A biblical theology of manhood and womanhood within the church can be approached in a couple of ways. One way is to determine from Scripture what a man or a woman can or cannot do in the life and ministry of the local church. A second way is to discern what man and woman are to be within the local church. Who one is determines what one does, while what one does defines who one is. With this premise in mind, this article will begin by gleaning the Scripture for truths regarding our being, then truths regarding our doing.
Bearing the Image of God
The being of man and woman can be viewed in creation and redemption. Man and woman are created in the image of God. The Bible reveals the veracity of the gender binary in the creation accounts (Ge 1, 2). God “created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Ge 1:27-28). God formed the man “of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Ge 2:7). God revealed to us that It is not good that the man should be alone” for man would not be able to fulfill the mandate to be fruitful and multiply. God determined to “make him a helper fit for him” (Ge 2:18). God took one of the man’s ribs and “the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man” (Ge 2:22). Both are made in the image of God, given the same creation mandate, and stand before God side-by-side. The order of creation also presents the glory of their distinction. Man and woman display diversity within unity having been made in the image of God who is Three-in-One.
Reflecting the Nature of Christ
The creation order of man and woman also depicts Christ’s relationship with his Church (Eph 5:32). The first Adam laid on the ground giving of himself for the formation of the woman. God took from Adam’s side, made the woman, then brought her to him. So, Christ, the second Adam, laid in the tomb and gave his body for the formation of the Church. God the Father has presented the Church to God the Son. Hence, to be the bride of Christ is to first be of His body. God made man and woman in a way that echoes his redemptive order. We are because God first was.
This order of creation serves as the basis for the apostle’s ecclesiology and Christology. God formed the man first from the dust of the earth then the woman from the side of the man (1Ti 2:13). So, as God the Father is the head of Christ, the man is the head of the woman (1Co 11:3). In this application, the man represents God while the woman represents Christ.
Similarly, the order of creation of the man and woman portrays the relation of Christ with the Church. As Christ is the head of the Church, so man is the head of the woman. In this application, man represents Christ while woman represents the Church, the bride of Christ (Eph 1:22-23; 5:22-24; Col 1:18-19). When reading these passages in parallel, we recognize that both the man and the woman have a corresponding theological capacity representing Christ. Each represents Christ in a distinctive role. In the latter passage, man represents Christ in the relationship. In the former passage, woman represents Christ in the relationship. The ‘who we are’ as man and woman reveals theological truths in the gathered church, before the watching world and even the angelic realm (1Co 11:10).
Sharing the Grace of Life
Within the church, man and woman are joint heirs of “the grace of life” (1Pt 3:7). Women and men share equally in the blessings of redemption, union with Christ (Ga 3:27-29), the indwelling Holy Spirit (1Co 12:13; cf. Acts 2:17-18), the waters of baptism (Acts 8:12), the gifting of the Holy Spirit (1Co 12:11), the transforming sanctification process (2Co 3:18), and the ministry of the royal priesthood of all believers (1Pt 2:5, 9).
The manner of the creation of woman and man along with the blessings of redemption fill in the meaning of the apostle’s statement that in Christ “there is neither male nor female” (Ga 3:28; cf. 1Co 11:11). This verse explains our ontological capacity to reflect the image of God in redemption and who man and woman are in Christ.
Feminine Attributes of Gospel Ministry
A survey of the feminine presence in the New Testament serves to provide scope to our theme. Since our purpose is to understand the role of man and woman in the church, we will content ourselves with the New Testament for this exercise. The attention on feminine presence is not to diminish the presence of the masculine. The limitations of this article and the assumed familiarity with masculine motifs in Scripture inform this approach.
Feminine and masculine attributes describe the ministry of Jesus. His longing was to gather Jerusalem as a hen gathers her brood under her wings (Mt 23:37; Lk 13:34). Paul also engages feminine imagery to describe his ministry like being in the labor pains of childbirth (Ga 4:19). The apostle continues the maternal imagery comparing the ministry to being like a nursing mother nurturing her infants (1Th 2:7-8).
Feminine Imagery in Biblical Theology
The feminine motif resonates in theological themes throughout the New Testament. Jesus likens his disciples to family particularly as his mother and sisters (Mt 12:49-50). The kingdom of heaven is like leavening flour that a woman has mixed (Mt 13:33; Lk 13:21) and ten maidens awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom (Mt 25:1-12). The rejoicing in heaven over a repentant sinner is like a woman who finds a lost coin (Lk 15:8). The disciples’ joy of seeing the risen Lord after their grief over his death is likened to a mother who rejoices in childbirth after the anguish of labor an 16:21). Release from the bond of the law unto new life in the Spirit compares with a woman whose husband died releasing her from the old marriage covenant and free to enter the new marriage covenant (Ro 7:1-6). Life under the law and life under the promise of Christ are illustrated by two women, the former being slave and the latter free (Ga 4:21-31). The sudden arrival of the Day of the Lord is like the sudden birthing pains of a woman (1Th 5:3). Woman represents the role of the church in relationship to Christ (1Co 11:3; Eph 5:22-32). The church is betrothed as a bride unto Christ, the bridegroom (2Co 11:2; Eph 5:32; cf. Jn 3:29). The new heavenly Jerusalem will descend as a bride to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7; 21:2, 9, 10).
Feminine Speaking Voice
In addition to theological resonances, the feminine voice directly speaks with inspired words recorded in the Scriptures. Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit blesses Mary (Lk 1:41-45). Mary sings magnifying the Lord (Lk 1:46-55). The woman at the well testifies of Christ to her village (Jn 4:28-29, 39). The two Mary’s speak with the resurrected Lord who sends them to testify of him and invite the disciples to meet him in Galilee (Mt 28:6-10; cf. Mk 16:7; Lk 24:8-11; Jn 20:1-18). The Bride calls aloud giving invitation to come to Christ (Rev 22:17).
Todd Kinde (PhD, University of Chester) has served as Teaching Pastor with Grace Bible Church in Grandville, MI since 2001. Todd is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Society of Biblical Literature, serves as a board member with the Independent Bible Mission, and as president of the IFCA International Michigan Regional.