The patriarchalist/hierarchical-complimentarian reading of Scripture depends upon separate and distinct “gender roles” that delineate “created” and “designed” differences between men and women that show them their different “roles” in social, cultural, and family life. This attempt to demarcate the masculine and the feminine into categories I have long found to be problematic, and I hope to show why here.
But first, what do patriarchalists claim distinguishes the masculine from the feminine? There are a number of suggestions, but chief among them is the idea of initiation and response. Being masculine means initiating things, and being feminine means responding to the initiative of the masculine (Podles, The Church Impotent, ch. 3). Men “take the initiative and women respond to men’s leadership,” (Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family, 147). Wilson’s categories are the most exhaustive, so we will look at them in more detail. He defines the marks of masculinity as being “lords, husbandmen, saviors, sages, and glory-bearers,” (Future Men, 14. Emphasis his), and as authority, sacrifice, responsibility, and initiative (Wilson, For a Glory, 41). In contrast to this, femininity is defined as submission, obedience, gratitude, and responsiveness (Wilson, For a Glory, 45-46).
Now, these only work as categories if they are more true of one gender than the other. If it can be demonstrated that both criteria are possessed by both Godly men and women, these categories as distinct gender roles will collapse under their own weight, and a mutual possession of all these roles by the sexes will seem to be the norm. For instance, how is initiative a uniquely dominant trait of men and not women? The deliverance of Israel from Egypt in the exodus (in which God took the initiative) is routinely pictured as a feminine act (Deut. 32:10-14; and this imagery is repeated, Psa. 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4; Mal. 4:2), and Jesus repeats this feminine imagery for His own actions (Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34).
That men are to rule the earth and subdue it is commonly established by appeal to Genesis 1:26-28 (Wilson, Future Men, 14). But as we have already seen, the dominion mandate was given to the “earth creature” who possessed both male and female, masculine and feminine traits in a single body. “Let them…have dominion,” (Gen. 1:28). This call would apply no less to women than to men, since it was given to both. Wilson also then appeals to the Great Commission as the means by which New Covenant men keep the earth and subdue it (p. 14). But wait, is the Great Commission a gendered command? No, it isn’t. And that is largely the point. The means by which the earth is subdued is now not by family life, but by non-gendered discipleship. We know that women could share in this mandate equally because we see women leading people to the gospel all the time. “Now a Jew named Apollos…had been instructed in the way of the Lord…He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately,” (Acts 18:24, 26). Women could pray and prophesy in the public worship of the Church (1 Cor. 11, 14). Women were also prophets. Immediately after Pentecost, Peter declares, “this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour our my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy,” (Acts 2:17-18). As we have already seen, this mutuality carries over in to the home. “The husband should give himself to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband, for the wife does not have authority over her own person, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his person, but the wife does,” (1 Cor. 7:4).
Next, Wilson argues that masculinity is seen in the mandate to tend and keep what he has conquered (Future Men, 15), quoting Gen. 2:15 as evidence. But again, when God speaks this command to Adam he is still an “earth creature,” the undifferentiated human containing both masculine and feminine traits. This call is, then, also given to women. Nothing yet has been said that actually sets out any distinct traits of manhood vs. womanhood. Again, this call to tend what has been conquered has been transformed by the Great Commission, which conquers outsiders by baptism, and tends them by teaching them to be disciples. We have already seen men and women working in tandem to do this (Acts 18:26).
We are then told that “Men also have a deep desire to deliver or save,” (Wilson, Future Men, 15), and the example of Jesus is given. Wilson quotes from Genesis 3:15 to establish his point: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” But as we have seen, the role of deliverer was given especially to the woman (Gen. 2:18) and the promise of the great war is given as an antithesis “between you and the woman.” Jesus was only part of the fulfillment of this great war, for He was to crush the Serpent’s head and ascend into heaven to take the throne. But the feminine Bride will join Him on the heavenly Throne (Dan. 7:13-14, 18, 21-22, 26-27), and Paul says that the “God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet,” (Rom. 16:20). The Church’s feet, yes, but also under the feet of the people just listed in Romans 16, which included Priscilla, Mary, Junia, Tryphosa, Julia, and “Nereus and his sister,” (Rom. 16:3, 6, 7, 12, 15). Women play a special role in the war against the Serpent as head-crushers and ones who deliver as God delivers.
Wilson also argues that intellectual study and the inculcation of wisdom is a masculine trait (Future Men, 16-17). Of course, as we have seen, both man and woman were brought into the Garden to learn wisdom from their angelic-beast guardians, of which the original Serpent was one, who acted as their pastor and instructor. From this, there seems to be no distinction between male and female concerning education, which is neither a particularly masculine nor feminine trait. We also recall from Genesis 3 that the woman learned wisdom before the man, and that the realization that man would surpass him led the Serpent/Lucifer to contradict God. Wisdom itself is always personified in Scripture as a Lady (Prov. 1-9), to which the man was learn and study under. Wilson is forced to admit that Lady Wisdom is in authority over men as they learn and grow, but he cannot help find ways to resist it. She “disciplines” “grimy little boys,” picturing Wisdom as performing domestic tasks like spanking, and strongly implies that when a boy becomes a man he is no longer under Wisdom (Future Men, 16). This is required by his hierarchical understanding of authority, but seems disingenuous. When has a man graduated from Wisdom’s tutelage? The wise man knows there is always more to learn. So this aspect of masculinity too is not limited to the male gender in any sense, and ought to be equally enjoyed by all.
Finally, Wilson argues that men must be glory-bearers because they are the image and glory of God (Future Men, 17). This, he argues, is in distinction from women, who apparently aren’t the image and glory of God in the same way. “The woman reflects the glory of God by reflecting the glory of the man, whose glory she is,” (p. 17). Wilson’s position here is that the male is the reflection of God, while the woman only reflects the reflection of God. So, evidently, the man is a single mirror, but the woman operates on a two-mirror system, another step removed from the image and glory of God. To which we reply that Wilson should return to Lady Wisdom and learn instruction once again. This is completely contrary to Paul’s point, as we have alluded to already. The woman is the pinnacle of creation, and so the fact that she is the glory of the man does not mean that she reflects his glory, but that her glory makes her an “improved” version of man. And if Wilson’s comments are any indication, we men need an improved version! No, Wilson is quite plainly wrong here. There is no good reason for why women cannot to be glory-bearers as well, and many good reasons to think they will be generally better at this than men, as this is by “design” as the glory of man.
We now begin on the feminine traits. Obviously, the single most obvious trait about women, according to patriarchalists, is that they are submissive by design, submitting to somebody or something. But as we have already seen on a number of occasions, the NT’s position on submission is that it is to be mutual and reciprocal. “Submit to one another…as to the Lord,” (Eph. 5:21). “The husband does not have authority over his person, but the wife does,” (1 Cor. 7:4). “In humility consider others more significant than yourselves,” (Phil. 2:4). This is clearly a mutual call, in life, society, culture, and marriage. It is, simply put, the character trait of the Christian, regardless of gender.
The same goes for obedience, for this means living as a servant of others, putting them ahead of one’s own self without consideration of gender. It also means the same for gratitude, because Christians are called to have gratitude for all things, good or bad (Eph. 5:20; Col. 3:17; 1 Thess. 5:18), a call which ironically comes right before the call to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21).
These sorts of claims made by hierarchical complimentarians and patriarchalists are problematic because they fail to offer a compelling and distinct gender role division among the sexes. They have yet to offer any particular case for what it means to be a “man” in contradistinction to being a “woman.” But their views are not merely problematic for this reason. By attempting to claim that men and women are inherently different at certain things, they seek to “lock” the genders into dominant and subordinate traits. This has the effect of stifling each individual’s personality, and results in the attempt to suppress what gifts the Spirit has given. It is not wrong for a woman to initiate by “asking out the guy,” nothing wrong with asking the man to marry her (as, by the way, Ruth did). It isn’t wrong for an unmarried woman to work outside the home or to move out of her father’s house. It is not wrong for the woman to work and the man to remain at home, or for the woman to support the household (Jesus let women support Him, after all: Luke 8:1-3). There is not a shred of evidence in Scripture that any of these things are a problem. Jesus’s command to “seek first the Kingdom” and “all these things will be added to you” is not a gendered call. He calls men and women to leave their homes and follow Him and not to worry about food, clothing, or provision. There’s no reason to worry that your daughter likes playing in the dirt, rough-housing and participating in sports rather than dresses, dollies, and pink. We need to stop repressing the Spirit and the talents and gifts which God has given to us.