Gender Roles: part one: Moses

If you are just joining this discussion, please be aware of the introduction in the previous post.  I have been asked by an old friend from USA to share from Christian Scripture on the issue of gender roles.  Dave, Fran, Naomi and others having been weighing in with their views and everyone is welcome to do so as long as they do it respectfully and charitably.

When Jesus was asked questions about gender/marriage/sex he pointed to Moses.  An example would be in Matthew 19 when asked if a man could leave his wife to chase after someone else who caught his eye. Jesus responded by pointing to Moses' teaching as normative and, for this man, corrective.    Next time I will focus on exactly how Jesus quoted Moses in this regard by looking at Genesis 1-3, but today I want to give a mere sample from Moses' teaching for men (husbands particularly) on their gender role.

First of all Moses calls the able-bodied men to front line combat when necessary.  Here is but one of many examples: "...every male individually, from 20 years old and above-all who are able to go to war in Israel.  You and Aaron shall number them by there armies."  Now women did play a role.  Deborah was the prophetess who encouraged the army and Jael was involved in an assassination, but front line combat was, under Moses, reserved for men.

Fighting for your children and wives was seen as a husband's role. As a prophet would later say, "Fight for your brethren,  your daughters, your wives and your houses." Neh.4.14  This is not to denigrate women, but rather to simply say that men and women are strong in complementary rather than inter-changeable ways.

If I use the expression, "That went over like a lead balloon", I am not insulting lead which has many admirable qualities.  It's just that being balloonesque is not one of them.  Similarly, no soldier wants to be told he throws hand grenades like a girl.  And no mother wants to be told she rocks her baby to sleep like a team of Navy Seals.

So the role of bloody violence is one that belongs to men... at least according to Moses whom Jesus pointed to.  Moses does not stop there though.  In a verse regulating and restricting polygamy he writes:

"If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing and her marriage rights." -Ex 21.10

According to this, a man has a role before God to make love to his wife regularly, to keep her kitchen full of food and to make sure she has all the clothes she needs instead of wasting all their disposable income on video games.  Yes, this a law about polygamy, but we can reason a fortiori from this.  If an OT polygamist was required to do these things, how much more a NT monogamist who is instructed to love his wife as Christ loved the church? 

Rev. Dave argued in the last blog response that gender roles are entirely man-made.  Though I agree they are often man-made (real men drive muscle cars, chase lots of women and drink excessively, etc.) I hope this blog has at least put forward some evidence to be considered that Moses did indeed have some gender/marital role in mind for a man.

Next time: Jesus' specific quotes of Moses.  Please leave your thoughts and responses below.  

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  1. Joshua,

    "So the role of bloody violence is one that belongs to men... at least according to Moses whom Jesus pointed to."

    And where exactly in the teaching and example of Jesus (or in the early Church) do you see any support at all that anyone should have a role of bloody violence?

    Jesus rejects violence everywhere, he refuses to respond to violence, even healing the soldier who had an ear cut off by a disciple defending him.

    If men have a role in violence then in Christianity that role has to be gone and gone for all time and for all people.

    Having said that I also want to point out that Jesus responded by pointing to teaching by Moses on divorce, not on roles for men. In fact in his own teaching on divorce he went far beyond the teaching of Moses by saying that divorce is wrong because of the one flesh. So Jesus took away huge power of men over women (the power of a man to divorce without the same power being given to the wife). So Jesus applies a corrective to Moses that has the effect of removing a power difference in favour of men and moving them towards equality (one flesh being an ultimate expression of equality and no gender specific roles).

    So Jesus demolishes gender roles (examples here are violence and power over divorce) but men continue to build them. Seems like my accusation of man made fits these as well!

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  3. I don't want this discussion to veer off into a discussion on pacifism. I believe that there is room for Christians to serve with honour and integrity in the military and you, seemingly, do not.

    The question I sought to answer from Anna was: Does scripture give warrant to the idea of gender roles? I quoted from Moses on two points: 1. Moses only called for men to be on the front line of battle and 2. He told husbands/fathers that they had a special role to provide for their families. You did not respond to this second point.

    You suggest that Jesus "applies a corrective to Moses". I disagree. He quoted from Moses (Gen 1-2) in order to show that the Pharisees were misrepresenting Moses. He clarified, not corrected the prophet.

    DO you really believe that in the OT God wanted the front lines of the Israeli army to be 50% women? Can you not concede that at least this was a position reserved for men?

  4. Joshua,

    Wow, where to begin.

    First, as Christians why would we look to the Hebrew Scriptures without doing so through the lens of Christ? To do so breaks with 2,000 years of doing/being Christian.

    You cannot take the teaching of Moses and apply it to today unless you do so through the "clarification" of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. If you remember from Acts that is why Paul went to Jerusalem twice and why he corrected Peter on what was required of gentiles.

    By seeking roles for women and men from the Hebrew Scriptures you are attempting to rebuild salvation through works of law (see Galatians 3). Unless you are going to also go back and start requiring circumcision you cannot pick and choose rules from the Hebrew Scriptures just because they suit your view that there have to be different roles for women.

    When Jesus refers to the teaching of Moses in Matthew 19 he refers to divorce and only to divorce. You have built an argument on sand. When Jesus corrects their understanding on divorce (Matthew 19:8) you cannot imply that Jesus is also referring to Moses teaching on Men being in the front line at war or on providing for their families. To do so is an abuse of scripture. Hence:

    "So the role of bloody violence is one that belongs to men... at least according to Moses whom Jesus pointed to."

    is complete and utter hogwash.

    I agree that unlike the early Church we are not yet united in following the path of non-violence that Jesus radically taught and lived. However, our compromises to be true disciples in this regard do not give any justification for using that failure to try to build gender divisions.

    If you are also going to try to build an argument that it is only men who are to provide for their families then you also have significant problems. It is clear from the gospel accounts that to a significant extent Jesus was provided for financially and practically by women. Given the dominant patriarchal culture of the Hebrew Scriptures it is highly significant that there are examples of women providing for their husbands and families in there (as in Psalm 31 that you have been referring to) also see Esther & Ruth as obvious examples.

    As always when trying to fit scripture to an made views you are incredibly selective. You ignore the "one flesh" argument made by Jesus which is not about gender roles but the destruction of them. As always when you talk of men loving their wiives as Christ loves the Church you deliberately ignore Ephesians 5:21 which puts the whole of that passage into a context of mutual (one flesh) submission.

    Basically what you are offering is a watered down, non challenging, wishy washy, boring view of Christian faith and discipleship, one that is locked into in cultural stereotypes and going nowhere.

    As for me the vibrant, life giving, radical, exciting, whole life, whole person, self giving, life transforming full gospel is so much better, so much more and just what the world needs. So no thanks, I'll skip what you are trying to create and stick with Jesus ::-)

  5. I agree fully with your first two paragraphs.

    I'm trying to see the heart of your argument through the mountain of passionate rhetoric. My reasoning is:
    1. Moses was inspired by God
    2. Moses assigned men to fight on the front line
    3. Therefore, God had a special role for men in the OT.

    Am I right in stating that your objection this line of reason is:
    "In light of Jesus we know that Moses never should have led the Isrealis in war", ???
    or is it
    "If Moses had had the light of Christ he would have put 50% women on the front line so things could be equal" ???

  6. Neither of those. I am thinking of us today as Christians not rewriting history.

  7. I wrote a longer post but it deleted... :(
    I agree with DW, it all seems out of context and manipulated to fit your own interpretation of gender roles.

  8. Hey Thomas, Thanks for weighing in with your views. It's a shame that your comment got deleted.

    So, do I understand right that you think my logic is fallacious at some point? Perhaps you could help me to understand how Moses, if he had no place for gender roles, would put exclusively men on the front line?

  9. I'm not sure what to think about the post on the whole, but two things I'd like to point out:

    1. 'no soldier wants to be told he throws hand grenades like a girl. And no mother wants to be told she rocks her baby to sleep like a team of Navy Seals.' - sure, you use an example of a particular type of 'male behaviour' here to make equal with your point about 'female behaviour', but I've seen girls throw a shot-put farther than you can probably throw a pebble.

    2. 'a man has a role before God to make to make love to his wife regularly, to keep her kitchen full of food and to make sure she has all the clothes she needs'. This makes women sound so passive. You make it sound as though women are just baby making machines that you have to make love to out of duty, you call it 'her kitchen' as though it is the woman's job to cook and serve, and giving her with clothes to make her happy makes it sound as though we delight in being bought over by materials. I feel as though you've taken a lovely piece of scripture and made it to fit sexist stereotypes.

    Gendered language is quite an important topic I believe. I think it has a massive affect on the way we see gender roles, every little word we use carrying a mass of connotations. It's so easy to fall naturally into common language use that is so stereotypical, and we need to constantly check up on the way we explain things and challenge our ideals.

  10. Dear Annie,

    Upon reflecting I am more than happy to concede both points!

    1. I am more than willing to confess there are females (body builders, etc) who could beat me in an arm wrestle.

    2. It is true that paragraph does have women in the passive role. My sole plea for understanding is that this particular post is focusing in on gender roles for husbands (providing, protecting, etc). I'm sure you would agree though that in all relationships we are the passive receivers at times. There are times and ways in which my wife is active and I am the passive receiver and visa-versa. I could have picked a verse from the old testament which focused on gender roles for women, but I'm sure there would have been just as much room for controversy and misunderstanding in that as in the ones I did pick.

    For those of you who follow the blog, Annie is a clever girl and a friend of mine here at St.Nic's who also happened to be editor of a local magazine. She is a gifted writer and says things articulately whether you agree with her on every point or not. Take time to read what she has to say.

  11. It's not quite like that, but my longer post was deleted so I made a blunt second version.

    What I meant was that like DaveW stated: Jesus was not refering to what Moses said about war but divorce... which means it can mislead, let me give an (exagerated) example:
    David was a man after God's own heart, however he had an affair with Bathsheba, does that mean that God wants us to have affairs? Of course not, if you read the bible it is clear to see, but it would be easy to mislead someone if they didn't go check it out for themself.

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