God’s Glory in Woman
Genesis 1 builds and progresses with an urgent sense of harmony and power. The prose is terse until you get to the crowning achievement of the magnificent creation of man and woman. That paragraph is long and liquid. Rather than tip the artistic balance, the glorious creation of man and woman is the great literary crescendo displaying the highpoint of creation. And man and woman are created for a purpose: to glorify God by reigning in his name and stewarding the earth. Adam and Eve’s marriage points first to the God who made them and, after the fall, to the God who promises to redeem them. No more garden after the fall, so marriage reflects Christ and the church. Both in the Old Testament and the New, godly marriage is not self-referential—it never finds its meaning in itself. The institution of marriage is God’s first government, and as such, marriage points to God’s purpose in the world and the church.
Kevin DeYoung recounts five patterns that set us up for either grace or condemnation:
- Male leadership (also known, from a biblical perspective, as patriarchy).
- Godly women arrayed with heroic characteristics.
- Godly women helping men.
- Ungodly women influencing men for evil, while ungodly men abuse women.
- Women finding meaning, grace, and suffering in bearing and caring for children.1
The power of these five patterns lies in not only what they communicate but also what they are. A pattern provides edges and direction. It tells us how to live and warns of the dangers of falling away. A pattern is to be followed, to be represented with accuracy, precision, and care. So we are to obey the Lord by copying his pattern in commands. If that seems oppressive, please read on, and we will perhaps uncover why you may respond in this way.
Remember the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that was in the garden of Eden. That tree was off-limits, not because the fruit was bad, but because it served as a sign of God’s love. God’s love and law go together, and the temptation that Adam and Eve had was to worship the tree rather than God. How did Adam misread the meaning of the forbidden tree? By failing in his exercise of headship. Genesis 3:4–6 records the tragedy:
The serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
Significantly, the woman was deceived. To be deceived is to be fully convinced of something that is simply not true. To be deceived means to be taken captive by falsehood. What did the serpent take captive? The serpent’s strike took captive the creational order.
The creational order of biblical headship describes the biblical practice of responsible, caring, and sacrificial male leadership in the home and church. As a complement to the husband’s leadership role, his wife, under her husband’s leadership, helps steward God’s creation and fulfill the creation mandate. Biblical headship is not an evil to be erased but rather God’s design to run the wolves out of town. But Adam failed in his biblical headship; he failed to check the garden for the danger of an intruder, and he failed by obeying Eve’s command to eat the forbidden fruit. The consequences of the fall are far-reaching and deadly: “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
The creation order—not culture—sets a pattern for godly living.
Genesis 1–3 makes clear that God’s design for a wife’s submission is good, glorious, and life-giving and, simultaneously, that any rejection of God’s created order—for whatever reason—is a rejection of God’s design. It takes hubris and a darkened mind to believe that you can rewrite God’s plan with impunity.
These opening chapters of the Bible create a frame through which to examine the rest of the biblical story. Biblical headship in marriage is the frame for how a wife serves as a helpmate. A helpmate is not a doormat. She is smart and strong and knows how to think and advise her husband when called upon. While she may also have a job or career that contributes to the household, being a helpmate means that the husband’s vocation comes first. But we live in a sinful world where men and women have abused the roles to which they have been assigned. For many Christian women, God’s pattern feels burdensome and unwelcome and may even seem dangerous, outdated, and unfair. God’s pattern is not the problem. God’s commands are never burdensome (1 John 5:3–4). God’s commandments express God’s love. If the problem is not God’s commandments, what is it? The problem is our sinful response to it.
This leads us to how marriage reflects God’s creational design:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. . . . “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph. 5:22–24, 31–33)
In this powerful epistle, Ephesians, Paul links together three features that show how a wife’s submission to her husband is not some kind of humiliating servitude. First, a wife’s submission to a godly husband is done “to the Lord” and never against the clear teaching of Scripture. This means that if a husband asks a wife to sin against God’s word, she is bound by these verses not to submit to that. Second, a wife’s submission to her husband is a reflection and expression of her submission to Christ. Paul writes that the husband is to the wife as Christ is to the church. Third, a wife’s submission to her husband reflects her respect both of him as a man and of his role as a husband. Wives are to respect their husbands even when their husbands fail—especially when they fail. God will work through a husband to bless the wife and the rest of the family, so any act of disrespect or refusal to submit denies God’s avenue of blessing. By receiving a husband’s love, direction, and guidance, and then building on these things to create a home that honors the Lord in all aspects, we see that submission is not an endpoint but a launching pad.
The creation order—not culture—sets a pattern for godly living:
Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. . . . For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. . . . Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. (1 Cor. 11:2–3, 8, 11–12)
This passage moves our discussion of submission and headship into the assembly of public worship, with Paul reminding the Corinthians that the patten God established in the garden is a morally binding blessing. A pattern is a blueprint for right living. And therefore, in the worship assembly, men and women and children are to conduct themselves in accordance with that pattern. A woman’s personal gifts do not take priority over the design pattern that God established in the garden.
Being made by God’s design according to the pattern of creation is therefore a statement about both what it means to be human and what it means to interpret a text with accuracy. Every person lives under the authority, influence, or manipulation of someone or something. Everyone lives under sovereignty, whether the sovereign is God or personal feelings or some evil tyrant.
Being made according to a pattern does not imply tyranny to an outmoded cookie-cutter model. Biblical patterns created by a loving God for his children aren’t rigid. They are revealing. What we do with God’s patterns reveals much about who we are.
- Kevin DeYoung, “Patterns That Preach” in Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 36–42.
This article is adapted from Five Lies of Our Anti-Christian Age by Rosaria Butterfield.
Rosaria Butterfield encourages us to engage our LGBTQ neighbors for Christ, highlighting how God used the radically ordinary hospitality of Christians to draw her to himself.
There is no ideal standard of a woman that we are supposed to achieve apart from the virtues found in Christ himself.
Nearly every few weeks, it seems, another female celebrity is either claiming feminism for herself or renouncing feminism as an unnecessary ideology for women today.
An accidental feminist is a woman who does not personally identify as a feminist, and in fact, may actually have no use for the term.