According to the Bible, women have a unique privilege that men do not share. Likewise, Scripture points to one privilege that women do not have access to but that men possess. And these two privileges are:
Only women can give birth
Only men can be elders in a church
Creating with God
Being created in God’s image, humans create. We make culture, whether it’s agriculture or social culture. We create. And yet one sex shares a privilege that no male can enjoy: to create new life in the womb like God creates new life.
No male can pursue such closeness to God; no male is able to create new life within himself. This privilege is reserved for women alone. So Eve was named Eve, or Havah, a Hebrew word that derives from the Hebrew word for life (Gen 3:20). Havah (life) is the mother of all living.
She creates in her womb and is the mother of life. In so doing, she imitates God who is creator and life (See Ps 36:9). And does so in a unique way that no male can emulate.
Under-Shepherding for God
Adam failed to protect the garden from evil because he let the serpent slither in and deceive the mother of all living. The serpent and sin defiled the garden temple, and so God exiled humanity from the garden in Eden.
In the providence of God, men once again protect the holy place from evil. But they do so as elders in the church. As Paul says with crystal clear clarity: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Tim 2:12).
Men function as under-shepherds of the great shepherd (Heb 13:20). Women do not have a share in this privilege.
Is creating new life and eldering mutually exclusive to the genders? Not entirely. Men engage in sex with women and male seed contributes to new life. Likewise, women contribute to the role of eldership by teaching, by equipping, and by serving many capacities. Priscilla certainly contributed to Paul’s apostolic mission. She and Aquila even set Apollos straight in Acts 18.
And yet: the Bible clearly articulates that only men can function in the role of an elder who dogmatically preaches in the church. Likewise, the Bible (and biology) clearly teaches that only women share the privilege of creating new life in their wombs.
But Not All Give Birth?
And not all lead as elders. The two genders have a unique way to serve God. And yet not every man becomes an elder, and not every woman becomes a mother. And this is okay. The genders have unique privileges, and, generally speaking, it’s good for each gender to pursue their respective privileges.
Women can pursue motherhood and all that this privilege tends to, namely, the Christian virtue of nurturing the helpless (infants). And yet those who are not mothers can also nurture the helpless whether that be an infant or an impoverished person.
Likewise, men should pursue the virtues that tend towards eldership, namely, being able to teach, being hospitable, being kind, etc.
There is always overlap, as the two genders can mutually enrich and teach each other how to pursue what is good, honorable, and right. Men must nurture; women must lead. But each according to the grace God has given them and in proper order.
Human flourishing means pursuing good things to live a godly life (well, that’s what I mean by it). It’s a trendy word. But I think it sums up the Bible’s message on gender well. Men and women should pursue human flourishing by doing what tends towards their gender’s unique privileges.
If creating and nurturing life is what it means to be a mother, then women ought to pursue those ends in various ways (helping the poor, teaching people how to organize finances, equipping people to do just acts, etc.). Men should learn from women and do likewise.
If leading and protecting is what it means to be an elder, then men should pursue the virtues that tend towards being an elder, namely, the virtues listed in 1 Timothy 3.
Men and women each possess a unique privilege which in God’s providence provides concrete examples of how to pursue human flourishing according to their gender. If the phrase human flourishing is tripping you up, replace the phrase with the word godliness. Because all real flourishing is imitating God.
And we can do so by pursuing the concrete goals of motherhood (or what motherhood involves because not all women are mothers) and eldership (or what eldership involves because not all men are elders).
I owe the use of the language of privilege to Alice von Hildebrand’s The Privilege of Being a Woman.