Relationships and Roles in the New Creation

Mark David Walton

In an earlier article, I set out to answer the question of whether resurrected saints will be distinguished as male and female in the new creation.1 The weight of evidence, both biblical and logical, convincingly suggests that gender is central to our personal identity and shall remain an integral characteristic of our lives for eternity-a conclusion that is scarcely controversial. (Most of us, after all, are quite comfortable with our gender, and would regard the prospect of change in that department as . . . well . . . unsettling.)

Considerably more controversial, however, than the question of "what we shall be" in the new creation is the question of "what we shall do." Given that gender identity will remain, is there evidence that functional distinctions will likewise remain in the new creation? Will resurrected saints as male and female have gender-specific roles? How will we relate to one another? Will male headship apply? Initial responses will likely depend on whether such questions are approached from a complementarian or egalitarian perspective. Complementarians, who view male headship and gender-specific roles as part of God's original plan for creation (and for the present age as well) are more likely to answer these questions in the affirmative.2 Functional distinctions will remain. Egalitarians, on the other hand, who view male headship and functional distinctions as a result of the edenic fall-and therefore as being inappropriate to mature Christendom-are likely to reject such a notion as inconsistent with the Kingdom ideal of equality for all. Which view is correct? Does it matter?

It does indeed. Though few if any would presume to suggest that their eschatology might actually influence the manner of our Lord's return, or somehow alter "the times or epochs which the Father has fixed by his own authority" (Acts 1:7 NASB),3 our concept of life in the new creation is profoundly important for several reasons. It is important, first, because our view of the life to come in the new creation is a vision of the ideal that shapes our worldview. To an extent probably unrealized by most of us, our attitudes, actions, and decisions in this life are profoundly influenced by our concept of life-or lack thereof-after death.

It matters, second, because how one understands life in the new creation guides our present-day preparations for the life to come. Randy Alcorn observes that Jonathan Edwards understood this principle and encouraged others to follow it: "It becomes us to spend this life only as a journey toward heaven . . . to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life. Why should we labor for or set our hearts on anything else, but that which is our proper end and true happiness."4 It may indeed be true, as C. S. Lewis has suggested, "that the joys of Heaven are . . . ‘an acquired taste'-and certain ways of life may render the taste impossible of acquisition."5 None of this is to suggest, of course, that Christians should abandon clear biblical guidelines for life in the present age in pursuit of eschatological ideals-an error Wayne Grudem refers to as "over-realized eschatology."6 But, if Lewis is correct, we would do well to begin now ordering our lives in such a way as to acquire a "taste" for things to come.

It matters, finally, and perhaps most significantly, because the answer to the question of functional distinctions in the new creation is-to use an analogy from football-like the three-hundred-pound lineman that everyone wants on their team. Evangelical complementarians and egalitarians alike should very much like to find in the doctrine of the new creation a strong defense of their respective positions, though, as we shall see, the "new creation defense" disproportionately favors the complementarian view. Allow me to explain. There are some egalitarian interpreters who agree that the writers of the New Testament epistles, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, taught male headship and gender-based differentiation of roles for the original recipients of those epistles, indicating that complementarity is divinely sanctioned, at least under certain circumstances.7 If it can be demonstrated successfully that complementarity also will characterize the new creation, then the case for complementarity in the present age is disproportionately strengthened. Complementarity is not just an accommodation to the less-than-perfect conditions that prevailed during the first century. Rather, it is a divine principle weaved into the fabric of God's order for the universe. The burden of proof rests on the shoulders of the proponents of egalitarianism.8

The paragraphs that follow will offer evidence for complementarity among resurrected saints by examining the evidence for functional distinctions in two aspects of life in the new creation: relationships and gender-based distinctions of roles. Before turning to the positive evidence for functional distinction in the new creation, however, it is necessary to engage some of the flawed assumptions that influence the debate.

Flawed Egalitarian Assumptions about theNew Creation

Just beneath the surface of many of the arguments presented in support of the egalitarian agenda is the tacit assumption that life in the new creation will feature a perfect actualization of egalitarian ideals.9 Although traces of the assumption can be found in many egalitarian positions, it is readily discerned in three basic arguments offered by evangelical feminists.

Biblical Equality Requires an Egalitarian New Creation

At the very heart of the feminist movement is the conviction that there can be no true equality as long as gender-based differentiation of roles or responsibility remains. With only slight modification, evangelical feminists are of the same mind as their secular counterparts on this point.10 As long as there are positions within the home, church, or society that exclude women on the basis of gender, they maintain, inequality remains. Only where there is functional equivalence between the sexes does equality exist. At the same time, there is virtually universal agreement within evangelicalism that in the new creation, fairness and equality will at long last obtain. It would seem to follow, then, that gender-based differentiation of role or responsibility will have no place in the new creation. We might express this view in the form of a syllogism as follows:

(1) Functional equivalence is necessary to equality
(2) Equality is necessary to the new creation
(3) Functional equivalence is necessary to the new

If premises (1) and (2) are true, then it must follow that there will be functional equivalence in the new creation. Gender-based differentiation of roles and responsibilities will have no place in the new creation.

There is a problem, however, with the syllogism. The first premise is false because functional equivalence cannot be necessary to genuine equality. A biblical worldview understands that the locus of worth of a human life does not reside in any physical, emotional, or intellectual attribute or possession. Neither is it to be found in the individual's functionality or potential for productivity. The worth of each person is based upon the truth that he or she bears the imago dei, the image of God. To place the locus of human worth in any other attribute of our humanity is to deny the very thing that makes us unique among created beings. It is to deny the very thing that makes us human. We are equal because, male and female alike, we bear the image of God.

Feminists, both secular and evangelical, define equality in terms of functionality rather than ontologically-on the basis of being. They err by effectively reducing equality to "sameness,"11 and in so doing embrace one of liberalism's foundational concepts, namely, that parity is the social ideal.12 We can be certain, however, that the new creation will be characterized, not by sameness but by incredible diversity-diversity of abilities, diversity of gifts, and diversity of rewards. Alcorn, addressing the question of equality in the new creation, merits inclusion here:

All people are equal in worth, but they differ in gifting and performance. . . . Because God promises to reward people differently according to their differing levels of faithfulness in this life, we should not expect equality of possessions and positions. . . . There's no reason to believe we'll all be equally tall or strong or that we'll have the same gifts, talents, or intellectual capacities. If we all had the same gifts, they wouldn't be special. If you can do some things better than I can, and I than you, then we'll have something to offer each other. . . . diversity-not conformity-characterizes a perfect world.13

The new creation will, indeed, be a place where equality reigns-but not as feminists define the term. It will be equality as biblically defined, equality that has its basis in divinely established human worth.

The End of Marriage Means the End of Headship

When Jesus informed the Sadducees that in the resurrection, "they neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Matt 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:35), there is rather broad agreement that in so doing he declared earthly marriage to be temporal-a blessing and necessity for the present age, but one that will be needed no longer in the new creation.14 Many feminists, evangelical and otherwise, share in this consensus. However, in a rather bold extrapolation from the text, they find in Jesus' words here an end to male headship. Caroline Vander Stichele, for example, after citing the views of prominent feminist interpreters, summarizes their position by saying that "feminist interpreters stress that patriarchal marriage, not sexuality, is declared ‘no more' in the afterlife."15 Here, patriarchal marriage is seen as an icon of the whole oppressive, patriarchal system that is held to be responsible for much of the cruelty and repression of women across the centuries. The end of patriarchal marriage in the new creation means that women at long last will break free of the bonds of "male dominance" and gain the equal standing they deserve. It is not the prospect of gender in the new creation that many feminists and egalitarians would necessarily find troubling. It is rather the possibility that masculinity and femininity in some way might constitute a basis for headship and subordination in the context of new creation relationships that is simply inconceivable to the egalitarian mind.

The problem here is not the desire to be free of the cruelty and repression that undeniably has plagued countless women through the ages as a perversion of the divine order for man-woman relationships. Rather, the problem is that the feminist view confuses loving male headship with abusive male dominance. Clearly, there will be no place for abuse or dominance among the citizens of the heavenly Kingdom. But to deny the very concept of male headship in the new creation on the false assumption that it is incompatible with creation ideals is, at best, reckless theology. Of even greater concern, however, is the hermeneutic that must be employed in the interpretation of the biblical texts in order to justify such conclusions.

The New Creation in the Hermeneutics of  Egalitarianism

Feminists' views on the nature of equality and the concept of male headship are foreign to the plain sense of Scripture as traditionally interpreted. This, however, presents egalitarians (who claim to have a high view of Scripture) with a chronic conundrum, namely, how to reconcile passages that, at first glance, admit of an egalitarian interpretation with those that are plainly inconsistent with an egalitarian worldview. The answer, for many, is found in a hermeneutic that subordinates standard grammatico-historical exegesis to a variety of hermeneutical techniques that more easily accommodate egalitarian interpretations.16 One such technique, which Paul Felix refers to as "the principle of an interpretive center," selects a text or theme from Scripture as the starting point for all subsequent interpretation. The "interpretative center" thus becomes a sort of lens through which all other passages are measured, or, to change metaphors, a sort of key that is used to "unlock" the meaning of the text.17 Galatians 3:28, which declares that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus," often is used by feminists as an interpretative center that treats all other passages as subordinate. Employing this technique, passages like 1 Cor 11:3, which plainly present a hierarchy of headship, could not possibly mean that "man is the head of woman" because such an interpretation is not consonant with the chosen interpretive center.

Another hermeneutical technique employed by egalitarians, one especially germane to this discussion, is the "hermeneutic of cultural analysis" proposed and developed by William J. Webb. Webb finds within Scripture a "redemptive movement" that he views as the "most crucial component" for making contemporary application of the text "beyond its original-application framing."18 This redemptive movement in Scripture begins with what he terms "original creation patterns" and culminates in "new creation patterns" that can be seen in outline in key "in Christ" passages in the New Testament. According to Webb, the moral and social standards of the New Testament do not necessarily present a mature Christian ethic that transcends cultural relativism; rather, they present an intermediate Christian ethic that accommodates cultural inequities. Therefore, the moral and social ethic that should guide the lives of Christians today is not that of the New Testament; it is a higher, more mature ethic that observes the trend of the redemptive movement and extrapolates that trend forward to the present day. According to Webb, it is this forward extrapolation to "new-creation patterns" that should guide Christians until Christ returns. Webb asserts that, although "our lives are obviously rooted in the original creation in certain respects, it is ultimately the new understanding of community in Christ that should guide us to the eschaton."19

With qualifications, I agree. New-creation patterns certainly should point the way to genuine community in Christ. But here is where my agreement with Webb ends. New-creation patterns must not be taken as the ultimate authority on ethical and social matters-even those that pertain exclusively to the Christian home and community. To regard necessarily subjective conclusions about the new creation as in any sense normative or authoritative virtually eliminates biblical authority in any practical sense, and substitutes culturally-conditioned, subjective judgments for the objective truth of God's written word.20

I also must disagree with Webb on the content of that "new understanding of community in Christ."

[N]ew-creation theology transforms the status of all its participants-whether slaves, Greeks, Scythians or barbarians-into one of equality. Along these same lines, it calls for equality and relational renewal between men and women and as such heavily favors an egalitarian position. At the very least, the equality of new creation patterns encourages redemptive movement toward a profoundly reconfigured type of patriarchy-an ultra-soft patriarchy that retains only symbolic components of honor differential . . . . However, for those who find patriarchy and its primogeniture-type logic as culturally bound, the winds of equality carry the application one step further.21

Thus, Webb envisions a new creation that is thoroughly egalitarian. But is his vision built on careful study of the biblical revelation concerning the new creation, or is it an extrapolation into the eschaton of egalitarian ideals? The better approach seems to be to consider evidence that speaks directly to life in the new creation, and to develop conclusions on the basis of that evidence.

Evidence for Complementarity in the New Creation

Although Scripture does not speak directly to the question of the effect gender will have on the lives of resurrected believers in the new creation, it does offer sufficient evidence to affirm that gender will continue to be a significant aspect of our lives in the eschaton. As noted above, our investigation will consider the evidence to that end along two lines: relationships and  roles in the new creation. However, before it is possible to meaningfully address the question of functional distinctions in the new creation, it is necessary to identify some biblical principles to guide our interpretation of the evidence.

Historically, philosophy has exerted considerable influence on the way westerners have viewed life beyond the grave.22 The syncretism of Platonic dualism and Christian spirituality in the early centuries of Christianity gave rise to an asceticism that found the idea of a bodily resurrection and a material new creation unthinkable. Such thinking is reflected in the writings of the early second-century apologist, Justin Martyr, who wrote to defend the doctrine of the literal, bodily resurrection against its detractors. He describes their error as follows:

They who maintain the wrong opinion say that there is no resurrection of the flesh; giving as their reason that it is impossible that what is corrupted and dissolved should be restored to the same as it had been. And besides the impossibility, they say that the salvation of the flesh is disadvantageous; and they abuse the flesh, adducing its infirmities, and declare that it only is the cause of our sins, so that if the flesh, say they, rise again, our infirmities also rise with it. And such sophistical reasons as the following they elaborate: If the flesh rise again, it must rise either entire and possessed of all its parts, or imperfect. But its rising imperfect argues a want of power on God's part, if some parts could be saved, and others not; but if all the parts are saved, the body will manifestly have all its members. But is it not absurd to say that these members will exist after the resurrection from the dead, since the Savior said, "They neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but shall be as the angels in heaven?" And the angels, say they, have neither flesh, nor do they eat, nor have sexual intercourse; therefore there shall be no resurrection of the flesh. By these and such like arguments, they attempt to distract men from the faith. And there are some who maintain that even Jesus himself appeared only as spiritual, and not in flesh, but presented merely the appearance of flesh: these persons seek to rob the flesh of promise.23

Somewhat later, similar sentiments can be found in the apocryphal writings of John the Theologian:

And again I said: Lord, they die male and female, and some old, and some young, and some infants. In the resurrection what like shall they arise? And I heard a voice saying to me: Hear, righteous John. Just as the bees are, and differ not one from another, but are all of one appearance and one size, so also shall every man be in the resurrection. There is neither fair, nor ruddy, nor black, neither Ethiopian nor different countenances; but they shall all arise of one appearance and one stature. All the human race shall arise without bodies, as I told you that in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God.24

Thus, John the Theologian, like the heretics against whom Justin wrote, effectively denied the bodily resurrection of believers, and envisioned a rather homogenized, immaterial resurrection life. The basis for this denial of literal bodily resurrection, and the functions appropriate to a real body, ultimately is to be found in the deprecation of all that is material or "natural" as evil. Scripture, however, paints a very different portrait of the natural world as originally created, for God declared that it was good, very good (Gen 1:31). Contrary to the popular conception that resurrection life is more akin to a boring, ethereal existence, the opposite is true. The new creation will reveal that, as C. S. Lewis puts it, "it is the present life which is the diminution, the symbol, the etiolated, the (as it were) ‘vegetarian' substitute. If flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom, that is not because they are too solid, too gross, to distinct, too ‘illustrious with being.' They are too flimsy, too transitory, too phantasmal."25

The new creation, far from being nebulous and illusory, will be quite tangible and real. But what of its character? Where does one turn to gain some sense as to what the new creation will be like? The starting point for understanding the nature of the new creation is the original creation. Whatever else might be said of the new creation, it is fundamentally a return to and restoration of the conditions that prevailed prior to the fall of man and the consequent curse (Gen 3:17). The means whereby that restoration is effected is nothing less than the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ. Redemption in Christ comprises far more than the means for the redemption of man; redemption's effect reaches to the whole of creation. Al Wolters, in his classic presentation of a "reformational worldview," describes this cosmic dimension of redemption as "the recovery of creational goodness through the annulment of sin and the effort toward the progressive removal of its effects everywhere. We return to creation through the cross, because only the atonement deals with sin and evil effectively at their root."26 Just as sin's effect touches all of creation, so too does Christ's finished work of redemption (Rom 8:19-22). The new creation is, in essence, creation redeemed.

Wolters continues, noting that "what was formed in creation has been historically deformed by sin and must be reformed in Christ."27 But what is the nature of this "re-forming" of creation? Wolters suggests that reformation, here, is perhaps best understood in contrast with political revolution:

Revolution . . . is characterized by the following features, among others: (1) necessary violence, (2) the complete removal of every aspect of the established system, and (3) the construction of an entirely different societal order according to a theoretical ideal. The biblical principle of "reformation" opposes each of these three points. In the first place, reformation stresses the necessity of avoiding violence both in the ordinary sense of harming individuals with physical or psychological force and in the historical sense of wrenching and dislocating the social fabric. No matter how dramatic the new life in Jesus Christ may be, it does not seek to tear the fabric of a given historical situation. In the second place-and this is of particular importance-it recognizes that no given societal order is absolutely corrupt; thus, no societal order need ever be totally condemned. And in the third place, it does not place its confidence in blueprints and conceptions of the ideal society that have been arrived at by scientific speculation. Instead, it takes the given historical situation as its point of departure, mindful of the apostolic injunction to "test everything [and] hold fast to what is good" (1 Thess 5:21).28

In discussing the question of where new-creation patterns are leading, Webb reaches conclusions remarkably consonant with those of Wolters. Webb observes,

Renewal does not mean that humanity becomes something other than what it was in its essential essence and its categories of being. It is humanity itself that is renewed, not created de novo again. . . . Essential aspects of the original creation such as race and gender are in [sic] not obliterated in the new creation community. They remain and are transfigured, sanctified and celebrated.29

Thus, there is support from both complementarians and egalitarians that the new creation preserves, at least to a considerable extent, the patterns of the original creation. Far from representing the utter abandonment of the original creational blueprint, the new creation is instead a perfect reconstruction, rebuilt according to the original divine plan. The original creation, however, is surpassed by the new, for the difference between the old and the new is not merely that all destructive elements, both actual and potential, have been eliminated. The difference is that in the new creation, the redeemed from among humanity have been transformed, body and soul. The ramifications of such total transformation are myriad and far-reaching, but we would do well at this point to take note of two that are especially significant for the discussion at hand.

First, the transformation of the body is, in fact, a glorification of the body, whereby it is changed from a corruptible, mortal body to one that is incorruptible and immortal (1 Cor 15:53-54). "As we have borne the image of the earthy [man], we shall also bear the image of the heavenly [man]" (1 Cor 15:49), who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself" (Phil 3:21). The significance of this bodily transformation for the question at hand is that our transformed bodies in the new creation will be no longer instruments of unrighteousness (Rom 6:13), no longer subject to fleshly passions and desires (Gal 5:24). In the original creation, the flesh, both subject to and the object of temptation, was complicit in rebellion against the Holy One. In the new creation, our resurrected bodies at last will be fully transformed into instruments of righteousness, to the glory of God. Contrary to the thinking of John the Theologian (mentioned above), somatic differences will remain in the new creation. There is no reason to suppose that we all shall have the same stature, strength, and skill in the new creation.30 We can be certain, however, that such differences will be used to the edification and benefit of fellow citizens of the Kingdom, never to their detriment.

The second ramification significant to the purpose at hand concerns the transformation of the soul, the immaterial dimension of human beings. Although Scripture has less to say directly about the nature of the resurrected soul than the resurrected body, indirectly it speaks volumes. Indeed, it is a transformation so thorough that those who are "in Christ" are said to be "new creatures," for "the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor 5:17). The pattern for the transformation is no less than Christ himself (Rom 8:29), and though as yet imperfect, completion of the transformation into his image is assured (Phil 1:6). Given, then, the thoroughness of the soul's transformation, and the assurance of its completion, man's sinful nature is no more. All that reeks of the curse is gone. The redeemed emerge from the furnace of life in the old creation with not so much as the lingering smell of smoke on their garments.31 In the new creation, all that might be objectionable is eliminated in the redeemed, resurrected children of God.

To summarize, there are three foundational biblical principles that must guide our interpretation of the evidence for functional distinctions in the new creation. The first is simply that the new creation is tangible and real. Resurrected saints will enjoy real life in real bodies in a real place. The second principle is that the new creation is, in essence, creation redeemed. All of creation deformed and marred by sin will be reformed as part of the completed work of Christ in redemption. Third, in the new creation, resurrected believers are perfected, confirmed in righteousness, and the image of God within them has been fully restored. With these fundamental principles in mind it is possible to consider the evidence for gender-based distinctions in the new creation.

Gender and Relationships in the New Creation

The question sometimes surfaces-especially at funerals, "Will we know one another in the new creation?" The virtually unanimous response of evangelical theologians and thinkers (and even of many who would demur to be thus labeled) is a resounding "yes"! However, the question, as C. S. Lewis puts it, of whether "the particular love-relations worked out on earth would . . . continue to have any significance,"32 goes more to the heart of the concern. Believers want to know whether they will recognize their loved ones, and whether they will continue the relationships they had begun with them in the present age. The biblical and theological evidence overwhelmingly affirms that, for those in Christ, relationships in some fashion will remain.33 "It is clear," Nancey Murphy notes, "that a great deal of what lasts in the post resurrection kingdom must be those relationships within the body of Christ that now make us the people we are."34

Some undoubtedly will object to the idea of continuity of relations among resurrected saints on the grounds that the focus of their attention will be upon the Lord alone. However, the divine declaration that it was "not good for the man to be alone" (Gen 2:18) is sufficient to dispel this well-intentioned misapprehension. The text reveals that God and the man enjoyed a genuine, interactive relationship in the pristine environment of the garden (Gen 2:15-19, 17; 3:8­-9), but God had created man as a relational being-a being with capacity for a relationship with God, as well as a capacity, indeed, need for relationship with others like himself.35 The Lord taught Adam that he, like the animals God had made, was formed to enjoy a relationship with others of his kind. God then met Adam's need and created for the man a being "corresponding to him" (Gen 2:18)-woman. This divinely-created need for companionship and relationship was part of the original creation to which the new creation returns. Granted, after man's lapse into sin in the garden, the need for relationship in humanity was seriously marred and deformed. But, in keeping with the second principle, above, that which has been marred by sin in the new creation shall be reformed. Relationships between the saints most assuredly will have a significant place in the lives of resurrected believers in the new creation. They will carry forward into the eschaton, but they will change.36

What, then, of marriage? Although the common assumption that there will be no marriage in heaven may be in error,37 it is most unlikely that marriage will continue in the new creation in its present covenantal and conjugal aspects. The covenant of which marriage is a type will be replaced in the new creation by the archetype, the marriage between Christ and his church (Eph 5:31-32). Likewise, conjugal relations as we now know them will end. Yet when it is remembered that the intimate relations between the first man and woman were part of God's original-creation plan, we realize that it is not so much that such relations will altogether cease, as that they will be replaced, transformed into something befitting the new creation. Lewis's classic treatment of the subject illustrates the point well:

The letter and spirit of scripture, and all of Christianity, forbid us to suppose that life in the New Creation will be a sexual life; and this reduces our imagination to the withering alternative either of bodies which are hardly recognizable as human bodies at all or else of a perpetual fast. As regards the fast, I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer "No," he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason that lovers in their carnal raptures don't bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it. Hence where fullness awaits us we anticipate fasting. In denying that sexual life, as we now understand it, makes any part of the final beatitude, it is not of course necessary to suppose that the distinction of sexes will disappear. What is no longer needed for biological purposes may be expected to survive fore splendour. Sexuality is the instrument both of virginity and of conjugal virtue; neither men nor women will be asked to throw away weapons they have used victoriously. It is the beaten and the fugitives who throw away their swords. The conquerors sheathe theirs and retain them.38

Indeed, our relationships with those with whom we have spent so great a part of our earthly lives are very much a part of who we are. As Alcorn observes, we should not assume that those married in the present age will grow more distant in the new creation.39 Certainly, there are conditions that apply, but we should expect that the relationships most dear to us in the present life in the new creation will be enhanced.40

Given, then, that relationships between those married on earth will in some sense remain in the new creation, it remains for us to inquire regarding the nature of those relationships. To put it more directly, will husbandly headship and wifely submission still obtain in the new creation? The egalitarian response, of course, is that all traces of headship and submission will have been removed. The evidence, however, argues to the contrary.

First, consider the argument concerning man and woman as originally created. There is virtually universal agreement that man and woman are ontologically equal, equal in essence and worth, because both were created in the image of God. In the ordering of his creation, however, God formed the man first and gave him responsibility and authority as the head of the human race.41 This headship, far from being a result of the fall-feminist and egalitarian claims notwithstanding-is a central feature of the divine created order.42 Because the new creation is, fundamentally, a return to the divine order that prevailed before the fall, it follows that male headship will remain in the new creation.

Second, consider that subsequent to the fall (and not as a consequence of it), the principle of headship and submission in male-female relations is clearly affirmed in the New Testament. Furthermore, nowhere in Scripture is this principle replaced or rescinded.43 Surely within the context of biblical teaching on the church there would be an unambiguous repeal of the principle of male headship if, in fact, its end reflected the divine ideal. Such is simply not found. There is every reason to believe, then, that male headship will continue as the divine order for male-female relationships.

Finally, consider that in the new creation, those who were husbands in the former dispensation will, at last, be unencumbered by the flesh. They will be able, as never before, to genuinely love "as Christ also loved the church" (Eph 5:25). They will, as never before, have the capacity to relate to those they love "in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life" (1 Pet 3:7). Consider, moreover, that in the new creation those who were wives in the former dispensation, will have the mind of Christ, "who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and . . . humbled himself" (Phil 2:6-8). They will see in the example of Christ, as never before, the beauty and glory that inheres in gracious, selfless submission. With both man and woman thus perfected and transformed, are we to suppose that the new creation will abandon the order established in God's original creation? I think not. Rather, such relations will bring to each true joy, and to God, more glory than before.

Gender and Distinctions of Roles in the New Creation

In addition to the more intimate relationships already established, resurrected saints will enjoy a broader social life in the new creation. We should not, as Günter Thomas has observed, "imagine the eschatological transition as leading to a steady state, changeless duration, and eternal rest without mutual social enrichment in distinct forms of social life. . . . The social life that marks the church will last."44 How, then, are we to imagine social life in the new creation to be? C. S. Lewis suggests that "the New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like."45 He continues,

It tells us that . . . [every] one is to work with his own hands, and what is more, everyone's work is to produce something good . . . there is to be no ‘swank' or ‘side', no putting on airs. . . . On the other hand, it is always insisting on obedience-obedience (and outward marks of respect) from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and (I am afraid this is going to be very unpopular) from wives to husbands. Thirdly, it is to be a cheerful society: full of singing and rejoicing, and regarding worry or anxiety as wrong.46

This picture of a fully actualized Christian society is, at least in outline, a picture of society in the new creation. New creation society may be more multi-dimensional than the present ideal, but it scarcely would be less. Yet, even as outlined here, it is apparent that society implies organization and order. It implies structure. Because society is structural in nature, it follows that the members comprised by it contribute functionally to its overall purpose. In theory, it may be possible for social structure to be non-hierarchical, though in practice this is unlikely. It is not possible, however, for structure to exist unless the members it comprises have place. Lewis explains this concept in somewhat different terms in his address entitled "Membership," where he describes the difference between true membership and inclusion in a collective:

How true membership in a body differs from inclusion in a collective may be seen in the structure of a family. The grandfather, the parents, the grown-up son, the child, the dog, and the cat are true members (in the organic sense), precisely because they are not members or units of a homogeneous class. They are not interchangeable. Each person is almost a species in himself. The mother is not simply a different person from the daughter; she is a different kind of person. The grown-up brother is not simply one unit in the class children; he is a separate estate of the realm. The father and grandfather are almost as different as the cat and the dog. If you subtract any one member, you have not simply reduced the family in number; you have inflicted an injury on its structure. Its unity is a unity of unlikes, almost of incommensurables.47

Genuine society, then, is not merely a collective of "equals" as egalitarians typically define the term. It is rather more like a building or body, wherein each member has its place, its function, its unique contribution to make to the whole.  To employ Lewis's model, the "grown-up brother" has a different place in the social structure than would a young boy, and the father and grandfather contribute to the family in distinctly different ways. Why, then, should distinctions on the basis of gender be excluded?

Functional distinctions of roles are not, as some suppose, restrictive or limiting in nature. They are rather the key to the fulfillment of our purpose as beings created for the glory of God. By serving him in different roles, we come to know him in different ways and thus are enabled to worship him in distinct, yet harmonious tones. "If all experienced God in the same way," Lewis observes, "and returned Him an identical worship, the song of the Church triumphant would have no symphony, it would be like an orchestra in which all the instruments played the same note."48 Our unique contribution to the glory of God, in the new creation as well as in the old, is offered by playing the part our divine Composer has assigned.

In our present-day thinking, however, we seem to have lost appreciation for the symphony, preferring the "solo" instead. Whether this focus on individuality has arisen out of the neo-humanism that permeates society today, or whether it arises out of something even less noble, namely, our fallen nature, is difficult to say. Either way, the effect is the same when it comes to the question of the roles we shall have in the life to come. We tend to view God, says Lewis, "as a kind of employment committee whose business it is to find suitable careers for souls, square holes for square pegs. . . . a place in the temple which will do justice to his inherent value and give scope to his natural idiosyncrasy."49 In reality, Lewis continues, "The place was there first. The man was created for it. He will not be himself till he is there."50

It follows, then, that the fullest actualization of who we are in Christ is to be found not in the pursuit of our individuality, but of our personality in Christ. Again, Lewis notes,

True personality . . . will come to us when we occupy those places in the structure of the eternal cosmos for which we were designed or invented. As a colour first reveals its true quality when placed by an excellent artist in its pre-elected spot between certain others, as a spice reveals its true flavour when inserted just where and when a good cook wishes among the other ingredients, as the dog becomes really doggy only when he has taken his place in the household of man, so we shall then first be true persons when we have suffered ourselves to be fitted into our places.51

True personality and freedom-will be found, not in its pursuit, but in personal submission to the Creator.

There is so much that we cannot yet know about life in the new creation. We can be confident, though, that "God must have some very profound eternal purpose for manhood and womanhood."52 There is every reason to believe that gender-based distinction of roles will remain. The social fabric of gender-based distinctions of roles was weaved in a pattern that accords with the prelapsarian decree of the Creator. In the new creation, that fabric will not be discarded or destroyed. The stains will be removed and rips mended. The fabric will be cleaned and pressed. But the pattern established in God's "very good" creation will remain.


1 See, "What We Shall Be: A Look at Gender and the New Creation," Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 9, no. 1 (Spring 2004): 17-28.

2 This is not to say, however, that all complementarians affirm that there will be functional distinctions between the genders in the new creation. For example, H. A. Ironside, a prominent evangelical and complementarian from an earlier generation, commenting on "the veiled woman" in 1 Cor 11, encouraged his readers to "bear in mind that [Paul] is not speaking, as he does elsewhere, of a woman's place in the new creation. In the new creation, as already intimated, there are no distinctions." Addresses on the First Epistle to the Corinthians: Expository Sermons Preached in the Moody Memorial Church, Chicago, Ill. (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1938), 328.

3 As with all questions concerning the eschaton, our opinions will not change the outcome. For instance, we may be premillennial, postmillennial, or amillennial in our eschatology, yet the return of Christ will occur at the time the Father has determined, no matter how passionately we may hold to one view or the other. Such things stand decided in the hidden counsels of the Godhead. They will unfold according to the divine plan. The same is true concerning functional distinctions in the eschaton. Insofar as the outcome is concerned, it matters little what our view may be, or how passionately we hold it. It will be as God has determined.

4 Jonathan Edwards, as cited by Randy C. Alcorn, Heaven (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2004), 5.

5 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (First Touchstone Edition; New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 55.

6 Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth: An Analysis of More Than One Hundred Disputed Questions (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2004), 169. Emphasis added.

7  There are, of course, those who disagree here, arguing that even those passages that seem most plainly to affirm male headship do not, in fact, do so. For example, the established translation of kephalē as "head" in 1 Cor 11:3 is challenged by some who prefer "source" instead, thus denying that this passage ever taught male headship. Evidence for the latter translation is suspect, however (see relevant sections in ibid).

8 That the apostles taught male headship and gender-based distinctions of roles in the home and church of the first century is a fact affirmed by some egalitarians. With few exceptions, the plain sense of the text of Scripture is unambiguous; even in cases where the meaning of the text has been disputed (e.g., the meaning of kephalē in 1 Cor 11:3, et al.) the weight of historical and grammatical evidence, as well as the most recent research, overwhelmingly favors a complementarian reading. The debate revolves not around what the text said or meant to the original recipients of the apostolic epistles. Rather, it revolves around what the text means for today. As egalitarian William J. Webb observes in the first paragraph of his introduction to Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), "[The] task is one of applying the ancient text in its modern context." Given that it is egalitarianism that advocates a departure from the plain sense of Scripture, it is egalitarianism that bears the burden of proof, despite the fact that the contemporary culture of political correctness insists quite the opposite.

9 Although I am unaware of any evangelical writer who makes the case for a egalitarian new creation for the express purpose of supporting the egalitarian agenda, the assumption of just such a new creation figures prominently in several egalitarian claims. See also, Grudem, Evangelical Feminism, 168.

10 Some evangelical feminists hold a slightly softened view, and are more likely to embrace role distinctions related to child rearing, for example, than radical secular feminists.

11 Alcorn, Heaven, 354.

12 Liberalism rests on five foundational ideals that I refer to as the "Five Pillars of Liberalism." They are as follows: (1) human beings are essentially good; (2) God (if such a being exists) cannot be known; (3) the best for the most is the greatest good; (4) tolerance is the greatest virtue; (5) parity ("sameness") is the social ideal.

13 Alcorn, Heaven, 354-55.

14 To be precise, Jesus did not explicitly declare that there would be no marriage of resurrected saints in the new creation. Rather, he said that there would be no new marriages between resurrected saints, though the context of his words certainly seems to indicate that marriage no longer obtains. A stronger case for the end of marriage can be made theologically when scriptural prohibitions against polygamy (Lev 18:18; Mal 2:14-15; Matt 19:4-5; Mark 10:2­8; 1 Tim 2:3, 3:12; Titus 1:6; Deut 17:17) are considered together with the Pauline declaration that the death of a spouse frees the surviving spouse to remarry (Rom 7:3).

15 Caroline Vander Stichele, "Like Angels in Heaven: Corporeality, Resurrection, and Gender in Mark 12:18-27," in Begin with the Body: Corporeality, Religion, and Gender (ed. Jonneke Bekkenkamp and Maaike de Haardt; Louvain: Peeters, 1998), 216-17.

16 For a comprehensive overview and critique of these techniques and principles, see, Paul W. Felix, Sr., "The Hermeneutics of Evangelical Feminism," The Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood 8, no. 2 (Fall 2003): 35-46. For a comparison between the hermeneutics of complementarians and egalitarians, written from an egalitarian perspective, see Willard M. Swartley, Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1983).

17 Felix, "Hermeneutics," 37-38.

18 Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals, 30.

19 Ibid., 152. Emphasis added.

20 For a thorough and telling critique of Webb's hermeneutic, see Wayne Grudem, "Should We Move Beyond the New Testament to a Better Ethic? Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47, no. 2 (June 2004): 299-346.

21Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals, 152.

22 For a brief, non-technical overview of the influence of Platonism on Christian ideas about the new creation, see "Christoplatonism's False Assumptions" in Alcorn, Heaven, 459-66.

23 Justin Martyr, Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin on the Resurrection, (The Ante-Nicene Fathers; ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; 10 vols; New York, C. Scribner's Sons, 1885-1897; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994) 1:294. Hereafter, The Ante-Nicene Fathers will be indicated by the abbreviation ANF.

24 Revelation of John (ANF 8:582)

25 C. S. Lewis, "Transposition," in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (First Harper Collins Edition; n.p.: C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., 1980; San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2001), 111.

26 Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 83.

27 Ibid., 91.

28 Ibid., 92-93. We should note, here, that the context for Wolters observation is contemporary rather than eschatological.   The reformation of which he speaks has to do with the redeemed living in the present created order in a manner consistent with a biblical, reformational worldview. The principles, however, apply equally to the new creation.

29 Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals, 149.

30 See, Alcorn, Heaven, 354-55.

31 Cf. Dan 3:27.

32 C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960; repr., San Diego: Harcourt, 1991), 137. Lewis's response to the question is that "it may depend on what kind of love it had become, or was becoming, on earth."

33 Even a cursory review of the biblical evidence is impracticable in this context. The major lines of evidence, however, center upon the post-resurrection appearances of Christ (e.g., Matt 28:1-10, 16-20; Mark 16:9, 12-18; Luke 24:13-39; John 20:11­-29; 21:1-14; Acts 1:3-8; 9:3-17; 10:40-42; 13:31; 18:9; 22:14,18; 23:11; 26:16; 1 Cor 9:1; 15:5-8; Rev 1:10-18); the transfiguration and teachings of Jesus (e.g., Matt 17:1-4; Mark 9:2-5; Luke 16:19-31); and certain Pauline affirmations (e.g., 1 Cor 13:12; 1 Thes 2:19­-20; 4:13-18).

34 Nancey Murphy, "The Resurrection Body and Personal Identity: Possibilities and Limits of Eschatological Knowledge," in Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments (ed. Ted Peters, Robert John Russell, Michael Welker; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 213. Emphasis added.

35 Some, including theologians Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, have identified the capacity for relationality to be significant to the imago dei in humanity.  Although each disagreed somewhat with the particulars of the other's respective views, Barth and Brunner were in general agreement that human beings are created with both the need and capacity for relationship with other human beings.

36 Cf., Webb, Slaves, Homosexuals & Women, 149. Webb holds that in addition to a perfecting of old-creation relationships, there will be a re-ordering as well.

37 See n. 14, above.

38 C. S. Lewis, "Miracles," in The Best of C. S. Lewis (Christianity Today Edition; Washington, D. C.: Christianity Today, 1969), 357-58.

39 Alcorn, Heaven, 336-37.

40 "We may hope that the resurrection of the body means also the resurrection of what may be called our ‘greater body'; the general fabric of our earthly life with its affections and relationships. But only on a condition; not a condition arbitrarily laid down by God, but one necessarily inherent in the character of Heaven; nothing can enter there which cannot become heavenly. ‘Flesh and blood,' mere nature, cannot inherit that Kingdom. Man can ascend to Heaven only because the Christ, who did and ascended to Heaven, is ‘formed in him.' Must we not suppose that the same is true of a man's loves? Only those into which Love Himself has entered will ascend to Love Himself. And these can be raised with Him only if they have, in some degree and fashion, shared His death; if the natural element in them has submitted-year after year, or in some sudden agony, to transmutation. . . . Natural loves can hope for eternity only in so far as they have allowed themselves to be taken into the eternity of Charity; have at least allowed the process to begin here on earth, before the night comes when no man can work." C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves , 136-37.

41 It is neither necessary nor practical to show that male headship is a prelapsarian construct, for this has been thoroughly established, both exegetically and theologically, by complementarian writers. For an excellent overview of the case for prelapsarian male headship, see Grudem, Evangelical Feminism, 29-45.

42 As Grudem notes, the notion that male headship is a result of the fall "is a fundamental claim of every egalitarian writer I know" (ibid., 108).

43 Of course, most egalitarians contest this point, arguing that Gal 3:28 effectively eliminates all non-biological distinctions between males and females. Unbiased exegesis, however, recognizes that this passage is soteriological in nature, and speaks to the matter of one's standing in Christ. They argue, moreover, that instances of female leadership in Scripture (e.g., Deborah in the Old Testament and Phoebe in the New) amount to tacit approval of egalitarianism. Following such logic, one could as easily claim tacit approval for polygamy, since there are many instances of the practice in Scripture that apparently escape divine censure. In many respects, polygamy is refuted on precisely the same grounds as egalitarianism-original creation patterns, coupled with New Testament teaching. Moreover, virtually all of these instances of female leadership are either ambiguous or anomalous.

44 Günter Thomas, "Resurrection to New Life: Pneumatological Implications of the Eschatological Transition," in Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments (ed. Ted Peters, Robert John Russell, and Michael Welker; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 271.

45 C. S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity," in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2002), 52.

46 Ibid.

47 C. S. Lewis, "Membership," in The Weight of Glory, 164-65.

48 Lewis, Problem of Pain, 134.

49 Lewis, "Membership," 174.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid., 173.

52 Daniel R. Heimbach, "The Unchangeable Difference: Eternally Fixed Sexual Identity for an Age of Plastic Sexuality," in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood (ed. Wayne Grudem; Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002), 286.