Article by: Col (Ret’d) Gerry Potter (President)
This article is an exploration of the biblical role of a man. Genesis 1-2, a unique biblical narrative, records God’s initial design for the Creation, so this articulation of the role of a man will rely principally upon the framework described within these two chapters. While the Fall described in Genesis 3 corrupted God’s initial design, it is my understanding that follow-on biblical references to the role of a man are intended to provide both further detail regarding God’s primordial framework and to facilitate a man’s reorientation with the original and perfect design. At the outset, it is important to define what is meant by the term role. In the context of this assessment the term role is used as a descriptor of the fundamental duty or activity that a man is responsible and accountable before God to perform. Since a man’s biblical roles are that which have been given by God in his Word then they are neither bound by time nor socio-cultural contexts. Biblical male roles are universal. Yet, the practical expression of those roles is greatly influence by the socio-cultural contexts in which Christian men live. Though most of the passages referenced refer to both a man and a woman, the focus of this study is the roles of the man.
Genesis 1:26-28 (NASB)
In the Biblical narrative of the Creation, Elohim (God) declares that the plurality of Himself, identified in Genesis 1:2 as Elohim (God) and Ruach (Spirit), and creates human beings out of His unity. While this portion of Scripture shows God only as Elohim and Ruach, John 1:1-5 and 1:14-18 further reveals that Jesus Christ was also present during the Creation fulfilling a central role. Thus, the Trinity, in perfect unity, created man as a binary male-female construct that He describes as imaging Himself. The purpose for which God created man according to this passage was two-fold: the first was to procreate and the second was to rule over all living things.
There was no distinction made between the male and the female regarding the initial two-fold purpose, but rather God’s declaration clearly implies that the accomplishment of the purpose was intended to be through the unity of the male and the female, which is a reflection of the unity of the Trinity. The implied purpose for the male-female construct was to image the Trinity in His unity. Looking at the male and female individually then, there is an additional implied role for each of them, that being to execute their two-fold purpose in unity such that they together in the fulfillment of the roles of procreation and ruling reflect the Trinity in oneness. A further implication is that whatever the male and female do, they do as a unity. So, from this passage there are three original roles for the man: to procreate, to rule over the creation and to perform the first two roles in unity with the female thus imaging the Trinity’s oneness.
Genesis 2:15-17 (NASB)
Though in Genesis 1, the narrative describes the global purpose of man, in Gen 2:15-17 the reader is exposed to some of the specifics of ruling and subduing, as the male, Adam, is specifically assigned the activity of cultivating and keeping the garden of Eden. The context of the verb to cultivate can be generalized to mean “to work.” It is reasonable then to conclude that work that serves to rule and to subdue over the earth is a role that the male has been given. This is not to say that work is a role exclusive to a male, since this would contravene the general purpose assigned to both the male and the female in 1:26-28. However, given that the male is singled out in the role assignment there is an implied assigning of responsibility and accountability for the fulfillment of the role. Additionally, Adam was tasked to “keep” the garden which can be understood to mean that he was to protect the garden. The requirement to protect introduces the concept of an existing threat, yet no such threat has been previously identified. However, the requirement for protection is revealed in later passages. So, from this passage the male has two roles: to work within the creation to fulfill a general improvement agenda and to protect the creation from threats. A third role that is obedience to God’s commands. Obedience renders two results: the freedom to enjoy creation within a limited restricted structure.
Genesis 2:18-25 (NASB)
While in chapter 1, the narrative describes the purposeful creation of both male and female, in this passage additional details are provided as to the reasoning and the sequencing behind God’s decision to create females. First, God announces that it is not good for a man to be alone. A resultant implied role for a man is to avoid an independent existence and be in relationship. God rectifies the specific “not-good” situation by creating a female as a compatible helpmate for the male. God gives further specificity to a man’s role to be in relationship, that is to be in a unity with a woman in which the two work in a integrated manner, reflective of the Trinity, to fill the earth and subdue it. Additionally, since the woman is referred to as a helpmate to the male there is an implied role of leadership with associated responsibility and accountability for the effects of that leadership. Also, in Genesis 2:24, a man is to leave his parents and become united with his wife, a female, becoming fully integrated with her. There is a sense of a new entity being created in this passage, one that consists of one male and one female that together become “one flesh.” The image is that of a complete integrated unity. It is worth noting that there is an implied role for the man of being the responsible agent for the unity. The last implied role in this section is that of being exposed before each other and before God, and given the male’s leadership role, it can be conclude that the male had a responsibility to lead this as well.
Thus, according to Genesis 1 and 2 a man has five fundamental roles. The first is to image God. The role of imaging God as a male is repeated in Genesis 5:1-2 and in the post-deluvian narrative in Genesis 9:6. In 1 Corinthians Paul refers to a man’s role of imaging God when he describes the complementary aspects of the male’s and the female’s specific roles in their imaging God. For the male, he images God by having his head uncovered when he prays, which serves to reflect the image and glory of God. In Ephesians 4:24 Paul provides additional commentary on the meaning of imaging God, a person is to “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. The image referred to in this passage is that of the “new self,” which is to put on Christ (Rom 6:5-7; 13:14). Putting on Christ requires a renewal of the mind (Rom 12:2; Col 3:10). So, to image God, is to emulate Christ (Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 15:49; Philp 3:21), and to emulate Christ requires a renewed mind that manifests thoughts and behaviours that reflect Christlikeness. Further, a component of imaging God is the implied role of unity in community. Unity in Genesis 1-2 is described as an integration between a man and a woman that is so complete that the two become one. This degree of male-female oneness is repeated in Matt 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9 and Eph 5:28-33. However, as evidenced in Gen 3:16b, unity between a man and a woman has been frustrated due to the Fall resulting in an innate struggle between the man and the woman to control the other. Yet, a man is called to over-ride his base programing through Christ-like love for his wife (Eph 5:25-33).
A man’s second role is to procreate. The man-woman construct is jointly assigned the role of procreation. God repeats this assigned duty in 9:1, when He speaks to Noah and his sons after the deluvian flood. In Leviticus 26 God dictates to Moses His moral code of conduct restating the role of procreation as part of a conditional promise – if God’s decrees and commands are carefully obeyed (26:3) then the consequences of the fall will be reversed including God-orchestrated procreation. Psalm 127:3-5 describes successful procreation as evidence of God’s favour. Yet, because of the Fall, procreation is filled with pain (Gen 3:16a). There is no Scriptural reference that indicates that this aspect of procreation in a post-Fall world will be redeemed prior to Christ’s Second Coming.
A man’s third role is to subdue, rule and protect the Creation; or in other words to work. While the role of subduing, ruling and protecting was a permanent assignment, as a result of the Fall, the Creation has been cursed frustrating this role resulting in painful toil. However, in conjunction with procreation, Lev 26:2-13 indicates that the effects of the Fall upon man’s role to subdue, rule and protect can be reversed if a man will follow and carefully obey God’s decrees and commands.
A man’s fourth role is to obey God. In Gen 1-2 the man was given several commands, one of which had a stated consequence should the man disobey. The man was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, if he did then he would die (Gen 2:17). The man disobeyed God, and then he blamed God and the woman for his failure. The effects of the man’s disobedience were catastrophic resulting in: not only his death, but the death of the woman and the death of all mankind; and the frustration of all assigned roles. Yet, as mention previously, in Lev 26:2-13; Deut 7:12-26; and 28:1-14 God provides an opportunity for the redemption of all that had been lost. In Deut 6:5; Matt 22:37; Mk 12:30-31 and Lk 10:27 the Scriptures reveal the core commandment of God. Love the LORD God with all heart, soul, mind and strength; and love one’s neighbour as oneself. According to John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 5:3; and 2 John 6 a man expresses love to God through obedience to God’s decrees and commands.
The fifth and final general role of a man is to lead. A man’s leadership role is described in relation to a woman with whom he has entered into a relationship of unity. Characteristics of this role are described in Eph 5:25-33 and in Col 3:18-19 in which a husband is called to love his wife, like Christ loved the Church, like he loves his own body, and to avoid becoming embittered against her. A further amplification is given in 1 Pet 3:7-6 in which the man is commanded to exhibit understanding and honour towards his wife. Col 3:21 extends the man’s leadership role to his children in which he is cautioned to not exasperate them such that they lose heart. The man’s role of Christ-like loving leadership within the male-female unity construct was frustrated by the Fall which resulted in conflict and an unloving-style of leadership. Yet, the commands contained in the New Testament reveal that the man is required to counter the effects of the Fall, by imaging Christ.
Within the Creation narrative, there are several roles assigned to a man, all of which are expressed within the male-female construct, and all of which are shared with the woman with whom he is in a unity relationship, except for one, leadership. This is not to say that the female does not possess or is gifted with leadership within the family or societal context, but it is clear that God holds the man principally responsible and accountable for the couple’s state of oneness; obedience; procreation; subduing, ruling and protection of the Creation; and for imaging God. The practical cross-cultural implications of the male’s unique role of leadership are that the man is responsible and accountable for: all decisions affecting the male-female unity; all actions affecting the subduing, ruling and protecting of the creation; modeling the imaging of God; modeling obedience to God’s commands; advancing procreation and the nurture of children and conducting his roles along with his wife in a loving, understanding and honouring manner.
The Creation narrative sets the stage for the existence of all things. God decreed that a man and a woman in a unity relationship would form the base construct for all of humanity and assigned them four fundamental roles: image God; procreate; subdue, rule and protect the creation and obey God. To the man alone, God assigned the responsibility and the accountability to lead the fulfillment of the four joint roles. An important next question is – What is Godly leadership?