We see the ordered complementarity of male and female. Another man could have helped Adam till the soil. Another man could have provided relational respite and energy for Adam. God could have gifted Adam a plow or a team of oxen or a fraternity of manly friends—all of which would have been useful, even delightful. But none would have been a helper fit for the crucial task of producing and rearing children. If mankind is to have dominion on the earth, there must be a man to work the garden and a woman to be his helpmate.
Q: Why did God choose to make men and women?
A: God didn’t have to make two different kinds of human beings. He didn’t have to make us so that men and women, on average, come in different shapes and sizes and grow hair in different places and often think and feel in different ways. God could have propagated the human race in some other way besides the differentiated pair of male and female. He could have made Adam sufficient without an Eve. Or he could have made Eve without an Adam. But God decided to make not one man or one woman, or a group of men or a group of women; he made a man and a woman. The one feature of human existence that shapes life as much or more than any other—our biological sex—was God’s choice.
In an ultimate sense, of course, the world had to be made the way it was, in accordance with the immutable will of God and as a necessary expression of his character. I’m not suggesting God made Adam and Eve by a roll of the dice. Actually, I’m reminding us of the opposite. This whole wonderful, beautiful, complicated business of a two-sexed humanity was God’s idea. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). The whole human race is, always has been, and will be for the rest of time, comprised of two differentiated and complementary sexes. This perpetual bifurcated ordering of humanity is not by accident or by caprice but by God’s good design. And why? What is at stake in God making us male and female? Nothing less than the gospel, that’s all. The mystery of marriage is profound, Paul says, and it refers to Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32).
Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung skillfully presents the biblical case for the distinctness of men and women in the church and addresses common objections to complementarianism.
“Mystery” in the New Testament sense refers to something hidden and then revealed. The Bible is saying that God created men and women—two different sexes—so that he might paint a living picture of the differentiated and complementary union of Christ and the church. Ephesians 5 may be about marriage, but we can’t make sense of the underlying logic unless we note God’s intentions in creating marriage as a gospel-shaped union between a differentiated and complementary pair. Any move to abolish all distinctions between men and women is a move (whether intentionally or not) to tear down the building blocks of redemption itself.
Q: Are men and women interchangeable?
A: Men and women are not interchangeable. The man and the woman—in marriage especially, but in the rest of life as well—complement each other, meaning they are supposed to function according to a divine fitted-ness. This is in keeping with the ordering of the entire cosmos. Think about the complementary nature of creation itself. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). And that’s not the only pairing in creation.
We find other sorts of couples, like the sun and the moon, morning and evening, day and night, the sea and the dry land, and plants and animals, before reaching the climactic couple, a man and a woman. In every pairing, each part belongs with the other, but neither is interchangeable. It makes perfect sense that the coming together of heaven and earth in Revelation 21–22 is preceded by the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19. That God created us male and female has cosmic and enduring significance. From start to finish, the biblical storyline—and design of creation itself—depends upon the distinction between male and female as different from one another yet fitted each for the other.1
Q: What does the Bible mean when it calls Eve a “helper” to Adam?
A: The woman was given as a helper to the man. Eve was created from man (Gen. 2:22)—equal in worth—and she was also created for man (Gen. 2:20)—different in function. The male leadership, which the text hints at in Genesis 1:27 by calling male and female “man,” is spoken plainly in chapter 2 when Eve is given to Adam as his “helper” (Gen. 2:18, 20). Being a helper carries no connotations of diminished worth or status; for God is sometimes called the helper of Israel (Ex. 18:4; Pss. 33:20; 146:5). Ezer (helper) is a functional term, not a demeaning one. Just as God at times comes alongside to help his people, so the role of the woman in relationship to her husband is that of a helper. “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:8).
We tend to psychologize Adam’s aloneness and interpret “helper” along the lines of comfort and companionship. This is one possible aspect of the term. Calvin said Eve was God’s gift to Adam “to assist him to live well.” But “helper” cannot be divorced from the broader concerns of the creation mandate. It was not good for man to be alone because by himself he could not “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Here again we see the ordered complementarity of male and female. Another man could have helped Adam till the soil. Another man could have provided relational respite and energy for Adam. God could have gifted Adam a plow or a team of oxen or a fraternity of manly friends—all of which would have been useful, even delightful. But none would have been a helper fit for the crucial task of producing and rearing children. If mankind is to have dominion on the earth, there must be a man to work the garden and a woman to be his helpmate.
Q: What is biblical complementarianism?
A: As a complementarian, I believe that God’s design is for men to lead, serve, and protect, and that, in the church, women can thrive under this leadership as they too labor with biblical faithfulness and fidelity according to the wisdom and beauty of God’s created order.
The biblical pattern of male leadership is never an excuse for ignoring women, belittling women, overlooking the contributions of women, or abusing women in any way. The truest form of biblical complementarity calls on men to protect women, honor women, speak kindly and thoughtfully to women, and to find every appropriate way to learn from them and include them in life and ministry—in the home and in the church.
Q: Are men and women defined by their roles in marriage alone?
A: We should think of marriage not as the only place where the design of Genesis is lived out, but as the place where God’s design is lived out most clearly. To be sure, men and women should not relate to every other man or woman as husband and wife. And yet there is something about the marriage relationship that shows for everyone the sort of people men and women were made to be.
True, the chapter on Ephesians 5 is about marriage, and many of the patterns of God-given sexual difference find their clearest expression in marriage. And yet I’d be loathe for anyone to conclude that you can’t really be manly or womanly unless you are married. By the same token, I hope no one concludes that if we are single, the Bible doesn’t really have a lot to say to us about being a man or a woman. The fact that God created man as a plurality—male and female, a complementary pair—ought to shape not only how we conceive of marriage but how we conceive of ourselves.
- This paragraph is a summary of, and in some places borrows sentences from, my book What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 32.
This article is adapted from Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction by Kevin DeYoung. Used with permission from Crossway.