Who’s More Sinful: Men or Women?
Happy Friday — I hope you had a wonderful week. As you might have noticed, we’ve been picking on men recently on the podcast, talking about how a man’s anger destroys the home or how a man’s lust wreaks havoc on his marriage. We looked at the major fallout of one man’s decision to abandon his wife and daughters. And we’ve addressed unbelieving men twice in recent episodes. So what about women?
We end this week with an international question, which I love, because our international listeners are willing to ask questions that don’t get asked by anyone here in the United States. We take it. We pose it. We answer it. We publish it. And very often, those episodes prove interesting to international listeners and to our local listeners as well.
I could give you some very specific examples of how this has played out in the past — on interracial-marriage episodes, for example. Instead, let’s get into today’s question from an international listener, a woman. “Pastor John, hello! I have been hearing from Christians around me that women are more sinful than men. I know from my daily ungodly thoughts and actions how sinful I am. But as a mother of boys and girls, does the Bible teach that I should teach my girls they are more sinful than boys? I know the Bible says we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. But Eve, Delilah, Samson’s wives, Solomon’s wives, Potiphar’s wife — these have been listed to me as proof that women are more evil than men are. Is this true?”
I think it would be a huge mistake to raise our children with the assumption that our daughters are by nature more sinful or more prone to sin than our sons. Now, let me give you at least six reasons why that would be both misleading and harmful.
1. Scripture’s Testimony Against Men
In response to the argument that Eve, Delilah, Solomon’s wives, or Potiphar’s wife proves that women are more sinful than men, consider how utterly lopsided that observation is when, for example, there were far more wicked kings in the Old Testament than wicked queens, and all the Pharisees, Sadducees, high priests, and scribes that Jesus indicted with such deep sinfulness were men — all of them. If you were to make a list of especially wicked people in the Bible, the number of men would far outnumber the number of women.
“Any attempt to argue for the greater sinfulness of women statistically from the Bible is doomed to failure.”
So even if you should focus on those relationships where the woman’s sin is especially pointed out, there’s no evidence, for example, that Potiphar was any less sinful than his wife in the way he treated Joseph, or that Samson was any less of a sinful dupe than Delilah was devious. Any attempt to argue for the greater sinfulness of women statistically from the Bible is doomed to failure.
2. Modern Statistics Against Men
If someone wants to use statistics against males and females, they’ve got this to contend with: in America today, 93 percent of everyone who’s in prison is a man. Of all the people arrested each year, 73 percent are men. Of all those convicted of violent crimes, 80 percent are men. Of all the rapes that are reported, 99 percent of the time the one forcing the other is a man. Of all the homicides that are committed, 89 percent are committed by men. Of all those arrested for robbery, 87 percent are men. Of all those arrested for arson, 83 percent are men. This is devastating. I feel horrible just saying it. If statistics are going to prove anything, we’re going to be hard put to say that women are more sinful than men.
3. Shared Sinfulness
When you look at the principial statements about human depravity in the Bible, what you find is that human beings, without distinction between male and female, are said to be under the power of sin. For example, in Romans 3, Paul sums up his indictment of the human race by saying, “We have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one’” (Romans 3:9–10). And later, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
And in Romans 5, Paul writes, “Therefore . . . sin came into the world through one man” — man, by the way, not Eve — “and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. . . . One trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:12, 18) — that is, all persons. There is no effort in any of this to say that the corruption we inherited from Adam, not Eve, is worse in women.
4. Failure of Both Adam and Eve
Maybe the most commonly cited text to ascribe to women a greater sinfulness or proneness to sin is the role that Eve played in the fall in Genesis 3 and what Paul says about it in 1 Timothy 2. He writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12). And then he gives two reasons for why he says that. First, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13). Second, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Timothy 2:14).
Now, here’s what I think Paul means. If you look at Genesis 1–2, there are at least seven or eight exegetical pointers that man was meant by God to bear a special kind of responsibility and leadership in relation to the woman. “Adam was formed first” means that, following temporal priority (Adam first, Eve second), Paul infers that giving the role of an elder or overseer to men accords with God’s design. That’s his first argument.
And then the reference to Eve being deceived, not Adam, is, I think, a reference to the fact that Satan assaulted and undermined Adam’s God-given leadership role — snubbing him and ignoring him as he stood there with his wife during the temptation. Genesis 3:6 makes it very clear: he was standing there as Satan was interacting with her and bringing down the relationship. Satan was ignoring the leader and instead speaking to the woman, who was to be protected by the leader if he had been stepping up to do what he ought to do. And the point of the text is, I think, that the disaster that followed is owing to this assault on the God-given roles of man and woman as Eve was made the spokesman and Adam abdicated his role as protector and leader.
Now, which of those sins, hers or his, is worse? The text doesn’t say. There was a peculiar sense in which Satan targeted her in the face of him for deception, and both they both bought it — he passively, she actively.
5. Both Unnatural
When Paul does describe unnatural female sin, he does it in perfect parallel with unnatural male sin. For example, Romans 1:26–27:
God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and [notice the parallel] the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty of their error.
We don’t come away from this text thinking that Paul saw in men or women a greater bent to sin — even a sin that’s against nature.
6. Our Peculiar Temptations
My last reason for saying we should not raise our kids with the assumption that our daughters are by nature more sinful or more prone to sin than our sons is that there’s a better way. There’s a better way to prepare them for the peculiar male temptations to sin and the peculiar female temptations to sin. The better way is to teach them what it means for sons to grow up and be godly men and not women, and for daughters to grow up and be godly women and not men — and then to show them that manhood and womanhood really are beset, because of our fallen nature, with temptations that are peculiar to being a man or to being a woman. We need to prepare our kids for this. They need to know what’s peculiar about a man, what’s peculiar about a woman. And then they need to know what temptations might touch them peculiarly as a man or a woman.
“There are differences between male and female. And there are, therefore, different temptations that they might face.”
For example, you might say that both men and women have sexual longings. But their peculiarities will tempt them to pursue those in sinful ways that are different. The man’s superior strength might tempt him to use force to get what he wants sexually (called rape) instead of using his strength to protect and to care for the woman. And the woman, being the “weaker vessel,” as Peter describes it (1 Peter 3:7), might be tempted to be more subtle and manipulative to get what she wants sexually. So, there are differences between male and female. And there are, therefore, different temptations that they might face.
Or you might say that because man has a special responsibility to be the sacrificial, loving leader, he might be tempted to neglect that responsibility and be a passive couch potato. And the woman might be tempted to grasp after that leadership and become domineering.
Or you might say that since the husband is designed by God to be a father, and the wife is designed by God to be a mother, he might be tempted to sinfully “father” his wife as he would a daughter. And she might be sinfully tempted to “mother” her husband as she would a son. And thus both of them demean and offend the other in different ways.
Deep Depravity, Deep Mercy
In other words, yes, we teach our children that they are sinners. And yes, we teach them that there are peculiar temptations to sin that come differently to men and women. They are not always the same. But it does no good to try to tally up who has the deeper depravity. It is so deep in both of us that we have plenty of work to do without claiming that we are better or worse because of being a man or a woman.
And we can be thankful that if we trust him, Jesus has died for us and covers all of our sins — the ones that are the same and the ones that are peculiar to us.