Complementarity Without Subordination: What Does it Look Like?

….Complementarianism can in itself be a fine expression of Biblical headship, so long as it is not imbued with the false teaching of ESS and its implications;
Brad Mason, Complementarity Without Subordination

It’s an interesting thing to contemplate. What if complementarians eradicated the doctrine of ESS from their platform? What if the complementarian camp wrested ESS out by the roots, every last bit of it, and tossed it onto the rubbish dump? Well, some men in senior positions in seminaries might end up losing their jobs. And a lot of books would need to be revised and the old versions withdrawn from libraries. That includes the ESV Bible. (link) (link)

This post is going to engage with what I believe are helpful discussions in complementarian circles that are coming from a small number of cutting edge complementarians who are trying to work towards an understanding of complementarity without female subordination.

I’ve written this post in response to Brad Mason’s post Complementarity Without Subordination. I really appreciate Brad; I find him one of the most insightful thinkers exposing the error of ESS (Eternal Subordination of the Son). I recommend especially the section in his post sub-headed  ‘A Few Necessary Corollaries and Clarifications’.

Brad is a member of a sister-congregation of First Reformed Church, Yuba City California which is the church our friend Sam Powell pastors. If any of you want to move to Yuba City, I know Sam and his church would welcome you and give you safe haven. And if you have techno-cyber skills, they would love you to help them in that way!

The natural complementarity of the sexes

Brad says, and I agree with him, that Genesis 1 & 2 and Paul’s teaching all point to creational distinctions and differences between men and women:

— a distinct order of creation: first Adam, then Eve; with Eve being formed from Adam

— a distinct orientation: “Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man”

— a specific purpose for Eve’s creation: It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”

I’m happy to call all that ‘the natural complementarity of the sexes’. I agree with Brad that this ‘natural complementarity’ does not presuppose or necessitate hierarchy of authority, let alone an order of right to command and duty to obey.

Male leadership before the Fall?

I feel that this ‘natural complementarity’ — the Pre-Fall relations and differences and complementarity between man and woman — needs to be understood as including some sense of male leadership: a wholly benign and God-respecting male leadership in which the man protectively guarded his wife from danger. It didn’t confer on Adam the right to command Eve. I would not even say it gave Adam the right to issue instructions to Eve. I would say that Adam had a duty to faithfully convey to Eve God’s instruction about not eating the fruit of that particular tree. Just like Adam, Eve had a duty to heed and follow that instruction which originated from God, which Adam had conveyed to her.

But it’s wrong to say that Eve had to submit to Adam. Eve had to submit to God, just as Adam did. Adam was simply the conveyer of God’s law to Eve. Since Adam was created before Eve and heard that instruction directly from God before Eve had been formed, Adam had an obligation and duty to faithfully guide Eve and guard and protect her from making the mistake of eating that fruit. Without doubt, though Genesis 2 doesn’t spell it out, God made Adam responsible for protecting Eve from danger.

They both failed in their duty. Adam passed the instruction on to Eve well enough, but when Eve fell, rather than Adam getting down on his knees and praying to God for Eve to be forgiven, Adam just took the fruit and ate it too! Paul’s commentary on that is illuminating: the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness (2 Cor 11:3) and it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression (1 Tim 2:14). Paul points to Adam being the primary sinner in the fall: death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam (Rom 5:14). And in Adam all die (1 Cor 15:22).

Where I sharply diverge from Brad is where he argued that

It is only as a result of the cosmic and relational disorder introduced by sin that right to rule and duty to submit are mandated and a hierarchical order of human relationships is introduced.

How I believe the Fall distorted gender relations

Unlike Brad, I don’t believe God was mandating an order of authority and submission in that statement He made to Eve. I think Genesis 3:16 is descriptive, not prescriptive. It describes in a nutshell the way gender relations will tend to be now that the Fall has happened. It does not prescribe that gender relations have to be that way. It doesn’t give men a mandate to rule women; nor does it command that women must submit to men’s rule.

As I have already explained, I think that the natural complementarity of the sexes included the man’s duty to protect the woman and the woman’s need for the man’s protection. I think that natural creational Pre-Fall complementarity went horribly awry as a result of the Fall. God announced this in Genesis 3 when He told Eve:

“I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you. ”  (Gen 3:16  NASB, NASB1995)

In the second half of that verse, I believe God was saying that husbands would now in their sin-bias tend to rule harshly over their wives, and by extension men would tend to dominate and oppress women in society and culture. Men have done this by imposing a hierarchy of authority, with males been given unmerited privilege — and women being denied their right to dignity and fair treatment simply because they were women. I know that there are exceptions, notable and noble exceptions, but by and large male domination and female subordination is what we have seen throughout human history when we look at gender relations after the Fall.

I also believe that in Genesis 3:16 God was saying that women’s focused attention would tend to be on their husbands. And if they were not married, women would tend to focus their attention on finding a man to bond with. (I’m talking about tendencies and speaking generally; please don’t get upset single women who are happy being single! I honour your path, and I’m one of that group myself at this stage of my life.)

In his 2016 article, “The Meaning of Hebrew תשׁוקה,” Journal of Semitic Studies 61 (2016) :365-387 (link1), Andrew A. Macintosh did a thorough study of the word תְּשׁוּקָה (teshûqâ) which is commonly translated ‘desire’ in Genesis 3:16. He came to an interesting conclusion:

In summary, I conclude that ‘desire’ is not a proper rendering of the Hebrew word תְּשׁוּקָה in the Hebrew Bible or in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Rather, on the evidence of comparative philology and of the ancient versions, ‘concern, preoccupation, (single-minded) devotion, focus’, appears to be more likely.  (2016:385).
[red emphasis added by me]

If Macintosh is correct, then God was saying that a consequence of the Fall would be that the wife’s single-minded concentration / single-minded devotion / focused attention would be on her husband.

Now let me try to put this all together: the wife’s focused attention and single-minded devotion would be on her husband and her husband would rule over her.

Or by extension….the wife’s focused attention would be on her husband yet despite her devoted attention towards him her husband would rule over her.

I will put it one more way and sum up what I think:

The wife’s attention would now be especially and devotedly focused on her husband while her husband would take advantage of that by ruling over her….rather than him protectively loving her as she wanted him to, and as he had been created to do.

As a result of the Fall, sinful man has a bias to rule over woman, and sinful woman’s (natural Pre-Fall) need for protection from man has become biased into a more strongly focused and attentive need for man’s protection and love — which makes her extremely vulnerable to exploitation by man.

To ameliorate that situation, I believe that men, inspired and moved by God’s grace and truth need to exercise their Pre-Fall duty to protect women. They need to restrain themselves from giving in to their sinful bias to assume male privilege. And as part of that, they need to make a covenant with their eyes (Job 31:1) so they do not lust after women other than the woman they are married to. I suggest that they need to speak out about sexploitation in the media and advertising, and they need to speak out against the porn juggernaut (e.g., by joining Collective Shout). And because so many abuse victims are being mistreated by churches, I suggest that godly men need to become more wise about the tactics used by abusers, by reading our blog A Cry For Justice and interacting with our readers.

I believe that women inspired and moved by God’s grace and truth need to exercise their duty to be subject to their own husbands as to the Lord, and respect their husbands (Eph 5:22, 33). Now, for a wife to be subject to her own husband as to the Lord does not mean treating her husband as if he was God — being so devotedly attentive to him that his sin-bias will be enabled to have free reign over her. Rather, it means:

  • submitting to her man where his leadership is according to the precepts of God (and especially where it is guiding and guarding her from falling / straying into sin and being deceived by the evil one)
  • respecting her man
    • Respecting the sin-bias which makes her man tend towards sin (even a regenerate man still has to battle with his flesh), not mocking or disparaging the man simply because he has a sin-bias which is so different from the sin-bias which she has.
    • Respecting that since he has the natural complementarity to lead and protect her and their household, he may be taking more things into account in making his decisions than she is aware of, and he needs to come authentically to his own decisions in the way he exercises those responsibilities.
  • but not submitting to her man where his leadership is not according to the precepts of God
  • and resisting her own sin-bias to become so devotedly attentive to her husband that he can exploit or oppress her.

When a woman worships her man more than God, which we see continually in the patriarchal movement and some churches, she is living under the curse.
(Comment by one of our blog readers.)

I can hear some people saying that Ephesians 5:24 says wives must submit in everything (no exceptions) —

But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.  (NASB, NASB1995)
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.  (ESV)

Paul is saying that a wife’s submission to her husband must be AS (analogical to) the church’s submission to Christ. Whenever there is an analogy in scripture we must be careful not to press it too hard, not to apply it beyond its logical bounds.

The church CAN safely submit in everything to Christ, because Christ never sins. But husbands sometimes sin, and some husbands make foolish or wicked decisions that deeply affect the family. It is neither safe nor wise for a wife to submit in everything to a foolish or wicked husband. A wife ought not submit in everything to a husband who is treating her like a mere servant and sex object whose opinions, feelings and personhood have no value. Such a wife may prudently decide to submit superficially, in order to keep safe. She knows her husband will escalate the abuse if she openly refuses to submit. But inside she will always be resisting her husband’s abuse by doing things to maintain her dignity and godliness and protecting the vulnerable – quietly and prudently not submitting to his sinful demands and coercive control. (Honouring Resistance)

Therefore we must read the first part of Paul’s analogy “as the church is subject to Christ….” as colouring and conditioning the second part “so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” We all know that husbands are not perfectly Christlike and sanctification is a process. I don’t want to press the analogy into a wooden rule by saying “In as much as a husband is like Christ, that much must his wife submit to him.” But when a husband is distinctly UNChristlike by oppressing or endangering his wife and / or their children, she need not subject herself to him.  Even CBMW says “The supreme authority of Christ qualifies the authority of her husband. She should never follow her husband into sin.” (link)

Scriptural support for my interpretation

The woman’s first duty is no different from the duty of every believer: Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

She must not egg her husband on in sin, as Jezebel did with Ahab, and as Zeresh did with Haman. She must not try to entice man into sin, as Potiphar’s wife did with Joseph. She must not follow along with her husband’s sin, as Sapphira did with Ananias.

Women inspired and moved by God’s grace and truth must not be like the weak women Paul warns Timothy about, the women who are weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (2 Tim 3:1-7)

And note that Paul specifically names the gender of those arrogant brutal revilers: they are men. And those kind of men seek to captivate weak women.

A woman inspired and moved by God’s grace and truth must do what is good and do not fear any intimidation (1 Pet 3:6 CSB). She must warn her husband if he is entering into sin, as Pilate’s wife did to Pilate. She must actively and prudently resist and not comply with her husband’s sinfully dangerous decisions, and she may even countermand his orders, as Abigail did with Nabal. She must resist and speak out about sexualised assault, as Tamar did with her half-brother Amnon. She can prudently expose a man’s sin when he has let her down, as Judah’s daughter-in-law Tamar did when Judah had not given her her rights. She can instruct a man so that he has a better understanding of the things of God, as Priscilla did with Apollos, and as the Samaritan woman did with all the people of her village.  And she may tell untruths in order to protect the innocent from being harmed, as the Hebrew midwives did to Pharoah, as Rahab did when she concealed the spies, and as Michal did when she put that bolster in the bed to disguise the fact that David had fled.

More things in the Old Testament that support my interpretation —

When denouncing Ephraim and Judah, Hosea said, “like Adam they have transgressed the covenant” (Hos 6:7). Job, when responding to his unhelpful counselors, asked the question, “Have I covered my transgressions like Adam, by hiding my iniquity in my bosom?” (Job 31:33) The abusive man — the arrogant reviler — hides his iniquity in his bosom. And like Adam, when confronted about his sin, he shifts the blame to his wife and to God. Those texts point to Adam being the primary sinner in the Fall and man’s tendency to deny his sins rather than confess them and be humbled.

In Numbers 30 Moses states the Law that a husband has the right to annul his wife’s vow, so long as he annuls it when he first hears about it. The husband can’t delay; if he thinks his wife’s vow is unwise he must annul it straight away, but if he does not, the wife’s vow stands and it cannot later be annulled by the husband. That text speaks to the husband’s duty to protect and wisely guard his wife so she doesn’t fall into sin.

And my interpretation fits with what Paul teaches about gender. Here are two New Testament texts where Paul is pushing back against men’s tendency to arrogate unmerited privilege and superiority to themselves:

Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.  (1 Cor 11:11-12)

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Gal 3:27-28)

And here are three texts where Paul is telling husbands to love their wives tenderly, to protect and cherish them and not treat them harshly. These texts completely fit with the idea that Paul thinks the ‘male rule’ mentioned in Genesis 3:16 is bad, and Christian husbands ought not rule their wives in that kind of way.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.  (Eph 5:25-30)

Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.  (Col 3:19 NASB, NASB1995)  ….do not be harsh with them.  (ESV)

Husbands….live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.  (1 Pet 3:7)

I believe that in order for complementarianism to become truly biblical, it has to eradicate two male-sin-empowering doctrines. One is ESS. The other is the doctrine that Genesis 3:16 means the woman desires to usurp her husband’s authority.

1 I was only able to access the Macintosh article by going to a university library that subscribes to OUP (Oxford University Press) journals. They got it online and gave me a print-out.

[May 17, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to May 17, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to May 17, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to May 17, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (May 17, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


For further reading and listening

The change of Genesis 3:16, ESS, the colonial code of relationship, and a call to bystanders — Barbara Roberts

Necessary Allies – God as ezer, Woman as ezer — John McKinley’s address to the Evangelical Theological Society, November 17-19, 2015. (Costs $4 to download.)

Listening to the Women — In which Aimee Byrd applies the idea of women being ‘necessary allies’ to men and how that is seen in the Bible — and how is was NOT seen at a T4G conference.

The Taming of the Beau — In which Aimee Byrd argues that woman was not made to save civilization, nor to civilize man; she was made to be a companion to him, a necessary ally.

Hierarchy and Subordination vs. Headship and Household Mission — In which Aimee Byrd responds to Brad Mason’s post ‘Complementarity Without Subordination’.

What is the woman’s desire? How Susan Foh’s interpretation of Genesis 3:16 fed steroids to abusers. (Pt 1 of 2) — by Barbara Roberts

The woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16 — let’s be consistent with the context and with actual life. (Pt 2 of 2)  — by Barbara Roberts

ESS, Slavery, and the Metaphysic of Oppression — In which Brad Mason demolishes the ESS-Complementarian doctrine of “the inequality of equals”.

“And he shall rule over you”: A Collaborative Response to Aimee Byrd and Barbara Roberts — by Brad Mason

Men, Women, and the Nature of Christian Teaching: Two Responses to Aimee Byrd — by Alastair Roberts

Headship is not Hierarchy — by Sam Powell

What Headship and Submission Do Not Mean — A page we put together ages ago on A Cry For Justice.

71 thoughts on “Complementarity Without Subordination: What Does it Look Like?”

  1. This is great stuff & moves this important discussion further along. Roberts, Mason, Powell, Byrd, Goligher, Sanders & Trueman are owed a great debt of gratitude by the church in fighting these battles. I, for one, am very grateful.

  2. I wish I read this before my husband came and told me that since god made him the head he can’t let me make my own decisions….

    Excellently worded article (as always!).
    I had never noticed that the man’s desire to rule was part of the curse. So thanks for that insight.

  3. Excellent, Barbara!!!

    I’m with you in that hierarchy was not present before the Fall and that headship was for protection and defending oneness and intimacy. Have you read Michelle Lee-Barnewall’s “Neither Complementarian Nor Egalitarian”? Her interpretation is similar to yours, and so is Alan Jon Hauser in his literary analysis of Genesis 2-3.

    1. For the record, I would not say I am ‘neither complementarian nor egalitarian’.

      What I’m interested in is a complementarianism that has gotten rid of ESS and Susan Foh’s teaching about woman’s desire being the desire to usurp man’s authority.

      1. Replied to you on Twitter, but what I read by Hauser was “Genesis 2-3: The Theme of Intimacy and Alienation” from the book “Art and Meaning: Rhetoric in Bible Literature.” It’s available in Google books if you do a search.

        Looking forward to reading the link you found.

      2. I agree Barbara…..where in the church is the strong teaching on what our love is to look AND live like???? When all are striving for that out of deep reverence and love for the Lord and His people, we do not need these labels!! Jesus told His disciples the Gentiles (unbelievers) wish to ‘lord’ over you. NOT SO with you……any of you want to be great? Serve. Any of you want to be first? Be last. There is no fear when that is mutally occurring between people who genuinely love each other.

  4. Thank you, Barb!

    This is an area that I have been studying as I’ve heard of so many cases of domestic violence in the church, and especially as it relates to complementarianism and subjugation of women. Over the summer, I listened to Ronald Pierce’s lectures at Biola (here’s the intro: (BBST 450) Introduction to the Contemporary Gender Debate – Ron Pierce).

    –It’s 15 hours worth of lectures and he’s so good, it was never boring. He, like you, also describes Genesis 3:16 as descriptive and not prescriptive. That is a key verse used in churches where women are treated as less-thans, beneath their husbands (which I believe lays the groundwork for abuse).

    1. Thanks Julie Anne.

      Readers, as you know we normally don’t publish comments that include links unless we have vetted the links ourselves and found them good. But in this case we don’t have time to listen to 15 hours of lectures and we consider Julie Anne a colleague in the cry for justice, so I’m going to just go ahead and publish the suggested link Julie Anne has given.

      1. Thank you, Barb. You can also find this series in iTunes U (an app already loaded on iPhones) and once you download it, you can watch it without Wifi or using data. I watched the video while on a camping trip out in the boonies. 🏕🔥🐿

        What I like about this class / lecture is that Pierce comes from the complementarian side and then later became egalitarian. He brings in both sides of the equation and allows you to come to your own conclusions. He references works from people on both sides. I’ve never heard a more thorough work of scripture interpreting scripture. Things finally made sense to me.

      2. Barbara, how much studying have you done on husbands as protector issue? I haven’t studied that issue much, but I know as Piper et al have come out with specific “biblical” gender roles, the husband as protector has always been part of it and I’m a little bit leery of anything he says, as you well know.

      3. I would disagree strongly with Piper’s picture of husband as protector. Why? Because Piper has a very very poor understanding of domestic abuse and everything he says about domestic abuse strikes me as foolish.

        Just because Piper talks about husband as protector, doesn’t mean we have to eschew the idea of husband as protector. On this blog we have many posts exposing Piper’s and Desiring God’s silly and dangerous teaching. See our tag for John Piper.

  5. Excellent!!! I also agree that no interpretation should lead to sin or increasingly falling short of obeying God’s written will in other areas.

    I remember when my submission became tantamount to idolatry and my husbands over-entitlement became so oppressive. It also became this thing where we were falling short of Bible instructions to the point I stopped opening the Bible.

    The Holy Spirit helped me comprehend this coupled with me getting a hematoma from jumping and hurting my knee on the bed frame when he called because I wasn’t keeping house (I was reading instead). I was fearing man instead of God and the Holy Spirit was asking me these rhetorical questions from scripture basically contending with my spirit and I hurt my knee really bad on the bed. I believed God would protect me from getting hurt if I was trying to be obedient to my husband but instead God let me get a really bad bruise. I took it like a spanking from the Lord, and a wake-up call. He really let me question everything without thinking it was unsafe to question this wifely submission stuff. But this also gave me a peace that God still loved and He was even jealous for me. It gave me courage to step back and start asserting myself and thankfully God humbled my husband but that’s another kind of long story.

    Anyway, I’m so greatful to read other views rather than that extreme hierarchical interpretation and to validate my personal discovery by other people who are more articulate and to know that many others have discovered the same things.

  6. I agree with this thing Alastair Roberts said at Men, Women, and the Nature of Christian Teaching: Two Responses to Aimmee Byrd [Internet Archive link] (and I have added that link to the ‘further reading’ in the post itself).

    Alastair said:

    Part of the import of Genesis 3:16, I believe, is that the man would be would be less receptive to the influence of his wife and less attentive to her counsel, frustrating her in that dimension of her vocation, much as the man would be frustrated in his relation to the earth. The importance of the woman’s influence and counsel isn’t something new that is added after the Fall in response to the man’s sin, but a dimension of the good order of created relations between the sexes that is distorted and weakened by sin.

  7. I’ve thought of another scripture which supports my interpretation. 1 Corinthians 7:4.

    For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

    Many Christian women have been taught that they have no authority in the marital bed and that men have all the rights. But in the marital bed, women have just as many rights and just as much authority as men. 1 Cor 7:4 says a wife can say NO to sex. However, that verse says the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. This means she can tell his body to not do things to her body. She has the authority to tell his body what it can and cannot to do her body.

    So if a husband says “You must let me do this to your body because I have authority over your body,” the wife can say back to him, “No; I have just as much authority over your body as you have over mine, so if I say you can’t do that to me, you must not do it. Our authority over each other’s bodies is equal and reciprocal, so neither of us can force the other do to anything they don’t want to do!”

    Sex is supposed to be engaged in by mutual agreement and for mutual enjoyment. If one party does not feel comfortable with something, that thing shouldn’t be done. Sex is supposed to be about both spouses loving and giving pleasure to each other, and never forcing one person’s will on the other or making them feel uncomfortable. There is no other way of understanding 1 Corinthians 7:4.

    It is beyond question that Corinthian 7:4 teaches egalitarianism in regards to the sexual-intimacy aspect of marriage.
    (link to the post where I first said this)

    1. And dare I suggest one more scripture which points to gender distinctives when it comes to sexual desire and sexual intercourse? The guys may think I’m going out on a limb here, so please feel free to respond from your male perspective.

      Genesis 2:22-23
      The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said,
      “This is now bone of my bones,
      And flesh of my flesh;
      She shall be called Woman,
      Because she was taken out of Man.”

      It is reasonable to hear Adam’s delight and joy in that statement. The woman’s body was not like his (bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh). But most commentators are happy to infer something more here: that Adam was delighted by and attracted the the woman’s physical appearance. His eyes beheld her and WOW! ! …. his flesh no doubt stirred.

      Is it fair to say that this points to man’s sexual desire being particularly aroused by women’s bodies, the physical appearance of women? And we see that male “eye-arousal” (the lust of the eyes) in the post-Fall world where men are the major consumers of pornography.

      I know that women’s sexual desire towards men also has an visual component, but I think it is fair to say that the visual element is not so strong in women.

      I don’t want to make too much of it, but if this is right, then it would help explain why it was necessary for Paul to make it very explicit that when it comes to the marriage bed, there is to be COMPLETE egalitarianism and both man and woman have equal rights to initiate and to say “no”.

  8. I think that the natural complementarity of the sexes included the man’s duty to protect the woman and the woman’s need for the man’s protection.

    Personally, I do not believe protection has anything to do with male / female, except that men are often stronger than women.

    I believe we, as humans, have a duty to protect people who are weaker. That might mean adults protecting children, men protecting women or the young protecting their elders. It might mean protecting someone who is sick, or even drunk. I do not see this as a gender issue.

    1. I agree with you Lea that all of us have a duty to protect the vulnerable and the weak. I don’t think that is only the duty of men; I just think that men especially have that duty in regards to their wives.

      1. Actually, isn’t the Bible is telling us men are the stronger sex, at least physically, where it references the woman as the weaker vessel?

      2. Yes, I think the Bible is telling us men are the stronger sex, at least physically, where it references the woman as the weaker vessel. The woman being ‘the weaker vessel’ may have other connotations as well, but that’s not a matter I want to nail down in full lest I go beyond what is written. But I do think that women’s menstruation cycles and women being the ones who bear children makes us weaker in a sense too. Sometimes women can be quite strong physically but when we are pregnant or if we have menstruation problems, we are not as strong as we would be at other times!

  9. I just received a free book in the mail from I believe Puritan Seminary. It is entitled “Living in a Godly Marriage” and is by Joel Beeke and James LaBelle. Joel Beeke has published other works, one a topical theology according to the Puritans, in which he presents the various doctrinal and practical teachings of the Puritans, encouraging us to embrace those teachings today. While I certainly respect and agree with many Puritan writings, I do not believe it is profitable for us to use the Puritans as a pattern, for example, for our marriages. Beeke’s book here contains for instance a chapter on what the Puritans had to say about the Husband’s Duty of Authority (following a chapter on the Husband’s Duty of Love, to be fair) which goes into great detail as to how husbands are to exercise authority in their marriage. In my opinion, much of this material teaches husbands to treat their wife very similarly to his children, and that is an error. She is not. I myself cannot conceive of me relating to my wife in the manner described in this book. It gives me a sense of the husband having superiority in status above his wife in the sight of the Lord. And it certainly will give wicked men the ammunition they are looking for, enabling them in their abuse.

    Increasingly, as Barbara has written about here in this very helpful article, I am seeing the concept of “head” in a marriage as that of looking out for, protecting, listening to (does your brain listen to your hand when it is about to be injured? Duh), without the notions of authority and obedience. I believe that whenever the discussion of marriage turns to instruction about authority and obedience, the thing has gone wrong already.

    1. UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


      Thank you Jeff!

  10. Thank you, Barbara, Jeff and all. I am so glad to see faithful work in this area. So long overdue. My own thinking has changed and continues to grow. The whole idea of authoritarianism has always bothered me, but these things are helping me clarify my thinking even more. Always reforming according to the scriptures!

    1. Authoritarian complementarianism has become so entrenched that I actually have pastors ask me, when they meet me for the first time, “Are you complementarian or egalitarian?” When I ask them why they want to know they give an answer that reveals what they are really after – “do you believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God?” and perhaps even “Are you a Christian or not?” They don’t ask me what I believe about the Person and work of Christ, or my doctrine of justification. Nope. They want to know if I can say their shibboleth or not. Something has gone very, very wrong when Christians do this. Exalting more minor things to a level of chief importance, making them an acid test to determine if you are going to have anything to do with them or not, is really sinful. The same kind of thing has been done of course over views on the millennium or other aspects of eschatology, or views on mode of baptism.

      The fact is that yes, there are people who claim to be Christians who do not believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and who then handle it fast and free, making it say whatever they want God to say. And there are those who do this with the Scripture’s teaching on marriage and divorce and husbands and wives or husbands and husbands or wives and wives, and we reject such views and rightly suspect the reality of such people’s claim to know Christ. But the fact is that genuine believers do in fact differ on the particulars of, for example, how Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 are to be interpreted. And of course in our day we are seeing more serious departures from orthodoxy on the more “conservative” complementarian side with its insistence upon ESS.

      For myself, I have been taught for my entire Christian life that the husband has authority and the wife is to submit to that authority. But like you Sam, I have changed. I believe that as soon as authority and obedience to that authority enter into our take on Ephesians 5, the thing has already gone quite wrong. I do not tell my wife I have authority over her. I do not tell her she must obey me. That is how I dealt with our children when they were little. And the men who I have known over the years (and women too) who all the time talk about the husband’s authority and the wife’s duty to submit to that authority, the people who make it a central plank in their Christian and family life, have inevitably turned out to be the most legalistic, the most condemning, the most….well….frankly oddball people I have ever known and around whom I have never been at ease.

      1. I’ve heard it said that if you believe the same things at 50 that you did at 30, you’ve wasted 20 years of your life. I’m so thankful for progressive sanctification!

  11. SO what do we do with … ?

    1 Cor 11:7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.

    1 Cor 11:3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

    1. Anewanon – I am sure Barbara will answer in more detail, but I would just point out that God the Father being the head of Christ does not imply some kind of authority to be commanded and obeyed. The Son certainly did and does do all things according to the will of the Father, but must we assume that this means the Father is giving the Son His marching orders?

    2. I’ll give a long answer to this first, and in another comment I hope to give a shorter answer.

      My long answer is taken from Brad Mason’s post [Internet Archive link] which was published by Rachel Miller at her blog Daughter of the Reformation. [This Internet Archive link is from Brad Mason’s website, not Rachel Miller’s Daughter of the Reformation. Editors. Note copied from Brad Mason’s post: This post was originally published nearly 2 years ago on a different blog site, but has since been removed. So that my readers may still have access to this article, I have republished here under a different title.]

      What follows is an excerpt from Brad’s post. I have removed Brad’s endnote references, and I have replaced his ESS / EFS / ERAS with the easier-to-read acronym ESS. I have also added more paragraph breaks for ease of reading. All boldface and all text in [brackets] has been added by me.

      Trigger warning: a quote from one of the main teachers of ESS, Wayne Grudem, is included in what follows — but Brad then demolishes Grudem’s argument. 🙂 🙂 🙂

      Brad says:

      1 Corinthians 11:3 has become one of the supposed foundational proof texts for the subordination of the Son to the Father, and from it is born, in their theology, an analogy of human authority and submission, specifically between husband and wife. We have, e.g., from Grudem,

      “… in the relationship between man and woman in marriage we see also a picture of the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity. Paul says, ‘But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God’ (1 Cor. 11:3). Here, just as the Father has authority over the Son in the Trinity, so the husband has authority over the wife in marriage. The husband’s role is parallel to that of God the Father and the wife’s role is parallel to that of God the Son. Moreover, just as Father and Son are equal in deity and importance and personhood, so the husband and wife are equal in humanity and importance and personhood. And, although it is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, the gift of children within marriage, coming from both the father and the mother, and subject to the authority of both father and mother, is analogous to the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father and Son in the Trinity.”

      Leaving aside the tortured interpretation and utter ahistorical nature of this reading of 1 Corinthians 11, we see that Grudem and nearly all ESS proponents see in the passage an analogy: just as the Father and the Son are co-equal, yet the Son is eternally subordinate, so husband and wife are co-equal, yet the latter is subordinate to the former.

      Rather than unravel the whole of Grudem’s misreading here, for our present purposes I wish only to point out that there is, in fact, no analogy present in this passage! Paul does not say “as,” “just as,” “so as,” “in like manner,” or anything similar, even though Grudem attempts to supply them.

      Further, if the ESS analogical reading [of 1 Cor 11:3] were accepted, it would prove much more than they intend, for the passage runs that God is the Head of Christ, Christ is the Head of man, and man the head of woman.

      If man being the head of woman is analogous to God being the Head of Christ, then the middle term, Christ is the head of man, is also part of the analogy. Thus, if the purpose of the passage were to teach that just as Father / Son are co-equal, then man / woman are co-equal, then we must also conclude that the middle term shows that God and man are co-equal — an absurd and unacceptable conclusion.

      [God and man are NOT co-equal. If a man believes that he is co-equal with God, that man is not a Christian. If he professes to be a Christian but believes that he is co-equal with God, he is a heretic and should be put out of the church.]

      But Paul does give an analogy of the husband and wife relationship elsewhere in his writings,

      Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

      Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph. 5:22-33)

      Here, when Paul does actually give an analogy of the husband-wife relationship, he is explicit with “as to,” “even as,” “so also,” “as,” and the like. But most important to our point here, we must note that when an analogy is given it is between husband and wife and Christ and His Church. And how is this headship of Christ characterized in Ephesians 5? In self-sacrificial love and service, as to the care of one’s very own body. This is tremendously important, for in ESS readings of 1 Corinthians 11, we have the exact opposite!

      If we allow an analogy in 1 Corinthians 11:3, we see that the suffering Servant role of Christ toward God is the role of the wife to her husband. That is, on their fallacious reading, the wife’s coequality is realized in her self-sacrificial servant role under the headship of her husband. On the contrary, in Ephesians 5 we see the husband bearing the self-sacrificial role of loving service on behalf of his wife.

      In the ESS analogical reading of 1 Corinthians 11, headship implies rule over the self-sacrificing servant wife; [but] in Ephesians 5, where an actual and explicit analogy is present, headship implies [the husband’s] self-sacrificing service on behalf of the wife.

      The principle of rule and authority that ought to govern all relationships within the Church is found in the following:

      But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28)

      In seeking to put 1 Corinthians 11 in service of ESS claims, contrary to the near entire history of interpretation of the passage, proponents have turned Biblical headship on its head.

    3. (1 Cor 11 NASB1995 — italics in the NASB1995 original, boldface mine)

      (3) But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. (4) Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. (5) But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. (6) For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. (7) For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. (8) For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; (9) for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. (10) Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (11) However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. (12) For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.

      Now let’s examine just verse 3.
      Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.

      That sentence has three parts:
      (i) Christ is the head of ever man
      (ii) man is the head of woman
      (iii) God is the head of Christ

      If the purpose of 1 Cor 11:3 was to teach an analogy that

      (iii) just as Father / Son are co-equal, nevertheless, according to the ESS folks, the Father eternal has authority over the Son and the Son is eternally is subordinate to the Father

      (ii) in the same way man / woman are co-equal, nevertheless, according to the ESS folks, man has authority over woman and the woman is subordinate to man (aka a husband has authority over his wife and a wife is subordinate to her husband)

      (i) then we must also conclude that God and every member of the male sex are co-equal … all orthodox Christians agree that God has authority over men and men are subordinate to God.

      Look at the boldface just above — see how heretical it is? The ESS camp have not faced up to this yet. I doubt they have even read Brad Mason’s post.

      1 Corinthians 11:3 is not an analogy. Whatever 1 Cor 11:3 might mean when it says man is the head of woman (and that’s a long debate for another day… and I’ve not come to a firm view on it yet myself) it cannot be twisted to mean that a wife’s submission to her husband must look like Jesus’ submission to His Father in His sacrificial death on the Cross.

      The spouse who is told to be willing to die for their partner is the husband!

      Those who twist 1 Corinthians 11:3 to make it sound like the wife must be willing to sacrifice her life for her husband, are just plain WRONG. I believe they are misogynists. I believe they are Pharisees. I believe that many of them are allies of abusers. I believe that some of them are abusing their own wives.

      And I believe that because of all the testimonies we receive from survivors at this blog.

  12. Excellent article Barbara. “Well done” deserving a standing ovation!

    I find it so sad that in the aftermath of my ex-husband’s porn discovery, I needed him to do certain things to re-build trust, and, he did them at first, but then the resentment grew because he felt that HE was now subject to ME and that we no longer had a Godly marriage, instead of him viewing the changes as lifetime changes he needed to make.

    But because I needed those changes and he didn’t want to DO those changes, I was labeled as the ABUSIVE spouse! Not being submissive to him and HIS wants. It hurts so much. When a cop pulls you over and tells you your are gonna get a ticket for speeding and to now stop speeding is THAT abusive?

    I most definitely was guilty of … “becoming so devotedly attentive to her husband that he could exploit or oppress me.” He abandoned us on the premise of my “wrong teaching”.

    Bottom line: He did not LOVE as Jesus loved. Not sure if anyone addicted to porn CAN love another woman without full surrender.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anewanon.

      BTW, when you submit comments your WordPress name always is linked in your gravatar and that name is your REAL name. We try to remove the link from your gravatar each time you comment, but it would be safer for you, and easier for us, if you tweaked your WordPress account. If you need coaching in how to do that, email TWBTC.

  13. I would like to add to this my input on 1 Cor 14:35:

    And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

    Very little is said about the genius behind this statement by Paul as he was guided by the Holy Spirit to include it. It is not simply to put women “in their place” as it were. It is intended as a prick to the hearts of men to be ready to do what they should do.

    He does not forbid women to learn or even prophesy. In fact, he says in another place (1 Cor 11:5) that women should not prophesy without their heads covered.

    So what is this shame that attaches itself to women speaking in church? And why the insistence on learning from their husbands at home?

    Are you ready for this guys? NO – you’re not! You will hate me – lol

    It is a shame to the natural order that God intends for a church when it finds itself in the position where the only ones who are volunteering for responsibility are women. Women are, generally, the most willing of God’s servants, and arguably as capable as any man if need be. God has proven that to us in many places. Yet God wants a certain order to facilitate the overall health and welfare of the church. He does not want one that is lopsided. He does not want a church full of lazy, pew-warming, dispassionate men and many energetic women! That is not His idea of a spotless bride.

    Wives! Ask your husband to explain what he learned from his experience in church on Sunday and what insights he can impart to you. [NOTE FROM ACFJ EDS: we would not recommend a wife do this if her husband is an abuser. Abusers will always react badly to this kind of question from their wives. Either he will rant and rage or give her the silent treatment because he deems she is ‘pressuring him’ and ‘trying to control him’ or he might leap with delight at the opportunity to twist everything the pastor said against his wife, making her realise that she is wrong and she is a big fat sinner.] Ask him when you get home. Make him understand that he is the one the Bible says you should look to for clarification. It will do him, and the church, a world of good for him to know he is responsible to you to stay awake long enough to at least have a general idea of what was said. He will eventually learn to take notes!

    Husbands! I like football and a good recliner as much as anyone. But would you trade that for an opportunity to express your love to your wife by discussing the pastor’s sermon with her? Do you know how much she longs for that kind of spiritual intimacy and caring?

    Paul’s main teaching in this chapter is about a healthy order in the church, not about hierarchy. If any man doubts that verse 35 is encouraging men to become more involved, consider this.

    The verse prior, verse 34, has the phrase “not permitted to” in the KJV. The word here is epitrepō which has in it the idea of transfer or turn to. We are to understand that this juxtaposition or transfer of responsibilities in the order of church worship where men do not do their job is a crying shame and women need to get behind this idea of lighting a fire under their men. God knows that the ones most likely to shirk their responsibilities are the men.

    The church has always lacked committed men and Paul is actually pointing his finger and saying; “Shame on you if you let your wives do a job that God is calling you to do! In fact, I’m going to charge them with the task of keeping you in line. I’m going to have them do a follow-up with you at home!”.

    I recognize that this is not all we can learn from this passage but I believe it to be a much underappreciated way of understanding the benefit derived from order and certainly a part of what the Spirit intends for us to glean from it. Ok. Now you can throw the remote at me!

      1. Thank you for that caution, Barb.

        I heard a teaching on this section of Scripture at a home schooling conference one time. The speaker took it all the way to the point of saying, explicitly, that even if your husband is not a believer, and hasn’t even so much as gone to church with you, a wife is still instructed to ask that pagan for his interpretation of Scripture (or whatever other questions had occurred to her in church). And then she is to submit unequivocally to his instruction, whatever his answers may be! For in submitting to her husband in all things, she is submitting to God. All I could think about at the time was my own situation, in the midst of being abused day in and day out, and how following this instruction would powerfully enable my wicked abuser.

        That was the last home schooling conference I ever attended. I was beginning to come out of the fog. I rejected this teaching, in my heart.

        I sit here now and shake my head at the evil being perpetrated within the homeschool movement, as so many adhere to an extreme patriarchy point of view. And I wonder how many other women within that culture are being abused, too. I would not be surprised to learn that it’s a higher percentage than in the general population.

    1. The church has always lacked committed men

      What is your evidence that this has always been a problem?

      I see this verse more about keeping order in church, and not having people just shouting things out in a distracting fashion, personally.

      And all of your ‘learn from your husband’ stuff leaves out those without a husband.

      1. I know you were asking Michael, Lea, but here is one scripture. It doesn’t show that the church has always had more committed women than committed men, but it does show point to something that may have some bearing on the matter:

        (2 Tim 4:9-16) Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.

      2. Lea,

        Thanks for challenging me on this. Perhaps I should have qualified it as a phenomenon in the modern church, although I suspect it stretches much further back. And by lack I mean shortfall.

        Statistics conducted in countries all over the world, for as long as statistics on religion have been collected, confirm that women are more religious than men. This concerns every dimension of religion. (Tiina Mahlamäki, Religion and Atheism From a Gender Perspective, in Approaching Religion, 2012)
        [Click here [Internet Archive link] for an Internet Archive link to the abstract of Tiina Mahlamäki’s article Religion and Atheism From a Gender Perspective, in Approaching Religion. On the Internet Archive page, click on PDF if you would like to download the PDF and read the text Michael Affleck quoted. Editors.]

        I agree with you that this section is undoubtedly about order, especially as it related to the manifestation of supernatural gifts bestowed upon the early church. It is not my intention to take away from that. God’s word is, however, unfathomable in its wisdom, especially to all generations. This is why I characterized this insight as “a much underappreciated way of understanding the benefit derived from order”.

        It does leave out those who do not have a husband, as does Paul in this section – curiously.

      3. Gee whiz, how often do we hear a man saying to a woman “Thanks for challenging me on this!” ??

        I wish I could be confident that the pastor whose church I attend each Sunday would give me that response. Instead, I’m afraid of challenging him on things because the few times I’ve done so, he turns it into an ‘opportunity to teach me’. 😦

        And if I challenge him again, I fear he will typecast me as a pesky woman who is always picking holes in his sermons or what he said in his prayers.

      4. Gee whiz, how often do we hear a man saying to a woman “Thanks for challenging me on this!” ??

        Ha. I missed this bit.

  14. Wow. What a refreshing take on that Scripture, Michael! You don’t have to look very far to see that your assumptions are true.
    In an abusive marriage, this would actually help the abused “see”. One defining characteristics of an abuser is not taking responsibility for their part. They instead turn the blame away from them. So I would suggest, armed with that understanding, that the suspected abused use this as a test. If their spouse does the blame, they then can see more clearly their situation.
    In Genesis when God calls out for Adam and Eve, He says “Where are you?”
    I don’t believe this means God didn’t know where they were. I think it was more of a question for them: “Where are you?”
    Before we can understand how to remedy our situation, we must first understand where we are. Once that is established, then we can gain wisdom and understanding on how to deal with where we are, and go where we want to be.

  15. Complementarianism AS TAUGHT AND PRACTICED by the leaders at TGC and CBMW is systemically abusive.

    But rather than rejecting complementarianism outright, believe the complementarian camp desperately needs to renounce and expel two major false doctrines which the vast majority of that camp have embraced. These two false doctrines are:

    1. ESS: Eternal Subordination of the Son which has been propounded by Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware in particular. That doctrine is also known as ERAS: Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission in the Trinity.
    2. The doctrine that the woman’s desire is to usurp man’s authority. This doctrine comes from Susan Foh’s 1995 paper and has been embraced and widely disseminated by CBMW. I believe it is an utterly false doctrine that is very hurtful and unjust to women, because it makes complementarians default to a SUSPICION OF WOMEN. And this doctrine has particularly hurt women victims of domestic abuse. See my post What is the woman’s desire: How Susan Foh’s interpretation of Genesis 3:16 fed steroids to abusers.

    I believe that the Bible does teach male leadership, but only a kind of male leadership which requires men to listen attentively to the voices of women (not silence or muzzle or discount them) and to protect women and children (and genuine Christian men in the flock) from the abusers who, as wolves in sheep’s clothing, have crept into the church and done immense harm there because they haven’t been recognised and expelled from the church.

    The same goes for the abusers in the home: good male leadership in the Christian community needs to be able to recognise domestic abuse in the homes of the flock and it needs to TOTALLY support the domestic abuse victims and not pressure them to stay with or reconcile with their abusers. And it needs to say to the victims of spousal abuse “You are at liberty to divorce your abuser without incurring any sin whatsoever.”

    This good male leadership can almost never be found in complementarian circles at the moment. And it is NEVER found at the top leadership level of the TGC and CBMW heavies.

    But I’m part of a loose cohort of less-well-recognised complementarian men and women who are seeking to articulate a complementarianism purged of the two false doctrines I’ve listed above. Some of these people are also calling for the PCA (America) to change its code book to allow for Women Deacons, which I think is a very good idea.

    And of course, the celebrity leaders studiously ignore what we are trying to do.

    Here are a couple of posts from people who are in this loose cohort:

    Reset: Some Questions on Gender and “Authority” [Internet Archive link] — by Brad Mason

    Ladies, Truth, and Tables [Internet Archive link] — by Rachael Starke

  16. Thank you so much, Barbara, for this excellent post and follow-up comment. World changing for me! And “YES!” to the fact that ESS & the twisting of Gen. 3:16 / woman’s desire being to usurp man’s authority are very hurtful and unjust to women.

    A vivid illustration of the bad seed of these doctrines producing abusive fruit is in a sermon by John MacArthur which I recently read (its transcript in GTY’s archives). I found it through a recent book review at the Spiritual Sounding Board, of Lori Alexander’s pitifully patriarchal book, The Power of a Transformed Wife. (Book Review Series – “The Power of a Transformed Wife” – Why Lori Does What She Does [Internet Archive link])

    Someone at SSB gave a link to Lori Alexander’s blog post The Sphere of a Woman’s Life [Internet Archive link] in which she quotes from John MacArthur’s sermon titled God’s Plan for Younger Women, Part 2: Titus 2:3-5.

    I think if every Christian woman read God’s Plan for Younger Women, Part 2 by John Macarthur, there would be MASSIVE female defection from his camp, so frighteningly ugly is his view of women.

    I already knew the basics of MacArthur’s (biggest) faults from ACFJ and elsewhere. I also read his book, Twelve Extraordinary Women, for a small group, and was shocked at his Pharisaical disrespect for a few women in the Bible (the woman at the well, Tamar, Bathsheba – little hussies, all, in his “5th generation pastor,” sheltered, judgmental view). But I wasn’t prepared for even worse in his sermon. There is SO much that is disturbing in it, but here are just a few excerpts [boldface mine]:

    But Christian women must not ever think that their equality in spiritual standing before God and their equality in salvation and sanctification and their great freedom in Christ has somehow obliterated God’s created and spiritually beneficial order, because it hasn’t. Young women are here addressed in the church, because it’s always been a tendency for young women to kick over the traces of their responsibility, just as it would be for any person. You remember back in Genesis chapter 3 that when God cursed Eve one of the parts of that curse was that her “desire would be toward her husband,” and that word “desire” means “a desire to dominate or to rule.” That’s part of fallenness… So young women need to be reminded, because there’s something in the fallen flesh that wants to dominate and be free and kick over the fences…

    …it rises out of the fallen flesh of a woman who wants to lord it over her husband, who wants to express herself, who wants to run independent of the plan and purpose of God. That’s what the sinful flesh does…

    You say, “You don’t know my husband. I don’t love my husband. My husband is not lovable. There is – he has turned me off I don’t love him anymore. I don’t care for him anymore.”

    MacArthur continues with his surface-y example with NO specifics given on WHY a Christian wife has come, over TIME, to this point in her marriage. Female fickleness, no doubt. Instead, he just barges on with “Scriptural” commands for the wife to deny her feelings and train herself to love her husband, NEVER addressing the husband’s part in the condition of their marriage:

    …You will reverse the stigma of the curse by which women are stigmatized, because a woman led the race into sin. You will be preserved from that stigma when you rear a godly generation. That’s your highest calling…

    This is part of a paragraph on the “command” for women to stay at home to raise their children, and certainly sounds like a works righteousness. And he assumes that SAHM’hood [?] is a guarantee of producing godly children; I can attest that it is not. And it SURE sounds like he views Woman as spiritually inferior to Man – probably intellectually, too – no matter what lip service he gives to “equality in spiritual standing before God and…in salvation and sanctification…”

    Then he talks more about the “sinfulness” of women working outside of the home; the master of hyperbole makes his point by bringing in this dire comparison:

    Proverbs 7:11 gives a definition of a prostitute. This is what it says, “She is boisterous and rebellious, her feet do not remain at home.”

    He also says he “never in his lifetime saw [his] parents argue” and says that “so many young women today just don’t understand this”… that he and his wife never felt the need for attending marriage or parenting seminars, as they both grew up in such godly homes which followed this “biblical” model of relationships. [He’s speaking specifically of his understanding of a wife’s “role and sphere.” What arrogance and “spiritual” bragging!]

    Here is what Macarthur says on the dangers and “bad testimony to the world” of a Christian wife holding a job outside of the home, and how it’s unnatural for her to “be subject to someone else’s husband” (He means her boss. Ew!):

    A woman doesn’t know how to bow her knee to God until she learns how to bow her knee to her husband. That doesn’t mean a servile way. It simply means that she submits as God has designed the order. Christ, God is the head of Christ; Christ is the head of the man, 1 Corinthians 11 says; and the man is the head of the woman, subject to her own husband.

    After reading that last line, I was so hurt and angry. To think that I listened to this man on the radio going back to my teen years, so eager to love God and better learn His Word, and THIS is what he thought of women all the time! I’m sickened. (I guess it explains why he “never saw his parents argue,” too. Clearly, his mother completely embraced (willingly?) this bad theology, as does his wife. Those poor women!) Although I’m stuck fighting against his horrible influence in evangelicalism, on a personal level he is no longer of ANY significance to me. What a mean joke of a ‘C’hristian man / husband / father / preacher / teacher he is!

    So, I completely agree that “Complementarianism AS TAUGHT AND PRACTICED by the leaders at TGC and CBMW is systemically abusive.” [John MacArthur has been involved with CBMW since its inception and still is. He was a speaker at their T4G conference last April 2016, which had the theme, “The Beauty of Complementarity.”]

    1. Proverbs 7:11 gives a definition of a prostitute. This is what it says, “She is boisterous and rebellious, her feet do not remain at home.”

      That is not a definition!!! It is a description. How can anyone take this man seriously when he doesn’t know what words mean?

      That thing about bowing the knee to a husband is just nuts.

  17. Eve had an immense God-given power of influence over Adam. Adam’s sin was in listening to Eve’s voice when Eve was deceived and was voicing something that was in contravention to God’s instruction. Eve, under the deception of Satan, used her influence wrongly at the Fall.

    One import of God’s statement in Genesis 3:16 is that man would be less responsive to woman’s influence. Because of the Fall, men would be somewhat hardened against women’s influence and would rule over (lord it over) women. This is one of the things which would bring sorrow (Heb: ‘itsebon) to women. But men would secondarily suffer from this state of affairs because, in their sin-biased disposition to not heed the influence of women, they would not listen to the good counsel which women can give them when women are following God’s precepts. And the whole human race — and the church — would suffer because men and women were biased by sin to not help or be helped by each other in carrying out their joint creational mandate.

  18. The emphasis on authority in conservative evangelical circles is like an octopus with many arms. Or maybe the better image would be a centipede with many feet keeping God’s people held down with false teaching.

    As you will know if you’ve following this blog for a while, one of the ways the Pharisees try to get people to to go along with their heavy emphasis on authority (husband over wife; clergy over pew-sitters) is the idea that the Son is ETERNALLY subordinate to the Father.

    In the last few days, various people have pointed out that the ESV Bible translates a couple of verses in a way that bolsters the idea that the Son is ETERNALLY subordinate to the Father (ESS, also known as ERAS).

    Now we’ve learned that the ESV Bible itself – the very translation, not just the study notes — is conveying ESS.

    Listen to a podcast about it here: Does ESV = ESS?

  19. Much, much food for thought….

    I have always seen myself as an adviser, not a leader….not because I lack intelligence, education, or am lazy. I prefer researching, implementing, teaching, presenting options.

    I am not a usurper, only taking the lead when the leader abdicates their responsibility.

    When my walls crumbled, I prayed for God to place me in a Christ-centred environment, one without issues with power and control.

    I read this post and think: What I was (am) praying for is Biblical.

  20. The fact that the Hebrew and Greek language expresses so much more meaning than does the English language renders English translations more like mere black and white mimeographs of the original Technicolor Greek and Hebrew.

    One such example can be seen in the variations of the word translated as “Love”.

    The Greek text uniquely uses the forms: Eros, Storge, Phileo, Agape which translates more accurately to romantic / sexual love, family / parental love, brotherly / friend love, and God’s divine unconditional love.

    I find it interesting that whenever in the English NT the husband is commanded to love his wife, the original Greek word used is Agape. And where the wife is commanded to love her husband, the word Phileo is used.

    Hmm…. Is God even trying to say, “Hey ladies, careful of that focused desire you have for him. Dial it back down and focus on me (not him) as #1. Meanwhile, I’ll advise him to love you as I do!”. Just a thought….

    In my opinion, yes, ladies WANT to agape love their husbands – even to their own undoing and to the detriment or enablement of their husbands to passively let her carry the relational load in the marriage. Which ultimately leads to passive, resentful abuse because it’s NOT God’s design. Woe to those authors who insist that marital love MUST be unconditional (agape) in both directions regardless. From which direction it starts. God didn’t say so. So why do those authors?

    Personally, I think it’s hard for the women to dial back to only phileo love their husbands, and I think it is hard for the husbands to dial forward and fully agape love their wives. And I think the Spirit of God is needed for them to love in this way. Without the Holy Spirit, our tendency is to default to wives agape loving regardless of how he treats her, and husbands ruling over instead. (Note: without the Holy Spirit.)

    An example that leads me to think this is with Peter and Jesus…. In John chapter 21 before Jesus ascended into heaven and before He sent the Holy Spirit, Jesus and Peter had the “Do you love me?” [John 21:15-17] conversation using the words agape and phileo. Jesus was searching Peter’s love for Him. And three times Peter could only offer that he “phileo” loved Jesus.

    Fast forward to the book of Acts and the first and second books of Peter wherein AFTER the Holy Spirit filled Peter, every time he [Peter] spoke the word love, he then used the word “agape”. The word that Jesus wanted him to use back in John 21.

    This leads me to believe that he could only understand unconditional “Agape” love AFTER he was filled with the Holy Spirit.

    So too, I wonder if we can’t expect agape love from husbands until they are fully surrendered and submitted and filled with the Holy Spirit to lead their marriages into the same. And until they do, wives are oftentimes abused by his “ruling over” her.

    She is “affected” – descriptive, not prescriptive – by “how” he (husband) loves her, agape or otherwise. Agape is life giving, the kind of headship that God desires. The type that GOD knows and commands that she needs. Any other type of love (Eros, phileo, storge) is not enough for her heart to thrive in, as He created her to love in return.

    1. Thanks for that interesting comment, Anewanon. 🙂

      You prompted me to do a search for all the passages in the NT that talk about wives, husbands, women and men.

      Paul exhorts Titus to teach the elder women to be —

      ….teachers of good things, to make the young women sober-minded, to love their husbands…. (Titus 2:3b-4a)

      —and the word he uses there for ‘love’ is phileo. That was the only place in the NT I found which explicitly tells wives to love their husbands. And it doesn’t use agape.

      1 Tim 2:15 says:

      ….through the bearing of children they [women] may be preserved, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with discretion.

      The word ‘love’ there is agape. While that passage is talking about women bearing children, it is likely using the word agape to refer to the kind of love Christian women are to have towards others in general, not specifically the kind of love wives are to show their husbands. Faith, agape love, and holiness are what all Christians are called to.

      1. Barbara summarized:

        The NT tells husbands to agape love their wives. The NT tells wives to phileo love their husbands.

        I wonder, is there any place in the New Testament (or Greek versions of the Old Testament) in which the Scripture specifically commends “eros” as love? In the OT, there are passages relating to the love of spouses. For example, it says (in English) that Jacob “loved” Rachel and that Elkanah “loved” Hannah. I wonder how the Hebrew term of the original was rendered in Greek Septuagint translation, from which Jesus and the Apostles quoted.

        I think of “eros” as a consumption-based kind of “love”: “I love you just like I love cheese-stuffed-crust pizza! chomp“. Does Australia have cheese-stuffed-crust pizza?

      2. Yes, Australia has cheese-stuffed-crust pizza. 🙂 It is made by some pizza chains, but not by the real Italian pizza makers of which we have many here.

        So far as I can tell, having scoured Vines Dictionary, the Greek word ‘eros’ and its derivatives is not used in the NT, or in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the OT).

        In Gen 29:18 where it says “Jacob loved Rachel” the Septuagint translates the word ‘love’ with a form of the Greek word agape.

        In 1 Sam 1:20 where some English translations say “Elkanah loved Hannah,” the KJV renders it “Elkanah knew Hannah”. The Septuagint translates that word ‘knew / loved’ with the Greek word ginōskō (Strong’s G1097 [Internet Archive link]). The Hebrew word is ‘knew’ which was commonly used as a Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse.

      1. The NT tells husbands to agape love their wives.

        The NT tells wives to phileo love their husbands.

        Thanks, Princesa, for drawing our attention back to this interesting distinction which Anewanon pointed out. 🙂

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