The Complementarity of the Saints: Towards an Eschatological Vision of Gender

This paper discusses the role of gender difference in the resurrection life, exploring how the reality of an embodied, gendered, and unmarried eternal existence should inform our concept of gender’s function in the church on earth. Building upon scriptural passages such as Matthew 22:30 as well as the insights of church fathers such as Augustine and Jerome, I argue that the resurrection body exists in a state of eternal celibacy, yet remains gendered. Thus, I contend that a healthy theology of gender is one that recognizes how male and female embodiment ultimately finds its fulfillment in the eternal fellowship of God’s people rather than in marriage.

Complementarian discourse typically focuses on the ways in which men and women are fitted for marriage and procreation. Organizations such as The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and books such as Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood have set forth numerous ways in which men and women are suited to join in marriage and parenthood. While most complementarian writers briefly acknowledge the kingdom value of singleness and the temporary nature of marriage, many fail to carefully explore the implications of these teachings for a Christian understanding of the ultimate purposes of sexual difference. As such, complementarian schools of thought often imply that marital union and biological fruitfulness is the main telos of gender.

However, if gender does not cease to exist when the institution of marriage does, we ought not confine our understandings of its purpose to the goods of marriage and procreation alone. Scripture’s teachings about the temporariness of marriage and its implicit affirmation of gendered resurrection bodies suggests that gender’s ultimate purpose is to enable men and women to richly image God through holy fellowship. Neither men nor women can fully image God on their own; each needs to exist in relation to the other in order to faithfully reflect what the Creator is like. This need to reflect God’s image is not abolished in the eschaton, but instead reaches its apex as God restores us to perfect fellowship with himself. By grasping gender’s eschatological significance, the church on earth can strengthen a model of spiritual family that affirms the full humanity and godly purpose of all believers, including the unmarried and the childless. Through spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood, God’s people should promote one another’s holiness by bringing their masculine and feminine virtues into dialogue with one another. Men and women need each other’s gender-inflected strengths and are equipped to offset each other’s weaknesses, and learning from and valuing one another’s gender-influenced patterns of thinking and feeling facilitates a fuller imaging of God and an increased understanding of him. The fruitfulness of cross-gender edification in the church offers a foretaste of fellowship in the new creation, where all Christians, resurrected as unmarried men and women, will eternally express their gender differences for the good of each other and for the glory of God.

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