Your Christian college administration is likely being pressured by students, activists, and the media to celebrate, normalize, and sanction various social “ideals” of manhood. Since Christian teachers have been entrusted with helping to spiritually form the male and female students on your campus, it is important to help them understand what manhood and masculinity mean from a biblical worldview. They might not know.
This article provides a spiritual formation tool that teachers can use to provoke discussion and reflection on those ideals and on what kind of design and identity God has ordained for men.
Contrasting how the cultural ideals of men have developed over time with the ideal that God formed through Abraham will help to restore order out of the woke chaos on campuses today. And it will hopefully guide male students into their proper role as fathers and as role models for the boys that God places in their care during their lives.
Female students will also appreciate knowing and understanding these truths as they choose life partners and raise sons.
Throughout this article are questions for you and your students to discuss and reflect on. To begin the conversation, ask yourself and your students:
What do you think manhood and masculinity mean to God?
The Warrior Archetype
Since the expulsion from Eden, this is the oldest ideal of manhood. Nimrod (whose name means “rebellious”) created a kingdom for himself called “Babel, Erech, Accad and Calneh in the land of Shinar” (Gen. 10:10) of which the Tower of Babel was judged and destroyed by the Creator. By his hunting and martial prowess, Nimrod was likely a legend in his own time, familiar with violence and killing, adept at the arts and the game of war, like the Roman gladiators who aspired to be brutal, ruthless, and victorious in battle. Nimrod’s stories of battle are similar to every wartime story of soldiers who sink to the most brutal, sadistic acts against the enemies they dehumanize, including the raping of their women. Think of the barbaric acts of the ISIS decapitators and women enslavers as an example.
In contrast, the biblical warrior is the man who can say, as Nehemiah said to the leaders of the people in his day, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes” (Neh. 4:14). This involved bravery, strength, courage, as well as skill in arts of war and use of weapons. But it was for a cause higher than selfish gains; it was to defend and protect their families against evil and injustice. And the victors were not brutal and cruel to their defeated enemies.
Contrary to the general impression, Abraham was such a protective warrior. He was a powerful sheik or chieftain with wealth and men at his disposal. He was not a wimp, a flower child, or a monk. After arriving in the land of Canaan, he trained his own private militia. During the “War of the Kings” in Genesis 14, Abraham mobilized over three hundred of his warriors in hot pursuit of the invaders for over 100 miles “as far as Dan” (14:14), heroically rescuing his nephew Lot, bringing him back to where his clan was based in Hebron, in southern Canaan.
This model of manhood is an honorable one when employed by a man to protect those under his care. Likewise, to defend the honor of God, Yeshua the Messiah made a whip of cords to drive out the money changers in the Temple. Jewish and Christian biblical warriors,
as citizens of their states or villages, have historically had the courage to stand between an enemy and all that they love or hold sacred, to lay down their lives for their families and friends.
The greatest test of manhood is controlling the inner man, discipling the inner man to do what the man’s convictions and conscience tell him. The great wisdom of Proverbs 16:32 says,
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (ESV)
Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city. (NLT)
Moderation is better than muscle, self-control better than political power. (MSG)
Or as Sir Edmund Hillary, the conqueror of Mt. Everest said, “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” It is the man who conquers his ego and his fleshly nature who is a true man.
Abraham learned through the long spiritual formation that God put him through that he had to conquer the needs of his own ego. After the Akedah (the Binding of Isaac), he learned that lesson. He set out to sacrifice his nearest and dearest to God in obedience, and God restored what he gave. Abraham’s grandson Jacob learned this when he wrestled with the Angel/God-Man and submitted to his will. Abraham’s great-grandson Judah learned this when he was caught taking (what he thought was) a prostitute. When Tamar was brought before him, he said, “She is more righteous than I” (Gen. 38:26).
Have you ever fought for justice and/or against evil? What were the circumstances? How did it affect your spiritual identity and formation?
Have you ever turned away from a righteous fight? How has that affected your spiritual identity and formation until now?
The Code of Chivalry
A variation of the warrior archetype is chivalry, which comes from the Old French chevalier meaning “horse soldiery” or “knight”; hence, the English word “cavalry.” It was the knightly class of feudal times; its origins are in the early Middle Ages in Christian Europe. It was the medieval system of principles and customs of knighthood, whose ideals were courage, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women, as expressed through the medieval stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
Nearly every Western military academy has held to a similar code of honor. The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) for over a century has adhered to the Scout Law: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrift y, brave, clean, and reverent.” Th e enduring nature and widespread acknowledgment of this moral code testifies to the innate conscience of men who are made in the Image of God as to what is the right kind of moral behavior for men.
An aspect of chivalry was “Courtly Love.” It was an expression of the moral code of honor and gallantry toward women, where a knight would pursue a woman with honor, courtesy, and show deep and romantic devotion to his lady.
A wise approach to courtship for young people wanting to marry, as an alternative to contemporary secular dating practices, is for two young people to only deepen a relationship if they believe there is an intention for and strong possibility that the relationship will lead to marriage. This is opposed to the more frivolous, sexually exploratory behavior (and usually without commitment) of modern dating. The guardianship of fathers who follow a code of chivalry over their single daughters can help to determine an honorable outcome for them. Th is should not be coercive but protective.
Abraham failed miserably when he didn’t act chivalrously toward his wife Sarah.
When they went down to Egypt because of the famine in Canaan, he feared the Egyptians would kill him to take his wife. But if they thought she was his sister, then Abraham figured they wouldn’t see him as a threat. So, he asked Sarah to tell the Egyptians that she was only his sister (Gen. 12:10–20). In this, Abraham put himself before his wife, just the opposite of the Code of Chivalry. He also didn’t treat Hagar with anything near gallantry.
But God continued to work with, shape, and morally educate Abraham so that by the end of his life, his character had been formed such that he was a worthy husband and father who came to be known by the Jewish people as “Our Father Abraham.”
Today, women are allowed in combat. Do you think the old code of chivalry where men go to war to protect women and children should still apply?
Should women be protected from death, dismemberment, and rape on the battlefield?
A traditional ideal of manliness is machismo, a Spanish word derived from the Latin masculus, meaning “male.” Kind of a distorted spin-off of the warrior archetype, it describes a male way of thinking and behaving in which men are physically strong and aggressive, sexually active,
unsentimental and proud of it. He is the alpha male mammal who fights for the top position among his peers and can only win by his superior strength; he thereby wins first opportunity with the females.
This ideal celebrates the traits of bravery, often with bravado, bluster, and boasting about being strong, hard, tough, and able to hold their liquor well, while not expressing emotions thought to be feminine—no sissy stuff. It is associated with the negative characteristics of misogyny—male arrogance, seduction of women, and domestic violence. It has a long history in the Iberian Peninsula, but by no means is it confined to Spain and Portugal. Each society has its own version of the macho man.
Machismo is as old as the sin and curse in Eden. A fallen male’s bent is not to sacrificially care for but to dominate and selfishly take from a woman. “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you” was part of the curse in Genesis 3:16. History is replete with acts of men abusing and using women. Abraham learned the way of the world in the matter of women during his trial down in Egypt when Sarah was briefly taken into Pharaoh’s harem—women kept for the ruler’s pleasure.
This is an archetype with no good or redeeming qualities.
We’ll next look at how two modern revolutions have caused the distortions of these ideals of progress and how they have spread rapidly over the past 200 years. We’ll then look at returning to God’s revolution through the Abrahamic covenant.
Think of a time when you encountered the machismo ideal in others or in yourself. What were the circumstances?
Do you think that machismo expression helped or hurt the situation and people involved?
How could the situation have been handled in a more biblical manner?
The Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century
This period had the effect of separating the public sphere of work from the private sphere of home. In colonial America, the father was primarily responsible for the religious and moral education of his children (Blankenhorn 1995:12–13).
Most people were rural, so children typically acquired skills from their fathers by working with them and seeing the way he handled things day in and day out on the farm. In this way, a young man oft en became an apprentice to his father’s trade. As the industrial revolution developed, production of goods transitioned from hand production to machines and to factories for manufacturing. Th is changing economy meant that the mother became the primary nurturer of the children. Fathers were too tired to give much nurture aft er a grueling day’s work at the factory or power plant. The engines of industrial growth stole fathers from their homes.
A boy learns how to be a man in his formative years primarily by his father mirroring back to the son by his actions and words what it means to be a man. As a son acts out what it means to be a man, based on what he has learned from his father, and receives affirmation for these actions from his father, his manhood is formed and validated. Boys growing up with absent fathers, physically or emotionally, have to learn about masculinity from their mothers or from the culture at large. They will often fear they are not man enough for the challenges of life, and they are often right. (Balswick 1992:156–158).
From where have you learned about masculinity and what did you learn?
How has that teaching shaped your ideas of manhood?
Would you consider working in the industrial sector? Why or why not?
As the machismo ideal became more prominent in the modern West, a reaction emerged by the 1960s–1970s. New forms of gender roles were introduced as the contraceptive pill was abused for irresponsible sex, and easy abortion and divorce became available. Further, the 60s can be thanked for the exponential growth of internet pornography, legitimation of same-sex “marriage,” and the growth of the LGBTQ+ Movement.
How have these sexual trends that erupted in the 60s manifested in your own life?
What have been the effects?
Back to the Abrahamic Covenant Revolution
Without God’s call, testing, shaping, and educating Abraham, could he have gone the way of ancient Nimrod or an ancient version of a macho man?
I think so. But God began a redemptive revolution when he called and cut covenant with Abraham and made him the “Father of many nations” and the patriarch of Israel.
Patriarchy, properly understood as true fatherhood, turns out to be the cure for abusive patriarchy, which is properly condemned today. So, before becoming the Father of Many Nations, Abraham needed training in proper fatherhood and about the important role of women under righteous patriarchal leadership, while also learning about the meaning, honor, and dignity of wifehood.
Abraham would learn, for example, that a man may choose a wife, but he cannot choose what “wife” means. A wife is not interchangeable or exchangeable into a sister or one concubine (mistress) among several when it serves a man’s purposes. Nor is woman a mere seedbed, as in the way he treated Hagar. He was to be bonded for life to his wife Sarah, and she was to bear led to too many restrictions.
In reaction, the left ward “progressive” movement progressed too far in the wrong direction, regressing the world to new low moral baselines and confusing gender identity and roles. his legitimate children. God stated this purpose explicitly, “I have chosen him that he might command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him” (Gen. 18:19).
To become “Father Abraham” for all time, his character formation had to pass muster in these sexual and relational matters. Only from this firm, familial foundation would Israel become God’s missional people to the world, a “light to the nations.”
Consistent with this centrality of sexuality and procreation in Abraham’s character formation is the covenant sign of circumcision (see Genesis 17).
For fallen man, the male sexual organ is perhaps thee organ most indicating his depravity and need for covenant redemption because by it he reproduces generations of sinners. God intended there to be a mark at this core, deeply felt, and at the source of generation.
Circumcision is a mark in the organ of male generation, the center of maleness. No man ever forgets this part of his body but is usually very conscious of it. The circumcised man of the covenant would know from the deepest part of his manhood that he belongs to God, to the people of God, and is an agent of the mission of God.
Circumcision was not new to Abraham. It was a custom widely practiced by ancient pagan peoples as a sign of the youth’s new sexual potency and his initiation into manhood and the society of men, ending his attachment to his mother and the society of women. But the new way God gives to Abraham is nearly the opposite in meaning—now this rite of passage for the youth is transformed into a paternal duty regarding the male newborn son.
The focus is not the young man’s transition to manhood, but the father’s sacred responsibility before God to his son(s), to transition them into the covenant. So, although the child bears the mark, it is his parents’ obligation to enact it, symbolizing the relations between the generations and the obligation of transmission of the covenant faith to the next generation.
In giving their child up for circumcision, the mother and father are reminded that the child is not wholly their possession or their creation, the child is a gift from God and should be dedicated to his covenant way. When the young son comes of age, realizing his circumcision is something that came to him outside his own power to accept or reject, he is thereby summoned; he is called to know that he is a new link, and he must continue the chain of transmission, from generation to generation.
Each new father must validate the promise made by his own father to keep him within the covenant with God. Each father must transmit this covenant manhood to his son(s). Because Israel would be a covenant nation (not an international spiritual community like the church, the Body of Messiah), a physical sign in the flesh enacted without the child’s knowledge or consent was necessary for transmitting the peoplehood through the generations. And yet, in addition to the fleshly sign, God has always been concerned about circumcision of the heart, the inner reality that the sign symbolized—the cutting away, by right inner choices, of the fleshly desires that keep the heart from devotion to God (Deut. 10:16, 30:6). “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts!” Jeremiah would cry (Jer. 4:4).
Physical circumcision produced a cleansing in that it removed folds of skin, wherein disease germs could lie. Spiritual circumcision produces cleansing of the heart from sin, through the life of repentance, confession, and the obedience of Faith in Jesus the Messiah.
The sign of the New Covenant in Messiah’s blood is water baptism, which is performed upon male and female, Jew and Gentile. The apostle Paul writes, “In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision done not by hand, in the stripping away of the body of the flesh through the circumcision of Messiah. You were buried along with Him in immersion [water baptism], through which you also were raised with Him by trusting in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” (Col. 2:11–12 TLV)
Non-Jewish and Messianic Jewish believers alike can take from the covenant sign of circumcision these three lessons:
- the primary purpose of sexuality is the bonding attachment to spouse and the pro-creation of children;
- the responsibility to restrain and control the powerful sex drive; and
- the responsibility of parents to transmit the mission of the Faith to their children, who will in turn transmit the same to their children—generation to generation. And so, a father through the grace of the covenant is to instill into the core of his sons’ being the importance of healthy, loving fathering and the responsibility of men transmitting true manhood to their sons—generation to generation.
To summarize this section, the moral lesson of circumcision to all men today is this—perhaps THE primary responsibility of every man’s life is to transmit new covenant manhood to sons, to pour his life into, to reproduce himself in sons—either biological sons in a covenant of marriage or spiritually and relationally through adopting, fostering, nurturing, mentoring, discipling, apprenticing, pastoring, guiding, sponsoring, teaching, role-modeling for boys and younger men; this according to the extent of a man’s gifting and capability.
A man is called equally to nurture his daughters, but this is not my focus here. Briefly, his role to his daughter(s) is not to transmit manhood, but to be a protector and a model of the kind of man she would hope to marry.
There may be biological or other valid reasons why a man cannot father sons naturally; and a man should not be deemed morally inferior if he cannot. But every man should “father” boys and younger men through forming nurturing and empowering attachments by looking to God as the perfect father role model.
The God of Israel is the perfect Father. Scripture says that from his Fatherhood “every family [patria in Greek, literally “fatherhood”] in heaven and on earth receives its name” (Eph. 3:15 TLV). This means that the meaning, character, identity, and validity of every human fatherhood comes from him. Men are to imitate God’s fatherhood; and he is a compassionate
father. The apostle Paul, surely a man of strength of will, who demonstrated courage and sacrificial giving in his work for Messiah’s church, said to one of the churches, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thess. 2:7).
To another church he addressed them as “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Gal. 4:19).
The metaphors here are feminine, but they are expressed by the strong male leader, Paul. God created male and female both in the Image of God: “male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).
So, manhood and womanhood, fatherhood and motherhood are both expressions of the character of God. Both qualities come from our Heavenly Father. So, every biblical man, every man who is a follower of Jesus the Messiah, must cultivate and develop a nurturing father’s heart.
An emotionally and spiritually mature biblical covenant man will have the strength of willingness to sacrifice as a warrior, but also be a tender and nurturing father. As has been said, he will be both tough and tender, hard and soft. He will be a whole man, not a fragmented man who only has one of these sides in operation. He is a nurturing father, who transmits manhood to his son(s) and is a role model of manhood for his daughters and young women.
When we study the life of Father Abraham, the forebear of the Jewish people, we see it took well over a century for the Heavenly Father to shape him into a father worthy of being the progenitor of the chosen people. It takes most men, much of their lives to grow into such fatherhood, even though they are committed followers of Jesus the Messiah. Some men, sadly, grow old, but never grow up.
Yet, to every man—know that he who began that work in you will continue it to completion; you can trust that even when you don’t see him, he sees you and he will be there for you when you fall. He will always welcome you back home with both arms extended like the father of the two sons in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32).
You can become a biblical man of the New Covenant, who reflects our heavenly Father’s character and who stands on the shoulders of Father Abraham.
This article was republished (with some textual modifications) from the book: Engaging the Jewish World–The Biblical Era (2000 BC to 300 BC): Find Your Part in God’s Story of the Jewish People and the World, by William Bjoraker.
Balswick, Jack. 1992. Men at the Crossroads: Beyond Traditional Roles and Modern Options. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Blankenhorn, David. 1995. Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Problem. New York: Basic Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers and by the Institute for American Values.
Kass, Leon R. 2003. The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis. New York: Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster.