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Men and Women in the Kingdom (part 3)

Post Title: Equal but Different

Upon reflection, it doesn’t shock most of us to realize that men and women are different. Even secular sociologists and psychologists have come to the astounding conclusion that little boys and little girls are actually different. It is not just a matter of their social context; there is something intrinsically distinct about the genders.

My wife and I are quite different, and it shows up in various ways. This has to do with what I believe is the biblical essence of masculinity and femininity. There is a fundamental difference in how we relate to others and our environment. There is even a difference in the way we shop. [laughter]

I have come to learn how my wife shops. For her, it means let’s look at everything, touch everything, admire everything, and then go on to the next thing. For me, shopping means knowing what you want and which store to go to; you go there, get it, and get out. I rarely go shopping. [laughter]

There is a difference between men and women, and it has to do with our natures. My wife is designed to be an exact and equal counterpart to me, and I need to understand that. And I need to respect her identity and her equality—both ontologically and theologically.

We have different functions and qualities, but not different statuses. She is the one who is equal to and adequate for me in every respect.

Psychologists have documented the typical differences in little children at play and found interesting patterns that, I suggest, the Bible confirms.

  • Boys tend to be more competitive; girls tend to be more cooperative.

  • Girls typically like smaller groups, whereas boys typically like larger groups.

  • Boys are big on rules. The worst charge you can make in a game is saying to your opponent, “you don’t play fair.” To a girl, accord and agreement are generally more important than rules. Often they will change rules just to settle a dispute, whereas boys will fight.

  • Girls tend to be more relational and sharing, and boys tend to be individualistic and competitive.

  • Boys emphasize hierarchy and authority, does this sound familiar in the church? Almost everywhere I go, pastors say, “Whose authority are you under? What is your ministry covering?” You see, even us big boys need to know on whose team you play and what rules you play by. Instead of hierarchy and authority, girls typically show much more empathy and cooperation.

  • Regarding disputes, boys will often settle them more violently than their counterparts, although girls can be masters at verbal violence.

What all this speaks of, I suggest to you, is the essence of masculinity and femininity by God’s design. In a very simplistic way, let me characterize it in the following manner. (Remember, we are talking about patterns. There are exceptions to every rule. Even within the male and the female, you have masculine and feminine traits.)

By God’s design, the masculine has been given an intrinsic impetus to create, order, exercise dominion, and give direction to something. Also, by God’s design, the essence of the feminine is intuitiveness and responsiveness. It is a power to respond, enable, nurture, and relate to.

Because of all this, Israel and the church (made up of both males and females) are called the bride of Christ, or bride of God. With respect to us, God is “masculine”—he is the Creator, and he is the one who initiates grace. We are the “feminine” in the sense that we respond to his steadfast love.

Every word in the Hebrew language is gender specific. I think that can sometimes be significant, like with the names of God. There are some titles for him that are masculine in gender and some that are feminine. Why? Because though God is neither male nor female in terms of sexuality, by analogy, he has masculine and feminine traits. Here are some examples.

  • In the beginning, God created (Bereshit bara Elohim). Elohim, as you would expect, is masculine.

  • God is merciful (racham) which comes from rechem, the womb. It is difficult to convey this in language, but God has a feminine, nurturing, compassionate side.

  • El Shaddai can be translated as the full-breasted deity, the God that is all-sufficient, the source of all that you need.

  • The sacred name YHWH has both a masculine syllable and a feminine syllable in it.

  • The word spirit (ruach) is feminine, as is the word for his glorious presence, shekinah. Even wisdom (chokhmah) is feminine, though men don’t typically like to hear that.

Let’s go back to Genesis 2 where he created the ezer kenegdo (read about that in last week’s installment). Notice in verse 23, 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. This is a wonderful play on words echoing that of Genesis 1:27, where God made adam, male and female, from the soil (adamah). Now he separates woman (ishah) from man (ish). They both have the same equality, yet they have uniqueness!

Biblically speaking, when a man and a woman come together in the unity of marriage they become one (echad). It is the same word used in the famous Shema which begins, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one (Deut 6:4).” Israel’s ancient sages suggest that in the covenant marriage of a man and a woman, the oneness of God in heaven is reflected here on earth. He is the third though silent partner of every marriage.

Here is the problem. When God is not the third partner in the marriage covenant, you do not have the opposite sex; you have the opposing sex.

Oneness in these texts explains the unity of opposites. It does not speak of sameness. The woman is not to be in some kind of symbiotic relationship with the man in which her identity is immersed in his. It is a unity that embraces but never stifles individuality. In love, we merge one with another, but we don’t submerge one over the other.

The biblical ideal of marital intimacy is one of a man and a woman in a deep interpersonal relationship of equal and independent partners who, in love, submit themselves to one another in the fear of the Lord. I agree with Paul, who is reflecting on Genesis when he says this is a profound mystery (Eph 5:32).


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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.

Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.

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