What is Biblical Masculinity?

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What does the bible say about femininity and masculinity? According to some church leaders there are very clear definitions around each genders’ qualities. Books and ministries have been constructed around the belief that there are absolute gender roles in Scripture that transcend culture and time to which all men and women must submit. One would expect such beliefs to be challenged in today’s progressive culture, as remarks from some notable church leaders reveal. But I’m confused? As I read the Scriptures I have a difficult time discerning what exactly the Bible says about “masculinity.”

Was it “masculine” when Adam blamed his wife for his failure? (Gen 3:12)

Was it “masculine” for Abel to be a rancher unlike his less-masculine brother the farmer? (Gen 4:2)

Or was Cain “masculine” for being aggressive and killing his brother? (Gen 4:8)

Was it “masculine” for Abram to leave his father’s home to be his own man? (Gen 12)

How about when he offered his wife (twice) to Pharaoh to protect himself? (Gen 12:12-13)

Was it “masculine” when Abram went to battle to save his nephew? (Gen 14)

How about when he impregnated his wife’s servant? (Gen 16)

Was it a mistake for God to bless Jacob, “a quiet man who dwelt in tents,” rather than his “masculine” brother Esau, a hunter? (Gen 25:27)

Was it “masculine” when Moses killed the Egyptian? (Ex 2)

Were Bezalel and Oholiab “masculine” when God called and gifted them to “devise artistic designs,” to “work in gold, silver, and bronze,” and sew “finely worked garments”? (Ex 31:1-10)

Or were they only “masculine” when they were “cutting stones” and “carving wood”? (Ex 31:4-5)

Was Deborah “masculine” when she judged and led Israel? (Judges 4)

And was David “masculine” when he decapitated Goliath? (1Sam 17)

What about when David was writing music or playing his lyre?

Was it “masculine” for David to leap and dance before the Lord and cause a woman to laugh at him? (2Sam 6)

Was David’s poetry “masculine,” or just his military conquests?

What about his adultery or his murder of his mistresses’ husband, was that “masculine”? (2Sam 11)

Is Nehemiah, likely a eunuch, a model of biblical masculinity?

Is the ideal wife in Proverbs 31 being “masculine” when she entered business by selling her linen to merchants? (Prob 31)

Was Jesus “masculine” when he refused to defend himself, his honor, or his friends before false accusations?

Was Jesus “masculine” when he told Peter to put away his sword?

Was Jesus “masculine” when he stripped naked and washed his followers’ feet?

Was Jesus “masculine” when he embraced children and upheld them as examples of greatness in his kingdom?

Was Jesus “masculine” when he wept at Lazarus’ tomb?

Was Jesus “masculine” when he cried over the sight of Jerusalem and desired to gather its people like a hen gathers her chicks?

Was it “masculine” for Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolaus, and Stephen (the first martyr) to have a ministry of “serving tables”? (Acts 6)

How about the Ethiopian eunuch Philip meets who becomes an early follower of Christ? Is he “masculine”? (Acts 8)

I’m confused? What is biblical masculinity? Because it seems that the men in the Bible, like men today, represent a wide spectrum of gifts, personalities, interests, and callings. Some are warriors, some are artists, some are both. Some lead, others follow. Some are the pinnacle of virility with thousands of wives and concubines, and others are castrated eunuchs affirmed for their faith and courage. Some get naked and dance (David), and others get naked and drunk (Noah). Some defend themselves with swords (Peter), and others remain silent before their accusers (Jesus). Some cry (Jesus), others sing (David), and some even sew dresses for other guys (Bezalel). Some are hunters (Esau), others chill out in tents (Jacob), one made his brothers jealous with his fashion sense (Joseph).

So what is biblical masculinity?

Maybe, just maybe, it’s the wrong question. Rather than worrying about what’s masculine or what’s feminine, we ought to be more concerned with what’s godly.

 

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photo credit: Mr Moss via photopin cc

 

  • MBrown

    Would you make a distinction between “roles” and “traits”? For example, would you be comfortable identifying some roles that are particular to men (per complementarianism), while allowing for a wide spectrum of character and personality traits (not to mention gifts and abilities) in the exercise of those roles?

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Great list Skye!

    My theory is that in some quarters at least, a kind of Victorian ideal has taken hold to the point that it’s been imposed on the biblical text as normative. In my post today I explored the business of making men into knights and warriors who presumably defend passive women and the dark side of these metaphors rooted in Victorian ideals.

  • Dave

    Skye:

    Amen ! You have the best writeup I’ve seen on the Web about the current “masculine” issue.

    Dave

  • http://godswordourwordsandtheworld.blogspot.com Lee Wyatt

    In my book “THe Incredible Shrinking Gospel: The Crisis of Evangelism in the 21st Century” I have a section where I compare Greco-Roman norms of masculinity with the biblical portrayals of both Jesus and Paul as an index of the quality of transformation the gospel brought into that world. Feel free to check it out. The book is presently available as a free pdf at http://godswordourwordsandtheworld.blogspot.com/2012/01/incredible-shrinking-gospel-crisis-of.html

  • Dave Leigh

    Wow Skye! You said so well what I’ve been thinking since this recent eruption over Piper began. It seems to me that masculine and feminine are typically defined by culture. It was once masculine for men to wear powdered wigs and knickers. In some cultures gardening is feminine while in others farming is man’s work. To insist that Christianity conform to such categories makes it subject to culture, rather than setting a standard by which all cultures should be measured and challenged to rise to. What’s more, how much sense does it make to insist the Bride of Christ be masculine? And isn’t the spirituality modeled by Jesus something both men and women should rise to equally? Thanks for speaking out and please keep up the great work!

  • Rusty Curling

    Skye, you’re right. You usually don’t get the right answer until you ask the right question. You have asked the right question.

  • Tracey

    Thank you, Skye! So well said. This list represents such a wide spectrum. And indeed, that is godly is what matters. Ask the right question. Amen!

  • James

    Forgive the dissension but this article simply exacerbates the confusion that is so prevalent in the church today. Unless the goal is a total dismissal of “what is male” as a unique expression of God’s design, then the question should be “what is godly masculinity”. “What is godly” simply deflects from the original question. Furthermore, using conflicting biblical and worldly (he-man) examples to perpetuate confusion around masculinity isn’t helpful to those who are interested in more than an academic discussion. And many need much more than unanswered questions. Husbands and wives are desperate for answers in marriages that suffer under massive chaos in this area. Individuals tormented by gender confusion and the loss of the most basic elements of human identity need more than a redirection of this discussion. Those of us that bear up with others and battle in their pain praying for healing in the area of identity would say to you that more confusion is not the answer. “What is godly” will never come before “what is masculine”. If the issue of gender isn’t settled, godliness is mute in the real world. Jesus Christ was male and he is the model of masculinity in it’s fullness. We do not need conflicting examples to diminish what is clear and evident unless we seek to dismantle masculinity and rebuild it in our image.

  • http://physhbournes-sundries.blogspot.com PhyshBourne

    as far as i remember the whole discussion is just pointless – rabbi sha’ul (for some known as paul) rightly once wrote: “…there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in christ jesus!” (gal 3:28)

  • Ginger Edwards

    The Bible doesn’t concern itself with definitions of masculine or feminine, so neither should we. All Christians are called to godliness and as previously pointed out, that is what we should be concerned with.

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  • Josh Lindsay

    Skye
    I really like reading your blog posts because you have great insight and they really make me think. I was particularly interested in this post because of the subject matter. I think you make some great points and suggesting that “we ought to be more concerned with what’s godly” is right on, in my opinion.

    However, I felt left hanging. I really wanted to know how you might answer that question…I would phrase it, “What does it mean to be a godly man/father/husband.” I think a lot of men want to know because I think there is a difference. And I think it matters to some degree. How important is finding the answer?…I don’t know, but its important enough to me to want to know more.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.skyejethani.com Skye Jethani

    Fair question, Josh. I don’t have time/space to answer your question entirely. But let me just say I think the real question here should be “What is maturity?” not “What is masculinity?” There is an epidemic among men in our culture failing to be responsible, sacrificial, engaged fathers and leaders. But I don’t think its because we’ve failed to uphold some mythical ideal of biblical masculinity, or confused masculine/feminine models. I think its a result of rampant immaturity perpetuated by consumer values. I’d rather talk about immaturity vs. maturity not masculinity vs. femininity.

    Skye

  • Eric Masters

    Skye: I have just recently been introduced to your blog, but I love your honest and refreshing viewpoint and writing style. Your original post should be read by every man interested in “biblical masculinity” but you really hit it out of the park with your reply in the comment above mine. If we pursue Godliness and/or maturity then masculinity will become a non-issue.

    Christian men seem to want want all men have always wanted: the respect and benefits they feel they are due as men, with no regard to the responsibilities or sacrifices that preface such respect.

    James: In what way would “what is masculine” ever come before “what is godly?’ That is exactly our problem. I agree with you Jesus is the model of masculinity in it’s fullness- notice how you never see him scrambling to be manly? He was self-sacrificial to the point of death and, possibly even worse in our male-driven culture, humiliation.

    If that’s what it means to be biblically masculine (and I think it is) then we have some work to do. I know I certainly can’t live up to that brand of manliness.

  • James

    Eric, thank you for asking. As most counselors/psychologists, Christian and otherwise, will tell you…it is impossible for us as humans to move into maturity until we have settled the most basic issues regarding our identity. And the most basic issue of our human identity is gender. Although noble, for us to try and pursue godliness before we understand ourselves in terms of masculine or feminine is utterly futile. This means that someone that cannot settle the issue of gender identity (with clarity) will never be able to tackle godliness because of the conflict that exists and wars in the soul. The human soul demands reconciliation on this issue before it can move on. Does this make sense?

    I am not a blogger but because of the issues I see everyday (and they are escalating) it’s hard for me to see something as essential as this topic batted around with so little understanding of it’s massively confusing effects on our society. People blog about this because it is a hot topic and it generates traffic, but it’s actually a life altering issue.

    You might pick up some Leanne Payne (Restoring the Christian Soul) or any of her teaching on how gender impacts the human soul. And I would bet that most people blogging about Piper’s comments have never even read Piper’s “What’s The Difference”. That book is dedicated to understanding “mature” godly masculinity and femininity. You’ll be surprised to find out that Piper is not the chauvinist he’s made out to be but someone that has spent a lot of time trying to practically address the issue in order to help men and women instead of dividing them it.

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  • James

    Enoch, notions about how to have a church service are not supported scripturally and yet we have managed to count that as valuable. There are many liturgical variations that have no scriptural basis but we press on knowing that it is unacceptable not to have some kind of worship identity. Why? Because we know that a culture without an identity rooted in worship will begin to atrophy spiritually and look like that of Western Europe.

    Similarly, the impacts of not having the soul rooted in what is feminine and what is masculine leads people into chaos. When fathers fail to define and pass masculinity, kids end up in jail. This is not a Christian issue, it is a human issue. But when Christians begin to take positions of ambiguity and confusion on such critical topics, we become as empty and useless to the world as the most beautiful cathedral ever built.

    God created men and women and we should be working hard to understand his view so as to give others hope and freedom in the area of gender. Instead, it sounds like we are proposing that God has no voice or perspective on gender whatsoever. Interesting to talk about, but are we really that naive about how the human soul works? Are we really proposing to people that there is neither male or female because we cannot agree on what the bible says? Are there actually people out there living a genderless life or are we just talking about it? If there aren’t people modeling what is proposed here, then why are we talking about it?

    Whether we weigh in with an answer to the question of “what is masculine” or not, the question must be answered.

  • Eric Masters

    James,
    Thanks for clearing a lot of that up in your response. I see what you mean about needing to know your own identity before you can truly focus on becoming Godly, but what about somebody who knows their identity and is fine with it even though it doesn’t fit with traditional ideals? Say a woman who has always felt born to lead a ministry or a man who just wants nothing more than stay home and take care of their kids?

    Personally I fit within classic roles for the most part, (though I am a chronic crier..) but I know a lot of people who are made in God’s image but are not the traditional masculine man or feminine woman. They know who they are and when they want to serve the world or pursue Godliness, are we as the church supposed to tell them to start over and get a better identity? Preferably one that fits tradition more closely, because there is no room in God’s kingdom for a strong woman or a boy who likes dancing more than football?

    These are the people that are already left out in culture, which means the church has the opportunity to embrace them. Why would we put one more obstacle between somebody and following Jesus?

    What problems are we facing that true Godliness couldn’t fix?

  • James

    Eric, I appreciate your response and your questions. For me, I do not experience a separation between godliness and gender identity because of the reasons previously stated. My pursuit of godliness is deeply intertwined with an understanding and acceptance of God’s sovereign choice to create me male.

    When I am using the terms masculine and feminine I am talking in about roles and not traits. Traits or expressions of individuality (such as chronic crying or dancing) should not be part of determining what is masculine vs. feminine.

    I do, however, believe God has created a construct dependent upon roles in which men and woman are designed to exist. This role dependent construct is modeled in every organized entity in the world. From business to sports to even churches, there are roles that complement and support the function of the structure. I believe this concept to be the rule or ideal defined by the distinct nature inherent in men and women as revealed in the scriptures. From the biological function all the way to the emotional and spiritual. These unique roles were not designed to compete but complement. Imagine the day the associate pastor arbitrarily decides he wants to be the sr. pastor because he is just as capable. Doesn’t have anything to do with abilities, does it?

    Now, to your specific question regarding men and women that don’t fit the “norm”. There will be exceptions to any ideal. Exceptions should exist to reinforce the ideal but they are often mishandled and instead become reasons to throw out the ideal. Are exceptions inherently evil, of course not. Should we “tell” them that they need to get a new identity? No! But our lives rooted deeply in the majesty of God’s plan should compel them to either redirect or stay the course.

    These roles are intended to simply help us function effectively within God’s plan. The physical body is another good representation of this concept and knowing human nature Paul counsels us on being careful when trying to interchange feet and hands based on our own personal preference. Doesn’t it seem to you that what this movement is preposing is that there is no difference between a hand and a foot? Or that a hand can be an eye if it wants to be? Will there come a day when we no longer recognize the roles inherent with the physical differences between men and women? Does it concern you that the latest trend in elite fashion organizations is to promote androgynous men because they can model as both men and women? How do we not end up in that kind of a place where we wipe out the intended uniqueness of masculine and feminine? Do you see that diminishing the masculine also diminishes the feminine? I don’t think many who argue against the uniqueness of masculinity realize what the end result will be. If your goal is to magnify the beauty of heat, you would be remiss to diminish the cold. The opposite approach will actually produce better results.

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  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth (@MaryDeMuth)

    Great thinking here, Skye.

  • Pingback: The Search for Biblical Masculinity part 2 | J. William Feffer

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  • http://www.twitter.com/jhenthorn Jonathan Henthorn

    To see if biblical masculinity exists I would look for imperatives specifically given to fathers, husbands, and sons by Christ and the apostles. If one as a father strives to exercise that calling and responsibility as God has commanded it could in a sense be considered “biblically masculine”. But there are also instructions in the bible given to the poor and we don’t see much about “biblical poverty” in books today.

    I think most of the interest in biblical masculinity is an attempt to answer a question the bible isn’t too interested in answering. We’re not told to be masculine as Jesus was masculine, but to be holy as God is holy.

  • Charlie Singleton

    Great post.