Gender in the Bible

God & Women

Grantley Morris

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Feelings can be devastatingly strong and deceptively convincing, but any feeling that God loves women less than men or that he thinks women are inferior to men is not from God. Most likely that deceptive feeling is the product of significant men in your life breaking God’s heart and incurring his hot displeasure by failing to treat women or girls with the tenderness, honor and respect that God longs for them to be treated.

    Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Condensed, but without distortion, this divinely inspired Scripture is saying, not that God created man male, but ‘. . .  God created man . . . male and female . . .’ If that sounds odd, it is because the English language has changed over recent decades. Nevertheless, the point is so important that to ensure that no-one is left in any doubt, here in the very beginning of the first book of the Bible, this verse defines precisely what God’s Word means when it uses the word man. It means humanity. Whenever the Bible speaks of ‘man’ or ‘men’ in a general sense, it is referring equally to both genders. Yes, it is God’s express desire for women and girls to be included just as much as men.

Until the last few decades this was readily understood because it was the way everyone spoke, not just in biblical Hebrew, but in everyday English. Language has now changed so much that to reflect the true meaning, up-to-date Bible versions should use ‘humanity’ or ‘people’ rather than ‘man’ or ‘men’.

In creating the human race in his very image, God chose to make humanity male and female. This suggests that, for example, the breadth of qualities pooled when a man and woman become one in marriage better reflects the breadth of God’s nature than either gender does without the other. Perhaps this is why people feel a unique completeness in a good marriage.

There are things that are distinctively feminine that reveal God’s nature, and likewise for things that are distinctively masculine. There is, of course, a huge degree of overlap between men and women in their abilities and qualities but any features more typical of either gender reveal the glory within God himself. Moreover, men and women are spiritually equal:

    1 Peter 3:7  . . . husbands,  . . . live with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor to the woman . . . as being also joint heirs of the grace of life . . .

    Galatians 3:28 There is neither  . . . male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

The creation story has depths that reveal more about the honor and dignity of women than you might have realized:

    Genesis 2:18-20 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field, and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. . . . The man gave names to all livestock, and to the birds of the sky, and to every animal of the field; but for man there was not found a helper comparable to him.

To become aware of his need of a helper, God had Adam examine the animal world. When, for example, birds pair off, the female role is not to pander to the male’s whims but to play an essential role in the fulfilling of their joint, divinely-appointed task to be fruitful and multiply. So it is with wives: their divinely intended focus is not the meeting of their husband’s personal desires but a task so noble that it is bigger than both of them – the fulfillment of the couple’s divinely-appointed assignments.

Someone limited to English, unable to access God’s Word in its initial form, might be excused for supposing that the term ‘helper’ could apply to a servant and/or menial tasks. The reality is very different. Never in the Bible does the Hebrew word here translated ‘helper’ imply servitude. It is term for a savior/deliverer. It is such a strong word that it is used almost exclusively of God as humanity’s helper. For example:

    Exodus 18:4  . . . “My father’s God was my help and delivered me from Pharaoh’s sword.”

    Psalms 33:20 Our soul has waited for the Lord. He is our help and our shield.

    Psalms 70:5 But I am poor and needy. Come to me quickly, God. You are my help and my deliverer. Lord, don’t delay.

    Psalms 121:2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
    (Emphasis mine.)

This strongly implies a wife is like God to her husband. Of course, she does not in any way replace God, but by giving a woman the status of her husband’s helper/deliverer, he is assigning her a Godlike role in his life.

As with our need of God, a man’s need of a helper implies his weakness, not his right to lord it over the one on whom he depends.

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For another aspect of the Bible’s view of womanhood, consider this description of a wife:

    Proverbs 31:11, 14, 16-18, 24-26, 28-29, 31 The heart of her husband trusts in her. . . . She is like the merchant ships. She brings her bread from afar. . . . She considers a field, and buys it. With the fruit of her hands, she plants a vineyard. She arms her waist with strength, and makes her arms strong. [Note: even her physical strength is valued.] She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. . . . She makes linen garments and sells them, and delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing. . . . She opens her mouth with wisdom. Faithful instruction is on her tongue. . . . Her children rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you excel them all.” . . . Give her of the fruit of her hands! Let her works praise her in the gates! . . . (Emphasis mine.)

This is one highly capable person! Her husband esteems her intellect, talents, economic prowess and even her physical strength. We all know how expensive property is. The woman Scripture exalts not only has the ability to make such critically important decisions; her husband has full faith in her. And this part of the Bible was written centuries before Christ. Just a few centuries ago, for a married woman to wield such power was exceedingly rare, and even in the twenty-first century, many Muslim women are not allowed to do so.

Nowhere in the full account does her weight, age and figure even rate a mention. Neither does how sexy or attractive she is. In fact, Proverbs 31:30 specifically states that charm is deceptive and beauty is vain but the woman who honors God should be praised.

Treating anyone as a sex object is totally contrary to biblical thinking. Instead, she is esteemed for endowing herself with ‘strength and dignity’. A literal translation of the Hebrew is that they are her clothing. One is not born with clothing but chooses what to wear. Likewise, being clothed with ‘strength and dignity’ is not something she has no control over but what she chooses to do. It refers not to certain features some women are born with and others miss out on, but to what any woman can choose to do. The same applies to honoring God and to other things mentioned in this passage.

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In order to establish a foundation on which to build an understanding of a Scripture that perhaps many of us misunderstand, I would like to mention a Scripture that almost all of us grasp correctly. When the Bible says, ‘. . . love your neighbor as yourself . . .’ (Mark 12:31) we realize it is not saying that your neighbor is yourself but that God requires you to treat your neighbor as if he or she were you. I must stress that I am no Greek scholar, so the following is only my guess, but it seems to me that ‘giving honor to the woman, as to the weaker vessel,’ (1 Peter 3:7) is similar to what we have just seen with as yourself. If so, as the weaker vessel is not specifically saying the wife is weaker or more delicate but that God requires every husband to treat his wife as if she were more delicate. (In both Scriptures, as is the same Greek word.)

Husbands are divinely required not merely to love their wives as they are required to love everyone on this planet (i.e. as they love themselves) but to go beyond this and treat their wives even more thoughtfully and tenderly that they would treat themselves. Let’s see the full Scripture:

    1 Peter 3:7-9  . . . you husbands must live with your wives in an understanding manner, as with a most delicate partner. Honor them as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing may interfere with your prayers. Finally, all of you must live in harmony, be sympathetic, love as brothers, and be compassionate and humble. Do not pay others back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, keep blessing them, because you were called to inherit a blessing. (International Standard Version, emphasis mine.)

It seems to me that whether wives are actually more delicate is a matter this Scripture does not address but what it stresses is that if any husband fails to treat his wife with greater care, sensitivity, thoughtfulness and gentleness than he treats himself, the God who both made her and cares passionately for her, is so alarmed that the very core of the offending husband’s relationship with God – his prayer life – is at stake.

We all know that gender generalizations have oodles of exceptions but it is interesting to note that people tend to pair up so as to reinforce the generalization. For example, women who are taller than average men often try to find men who are even taller, and men who are shorter than most women often try to find women who are even shorter. So even though gender differences have many exceptions, they often apply within a marriage.

I think it also noteworthy that there is a big difference between what people enjoy doing and what they are capable of achieving, if forced to. By way of example, consider introverts and extraverts. This is not the place to explain introversion/extroversion in depth but both are equally normal and both have strengths and weaknesses. Introverts can be very good socially. That’s not what differentiates them from extraverts. The difference is that socializing energizes extraverts. It recharges them; whereas it tires introverts. Similarly, it is not that wives are incapable of being tough but Scripture is saying that it is wrong for husbands to force their wives to act tougher, thicker-skinned, less expressive, or whatever, than they would prefer to be.

There are, of course, ways in which men are typically weaker than women. Physically, however, men are usually stronger than their wives, thus rendering their womenfolk vulnerable. This physical advantage must never be abused. Whatever edge either partner has, it must be used to serve – not put down – the other. That’s what love is all about, and God is all about love.

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Earlier, when examining Scripture to discover what husbands must do to avoid divine judgment, I cited the context to emphasize that husbands were divinely obligated to act that way. God is not into double standards, however. The context reveals not merely what God expects of husbands but of everyone, regardless of gender or marital status:

    1 Peter 3:8-9 Finally, all of you must live in harmony, be sympathetic, love as brothers, and be compassionate and humble. Do not pay others back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, keep blessing them, because you were called to inherit a blessing. (International Standard Version, emphasis mine.)

God excuses arrogance and me-ism in no one. To lord it over someone or manipulate anyone for one’s selfish gain is to set oneself on a collision course with one’s eternal Judge. Scriptures such as the following, of course, apply equally to both genders:

    Luke 14:11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (New International Version)

    Mark 9:35 So he sat down, called the Twelve, and told them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (International Standard Version)

    Mark 10:42-45  . . . You know that they who are recognized as rulers over the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you, but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant. Whoever of you wants to become first among you, shall be bondservant of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

    John 13:14-15 If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

    Philippians 2:5-8 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, . . . humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! (New International Version)

More Help

Is God Male or Female? God’s Gender

God as Tender as a Mother?

Help for Christians Who Wish They Were the Opposite Sex

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