Luther and Reformatory Ideas: Gender and Gender Roles

The Reformation influenced understandings of gender and gender roles. When Luther read the story of creation in Genesis, he saw the creation of Adam and Eve as God’s way of preventing human loneliness. And he maintained that Adam and Eve were equals before God, and equally culpable in the Fall of Man. But he also saw men as superior and more guided by reason. He believed men were destined to lead in life, and women were destined to submit. Women also had responsibilities of their own, but these were primarily for children and the home. The Lutheran view included equality in principle, but superiority and subordination in practice.

Luther formulated the doctrine of three estates, which divided society into church, family and state. According to the doctrine, all three estates were to have the patriarchal household as their ideal, i.e. a structure in which the father exercised authority but was also a caring protector. But the picture is more ambiguous. Melanchthon, for example, had theological discussions with highly intelligent women. And despite his patriarchal view of the family, Luther emphasised that a father performs a Christian act when washing his children’s dirty nappies, for example. He also expressed his respect for his own wife by calling her Mr Kathy.

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