In Defense Of Complementarianism: A Response To Allen Yeh (Part 3)Culture, Evangelicals, Protestant, Religion — By David Nilsen on December 3, 2009 at 12:01 am
In my last post I gave several theological arguments designed to undermine the presuppositions of egalitarianism, show that Christianity is inherently patriarchal, and prove that there does not need to be any inherent opposition between equality and hierarchy. Now I will examine three important Biblical passages that Dr. Yeh interacted with in his post: Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2, and 1 Corinthians 14. I should note at the outset that these are traditional proof texts for complementarianism, and that Dr. Yeh is doing defensive work rather than actually building a positive Biblical case for egalitarianism. My task will be to uphold the traditional complementarian reading of these passages.
I will begin with the locus classicus of complementarianism, Ephesians 5:22. I must quote Dr. Yeh at length, because not only his argument but also his language are important here.
Ephesians 5 calls for mutual submission. It is a case of proof-texting to only point to v. 22 (“wives, submit to your husbands”) but not v. 21 (“submit to one another”). In fact, I would say the husband’s responsibility is much heavier than the wife’s. Any man who thinks his wife needs to be doing whatever the husband wants forgets that the husband is called to die for his wife (lit. “as Christ … gave himself up for [the church]”). Any attempt to soften that makes the cross impotent…You want to be a real man? The Bible calls men to die, not to lord it over their wives. Jesus never sought power for himself, and that’s precisely why he’s worthy to be praised. If we want to be real men, we shouldn’t demand obedience, but obedience will come out of respect for our humility.
First, complementarianism does not entail that a wife has to do “whatever the husband wants” nor are we trying to lord authority over others. This is exactly the kind of exaggerated rhetoric that plagues too much of this debate. Yes, husbands are called to a greater sacrifice on behalf of their wives, but that is exactly the point. Leadership (or as I noted last time, representation and service) always requires greater sacrifice. This description of the self-sacrificial responsibility of the husband does not negate his headship—it reinforces it.
Second, contrary to what we are often told, verse 21 does not teach an unqualified “mutual submission.” As Wayne Grudem points out, this phrase, “to one another” is used elsewhere in the Bible with the meaning “some to others” rather than “everyone to everyone” (see Grudem, “Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism”, p.119). For example, when we are commanded in Galatians 6:2 to “bear one another’s burdens” we are not meant to simply trade burdens with one another, but rather some are to help others as the need arises. We also find, in Revelation 6:4, the phrase “…so that men should slay one another.” Obviously this cannot mean that everyone “mutually slew one another” for then corpses would be rising from the dead to slay their killers. So also in Ephesians 5:22, this phrase can simply mean that some are to submit to others, depending on the situation. This reading makes more sense, as Paul then goes on to list a number of examples of godly submission. I should also point out that if we are to take verse 21 and apply it to the husband-wife relationship in Dr. Yeh’s manner, we must do so consistently throughout the remainder of the passage, in which case parents would have to submit to their children and masters to their slaves.
While we’re on the subject of slavery, Dr. Yeh later says, “I would say if you take the plain meaning of the text, you ought to support slavery as well…” The problem with this is that Paul does, on many occasions, condemn slavery as a general practice (see 1 Corinthians 7:21 and 1 Timothy 1:10). Peter, when giving a similar command about slaves obeying their masters in 1 Peter 3, says, “it is commendable if a man bears up under unjust suffering.” Thus when taken as a whole we see clearly that slavery was a practice that the Apostles viewed as unjust and were merely attempting to regulate (and in Philemon, Paul is even trying to subtly subvert it altogether). The same cannot be said for male headship, which is explicitly endorsed without reserve.
With reference to 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14, Dr. Yeh suggests that because Ephesus was a center of feminist goddess worship, and Corinth had the Artemis cult, Paul was merely attempting to counter these influences with his sanctions against women teaching. There is, of course, a serious problem with this argument, namely that men could just as easily be members of these cults. If Paul is simply trying to counter the influence of false teaching itself, why would he not simply attack the teaching head-on, as he does so often elsewhere? This strategy, if it were true, makes as much sense as if Paul had attempted to counter the Judaizing heresy by forbidding Jews from teaching in church. Not only would this be gross over-correction, but Gentiles who accepted the teaching of the Judaizers could still spread their doctrines quite easily. Likewise, it would be going too far to forbid all women from teaching because some were spreading heresy, and it would be a futile strategy anyway, because men could still spread the false teaching.
In response to 1 Cor. 14:34 specifically, Yeh points out that no one, not even complementarians, follows every detail of this passage, as it seems to forbid women from speaking at all. Yeh argues, however, that just three chapters earlier Paul says that women can prophesy, so he cannot possibly mean that they are to remain absolutely silent. Rather than asking the obvious question of what Paul does mean, Yeh simply takes it for granted that he has disproven the complementarian reading of the passage and moves on. But is this the case? How should we understand what Paul is saying here?
I believe that what Paul is censuring here is women interpreting prophecy. Just a few verses back, in verse 28, Paul makes a similar censure of anyone who would speak in tongues without an interpreter present. He says, “If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church.” Just like the censure of women in verse 34, Paul is obviously not instructing the tongue-speaker to remain absolutely silent for the entire church meeting if there is no interpreter present. Rather, the speaker must be quiet with regard to the function of speaking in tongues. The same rationale should be applied to verse 34. The context of Paul’s command to silence is prophecy and “weighing” prophecy. Thus it would be a perfectly reasonable solution, from the text alone, to say that Paul is prohibiting women from performing one of those two functions. We know from 1 Corinthians 11 that it cannot be prophesying, therefore it must be the weighing of prophecy. If it seems odd that Paul would allow women to prophesy but not interpret prophecy, consider what might be a modern equivalent: reading from Scripture and preaching. Technically, one who reads the words on the page of Scripture is reading the very word of God to the people, and is in that sense prophesying. Preaching is a different function with a higher degree of authority because it involves the explanation and interpretation of God’s word. Thus it makes perfect sense within a complementarian worldview to allow one and deny the other.
There is much more that could be said about these passages, and due to constraints of time and space I have not even interacted with all of the Scripture passages that Dr. Yeh mentioned in his post. However I hope that I have at least succeeded in showing that the complementarian reading of these classic proof texts is best, and that within the sort of theological framework I sketched in my last post, complementarianism emerges as the Biblical approach. I would like to thank Dr. Yeh for being my debate partner, and for his earnest desire to present a truly Biblical and evangelical perspective.