Few issues are as polarizing as what the Bible says about men and women—especially in a world shaped by second- and third-wave feminism.
Feminism is part of “the cultural air we breathe”—it’s so ingrained into our society that it’s just a given. It’s the status quo, and no longer something to be questioned.
This presents a difficulty for Christians desiring to understand the world in light of the Bible. How do we read the Bible in both an intellectually honest and God-honoring way on this topic? Does the Bible show men and women as being completely the same (outside of physiological differences) or is there something fundamentally different about us?
Claire Smith wants us to see that, despite arguments to the contrary, men and women really are different—and that’s exactly the way God intended it. In God’s Good Design, Smith examines the critical texts surrounding gender roles, offering valuable insights into the debate over the responsibilities of men and women within the church and home.
Equal value, different roles
Throughout the book, Smith examines a number of crucial biblical texts dealing the role of women: 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 14 (women within the church) and Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Genesis 1-3 and Proverbs 31 (women within the home). In these passages we find some of the most difficult words to women within the entire Bible:
- That women are to be silent and to submit to their husbands.
- That they’re not to teach but are to have character that wins an unbelieving husband over without a word.
- That women are created to help men, not rule over them.
Smith’s examination of each passage reflects careful study both of the text at hand and the alternative viewpoints to the historical understanding of each passage. One brief example comes from Smith’s look at 1 Tim. 2, which includes one of the most head-exploding statements you you can read today:
Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Tim 2:15)
What is Paul saying here? That while men are saved by grace, women are saved by having babies? By no means. According to Smith, this verse assures “Christian women that their faith will be kept safe if they embrace their particular God-given female responsibilities. Instead of leaving their roles and assuming the male responsibilities of teaching and leadership … these Christian women will… be preserved in much the same way that Timothy and his hearers will be saved by him faithfully fulfilling his God-given responsibilities.”
She continues by adding an additional point of necessary clarity:
This does not mean that all Christian women must have children; rather, that women are to be content with the roles and responsibilities God has ordained for them. That might include children; it might not. It might include marriage; it might not. But however their lives unfold, women are to be content with the patterns of relationship between men and women that God has instituted for our own good.
This is a very helpful understanding to bring to the text, one that (I hope) meets many women’s objections or concerns surrounding it. Frequently when we talk about this issue, my wife’s concern is that someone is going to be saying how many children she “should” have in order to be a godly wife (as if there were a magic number that most pleased God). But the issue around children, just like all other issues surrounding the role of women in the church, Smith argues, is really one of contentment with the roles God has ordained for our lives.
When we look at the egalitarian arguments, we can’t be content with suggestions that passages like this aren’t actually God’s Word or that Galatians 3:28′s beautiful picture of equality is the trump card that negates anything else Scripture says on gender roles or that our subjective feelings and desires are more authoritative than the Bible.
We are all a people under authority. We need to be content with that and embrace it for our good.
Embracing authority doesn’t excuse abusing authority
This also means we need to use our authority well. Smith’s chapter on abuse is among the best I’ve read on that subject outside of the Holcomb’s Rid of My Disgrace. There she makes it absolutely clear: “there is absolutely no biblical justification or excuse for domestic violence or abuse—against women or men or children. More than that, there are commands against it (Col. 3:19; Mal. 2:14-16 NIV1984; Prov. 11:29).”
There is no tolerance of abuse in any passage of Scripture dealing with gender roles, nor is there anywhere else in all of Scripture.
When functioning properly, the God-ordained pattern of male and female relationships serves as a wonderful protection from abuse. Abuse is a distortion of this pattern, robbing men and women alike of the dignity and purpose which is theirs by virtue of being equally made in God’s image. But the answer to abuse is not the erase or ignore what the Bible says about our differing roles—it means we need to embrace them as God’s gift to us.
Does it work?
So here’s the question: Does the Bible’s view of men and women really work today?
Many, like Rachel Held Evans or Carolyn Custis James suggest that the egalitarian reading of Scripture is the only one that will stand in our culture. Smith clearly believes there’s a place for the complementarian view—not just as an option, but as the most honest, straightforward reading of Scripture. And in general, I agree with her. The picture of biblical womanhood she describes is one that doesn’t diminish the value of women in the slightest, but rather allows women to flourish by embracing how God’s designed them to function best within relationships.
God’s Good Design will almost certainly not be the final word on the debate on gender roles, but it is an important addition to the overall body of literature on the topic. Smith’s examination of key biblical texts is sound, her grasp of alternative readings is clear and her rebuttal is charitable. Give this book a careful and thoughtful read and see how it might enhance your understanding of God’s design for men and women.
Title: God’s Good Design: What the Bible Really Says About Men and Women
Author: Claire Smith
Publisher: Matthias Media