Life & Relationships

Is the Bible's Treatment of Gender Problematic?

On the 12th of June, Cru held a webinar on “Covid-19 Conversations: I’ve Always Wondered (Part One)”, the sixth in its ongoing series of special webinars with distinguished speakers to provide a platform to ask questions, receive counsel and be discipled during an unprecedented time of our lives.

We live in a ‘cancel culture’ – one in which those who express views that are deemed bigoted or discriminatory are condemned and silenced. For better or worse, it has been used as a tool to champion various causes, from women’s rights to justice for minorities.

So, then, a hard question we need to ask ourselves is this: in this modern age, is the Bible ‘cancelled’?

There are certainly many views on gender that some find problematic. For instance, the Old Testament seems to feature the exploits of men more than women, and when it does, they are often not in powerful positions. Then in the New Testament, Paul instructs Timothy that “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission” (1 Tim 2:11).

These depictions of women cause many readers’ ears to bristle – yet God does not show favouritism to any one person over another (Rom 2:11, Col 3:25). He loves men and women alike, and died for all (2 Cor 5:14-15).

So how then should we respond?

To help us navigate through these difficult issues, Dr Hwee Chuang, lecturer at the East Asia School of Theology, spoke on this topic in the webinar, “I’ve Always Wondered (Part One)”.

 

 

In the beginning

Dr Hwee Chuang drew our attention all the way back to the creation in Genesis. (It’s only natural to do so – if we want to learn how to operate a machine well, we ought to figure out the original intention the builder had it mind when he was designing it!)

In the account of creation, we see two stages. Man is created out of the dust, and God breathes His spirit into the man (Gen 2:7). Without any one of these two, there would be no life. As such, human identity has to be understood as what Dr Hwee Chuang called a “psychosomatic whole” – in other words, an identity that is rooted in both our spirit and our physical body.

Our body, therefore, is not a simple husk, that our spirits ‘possess’ and leave upon death. Neither is it a tool solely for pleasure. Instead, it informs each of us of something that is core to our identity, male or female.

As such, there are indeed different roles men and women play, she says. For instance, wives are called to “submit in everything to their husbands”, while husbands are called to be “the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Eph 5:22-23).

 

 

Different, not discriminated

Ultimately, however, she was quick to stress that just because women have different roles than men in no way diminishes their value. Both men and women are made in the image of God and bear it equally, and are therefore equally valuable.

It is not an easy thing to grasp – but it points us to our Creator.

Look to the Trinity, who are each different in role and function, but are equal in essence, and we dare not say that any one member of the Godhead is any greater or lesser than the other. Jesus the Son submitted fully to the Father (Luke 22:42), yet they are both equal in glory (John 17:5).

It is a beautiful picture: one submits to the other wholeheartedly out of love, trusting that the other will respond with love and kindness and honour – and it is the reality that our God-given roles as men and women point us to!

 

 

Redemption, not redefinition

However, there has been, of course, a “massive deviation” from God’s original design, as men oppress and exploit women, Dr Hwee Chuang noted.

Here in Singapore, 1 in 10 women experience lifetime physical violence by a male (International Violence Against Women Survey, 2010). Men distort the views that they are the head of the household. Rather than use it as an opportunity to lead and to guide in love, they lord it over the women in their lives.

In response to this, various movements have risen up to fight against the image of the ‘subservient’ and ‘weak’ woman by giving them the roles of men. In the face of the Bible’s seeming failure to grant them equality with men, they strive to redefine the roles God intended.

However, the great work of redemption through Jesus Christ is not about redefining our roles, but reclaiming God’s original, deeply fulfilling purposes for our souls and bodies.

Jesus came not to abolish God’s original design for how men and women were meant to relate, but to empower us to fulfil it (Matt 5:17)!

He has shown us that all of us are equally sinful before a holy God, and none of us have reached the standard God set out for us.

 

 

As Paul says in Romans 3:22-24,

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile [or male and female!], for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

However, because Christ, the only one who had the right to oppress us, chose instead to love us by redeeming us through His death on the cross, we are free! No longer do men and women need to clamour for power over the other, because He has humbled us all with His love.

Therefore, we can adopt the roles God has given men and women, as new creatures who equally, undeservingly share in the infinite mercies in Christ – no longer as “Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:25).

The Bible is not cancelled, we were – with our utterly failed attempts to fulfil the roles God graciously gave us. That is, until Christ came and redeemed us. Let us live up to all He has given us.

 

This article is about one of three issues dealt with - the other articles can be found here.

Timothy is a young adult (and occasional poet) passionate about inspiring in people a deeper interest in God’s Word, and discovering the divine in the ordinary. He is a graduate of Tung Ling Bible School (School of Ministry) and an undergraduate of NUS. He also enjoys musicals, crosswords and a good game of chess.

©1994-2020 Cru. All Rights Reserved.