From the very beginning God made us male and female. “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them” (Gen. 1:27). God created “man” – that is, human beings. But He created man in two kinds: “male” and “female”. The Fifth Commandment, which deals with all our relationships to one another as human beings, recognises this male/female distinction: It is not “Honour thy parents” but “Honour thy father and thy mother”. Great differences exist between men and women, but only together do they make up mankind – or humankind. The human race would be incomplete without either.
Nature and Scripture teach that there are things that men may be and do that women cannot be and do, just as there are things which women may be and do that men cannot be and do. That is not the same as discrimination! Distinction is not discrimination. As surely as the Bible teaches differences in role, place and activity between male and female, it insists at the same time on the absolute equality of value and worth between men and women. Differences do not mean that there can be no equality; neither does equality mean that there can be no differences.
The Biblical pattern for male and female is equality of worth at the same time as difference of role in the family, in the church and in society. These are complementary -not contradictory – principles. The great lie of feminism, and modern definitions of discrimination, is the assertion that equality of worth cannot exist at the same time as differentiation of role. The great lie of male chauvinism is the assertion that differentiation of role cannot exist at the same time as equality of worth. The quarrels of both feminism and chauvinism then are not essentially with each other but really with the Biblical pattern; for both are unwilling to hold both principles in Biblical balance, but insist on either of the principles to the exclusion, in totality or in part, of the other.
However, the Bible insists on male/female equality of worth in six areas:
- In their shared humanity.
- In their created dignity.
- In their mutual interdependency.
- In their sinful nature.
- In their consequent misery.
- In their gospel salvation.
1. Male/Female equality in their shared humanity
“So God created man in His own image, . . . male and female created He them.” Literally the Hebrew reads: “So God created Adam” – meaning, not just the man but both the man and the woman. The name Adam is generic, to speak of the species, the race. It means mankind. And this embraces male and female equally, as chapter 5 verse 2 shows, where God “called their name Adam”. How contrary to the language of political correctness in our day! By divine authority we say that men and women comprise mankind. Our race as distinguished from other creatures, is the race of men; we are all, male or female, man. We have divine authority likewise for using the masculine pronoun to describe both male and female: “male and female created He them”, where them is the Hebrew masculine plural.
This shared humanity is seen also in the way Adam named his wife woman. We would see it better in Hebrew, the language in Genesis was first inspired. But the Authorised Version gives a very helpful marginal rendering of Genesis 2:23: “She shall be called Woman [Hebrew: ishah] because she was taken out of Man [Hebrew: ish].” Ishah is simply the feminised form of ish, to show that the only distinction between Adam and Eve was his masculinity and her femininity.
Shared humanity is seen in what Adam says in the first part of Genesis 2:23: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” They, the man and the woman, were from a common stock, hewn out of the same rock, sharing an absolute equality as to their place in humanity.
Shared humanity is clear from the method by which the woman was created: not from Adam’s head to rule over him; not from his feet to be trampled underfoot by him; but from his rib, near his heart, that they might love and cherish each other – thus speaking of their togetherness in co-humanity.
Men and women, then, are not to live as if they were two different races. There are distinctions between male and female, yes, and distinctions forgotten by this day and generation, but there is an absolute equality when it comes to sharing human nature. In this there is no difference. And to that end, how wrong are some cultures and religions (such as some expressions of Islam) which so segregate male and female that it is almost as if they were two different races!
This shared humanity is absolute vital in order for Christ to be Immanuel, God with us – God partaking of our nature and thus representative of women as well as men. He became Man not woman, but the woman is not thereby excluded from having Christ as her near-kinsman, bone of her bones and flesh of her flesh, for Christ the seed of the woman took the same human nature that she possesses, yet without sin.
2. Male/Female equality in their created dignity
“So God created man in His own image . . . male and female created He them.” Adam was created in the image of God; Eve was no less created in the image of God. They shared in this dignity. In this they were altogether different, both of them together, from all the other creatures of earth, who by deliberate contrast are said each to be “after his kind” (Gen. 2:24-25). Whereas man, both male and female, was “after God’s kind” in this sense. What was involved in the image of God? It involves those things that distinguished man from the beasts. Robert Shaw (in his The Reformed Faith, An Exposition Of The Westminster Confession Of Faith) mentions three aspects to the image of God: spirituality; sovereignty; and morality. All three applied equally to man and woman in their created dignity.
- First, spirituality. Only man of earthly creatures had a spirit, or a soul (Gen. 2:7). In this he was made in the image of God, and after His likeness, for “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24). This includes both immateriality and immortality. Now the first woman shared this dignity with the first man in this dignity. So do all women with all men. There is no difference: women have never-dying souls just as men do.
- Second, sovereignty. Man was given dominion over the other creatures (Gen. 1:26). It was a delegated sovereignty from the all-sovereign God of all dominion, to whom all things properly belong. Man was to be God’s vice-regent on earth. This was part of the image of God. And whilst of course man was given a form of authority over the woman, as we shall see, nevertheless the woman shared in this sovereignty over all the other creatures: “And let them have dominion” (Gen. 1:26). “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, . . . Have dominion” (Gen. 1:28).
- Third, morality. The image of God consisted primarily in this. “God hath made man upright” (Eccl. 7:29), that is, morally upright in his soul, illustrated by the upright stance of his body. This moral image of God consisted in knowledge, righteousness and holiness, as the New Testament shows us, for when the image of God is restored in man, it is said to be so in these things, (Col. 3:10, Eph. 4:24). The clearness of knowledge in his mind; the conformity of righteousness in his will; and the delight of holiness in his affections – all these were patterned on things that from eternity were infinitely so in God. And Eve shared in this dignity with Adam. In their equal moral rectitude she like him had no cause for shame whatsoever (Gen. 2:25). There was an equality in their innocency: the man was no more innocent than the woman; and the woman no less innocent than the man.
We all need to remember this dignity of the image of God in our dealings with our fellow men and women. All were originally made in the image of God, both male or female. Although that image is now in many senses much marred since mankind’s fall into sin, nevertheless there is an equality in this matter that we should extend to every man and every woman. The drunkard in the gutter still bears the dignity of human nature that was originally created in the image of God, though so much defaced by sin. From this should proceed high views of the sanctity of all human life, both male or female. Where is this gone in our day when parents want to have their unborn child screened in the womb, and if it is not the desired sex have the child aborted, that is, murdered? And it is well known that among certain races, girls are killed at birth because of the expenses compared with boys, as in parts of India. In China where parents were limited to only one child, there is now a great shortage of young women, because female children were so often aborted.
3. Male/Female equality in their mutual interdependency
In a sense, the first woman was dependent upon the man for her very existence, for it was from man’s rib that she was formed, at least as to her body. But did that in itself give him a superiority? We shall see that man’s primogeniture does indeed make a difference. But for the moment we focus on the fact of man and woman’s interdependency, which speaks of their absolute equality. And this arises in two ways.
- First, man was incomplete as it were without the woman. He needed the woman; he was not self-sufficient. Man had been created as a social creature; none of the animals could be a help meet or suitable for him (Gen. 2:20). Therefore woman was created to be that help meet for him. So they became one flesh (Gen. 2:24). Adam was incomplete without Eve. The man needed the woman. But did the woman need the man? Did Eve need Adam? Yes indeed, but no less did Adam need Eve. Their need was mutual; they were interdependent upon each other. Man’s glory is that the woman was made for him; his humility is that he was incomplete without woman. Woman’s humility is that she was made for man; her glory is that only she can complete man.
- Second, every subsequent man would depend upon woman for his coming into existence. This of course is the apostle Paul’s reasoning in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12. In verse 11, this mutual interdependency and equality is set forth: “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” In verse 12, we have the dependency of the woman upon the man in their original creation: “For as the woman is of the man.” And then the dependency of the man upon the woman in every subsequent man: “Even so is the man also by the woman.”
If only every man and every woman would remember this! God has bound up the two streams of the human race in this bond of mutual interdependency; and it is our duty to bind up our relationships with an understanding of our need of one another.
4. Male/Female equality in their sinful nature
The blissful state of innocency was not to last for ever. Our first parents, male and female, sinned against God by eating the forbidden fruit. Male and female, both did it: Eve the female first; and Adam the male second, for “She took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6). Falling into the estate of sin and misery, they that sinned together fell together. The text applies: “For there is no difference: for all have sinned” “Rom. 3:22-23). Men and women by nature are on a level for this: their sinful nature. Men are not worse than women; and women are not worse than men. They are all totally fallen into sin. Of them all it can be said, “There is none righteous, no, not one, . . . there is none that doeth good, no, not one’ Rom. (3:10,12).
The whole human race, male and female, descending from Adam by ordinary generation, are equal in sinnership. Yes, some are worse sinners than others, but that does not run according to gender. Yes, it may be that some kinds of sin are more prone to the male, as violence for example, but then there are some more prone to the female, as gossiping for example, as the Scripture shows. Romans 1:26 is not saying that women are any better than men, but just that there are reasons why women will be abandoned to other sins before this one, whereas with men it may be otherwise. There is no inherent difference between man and woman as to their native sinfulness. In this there is an equality: male and female are alike totally depraved.
How we should reckon with this equality in depravity! Yes, the sin of women at times may be less visible, but in the sight of God, there is equality in this matter. How vigorously women’s groups have campaigned for equality, but what they campaign for is so far removed from Scriptural equality. If they would acknowledge their equality in waywardness and rebellion against God, they would be making some progress. How equal we should be then in our judgment of sin. We should have the mind of the Saviour on the matter, as He demonstrated it in John 8:10, not the mind of the Jews at that time who considered only the sin of the woman. If they had taken her in the very act of adultery, why had they not brought the man as well? We must be no respecters of persons, whether that is one man against another man or a man against a woman.
5. Male/Female equality in their consequent misery
Where there is sin, there will be misery, for God has bound these two together as surely as night follows day. Sin must be punished, and sin is punished with that which will be miserable to the creature. The effects of their equality in sin are therefore felt by both male and female alike.
- This is so in this life. The curse included aspects of misery for both male and female. For the man, he would feel the effects of sin and the fall in his daily work, for the creatures of God would no longer be as compliant to yield their fruitfulness as they had been in Eden’s paradise (Gen. 3:17-19) – these curses begin with “And unto Adam He said.” For the woman, she would feel the effects of sin and the fall in the sorrow of her childbearing and in her husband’s ruling over her, and her propensity to resist his authority (Gen. 3:16) – this begins, “Unto the woman He said.” The two different spheres in which man and woman were ordinarily to move are here noted and differentiated (the field compared to the home), yet there is an equalising of misery in each sphere.
- It is so at the end of this life. The sentence for sin had been announced: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Both male and female were guilty of sin, so both were equally bound over to death. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23), whether it be the sin of male or female. “It is appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27). In the context that means all mankind, male and female.
- It is so at the day of judgment. Gathered before the judgment seat of Christ, it will make no difference whether male or female. “We must all appear” there (2 Cor. 5:10). And male or female, if not found in Christ, we shall be judged the same, and there shall be no mercy for any unbeliever for all the ungodly deeds that they have ungodly committed. God is no respecter of persons includes His being no respecter of male and female when it comes to judgment for sin.
- It is so throughout eternity. Both male and female dying impenitent and unbelieving will be cast into hell alike. The qualification is not whether male or female, that makes no difference; it is simply the wicked, irrespective of gender, that shall be turned into hell (Ps. 9:17). In our courts at times there is a distinction made between the genders, and a shorter sentence given to a woman perhaps because she will feel the sentence more, but in hell all are imprisoned to eternity, both male and female.
6. Male/Female equality in their gospel salvation
There is a text that speaks so clearly of this: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). In gospel salvation through Christ, male and female are treated alike.
- Their need of salvation is the same. We have shown already that both male and female are all by nature in the estate of sin and misery. Therefore they all have this imperative need of salvation, the same for both genders. Both must be saved. Mary and Martha needed the “one thing . . . needful” (Luke 10:42) as much as Peter and John.
- The promise of salvation is the same. Both Adam and Eve heard the announcement of the promised seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15. It was part of the curse on that serpent the devil of course, but his curse was the blessing of man, both male and female.
- The offer of salvation is the same. For all those who hear the gospel, the offer goes forth without discrimination, and certainly not with any distinction on the basis of gender. Man, boy, the offer of Christ is for you. Woman, girl, the offer of Christ is equally for you. All who hear the gospel are absolutely level as far as the offer is concerned. “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28) – that is for everyone, male and female alike. The gospel is to be preached to every creature. The offer is for whosoever that will.
- The cost of salvation is the same. The heel of the seed of the woman was to be bruised, for the salvation of both male and female. The same blood had to be poured out to save a woman as to save a man, even the precious blood of Christ. It was as expensive to redeem the one as the other. If it had only been men that were to be redeemed, or only women, the price would have not been one iota different. When Christ sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied, it was at the same cost, to redeem male and female.
- The Person of salvation is the same. Acts 4:12 applies to them both. Let no man think he can find some other Saviour; let no woman think so either. It must be Christ or it must be no salvation. The same communion and fellowship with this Person is afforded to male and female in the gospel.
- The application of salvation is the same. That is firstly, regeneration by the Holy Spirit. “Except a man be born again” – it is no different for a woman: Except a woman be born again. “Ye must be born again,” male or female. And secondly, by saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:7-8). For male and female it is the same, there is no difference, it must be justification through faith alone or there is no justification, whether male or female.
- The privileges of salvation are the same. Justification, adoption, sanctification, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, spiritual liberty. Scripture makes plain that these blessings are shared without distinction among both men and women that are in Christ Jesus. As for justification, both Adam and Eve were clothed with the animal skins, speaking of the righteousness of Christ, in Genesis 3:21: “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skin, and clothed them.” As for sanctification, the restored image is as the created image: equally for male and female. Learning more of Christ, more of theology, more of the Word, belongs to male and female equally. Yes, Martha had womanly duties about the home, but along with her sister Mary and all other women, she had the right to sit at the feet of Christ, to learn of Him, and the Saviour will not have it taken from her. Women should not be shut out from Sabbath public worship, condemning them to the home for a number of years in order to look after children. Women must not be allowed to miss what they need for the good of their souls. In Nehemiah 8, we find that it was men and women equally that assembled to hear the word of the Lord read and expounded.
- Membership of the salvation community, the Church of Christ, is the same. “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (Acts 5:14). Male or female, neither has a superior position as far as membership of the kingdom of grace is concerned. Women are not second-class citizens in the Church of Jesus Christ.
- The ultimate glory of salvation is the same. Male and female, where there is a saving interest in Christ, are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7). “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). There will be no second-class citizens in heaven either, “for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36). Both male and female will be equal to the angels, and therefore equal to each other, as children of the resurrection equally.
Some women today show great dissatisfaction with their lot and are ever campaigning for more. But no Christian woman should ever be dissatisfied at heart, for in this greatest of all matters, in the matter that really matters, the matter of salvation, God has made no distinction. He has sent the gospel equally to both men and women of His choice. Even if there are injustices between men and women in our day, what of them in comparison with the glorious privilege of salvation! May we all rejoice in this. Are men thinking that they have the best of it in society and so on? Let them think on this greatest matter, and let them think on the absolute equality divinely instituted between men and women here.
We have insisted it male/female equality at length, so that when we distinguish the respective roles of men and women, we cannot be mistaken as if we were advocating any kind of inequality between the two. We need to ensure that our attitudes, especially when we are attempting to uphold the role distinctions, reflect this fundamental equality. We must not allow our ideas, however Biblical, about a woman’s role, to take away from this Biblical principle of the woman’s absolute unqualified equality.
The feminist movement is arguing for the equality of women, it says. But women already are equal: equal in creation, equal in sin, equal in hell-deservingness, equal in grace, equal in glory, equal in value, equal in importance, equal in significance. Woman cannot be made equal by any movement; her equality can only be recognised. But her equality does not mean that her role in every sphere is entirely the same as man’s.
Any rebellion against the created order of male and female is rebellion against God. Even if there were real inequality in that created order, there would be no right to complain against the sovereign God. No man can complain to God that he was not made an angel, but was made a little lower than the angels. How much more then does a woman have no right to complain, and to support her complaint by trying to usurp the man’s role, seeing that she has been made equal, entirely equal to man, and not even a little lower than him. It is shameful contempt to raise a clenched fist of rebellion against God and say, “Why hast Thou made me thus” “Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it” such a thing? (Rom. 9:20). God has power to make of the same lump of humanity one vessel for honour and another for dishonour, just as a potter with the clay (Rom. 9:21). How much more to take of the same lump of humanity, and whilst preserving equality between the two lumps, nevertheless make one male and the other female. Let there be no resisting of His will in this matter, no secret desires to be otherwise than He created us.
Christianity, the Bible, has been blamed for forming a society in which women are treated as inferiors. How false this allegation is! When we see an Indian man walking along an English street, and his wife walking ten or twenty yards behind him, let us realise that it is not true religion but false religion that demeans women. It is in the Muslim world that women are enslaved and treated as mere possessions. and so on, then let it be determined which religion derogates the woman. In fact, wherever Christianity has come, the woman’s lot has improved greatly. But of course, the woman’s equality, which vital Christianity insists upon and reflects, does not give her the same role as the man – let us not be misunderstood.
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself treated women as equals to men. He talked with women even to the result of shock among His disciples. In one instance, with the woman of Samaria at the well, they “marvelled that He talked with the woman” (John 4:27). In other situations He defended women from male criticism. “Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon Me”, He said (Matt. 26:10). Christ valued the souls of women as equal to the souls men. In His dealings with men and women, He made it as clear as clear could be that there is nothing inherently superior or inferior to male or female.
Men and women are equal, that is the message of Scripture. But the message of Scripture is also that men and women are distinct, with different roles and responsibilities. We allow Scripture to tell us that they are equal in worth. We must allow Scripture to tell us how that equal value is to be worked out, in their distinctive roles. The great mistake of our day is to insist that equality of worth means sameness of role.
Rev Keith M Watkins
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