Cultural Disparities: This is a difficult issue to put into a nutshell. Each culture in the history of the world has had difficult issues particular to their culture and their time. The present western culture is therefore that belongs to us now. For example, in Africa today, nobody is talking about gender roles. Asians do not struggle over what the Bible says about gender roles at all. In the US cultural biases give us blinders when it comes to these culturally defined difficulties with the scriptures. In other words, the problems we have with the scriptures are not universal. Everyone has problems with the scriptures, but your particular set of problems is almost certainly defined by your cultural situation. As we discuss this issue, we should be aware that our cultural situation will make it difficult for us to be objective, for the US society has assigned some specific roles to men and women, not to be mistaken, a new role that has been intermingled with each other, as far as traditional roles for genders have been concerned. What many are demanding is to translate this new gender paradigm into the Church and thereby they want to ‘modernize’ the Church. This is something an issue that we have to look into as well.
Contextual Difficulties: The Bible was written a long time ago, and understanding it is difficult at times, especially when we wear cultural blinders. Further, there are many kinds of genres which require different interpretive guidelines too. Just because King David or Solomon enjoyed polygamy does not necessarily mean it is a good thing to be applied today. In narrative sections, the Bible reports things that it does not approve of just like any good newspaper or biography might. Third, there is no one section of the Bible that lays out the entirety of its teaching on gender roles. In other words, we’ll need to put several passages together. We cannot look at some of the passages and ignore others. When the Biblical authors seem to disagree with themselves, we do not pick the passage we like — rather, we struggle to understand how they fit together. Finally, the Bible has little to say about gender roles. There just isn’t much written in an Orthodox perspective. We’re going to ask a whole lot of questions for which there are no good answers in the text. However, let’s look at what is there to be deduced in a total harmony with the Orthodox precepts.
Linguistic Difficulties: At the outset, one should note that when we speak of gender roles, our language and expressions are highly charged. I want to try to diffuse the terms as much as possible. For example, the word “submission” can be a horrible thing. I understand some of the baggage that comes with the word, but it doesn’t need to carry this baggage. For example, when dancing, normally women “submit” to the leadership of their partners. Players on a basketball team “submit” to their coach or team captain. Of course, we use the same word when describing heinous crimes, but the word doesn’t necessitate such horrors. When speaking of “submission” with gender roles, it can go either way. We can freely admit the incredible injustice inflicted upon women especially who have been told to “submit” to their abusive husbands. The same things can be said for these words too: authority, dominion and ruler (to name just a few). At the same time, one shall not forget those women of today, who demand that their husbands shall submit themselves to their wives for history had been doing it otherwise. It needs to be discussed, whether the present practice is in both ways, namely women submitting themselves to men and vice-versa are what Paul and New Testament writers wanted to express through their writings.
The first two chapters of Genesis each tell the creation story from different perspectives. The first is a big, grand, beautiful, symmetrical story, and the second is intimate, close, emotional and detailed. And each tells us something different about men and women. Genesis 1 tells us about the equality, Genesis 2 tells us about the distinction. Every time that the New Testament has any sort of extended commentary on gender roles, it always refers back to these two passages, so it would make sense to start here so that when we get to the New Testament, we’ll be ready. In the first version of the creation of mankind, we see that men and women are created ontologically equal. That is, their essence, or being, or basic quality is the same.
26-28. Then God said “Let us make human kind in our image according to our likeness and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the cattle and over all the wild animals of the earth.” So God created humankind in His image. In the image of God He created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth”.
Notice that when God wants to create a creature in his image, he does so in two irreducible parts. That is, by themselves, men do not reflect the image of God, nor to women. You need a man and a woman to reflect the image of God. Of course, we can say that all people individually are created in the image of God, but there is something reflected in the community of these two different people (men and women) that is uniquely reflective of God. God has always existed as a community of 3, and so to reflect him truly, we need to be more than one. Second, note that God gives dominion (or authority) to both men and women to rule over all the earth. He gives it to them equally. The command is for them to rule together.