Manliness and Femininity: the lies of “Biblical Gender Roles”

They say there’s an exception to every rule, which makes me wonder:

Exceptional ruleAnd what happens when there are so many exceptions they end up swallowing the rule altogether?

Exceptional women?

For those who teach that the Bible requires certain roles and functions for men while women are prohibited from taking on those roles and functions – what some call biblical gender roles – any biblical examples of women moving in on men’s territory are merely exceptions to a rule. Yet it soon becomes clear their rule on roles is non-existent in the first place. While the Bible has a lot of examples of godly women* and men, none of them are definitional as to which roles are manly and which are womanly.

Biblical Gender RolesThe exceptions aren’t limited to women doing what a patriarchal society would say is men’s work, such as Deborah leading Israel (Judges 4-5) and Huldah prophesying for the Lord as she guided the king of Judah’s trusted counselors. (2 Kings 22:11-20.) The exceptions also include men acting in ways the gender teachers say are indicative of women’s roles in God’s creation.

Here are two examples that immediately came to mind, but those who read the Bible for themselves could probably come up with more with little effort.

Gideon – the judge in the kitchen

In Judges 6, God visits Gideon in the form of the angel of the Lord. In typical hospitality for that time and place, Gideon prepared food for his visitor. Unlike earlier instances where the angel of the Lord met with someone (such as Abraham in Genesis 18), Gideon did not order his wife – or perhaps a servant woman – to prepare the bread and meat. He went to the kitchen himself:

Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak. (Judges 6:19.)

Some might say this is not really a meal, since Gideon explicitly told God he was preparing an offering. That is a distinction without a difference. The bottom line is that Gideon, God’s chosen leader for the nation of Israel, went in the kitchen and did the cooking.

David – an emotional wreck

King David is another example. Many of those who teach differing roles for men and women will describe women as more relational and comfortable with their emotions, while men are prone to action and less likely to show their feelings. Anyone Bible teacher who says this has never paid attention to David.

When David’s baby was ill and dying, David – apparently ignoring his responsibilities to lead the nation – spent his time grieving and fasting and weeping. He was not at all ashamed of his tears either:

“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’” (2 Samuel 12:22.)

No one criticized David for his tears then. Most people today would also say that it is not unmanly to cry over a sick and dying child. The gender role teachers might characterize it as a suitable exception to their rule about men and their feelings. The problem is that it is not an exception at all. It’s the way men act regardless of gender roles.

Another instance in David’s life truly gives the lie to the notion that godly men in the Bible did not give way to their feelings. His grown son Absalom plotted to take the throne of Israel from David. This led to civil war, a war in which David’s army prevailed and Absalom was killed. David not only mourned his rebellious son’s death. He became an emotional wreck.

The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33.)

David was shaken? Who wouldn’t be. But to wish himself dead and that his son’s rebellion thus succeeded is more than grief. It is an emotional collapse.

One shouldn’t blame David for being emotional, of course. Rather, the blame is on those who would insist this is merely one more exception to the gender roles they say are in the Bible. How many exceptions does one need before realizing the exceptions reveal the supposed rule to be merely an illusion of their own making?

Avoiding gender role rules

The problem with these supposed gender roles is that they get in the way of what God’s people – men and women both – are really called to do; grow in Christ. (Ephesians 4:15, 2 Peter 3:18.) You do it like this:

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1.2.)

Women and men both are to live as Jesus lived. There is no indication that men are to do the men things Jesus did and women are to do the women things. That would be nonsense, since the Bible never mentions a male/female division in what it takes to be “just as Christ.”

Rather, women and men both are to do the things Jesus did. Don’t let anyone restrict you from fully doing that by telling you there are some gender roles to follow along the way. There aren’t.

There’s just the Jesus way. Walk in it. (Isaiah 30:21.)


*Addendum: Some examples of women doing what gender role people would identify as men’s roles, taken from Silencing Women – the guaranteed way for men to stay in control

    • Mary’s Magnificat is a song by a woman so skip over those verses. (Luke 1:46-55.)
    • Samaritan men shouldn’t have listened to the woman at the well tell them of Jesus because she’s a woman. (John 4:28-30, 39.)
    • Anna should’ve kept quiet when she saw baby Jesus in the temple because women aren’t supposed to speak in church. (Luke 2:36-38.)
    • Tamar never should have told Judah to provide her a child. Who is she to tell her father-in-law how to run the family? (Genesis 38.)
    • Abigail never should have helped David. She should have supported her husband Nabal even if he was wrong, and sent David and his army away empty-handed. (1 Samuel 25.)
    • Pilate was right not to heed his wife’s warnings about harming Jesus. After all, she’s not the husband in that family. (Matthew 27:15-26.)
    • If King Josiah knew his officials were going to ask Huldah – a woman – for advice, he’d have never let them do it. (2 Kings 22:11-20.)
    • The church would be much better off if the apostles had refused to listen to Mary talk about the empty tomb. (John 20:1-10.)
    • No wonder Philip’s daughters weren’t married. He let them prophesy? What kind of Godly father does that? (Acts 21:8-9.)
    • When Peter told the crowd in Acts 2 that women would prophesy, he must have meant only to other women. (Acts 2:14-21.)
    • Mary told the wedding servants to listen to Jesus. How could she exercise authority over them? (John 2:1-11.)
    • When Jesus said even the rocks would shout out praise to him, he meant only the boy rocks, right? (Luke 19:39-40.) At least in public?


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34 Responses to Manliness and Femininity: the lies of “Biblical Gender Roles”

  1. Native Californian says:

    Discussing David as an emotional wreck is very insightful to me. It makes me think, on the other end of the emotional spectrum, how he must have felt when he danced before the Lord.

    The discussion of gender roles reminded me of the stereotyping in the promotional material for a men and boys only event recently held at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:

    “Southwestern Outfitters will be selling man-centric items at significantly reduced prices (no purple or pink shirts!)”

    • Tim says:

      David displayed tremendous joy and tremendous anguish. If anything, he’s an example of just how powerful our emotions can be, and that they are as redeemed as the rest of our being when God gets hold of them.

      • Native Californian says:

        Great summary! My sarcasm, however, wonders when God will redeemthe colors pink and purple for both genders as well.

        • Tim says:

          I hope so. I wore a lot of pink button down and polo shirts back in the 80s.

        • Lilly says:

          If it makes anyone feel any better, here’s some interesting color theory history: The American/European standard a few centuries ago was that pink was a manly color (as a derivative of red, which signified boldness/vitality) and blue was a feminine color (as it tends to make people look more pale and is a more “muted” tone). It wasn’t until the sharp rise of the fashion industry in the early 1900s that the colors switched into the American gender standards we have today.

          But of course, God ordained blue to be strictly a man’s color back in Genesis. I haven’t found the reference yet, but I’m sure if I cut and paste enough words together, I’ll get there. (sarcasm)

        • Laura Droege says:

          This is to Lilly: I remember hearing that, too. My 18th century lit prof pointed out that pink was considered a very masculine color, and many men had their study decorated in pink. 🙂

  2. David is an interesting picture. On the one hand he’s fits the idea of a “man’s man.” He was a mighty warrior, was successful in combat, became the king. Yet at the same time he doesn’t fit that idea; he shows emotion, writes poetry/songs, and seems to have a large capacity for mercy even against those who seek to kill him. He wouldn’t fit into easily managed categories very well.

    • Tim says:

      He is the perfect warrior-king for those writing the comp narrative and the perfect patsy for those decrying the girly-man. In my mind, though, he’s a mere man like the rest of us and the perfect exemplar of why stereotypes don’t work.

  3. Pastor Bob says:

    Gender Roles = Guidelines.
    In an interview (post Gulf-Storm) with Barbara Walters General Norman Schwatzkopf started to weep. She asked, “General are you concerned about your soldiers seeing you weep?”
    He responded, “Ma’am, I would be terrified of the man who could not weep.”
    (Or was the word ‘cry?’)

    Having seen VERY tough women, stereotypes help define, but are not definitive.
    FAMILY rules and roles are a bit more important.

    One couple recently married had a short argument – who cooks breakfast?
    Her father did, his mother did. They worked it out within minutes and decided to define this later that afternoon.

  4. Sarah says:

    Complementarian/Patriarchal thinkers write with equal amounts of confidence and shallowness. Suppose that there really are ontological/metaphysical differences between men and women (and my Thomistic inclinations make me inclined to this view), do you think maybe we women are owed a deep, thoughtful, well-reasoned exploration of such a view and of what those differences really are?

    Instead, we get stuff with less depth and truth than “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” and we are expected to build everything in our lives around it.

    Even the bloggers I’ve seen who’ve tried to approach the question more rigorously have ended by simply importing cultural assumptions and pretending they have proved something.

    • Tim says:

      I haven’t yet seen someone explain it fully without reliance on cultural phenomena, Sarah. It’s one thing to prove it from Scripture and then discuss how we see it manifest in society and culture, but to rely on society and culture to supplement holes in the biblical argument is just sloppy to me.

  5. Brad says:

    Do you think there is a place for discussing what it means to be a man or a woman . . . what it means to be masculine or feminine? Or should that discussion be taken off the board because it degenerates into unhelpful stereotypes and what really matters is whether or not we are becoming more like Jesus, which basically has nothing to do with gender?

    My own take: It seems like there is a profound and mysterious difference between male and female, but I can’t really quantify it or parse it out. Seems like egals, in general, want to eliminate differences and comps what to overemphasize and over define them.

    The only two “roles” I can see as possibly biblical are 1) men, in some shape, having a unique teaching role in the CHURCH, and 2) Husbands illustrating the role of Christ and wives the church in MARRIAGE. I know these are debatable, but egals haven’t refuted the argument, so I grant them as a scriptural possibility.

    • Tim says:

      I’ve never actually read an egal who wants to eliminate the differences between men and women. The point is always eliminating the ungodly obstacles that prevent men and women serving God without regard to unbiblical gender qualifications.

    • Terri says:

      True, Tim; egals not only aren’t trying to eliminate the differences — that is something made up by comps about egals that for some reason everyone has just believed — egals will tell you plainly that those differences are one of many important reasons why we NEED the gifts and approaches and differences of both men and women. Differences are a reason to *include* women, not a reason to exclude them. Biblically speaking.

  6. Too bad for the girl rocks. : -{ When Jesus said even the rocks would shout out praise to him, he meant only the boy rocks, right? (Luke 19:39-40.) At least in public?

  7. brambonius says:

    What I was suddenly wondering after reading this post: Why are supposedly biblical Christian gender roles for men often so aggressively extravertnormative?

    • Tim says:

      You’re right. What the comps get men thinking is that they need to be out there, up front and in charge. These are not a collection of introvert qualities.

      • brambonius says:

        I love being out there in the garden or in nature, but probably not in the way they’d like…All this macho stuff is so exhausting…

  8. What would I give? says:

    I find your readings refreshing and encouraging. Just today I wrote a blog post about another blog by a preacher who said a wife’s main role and job is to be in the home. She can work, but as long as its in the home and doesn’t “disrupt her household duties.” I felt very upset reading that mans post because thats not what God wants of me as a woman and future wife. I know God has more for me as a wife someday than just hang around the home because my husband wants me to. The thing that upset me was that this man was using the word of God to prove his point that woman need to be in the home.
    Maybe I could have misinterpreted, but I am happy I came across your blog. You speak highly of woman in ways I hardly hear. Thank you.

    • Tim says:

      His teaching is abhorrent, and I’m glad you are speaking out against it. Thanks too for your kind words about my blog.

    • esbee says:

      The early church women preached and taught -Jesus was the first womens liberator by talking to them and they were part of his group of followers. Then why did Paul say “I want your women to be silent in church” Perhaps because it was about that church at that time had a lot of problems and Paul was giving them advice for that situation. Not that all women forever would never preach or teach. Everything in the bible is truthfully stated but not everything in the bible is endorsed to be part and parcel of a christian life. We are all free to follow the Holy spirit in our life and He will never lead you astray or tell you to do things that are sin. Warning-stay away from a blog called biblical gender roles. he is very patriarchy but thinks it is ok for men to view porn.

      • Tim says:

        Re the Biblical Gender Roles blog, esbee: it’s been outed as a troll blog that is written by someone who is trying to create controversy, not put forth sincerely held beliefs.

        • esbee says:

          thanks – i read his stuff and put my story on there and he said i was sinning by going against god’s will– i chose not to have children, i work outside the home, i do not like girl things (dresses, make-up, babies, etc) I wear jeans, i have horses and rescue cats, my house is not always the cleanest. i did mention that for over 40 years i have been married to a man that has had myriad illnesses, so some of the comments said it was an exception that i had to work outside the home but that blog owner said i was really sinning by not having children. I am so glad that blogs like yours, and the blog called recovering grace are all helping the lies to fall away so I can live a victorious life, riding my horse, rescuing cats, letting some dust and spiders collect in my house.

  9. Christian-in-rehab says:

    Reblogged this on CHRISTIAN IN REHAB.

  10. David is mentioned as hugging his BFFL Jonathon while they cried together. Both had wives–no doubt they were heterosexual. But manly man Mark Driscoll would be horrified.

    And it upsets me that if a man is sensitive/gentle/vulnerable both sides say he must be gay. He gets it from either end. No wonder so many young men are confused!

  11. Freeatlast says:

    It makes me wonder how many women have lost the opportunity to truly display Gods greatness in a “masculine” way as they were assumed and consumed by patriarchy/complementarian thinking. Myself included.

  12. the scripture that is mostly used to keep women in the home is the one where paul says ” I will that women be keepers at home, etc” Notice how it is worded–Paul is offering his preference and opinion when he says ” I will”—NOT a commandment that says “god wills…” and of course, men being men and fallible, added so much more to that by falsely extrapolating that women could/should not do or be anything else. of course to some Christian men i am a heretic for daring to believe that a relationship with God is personal and that He does not make cookie cutter christians. Your walk as a Christian should be as unique as snowflakes and finger prints.

    • Tim says:

      Paul’s word choice is very telling. He does not claim a revelation or command from God in this like he does elsewhere.

      • yes and he explains why he is writing this- because the young widows were causing drama because they had too much time on their hands. having a family would keep them busy and out of trouble. but legalists such as biblical gender roles, bill gothard and now a woman called transformed wife on fb are making that verse into a command of god that must at all costs be obeyed. and never refuted, doubted, debated or you are going against god’s perfect design and sinning. in fact, thinking through the bible and how it is worded, that there are very few thus saith the Lord commands and those are in the old testament meant for those people it was said to. except for the 10 commandments I can’t find anywhere any actual commands of god in the NT (what to eat, what to wear, live, how many children to have, type of job) …the laws of morality seem to be the only laws that continue into the new testament. The rest of what we think are irrefutable commands of god have to do with the struggle of the new religion of Christianity to grow and the writings reflect the apostles’ experiences and sharing with the church at the time, thus the letters to them. a christian in their walk with god can apply certain verses to their life but it varies from person to person.

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