Gender Roles Before the Fall and in the Church

Gender Roles Before the Fall and in the Church

Genesis 2 is an important chapter for a number of reasons. Not all of these can be addressed in one blog post. But one crucial reason Genesis 2 is important is because it presents to us the very first marriage – the union of Adam and Eve in holy matrimony in a very good world that had not yet been subjected to the curse of the Fall.

Consider Genesis 2:22-25:

And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Marriage is foundational to humanity because it is God’s gift to humanity for our good and His glory.

How is Marriage Lived Out

Marriage is foundational to humanity. This doesn’t mean you aren’t human if you don’t marry. Paul talks about the gift of singleness. And sometimes we have to live a time without our spouses because of death. So, you’re not less human if you’re single.

But marriage is foundational to humanity because it is God’s gift to humanity for our good and His glory. Male and female are equal under God but carry out different roles. We see this reality in the very first marriage in human history.

What I want to do is lay out these roles briefly and encourage us as husbands and wives to carry out these roles for God’s glory and the good of our families and the church and society as a whole. At the end I also want to show how these gender roles apply to the local church.

The Husband’s Role

The husband is to be a provider for his family. Adam was to work the Garden and keep it (Genesis 2:15). As a general rule, a husband must be the primary provider for his family.

Also, in Genesis 2:15, we see that Adam was to guard the garden and by implication to guard his family. Again, generally speaking, the husband is to be the protector of his family. When you hear the bump in the night, let the husband check it out.

I would also mention that the husband is the pursuer. He is the one to take initiative. He is the one who leaves and cleaves. Take note of Genesis 2:24. We should teach our sons that when they get older and are ready for a relationship that the woman should not have to wonder what their intentions are. They should be open and honest and be the primary pursuer of the relationship.

And then even in marriage we can’t quit courting can we? Like, well, I won the girl, so now I’m good. No, we should still pursue our wives as the Bible commands us to understand them and love them well.

Finally, I would mention that the husband must be the pastor of his home. In Genesis 2:16-17 God gave Adam instruction that He didn’t give Eve with the understanding that Adam was to teach his wife God’s Word. Therefore, in a very real sense, every husband is the pastor of his home. He should teach the truth of God to his wife and children. He should take the primary role in this.

This does not mean that a wife should not read her Bible or seek the Lord herself. It simply means that in the marriage economy, the husband is charged with the responsibility of shepherding his wife. Adam was formed first, given explicit instruction, and then along came Eve who would learn this instruction from her husband.

I want to mention that God considers these roles extremely important and will hold the husband accountable. The husband is the provider, protector, pursuer, and pastor of his marriage. The buck stops with him and he will give an account before God for how he has stewarded these responsibilities given to him by almighty God.  We must take these God ordained responsibilities seriously.

And we are charged by God to love our wives well with compassion, sacrifice, and understanding. When we abuse or neglect our role as husband, we commit great wickedness against our holy God.

The Wife’s Roles

Now, as counter cultural as this is, we need to see what God says about the woman’s role in marriage. In Genesis 2:18 the Lord says “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

The Hebrew word for “helper” is not an inferior term. God is called a helper in the Old Testament. The husband and wife are co-heirs of grace. There is no inferiority between male and female. Rather, there is complementarity in how men and women are to carry out their specific God ordained roles.

Now, a few words I might mention here to understand this term of “helper” –

First, the wife is to be a teammate. I know sports analogies aren’t the best to everyone. But perhaps, in a reverent manner, we can think of Christ as the coach, the husband as the captain of the team, and the wife as the teammate.

She is not inferior. She comes alongside the husband and assists him as they together seek to execute Christ’s game plan for life and marriage.

The wife is also a follower. I don’t mean that women in general must follow men in general. I mean in the context of marriage a man should take the lead in love and a wife should follow in love. This is a good and harmonious design.

In Genesis 2:23, prior to the Fall, the man names the woman and there is authority here. The man leads. This is a good design by God. It doesn’t mean a wife never makes a decision. It means at the end of the day the man is charged by God to shepherd and lead his home and a wife complements her husband in following.

Furthermore, all husbands should be thankful, that our wives offer valuable insight and perspective that we might not always see. That’s why she is an invaluable helper. A good husband listens to his wife. A husband who won’t listen to his wife is in sin.

And also, a wife sometimes has to follow her husband even if she’s not totally sure it’s the best decision. A wife is not under obligation to follow her husband into sin. But sometimes there are decisions that need to be made, neither option being sinful. When things are discussed, and options are weighed, and prayer has been made, sometimes an unsure decision has to be made.

But a wife cannot only submit to her husband’s leadership when she wants to, because that’s not biblical submission. And a husband can’t only love his wife in compassion and sacrifice merely when she’s acting the way he wants because that’s not biblical love.

Finally, a wife is a helper by being a supporter. A wife supports her husband in his providing, protecting, pursuing, and pastoring. A husband simply cannot carry out these roles without the help and support of his wife. This is one reason why both male and female are needed to carry out God’s purposes for marriage.

Martin Luther’s quote is helpful here: ““Let the wife make her husband glad to come home and let him make her sorry to see him leave.”

In the midst of cultural chaos it is ok for us to make a stand here and say androgyny is foolish rebellion – that is blending the genders into something that is really neither male nor female. Marriage roles matter. This is God’s good design.

It’s ok for little boys to get dirty and play army. One day, they will be a protector and a provider for their own family. And it’s ok for little girls to dress up as princesses and play house. Maybe little girls dream of princesses and play house because it’s rooted in the creation of the first woman.

I don’t mean for these stereotypes to come across demeaning. I mean that we must seek to understand God’s good purpose in creation and in marriage and not rebel against that for the purpose of God’s glory and human flourishing.

Marriage is designed to glorify God. A husband and wife are to live joyfully under the ultimate authority of God. The problem of course is that sin enters the world in Genesis 3. And when a man and woman marry today, they marry a sinner. The perfect “unashamedness” that Adam and Eve possessed is gone.

Marriage is hard, and takes hard work, because we live in a fallen world. We are all broken. We are all weak. And we are all guilty. All mankind now stands before God with guilt and shame.

And so, not just for marriages, but for every soul, the solution to our guilt and shame is not to deny it. And it’s not to drown it in sinful practices or to forsake our God given role. The solution to our guilt and shame is to look to Christ in faith as we repent of our sins.

Application to the Local Church

We see the roles Adam and Eve were to carry out pre fall and how that applies to marriages today. But it’s also important to note that Christ doesn’t come to erase these roles. He comes to restore them in Him. Meaning, in Christ a husband isn’t free to abuse his wife. Rather, he’s free to be the husband he has been designed by God to be from the very beginning.

Similarly, a Christian wife isn’t free to abdicate her role as helper, but free to fulfill it in joy as she has been designed.

In the local church, therefore, we should expect a full Christ centered expression of these roles in specific areas. For example, how could we expect that in the home a husband is to be the pastor and teacher over his wife, but in the church the wife would become the pastor and teacher over the husband?

Even if we did not possess clear New Testament instruction on the roles of men and women in the church we would have a foundational understanding of husbands and wives that would lead us to implement these roles in the church as we see them in the home.

When homes or churches confuse the roles of men and women there will inevitably be heartache and adverse consequences faced in this life, and in some cases will even echo into eternity.

But, in fact, we do have clear New Testament instruction in places like 1 Timothy 2:12-13 where Paul roots the roles of men and women in the church in the creation of man and woman back in Genesis 1-2. What we would expect based on what we know about the roles of men and women in marriage is exactly what the Holy Spirit instructs in the New Testament. God doesn’t switch or confuse the roles of men and women between the home and the church, but rather keeps them the same and gives them an even fuller purpose in Christ. This is a beautiful design that is for our good and His glory.

This doesn’t mean that all men are apt to teach. Nor does it mean that women don’t have crucial roles in the life of the church. What it does mean is that the pastors of local churches are qualified men, in office and in function, and not women and this is part of God’s very good design for His creation.

When homes or churches confuse the roles of men and women there will inevitably be heartache and adverse consequences faced in this life, and in some cases will even echo into eternity.

How each local church navigates the roles of men and women in the church will perhaps look different in some contexts. But, there is a clear line that cannot be crossed in terms of leadership. In no scenario is having a woman replace a man in the pastoral role or function helpful to the body of Christ or honoring to the Lord who has given us a clear word on this matter.

May the Lord be glorified in how the local church seeks to order itself according to His precious, necessary, authoritative, inerrant, infallible and wholly sufficient Word.

Allen S. Nelson IV is the pastor of Perryville Second Baptist Church in Perryville, AR, where he resides with his wife Stephanie, and their 5 children. Allen is the author of From Death to Life: How Salvation Works and Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness . His other titles include blogger, rookie podcaster, and occasional conference speaker. Most importantly, he is a recipient of the undeserved grace of God.
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