The discussion of Biblical standards versus societal standards is not a new one. These questions go back to several hundred years to the earliest Christians and they persist even today. The question is (in one way or another): how much should the culture influence the church – if at all? How much should the church influence the culture? While these questions come up often in a varying amount of situations, one place where it very frequently is discussed is the topic of gender roles. Are gender roles Biblical or social constructs? How much should these roles/expectations influence our relationships?
Social vs. Biblical
The challenge with assessing whether an issue is based on society or the Bible is a complex one. Why? Because society is always changing and the Bible is frozen in time.
Things that were socially unacceptable for women just a few decades ago are the norm now. Things like women owning land, voting, and wearing pants are all relatively recent develops in American culture. Society is always changing.
The Bible, on the other hand, is frozen in time. There will not be another book, or chapter, or verse added to our Biblical canon. Of course, as we understand history, ancient culture, and language better, we will no doubt understand some Biblical verses better. But the fact remains that we will not be able to get another epistle from the Apostle Paul. What we have is basically what we have.
So attempting to harmonize an ever-changing culture with the never-changing Word is challenging to say the least. So what are we to do? Of course, we Christians will always say that the Word trumps the culture. But we cannot deny that society influences us on some level…even (especially?) in the way we interpret scripture. On the other hand, there are those who say that the Bible says nothing to contemporary society at all. I don’t think this is the case either.
In my opinion, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
The Abuse of “Helpmeet”
While I truly believe that there is such a thing as Biblical gender roles, I believe that our execution of God’s design has been flawed. Why? Because Biblical interpretation cannot happen in a bubble. We bring our biases with us when we seek to interpret the Word. This is true today, and it was true of those tasked with translating the Bible into English.
They were doing interpretation at a time when women were barred from education, ownership, and overall agency. These societal biases came with them when they were doing their translating.
For example, the words “helpmeet” found in Genesis 2:18. (This is actually two words in the original language.) The King James translators render the Hebrew words as “helpmeet”. It seems to imply subordination and lower status.
However, “helpmeet” is at best a challenging translation. The original Hebrew words paint a picture of a person who is a highly skilled and practiced partner in battle. “Helpmeet” feels like “servant” and was interpreted in that way for a long time. This *challenging* interpretation has been used for centuries to subjugate women into servitude.
So while I believe there are Biblical gender roles, I do not believe it was God’s design for women to be robbed of agency, dignity, and humanity for the sake of getting a husband. Abusing people into submission is NOT Biblical submission. It’s hatred, plain and simple.
So What Are the Biblical Gender Roles?
I understand a person wanting to be right in the sight of God, but I honestly think the question “what are the Biblical gender roles?” is irrelevant. For example, the Bible says that “man is the head of the woman as Christ is the head of the church” (1 Corinthians 11:3). In our society, there is the general sense (perhaps an unwritten rule) that the one who controls the money controls everything. These two statements taken together would imply that the man (as the head) must control the money in the house.
Now, I happen to married to a financial genius! This is not hyperbole…she’s been featured in several publications, has over 50K subscribers on YouTube, and hosts weekly money classes…The Organized Money (look her up).
The truth is that I would be STUPID to try and control the money in my house. I tried it and we almost lost everything (okay…that is hyperbole). But honestly, I don’t control the money in the house, my wife does.
Does this mean that our marriage is not Biblical? Does this mean that I am not functioning as the head? Is our marriage out of the will of God? Truthfully, there are some who would say “yes” and others who would say “of course not”!
But you want to know something…I don’t care! Here’s all that matters in our relationship: Christ is the center, we don’t try to manipulate each other, and we both seek to maintain the humanity and dignity of the other.
Do What Works for You
At the end of the day, mutual respect, love, and submission are the cornerstones of Biblical gender roles. Without that, the relationship may as well be the same as one between a servant and master.
There are some women who LOVE to serve their husbands and families. As long as she is not doing so at the expense of her dignity and humanity, it’s great! Society should not attempt to label this woman negatively. She’s doing what she and her spouse have mutually agreed upon.
There are some men who LOVE to serve their wives and families. As long as he is not doing so at the expense of his dignity and humanity, it’s great! The church should not attempt to label this man negatively. He’s doing what he and his spouse have mutually agreed upon.
That’s the point! There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. As long as mutuality, dignity and agency can be maintained, and Christ is at the center…keep everyone else out of your relationship!
Women are not second-class citizens. They should not be expected to sacrifice themselves for the sake of upholding a standard of gender roles based on bad translations.
I like the way Pastor Carlos A. Rodriguez (@HappySonship) said it:
Dear Church, Jesus protected women. Empowered women. Honored women publicly. Released the voice of women. Confided in women. Was funded by women. Celebrated women by name. Learned from women. Respected women. And spoke of women as examples to follow. Your turn.
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