Men, Women, and Jesus

As Christians we believe that the relationship between men and woman has been affected by sin. There is no shortage of evidence for this: pornography, domestic violence, abuse, gaslighting, stalking, harassment – the list goes on. To understand this, we need to look to the first sin, the sin of Adam and Eve, and its consequences. Then we need to look to Jesus, who remedied that sin.

In Genesis, when Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent and they both fall into sin, there are consequences. To the man, Adam, the consequence is a curse on the ground: it will become difficult for him to obtain food by agriculture. God tells Adam that “toil” and “the sweat of your face” will be needed to obtain food, and the ground will grow thorns and thistles [Genesis 3:17-19]. To the woman, Eve, the consequences are pain in childbirth, and a damaged relationship between wife and husband: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” [Genesis 3:16]. That these consequences are present today cannot be doubted: pain in childbirth, difficulties in agriculture, and a tendancy towards domination of men over women are broadly shared human experiences.

That in Genesis these things are not part of creation as originated by God, but are the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin, show that they are not God’s intent. They happened because human beings chose to do something wrong, and doing wrong has its consequences. But does it matter whether God wanted these things for people originally? The sin happened, the consequences occurred, and so, wanted or not, they are now part of the human reality. Does this mean, for example, that men are meant to rule over women? Some people seem to think so.

What is a Christian to think? Is there something to it? After all, St. Paul writes in two different letters about the Christian husband being the head of his wife [1 Corinthians 11:3] [Ephesians 5:23]. If this is not the same thing as “he shall rule over you”, it sounds similar, which appears a bit confusing.

The clue to unravelling this confusion is found in looking more fully at what St. Paul actually says. He writes: “the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior” [Ephesians 5:23]. While this may still sound a bit like ruling, the part about Christ, church, body and Savior point to Jesus and his redemptive work as the illustration of what is meant. To understand this, we need to look at what Jesus told his apostles:

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Matthew 20:25-28]

As for what sort of service is expected, Jesus shows by example:

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. [John 13:12-17]

At the time, foot-washing was the task of the lowliest household slave. Given the poor sanitation of the streets of the time, it was a rather dirty job. Yet Jesus goes even farther than doing humble work. Jesus “humbled himself”, giving up his own life on a cross [Philippians 2:8], accepting unjust treatment, including condemnation, torture and execution, as if he had been the worst of criminals, though he had done nothing wrong. [Luke 23:41]

What this means is that any rulership a Christian husband might have over his wife must be similarly humble and self-sacrificial. In the letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul’s directions to Christian husbands is to love their wives “as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her”. [Ephesians 5:25]. This turns male dominance on its head: instead of the husband lording it over his wife, the husband must give himself up for his wife, because that is what Jesus does. In a Christian relationship between a husband and a wife, if the husband is to put himself anywhere, it is not on a throne, but on a cross. Thus, for Christians, any sort of domination, exploitation or abuse by men of women cannot possibly be acceptable. Instead, the relationship of man to woman must be one of humble self-sacrifice.

Of course, the imitation of Christ is the call of all Christians, not only Christian men. All Christians, men and women equally, are called to deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow Jesus [Luke 9:23]. There can therefore be no loophole for one Christian to dominate another. The only way to be a Christian is to imitate Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Agapios Theophilus

Agapios Theophilus

Agapios Theophilus is the "nom de plume" of a catholic layman who has loved Jesus from when, as a young boy in the 1970s, he first learned about him. His First Communion, at the age of seven, was the happiest day of his life, and he celebrates its anniversary each year. He lives in a large city with his beloved wife, two wonderful children, and an affectionate orange and white cat. He has no formal qualifications whatsoever to write about Jesus: he writes only because he has been given the great gift of knowing and loving him, and he would like others to come to know and love him too. See Agapios' posts at and follow Agapios on twitter at

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