Can There Be Real Equality with Distinctions?

 We believe that God has given women and men distinctive roles within the family and the church; that these roles were intentionally created and given prior to human sin; that according to God’s design, these roles are interdependent but not interchangeable (Gen 2:18-25;1 Cor 11:38-911-121 Tim 2:12-14). [Biblical Womanhood]

My Personal Journey

As a kid, one of the nicknames my parents called me was “Mouth” because I loved to argue. So much so that for several years, I thought I would be a great lawyer, specifically a criminal prosecutor. I thought I could put my rhetorical “skills” to good use on behalf of others. My mom likes to say that when I got really wound up, I would start gesturing emphatically, pointing my crooked finger, and declaring in a high-pitched voice, “IT’S NOT FAIR!” Apparently, that was kind of like my catch phrase as an elementary student. I would drop that line and expect that everyone could certainly see that I was fighting to overturn some gross injustice and be swayed to my point of view. In my young mind, for things to be fair, everything had to be the same. If my three older brothers had certain privileges, I should have them. If my twin sister was able to do something, so should I. You get the picture.
Once I became a Christian, I brought that understanding of fairness and equality meaning sameness to the party as I read the Bible. I reasoned that if God was just and fair, He would have to treat all people in exactly the same way. If God treated all people equally, then there could not be any distinctions, according to my own human reasoning and logic.
As a new believer in high school, when I came to passages about a distinct, unique plan for the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, I will admit that I struggled to harmonize what I was reading with my ideas about the “fairness” of God. I lost sight of the goodness of God. I questioned whether He was really just and fair. I did not grasp that this unique plan for Israel was for the good of all people because the Israelites were supposed to live in such a way that people would want to know the God they served.
In college, when I first remember reading passages in the Bible that discuss distinct roles for men and women in the family and church, I tried to explain away those passages. A concept like submission just wasn’t palatable to my personality. Being told there were things I couldn’t do awakened my fighting spirit. Even though I didn’t want to teach men in the church, reading a passage that said I couldn’t do it transformed me back into a young elementary student asserting, “It’s not fair!”
I have a distinct memory of a very heated argument I had with one guy over 1 Timothy 2:12-15. We were both working as interns for six weeks at a Christian leadership conference for teenagers and had this huge blow-up towards the end of the summer over our different understandings of those verses. The irony is that he was arguing the very position that I now hold. However, in college, I had yet to really dig into that passage to try to understand what God was saying. Instead, I was viewing it through my presupposition that equality must mean sameness so I just dismissed this guy’s argument as being chauvinistic.
But then came a period in my life after college where I devoted serious study to trying to really understand the Bible and what passages like Genesis 1—3, 1 Timothy 2:12-151 Corinthians 11:2-16, and others mean instead of what I wanted them to mean. I had to discard some of my wrong ideas about equality when confronted with biblical truth.

Can There Be Equality with Distinctions?

I don’t know about your own journey, but I do know that many women I talk to struggle with the idea of some distinct roles or functions for men and women. What understandings or ideas do you bring to the party, so to speak, when you read the Bible? When you read the section on “Distinction” at the beginning of this post, did you balk at the idea of distinct roles for men and women like I did at one point in my life?
When you hear the word “distinctive” do you ever think “less valuable” or “less important” or something along those lines?
That is not what distinctive means. Distinctive simply means something that is characteristic of a person or object that distinguishes it from another thing. When it comes to men and women, the Bible does teach that there are some distinct roles when it comes to the marriage relationship and when it comes to certain functions within the church. This fact does not mean that God thinks men are better than women. “Boys rule and girls drool” is not our God’s credo.
The Bible teaches that something can be equal in value and worth yet have distinctions. An example of this is that each member of the Trinity is equally God, but God the Father has some roles distinct from God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and vice versa. Each member of the Trinity is equally God and equal in value yet distinct in some of their functions. Another example is found in 1 Corinthians 12 regarding spiritual gifts. Every Christian is equally part of the body of Christ—none more important than another. However, each has distinct gifts to serve that body. God in His infinite wisdom has designed it this way; He gave each Christian woman her spiritual gift “just as He desired” (1 Cor 12:18).

The Significance of Distinctions

God intentionally created men and women as distinct, yet complementary beings (Gen 1:27,2:18). He did not create us haphazardly or in some willy-nilly fashion. While both men and women are given the responsibility of being God’s image-bearers to the rest of creation (Gen 1:27), God had a specific purpose in mind when He created Eve—she was to be a “helper” for Adam (Gen 2:1820). Being a helper does not mean that Eve was inferior to Adam in any way. It means that, from the very beginning, God had a plan and purpose in creating two distinct genders. Men and women need each other; they are “interdependent” (1 Cor 11:11) but not interchangeable with each other. These distinct roles for women and men were a part of God’s plan before sin ever entered the world.
Consider just one distinction—What does it really look like for a woman to be a helper? When a marriage relationship is described in the Bible, a wife is called to submit to and respect her husband as unto the Lord while a husband is called to love his wife just as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:22-33Co. 3:18-19). Why would God ask this of wives? Why make this distinction? The reason is that the way a husband and wife interact with each other should be a picture of the way God interacts with the church (Eph 5:32). Christian marriages are to be a witness to lost people about the way Christ (pictured through husbands) loves the church (pictured through wives)! Our distinctions are not about us ultimately; this design portrays/proclaims the heart and character of God.

More to Consider:

– What understandings or ideas do you bring when you read the Bible?
– When you hear the word “distinctiveness,” what comes to your mind? Is it consistent with what God says about the equal value of women within the distinct roles He designed?
– Since these distinctions were created to reflect the gospel in the world (Eph. 5:22-33), what are the implications of living out of sync with this design?

Candi Finch serves as Assistant Professor of Theology in Women’s Studies at Southwestern. She loves used book stores, travelling, getting to teach young women, and eating any food (especially bacon) she doesn’t have to cook herself! Her secret ambition in life is to compete on Survivor or The Amazing


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