Design of Women: Male and Female Partnership
Updated: Sep 24, 2019
When discussing and debating women’s roles in society and the church, conversations tend to focus on what women can and can’t do. I propose we ask a different question: where can men and women partner together more?
From the beginning, God designed men and women to partner together, and in Genesis 1 and 2, we see four ways God speaks to this design.
1. Women and men are designed to co-image (Genesis 1:26–27)
Men reflect God, and women reflect God. We reflect God in different ways, and we reflect God in similar ways, but without each other we have an incomplete image of God. God is neither male nor female, but refers to himself in both male and female terms throughout the Scriptures. Jesus comes as a man, and is referred to as the “Son” (Isa. 7:14; 1 Cor. 1:9) and God is called the “Father” (Lk. 23:46; 1 Jn. 3:1). We also see other instances where God describes himself with female, maternal language (Isa. 46:3; 66:13). Although God describes himself in male and female terms, he is neither male nor female but is reflected in different and similar ways through women and men. God purposefully created us male and female in his image, and we need to partner together as men and women in society and the church to reflect the fullness of the glory of God.
2. Men and women are designed to co-rule over creation (Genesis 1:28)
God gave us the responsibility of leadership “over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Although this “dominion” denotes authority, it also implies a shepherding care—that we would rule over creation in the way God rules over us, with kindness, justice, and grace.
In addition to his command for us to rule, we also see the Scriptures commission believing women and men as disciple-makers (Matt. 28:19), ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:21), co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17), and royal priests (1 Pet. 2:9). In the body of Christ, we are called to continue to rule together over creation and steward the resources He’s given us. We’re called to partner together as disciple-makers, ambassadors, co-heirs, and royal priests. Ultimately, we’re called to labor together in the Spirit as we serve God (Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 3:6–9).
3. Women are designed to strengthen men (Genesis 2:18, 20)
Man was created first, but creation wasn’t called complete or “very good” until the woman was created (Gen. 1:31; 2:1). The Lord found it unfitting for the male to be alone, and he created the female. If God were more practical, he might have created another man to help with the manual labor in the garden, considering men typically have more physical strength than women. But God saw it most fitting to create the woman. She brings something to humanity that the man doesn’t have, and that’s why she’s called the “helper.”
I used to cringe when I read the word “helper.” It sounded to me like the woman was the secretary or assistant of the human race—that there was something in her, in me, that was inherently lesser because of her gender. Then, I found out what the word “helper” really meant. The Hebrew word for “helper” or “help” is also used in the Old Testament to speak of God, particularly of his help in times of troubles, or his victorious help in battle (Ex. 18:4; Ps. 70:5; 121:1–2; 124:8; 146:5). At the heart of this word, it means to strengthen or build up. The woman was given the specific role of strengthening and building up the man in a way that can be equated to “help” in times of war.
The woman may have been created after the man, but she is no less necessary or significant because of her order in creation. Her role as “strengthener” is essential in the world and in relation to men.
4. Men and women are designed to be unified (Genesis 2: 21–25)
Before the woman, man’s only companions in the garden were animals. As great as dogs are, God didn’t see them as the right choice for man’s best friend, so God creates the woman, and the man is thrilled about it. Imagine, he’s never seen another human in his life. He’s walked in the cool of day with God, whom he’s created to reflect. But still, God’s God and Adam’s definitely not on the same level as God. He also has all his furry, four-legged friends he gets to name. But still, Adam is human, and they’re animals. They can’t reason, worship, and love in the same way he does.
Then, God performs the first anesthetic procedure, extracts the rib, stitches him up, and sculpts the woman out of his rib. The man sees her and exclaims, “Wow! Would you look at her—she’s just like me!” God could’ve chosen to create her out of dust like he did with Adam, but he used his rib. The man, in his excitement, recognizes her striking likeness to him as his “bone of my bones” and “flesh of my flesh.” Even down to the physical level, she’s made from the same material as he.
The following verses also remark on the unity between the man and the woman as “one flesh,” “naked,” and “not ashamed” (v. 24–25). The unity we see depicted between the man and the woman certainly applies to the intimacy and oneness intended in marriage, but it also has implications beyond marriage for men and women partnering in the workplace and ministry. As men and women in the church, we’re made for one another and come from one another (1 Cor. 11:8–9), and we’re meant to be unified as one front to broadcast his goodness to our neighbors and the nations.
The fall complicates God’s beautiful design for humanity. Sin brings an unhealthy power dynamic into the relationship between man and woman, impeding unity between the two (3:16). We need to recognize the intense and pervasive effects of sin and the damage done to relationships between men and women as a result of the fall. We should not, however, remain content with this reality. Believers are no longer slaves to sin because of our union with Christ (Rom. 6:1–14). We have died to sin as our master, and we live, resurrected, with grace through Christ as our new commander and chief. We have become new creations, sealed by the Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:17). Women and men in Christ are no longer bound to a corrupt tendency to take advantage of the other, but rather through the Spirit, we can partner together in love and humility (Gal. 5:16–26; Eph. 4:1–3).
Therefore, the primary question we should ask when approaching the topic of the role of women is not what women can or can’t do, but rather “Where can men and women partner together?” and “Where is there a lack of partnership?” Could our board meetings for work or church include more men or women? How can mom and dad share more of the responsibilities at home and with finances? Could more men serve in the children’s ministry at church? Could more women serve in the youth ministry? Where are women’s voices not being heard? Where are men’s voices not being heard?
When men and women work together, we use our gifts to build each other up and strengthen our communities. In Christ and through the Spirit, we ought to seek to do our best to enrich male-female partnership in the church, workplace, and home as we look forward to the day when he will pour out his spirit on all people and “sons and daughters will prophesy” (Acts 2:17).