God’s Design for Man and Woman:
A Biblical-Theological Survey
Andreas J. Köstenberger and Margaret E. Köstenberger
379 pp., paperback
Reviewed by Grant Castleberry
There have been a lot of books that have treated the subject of biblical manhood and womanhood from a loci method that handles exegetical and theological issues topically and in a very didactic and polemical way. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by Wayne Grudem and John Piper and Köstenberger’s own, God, Marriage, and Family are two that come quickly to mind.
What has not been produced, until now, is a theological treatment of biblical manhood and womanhood that builds and establishes the biblical teaching of manhood and womanhood through biblical progression. This is exactly what Drs. Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger have done in this volume. And who better to do it than theological heavyweights (Dr. Andreas Köstenberger is a world-renowned New Testament scholar and Dr. Margaret Köstenberger is one of the foremost experts on feminism and feminist theology). They have started with God’s design for men and women in Genesis and have shown how the design progresses and is further established through the covenants and the biblical storyline, all the way through the Bible. Of course, as they argue, this method should not be seen as contrary to the topical approach, but rather the biblical-theological approach to manhood and womanhood should be the basis for our systematic conclusions about what it means to be a man and a woman.
The opening chapter, “God’s Original Design and Its Corruption,” is alone worth the price of the book. It begins with a helpful overview of the creation narrative and then launches into the connection between the Creation Mandate and image bearing in Genesis 1:26-28. The Köstenbergers conclude that to properly understand the meaning of the imago dei, we must understand it in terms of man’s and woman’s functionally-given “role to rule the earth” (29). To “subdue” and “rule” the earth requires sexual complementarity and not homosexuality, thus “God delegated to humanity as male and female the power to rule and to procreate. He put humans on the earth to take care of it for him, requiring them to reproduce as male and female” (31). There is then a very comprehensive treatment of what God’s design is for both the man and the woman in carrying out this mandate, with the man charged with the responsibility of leading in the family and the woman assisting or helping. A large amount of exegetical data and explanation is given to show that the role of ezer or helper in no way makes the woman inferior to man, rather “shows how significant and special the woman’s role toward the man really is” (39). The Köstenbergers also persuasively show that God’s design for the roles of man and woman were not instituted at the curse, but before the curse. Certainly the curse has brought pain and confusion to the meaning of manhood and womanhood as polygamy, adultery, divorce, and homosexuality are all seen as results of the fall (53-56).
The next chapter deals with the development of manhood and womanhood across the “patriarchs, kings, priests, and prophets.” This chapter was very intriguing as the Köstenbergers flesh out the role and meaning of masculine headship in the Old Testament as one of responsibility, “rather than the exercise of power” (75). They also address the treatment of women in the Old Testament, showing that the Old Testament’s treatment of women is much more favorable than some would argue, and that God’s design for both women and men, though tainted by sin, is good and awaiting the redemption of Christ.
Chapter three focuses on the manhood of Jesus and how Jesus embodied the imago dei for both men and women. The Köstenbergers further flesh out manhood and womanhood according to the teachings and examples of Jesus (there is a lengthy discussion of how manhood and womanhood are exhibited in Jesus’s parables), his twelve disciples, and his other female disciples. They argue that it is especially important to note that Jesus establishes male leadership for the church, by choosing twelve men as his apostles, and he also places a huge priority and value of the role of women in discipleship and the life of the kingdom.
The Köstenbergers then move on to the early church focusing on many of the men and women that advanced the New Testament church that are mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letters. Particularly helpful is the focus on the women that Paul interacted with: Chloe, Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Eudia, and Syntyche among others.
Chapter five tackles Paul’s teaching on manhood and womanhood to the churches. One of the unique aspects of this study is how Paul is shown to be using Genesis 1 and 2 for his framework in Galatians 3:28, Galatians 6:15, 1 Corinthians 11:7-9, 2 Corinthians 5:17, and Ephesians 5:31. For Paul manhood and womanhood is seen as being developed redemptively in Christ, “God’s image…which was imprinted on humanity as male and female in the beginning, and which was distorted at the fall, is now, in Christ, being restored to its original beauty, wisdom, goodness, and glory” (161). The rest of chapter five is filled with important discussions on head coverings and prophecy in 1 Corinthians and the egalitarian construct of mutual submission in Ephesians 5.
Chapter six moves along to the pastoral epistles. The Köstenbergers spend a lengthy time in chapter six discussing Paul’s general framework for establishing men as the authoritative teachers of the church. They argue that in Paul’s prohibition that women not teach or have authority over a man in 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul is speaking broadly for general practice in the church and no longer addressing the false teaching that he was warning against in 1 Timothy 1 (202-204). This is not a geographic construct for Paul or even a cultural one, but again is rooted in Paul’s theology of creation and fall, as Paul grounds his reasoning for prohibiting women from teaching in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 in that Adam and Eve “subverted the creation order” as Adam acted passively and Eve usurped Adam’s leadership by acting independently (211-212). They then move on to the difficult verse of 1 Timothy 2:15 arguing that “childbearing” is a synecdoche representing the woman’s domestic role in the life of the family and that sózó is referring to sanctification and final salvation, not justification (214-127). Further discussion in this chapter is given to the role of elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3, with an argument given for women holding the office of deacon (227-230).
In chapter seven, the general epistles and Revelation are examined, and then in chapter eight the Köstenbergers begin to synthesize the meaning of manhood and womanhood in light of the biblical-theological unfolding of redemption. This chapter puts the reader on a biblical trajectory for implementing the principles of manhood and womanhood by giving some application points and summarizing thoughts.
This book is one of the most important books written on manhood and womanhood in a long time. In fact, when recommending books on manhood and womanhood, this one is at the top of my list now along with Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It is a fascinating read, in large part, because it follows the Bible’s storyline. Once I started reading it, I literally could not put it down and finished it in two days. I was constantly kept in anticipation—what are they going to say in the next chapter about the Old Testament patriarchs and then in the next one about Jesus’s teaching on manhood and womanhood? Since their method is to move with the Bible’s storyline, when they do tackle issues, the reader is presented with the canonical context of the passage, which sheds a lot of light on the exegesis of individual passages.
The strengths of this book are the treatment of Genesis 1-3, Jesus’ view of manhood and womanhood, and then Paul’s treatment of manhood and womanhood in the church epistles and general epistles. Also, there are three appendices that alone are worth the price of the book (I know I said that earlier about their chapter on Genesis 1-2, but I mean it, they really are — they are that good!). The first, I presume put together by Dr. Margaret Köstenberger, summarizes the “three waves” of feminism and addresses both the positives and negatives of each feminist movement. Since the average reader probably is unaware of the evolution of feminism and feminist theology, this appendix is solid gold. Then in Appendix 2, there is an insightful discussion of hermeneutics and how to do biblical theology, which is really well done, and could serve as an entryway into biblical theology for many readers. Finally, Appendix 3 is very helpful because it paves the way forward for theological discussion regarding manhood and womanhood by fleshing out methodology, presuppositions, and epistemology.
I loved the summary statements that the Köstenbergers make regarding the patriarchs, and how they balance the tension of the fallenness of the practice of polygamy with the love and care that these same patriarchs exhibited towards their wives and vice versa. However, the chapter on the patriarchs, kings, priests, and the prophets is the shortest in the book, and I think the weakest because of it. The chapter makes accurate assessments and synthesizes the rest of the Old Testament well, but I was left wanting to read more about different characters in the Old Testament and how they did or did not exercise biblical manhood and womanhood. That would probably be an exhaustive study that could drag on, but yet, when the chapter ended I was left wanting more. I was also surprised to see that the wisdom literature was not handled, because I think there is a lot there (in the Psalms, Proverbs, and in the Song of Solomon and Esther particularly) that adds significantly to the biblical story of what it means to be a man or a woman.
That being said, I greatly appreciate the Köstenbergers’ tone, which is winsome and caring, which the church absolutely must be when dealing with any issue, but especially this one. You can tell that they really want their readers to grasp the content by how the content is explained simply, footnoted carefully with many helpful ideas for future study, and formatted logically. One of the features that I was really impressed with, was all the charts of biblical data within the book that gave the reader a visual way to connect different verses and people together that the Köstenbergers compare. I counted in the Table of Contents, and there are literally 55 charts — all scattered throughout the book. I think much could be said about the great job Crossway did here, laying out the material in a helpful, presentable way!
Right now gender and sexuality is the hot-button issue in the church and culture. Therefore, there really could not have been a better book for this time or a better time for this book. This is not just another book on manhood and womanhood, this is THE book on manhood and womanhood that needs a wide reading, because it speaks to manhood and womanhood on the Bible’s own terms and along the Bible’s storyline. When the Köstenbergers do give some application points and theological synthesis in chapter eight, it comes as a breath of fresh air, because it flows out of the unfolding story of the Bible. The book is thorough enough to demand a careful reading from theologians and pastors and simple and straight-forward enough to gain a wide audience across the church. Indeed, I hope it does, because the church desperately needs men and women, who know and practice biblical manhood and womanhood. I give the book my highest endorsement and urge you not to walk, but run to your bookstore and purchase it!
*This review was originally posted at Books at a Glance.
Grant Castleberry is Executive Director for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He is also a M.Div. student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Captain in the Marine Corps. He and his family live in Louisville, KY. You can follow him on Twitter @grcastleberry.
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