Rights, Authority, and Gender

In recent centuries, the rights of man have come to be seen in the Western world as taking precedence over the divine right of kings, and as we know, major revolutions resulted from that philosophical shift, in America, France, Russia, and many other places. This observation should not be viewed as a comment on the morality of any of these revolutions, or to compare their causes or outcomes in any other way but in the clash between these two opposing principles.

Thomas Jefferson codified for himself and millions of Americans the view that a Creator God endowed the human race with certain rights incapable of being surrendered or taken away, and among them are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  More on God-given rights later.  But let us notice in passing how this short list of purported rights has grown in recent years in the West to include a supposed right to privacy, to employment or a universal minimum income, to government-funded health care, and even abortion rights under the guise of women’s rights.

The women’s rights movement is not really new, but it has morphed from a relatively inoffensive discussion on suffrage and societal respect into a framework for justifying the casting off of the natural gender roles that have for thousands of years served mankind pretty well. One might even conclude, after a look at human history as well as at the animal kingdom, that our race was designed male and female with a real purpose in mind, particularly for its perpetuation, order, and enjoyment. 

What is it that has set in motion this resistance leading to rebellion against divinely-ordained order as to gender roles in the home, in society, and even in the Christian testimony?  Why is it that even many Christians have come to find fault with the apostle Paul’s teaching on the role of Christian women in the home and in the assembly of God? No doubt there have historically been legitimate grievances stemming from male insensitivity and leadership failure, but in a modern society where women have more options and are afforded more respect than ever before, it is evident that something else is going on. One who is taught by the Spirit of God realizes that there is a spiritual battle occurring here, and particularly as feminism and the women’s rights movement has permeated the visible church, which is the house of God, His habitation here on earth.¹

Paul uses the phrase “What if God” (Romans 9:22, KJV, ESV) to argue in defense of God’s rights over His creature, in the face of a hypothetical skeptic’s questions. Permit me to use it in a similar way.

What if God in infinite wisdom chose to create millions of servants, intelligent beings with whom He could communicate and in whom He could take pleasure, placing them in different categories or orders with a structured hierarchy of authority, and with differing roles and responsibilities?  Would anyone find fault with God’s wisdom or fairness for setting some of those servants in a position of authority over others, or for giving them different roles to play in their service for and at His pleasure?  Perhaps by now you have perceived that I am referring to God’s creation of the angelic realm, of which enough has been revealed in Scripture to come to some conclusions about angels. We know:

  • That although angels are genderless, they were created in different orders or kinds, some with more power or authority than others, and those that sinned retained their power and authority even when fallen.  (Colossians 1:16; Luke 20:34-36; Daniel 10:12-21; II Peter 2:10-11; Jude 9)
  • That these superintelligent beings understand far more clearly than does feeble man how virtuous is the wisdom of God in establishing and maintaining an authority structure among His creatures. (I Corinthians 11:10)
  • That there will occur in the future at the resurrection of the saints an inversion, or at least a major modification, in the authority structure of mankind and angels, when human gender roles will no long apply, and when redeemed men will not only “judge the world”, but will also “judge angels”, indicating some measure of authority over them. (Matthew 22:30; I Corinthians 6:1-3)

Now, following long after the creation of angels, what if God in infinite wisdom chose to create a lower order of intelligent beings out of the dust of a world He had created and prepared — a being composed of body, soul, and spirit, which He called Man? And what if God formed a companion for man of a highly similar yet markedly different and complementary nature, for the purpose of blessing and providing for their enjoyment through physical and emotional intimacy and the miracle of procreation? Could anyone find fault with God for establishing between them an authority or leadership structure, ordered for His own pleasure, for a display of His wisdom to the angels, and for the fulfillment and happiness of both the man and the woman, who if married are heirs together of the grace of life?²

We read clearly that man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man.  Had they continued sinless, this order might have remained indefinitely. But after their respective roles in eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, an additional aspect of authority and subjection is added, for God gives Eve this instruction in wisdom: “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16).  The woman’s proper and dignified role in the home and in the church of God, after the fall and in light of that sentence, is reflected and clarified in I Timothy 2:8-15: “Let a woman learn in quietness in all subjection; but I do not suffer a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over man, but to be in quietness; for Adam was formed first, then Eve: and Adam was not deceived; but the woman, having been deceived, was in transgression. But she shall be preserved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with discretion.”

This teaching did not originate in any church council or conference, nor even with Moses or with Paul, but it originates with the Spirit of God, who simply used these two scripture writers to reveal to us the mind of God in the matter of the gender roles and order that He established for His pleasure. It should be our pleasure to simply bow to that inspired word, without allowing modern humanistic reasoning to blunt its effect on our consciences.

As to God-given rights, and how they relate to gender distinction, we can perceive God’s wisdom in this:  Those who believe on Christ have the right to be the children of God, to take that place (John 1:12 Darby). Of course, this right is not handicapped by one’s gender.  Both women and men who wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb have a right to the tree of life (Revelation 22:14 Darby). A husband and wife have equal rights to each other’s bodies (I Corinthians 7:3-5). These are some of the basic rights God gives in Christianity, and we can see that they have nothing to do with authority or leadership in the home or assembly.  Leadership brings with it responsibility, not rights, in God’s economy of grace.

“O depth of riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable His judgments, and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counsellor? or who has first given to Him, and it shall be rendered to him? For of Him, and through Him, and for Him are all things: to Him be glory for ever. Amen.”³  A simple “Amen” is all we can rightly add as we stand in awe of God’s wisdom and His ways.


¹   I Corinthians 3:9-16; Ephesians 2:22; I Timothy 3:15

²   Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18-24;  I Corinthians 11:2-15; I Peter 3:1-7

³   Romans 11:33-36, Darby

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