The claim that there is no difference in the roles of men and women in the church creates a serious problem for an accurate interpretation of the Biblical understanding of salvation.
The reason? The Bible cannot be read without regard to gender. Gender is central to its meaning.
Those who favor a genderless Bible, and thus a genderless church administration, are destroying the God-ordained diversity of the church. Every member of the church is a stone fitted and shaped for a unique spot in the overall structure. And part of the uniqueness of every person is gender. Common sense dictates that the identity of each person on earth is comprised of many characteristics. Observers would not actually know the identity of a person without knowing the person’s gender. Gender is absolutely fundamental to who each of us is.
This gendered identity will not always be. When questioned about marriage, Jesus indicated that “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of heaven” (Matt. 22:30, English Standard Version). That day has not yet arrived.
In His creative powers and choices, God has not denied any person anything of value by assigning individuals one of two possible genders. There is perfect satisfaction in the heart of each male and female person. A mentally-balanced male does not wish to be female, and a mentally-balanced female does not wish to be male. They each feel perfectly complete. The traditional prayer of the pre-Advent Jewish man, “Thank God that I was not born a woman,” does not represent the Biblical view of womanhood.
It is sinful humans who seek to skew God’s plan to have the world perfectly divided between the two genders. For instance, China, by rigidly enforcing its one-child policy, has produced a serious undersupply of females. Millions of young men, known as “dry branches,” are unable to find a mate in China today.
And around the world, thousands, perhaps millions, of couples choose to abort females. Even in the United States, reproductive science is capable of “creating” designer babies with certain preferable genetic characteristics. Society should fear and tremble for the future of God’s gender order. Science-fiction writers have tried to imagine this future, and the picture they have painted is grim.
Without gender, our world would be a very different place. But more importantly, an ungendered Bible would be a very different Bible. Such a Bible would, in fact, be meaningless because salvation itself is portrayed in a gender-specific way.
The command to “be fruitful and multiply” assumes the existence of the male, in whom begins the process of reproduction. This is why God commanded Jacob, and not his wives, to “be fruitful and multiply.” God said to Jacob, “A nation and a company of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your own body” (Genesis 35:11, ESV, emphasis supplied).
I Corinthians 11:12 notes, “It is true that the first woman came from a man, but all other men have been given birth by women. Yet, God is the one who created everything” (Contemporary English Version). This text heightens the idea that the man and the woman are of one spirit, or breath. After all, God made the man from the breathless dust of the ground, but the woman he made from the man. Before they became one flesh in marriage, they were of one spirit. And ever after, men and women have been of one spirit, a spirit that originated in God. There was unity in diversity at the very beginning.
The Bible uses the reproductive facts of life to paint a picture of spiritual rebirth. Galatians 4:4 says,
“God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who are under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. So because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’
So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (ESV). Biblical rebirth points to fatherhood, not motherhood. The redeemed cry out to the Father, not to their mothers, as the source of their salvation. Christian rebirth comes from the original, uncreated, eternal life of God.
Jesus was born of a woman, Mary, but He did not identify her as His source. Jesus said, “I am not of this world” and “I came from God” (John 8, ESV). This claim is consistent with the creation story of God as the ultimate source of life in a gendered world.
John 1:12 says,
“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (ESV).
Nicodemus’s misunderstanding of the new birth revolves around his idea that life comes originally from women, from the womb of a human mother. He misses the point that the Christian rebirth comes from the source of all life, God the Father.
A man is the head of his wife because she came from the man. God is the head of Christ because Jesus came from the Father (see I Corinthians 11:3). Woman is fully human as Christ is fully God. Even though woman came out of man, her ultimate source is God, not man.
Thus, the Scripture explains salvation in terms of gender, and this assumption is found consistently throughout the entire Bible. God is the Father, Creator, and Source of everything good.
Of interest, then, is the gender of the devil. In John 8, Jesus contends with the Jewish leaders about the source of His own life and words. When they claim that Abraham is their father, Jesus denies the assertion. If Abraham were your father, Jesus said, “you would be doing the works Abraham did” (John 8:39, ESV). Instead, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44, ESV, emphasis supplied). Jesus is saying that the Jewish leaders are spiritually sourceless, lifeless. They have not been born again of God. Their originator, the devil, cannot give life. He is the source of nothing but evil, an unexplainable phenomena because it has no cause.
Today, a portion of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, rapidly drifting into human philosophy, is giving heed to the doctrines of demons. Feminism rejects the idea of male spiritual headship and is forced to reinterpret the “patriarchal Bible.” Without realizing it, Adventist feminists and their male allies are rejecting the entire plan of salvation as represented by the Word of God.
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD, the Father of us all.
Marcus L. Sheffield—Professor of English. Southern Adventist University