Gender Roles

Gender RolesWhile in our modern context, we might not immediately recognize Jesus’ attitude towards women as particularly radical or liberating—that is indeed what it was to women trapped in a highly patriarchal system with few legal rights and subjugated to male authority. By giving women places of honor in his life, ministry and legacy, Jesus began a major historical shift in views on gender.

As a result, Christianity through the ages has emphatically affirmed the equal value of both men and women as created in God’s image. Since its inception, however, Christianity has widely interpreted the Bible as delineating gender-based roles in the home and in the church. This is the foundation of today’s complimentarian view of gender. More recently, the egalitarian view has emerged. Both outline how men and women should function in and relate to the home and the church.

Egalitarians believe the roles of men and women should be based on personality, expertise, interests, strengths, and weaknesses—not gender.

According to Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), “All believers—without regard to gender, ethnicity or class—must exercise their God-given gifts with equal authority and equal responsibility in church, home and world.”

Author and outspoken egalitarian, Rachel Held Evans explains, “Being egalitarian doesn’t mean being against traditional gender roles; it means being for the many roles through which women can bring glory to God and love to their neighbors.”

How it works in the home
Husbands and wives are equal partners. Tasks like homemaking, raising children, and providing financially are delegated based on each person’s abilities and interests. Both spouses are spiritual leaders. In areas of disagreement, the person whom the decision will affect the most often carries more weight in decision-making.

How it works in the church
Men and women are equally fit for all roles in the church including leading as pastors. People are given roles in the church based on their calling, skill-set, and gifts.

Biblical perspective
God created men and women for equal partnership and responsibility. God instituted a gender-based hierarchy because of sin. When Christ redeemed humanity, he restored full equality regardless of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status and gender.

Paul’s instructions regarding gender-based roles were relevant to the cultural context of the patriarchal society he addressed. Female biblical leaders, including Deborah, Miriam, and Priscilla, demonstrate the equality of women for leadership roles.

Opponents of egalitarianism believe scripture is being misinterpreted or ignored to support this position. They point out that women are not necessarily happier in equal roles and caution that the egalitarian position can be distorted to devalue men.

Complimentarians believe God designed men and women for complimentary roles.

According to The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), “Some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men.” They go on to say, “In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and care for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership.”

Biblical teacher and complimentarian, Pricilla Shirer, explains, “A place of freedom and peace awaits every woman who aligns herself with God’s design.”

How it works in the home
Men are servant leaders, protectors, providers and the spiritual leaders for their family. Women are trusted advisors who prioritize homemaking and raising children although they may also work outside the home. In areas of disagreement, women submit to the authority of their husbands as decision-makers.

How it works in the church
Pastoral and elder positions are reserved for men only. Women may hold supportive positions and teach women and children, but not men.

Biblical perspective
God created men and women equal, but with different and complementary roles. As a result of the fall, women innately desire to usurp men’s authority and men desire to rule over women improperly. When Christ redeemed humanity, he restored male headship in the home and the church.

Paul’s instructions regarding gender-based roles are applicable in all cultural contexts and times. Patriarchal leadership in Israel, and the fact that Jesus did not appoint a female disciple among the 12, point to gender-based roles for men and women.

Opponents of complimentarianism believe it is contrary to the freedom of the gospel. They point to abuses of patriarchy that have led to the subjugation of women around the world. They caution that the complimentarian position can be distorted to allow for sexual abuse and domestic violence.

You can learn more about the egalitarian view of gender from noted proponents Rachel Held Evans, Tony Compolo, and Shane Claiborne. For more information on the complimentarian view, check out the writings and teachings of John Piper, Priscilla Shirer, and Mark Driscoll.

While the complimentarian and egalitarian views are distinctly different, women functioning under both beliefs are leading fulfilling, meaningful lives. When appropriately applied, both paradigms can enable women to fulfill their potential and callings.

Keri is a freelance writer. She blogs regularly at

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