As a Family Life Student, I am deeply interested in bringing back the Christian biblical design for the family and marriage as I believe it is been designed by Y’hweh. You can disagree if you wish and I suspect that I will get much hate mail from those who hold a bias against this design. I am for civil unions for those who wish to pursue same-sex relationships, to bring them legal status and protection under the law for a relationship that is more than ‘friendship’, but don’t believe it should be labeled as marriage simply because it wasn’t designed to be. As society allows looser morality in this area, it is important that the distinctions that are evident both in research and experience between the social insitution of ‘legal cohabitation’ and the Christian ‘biblical marriage’ be maintained without hatred or abuse between the two different viewpoints. As a community of professionals called to minister to broken, unhappy and sometimes desperate families, we cannot allow a failure to “plumb the depths” of this intentional design of God to limit our effectiveness in this restoration of the Biblical marital design and help those who have be deceived by the secularization of cohabitation, pre-marital sex, and other loose moralities to realize the importance, permanence and richness of God’s original design.
Marriage, when brought together under this original intent, becomes something even richer than simple human happiness, procreation and mutual support that can be affected by circumstances, immorality and sinfulness. Connected to Biblical masculinity and femininity, marriage becomes something much more than a contract, it becomes a covenant and is imbued with the authority, intentionality and power of the Creator.
“A covenant is a contract or agreement between two parties. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word berith is translated as the word covenant. [Berith] is derived from a root which means “to cut,” hence a covenant is a “cutting,” with reference to the cutting or dividing of animals into two parts, and the contracting parties passing between them, in making a covenant…….In entering into a covenant, Jehovah was solemnly called on to witness the transaction (Gen. 31:50), and hence it was called a “covenant of the Lord” (1 Sam. 20:8). The marriage compact is called “the covenant of God” (Prov. 2:17), because the marriage was made in God’s name.” (Easton, 1996)
What happens when we take the characteristics of masculinity and femininity as defined by the Biblical text and apply them to the covenant marriage? What is the agreement or contract that is made for the benefit of both the man and the woman in a covenant marriage? What was God’s intention for marriage? Is it procreation or simply the submission of the woman to the man and the man to the woman? Could it something more? What do we see, both as a Christian community and a secular one, when we view those who are living in a covenant marriage based on a Biblical design?
In order to answer these questions, we must go deeper than the characteristics that are evident in a covenant marriage and see to the point of irreducible complexity and the structural integrity that lies beneath. We have to understand where the two main human ingredients of this equation come from and how they are meant to “fit into” the covenant as willing and cooperative partners for the relationship that is held to God’s standards and approval. Equality between the sexes is not an issue of covenantal marriage or Biblical masculinity or femininity. It is a product of a corrupted world.
There are several verses and identifying factors that show us the underlying intent of a covenant marriage but there are two that seem to bring us into the neighborhood; “They shall become one flesh” and “God created them in His own image” (Genesis 1:27 ESV). The purpose? It is to provide a complete reflection of the image of God for the two in the marriage, their children and the community that exists around them. The structural integrity of a covenant marriage is in the purpose which God built it. To give a representation of Himself reflected back to each other, our children and in our interactions with the secular world. This reason is why there is so much weight and protection given to marriage in the Biblical text and why divorce was never intended to be part of God’s original marital design. If we look at those who share a Biblical, covenant marriage we can see the characteristics and image of a complete God in their lives.
To do so, we must understand how we were meant to carry out our individual roles as image-bearers of God to bring a beautiful design like covenantal marriage to life. There was no superiority built into each component of this structure but rather one design modified by God to create another equally complimentary design. Male and female have been made to reflect parts of the character of their Creator in a cooperative and equal way. The submission verses of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians are the ebb and flow of such a living and vibrant relationship, not its death as secular society would have us view it.
From John Eldridge’s Wild At Heart to Robert Lewis’s Men’s Fraternity, Biblical masculinity has never been more endowed with effective and worthwhile methods for men to use to be all that they can be as men within their families, their marriages and their communities. With Beth Moore’s Shameless series to Joyce Meyer’s How to Be a Confident Woman, Biblical femininity is seeking to realize its distinction from secular feminist movements and allow women to become what God has made them to be without distortion.
Masculinity and femininity were never meant to be submissive in a subservient way to each other but to be cooperative with each other. This misperception allows for the corruption of marital design and sanctity through human desire for control, dominance and sexual immorality by either sex, creating a crisis of gender identity bent on a belief that equality doesn’t exist. Both men and women were given equality as Professor Bruce A. Ware, President of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, points out, in two forms; “ontological equality” (made in God’s Image) and “functional equality” (rule over His creation) (Ware).
“Throughout the millennia of human history, up until the past two decades or so, people took for granted that the differences between men and women were so obvious as to need no comment.” Elisabeth Elliott says regarding femininity, “But our easy assumptions have been assailed and confused, we have lost our bearings in a fog of rhetoric about something called equality….” (Elliott, 2012). In recent times feminists have tried to bring a grinding stone to the division between the differences between men and women for the sake of equality and have in essence created an unfathomable and indefinable feminine definition that does not reflect the image to which women have been created.
Feminism has made the mistake of defining a women’s strength as being equal to men rather than honoring the Creator’s original design for femininity as complimentary. Women were created in God’s image, as were men, and are image-bearers of a Triune God. The solution to the dilemma of secular feminism is to look to what part of the image of God He has bestowed upon the woman. Physical differences are just that, physical, and when we can look to the foundation of what God intended His image bearer in the form of woman to emulate we can then face other extraneous debates with the assurance of solid footing. So, what did God intend His creation in woman to be?
The quickest way to point out the characteristics of a woman is to refer to the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs, particularly verses 10-31 which are subtitled in most translations as “The Wife of Noble Character.” In this set of virtues, we find a woman that is by no means an “inferior” being to a man but rather an equal partner whose cooperation and submission to him in a covenant marriage brings together an image of the Triune God. In this section of Proverbs, we see a woman elicits confidence from those who know her. She brings good, not harm, to those in her relationships. She is a provider, bringing provisions to her family while they are still “in the dark”. Among the many other characteristics we can draw are those of bringing forth life, sacrificial protection and wisdom. She is vigilant over those whom care she has charge of and is of a noble character to be blessed above all others within her home. In doing these things, she brings honor to God and to her husband.
Similar to feminity, masculinity has been misaligned, corrupted and distorted. In the past century, as the inaccurate assumption of female inequality and subservience was first challenged by secular feminists, the effort to seek a “balanced” equality to the genders overshot its intended goal. Because of this distortion, the unique image-bearing that is Biblical masculinity was lost and its benefits squandered. The definition of masculinity that is “accepted” in today’s society is much more impotent than what God intended it to be and less than what Adam was created with. Cliff Cheng discovered that “hegemonic masculinity” is all about “domination, aggressiveness, competitiveness, athletic prowess, stoicism, and control.” (Cheng, 1999) Rafael L. Ramirez, a Puerto Rican anthropologist, says men are “categorized as beings who are aggressive, oppressive, narcissistic, insecure, loud-mouthed, womanizers, massive drinkers, persons who have an uncontrollable sexual prowess….” (Synnott, 2001) Others would define “correct” masculinity as a denial of the “dominating” characteristics of maleness for a connection of feminine “qualities.”
None of the characteristics that define “modern masculine males” bear any resemblance to the image-bearer to whom God created men to be. The modern definition of masculinity cannot fit into the “headship” role God intended for the family, bring restoration of Biblical masculinity nor claim equality with the female image-bearer.
In order to realize the structure that was originally designed for covenant marriage, we have to seek out the Biblical characteristics of masculinity. Adam was created outside the Garden, in the “wildness” of Creation, whereas Eve was created in the “beauty” of the Garden. While where either was created have no bearing on the equality of their creation, it does give some logical insight into the different yet complimentary characteristics of the two. Masculinity is known for power, strength, competitiveness and fierceness. Men who possess Biblical masculinity are jealous, protective, providers and loyal. They use their strength to “bless” those to whom they have been given care for the welfare of. The characteristics of strength, power and “wildness” may seem negative and domineering but only when it is the “damaged” and “corrupted” masculinity which suffers under a curse like femininity does.
Into this covenant marriage, which is brought before God and therefore a covenant between the Biblically masculine man, the Biblically feminine woman and Y’hweh, we have two equal yet different individuals that come together. The purpose of this covenant between the Creator and His created? Aida Bensancon Spencer brings what is probably the simplest explanation of the intent when she said, “There is no possibility, according to [Genesis 1:26-27], that Adam…could by himself reflect the nature of God…….Male and female are needed to reflect God’s nature.” (Spencer, 1989) The intent of covenant marriage is to reflect God’s character in two distinct –yet complimentary- images of Himself in a complete, “three-dimensional” context.
This complete image of God is born out as the two image-bearers “become one flesh”, maintaining a distinct individual representation of their Creator that compliments the other. This complete image of the Triune God, Y’hweh, who is “Lord of the Covenant”, is seen in how we can have confidence in God to deliver the covenantal promise of salvation. It also brings God’s promise of His plans for prospering us, not to harm us.
Throughout the Old Testament and even in the final days of Christ’s Earthly ministry, provision has been made for those whom God loves and who love Him. Even as Christ faced the horror of the Cross, He spoke to His disciples of the new covenant made by His body and blood sacrificed as the perfect lamb. And, in all things, Christ brings honor to His God and Himself through what was accomplished here on Earth. God is also powerful, capable of defeating His enemies and protecting His chosen people. He is also fierce, in both His love and His anger. He is protective of His people, guarding them against the designs of the nations and principalities arrayed against them. God is a provider and loyal, even when His people rebel against Him. Together, we realize in the “one flesh” of covenantal marriage an image of Y’hweh that is “omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign, eternal, immutable, righteous and just, as well as being capable of justified wrath or grace, mercy and love.” (The Attributes of God)
We can readily identify, by logical deduction that a covenant marriage is to be between one man and one woman. This isn’t based on the Biblical text that tells us that homosexuality or bestiality is a sin, but rather in the Genesis account of how both man and woman came into being.
Adam, the first man, was created from the dust of the ground and breathed life from God’s own mouth. And Adam was unable to find a suitable partner out of all the created creatures he named. So God created Eve from the rib of Adam. From this account, we can conclude that a man and a woman were the original design for a covenant marriage. Even Adam implies this and gives us the next step on our journey to discover the structural intent of marriage. Adam says “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
If we take this Biblical terminology and apply it to the covenantal structure of the marital design, male headship of the family becomes understandable, even desirable. Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. shows this as he explains the Biblical context of headship “in the partnership of two spiritually equal human beings, man and woman, [where] the man bears the primary responsibility to lead the partnership in a God-glorifying direction.” (Raymond C. Ortlund, 2012). Ortlund continues to point out that God does not level distinctions of intellectual, aesthetic, financial, talent or even opportunity but rather has “deliberately ordain[ed] inequalities in many aspects of [male and female image]” and continually views these distinctions as intentional and pleasing.
So, rather than allowing the distinctions of Biblical masculinity and femininity (whether physical, mental, or spiritual) to be used as dividers of gender and sexual identity, we should be reflecting them all in a complimentary “three-dimensional” image of the Creator. This is His gift to His children, a means of reflecting the relational image that He bears with us through the imprint of Himself on each gender. “I would argue that the image of God is primarily a relational concept. Ultimately we do not reflect God’s image on our own but in relationship.” Stanley Grenz writes, “Thus the imago Dei is not primarily what we are as individuals. Rather, it is present among humans in relationship.” (Grenz, 1998)
In other words, the benefit of a covenant marriage isn’t just procreation and mutual support. It is much deeper and richer as it brings the grace, mercy and love of a Triune God into our world, our lives and our families. Instead of declaring our differences hinder our marriages, maybe we should look to the Biblical design and see how those differences make the marriage deeper, stronger and more intimate than “equal” gendering could ever give. God intended it this way, to give us confidence in who He made us to be. “Man and woman are as mirrors to each other; their differences reveal to each other who he is or she is.” Jean Vanier tells us, “These permit each one to be himself or herself in his masculinity or her femininity.” (Vanier, 1998)
This is the intimate depth and intention of God’s original design for masculinity, femininity and covenant marriage, through a relational image of Himself in each of them. As the Biblical narrative tells us, God’s perfection in His created design for Biblical Masculinity and Femininity under the covenantal covering of marital relationship was once realized by the created….
“Then the man said, ‘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.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (emphasis mine)
In conclusion, as we can see through the exposure of the Biblical “nuts and bolts” of masculinity and femininity, the “meat and potatoes” of covenantal marriage is the three-dimensional image of God in the relationship of the image-bearers; for His glory and their joy. “Sexual distinctions remind us of our fundamental incompleteness.” Grenz remarks, “Whether male or female, we need each other and are dependent on one another. This is the point of the narrative of God’s creation of the female to be the counterpart of the male, which finds echo in Paul’s declaration: ‘In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman’ (1 Corinthians 11:11)……..Let us therefore pledge ourselves anew to reflect in our life together the kind of godly mutuality, love and empowerment that reflects the eternal dynamic within the Triune God….” (Grenz, 1998)
3:16b, G. (2006). The Net Bible First Edition. Biblical Studies Press.
Cheng, C. (1999, 04 30). Marginalized Masculinities and Hegemonic Masculinity: An Introduction. Journal of Men’s Studies, p. 295.
Easton, M. (1996). Easton’s Bible Dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Elliott, E. (2012). The Essence of Femininity: A Personal Perspective. In e. J. Ligon Duncan & randy Stinson, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (p. Chapter 25). Crossway Books.
Grenz, S. (1998, Dec). Theological foundations for male-female relationships. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41.4, p. 615.
Raymond C. Ortlund, J. (2012). Male-Female Equality and Male Headship. In J. L. Stinson, Recoverying Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (p. 575). Wheaton: Crossway Books.
(1989). In A. B. Spencer, Beyond the Curse (p. 21 ). Baker Academic.
Synnott, A. (2001, Mar). Men and masculinities. American Anthropologist 103.1, pp. 212-217.
The Attributes of God. (n.d.). Retrieved 04 11, 2012, from The Mountain Retreat: http://www.mountainretreatorg.net/bible/att.html
Vanier, J. (1998). Man and Woman: He Made Them (1984). In S. Grenz, quoted in “Theological foundations for male-female relationships” article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (p. 615). New York: Lynchburg.
Version, E. S. (2001). The Holy Bible. Wheaton, IL: Standard Bible Society.
Ware, B. A. (n.d.). Summaries of the Egalitarian and Complementarian Positions on the Role of Woman in the Home and in Christian Ministry. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, pp. 1-11.
 Ephesians 5:22-27
 Genesis 3:16-19
 Jeremiah 29:11
 Matthew 26:27-28
 Genesis 2:7 ESV
 Genesis 2:24 ESV
 Genesis 2:23-24