Are the differences between men and women facts or fictions? My two-year-old daughter offers me a barrette to put in my hair. I politely decline. “Barrettes are for girls,” I say. “Boys and daddies don’t wear barrettes.” Am I simply making this up, or am I reflecting some essential distinction between males and females?
Lorna Smedman believes that gender is a fiction. Each year she teaches a course called “Reimagining Gender” at Hunter College in New York City and begins her first class session with the following words: “My working assumption in this course is that gender is already imaginary in the first place, meaning that it’s a construction—a fiction that we all live and work with in our daily lives.”1
If Smedman is right, then the line between the masculine and the feminine can be erased. There is no inherent reason why women should not behave like men, and vice versa. This view seems to be becoming more dominant in Western culture, with the result that some women no longer want to be women, and many men no longer know what it means to be men.
The Bible stands against the androgyny of these postmodern times. It insists that gender is a God-given fact. It recognizes that the identity of every human being is gender-specific. There are essential differences between men and women.
The differences between the masculine and the feminine go back to the sixth day of creation, when “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Creation thus establishes the true equality of men and women. Both the male and the female are created in the image of God. At the same time, the distinction between man and woman is divinely ordained.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that God sometimes has special instructions for men and for women, especially in the church. The church is God’s household, as the apostle will emphasize in his purpose statement for this epistle (1 Tim. 3:15), and every household has its own rules. The Bible addresses men and women separately, as well as jointly, so there will be order in the house.
When it comes to public worship, the Holy Spirit does not hesitate to say there are differences between men and women. Some instructions, while not inapplicable to women, are most necessary for men. Other instructions, although they have practical implications for men, are especially appropriate for women.
Philip Graham Ryken, 1 Timothy, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Daniel M. Doriani, and Philip Graham Ryken, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 58–60.
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