An Overview of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

April 19, 2009 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Ephesians

Topic: Marriage Passage: Ephesians 5:21–5:33

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An Overview of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood



Ephesians 5:21-33 (pray)


Many of us have at one time or another heard this beautiful passage used at weddings to inspire many a young couple as they start their journey in life together. But these verses have also inspired a considerable amount of debate in the church over the last several decades and are at the center of a controversy that has serious implications for the church and ultimately, I believe, for the gospel itself.


My first brush with this debate occurred when I was about 23 years old. I visited a bible study in the Chicago area and somehow the issue of husbands leading in the home came up and the guy leading the study said that he didn’t see himself as the leader in his home – he and his wife co-led. Someone brought up this passage and I remember him saying, “it’s hard for me to take the idea of wives submitting to their husband’s seriously when the passage begins with the instruction that we are all to submit to one another.” Went on to explain his belief that everyone was to submit to one another, including in the marriage.


What of that? How does verse 21 fit with what follows? Are husbands called to lead? Are wives called to submit? Or has the gospel done away with male leadership, is that what Galatians 3:28 means when it says there is “neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”? So yes, now wives submit to husbands and husbands submit to their wives. Mutual.


This debate is fueled by influence of feminism not only on the culture, but in the church as well. The question really brings us back to God’s design for men and women in creation. Fair warning: seeking a biblical view of manhood and womanhood will not necessarily deliver us to a politically correct view. God’s word, not the cultural currents, must be what guides us, for cultural fads and ideologies will come and go, but word of God abides forever. God knew what He was doing when He created us!


A vision for biblical manhood and womanhood


What we are after is not just a compelling argument in a debate, but a compelling and biblical vision of manhood and womanhood. Cannot improve upon God’s plan and design. These verses provide much more than an argument about men and women – they provide us the best possible vision for marriage. John Piper writes … when a husband leads like Christ and a wife responds like the bride of Christ, there is a harmony and mutuality that is more beautiful and more satisfying than any pattern of marriage created by man.[1]


That is the vision we want to strive toward as Christians. We can bring glory to God through our masculinity and femininity and our marriages can provide a compelling witness to the world of Christ’s love for the church and the church’s love for Christ. Paul says that was God’s intent for marriages all along.


I.                   God’s design in creation: biblical manhood and womanhood


There are three terms that are commonly used to describe different views of manhood and womanhood:

Egalitarianism : Word means sameness or level. God created male and female equal in every respect, including equality (sameness) in role and function. This is the prevalent view in the church today.


Chauvinism: In the 60’s male chauvinism became a popular term with the feminist movement and it has come to embody the idea that men are in charge and women have no voice or say – it has a flavor of domineering and subservience to it. This can also be referred to as Traditional Manhood and Womanhood, and there are churches and Christians that have subscribed to this picture of manhood and womanhood. The fruit of this view are men who, rather than being servant leaders who honor and cherish their wives, are frequently selfishly domineering and demeaning toward their wives, and women who, rather than joyful and intelligently submitted to their husband’s leadership, are oppressed and door-mattish in their demeanor. It is a far cry from the biblical picture of manhood and womanhood.


Complementarianism: God created male and female equal in personhood and value, but different in role and function in ways that, rather than promoting sameness, complement each other. It is this view that I believe captures the vision of biblical manhood and womanhood as God designed it. Three biblical truths:


  1. God created men and women in the likeness of God and equal to one another.


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


We see that both men and women are created in the image of God. In fact, it is maleness and femaleness that together image God. Men and women are equal in creation and equal in salvation. There is no room for male or female chauvinism, believing that one is superior to the other. Men and women are equal their worth in the sight of God. Men and women bear the stamp of God’s image on them.


  1. God created men and women different from each other in ways that complement each other


Men and women are created equal, but they aren’t created the same. I hope that’s not news to anyone here. The Bible says male and female He created them. And the differences go deeper than simply the physical differences.


¨       Differences in our brains. According to the journal of NeuroImage, men have 6.5 times more gray matter and use that more in their thinking process than do women. Women have 10 times more white matter, and predictably, use white matter more in their thinking process. Another study found in that 85% of women’s intellectual power is located in the front of their brains, while only 22% of men’s intellectual power is located in the front of our brains. Not sure what that means, but it might confirm something women have suspected for a long time.

¨       Studies show that when men and women relax and have free time, men feel more relaxed. Unwind. We can fill our minds with nothing (for quite a long time) – probably why there’s so much empty space in front. Because we actually use it! But women’s minds keep going – don’t relax with down time. More inclined to stress and be anxious even when relaxing.


Our gender – your maleness or your femaleness – is an integral part of your personhood. Can’t separate it from who you are. When you think of yourself, think of yourself as a man or a woman. God did not create us as generic people – created us as men and women. We complement each other.


One of the fruits of the egalitarian teaching has been a confusion about masculinity and femininity. Again Piper writes:


…Contemporary Christian feminists devote little attention to the definition of femininity and masculinity. Little help is being given to a son’s question, “Dad, what does it mean to be a man and not a woman?” Or a daughter’s question, “Mom, what does it mean to be a woman and not a man?”


There is almost a fear of using terms like masculinity or femininity – because there is such a pressure to try to level the field to a sameness. But we lose something precious in the process. How do we teach our boys that you don’t hit a woman, that men don’t use their strength to hurt women, but to protect women? If they’re the same, then why not? To a hardened feminist that sentence would be considered sexist. Yet we know it’s the right thing to teach our boys.


Let’s bring the point home: is it distinctly masculine to protect? Is it feminine to be the one protected? If an angry neighbor comes over threatening and cursing, should the husband say, “let me get my wife to deal with this?” Is it masculine to lead? What do we think of a man who doesn’t lead? Young unmarried women, be aware: at first might think: “oh, he’s so secure in his manhood! He lets me make all the decisions.” Start thinking that way, but as you carry the load of life responsibly while he hems and haws and drifts aimlessly and sits on the couch endlessly watching TV, another word will begin to come to mind: starts with a “w” and rhymes with “shrimp”? Men are called by God and designed by God to lead. The question (and we will look at this more fully in the next message) is what kind of leadership is the man to exercise? What kind of followership is the wife to exercise? That is the right question.


  1. Has the gospel changed God’s design?


But what about verse 21: Submit to one another. Doesn’t that lead us to the same conclusion that the bible study leader came to: negates the claims of the verses following. Actually verse 21 doesn’t stand alone, but is a transitional verse that leads to the verses that follow which don’t say everyone is to submit to everyone, but rather some of you are to submit to others. Here are some reasons why I say that:


  1. In the context that follows, Paul explains what he means by submit one to another in three specific relationships: wives are to be subject to their husbands, children to their parents, and slaves to their masters. Never does Paul reverse the order and say parents likewise are to be subject to their children. Paul doesn’t have a vague kind of “mutual submission” in mind, but a very specific sense of submission to the authority that God has placed in our lives.


  1. The word “subject” or “submit” is the Greek word hupotasso and it always, in every known occurance of the word, both in Biblical writings and in non-biblical writings, means a one-directional submission to authority. It is never mutual–always one directional. Here are some examples of it in the Bible:


  1. Jesus was submissive to his parents (Luke 2:51)
  2. Demons were “subject to” the disciples (Luke 10:17)
  3. Citizens are to be “subject to” governing authorities (Rom. 13:1; Titus 3:1)
  4. The universe is in “subjection to” Christ (1 Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:22)
  5. Angels have been subjected to Christ (1 Pet. 3:22)
  6. Christ is “subjected to” the Father (1 Cor. 15:28)
  7. Church members are to be “subject to” the elders of the church (1 Pet. 5:5)
  8. The church is to “submit to” Christ (Eph. 5:24)
  9. Christians are to be “subject to” God (Heb 12:9)


  1. The term “one to another” can mean everyone to everyone, but it often means “some to others” in scripture. For instance in revelation it says that men were permitted to kill one another. That doesn’t mean that everyone is mutually killing each other – one person kills one person and while that person is dying he kills the person who killed him. No, it means some killing others. Many examples like this.


  1. The example of the Trinity. In the Trinity itself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we see the perfect example of equality but different roles and functions. So the Son is said to be submitted to the Father (while at the same time being equal with the Father), but the Father is never said to be submitted to the Son. It is, as in every instance of the word, one-directional.


II.                Finding the balance – God’s good design lived out in marriages


That’s a lot of information – and there’s much more that could be said. But let’s take this last point and unpack it a little more in relation to husbands and wives. There is nothing bad about submitting to authority. There is nothing inferior about submitting to authority. To claim that there is would be to claim that Jesus is inferior, or that the Trinity is in that sense, bad. It is intrinsic to the nature of the Trinity and nature of God’s creation of man and woman. Every Christian should love authority – not being in authority, but submitting to authority. We should all desire to be submitted to the authority God has placed over us. While there are many examples all around us of authority gone bad, and abuse of authority – and that is the furthest thing from what God has in mind in these passages, and we’ll look at that in two weeks –our response should not be to throw off authority, but to pursue being under authority as under God and when we are given authority being good authority that reflects God’s intent for leadership.


David Powlison points out that there is a continuum of response to authority. One extreme is passivity, other, aggression. We all have a sinful tendency to err on one side or the other of this continuum. Passivity is the husband who doesn’t deal with the angry neighbor, but leaves it to the wife, or who, when the children misbehave, ignores it and expects the wife to deal with it. Wimp. In wife, rather than intelligent, strong followership, she becomes a doormat.


The tendency toward aggression results in the husband being a tyrant or the wife trying to usurp her husband’s leadership. If a tyrant marries a usurper – got serious problems! If a tyrant marries a doormat, she is treated like a slave. If a usurping wife marries a passive husband – she walks all over him. If a passive man marries a passive woman, nothing gets done. We all have sinful tendencies in one or another.


Biblical manhood and womanhood is right in the center – neither tyrant nor wimp, neither usurper nor doormat. The picture in this passage is a husband who loves and leads his wife – a servant leader who lays down his life for the good of his wife, and a wife who respects her husband and with intelligence and strength follows his leadership – not blindly, nor silently, but contributing and adding her skills and wisdom, but in a way that doesn’t undermine, but supports his leadership.


It is God’s design and plan, and it is a beautiful thing when it is walked out well. And most importantly, it reflects accurately to the world the relationship between Christ and His bride. Our marriages can stand as witnesses to the world and bring glory to God, but only as we walk in the plan He has designed. Let’s pray.


[1] John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, pg.52

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