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Last week was full of pastoral joys and responsibilities, so I didn’t have time to blog.  Consequently, I didn’t finish out my ramblings on “manhood”.  We began with an introductory post, a look at manhood and worship, followed by a couple posts on work (here and here).

In the introductory post, I tried to confess a couple doubts: first, my own personal uncertainties about living out this thing called “manhood,” and second my uncertainty about the growing number of younger men writing on the topic.  It’s not that I think they have nothing to say or that I despise their youth.  I’m sure there’s much that’s profitable and youth has its own advantages.  But I suspect, as is almost always the case with the still-growing and maturing, they’ll look back in their later years at their youthful efforts and want to amend a lot of what they proposed.  A lot.  Personally, I feel the need to learn from men much older than myself, with more experience and wisdom, and not a small amount of nuance and pastoral sensitivity.  At the least, it seems the veteran men among us would be able to say, “Don’t get so excited and worked up about that; and don’t you dare neglect this.”  Oftentimes the problem with youth is we get worked up and excited about everything and tend to neglect the most important things.

Now, I guess I’m a “tweener”–not quite old enough to be writing anything I’d want to offer as definitive, and not so young that I have energy to be excited about everything!  That makes me dangerous and unqualified to offer any “expert” guidance to anyone.  So, if you’re reading this, be warned that these are ramblings, out loud, unedited, and imbalanced.  In other words, I’m blogging.  Join the conversation but don’t take for granted anything I’ve written here.  With that said, here’s the next installment.

It seems to me that “manhood” must, in part, be defined in relationship to women.  I know.  That sounds volatile.  Here’s what I mean.

The Lord God had completed all of creation in its vast array, surveyed it all, and concluded that all was “good.”  Great start.  Then in Genesis 2:18, the Lord takes a look at Adam and says, “It is not good that man shall be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.”  Ouch.  It’s not that Adam had some creative defect, as though God goofed on the basic design.  But, in light of the work mandate Adam received and God’s design to reveal something of His love in human relationships and marriage specifically (Eph. 5), Adam was incompetent.  Alone Adam could not do all that God desired from creation.  He needed a helper.  So, God in His wisdom and grace created woman.

So, fellas, it seems to me that we must define “manhood,” in part, as ordinarily embodying a particular relationship to women, just as “manhood” involves a relationship to God through worship and creation through work.  The entire scene of Genesis 2:18-24 teaches us this.

The Lord brought animals to Adam for naming, demonstrating to Adam his derived authority over creation as an image-bearer of God.  But also the animals are brought to Adam to make him aware of something that God already knows.  It’s not good for him to be alone.  Adam must know this so that he participates in God’s social design.

Man’s participation in God’s social design primarily and fundamentally takes the form of marriage as an enduring relationship to women.  So, God creates woman out of Adam’s side as a suitable helper for him.  As a helper she is to “honor his vocation, to share his enjoyment, and to respect the prohibition.”[1]  As a “suitable” helper, she is equal and adequate.  Her contribution is essential, and without her, Adam is incompetent to perform God’s call on his life.  It is not good for him to be alone.

I find Matthew Henry’s comment on this text helpful: the woman is “not made out of his head to top him, not out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”  Also Cassuto: “Just as the rib is found at the side of the man and is attached to him, even so the good wife, the rib of her husband, stands at his side to be his helper-counterpart, and her soul is bound up with his.”[2]

Adam himself celebrates God’s gift of a wife to him with a poem in verse 23.  Marriage is to be celebrated and embraced by men.  And like other things in the Garden, marriage is to be worked and cared for, nurtured and protected.  It’s obviously an institution for a man and a woman based on complementarity.  The woman is made uniquely and suitably to complement a man.  This is why a male’s avoidance of marriage (except in cases of a gift of singleness) generally signals immaturity and a questionable embrace “manhood,” and why on the opposite side the world distorts “manhood” by counting sexual and physical “conquests” over women as indications of”masculinity.”  Both avoidance and abuse distort the biblical picture of man’s relationship to woman.  The biblical truth lies in an exquisite middle where a true man commits himself for life to one woman and enjoys not conquest  but communion with her alone, forsaking all others.  A “real man” grows up, settles down, and stays in the relationship for life.

I know there are painful realities that make this ideal difficult or impossible for many men.  We live in a fallen world and Satan prowls and attacks.  But when it comes to basic thoughts about manhood, it seems inescapable that masculinity involves a loving, protecting, nurturing, leading relationship to women.

One last thing: there is a structure to the relationship of men and women that also helps define manhood.  The structure is implicit in Genesis but made explicit in the New Testament passages that look back to the creation of man and woman in Genesis 2.  Man stands in a position of inescapable headship with his indispensable equal and partner wife.  Consider 1 Corinthians 11:3—“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Chris tis God.”  Now, in the context of 1 Corinthians 11, Paul is not addressing roles in marriage or leadership and submission as such.  But his appeal to Genesis 2 throughout the passage clearly establishes a structure to the marriage relationship.  We see the same more clearly expressed in the marriage relationship in Eph. 5:22-33.  So, not only can a male falsify or tarnish his claim to manhood by avoiding or abusing a relationship with women, he also falsifies or tarnishes his claim to “manhood” when he abdicates his role while in the marriage relationship.  By definition, part of what it means to be a man is to be a “head,” to be out front, top most, a leader.  Biblical men are leaders of their wives who like men are made in God’s glory .  That gracious gift of leadership God intends to use for the blessing of family, church, and society.

So, basically “manhood” involves marrying a woman to lead, protect, and beautify her for life with love in Christ.  What am I missing?

[1] Waltke, Genesis, p. 88.

[2] Cited in Waltke, Genesis, p. 89.


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9 thoughts on “Some Basic Thoughts on Manhood: Women”

  1. Teren says:

    I have recently listened to Art Azurdia’s sermon series entitled “Focus on the Family in Light of the Gospel” in which he highlights the three-fold call in Ephesians 5 for a man to *love* his wife. My early life was heavily influenced by unbiblical patriarchal teaching in the area of male headship/leadership. God has used Art’s messages in my life to free me from many of the unbiblical expectations that I had unconsciously placed on myself and my husband and to help me embrace the love that Brad lavishly gives to me.

    Most of the discussions I have heard on biblically ordered male/female relationships are rightly seeking to counter feminism’s agenda. I hadn’t realized how far to the right of center my own pendulum swung so I’m adding this perspective to the conversation.

    Blessings to you and yours!

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Teren!

      Great to hear from you, and thank you for joining the conversation! I pray you, Brad, and the family are well.

      It is interesting how often women in the marriage develop inordinate expectations for their husband’s leadership. It can be a good need dialed up too high. And as you put it so well, sometimes sisters overlook the love and leadership that’s really there. Lord willing, a little more about that later this week.

      Thanks for the link.

      Love to the family,

  2. Dan Phillips says:

    Love everything about that picture.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:


  3. LG says:

    Brother, I love all of this in relation to married men. I love your emphasis on the dignity and importance of women. But where does our unmarried Savior fit into such a paradigm of manhood? I know you don’t believe marriage to be an essential to masculinity, nor that a woman’s Christian calling is unfulfilled if she remains unmarried, and I’d hate someone to come away from this article confused. Can you offer a note of clarification about that, or some counsel to unmarried men and women in working out their relationships with one another? If it’s coming up in a future article, feel free to ignore my query. Blessings on you.

  4. Josh Deng says:

    I think being 26 years old and 3 years into marriage counts me as a young’un, but I agree with everything you said. Great quotes and picture!

  5. Of course your comments on this subject are gracious and judicious.

    30plus years of marriage grants me some real aprreciation for your words and insight into the most complex and blessed institution God ever gave.

    Can you explore a few other words as synonymous to “incompetent” used a few time to express the man problem?

    “In otherwords put some sugar in that penicillin?”

    And how does that analogously follow with Christ and the Church? Since with the first and last Adam we are speaking of both fulfilling mandates and extending Gods glory through the man and the woman.

    You see my point? Was Christ incompetent until he recieved a bride to assist in the fulfilling of His Fathers will and unniversal glory?

    Blessings always

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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