Complementarian

The Bible advocates neither feminism nor sexual segregation

Issue: "Marriage and the family," May 20, 2000

Where do we go to understand contemporary problems of marriage and the family? Leading academic and media institutions are supposed to be our country's designated hitters, regularly batting policy initiatives into the bleachers, but most, captured by feminism, now swing and miss.

Few people really believe what many professors and pundits proclaim, that men and women are essentially the same except for some reproductive equipment. Few, however, are willing publicly to offer the biblical alternative and take the abuse that such proclamation brings.

That's a shame, because the Bible clearly shows the error both of feminists who claim no differences between men and women, and of sexual segregationists who argue that women are to be concerned "only" with marriage and motherhood. In Genesis God gives Eve to Adam as an intellectual and physical helpmate. In chapter 31 of Proverbs, the ideal wife is dedicated to her marriage and family, but at various times she also buys real estate, plants a vineyard, runs businesses, and helps the poor. In chapter 16 of Acts, the merchant Lydia becomes a key convert.

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No verse or chapter in the Bible should be taken in isolation; it's vital to read through the Bible to get a sense of the whole. One chapter I've found instructive is chapter four of Judges, where Israel's general Barak balks at obeying God's call to battle. Barak, according to the great Old Testament commentators Keil & Delitzsch, did not distrust the divine promise, but "felt too weak to carry out the command of God" unless the prophetess Deborah went with him. Deborah, in turn, tells Barak that the honor for the coming victory will go to a woman.

That's exactly what happens, and we should make neither too much nor too little of this episode. After all, in the following chapter Barak and Deborah together are singing a victory song, and in chapter 11 of Hebrews Barak is listed on the roll of honor. This does not mean that Barak was sinless (three other judges listed in Hebrews-Gideon, Jepthah, and Samson-messed up big time after their big victories). We should remember that Barak, although not quick to trust God and take leadership, had the wisdom to listen to a wise woman.

Men go wrong, biblically, by either abdicating or waxing arrogant, either by running from God-given functions or refusing to hear what women have to say. In 1 Samuel 25, Abigail knows that her husband, Nabal, is a fool; when she acts to save her whole household, David tells her, "May you be blessed for your good judgment." I know that my wife often has better judgment than I, and that if I am not to be Nabal Olasky I should listen.

And so should we all. Today, some Christian men believe women should be co-leaders in everything. That leaves many men feeling emasculated and many women wishing that guys would step up and make a decision, already. Other Christian men go to the opposite extreme and assert that married women should not even be studying the Bible by themselves or in groups with other women; they should be taught only by their husbands.

Here's what seems to me to be biblical: Everyone, male or female, should be told, "Be all that you can be," but what most of us can happily be depends on the way we are made-and God knows our frames. He knows, because He made us, that men and women are complementary in nature. He knows how hard it is for most mothers with young children to go out to work. He knows, because He made us, that men are typically more aggressive and women are typically more nurturing.

The complementarian rather than egalitarian position in male-female relations has many implications. Today, unless women gain jobs and athletic scholarships commensurate with their percentage of the population, feminists scream discrimination. Viewed biblically, however, occupational differences in male/female ratios seem less a function of bias than of biology, the way God made us.

It's helpful that considerable biological evidence supports biblical differentiation. Even the April 2 cover story of The New York Times Sunday Magazine concluded, from studies of testosterone, that gender inequality in fields such as venture capitalism and politics "is primarily not a function of sexism, merely of common sense." Other research shows that male-female differences go well beyond one particular substance.

But what's most helpful is that God's word is clear. The Bible is color-blind but gender-conscious, and right from the beginning. Chapter one of Genesis tells us that "God created mankind in his own image" and that "male and female he created them." What God has established let no one destroy.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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