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Jesus & gender (6)

What are some of the other ways of understanding the Scripture’s teaching on gender roles?

Probably the most popular is what is referred to as mutuality or egalitarianism. While there are variations and nuances, this approach essentially advocates that the Scripture should be understood as teaching that there is no distinction between men and women’s roles.  Galatians 3:28 (There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus), is a text that is often appealed to in support of this understanding. 

Passages like 1 Timothy 2 or 1 Corinthians 14 are understood as being cultural. That is to say, these instructions were given to first century disciples because gender roles were part of the culture of those places and times and Christians were to be accommodating rather than disruptive so that the gospel could be shared more easily (a noble thought for any place or time). Today we’re part of a culture that seeks to banish glass ceilings, much less stained glass ceilings, so these texts fall into the same category as greeting each other with a holy kiss.

Another line of thinking suggests that gender roles came as a result of the fall (Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over youGenesis 3:16). Since God is making all things new, disciples must be committed to modeling liberation from the curse. Somewhat related to this is the idea of releasing people to use their gifts to minister (i.e., women to lead prayer or preach in mixed assemblies, be shepherds, etc.).

I think it’s hard to overestimate the cultural forces that drive so much of our thinking in regard to gender roles. As pointed out in previous posts, there are a number of underlying assumptions that people often make before considering the biblical witness. Some of these are:

  • the kingdom of God is fueled by the same ideals and principles as American democracy. Therefore societal advancements are to be automatically incorporated into the kingdom of God (think about the inordinate pressure some groups now feel to redefine marriage),


  • if men and women don’t do exactly the same thing then they can’t be considered equal,


  • the issue is exclusively about who does what (the world’s take), rather than taking into consideration God’s creative purposes behind gender.

It’s hard for me to see how the mutuality approach squares itself with the fact that gender roles don’t originate in Genesis 3 (after the fall), but in Genesis 1-2.  It seems equally transparent that Paul’s instructions aren’t based on culture but creation. So however we understand texts like Galatians 3we make them say too much if our “oneness” doesn’t allow for authority where God has placed it (i.e., shepherds, parents, and headship). 
I suppose this could be viewed as restricting someone’s ministry opportunities (if that’s the perspective they decided to adopt), but I don’t see that it has to be this way anymore than an unmarried man has to feel stifled because he’s not eligible to be a shepherd. All disciples deal with limitations and some more than others (think of Paul in his imprisonment, or someone who is bedridden). Nonetheless, all of us must learn to major in focusing upon that which we can do and finding contentment in it (Philippians 4:11-13).
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