilbert Bilezikian,Beyond Sex Roles (1985/1989/2006); Aída Spencer, Beyond the Curse (1985).

[4] The idea that God is bridegroom to his people did not originate with Paul. Throughout the Old Testament Yahweh is depicted as husband to Israel, his wife, and Jesus referred to himself as the bridegroom.

[5] Some egalitarian scholars ascribe to both rationales. Examples of the first include: Giles, 53, “I argue that Gen 2 ‘complements’ Gen 1 by giving a second account of creation to make exactly the same point as ch. 1”; Spencer, 28-29, “In a concrete manner, Genesis 2 reiterates the message of chapter 1”; Payne, 43, “The dominant focus of the text is on the equal status and mutual responsibility of man and woman”; Belleville, 25, “So there is distinction. But the primary thrust of Genesis 1-2 is the sameness of male and female.” Examples of the second: Hess, 84, “to demonstrate the need they have for each other,” and 86 (footnote), “the main point of the text [is] overcoming loneliness or aloneness”; Bilezikian, 21, “God created humans as social beings,” and 28, “a rationale for the essential oneness of male and female”; Belleville, 30, “the human completeness that occurs after the creation of the woman”; Groothuis, 137, “We would not have had such a clear picture of how fundamentally man and woman fit together, and of how unfit humans are for solitude, if God had created the man and the woman at the same time and in the same way.”

[6] Grenz and Kjesbo, 162, “the central figure in Genesis 2 is clearly the man. And the alleviation of his solitude is the goal that leads to divine action.” But they do not venture to consider why “Genesis 2 presents the woman as the one who saves the man from his loneliness. In so doing she does indeed function in the story as the crown of creation” (ibid.). Payne, 44, notes that the woman is created second “to highlight man’s need for a partner corresponding to him,” yet does not discuss why the man had the need and the woman filled it. Bartlett, 75, “in the final step the problem is solved: man is no longer alone,” and, 76, “the natural reading of Genesis 2 in Hebrew is therefore that woman was made to be man’s powerful ally,” but that is as far as he takes it. Witt, 57, “the woman was created to satisfy the man’s need for companionship” but, 58, the themes introduced in Gen. 2 are “equality, mutual harmony, and companionship.”

[7] Payne, 44.

[8] Bartlett, 75.

[9] Grenz and Kjesbo, 162.

[10] Spencer, 28.

[11] Hess, 83; Giles, 62; Witt, 57-58.

[12] The best resource I have read on this is J. Richard Middleton, Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (2005).

[13] Resources on ancient Near Eastern views of humanity that can be accessed online include: John Bloom and C. John Collins, “Creation Accounts and Near Eastern Religions,” Christian Research Journal, (2012:35/1); Bryan Windle, “Three Ancient Near Eastern Creation Myths,” Bible Archaeology Report, (2019/02/22).

[14] This is what Paul is alluding to in Eph. 5:31-32 when he cites Gen. 2:24.

[15] In 1 Cor. 11:12 Paul notes that when it comes to who comes from whom, the bigger point is that all come from God.

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.”

Emotion or Reason? What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Embracing a Full Humanity

I’ll admit I’ve been a bit distracted by the Coronavirus crisis. My youngest daughter is a trauma-ICU nurse in Nashville and she’s scared. They don’t have enough personal protective equipment and although her unit is not focused on COVID-19 patients, the physicians move between the emergency department and the trauma ward on a regular basis. One doctor has already tested positive and a few patients are pending. She texted me to say, “You and Dad aren’t going out, are you? You’re isolating, right?”

This sort of emotional response may seem like overkill to some. A longtime friend complained on Facebook about Colorado’s stay at home order, arguing it is unnecessary in such a sparsely populated state. This perspective may come from the fact that at the same time our governor is telling us to stay home, he is also trying to reassure us that only about 10% of cases need hospitalization and only 5% of those are critical. And when Time magazine reports a worldwide case fatality rate of 4% but a U.S. rate of 1.7%, no wonder people are complaining.

Yet those numbers belie the truth. Continue reading “Emotion or Reason? What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Embracing a Full Humanity”

“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”

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