Are Gender Roles Relative to Culture?

By Chuck Bartlett

As you read through the scriptures, you might wonder what God thinks of women. In truth, we do not have to guess – we can read His word and know exactly how he feels about men and women. God created both the man and the woman (Gen. 1:27). It was Adam that named his wife Eve, since she is the mother of all the living (Gen. 2:20). What else does God’s word say about women though?

I know when God created the genders, both were created good (Gen. 1:31). Nothing indicates that man was made smarter than woman or that she was to be some sort of slave to the man. However, the genders were obviously created with different characteristics. Women are known as the weaker vessel (I Pet. 3:7). Yes, you could find a specific woman that is physically stronger than a specific man, but this is an exception rather than a rule.

Women can give birth and nurse their children, whereas men cannot. Does this mean God loved women more or less than men? No – it means that God created a perfect mate for man and vice versa. God loves them both equally (John 3:16). We must remember that marriage does not exist in heaven (Mark 12:25). This means that man and woman both have something that makes them equally valuable to the Father. Each gender has a soul since they were created in His image (Gen. 1:26; Eccl. 12:7). 12:7). Our Lord proclaimed that every soul is worth more than all the wealth in the world (Matt. 16:26). That goes for the soul of man and the soul of woman.

I say all of this to show that God does not “have anything against” women. By accepting that God created both genders, we must also accept that He created the genders with different roles in mind. These roles are God-defined and have NOTHING to do with culture. However, many people today argue that gender roles can change as cultures do. Specifically, some people argue that the gender roles outlined in the Bible were based on the culture of that time and are not commands of God. Let’s explore this line of thinking.

Who established the roles for men and women? Adam and Eve are indirectly responsible for these roles as they broke God’s law and sinned in the garden. The punishment was given in Genesis 3:16-19. The woman was told her pain would be multiplied at child birth and that her husband would rule over her. The man was told that the ground would be cursed and that he would work until he died by the sweat of his face. These consequences had nothing to do with the culture of that time. Instead, God told them what was expected. Additional instruction was given throughout Biblical history.

It is stated that the husband is the head of the wife and should love her as he loves himself (Eph. 5:23, 28). The wife is to love her husband and submit to Him (Eph. 5:22; Titus 2:4). These commands were not based upon cultural expectations of the day. Nor were these customs established by Paul that merely did not conflict with God’s law. Rather, they are part of God’s law. If these commands were culturally relative, then God’s authority would be severely limited.

Some people argue that when Paul wrote to Titus, he said women were expected to be the keepers of the home (Titus 2:5) due only to cultural expectations. If the text of Titus 2:1-5 is relative to the culture of the time, then why just focus on verse about the keeper of the home? Paul stated that older women are to admonish the younger women, to love their husbands, love their children, be discreet, chaste, etc. Should we treat all these things as being culturally relative and toss them aside over time?

Some people advocate for the role of the woman to be changed and still insist that they want to follow the Lord. It is impossible stay consistent if we begin picking and choosing which Bible verses are universal and which ones are culturally relevant (and thus can be ignored). Is it a cultural thing for preachers to be men (I Cor. 14:34)? Is it a cultural thing for elders and deacons to be men (I Tim. 3:1-13)? Was it a cultural thing that Jesus chose men to be His apostles? This whole line of thinking does nothing more than discredit the authority of our Lord.

The apostle Paul refutes this idea of cultural relativism by example. Paul wrote by inspiration in the first century that women in his day had a specific role based on what happened in the garden of Eden several thousand years earlier. The culture Paul references was different from his own, yet his argument shows that the differences are not relevant. “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control,” (I Tim. 2:12-15). Why would someone pluck out one aspect of this and make it cultural?

Christian women are admonished to defend their faith by giving a reason for the hope that is in them (I Pet. 3:15). They are to teach to help people see the truth (Heb. 5:12-14; Acts 18:24-26). Let us not forget the duty to teach other women (Titus 2:3-4). Having women live in subjection to their husbands, being the keeper of the home and restricting them from preaching when men are present are all God-given commands. And let us not forget that being a keeper of the home does not mean that the woman cannot also work outside the home. Read the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 and notice how much work she did outside the home.

Women are clearly not second class citizens in the kingdom of God. Galatians 3:28 makes this perfectly clear by teaching that all are one in Christ. As the Roman brethren were told, it is not our place to question God (Rom. 9:21). God has His reasons for defining gender roles. If we do not meet those obligations for any reason, we are living contrary to His law and are thus in sin.


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