In the postmodern world, few topics invite as much controversy as discussions of gender. Adding a religious dimension makes the concept even more prone to distortion and emotional reactions. Some of what the Bible says about men and women, how they relate, and what God’s expectations are for them may run contrary to our preferences. Those ideas may conflict with our cultures, upbringing, or the opinions of our peers. And yet the definition of biblical manhood (and womanhood) is exactly that: biblical, not opinion-driven.
All the same, even within Christianity, there is significant debate over the best way to apply the Bible’s concepts of manhood and womanhood. How to live out the unique, God-given roles of men and women isn’t quite so easy in practice as it is in theory. So, rather than attempt a detailed explanation of every aspect of biblical manhood, our intent here is only to highlight the topic in broad strokes.
Biblical manhood can be boiled down to five basic principles, which each man is expected to conform to. These are 1) humility before his God, 2) control of his appetites, 3) protecting his family, 4) providing for his family, and 5) leading his family. Men who fail to meet these expectations are not behaving as “men,” biblically speaking, but as something less noble (Psalm 49:20). Some good examples of biblical manhood in Scripture are Daniel, Caleb, Joshua, Paul, and, of course, Jesus.
Men and women are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27), something no other creature can claim. This makes every single human being valuable and worthy of respect. And yet males and females are not identical. We are biologically, psychologically, and emotionally distinct. This is not in any sense a bad thing; God called His original creation, which included distinct genders, “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Biblical manhood must include a godly view of women. Mistreatments of women such as forbidding education, sexual abuse, or denying civil rights are violations of the image-of-God principle. So, too, are attitudes that ignore meaningful differences between the sexes or erase gender roles.
Critically, note those things that Scripture does not include as part of biblical manhood. Men are not called to be tyrants, ruling a home with an iron fist and a dictator’s attitude. Nor are they instructed to be cowed and weak-kneed toward their families. Nor are men called on to enforce, in any sense, the biblical ideals of womanhood in their wives. Humility, self-control, protection, provision, and leadership are the man’s responsibilities and his tools. Men are accountable for spiritual leadership within their families, yet each person is ultimately accountable to God for his or her own life.
The proper perspective for this leadership comes from Ephesians 5:25–32. The goal of every believer’s life is to become more and more like Christ (Romans 8:29). For men in their God-given role, this means leading and loving their wives in the same way Christ loved the church: sacrificially (Ephesians 5:2), through service (John 13:14–15), and in selfless love (Ephesians 5:28). Just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal yet serve different roles, so, too, can men and women be equal in value and in spiritual worth yet have different roles to play.
The fundamental requirement for biblical manhood is a proper relationship with God (Micah 6:8). This informs and empowers every other responsibility a man has in his life. Humility means an acknowledgement of his imperfection (Romans 3:23), acceptance of Christ for salvation (2 Peter 3:9), and a continual sense of dependence on God (1 Peter 5:7; Hebrews 13:15). A godly man will study, learn, and understand the will of God (Matthew 6:33; Romans 12:2) through the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12). This gives him the tools to meet all of his other obligations; it does not automatically make his life biblically sound (1 Corinthians 3:2).
Knowing what God wants is only the first step, as biblical manhood also requires submission to that knowledge. Men are called on to control their urges and appetites (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5), relying on God to overcome temptations (1 Corinthians 10:13). Men, according to the Bible, are not to twist the Scripture in order to get their way (Mark 7:8–9) or to match their own preferences (Proverbs 14:12). Instead, they are to follow God’s commands (Proverbs 1:7) instead of their own urges (Romans 6:12; 1 Peter 1:14). This includes the other requirements of biblical manhood, which can be difficult to apply in a humble, godly way.
Biblical manhood includes the responsibility to protect one’s family. This may mean physically, to the point of laying down his life (Ephesians 5:25). In the Bible, men are called to fight to protect their wives and children (Nehemiah 4:13–14); women are never called to do the same for their husbands. This also involves spiritual protection—consider that Eve sinned first, but Adam was blamed for failing to lead her (Genesis 3:11, 17). Men are instructed to “honor” their wives as a “weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7), a phrase that in context invokes something precious, expensive, and valuable. Protecting one’s spouse and family from harm, both spiritual and physical, should be a natural instinct for Christian men.
Men are also called to be the primary providers for their families. Obviously, this can take different forms, and particular circumstances can change who contributes to family finances. Unemployment, illness, injury, and so forth are circumstances, not deliberate arrangements. Adam’s punishment at the fall was increased pain in his primary responsibility within the family, which was to be a provider (Genesis 3:17–19). Passages such as 1 Timothy 5:9 describe support for widows but not for widowers. Rather, it is men who are singled out to provide for their own families, in the clearest of terms (1 Timothy 5:8). Repeatedly, the Bible calls on men to provide and for women to care for the home.
The role of leader, both within the church and within a marriage, is also part of biblical manhood. This requirement originates even before the fall, where Adam and Eve shared equality in differing responsibilities (Romans 12:4–5). It is also seen in Adam’s naming of Eve (Genesis 2:23), an act which symbolizes authority. As already referenced, Christ has to be the model for this type of leadership. A man is called to lead through love, through service, and through sacrifice. This is not a domineering leadership or a repressive arrogance. Male leadership in the home and in the church is meant to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church.
Of course, these principles of biblical manhood are easier to understand than to apply. Our fallen nature leads us to resist God’s will (Hebrews 3:15), even when we don’t reject it outright (Romans 7:23–25). Biblical manhood is particularly important, however, as a fundamental part of living out God’s commands. There is nothing “manly,” worthwhile, or commendable about a male who shirks these responsibilities (Proverbs 19:1; 29:1). Nor is there anything admirable about a society that despises the characteristics of a godly man (Jude 1:10).