Man and Woman Roles

Scriptural principles of man and woman roles

Introduction to the Scriptural Principles
The 1960s and 1970s witnessed many changes in the attitude and practices of American society concerning male and female roles in life. These developments naturally led to questions being raised concerning the practices of the church in this matter. In response to such questions and to encourage a careful scriptural evaluation of the practices of our synodical schools, the Commission on Higher Education in April of 1978 adopted theses entitled “The Role of Man and Woman According to Holy Scripture.” With the approval of the Conference of Presidents (COP) these theses and an exposition of them were submitted to the 1979 WELS convention. The convention, in turn, encouraged the districts of the synod to study them.

As a result of feedback from this study, the 1981 convention directed the COP to prepare a pamphlet addressing this subject. A committee of ten pastors, one from each district of the synod, was appointed to produce that pamphlet. The pamphlet which they produced, “Man and Woman in God’s World,” was published in 1985 with the approval of the COP. In 1987 “Man and Woman in God’s World—An Expanded Study” was made available to provide more detailed exegetical background to the first pamphlet.

All three of these studies concluded that Scripture teaches that already at creation God established differences in male and female roles for this life on earth and that these differences in roles are still applicable today. A number of voices were raised in the synod, however, questioning whether such an “order of creation” was actually taught in Scripture.

The 1989 synod convention received a memorial requesting that “Man and Woman in God’s World” be adopted as an official doctrinal statement of the synod and a counter-memorial suggesting that the pamphlet not be adopted as an official doctrinal statement since Scripture itself serves as an adequate statement of the doctrine. The convention resolved to receive “Man and Woman in God’s World” as a correct exposition of the scriptural teachings in this matter. It urged the COP to prepare a brief, formal doctrinal statement for consideration at the 1991 convention.

In response the COP appointed a committee of five pastors to draw up such a statement. A preliminary draft of the statement was published in the Northwestern Lutheran with a request for comments and suggestions. A revised edition of the statement entitled “Scriptural Principles of Man and Woman Roles” was submitted to the convention by the COP. The convention accepted the statement as a correct exposition of scriptural doctrine and asked that members of the synod be given additional opportunity to suggest refinement of wording. It also asked the COP to authorize the preparation of study materials to help members of the synod study this issue in Scripture.

The committee responded by gathering additional suggestions for refinements in wording, and the COP submitted a revised edition of the statement to the 1993 convention, which adopted the reworded statement as a correct exposition of scriptural doctrine. The convention also requested a “brief, practical statement with a positive tone.”

In response to the request of the 1991 synodical convention for study material, Prof. John Brug prepared a ten-lesson Bible study with teacher’s manual entitled “A Bible Study on Man and Woman in God’s World,” which was published in 1992. In response to the request of the 1993 convention for a brief, practical statement, Pastor Walter Beckmann prepared “The Spirit in Which We Apply the Scriptural Roles of Man and Woman,” which appeared in 1994.

“Scriptural Principles of Man and Woman Roles” is, thus, based on well over a decade of study by three different study groups. The doctrinal substance of its conclusions was adopted by three successive synodical conventions. This statement was not intended to be a comprehensive statement about scriptural roles for men and women. It is a brief doctrinal statement which addresses, both in a positive and negative way, specific issues which were points of controversy at the time the statement was composed. It strives to give balanced attention both to the spiritual equality which men and women share in Christ and to the different roles which God assigns to men and women in this earthly life. It emphasizes that the principles governing these different roles were established by God at creation and remain valid.

Scriptural Principles of Man and Woman Roles

In order to express our harmony in doctrine and practice with what God teaches in the Holy Scriptures about man and woman, we present the following statements as our confession:


1. God created man and woman in His own image. The divine image gave man and woman spiritual equality in their relationship to the Creator (Ge 1:26,27; Col 3:10; Gal 3:28).

2. In love God established distinct male and female responsibilities (Ge 2:7,18,22) for the man and woman to whom He had given spiritual equality. These responsibilities involved headship for man and submission for woman. These roles demonstrated God’s unchanging will for the complementary relationship of man and woman with each other. Two New Testament passages attest to this: 1 Co 11:3,8,9 and 1 Ti 2:12,13.

3. God established roles for man and woman in His creative plan before He united them in marriage and before they fell into sin (Ge 2:7,18,22; 1 Co 11:3,8,9). Therefore God’s assigned roles apply beyond the marriage relationship and in every period of history.

The Fall

4. All commands of God and all roles established by God are for our good (1 Jn 5:3; Ps 19:8,11). To ignore or reject them harms our relationship with God and with each other (1 Pe 3:7; Eph 6:3; Ro 13:2-4).

5. When they sinned, man and woman lost the image of God and their perfect relationship with their Creator (Ge 5:1-3; Isa 59:2). Man and woman also lost their holy and harmonious relationship with each other (Ge 2:16,17; 3:12,16).


6. God loved all men and women so much that He sent and sacrificed His Son to reestablish the holy relationship they once had with Him—Justification (Ro 5:8; 2 Co 5:18,19,21; Eph 4:24; Col 3:10).

7. Men and women enjoy equal status in their reestablished relationship with God when He brings them to faith in Jesus (Gal 3:26-29; Eph 6:9).

8. The restoration of God’s image in us is a gradual process which goes on throughout our earthly lives—Sanctification (2 Co 3:18; Eph 4:12-16). The Holy Spirit accomplishes this restoration by the power of the Gospel (Jn 17:17; 1 Th 3:13).


9. As God restores His image in us, we grow in our ability to live in our God-assigned roles for Jesus’ sake (Eph 5:21–6:9; Col 3:18–4:1; 1 Pe 3:5-7).

10. Scripture teaches that headship includes authority (1 Co 11:3,10; Col 1:18; 2:10; Eph 1:22; 1 Ti 2:11,12). Authority should not be used to dominate but to serve others (Mt 20:25-28).

11. Christ exercised His headship with sacrificial love (Eph 5:25), humility (Php 2:5-8), and service (Eph 5:28,29), and asks all believers to carry out their roles of authority in the same way (Mt 20:25-28).

12. In applying the principle of role relationship, the church will emphasize the duties and responsibilities of men. God holds Christian men accountable for the use of the authority He has given them and will grant His blessings when men exercise this authority out of love for Christ (1 Pe 3:7; Col 3:19).

13. Believers in Christ live under His headship with willing submission, respect, obedience, and love toward those in authority (Eph 5:21–6:9).

In the Home

14. The role relationships of man and woman find their fullest expression in the close union of marriage. In a Christian home a husband and wife are partners and co-heirs of God’s gracious gift of salvation (Eph 5:22-33; 1 Pe 3:1-7).

15. Since God appointed the husband to be the head of the wife (Eph 5:23), the husband will love and care for his God-given wife (1 Pe 3:7). A wife will gladly accept the leadership of her husband as her God-appointed head (Eph 5:22-24).

16. As the head of the wife and family the husband has the prime responsibility for the spiritual instruction of the family (Eph 6:4).

In the Church

17. The biblical principle of role relationship applies also to the gatherings of the church. All believers, men and women, will participate at gatherings of worship, prayer, Bible study, and service. The scriptural applications that a woman remain silent (1 Co 14:34) and that a woman should not teach a man (1 Ti 2:11,12) require that a woman refrain from participating in these gatherings in any way which involves authority over men.

18. In church assemblies the headship principle means that only men will cast votes when such votes exercise authority over men. Only men will do work that involves authority over men (1 Co 11:3-10; 14:33-35; 1 Ti 2:11,12).

19. All Christians, men and women, are to use their God-given gifts to serve each other (1 Pe 4:10). Women are encouraged to participate in offices and activities of the public ministry except where the work involves authority over men.

In the World

20. Christians also accept the biblical role relationship principle for their life and work in the world (1 Co 11:3; Eph 5:6-17). Christians seek to do God’s will consistently in every area of their lives. We will therefore strive to apply this role relationship principle to our life and work in the world.

21. Scripture leaves a great deal to our conscientious Christian judgment as we live the role relationship principle in the world. In Christian love we will refrain from unduly binding the consciences of the brothers and sisters in our fellowship. Rather, we will encourage each other as we seek to apply this principle to our lives in the world.

22. Because the unregenerate world is not motivated by the Gospel or guided by God’s will (1 Co 2:14), we as Christians will not try to force God’s will upon the world (1 Co 5:12). We will seek to influence and change the world by our Gospel witness in word and deed (Mk 16:15; Mt 5:16).

Since we affirm the preceding statements as biblical truths, we maintain that the propositions rejected below are contrary to the Word of God:

1. We reject the attempt to define male-female role principles only on the basis of biblical examples of human conduct because doctrine must be drawn from simple, direct statements of God’s will.

2. We reject as a confusion of Law and Gospel the opinion that our spiritual equality before God restored by Christ (Gal 3:28) sets aside our distinctive responsibilities as guided by God’s Law (1 Co 11:3).

3. We reject the opinion that relationships of headship and subordination are incompatible with a state of holiness (1 Co 11:3; 15:28). All New Testament passages regarding the role relationships are addressed to reconciled and sanctified men and women.

4. We reject the opinion that 1 Corinthians 11:7 teaches that only man, not woman, was created in God’s image (cf. Ge 1:26,27).

5. We reject the opinion that distinct roles for man and woman were first ordered after the Fall in Genesis 3:16 (cf. Ge 2:7,18,22).

6. We reject the opinion that male headship and female submission apply only to marriage or only to marriage and the church (1 Co 11:3; 1 Ti 2:12).

7. We reject the opinion that the principle of role relationships taught in the New Testament was culturally conditioned and is not applicable today.

8. We reject the opinion that the principle of role relationships applies only to some people, only for some periods of history, or only to certain aspects of Christian life.

9. We reject the opinion that in the church assemblies only matters pertaining to the Word of God are authoritative.

10. We reject the opinion that the mutual submission encouraged by Scriptures for all believers (Eph 5:21; Mt 20:25-28) negates the exercise of male headship.

11. We reject the opinion that the word “head” as applied to Christ and man in the New Testament does not include authority.

12. We reject the opinion that every woman is always subject to every man. Other scriptural role relationship principles and the injunction, “We must obey God rather than men” (Ac 5:29), also govern our actions.

13. We reject arbitrary applications of the principle of the role relationships which do not take into account that customs which reflect these relationships as well as conditions of life may change (1 Co 11:6,16).

14. We reject the claim that the biblical statement “women should remain silent in the churches” (1 Co 14:34) forbids all speaking by women in the assemblies of the church.

With these statements of what we confess and what we reject we offer the prayer as Christian men and women that God will fill us with His Holy Spirit, giving to each of us a better understanding of and appreciation for our God-assigned responsibilities, that in loving service to Him and to each other we hallow His name and share in His mission in every God-pleasing way.