Appreciation for Biblical Femininity in Man and Woman in Christ

I still remember the first time I began reading Man and Woman in Christ, many years ago now. I felt edified, considered, and necessary as a woman. Truths I had believed but didn’t understand and certainly could not explain began to make sense. New and inspiring ideas that would form how I understood manhood and womanhood opened a door into deepening purposefulness, beauty, and integration which would set me on a course of joyful response to God’s call on my life as a woman. To say the least, Man and Woman in Christ has been a game-changer for my personal ‘yes’ to the Lord, and to His people. It has built within me an intellectual foundation and a scripturally sound vision for a Christian approach to man­hood and womanhood, without which I would probably to this day be struggling in my pursuit to live as a daughter of God. 

I am honored by this opportunity to share a few thoughts which reveal Steve Clark, displayed in his work Man and Woman in Christ, as a man who spent a great deal of his intel­lectual energy teaching and defending the value of women, recognizing the need for a vision for the Christian people that is scripturally sound, simple, and united with the Christian tradition. Steve shows a shrewd understanding of the insecure and divided notions about manhood and womanhood in our age. His exegesis and accompanying insights unpack and chal­lenge these notions, reminding us which truths have stood the test of time, and clarifying how to understand the scriptural texts in the light of their proper contexts. 

Steve’s scriptural exegesis in Man and Woman in Christ freed me to value femininity, while at the same time liberating me from believing countless ideas which the world presents about women: that women are less important or less capable, that women are weaker, and that women have smaller capac­ity for character than men. This work freed me from any need to compete with men, or compare my productivity to that of men. It freed me from many stereotypes of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man. It freed me from feeling like I need to accept the age-old adage that ‘boys will be boys’ and accept low expectations for the men with whom I share life. It freed me from the fear that there are not good men out there, men who are worthy to be husbands and heads of family and leaders of people. (It also freed me from prideful thinking that I would make a great wife without immense help from the Lord and from others.) 

This work freed me for a vision of manhood and wom­anhood that is good, beautiful, and harmonious: to pursue intentional relationships within the body of Christ with hope and trust; to desire Christian marriage and to see it is a good thing as God designed it; to desire to serve within the Chris­tian community; to learn the irreplaceable contribution that women are designed to make; to serve in leadership and to be able to embrace the way of life I believed God had already called me to. 

Although I could name many more, I will share three top­ics that have been a source of this freedom, three key notes of Man and Women in Christ to which I return again and again for my own sense of confidence, for my continued receptivity to the Lord’s will, and in my pastoral and teaching work. They are the clear sense of the dignity of women, Steve’s treatment of subordination in the marriage relationship, and finally, his insistence on the irreplaceable role of women in the family. 

The Clear Sense of the Dignity of Woman 

In his work, Man and Woman in Christ, Steve Clark highlights and defends the dignity of women. His work both assumes women’s dignity but also explains it, tirelessly, patiently. It seems he knows not to assume all Christians and intellectuals who live during his time will assume it, and therefore he explains it again and again, reminding his reader not to forget what is clear and consistent in the Scriptures and God’s intention for the family and society. I will mention a few instances from his scriptural exegesis which display this. 

First, Steve establishes the unquestionable equality in personal value and dignity between men and women from Scripture. He points out and unpacks misunderstandings of how people have used lines from Scripture to degrade women, to misunderstand their dignity, and clarifies the true meaning and re-establishes the dignity of women as a necessary foundation for all he will say afterward. 

One example is Steve’s treatment of Genesis 2:22: “And the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.”2 While some have used this verse in a mocking way toward women, Steve highlights the scholarship that shows it means that woman is made of the same substance as man and stands by his side, 

The context of Genesis 2 shows that the overriding signifi­cance of the mode of the creation of woman is that woman is the same kind of being as man, not a different and inferior species…. The clearest point to be drawn from the building of woman from man’s rib is not any inferiority on woman’s part but quite the contrary. The “rib” indicates the sameness of nature between man and woman (11). 

Steve clarifies here that woman shares her nature, value, and dignity with man—they are of the same kind—and that woman is not below man. When you come to know that this is God’s firm design, it is easier to trust His good will for your life as a woman, rather than juggling the ever lingering ques­tions: Did God make me inferior to men? Is it my job to prove my worth? 

In my years working with university aged women, I’ve met few women who haven’t had to wrestle with these questions. Every year I find myself working with a handful or more of young adult women who battle basic identity questions and lies daily. It is not always clear to them that, as women, they share the same dignity as men. Simply growing up in our society has done enough to deeply undermine, within their sense of self, the truth that it is good that God made them to be women— that men and women have equal dignity and eternal value. 

In the same section, Steve proceeds to clarify the true mean­ing of the Hebrew word for “to cling” or “to cleave” in order to establish the strength of the marriage relationship. “The word ‘cling’ or ‘cleave’ indicates a committed personal relationship. It does not mean weak dependence, as the English word, ‘clings’ suggests” (11). The modern usage, “Gosh, that woman is so clingy” is far from the correct sense. Instead this word conveys a mutual and purposeful interdependence between man and woman, an expression of the fundamental reality that “it is not good for man to be alone,” and that they each have some­thing to contribute that the other needs. 

A third instance makes clear that woman, being an image bearer of God like man, shares in the commission with man to have dominion over the living creatures. Her role is that of helper to the man in his ruling function, not to be ruled by him like the other animals.

Nothing in Genesis 1:26-31 indicates that women do not take part in the commission associated with being in God’s image, namely, having dominion over the living creatures. Rather, the fact that the commission is repeated in v. 28 following the statement about the human race being created male and female indicates that women share not only the commission but also the image of God which makes the commission possible (9). 

These are a few of many ways in which Steve breaks down the meaning of the Scriptures to establish the inherent value of woman and her basic relationship to man as sharing in the same dignity: according to God’s purpose in creation, she is created and called to be an image bearer of the Living God to the rest of creation. 

Although the church has always taught that men and women are equal in dignity, each new age seems to bring its own way of forgetting and distorting this profound truth. Steve’s voice has been one in our time to point out and make clear the dig­nity of women and their irreplaceable role in the world. I am grateful to Steve for the time and care he has put into his work which grounds the dignity of women in the word of God as a challenge to those in the world who would like to put wom­en’s dignity up for debate. 

And yet his affirmation of the fundamental equality of men and women does not prevent Steve from clearly speaking about their differences in an illuminating way. Because men and women are equal in dignity, their differences can function together in a complementary way. 

In some ways, the term “complementarity” best sums up the relationship between the man and the woman in Genesis.

“Complementarity” implies an equality, a correspondence between man and woman. It also implies a difference. Woman complements man in a way that makes her a helper to him. Her role is not identical to his. Their complementarity allows them to be a partnership in which each needs the other, because each provides something different from what the other pro­vides. The partnership of man and woman is based upon a community of nature and an interdependence due to a com­plementarity of role (13). 

A common tactic that claims to uphold the value of women is to affirm that women are just as good as men—there are no differences except perhaps for the obvious differences of sexual organs. But saying that women are valuable because they can (and should) do the same things men can do does not attribute any value to women as women—men are still the standard by which all are judged. Women are valued for what they can do in comparison to what men can do, not for who they are. The world’s narrative fosters a culture in which men and women are urged to homogeneity. But God’s plan for men and women is not androgyny but complementarity. Steve’s work brings together the best of both biblical exegesis and social scientific research to fruitfully speak of men and women as different and yet still equal by emphasizing the following: 

The differences between men and women should be stated descriptively rather than evaluatively…. Any comparison of a male trait with a female trait which judges that one is intrin­sically better than another is distorted because it presumes an identity of role or function. For example, to deplore wom­en’s “emotionalism” presumes that men and women are both “supposed to” express their emotions in an identical fashion. However, such a judgment is not possible if men and women are supposed to express their emotions differently, or if emo­tions are supposed to be expressed differently in different situations. 


Not only are men and women equal in dignity by virtue of their creation, they also equal in their contribution to their fallenness; they share responsibility for the fall in a comple­mentary way. We can cast aside the idea that women are by nature seductresses, or that women are responsible for men’s struggle with the sin of lust, or that women are always victims of men’s wrongdoing. Adam and Eve share the responsibility for the fall, and it has hit all of their offspring, men and women alike. Likewise they are equal in redemption and destined to be co-heirs in the kingdom of God. “Woman functions in com­plementarity to man. She complemented him in the Fall, to the misfortune of the human race, and she complemented him in redemption, to the blessing of the human race. The former showed her weakness, the latter her strength” (144). 

Finally, I have deeply appreciated, and frankly, needed to hear the way in which Steve’s articulation of complementarity of man and woman elevates women without denigrating men. I have found in some reflections of Christian femininity that woman seems to be elevated above man: woman is the true cli­max of creation, and is of greater significance in the redeemed life than man. Perhaps this stems from an attempt on behalf of womankind to balance out the experience of being denigrated time and time again. But there is a better way to understand this challenge, and Steve shows us clearly that a complemen­tary view of man and woman is the approach most consistent with the Word of God, and the most beautiful approach for living together as men and women in reality – the vision we would do best to pursue.

This short excerpt from Molly Kirkpatrick’s essay is taken from Festschrift — Essays in Honor of Stephen B. Clark, published by the Servants of the Word, © 2023. 

You can access the full essay online or download a PDF copy at the Servants of the Word website

Top image credit: Book cover pic courtesy of the publisher for Man and Woman in Christ.

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