What does it mean to be a man or woman?

One of the greatest controversies not only in our day, but in every age on this earth, concerns the role of men and women in society and in the church. Even as we read through the New Testament, we see that there was great gender controversy 2,000 years ago and these controversies looked essentially the same 2,000 years ago as they do in our current time.

So, we look to the New Testament texts. Paul addresses manhood and womanhood often (Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 14:33-36, Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 5:21-23, Colossians 3:18-19, 1 Timothy 2:11-15). Peter considers manhood and womanhood in his letters (1 Peter 3:1-7). Jesus talked about manhood and womanhood (Matthew 19:1-12). The Old Testament also devotes space to the consideration of what it means to be a man or a woman (Genesis 1-3, Joel 2:28, Deuteronomy 22:5, Malachi 2:14-17).

Every single passage in Scripture concerning manhood and womanhood references or alludes to Genesis chapters 1 and 2, especially the New Testament references. Scripture’s application concerning what it means to be a man or to be a woman always comes from the proper exposition of Genesis 1 and 2. So, we will look to Genesis 1 and 2 in order to develop a proper understanding of basic manhood and womanhood as designed by God. What are man and woman? Why did God create two sexes and genders?

Genesis 2:15-25

Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”

Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.

The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones,

And flesh of my flesh;

She shall be called Woman,

Because she was taken out of Man.”

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Adam, the representative head of creation (v. 15-17)

My father never taught me what it meant to be a man. To him, being a man seemed to mean displaying physical strength and some level of bravado. I had to learn what it meant to be a man almost on my own. I was lucky to have a stepdad who stepped in and modeled it for me. Never did I receive right biblical teaching on what it meant for a man to be a man.

I fear that many of the sex-gender problems in our society stem from our not teaching what it really means to be a man or a woman. In fact, our society almost lacks these definitions altogether. So, people are desperately trying to fit themselves into one of any number of categories presented to them. I remember pouring over psychological research from the last century regarding sexuality and gender identity. The pattern seems to be that categories are defined by society. From a young age, boys and girls try to fit themselves into one of those categories, even changing things about themselves in order to do so. Throughout their lives, they still question their sexual and gender identity. In large part, sexual and gender identity are things that are nurtured by society rather than inherent within the nature of the person. It seems as though we are sexual creatures by nature and as we grow we develop preferences and try to shape our own sexual identity or have it shaped for us. What I desire is something substantial. I don’t want some category invented by people. I really want to know what it means to be a man.

In verses 15-17, we read about how Adam was created first and had the explicit responsibilities of being the representative ruler within God’s creation, even before the fall. So we notice a couple things about Adam. First, Adam was the representative authority of God within God’s creation. Adam had the responsibility to steward creation and to cultivate God’s garden. Adam was the glory of God in God’s own creation. By God’s command to Adam not to eat from the forbidden tree, we also know that it was Adam’s responsibility to bring the creation to dwell in the glory of God- he was representative head over all creation. Biblical manhood as we see in the creation of Adam, can be defined in this way:

    1. Men are created by God,
    2. to represent His authority in creation,
    3. to steward and cultivate creation,
    4. being the glory of God in creation,
    5. so that all of creation might dwell in God’s glory alone.

 

Biblical manhood has nothing to do with bravado or muscle mass. It has nothing to do athleticism. Biblical manhood is not about being a warrior or about having it all together. Manhood is not about dominating people or oppressing our wives. We don’t see that model anywhere. Biblical manhood is about self-sacrifice, selflessness, and leading all of creation to know God more and to dwell in His glory. If Jesus sacrificed Himself for the redemption of His creation and men are the glory of God in His creation, then we are to give up our preferences, comfort, and our very lives for the redemption of the world, especially our wives. The way that a man is built physiologically is meant to enable him to fulfill God’s design in God’s own creation for God’s glory alone.

Eve, the suitable helper (v. 18-23)
After the man is created and placed in the Garden to cultivate it, we see the next part of God’s creative process on the sixth day.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”

In Genesis 1:26, we read that people were created in God’s image. There has been some debate as to what exactly that means, but the basic truth is that people are God’s representation of Himself in His creation for His glory. So, humanity is the crown of creation and the glory of God represented in creation. Everything about God’s design for humanity, then, is meant intentionally to reveal something about Him (ref. Ephesians 5:32). When Adam is created as the representative head of creation, a divine truth about God’s sovereignty is communicated in the creation. As men sacrificially assume the role of representative authority on this earth, they testify explicitly to the absolute sovereignty of God alone. God spoke. These are His words, “It is not good for the man to be alone…” This reveals something about God’s very nature. First of all, He is not alone because of His trinitarian nature. Secondly, God treasures right, healthy companionship. This story will reveal the nature of our companionship with God.

God continues to speak, “I will make him a helper suitable for him.” The Hebrew word for helper means one who helps and the word for suitable means as a counterpart. Quite literally, the woman was designed by God to make the man complete. Man, by himself, is just an incomplete picture of what God is doing. We need women! For God to be represented as He desires to be represented within His creation, there needed to be two genders and sexes as counterparts- one the representative head and the other a needed and celebrated helper.

Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.

Adam goes through this process of naming every creature on the earth. There is no creature found that is his equal. There is no counterpart. There is no helper. Adam was the representative head of creation. He was to rule over creation. He could not have a counterpart over whom he was ruler. This is how we know that, according to the order of creation, men and women are equal in their worth and in their stature before God, even though women differ in their actual femininity as the image of God. This is why Paul could write to the Galatians,

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).

Paul did not say that there were no gender or sex distinctions. In other places, which we will read, Paul distinguishes between men and women in some very important ways. In Galatians, he was stating that all who are in Christ are in Christ equally, for all those who are saved are saved by grace through faith alone. Men are not worth more than women and women are not worth more than men. A suitable helper could not be found for Adam. God was doing this on purpose.

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.

God created the woman from Adam’s rib. Being God’s testimony to Himself in His own creation, we know that this represents a great divine truth. In Romans 11:36, Paul’s broad commentary on the Old Testament, the apostle wrote, “…from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

Woman, who was the “mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20), becomes the representation of all creation. Creation comes from God and through God and to God, so the woman is created from the man, who is the representative head, through the man and to the man. The woman is the image of God representative of all God’s creative work and of God’s purpose for the whole of creation. That is worth so much more than anything that the world can give women. There is great worth in her being the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7). If the man is to be the sacrificial representative ruler in the likeness of Christ, then the woman is to be the celebrated treasure of redemption. When Adam saw his wife for the first time, he said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” Paul would write in 1 Corinthians 11:7 that,

“For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.”

Biblical womanhood as we see in the creation of Eve, can be defined in this way:

    1. Created by God from man
    2. to be a companion to man,
    3. to be man’s suitable helper,
    4. as his equal,
    5. to represent the wonder of all creation,
    6. as the object of God’s redemptive and unconditional love.

Women are not described as inferior to men. It is not explicitly the woman’s job to clean the house and cook the food for the man. Women are not barred from having their own careers. What makes a woman a woman is that she is the picture of creation’s relationship to the God of the universe, and the way that a woman is built physiologically is purposefully done in order to enable her to fulfill God’s design in God’s own creation for the Glory of God alone.

A question arises. Are these definitions of manhood and womanhood normative, or was this the case only for Adam and Eve? When the Scriptures speak of Biblical manhood, they always come back to Genesis 2. Let’s consider the Scriptures together. Because of the nature of this conversation, I will not quote those passages that need more hermeneutical explanation, but these will suffice for our purpose this morning.

1 Corinthians 11:2-12

“Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.”

Ephesians 5:22-33

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.”

1 Peter 3:3-7

“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.”

Do you notice how in each of these New Testament passages, the authors use the created order in Genesis 1 and 2 to make application for contemporary manhood and womanhood? So, God’s design for Adam and Eve is normative in every place and for every generation. If it were not the case, the New Testament authors would not rely on the exposition of Genesis 1 and 2 as they make application to true manhood and womanhood.

We live in an era in which there is a great effort against the female sex and perhaps against all femininity. God treasures His own creation and He treasures the female sex. Today, it is the hyper-feminists who are dissolving their own gender and sexuality by trying to equate all sexuality and gender. The hyper-feminist agenda is self-defeating. Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians and in 1 Timothy explicitly. As the church, then, we treasure the female sex and gender while our current society is trying to destroy any distinctive value of women altogether. In truth, society is striving to do this with both sexes and genders. The Bible offers a better way. The Bible treasures people as they were created without trying to force them to change in order to fit some cultural category so that they might be accepted or elevated.

The Institution of Marriage and the Image of God (v. 24-25)
We remember that everything God does in His creation is intentional. He orders His creation for His own glory and not the glory of man or woman. We, the picture of God in His own creation, are God’s own testimony in and to the whole of creation. God created us so that His glory would be represented and would dwell in His created universe (and whatever creation exists beyond that).

As we have already seen, the relationship of the woman to the man illustrates the relationship Christ’s bride is to have with Christ. The raising of children even pictures the relationship God desires for us to have with Himself, such that a coming of age reveals our growing into maturity and being united with Christ alone as complete creatures.

Moses wrote, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

Parents, as we raise our children, we are training them in order to release them. We have no right to hold on. God desires that they cling to Christ alone as the bride of Christ. This is the relationship represented in the institution of marriage. In Ephesians 5:32, Paul applied Genesis 1-2 to manhood and womanhood in the context of marriage, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”

Without understanding God’s design for gender identity and human sexuality, it is nearly impossible for us to understand God. I wanted to dedicate some time this morning to answer some questions about biblical Christianity.

First, why is homosexuality seen as a sin in the Scriptures (Romans 1:25-27)? If God has carefully designed the created order and sexuality to reveal something about Himself and He has designed men and women to represent His glory in different, complementary ways, then human marriage and sexuality are not primarily about us. A man cannot be the representative head and a woman cannot be the beautiful object of the man’s sacrificial and unconditional and redemptive love if we make marriage about our satisfaction and preferences at all. This being said, there are many heterosexual marriages that are just as sinful as homosexual marriages. Thank the Lord that just as the woman is the object of redemption in a godly marriage, so we are the objects of redemption in our marriage to Christ. Salvation is by grace alone. Those who are married to Christ will cling to Him and not their own preferences or satisfaction in any human-centered marriage. They will care more about the image of God than about some temporary pleasure.

What’s wrong with transgenderism? You might think that transgenderism is so new that it is not addressed in the Bible. It is, in both the Old and New Testaments. In Deuteronomy 22:5 and 1 Corinthians 11:4-15 Scripture instructs women to present themselves as women and men to present themselves as men. Why? Those who love God desire to be the image of God in God’s creation. We do not desire to produce our own culture according to the categories pushed upon us by the world. God created us fearfully and wonderfully, and He did so for His glory alone.

Biblical manhood and womanhood mean that there are clear differences between men and women. We are complimentary. We are equal. We have different roles so that God’s image is present within His creation for His glory alone. Men who love Jesus will not make their wives discipline the children at home. They are the representative head; discipline is their responsibility. No matter a woman’s mistakes, godly men will resolve to model the sacrificial love that Christ has for His church. Godly men will not be abusive in their actions or their words. They will not be more devoted to their hobbies than to their wives. Their love is sacrificial and redemptive. This is our purpose as men. Women who love Jesus will not nitpick everything that the man does. They will not undercut his representative authority. They will voluntarily submit to their husbands because they are to model the receiving of Christ sacrificial and redemptive love, the love Christ has for His church. In the role of both the man and the woman, we see the love God has for His people on clear display. That is the unsurpassable value of marriage or right gender roles and of right sexuality.

I know the temptation. Eve subverted the representative headship of Adam and ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. In the aftermath, as God is describing the consequences to Eve He says, “Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). From this point in the story onward, people have had this tendency to undercut the natural gender roles of the other gender and to try to unsex themselves. Men have wrongfully ‘ruled’ over women and women have wrongfully desired the position of representative headship. There is no value in this. A proper understanding of biblical manhood and womanhood not only leads to greater satisfaction in our marriages and in our relationships on this earth, but it enables us to become mature and complete creatures- the reflection of God in His creation for His glory alone. There must be a humility wrought in us by the Holy Spirit such that neither the men or the women of God are concerned with their own glory, but the glory of God alone.

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