The beauty of the Genesis narrative is found in the harmony of two notable features: its simplicity and its explanatory power. With straightforward prose through the pen of Moses, God reveals the origin of man and woman, providing us insight into one of the most glorious realities in the universe. Genesis 1:27 gives us a general description of the event: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them. Male and female He created them.” Genesis 2:7-25 fills in the details: Adam was created first, placed in the garden, and given instructions on how to conduct his calling as God’s vice-regent.
In order to help Adam to appreciate his need for a companion, however, God brought to the man all the animals He had previously created. But the text tells us that after Adam named these animals, “there was not found a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:20). So God put Adam to sleep, took a rib from the man’s body, and formed his perfect counterpart: a woman. Adam responds with delight: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen 2:23).
Woman: Like Man and Unlike Man
Adam’s joy was grounded in two profound realities. First, the woman was like him because she was created in God’s image. Unlike the animals, the woman shared the man’s nature and essence: in her womanhood, she reflected her Creator who had given her the responsibility to exercise dominion over the earth. But Adam’s joy was also rooted in the reality that the woman was not like him. She was a woman and not a man: “She shall be called ishah (woman) because she was taken from ish (man)” (Gen 2:23). Adam rejoiced because he beheld in Eve both sameness and difference. She was an image-bearer, but she was a woman, not a man.
God intends this text to emphasize both of these vital truths. Genesis 1:27 makes it clear that the man and woman share the same nature as God’s image bearers. Yet, the narrative also draws our attention to the differences between the man and the woman.
First, the way the man and the woman are brought into existence is distinct. Adam is created first, signaling that he will bear the role of leadership (see 1 Tim 2:13-14). Second, the man is taken from the ground (Gen 2:7), while the woman is taken from the man (Gen 2:22). Again, this feature of the narrative indicates that the man will serve his wife in loving leadership (see 1 Cor 11:8-10; cf. Eph 5:22-33), but it also highlights the man and woman’s complementarity. The woman has been taken from man so that she might be joined to the man in marriage and become one flesh with him (Gen 2:24-25). This rejoining of the man and the woman can only occur because they are sexual counterparts.
Same Nature, Different Roles
God intended that these good differences between the man and the woman would be expressed in the different roles, and ultimately result in the fruitfulness of image-multiplication (i.e., child bearing and rearing; see Gen 1:28). But sin would eventually upset the original harmony of creation.
After the Fall, both men and women would feel the tug to abandon their God-given roles and despise the complementary nature of their design (see Gen 3:16). Men would be tempted to yield to the extremes of cowardly passivity or cruel domination, while the woman would be enticed to usurp the man’s role as leader. The man and the woman would also endure the curse in their respective roles: the woman in her role as the one who brings forth and cares for new life, and the man in his role to provide for his family (Gen 3:16-19).
But as the story unfolds, Scripture maintains and extolls these good differences established by God in the created order. Throughout the Bible we see men fulfilling their calling to be leaders, protectors, and providers of their families, the nation, and the church. Men are designated as kings, judges, military leaders, and prophets in the Old Testament, and apostles and pastors in the New Testament. Women are blessed with the responsibility to bring forth and care for new life, care for their homes and families, and teach other women to do the same (1 Tim 5:14; Titus 2:3-5).
Yet, although Scripture places the burden of leadership squarely upon the man, it is also careful to exalt the beauty and goodness of the woman as she fulfills her role. For example, Proverbs 31:10-31, while maintaining the woman’s role as the one who nurtures new life and cares for the home, also tells us that the God-fearing woman is trustworthy (v. 11-12), hardworking (v. 13-15, 19), competent in business (v. 16, 18, 24), physically strong (v. 17), generous to the poor (v. 20), devoted to the needs of her family (v. 21), sensible to aesthetic beauty (v. 22), and full of wisdom and kindness (v. 25). Her character endows her inestimable worth (v. 10) and a well-deserved reputation (v. 23).
The differences between man and woman with respect to our roles existed prior to the Fall and are, through the gospel, being restored for the glory of God and the joy of His people. In Christ, both men and women stand on equal spiritual footing and will receive the same eternal inheritance (Gal 3:28). But in God’s good design, we are different and are thus tasked with different roles.
Contemporary Gender Confusion
Sadly, many in our society view these good differences as little more than the cultural artifacts of a patriarchal era. To emphasize such differences as, by God’s design, something intrinsic to our very personhood, is to hold onto tradition for its own sake and ignore the obvious progress of history.
But few anticipated that our turn from these gender differences between men and women would lead to the questioning of gender altogether. What was previously considered fixed by our nature is now a quality assigned (rather than discovered) by doctors at birth. If you are biologically male but “identify” as a female, your “assigned” gender is irrelevant. Now, for the sake of your own happiness, you must live according to the gender you choose, not one you have been given.
But can Christians yield to these kinds of claims about gender? And does it even matter? Shouldn’t we agree to disagree about these issues that aren’t directly related to the gospel and salvation?
Why Christians Hold the Line on Sexuality and Gender
While Christians who hold the line on the issue of gender run the risk of ridicule, name-calling, and job-loss, we cannot agree to disagree about this vital issue. First, to suggest that these matters are not directly related to the gospel is actually false. The gospel is the good news of God’s restoration of creation, not the eradication of it. When men and women are regenerated by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ, they begin a process of discipleship as men and as women.
In other words, for a man to grow in Christlikeness is to grow in godly masculinity. For a woman to grow in Christlikeness is to grow in godly femininity. We are not human beings before we are male or female. We are either male or female human beings: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). To suggest that these differences are insignificant, therefore, has an immediate effect on the gospel as it regards our sanctification.
Second, Christians cannot yield on this issue because to do so hurts others. As we’ve seen in the past several months, with regard to social conduct and legislation, once a gender binary is abandoned (a person is either male or female), the logical spiral from questioning gender differences to eliminating gender differences is certain and swift. The church, however, is tasked to preserve and promote the good things in culture, serving as salt and light (Matt 5:13-16). When the church compromises on this issue, we allow a lost culture to drift further and further into rebellion and harm.
Finally, Christians cannot hedge on the issue of gender because to do so would obstruct the glory of God. The glory of God is not displayed in mankind generically, but in man and woman together, each fulfilling their God-given design and role. And, if God has chosen to display His glory in this specific way, then to blunt the contours of our respective gender differences is to blunt the contours of God’s glory. In other words, when we downplay our differences as man and woman, we hide the particular glories of God behind a riddled fence of ambiguity.
Upholding our Good Differences: The Nashville Statement
These are strange and difficult times. But we shouldn’t be surprised. Nor should we merely resign to the inevitability of what is happening around us. We have work to do, first in our homes, then in our church, and in our communities. And by God’s grace, our efforts will exalt the gospel, serve others, and become the means by which God’s glory shines even brighter in this dark world.
The Nashville Statement, released on Tuesday, August 29 by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, is such an effort. The Nashville statement is “an evangelical coalition statement on biblical sexuality” and includes fourteen articles of affirmation and denial, each addressing specific issues related to the contemporary confusion over sexuality and gender from a biblical perspective.
The statement is most helpful because it is biblical and it is clear. What people need most in a day of widespread moral haze is the cloud-piercing brightness of divine truth. While this statement has already been denounced by Nashville’s mayor, Megan Barry, and by folks on social media as a document that is “antithetical to true Christianity and the teachings of Jesus,” the statement actually represents an act of genuine compassion.
By upholding the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality and gender, the writers and initial signatories of the Nashville Statement have equipped the church with truth that will enable us to better minister to those mired in sexual confusion. To those lost and disorientated on a sea of moral ambiguity and irrationality, the statement is a beacon of moral clarity and coherence. Most importantly, it is a call to embrace Christ and the truth of the gospel. I fully endorse the Nashville Statement and I am grateful for the vision and courage of the men and women who penned and initially signed the document.
You can read a PDF version of the Nashville Statement here.