Introduction to Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Date: January 19, 2014
Study: In His Image: Biblical Manhood, Womanhood, and Relationships
Teacher: Lawson Hembree

What does it mean to be a man?  What does it mean to be a woman?

In one sense, the answers to these questions are simple.  We could all probably give a very basic, biology-driven answer and be done with it.  In fact, once upon a time, almost everyone in most societies could have rattled off not only the biological answer, but also a host of “typical” (we might even say “stereotypical”) characteristics, roles, expectations and norms that were commonly associated with each particular sex.

Men tended to be more aggressive, more analytical, less emotional.  They tended to speak less, cry rarely – and never, ever in public.  They tended to be the primary breadwinners in their homes and tended to be focused on career; they tended to occupy most positions of public, political and business leadership.  They tended to be interested in sports and were the only sex who would have considered “professional athlete” a potential career.  They tended to be initiators in their relationships with women and felt that was expected of them.  They tended to be fathers.

Women tended to be more relational, more caring, less analytical. For those who married, they tended to be focused on the home and the raising of children.  They tended to make up most of the volunteers in caring for the poor and other “mercy” and charity activities.  They tended to be, in comparison to men, less socially aggressive, more demure.  They tended generally to be responders in their relationships with men and felt that was expected of them. They tended to be mothers.

Times have changed.  These days, more men are portrayed in popular culture as passive and lazy, the number of stay-at-home-dads has increased by 70% in the last decade, it’s common to see women leading organizations or competing in professional sports (including MMA), marriage and conception are being pushed back later and later in life or put off altogether, and states are reconsidering the definitions of gender.

Pointing out this shift isn’t to say that the stereotypes or how they have changed are necessarily good or bad at this point. However, today we live in a culture where the answers to my two opening questions are no longer simple.

As Christians, it’s our task to answer the questions “what does it mean to be a man?” and “what does it mean to be a woman?” in the same way we answer the rest of life’s central questions.  We look to God’s Word. 

The hope is to be clear where scripture is clear, to be more circumspect where scripture is not clear, and to engage charitably at all times, recognizing that there is disagreement among people who will be together in heaven about some of the particular ways in which biblical manhood and womanhood play out and affect our daily lives and roles.  As is always the case when we dig into teaching that has the potential to hit very close to home, it is incumbent upon all of us to approach God’s Word not with an eye toward affirming or vindicating what we have already done or thought (though that vindication may well happen), but rather we should approach scripture with an eye toward learning what God’s Word actually says, and where necessary, toward being shaped and refined by that Word in our roles as single men and women, future husbands and wives, future parents, and church members.

There are three main aspects of what it means to be made in the image of God (Imago Dei):

  1. Resemble God
    1. Mirror God’s holiness
    2. Have capacity for rationality, morality/conscience, creativity, relationships, and other unique human qualities
    3. Possess dignity
  2. Represent God
    1. Rule and exercise authority over creation
  3. Relate to God
    1. Ability to have a relationship with God
    2. Reflect God through relationships with other humans as well as creation in general

As we study what it means to be made in the image of God as men and women, we will find that the Bible points to two different roots for defining manhood and womanhood. Paul in particular makes use of these as the foundation for his arguments in the New Testament.

  1. The Created Order- the relationship between men and women in God’s original, pre-Fall creation
  2. Christ and the Church- the relationship between Jesus and His Bride, the Church.

When Paul uses one or both of these roots in relation to manhood and womanhood, it helps us to understand if his prescription was only applicable in a certain context (primarily the time in which he lived and the Bible was written) or a universal command for all people of all times.

There are two basic perspectives on manhood and womanhood within the Christian church.  These two basic views – both of which are held by people who are evangelically and biblically orthodox – will continue to come up, often in tension.  The two views are egalitarianism and complementarianism.




Men & women equal in all respects as image bearers Men & women equal in all respects as image bearers


Men & women have no distinct roles Male is the head (leader); female is the helper


Sin corrupted male-female relationship by introducing an illegitimate hierarchy Sin corrupted the proper role-relations between man and woman


In Christ,  role distinctions are abolished here on earth In Christ, distinct roles are fully affirmed and restored according to God’s original design

Equality (Genesis 1:26-28)
Egalitarianism holds that God created male and female as equal in all respects. The egalitarian asserts that Gen. 1:26-28 makes no distinction between woman and man insofar as both are equally made in God’s image (i.e., ontological equality), and both are given equal and undifferentiated responsibility to rule over His creation (i.e., functional equality).

A complementarian believes that male and female were created by God as equal in dignity, value, essence and human nature, but also distinct in role whereby the male was given the responsibility of loving authority over the female, and the female was to offer willing, glad-hearted and submissive assistance to the man. Gen. 1:26-28 makes clear that male and female are equally created as God’s image, and so are, by God’s created design, equally and fully human. But, as Gen. 2 bears out (and as understood by Paul in 1 Cor. 11, Eph. 5, Col. 3, 1 Tim. 2, and Titus 2), their humanity would find expression differently, in a relationship of complementarity, with the female functioning in a submissive role under the leadership and authority of the male.

Men and women equally bear the image or likeness of God.  He shared it with men and women equally, and with men and women alone.

In verse 27, Moses shifts from prose (describing God’s purpose to create man and woman) to poetry:  “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  Each of these three lines makes a point.  Line one asserts the divine creation of man and woman.  We came from God.  Line two overlaps with line one, except that it highlights the divine image in man.  We bear a resemblance to God.  Line three highlights and affirms the dual sexuality of mankind.  Humans are male and female.  Nowhere else in Genesis 1 is sexuality referred to; but human sexuality, superior to animal sexuality, merits the distinct dignity given it here.  Also, Moses clearly intends to imply the spiritual equality of the sexes here, as we see that both male and female display the glory of God’s image with equal brilliance: “. . . in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  This is consistent with God’s intention, stated in verse 26, that both sexes should occupy this vice-ruler position within creation: “. . . and let them rule. . . .”  So that’s Gen. 1 – the absolute spiritual equality of man and woman before God.  So far so good – egalitarians and complementarians can agree on that.

Roles (Genesis 2:15-25)
These verses present a paradox, and the paradox is this: God created male and female in His image equally, but He also made the male the head and the female the helper.

Where do we get this?  We see that God put the man in the garden first (that is, before Eve was created); we see that God charged the man to work the garden and take care of it; God gave the man the authority to name the animals.  We see that the woman was created by God after the man and literally from the man.  We see the woman being created for the purpose of being a “suitable helper” to the man.  We see God giving Adam the authority to name his helper (“woman” here, Eve in Gen. 3).  Notice that these aspects of the relationship between male and female – man’s responsibility to lead and woman’s natural role as helper – appear to be instituted before marriage is discussed as part of God’s created order for men and women generally, not just for husbands and wives (though those roles obviously play out differently outside of marriage).  Then we also see that because of Adam’s relationship to this particular woman, Eve, his wife), he is to form a family with her to live with and care for her.

So, while egalitarians and complementarians essentially agree on Genesis 1 itself, they disagree on how Genesis 2 interacts with Genesis 1.  Genesis 1 and 2 together provide the basis for the complementarian view of the implications of creation for men and women.

Distortions (Genesis 3:16-19)
Egalitarianism asserts that sin introduced into God’s created order many manifestations of disorder and corrupted relationships, and that among the chief examples of sin’s defilement is the introduction of an illegitimate hierarchy in the relationship between woman and man. Gen. 3:16 (the curse on the woman) suggests that, because of sin, the woman would have a disposition of subservience before the man, and the man would have, in contrary measure, a disposition of supremacy over the woman. Thus, the relationship of male/female equality intended by God in creation is now defiled by the presence of a sinful and harmful hierarchical tendency.

Complementarians, on the other hand, believe that sin introduced into God’s created design many manifestations of disruption, among them a disruption in the proper role-relations between man and woman.  What does that mean?  As most complementarians understand it, Gen. 3:15-16 informs us that the male/female relationship would now, because of sin, be affected by mutual enmity, that is, an antagonism is introduced into the relationship that did not exist before sin.  In particular, the woman would have a desire to usurp the authority given to man in creation, leading to man, for his part, ruling over woman in what can be either rightfully-corrective, wrongfully passive, or wrongfully-abusive ways.

Redemption (Galatians 3, Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Timothy 2:8-15)
Gal. 3:28 expresses the grand truth that in Christ, the false and sinful basis of male/female hierarchy has been abolished, so there is no legitimate distinction, in God’s kingdom, between female and male. Full male/female equality is restored, dignity is given back to women, and servant attitudes are called for in men and women alike.

Passages such as Eph. 5:22-33 and 1 Tim. 2:8-15 exhibit the fact that God’s created intention of appropriate male leadership and authority should now, in Christ, be fully affirmed, both in the home and in the church. Wives are to submit to their husbands in the model of the Church’s submission to Christ, and women are not to exercise authoritative roles of teaching in the Church in view of Eve’s created relation to Adam. Male headship, then, is seen to be restored in the Christian community as men and women endeavor to express their common humanity according to God’s originally created and good hierarchical design.

Manhood: At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.

Womanhood: At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.
(Definitions from John Piper in Chapter 1 of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)


Have questions?
Contact Lawson ( or
Kameron and Anne (

**Lesson adapted from Lesson 1 of Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” Core Seminar**


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