There are many pressures in contemporary Western society which work to confuse the distinctive roles of men and women. That would be acceptable if ‘male’ and ‘female’ were simply evolutionary accidents. But the Bible says that is not the case. God created the two genders, Matthew 19.4
MALE AND FEMALE IN THE CONTEXT OF WORK
Again the book of Genesis provides us with foundational principles.
• The essential similarity and equality of man and woman
Man and woman possess an identical essence and equal humanity. Genesis 1.27 The last phrase of this verse specifically underlines that man and woman are equally made in the image of God.
Genesis 2.19-23 The juxtaposition of Adam’s categorizing the animals and the Lord bringing Adam and Eve together emphasises the qualitative difference between the animals on one hand and Adam and Eve on the other. Adam is not the same as the animals but he is the same as Eve.
Genesis 2.22 That Eve is made from Adam’s rib is significant. The Hebrew word can also mean ‘side.’ Eve is the ‘other side’ or the ‘other half’ of Adam.
We therefore need to beware of any tendencies to imprison women in their femininity to the detriment of their participating in what is simply human.
• The different points of focus for the work of the man and the woman
Equally his image, God gave man and woman different roles and responsibilities in Eden.
The man glorified God through his working the ground, Genesis 2.5, 15 whereas the woman glorified God through being a helper for the man, Genesis 2.18.
The man was made out of the ground (the focus of his work), Genesis 2.7 whereas the woman was made from man (the focus of her task), Genesis 2.20-23.
The man was made and brought to the garden, Genesis 2.8, 15 whereas the woman was made and brought to her man, Genesis 2.22.
These two different points of focus for work, namely the ground for the man and the family for the woman, are assumed in God’s words to Adam and Eve after the Fall, Genesis 3.16, 17.
Notice that the word ‘helper’ does not imply any inferiority. In the OT the word is used 21 times, 15 of which refer to God being our helper.
Notice particularly that the male and female roles are not cultural in origin or merely pragmatic, but appointed by God.
The Biblical justification for interpreting the details of the Genesis account is seen from Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians 11.7-9; 1 Timothy 2.13-15; Titus 2.4 etc.
• These principles are to be interpreted not restrictively but nevertheless responsibly
As we look through the OT we find that although the bearing and raising of children was central in the lives of Israelite women, and a much longed for achievement, they did much more than just that.
It would seem natural to interpret Eve being Adam’s helper as that part of what she did was to help him with his work in the garden, Genesis 2.18.
Sarah and other wives of the patriarchal period ran large households which included managing domestic servants, Genesis 16.16.
As Israel settled in the promised land and life took on an agricultural tone, women became involved in field work, Ruth 2.2, 3.
The woman described in Proverbs 31 is held up as something of an OT ideal. She is a woman of prodigious ability, with interests and activities which, although centred on her home, go well beyond the confines of her house, Proverbs 31.14, 16, 17.
In a world which has done much to undermine traditional family life with devastating consequences for society, married Christians must think carefully about how moving away from the traditional roles of man as bread-winner and woman as home-maker might affect our lives.
This series on ‘The Bible and Our Daily Work’ is taken from a sermon series given by Dr. John Benton at Chertsey Street Baptist Church in 2012.