Divine Design: God's Complementary Roles for Men and Women

Divine Design: God's Complementary Roles for Men and Women

by John MacArthur, Jr.


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Divine Design: God's Complementary Roles for Men and Women by John MacArthur, Jr.

For decades our culture has tried to blur the lines between men and women, to make gender irrelevant, all in the name of equality. It’s a message that has slowly infiltrated our marriages, our homes, and even our churches. Yet instead of creating harmony, this message has only caused confusion, ultimately leading to a tragic breakdown of relationships and families.
Divine Design calls us back to God’s original intent for men and women. Clearing away the cultural noise and misconceptions, author John MacArthur tackles big issues such as authority in marriage, mothers in the home, and God’s view of equality, all while exploring the innate differences between men and women. Throughout, Divine Design provides an indispensable guide for understanding your mate, and shares how embracing your unique design can foster security, balance, and love in a marriage and family.
Includes a guide for both personal and group study and features discovery questions, suggestions for prayer, and activities, all designed to connect life-changing truths with everyday living. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780781405881
Publisher: David C Cook
Publication date: 10/01/2011
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,293,013
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

John MacArthur, Jr. is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, president of The Master’s College and Seminary, and featured teacher with the “Grace to You” media ministry. With over four decades in the ministry, MacArthur has written dozens of bestselling books, including The MacArthur Study Bible and The Gospel According to Jesus.

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David C. Cook

Copyright © 2012 John MacArthur Jr.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7814-0588-1



As our country prepared to enter a new decade, the cover of the December 4, 1989, issue of TIME magazine declared, "Women Face the '90s: In the '80s they tried to have it all. Now they've just plain had it. Is there a future for feminism?" In the cover article, the writer, Claudia Wallis, asked, "Is the feminist movement—one of the great social revolutions of contemporary history—truly dead? Or is it merely stalled and in need of a little consciousness raising?" Wallis claimed it wasn't dead, just in transition.

When faced with a myriad of setbacks in the 1980s, including the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, the more radical elements of the women's movement lost their voice, and others were forced to moderate their position. Even Betty Friedan, the movement's leading advocate, was pressured to declare herself in favor of the nuclear family.

While the extremists of the movement and their more outlandish positions—such as the abolition of marriage and the exaltation of lesbianism—no longer command the attention they once did, the damage to our society has been done and continues to be felt today. George Gilder, author of Men and Marriage, wrote:

Though rejecting feminist politics and lesbian posturing, American culture has absorbed the underlying ideology like a sponge. The principle tenets of sexual liberation or sexual liberalism—the obsolescence of masculinity and femininity, of sex roles, and of heterosexual monogamy as the moral norm—have diffused through the system and become part of America's conventional wisdom.

Taught in most of the nation's schools and colleges and proclaimed insistently in the media, sexual liberalism prevails even where feminism—at least in its anti-male rhetoric—seems increasingly irrelevant.

Unfortunately, the church is in the process of soaking up some of the same ideology. More and more undiscerning believers are falling prey to the feminist agenda. I am amazed at how many evangelical churches, schools, and even seminaries are jettisoning doctrines they once defended as biblical truths. Within evangelical Christianity there is an organizational counterpart to the feminist movement called Christians for Biblical Equality that opposes any unique leadership role for men in the family and the church. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, in the introduction of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, described the supporters of this organization:

These authors differ from secular feminists because they do not reject the Bible's authority or truthfulness, but rather give new interpretations of the Bible to support their claims. We may call them "evangelical feminists" because by personal commitment to Jesus Christ and by profession of belief in the total truthfulness of Scripture they still identify themselves very clearly with evangelicalism. Their arguments have been detailed, earnest, and persuasive to many Christians.

What has been the result? Great uncertainty among evangelicals. Men and women simply are not sure what their roles should be....

The controversy shows signs of intensifying, not subsiding. Before the struggle ends, probably no Christian family and no evangelical church will remain untouched.

While many in our culture are still attempting to remove feminist ideals from the mainstream of society, the church has allowed access to those same ideals within her hallowed walls. But we shouldn't be surprised, because the feminist attack on the people of God is as old as man. Feminism began in the garden when Eve, who we could call the first feminist, listened to Satan's lies, stepped out from under Adam's authority, acted independently, and led the human race into sin.

Satan's goal from the start has been to overthrow God's design for His elect. That's why it's so tragic when the church is duped into helping him carry out his assault on God. What ought to be the strongest bastion of the truth of God is falling fast to the march of the feminist army. Those of us who hold to the integrity of God's Word cannot let it fall victim to the warped society around us.

Scripture is very clear about the place God has designed for men and women in society, in the family, and in the church. And it is to Scripture we must turn to reaffirm the wonders of God's design.

God's Perfect Design

Any examination of the role of men and women in God's design must begin with an understanding of Genesis 1—3. The key verses in those chapters provide a foundation for the texts we will examine in future chapters.

God's Image-Bearers as Coregents

Genesis 1:27–28 gives the account of the creation of man and woman:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; 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 rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

Notice two important things in that account. First, God created both man and woman in His image. Not just man, but woman also was made in God's image. Like God, each has a rational personality. Men and women alike possess intellect, emotion, and will, by which they are able to think, feel, and choose. Humanity was not, however, created in God's image as perfectly holy and unable to sin. Nor were man and woman created in His image essentially. They have never possessed His supernatural attributes, such as omniscience, omnipotence, immutability, or omnipresence. People are only human, not at all divine.

Author J. David Pawson reminded us that the male-female equality of creation in God's image also "does not mean interchangeability. A cylinder head and a crankcase may be of the same material, size, weight, and cost—but they cannot be exchanged."

Second, God blessed them as man and woman in verse 28: "God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply ... fill the earth ... subdue it; and rule.'" The man and woman were coregents: God gave both Adam and Eve the task to rule together over the lower creation.

The Perfect Relationship

Genesis 2:7 describes the creation of man in greater detail: "The LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." This verse is vital to our discussion, because it states that God created man first and in a significantly different manner than woman.

Genesis 2:18–23 expands on 1:27–28, adding some pertinent details in the process. After placing man in the garden of Eden and commanding him to cultivate it and not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (2:15–17), God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him" (v. 18). So He created Eve to assist Adam in ruling an undefiled world: "The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man" (vv. 21–22).

Upon meeting his wife, awestruck Adam declared, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man" (v. 23). Immediately Adam recognized her as his perfect companion. He saw no blemishes or shortcomings in her, because both her character and his attitude were pure. There was nothing to criticize in Eve, and there was no critical spirit in Adam.

The chapter concludes, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed" (vv. 24–25). They were unashamed because no evil, impure, or perverse thoughts could exist in their perfect state.

Since man was created first, he was given headship over the woman and creation. The fact that Adam named Eve—a privilege bestowed on those who had authority in the Old Testament—manifested his authority over her. But their original relationship was so pure and perfect that his headship over her was a manifestation of his consuming love for her, and her submission to him was a manifestation of her consuming love for him. No selfishness or self-will marred their relationship. Each lived for the other in perfect fulfillment of their created purpose and under God's perfect provision and care.

Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., former professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, explained succinctly the paradox of these two accounts:

Was Eve Adam's equal? Yes and no. She was his spiritual equal and ... "suitable for him." But she was not his equal in that she was his "helper." God did not create man and woman in an undifferentiated way, and their mere maleness and femaleness identify their respective roles. A man, just by virtue of his manhood, is called to lead for God. A woman, just by virtue of her womanhood, is called to help for God.

How do evangelical feminists fix Genesis 2 to accommodate their prejudice? Specifically, how do they deal with the phrase "helper suitable for him"? Aída Besançon Spencer, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, claimed that the Hebrew word neged, which could be translated "in front of" or "in sight of," seems to suggest superiority or equality. Ortlund, on the other hand, said that neged is accurately paraphrased as "a helper corresponding to him," hence the translation "suitable." Spencer boldly concluded that "God created woman to be 'in front of' or 'visible' to Adam, which would symbolize equality (if not superiority!) in all respects. Even more, one can argue that the female is the helper who rules over the one she helps!"

God did not create Eve to be superior to Adam; neither did He design her to be his slave. He gave them a perfect relationship: man as the head willingly providing for her, and she willingly submitting to him. Adam saw Eve as one with him in every respect; that was God's design for a perfectly glorious union.

Sin and the Curse

But something terrible happened to God's beautiful design. Genesis 3:1–7 describes the first sin:

The serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'" The serpent said to the woman, "You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

Bypassing the leadership of the man, the serpent went after the woman, who was by design the follower. He promised Eve that if she ate the forbidden fruit she would not die as God had warned, but that, in fact, she would become a god herself (vv. 4–5). He succeeded in enticing her to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. She in turn persuaded Adam to commit the same sin, thereby making Satan's attack on Adam's headship a success.

Eve sinned not only by disobeying God's specific command but also by acting independently of her husband by failing to consult him about the serpent's temptation. Adam sinned not only by disobeying God's command but also by succumbing to Eve's usurpation of his leadership, thus failing to exercise his God-given authority. Both the man and the woman twisted God's plan for their relationship, reversing their roles—and marriage has not been the same since.

Ortlund made a perceptive observation: "Isn't it striking that we fell upon an occasion of sex role reversal? Are we to institutionalize it in evangelicalism in the name of the God who condemned it in the beginning?"

Elements of the Curse

Adam and Eve's sin precipitated a curse that affects the most basic elements of life:

• Death (Gen. 2:17): God warned Adam, "In the day that you eat from [the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil] you will surely die."

• Pain in childbearing (3:16): The wonderful reality and joy of having a child would be somewhat overshadowed by the anguish of childbirth.

• Strenuous work (3:17–19): Man was cursed with hard work, trouble, and frustration in eking out a living to provide for his family.

• Strife in marriage (3:16): As a consequence of Eve's disobedience and her failure to consult Adam about the serpent's temptation, God told her, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." I believe that aspect of the curse predicts marital strife brought on by a husband's oppressive rule over his wife and a wife's desire to dominate and lead their relationship (an interpretation suggested by Susan Foh in Women and the Word of God).

The Hebrew word translated "rule" means "to reign." In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) the word used means "to elevate to an official position." It's as if God were saying to the woman, "You were once coregents, wonderfully ruling together as a team, but from now on the man is installed over you." That was not in God's original plan for man's headship. Although Scripture doesn't give us enough information to be dogmatic about what that rule means, the implication is that it represented a new, despotic authoritarianism.

The word desire in "your desire will be for your husband" is difficult to translate. It couldn't be sexual or psychological—both characterize Adam's desire for Eve before the fall. It is the same desire spoken of in the next chapter, however, where the identical Hebrew word is used. The term comes from an Arabic root that means "to compel," "to impel," "to urge," or "to seek control over." In Genesis 4:7 God essentially warned Cain, "Sin desires to control you, but you must master it." Sin wanted to master Cain, but God commanded Cain to master sin. Based on linguistic and thematic parallels between this verse and Genesis 3:16, the latter may be translated, "Your desire will be to control your husband, but he will rule over you." The curse on Eve was that woman's desire would henceforth be to usurp man's headship, yet he would resist that desire and subdue it through brutish means.

Effects of the Curse

With the fall and its curse came the distortion of woman's proper submissiveness and of man's proper authority. That is where the battle of the sexes began and where women's liberation movements and male chauvinism were born. Women have a sinful inclination to usurp man's authority, and men have a sinful inclination to put women under their feet. The divine decree that man would rule over woman in this way was part of God's curse on humanity. The unredeemed nature of both men and women is self-preoccupied and self- serving—characteristics that can only destroy rather than support harmonious relationships. Only a manifestation of grace in Christ through the filling of the Holy Spirit can restore the created order and harmony of proper submission in a relationship corrupted by sin.

Throughout history the most dominant distortion of relationships has occurred on the man's side. In most cultures of the ancient world, women were treated as little more than servants, and that practice is reflected in many parts of the world still today. Marcus Cato, the famous Roman statesman of the second century BC, wrote, "If you catch your wife in adultery, you can kill her with impunity; she, however, cannot dare to lay a finger on you if you commit adultery, nor is it the law." That reflects the extreme of male ruthlessness resulting from the curse and exhibits the perversion of roles and responsibilities God intends for husbands and wives.

Even in supposedly liberated societies, women are frequently viewed primarily as sex objects who exist for the sensual pleasures of men. Because modern man is inclined to see himself as merely a higher form of animal—with no divine origin, purpose, or accountability—he is even more disposed to treat other people simply as things to be used for his own pleasure and advantage.

On the other hand, in today's society, it is feminine aggression that is taking its place as the dominant expression of the curse. Modern feminists are beginning to assert their rebellion against the divine order by mimicking the very worst traits of fallen males—brutality, cruelty, love of power, and a swaggering, macho arrogance.

While Satan's initial attack on God's supreme creation corrupted the family, sin also ushered in widespread alien, divisive influences. The book of Genesis catalogs fratricide (4:8), polygamy (4:19, 23), evil sexual thoughts and words (9:22), adultery (16:1–4), homosexuality (19:4–11), fornication and rape (34:1–2), incest (38:13–18), prostitution (38:24), and seduction (39:7–12)—each of which directly attacks the sanctity and harmony of marriage and the family.

Satan knows by experience that when the home is weakened, all of society is weakened, because the heart of all human relationships is the family. The curse hits humanity at the core of its most-needed human relationship: the need for men and women to help each other live productive, meaningful, and happy lives. But the rebellion against the divine order has promoted serving and indulging self as the key to finding meaning and happiness in life. Our culture encourages men and women to feel free to express sexual desire however they want—through promiscuity, unfaithfulness in marriage, partner swapping, homosexuality, bestiality, or whatever. When they take that deceptive bait, they join Satan in undermining and destroying every meaningful and truly satisfying relationship in their lives, receiving destruction and disease as the duly God-ordained consequence of such sins.


Excerpted from DIVINE DESIGN by JOHN MACARTHUR. Copyright © 2012 John MacArthur Jr.. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part One: The Attack on God's Design,
1 Creation to Corruption,
2 The Case for Authority and Submission,
Part Two: God's Design for Marriage,
3 Marriage as It Was Meant to Be,
4 The Excellent Wife at Work,
5 A Different Place in God's Plan,
Part Three: God's Design for the Church,
6 The Church's Leading Men,
7 God's High Call for Women,
8 The Character of Service,
9 For the Sake of the Kingdom,
Discussion Guide,

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Divine Design: God's Complementary Roles for Men and Women 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Katescene91 More than 1 year ago
MacArthur is clearly a complimentarian; created equally in the image of God but with different roles as male and female. I used this book to write a paper for my Women's Ministry classes and found it to be a great resource.  I do not believe MacArthur is saying women are only to work within the home because that is not Biblical (Prov. 31, Phoebe in Acts). However, there are specific roles that God has created for men and women and MacArthur  articulates those roles very well.  If you are looking for a great resource on gender roles and complimentarianiam then buy Divine Design. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Don't discount this book based on the cover, read it end to end.
tallTale More than 1 year ago
Why am I not surprised a man wrote this? The author clearly thinks women are better in the home as wives and mothers than out in the work force. What in reality should happen is he should realize either parents can make the decision to be a home maker or goto work. Trying to restrict what anyone wants or doesn't want leads to unhappiness in life. A waste of a book, I would skip this one.  If a woman wants to be a home maker great, but using the bible to tell her do doesn't want her to be in the work force is a backwards step in an equal society. Also the author must not be well researched in what science actually says not he difference between the sexes. That they are miniscule in terms on brain cognition! There was just a ted talk on this. That the biggest gap between men and women was in language and the difference showed that only 33% of men were worse than women. That was the biggest gap! Don't bother.