I’m glad you’re reading this article. I have two requests of you before we get started. First, I want to encourage you to be like the Bereans in Acts 17:10-12, who carefully searched the Scriptures to verify the truthfulness of the teaching they received. There are emotional and philosophical reasons to land on particular sides of this issue, but the responsibility of the Christian is to be distinctly biblical. Whether you agree with my conclusion or not, make it your goal to know what the Bible teaches about manhood and womanhood, and to embrace whatever that is. Be Berean. Secondly, whether you agree or disagree, I would appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below.
That said, let’s begin.
Three Perspectives. Two Ridiculously Long Words.
There are three primary perspectives on manhood and womanhood. If you are all ready familiar with them, enjoy the brief refresher while we introduce the perspectives to those who aren’t as familiar.
The root of Chauvinism isn’t immediately clear, which makes sense because the term allegedly comes from a nationalistic soldier in Napolean’s army who believed (and made sure everyone else knew) that to be French was to be superior. As you may expect, then, the chauvinist position on manhood and womanhood holds that men are superior to women both in essence (i.e., “the stuff we’re made of,” which speaks to one’s value) and in role.
In reference to the subtitle of this section, I don’t have an absolute standard for “ridiculously long words,” but chauvinism just doesn’t seem to fit the bill. The next two, however, are a different story.
The root of egalitarianism, a perspective also sometimes called evangelical feminism, is the word “equal,” which makes sense because proponents of this position believe that men and women have full equality both in essence and in role. For this reason, the stated mission of Christians for Biblical Egalitarianism is to, “affirm and promote the biblical truth that all believersâ€”without regard to gender, ethnicity or classâ€”must exercise their God-given gifts with equal authority and equal responsibility in church, home and world.” In practice, this means that husbands and wives have the same roles in the home, men and women are both permitted to serve as senior pastors of churches, etc.
The root of complementarianism is the word “complement” (not “I like your shirt,” but “something that completes or makes perfect”), which makes sense because proponents of this position believe that men and women, though equal in essence, have distinct and complementary roles. For example, the complementarian believes that husbands are to lead their wives in a manner that wives are not to lead their husbands, not because women are inferior but because that is not their God-given responsibility. Likewise, the complementarian believes that men are responsible to shepherd God’s church in a way that women are not, so that one will not find a female senior pastor in a complementarian church.
If you’re looking for a thorough contrast of these last two perspectives, complete with critiques and rebuttals of each, I would recommend this article by Bruce Ware, who, though a complementarian, seems to present both perspectives fairly.
Now to the assessments of each…
Which Model Is Most Reflective of the Gospel?
If you’re like most Christians, you ruled the first one out pretty quickly, but do you know why? What is it about chauvinism that is wrong? As for the other two, maybe you’ve had a more difficult time discerning which is the biblical model. Let’s walk through each perspective and evaluate them from a biblical perspective, and in the end I hope to demonstrate that the Gospel is only reflected accurately in one of these perspectives.
1) Chauvinism: A Desecration of the Gospel.
The word chauvinism allows an unbiblical and oppressive system to hide behind the name of a (potentially mythical) nationalistic Frenchman. I don’t like that. Let’s call chauvinism what it really is (even if we have to make up a word): male domination-ism.
Given that God created both men and women in His image, are we to believe that certain members of the Trinity are superior to others? Or that some members dominate others? Such belief is considered heresy, and rightly so. The truth is that each member of the Trinity is equal in essence (i.e., they are all made of the same stuff: God-ness). Because men and women are both created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), they, too, are equal in essence (Gal. 3:28, 1 Cor. 12:13, Col. 3:11).
Further, regarding Christ’s relationship with His bride, the church, Paul makes it clear that Jesus did not come to dominate her, but to give Himself up for her benefit (Eph. 5:25-30). This means that husbands, whose love for their wives is to reflect Christ’s love for the church, are to humbly sacrifice themselves for the good of their wives. It is obvious, then, that the arrogant, iron-fisted domination of chauvinism is an utter desecration of the Gospel.
2) Egalitarianism: A Distortion of the Gospel.
In sharp contrast to male domination, egalitarians argue that Paul’s assertion that, â€œThere is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesusâ€ (Galatians 3:28), means that the male headship mentioned in passages like Ephesians 5:23-33 is not the proper understanding of male headship and that male headship is to be culturally interpreted. Many who hold this view assert that wives should be considered just as much the head of the household as their husbands, but for reasons that will be discussed in the following section, this is not the biblical teaching and, therefore, must be rejected.
The first reason the feminist view of headship is unbiblical is because it is wrongly assumes that equality in essence demands equality in role, an idea which has emerged from a faulty understanding of Galatians 3:28 and similar passages (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13, Col. 3:11). Paulâ€™s point in Galatians 3:28 and the parallel passages is that nothing about being Jewish makes you more or less significant than being Greek, nothing about being a slave makes you no more or less significant than being free, and that nothing about being male makes you any more or less significant than being female. To put it in terms of husbands and wives, one could argue that husbands are in no way superior or inferior to their wives in terms of their standing before God or their value as humans. Husbands and wives are on equal footing before God, but, as Paul points out in Ephesians 5:23-24, that does not mean they have identical roles. This, of course, is not in the least bit contradictory, since our world is filled with role distinctions among people who are of the same essence. Employers have different roles than their employees. Thankfully, children do not have the same role as parents. I do not have the same role as the President of the United States, or even the mayor of my city. These authority structures exist without contradiction, though those involved are equal in essence.
The next reason the feminist view of headship is unbiblical is because it ignores the obvious meaning of the word headÂ in the Bible. It is frequently argued that the word head means “source”Â (i.e. Adam was the source of Eve), not “leader” orÂ “authority.” Paul, however, uses the word “head” three times in his letter to Ephesians, one of which is Ephesians 5:23, which the immediate context clearly reveals is a reference to the authority of husbands over their wives. Consider as evidence the nature of the two relationships he mentions immediately thereafter: children and parents, and employees (slaves) and employers (masters). Both of these relationships have clear authority structure, so why would one assume that husbands and wives are different? Broadening the context to the entire book of Ephesians, there are two other occurrences of the word “head,” both of which reference Christ’s headship over the Church, and, based upon the context of each, are clear references to His authority over the church (Eph. 1:20b-22, 4:15). Further, broadening the context to every known use of the word head in all of Greek literature, Wayne Grudem, addressing a group of egalitarian scholars, writes,
You claim that the Greek word for “head” means “source without the idea of authority.” Will you please show me one example in all of ancient Greek where this word (kephalÂ¯e) is used to refer to a person and means what you claim, namely, “non-authoritative source”?
I asked this of both Catherine Kroeger and Gilbert Bilezikian in public debate in Atlanta in 1986 and they gave me no example. I asked this question in an academic article published inÂ Trinity JournalÂ in 1990 and received no example. I asked this question in the bookÂ Recovering Biblical Manhood and WomanhoodÂ in 1991 and received no example. That is because no example has ever been found.
The reason is simple:Â In the Greek speaking world, to be the head of a group of people always meant to have authority over those people.
Lastly, the egalitarian perspective is often marked by the assertion that male headship was unique to biblical culture. This assertion is full of red flags for me because there is not just one “biblical culture.” The Bible contains hosts of different cultures, spanning several thousand years, making the idea that male headship is cultural seem a bit far fetched. “One-upping” my assertion that the phrase “biblical culture” seems fishy, the apostle Paul drops the proverbial bomb on the cultural argument. In his first letter to Timothy, he writes, “”I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim. 2:12-14). Notice why Paul doesn’t permit women to exercise authority over men. He did not say, “Such just isn’t acceptable in our current culture.” In fact, his reasoning has nothing to do with culture, but with creation. He doesn’t permit women to exercise authority over men because “the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” You may respond by saying, “Well, Adam was right there with her and he bit into the apple (or whatever fruit it was), too.” To that I would say, “You are right, and while I would love to discuss the merits of Paul’s argument, the simple fact that he made the argument is sufficient for this study.” For Paul, male headship had nothing to do with the culture, but with something that never changes: Eve ate first.
Now, a word about the subtitle of this section. I stated that egalitarianism distorts the Gospel. Before going on, I want to state plainly that the egalitarian distortion of the Gospel does not preclude someone from believing the Gospel. In other words, complementarianism is not the litmus test of salvation. As such, the consideration of biblical manhood and womanhood should be an “in house” discussion, but an important one, nonetheless. That said, an obvious question still remains: “How does egalitarianism distort the Gospel?” Denying male headship/authority on earth distorts the Gospel by misrepresenting the nature of Christ’s relationship with the church. Here’s what I mean. Egalitarianism misrepresents the nature of Christ’s relationship with the Church by denying male headship/authority, which is derived from Christ’s authority over the church. The result is that to deny the lesser is to deny the greater. To deny the reflection is to deny the reality. As result, egalitarianism distorts the Gospel by misrepresenting the nature of Christ’s relationship with His bride, the Church. In the end, egalitarianism is a deficient explanation of biblical manhood and womanhood and, therefore, must be rejected.
Complementarianism: A Beautiful Reflection of the Gospel.
Admittedly, disproving the first two essentially proves the third, but, 1) I want us to see that the Bible actually teaches the complementarian perspective, rather than embracing it by mere process of elimination, and 2) I recognize that you may not yet be convinced.
Male headship is seen in the fact that woman was initially created as a “helper” for man (Gen. 2:18). At least 3000-4000 years later, Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). Similarly, Paul explained to Timothy, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim. 2:12-14). Although we could consider other passages as evidences of male headship in Scripture (Col. 3:18-19), these passages should suffice.
The necessity of male headship as it relates to the Gospel is, perhaps, seen most clearly in marriage. God has designed marriage such that husbands, who represent Christ, are to decisively, sacrificially, purposefully and lovingly lead their wives. In response, wives are to willingly, joyfully, and respectfully submit to the leadership of their husbands. This is the way Christ relates to the church, so to confuse the role of husbands and wives is to dishonor Christâ€™s decisive, sacrificial, purposeful, steadfast, infinitely deep love for the church, and to malign the willing, joyful and respectful submission the church is to demonstrate toward Christ.
There are three deeply practical implications of complementarianism, which I have adapted from The Danvers Statement:
2) Never let feeling called to this or that ministry trump clear biblical criterion for that ministry (1 Tim 2:11-15, 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9). “Rather, Biblical teaching should remain the authority for testing our subjective discernment of God’s will.”
3) The forbiddance of women to exercise authority over men does not mean they may have no fruitful ministry in the world (1 Cor 12:7-21). There are seemingly endless ministry opportunities in our world that do not require women to exercise authority over men.