In Defense Of Complementarianism: A Response To Allen Yeh (Part 3)

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.

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David Nilsen

David graduated from Biola University in 2008, with a B.A. in Philosophy. He studied Historical Theology for three years at Westminster Seminary in California (his essays on Theology, Church History and Eastern Orthodoxy can be found here). David has been blogging about Philosophy, Politics and Culture since 2004. He has contributed to The White Horse Inn and The Gospel Coalition. You can also follow him on Twitter.

  • Nigel

    If women can prophesy but not interpret does this mean that a cessationist (prophesy => preaching) would allow a women to preach?

  • David Nilsen

    Nigel, thanks for the comment.

    No. As I mentioned in my post, the modern equivalent of prophesying would be the reading of Scripture (which, like prophecy, is speaking the very words of God). So a woman could be appointed to be a “reader” in the church (though most modern evangelical churches don’t have specially appointed readers anymore).

  • Allen Yeh

    Thanks once again, David, for supplying great fodder for conversation. I think the Eph. 5:22 argument is not the crux of my argument, so I’m not going to hang my hat on whether that makes my overall argument stand or fall (though that is usually the one Scripture that complementarians attack). However, I must say that, though you’re right that it should call men to a greater servant-leadership, I often don’t see that played out practically. The reason I mention men “lording it over” women is because that is often how I see it practically expressed in complementarian churches, and that saddens and sickens me.

    As for doing “defensive work,” I think that “undermining” (as you put it) complementarianism is the same as supporting egalitarianism. There is no other option, is there? So saying no to one means yes to the other. Defensive work is necessary because complementarians usually take the Scriptural high ground and say, “Hey look, complementarianism is right there in the plain meaning of the text!” so often the burden of proof is on the egalitarians to show how the text can even possibly support egalitarianism. Which is what my blog was trying to do. And I tried to flip the tables, making you do the defensive work by bringing up 1 Cor. 14:34, and you spend a good portion of your blog defending how women can prophesy and be silent at the same time (at that point, I think that egalitarians have the “plain meaning of the text” on our side when 14:34 is put side-by-side with 11:5. Basically, what I was trying to say is, “Complementarians, you can’t get away with the ‘plain meaning of the text’ argument that easily! That is a simplistic hermeneutic, and egalitarians can pull that game too if you want” but that doesn’t make it necessarily right). In the same way you pair up 1 Cor. 7:21 with the slavery passage, showing how the former negates the “plain meaning of the text” of the latter, that’s what I was trying to do with 14:34 and 11:5. Complementarians often say that egalitarians have to do verbal gymnastics to get their interpretation across, but it seems both sides have to do verbal gymnastics. As I’ve said before, NOBODY takes everything in the Bible literally. Scripture must interpret Scripture.

    One of my strongest arguments, I think, is the descriptive-prescriptive problem of 1 Tim 2 where the prohibition of braiding hair or wearing jewelry is placed side-by-side with women being silent. I have yet to hear a good complementarian argument reconciling how they take the latter literally but not the former.

    Another one of my stronger arguments is that aner and gune, in the Greek, can be translated as either husband or man, and wife or woman, respectively. There is no reason why, in 1 Tim 2 and 1 Cor 14, that we should pick-and-choose, in the same passage, different translations of the same Greek words, yet I don’t know of a single Bible translation that doesn’t pick-and-choose. It starts to smell like an agenda going on when people pick the translation that suits their interpretation!

    Well now, I sort of feel like I undermined my own counsel against “hair-splitting” in my last comment on your previous post, but let me just say that my point is not to definitively prove that egalitarianism is correct, but merely to show that IT IS A POSSIBLE AND VIABLE EVANGELICAL INTERPRETATION. That’s all. So if I’ve gotten that across, I’ve done my job. I just don’t like complementarians calling me a “sinner” or saying that I’m “unbiblical” for being an egalitarian. At that point, I think we’ve lost the spirit of Evangelicalism (i.e. taking Scripture as our highest authority) and resorted to Fundamentalism (i.e. if you don’t take my exact point of view, you’re a heretic, or you’re going to hell).

  • David Nilsen

    Dr. Yeh, thanks for the comments.

    Regarding 1 Timothy 2, notice that Paul says “I desire” when talking about women being modest and not wearing gold and pearls, but he says “I do not permit” when talking about women exercising authority over men. There is a decided difference in emphasis and attitude between the two, the former being more of a wise suggestion, the later being an explicit and unavoidable command. Thus even the “plain meaning of the text” (however we are defining that) gives us good reason not to treat these two things with equal force. It would be perfectly possible to read Paul as saying “I do not desire that women adorn themselves in costly attire when they come to church, but that they adorn themselves with truly respectable apparel, by which I mean good works.” Notice that this reading does not mean that Paul is actually forbidding certain clothes or jewels, simply that such things are not what he deems important (and he may even be suggesting that, all things being equal, they are usually a hindrance to the important things). Either way, the “plain meaning” of the rest of the passage about women exercising authority is not in any way weakened.

    I’m really not sure how you’re using the phrase “plain meaning” or why you think I’m not following the “plain meaning” of a text because I allow another text to qualify it? I AM following the plain meaning of Ephesians 5 on slavery, for example, but the plain meaning has nothing to say about the institution of slavery qua slavery. It merely says that, IF you are a slave and a Christian, you should submit to your master. The same goes for 1 Peter 3. Peter says that a slave should submit to his master, even though he acknowledges in the same sentence that slavery itself is unjust.

    Yes, “man” can be substituted with “husband” and “woman” with “wife”, but I fail to see how that changes anything with respect to 1 Tim 2 or 1 Cor 14, since both are dealing with public worship. It would be an extremely awkward reading of the passage to say that Paul is only prohibiting wives from exercising authority over their husbands, but that they can exercise the same authority over men who are not their husbands. And do their husbands not have to listen to their advice, reproof, teaching, etc? It just isn’t helpful to understanding the passage.

    I honestly think you’re being much too hard on “hair-splitting.” What do you think was going on at Nicea? Literally, the difference between orthodoxy and heterodoxy was ONE letter! For some reason you’re fine with hair-splitting up until the 4th Ecumenical Council (or somewhere there-abouts), but after that almost anything is fair game. I’m just not sure how you can make that cut-off, since it seems a bit arbitrary to me. I suppose you can say that only the doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation are THAT important, but then, are you totally SURE that someone cannot be considered a genuine Christian and be some kind of Modalist? I’m not so sure about that (and some scholars argue that Augustine was basically a Modalist). The point is, I’m in agreement with you that I cannot call you a heretic or say that you’re going to hell because you don’t baptize babies or because you have women elders. But that doesn’t mean that I cannot claim, and argue for, one position over another that I believe to be the Biblical one, and call the other position “unbiblical.” If the Bible doesn’t teach it, that would seem to be the definition of unbiblical. If I don’t believe that the Bible teaches it, how could I possibly admit that it’s biblical? I think you may be operating with an unreasonable standard of “unity.”

  • David Nilsen

    Dr. Yeh, I forgot to address your first two points, regarding Ephesians 5 and “defensive” versus “constructive” work.

    You said, “However, I must say that, though you’re right that it should call men to a greater servant-leadership, I often don’t see that played out practically.” This may be true, but it shouldn’t be allowed to affect our interpretation of the text. Clearly the New Testament calls us not to be legalists, and obviously some people abuse that freedom by becoming licentious, but that doesn’t mean we over-correct by imposing legalism.

    Of course the whole point of the passage, as you correctly stated, is to show men the kind of self-sacrifice they are called to. My only point was to show that self-sacrifice IS leadership. To assume that this passage lends any support to egalitarianism is to assume a wrong idea about leadership to begin with (one that apparently includes the idea of lording one’s self over others).

    Also, would you really say that most of the complementarian husbands/pastors that you know are guilty of lording their authority over their wives or those under them in their church, expecting their wives to do “whatever they want”, and/or not showing an attitude of sacrifice and service to others? I only ask because, if the answer is yes, that’s a pretty serious charge and I’d like it to be substantiated in some way. But if the answer is no, then you would be generalizing from a few (probably isolated) examples to make a very big exegetical and theological claim.

    Lastly, when I say that your work is “defensive” I mean that you are merely showing that several passages do not in fact teach complementarianism. That does not automatically mean that egalitarianism is true, it only means that those few passages do not explicitly deny egalitarianism. I only brought this up to contrast your method with what I did in my last post, which was to build a constructive, theological framework for complementarianism.

    Thanks again for your comments. I hope this exchange is beneficial for everyone reading! :)

  • Allen Yeh

    Thanks David! In the spirit of the New Year, I’m going to end my comments here because I know we could probably go on forever with this, but let me just say that if you read one of my other blogs I wrote two months ago (which provoked a lot of controversy), I basically agree with you that orthodoxy is not as black-and-white as we like to believe today. I do NOT necessarily believe that only the first four Ecumenical Councils were correct and everything else is fair game. The point of this following blog is that we must question everything because while we agree that Scripture is our highest authority, everyone has lenses so who is to say that my lens is better than yours, or your lens is better than mine? Nevertheless, we do our best to find the truth while having humility that it may not be within our finite human minds to comprehend it completely:

    I think you do recognize the difference between black-and-white and shades of gray. Even if you disagree with my egalitarianism or credobaptism, I presume you are fine calling me a Christian brother, embracing me in fellowship, and ministering in partnership with me. If I were a sexual deviant (pedophile, or steeped in pornography, or committing fornication/adultery), I daresay you wouldn’t feel quite the same way. Because in the former case, while you disagree with my interpretations, you know I’ve at least got the right attitude toward the Scriptures and are striving to interpret it faithfully. In the latter case, you know I’m just *wrong* because that’s not what the Bible teaches!

  • Don Johnson

    I am coming late to the party.

    1. One should be careful in taking Grudem’s “out” on Eph 5:21, as doing so destroys a lot of other “one another” verses similar to Animal Farm. This is not saying in itself Grudem is wrong, some verses can be understood that way, just that context determines which is the best fit. Just because Grudem shows it MIGHT mean “some to others” (as it does in a few other cases) does not mean Paul meant that without more discussion.

    2. And the more discussion gives evidence for the egal understanding. The pericope is Eph 5:15-6:9. Some translations break up the sentences, but Eph 5:22 is not a sentency by itself, as it has no verb, it inherits the verb from Eph 5:21. Here is my translation: … mutually submitting in the fear of Messiah; wives (mutually submitting) to your husbands as to the Lord. So Eph 5:21 is TIGHTLY coupled to Eph 5:22.

    3. There is a chiasm from Eph 5.

    A4 but be filled by the Spirit,

    B4 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,

    C4 singing and praising in your heart to the Lord,

    C4′ giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God the Father,

    B4′ submitting to one another in the fear of Messiah;

    A4′ wives, [submitting to one another] to your own husbands as to the Lord.

    B4 is matched to B4′ and JUST as singing to one another is mutual, so is submitting. Paul gives hints to deny hierarchy if one can see it.

    4. Paul is giving a believer’s gloss on Aristotle, we know this as there is an exact match on the 6 entities in Aristotle’s household codes. But he alters Aristotle in huge ways, in effect, subverting the pagan worldview from the inside out. And significantly, he NEVER asks a wife to obey her husband, altho this would be the expectation; in this case Paul’s silence shouts, when understood in cultural context.

    This is a lot more, but this will do to start.

  • TL

    ”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.”

    I’m always curious when a person’s aim is to defend belief systems and undermine others. Wouldn’t it be more productive to just seek to correctly exegete and understand sections of Scripture? Probably, that is what you mean to do, but are just wording it aggressively. Also, humanity has been patriarchal since the fall of mankind, but this does not mean that patriarchy as humanity has exercised it is a good idea or even recommended by God.

    ”First, complementarianism does not entail that a wife has to do “whatever the husband wants” nor are we trying to lord authority over others.”

    I believe you that most complementarian men don’t want to be doing that. However the system does set it up so that some can and actually do demand that their wives do whatever the husband says unless it’s leading them into sin. Back in the 60’s and 70’s pre-comp, the Shepherding Movement instituted the system of male only leadership being servant style leadership and the system of absolute obedience. When the complementarian system was birthed it did so from the patriarchal foundation adding the new concept of “equal but different” (equal in value before God, but having different roles their whole life). Thus the present complementarian movement is really a gentler offshoot of hard core patriarchy. The term complementarian was created specifically to soften the view and give an impression of complementarity. Yet, the basic beliefs carried over from patriarchy remained. These basics were: 1) male only leadership in home and church 2) such leadership was to be obeyed 3) women were to obey husbands unless asked to sin (sometimes a lessor sin was actually allowed for the wife to obey). The husband had the responsibility and privilege of being able to have the last word and veto over the wife’s actions. 4) Women were to be denied access to all ministry involving leadership over men, thus leaving women only ministering to other women and children up until 13-16. 5) Women were not allowed to determine doctrine but to accept what male leadership defined for them. And more.

    Thus, Scripture has been viewed and interpreted by comps through these lenses. I really question how many actually seek to mine the meaning of Scriptures for the pure meaning in context, whatever that may be.

  • KR Wordgazer

    Rather than continuing to focus on a very few passages within the whole of Scripture, I have some questions to ask, focusing on the big picture.

    Throughout Scripture we see that the gifts and the callings of God are not according to the flesh. God doesn’t necessarily choose the oldest in the family, the largest, the strongest, etc. Why, then, has God apparently given the gift of universal leadership in every home and church, based purely on the flesh? He has apparently chosen the physically strong to have authority over those who are by nature physically weaker; the ones whom society already favors, has He chosen over the ones who are most often oppressed; the ones who naturally see themselves as privileged to take and hold power– these He has chosen to be in charge, and the lowly, He has chosen to submit.

    Does this fit in with the overall pattern of Scripture? If not, perhaps what we are seeing in the Bible is an acknowledgment by God that He must work with societies who have taken “he shall rule over you” and run with it; and that rather than enforcing this natural, fleshly authority, God admonishes the Church that they are to be different.

    Jesus knew that the testimony of women would not be believed by the surrounding culture. So He chose twelve male apostles– and what did He do with them? He made it so that the ones who first brought the message of the Resurrection to them, were the women! He showed the male apostles, before He sent them out into a society that would be willing to listen only to them, that they themselves needed to learn to listen to women.

    Is the pattern of God’s interaction with His church, a pattern of enforcing male rule? Or is it a pattern of telling males who were used to ruling, that in order to follow Him, they’d better get used to sacrificing and giving up of themselves, to raise up those society has placed under them? Is Jesus described as “head” of the church in Ephesians 5 in terms of telling her what to do? Or is He described as “head” in the way He gives up His place, goes down to her level and raises her up to rule beside Him?

    Is the Bible really about God’s enforcement of male authority and female submission? Did Jesus enforce this when He told Martha that Mary didn’t have to work in the kitchen, but could come be with the guys and sit at His feet as a student? Did students in Jesus’ society spend their entire lives learning, never to consider themselves worthy to teach? Did not Jesus say that Mary had chosen well, and that what she had chosen would not be taken from her?

    Does God REALLY support heirarchy and patriarchy? Or is it just that this was the way the people He wanted to reach, were used to living?

    What is the big picture?

  • David Nilsen


    Thanks for the comment. I’m glad to see my post getting some more interaction (even weeks later!).

    1. Grudem isn’t arguing that the phrase means “some to others” in EVERY context. Indeed, he agrees with you completely. All he is saying is that it MIGHT mean that in some cases. Unfortunately, most egalitarians simply quote “submit to one another” as if it were conclusive proof that Paul is not calling for male headship. Grudem is pointing out that this is an unwarranted conclusion without further evidence from the context. There is none.

    2. First, if Paul intended to carry through the notion of mutual submission (in the egalitarian sense) to both wife AND husband, it is extremely odd that he does not call husbands to “mutually submit” to their wives. In fact, he says nothing remotely close to submission in relation to the husband. His silence on this point is deafening. Instead, he calls them to self-sacrificial love, which I have argued already is practically synonymous with a Biblical understanding of leadership. Second, you cannot stop at husbands and wives. You must carry the “mutual submission” through to children and slaves as well. That simply doesn’t work.

  • David Nilsen


    I’m always curious when a person’s aim is to defend belief systems and undermine others. Wouldn’t it be more productive to just seek to correctly exegete and understand sections of Scripture?

    I was responding directly to someone making an egalitrian argument, so by the very nature of responses I am forced to try to undermine what my interlocutor is arguing for. I didn’t want to stop there, though, and my hope was to offer some positive evidence for my position as well.

    I really question how many actually seek to mine the meaning of Scriptures for the pure meaning in context, whatever that may be.

    I hope that both Dr. Yeh and I were attempting to do this. I can say that I personally have no particularly strong feelings about women in roles of leadership (I have had many female teachers and bosses). I only defend complementarianism because I find the Scriptural proof to be overwhelming.

  • David Nilsen

    KR Wordgazer,

    1. To say that God’s callings are not “according to the flesh” is merely an acknowledgment that God calls according to His sovereign will, rather than our own merits. In the Old Testament, only a Levite could serve as priest in Israel. According to your use of the phrase, this would be a clear instance of God calling someone to a specific office “according to the flesh.”

    2. There are two problems with the argument that God was merely working within imperfect cultural standards. First, as I pointed out in my post, there are clear condemnations of the institution of slavery in the New Testament, despite the fact that slaves are still called to submit. This is simply not the case with male headship. Second, Paul grounds male headship in creation, in the pre-Fall state. This means that it was God’s intended order for the husband-wife relationship and is not dependent upon any particular fallen culture.

    3. As so many have done, I think you are confusing male headship with tyrannical domination. You contrast “male rule” with “[men] sacrificing and giving up of themselves.” As I said both in this post and the last one, self-sacrificial love and service IS the Biblical understanding of leadership. If a husband is a Christ-like leader, he will always put his wife first (which might mean listening to and heeding her wise counsel!), not try to dominate her.

    You asked about the big picture. I tried to give a tiny glimpse of the big picture in my last post (part 2 of my response). I invite you to read that and consider what I said there.

  • Don Johnson

    I read Eph 5 as saying Christ as head serves the church, so a husband is to serve his wife. If that is ALL you mean by leader, then I agree with you; but I doubt it is ALL you mean. There is always the kicker, called a trump card, 51% of the vote, the male as final decider, etc. It is THIS aspect of leader that I dispute is normative in the Bible and for a believer in marriage.

    I gave further evidence that Eph 5:21 is to be read as mutual submission, are you ignoring it? It is exactly for these other contextual reasons that Grudem’s analysis is to be rejected as a sinful interpretation, seeking power.

    ALL of the 6 examples following (including slaves and kids) are examples of mutual submission, this is shown for example in Magill’s Transline, as IN THE GREEK, they are all subordinate clauses, which may or may not come out in any specific translation.

    One thing I have seen is that hierarcicalists tend to confuse submission with obedience, I am not sure if you are doing this, but they are different altho partially overlapping ideas. Paul NEVER asks a wife to obey her husband.

    The only Scripture that says a wife is to obey her husband is in Esther where it is the edict of a pagan king, hardly something a believer should follow.

    So I ask you, willl you repent of your masculinist interpretation?

  • KR Wordgazer

    David, what I see in the creation order is male and female created to rule over creation, side by side. I know how complementarians read male headship into the second chapter of Genesis, but since it isn’t there in the first chapter, I don’t think they ought to read it as there in the second chapter. If you take off the male headship glasses, you will be hard put to it, to find any reference to Adam leading Eve, or being supposed to lead Eve, before the Fall.

    As for the Levites– the New Covenant removes the priesthood of the Levites and replaces it with the priesthood of the believer. There is no passage that calls believers “a kingdom of priests and their wives.” We are all priests. Even in the Old Covenant, God often chose leaders based not on the flesh, but upon His decision– but they still had to be Israelites. The New Covenant removes such fleshly distinctions. I do not see them continued for the Church at all.

    I am not confusing male headship with tyrannical dominion. I am opposed to the first, and one of the reasons is that it so easily leads to the second. But that’s not the only reason.

    As for cultural considerations– all of the Bible was written within a certain cultural-historical understanding. We can’t pick and choose which ones to see through cultural-historical glasses, and which ones not to. The only way to read the Scriptures consistently is to always take culture and history into account, so that we can be sure we are not missing certain ideas that were assumed by the original writer and original readers, and therefore not explicitly mentioned. Only when we take these things into account can we glean the actual teachings/principles that the Scriptures were intended to convey to the original readers. To do otherwise is to impose our own ideas onto the Scriptures, rather than respecting them for what they are. Right at the beginning of the books of the Bible, are clear denotations of when and to whom each was written. Those denotations are there for a reason– so we don’t confuse ourselves with the original, intended audience.

  • David Nilsen


    I did not ignore your other reasons, they are simply inconsequential. Even if there is a chiasm in this passage, and even if Paul is giving a kind of Christianized version of the Aristotelian household codes, none of that neccessitates the egalitarian understanding of mutual submission. Since I gave several reasons for thinking that this passage is not teaching such egalitarian ideas, there is no need to address the rest of your points in detail.

    It is quite clear that children and slaves are called to “obey.” Are you really suggesting that Parents are not to have authority over their children in a way that is not reciprocated? Do children get an equal say in all family decisions? I’m sure you aren’t suggesting that.

    I’m afraid I cannot “repent” of the clear teaching of Scripture. I would humbly submit that you continue to consider the strongest arguments on BOTH sides (I don’t know what you’ve read on the suject, but all of the arguments you are using have been responded to by Complementarian writers, and you would do well to consider carefully those responses and then, if you remain unconinved, develop new arguments of your own). Thanks for taking the time to interact on this important subject.

  • David Nilsen

    KR Wordgazer,

    My reference to the creation order was not neccesarily to Genesis itself, but to Paul’s reference to the order of creation in 1 Corinthains and 2 Timothy. When speaking of male headship, Paul references a time before the fall and the possible corruptions of different cultures.

    Of course, the cultural argument cuts both ways. Why should we assume that male headship is wrong because it was connected to a particular culture, and not assume that egalitarianism is wrong becuase it too is connected to a particular culture? Culture can’t be used as a trump card. We need to examine what the Bible teaches, in context.

    Obviously I’m not suggesting that we ignore the historical/geographical contexts of the Bible. That’s just good hermenuetics. But you cannot simply say that male headship was tied to a particular culture and therefore it is not a timeless truth of the created order. Paul certainly doesn’t allow room for that argument.

    I know that there are no more Levitical priests today. That wasn’t my point. The point was that God has indeed chosen to call people to specific offices based on “the flesh” in a sense. Of course, I would argue that maleness and femaleness goes much deeper than merely a phycial level, so even then your argument about “not according to the flesh” wouldn’t work.

    I understand your point about the dangers of male dominion. So does Scripture! Right in Genesis 3 Scripture shows how male-famle relationships will be messed up by sin. But just because men and women are sinful and twist the goodness of God’s created order, that doesn’t mean we seek to supplant His order with our own.

    Thanks for the comment!

  • Don Johnson

    Yes, it is quite clear that slaves and kids are told to obey. History also teaches that these verses were used to oppress slaves by slaveholders so that in itself should tell us to be careful in exegeting them to give power to oneself.

    Wives are NOT told this and this lack is astounding and shouts in context of Aristotle teaching obedience of wives, Paul does not say that.

    I do study both sides and am convinced that non-egal males have fallen to the temptation to power and need to repent, that is you are CHOOSING to interpret the text in a way that gives you power over another adult, when this is not required by the text at all. By NOT reading Eph 5:21 as mutual submission, similar eisegesis would destroy all the other “one another” verses and be a shadow of real Christianity, ala Orwell’s Animal Farm. This makes it totally suspect.

    So I ask you again to repent!

  • KR Wordgazer


    I’m sorry, but to me male headship = divine right of males to lead females, which is male supremacy–

    And as such, it is universally, morally wrong. No matter what culture it was in. God may have put up with it, as He put up with polygamy (which is tied to male supremacy as well)– but saying that one group of people has the right to be in authority over another group which must be followers, based purely on the accident of their bith and on nothing else, is wrong. If God were to decree this, He would be arbitrary and capricious. But He is just, and is no respecter of persons (shows no favorites).

    Look at it in terms of any other group:

    The rich have divinely granted authority over the poor.
    The aristocracy has divinely granted authority over the common people.
    One particular race has divinely granted authority over other races.

    Just because we put “men” and “women” in there, doesn’t suddenly make it right.

    I’m not going to change my mind on this, so I guess we’ve gone as far as we can go here. Best wishes to you.

  • KR Wordgazer

    One caveat to the above– I am not talking about the results of the Fall and sin, in my post above– but about what Christ has done. “He shall rule over you,” God did say to the woman– but that was the result of sin and the Curse, not of God’s divine Plan.

  • KR Wordgazer

    Oh, and please don’t argue that the Levites and/or priests had the kind of universal. final-decision authority I’m talking about. The kings did– but God gave in to the Israelites’ desire for a king. It wasn’t His idea.

    Ok, I’m done. Sorry for the multiple posts. Peace to you.

  • David Nilsen

    KR Wordgazer,

    Again, “divinely granted authority” does not simply mean that the person in a position of authority can do whatever he or she wants and force those under them to do whatever they want. A Christ-like husband will always put his wife first, not squash her under his foot. Protection, service, care, self-sacrificial love, etc, are all what the Bible ascribes especially to those in positions of leadership.

    The Bible clearly teaches that there are special office-bearers in the church who bear a certain kind of authority (elders and deacons). Leaving aside the question of which of those offices, if any, are open to both men and women, every objection you raise about the potential problems with male headship could equally be raised against the existence of ANY special office within the church.

    Jesus is my head. I would gladly do anything He asks of me without hesitation. I would never think that I am in any way on the same level as Him in terms of authority. And yet he stoops down to wash his disciples’ feet. A human husband is not perfect, nor is he divine. That means that a wife ought not to “blindly” follow her husband’s every word as she would if it were Christ Himself. But none of that negates what Paul clearly teaches. The husband-wife relationship remains a miniature, foggy mirror image of the Christ-church relationship. Does that mean husbands are granted all-powerful dominion over their wives, relegating their existence to that of slavery? No, it means husbands are called to wash their wives’ feet.

    It’s unfortunate that you have already determined not to change your mind, and that you seem to have no interest in looking more closely at what the Bible actually says, but thank you for interacting with me here. Hopefully our short discussion was beneficial to others.

  • KR Wordgazer

    I think you wrong me, David, when you assume I “have no interest in looking more closely at what the Bible says.” I have indeed looked very closely at what the Bible says. I have also read your other two blog posts on this issue. The reason I am bowing out of the discussion has nothing to do with my not being interested in what the Bible says! The fact is that you and I disagree in the most fundamental ways about how the Bible should properly be read and interpreted. Also, we are, on a very deep level, not communicating. The fact that you continue to believe that my objection to male authority has to do with men “squashing” women is telling here. Such is not the case. You also appear to think I have an ojection to authority, as authority. This is also not the case. What I object to is power and authority given to a group of people for no other reason than their sex or race. Yes, I do see the two as similar. If it’s wrong to give one race authority over other races, it’s wrong to give one sex authority over the other. To me, this is a moral issue. The Bible cannot be teaching this, because it is fundamentally immoral and wrong.

    I see no point in continuing the conversation because I see no possibility of understanding on this fundamental point. You see male power over the female, as long as it is benevolent, as good. I see male power over the female, no matter how benevolent, as wrong. How could we possibly get past that?

    But it has nothing to do with my supposed unwillingness to study the Bible. This is a judgment that you are in no position to make, since you don’t even know me.

    I came back to clear up that little point. I wish you well.

  • David Nilsen

    KR Wordgazer,

    I didn’t make that comment as a personal insult or a mere parting rhetorical shot. You said in your very first comment:

    Rather than continuing to focus on a very few passages within the whole of Scripture, I have some questions to ask, focusing on the big picture.

    I took this to mean that you are not as interested in arguing about the minute exegetical details of passages of Scripture as you are in discussing the “big picture.” Also, in this last comment you said:

    The Bible cannot be teaching this, because it is fundamentally immoral and wrong.

    Now, obviously you want to be willing to study what the Bible says about this issue, but how can you genuinely be interested in doing the long, hard work of Biblical exegesis when you make a statement like that? If you know ahead of time what the Bible can and cannot teach about this issue, why would you bother to study it?

    In any case, my comment that “you seem to have no interest in looking more closely at what the Bible actually says” is not as important as my comment that “It’s unfortunate that you have already determined not to change your mind.” If you come into the discussion knowing what Scripture can and cannot teach and determined not to be persuaded any other way, then you’re right, we cannot possibly communicate or have a fruitful dialog.

    Thanks again for the comments. And thanks for keeping them civil. I only ask that you endeavor to keep your mind open as you continue to read and interact with others about this important issue.

  • jlp

    First, complementarianism does not entail that a wife has to do “whatever the husband wants” nor are we trying to lord authority over others.”

    The problem with this statement is that many complementarian teachers are teaching just that. They teach that wives are to do whatever their husbands want. Look at Bruce Ware and some of his acquaintances as an example.

    I think an extensive reading of the complementarian teachings will reveal a distinct tendency on the part of some comps to teach exactly that. I’m not saying all comps, but there is a strong and vocal minority that are teaching JUST that.

  • jlp

    I, like many women when they were young Christians, converted to complimentarianism. After years of prayer and Bible study I converted to egalitarianism. I consider my rejection of complimentarianism one of the best things I’ve ever done. I still study the Bible, attend church and put Christ first in my life. Rejecting complimentarianism did not affect my committment to Christ.

    Understand that many of the Christian women you know will take the same journey I did. They will convert away from an egal view to a comp view, and then convert back to the egal view again. It will not affect their commitment to Christ.

  • David Nilsen

    jlp, thanks for the comments.

    I suppose it depends on the specifics. I think most comps would teach that the husband has the 51% “deciding vote” in all family matters (if for no other reason than as C. S. Lewis argued, because it’s simply impractical and unworkable to be 50-50). But I don’t know of any complementarians who argue that a wife has to ask her husband every time she wants to goes out, or ask when and where she can spend money, or what kind of clothes she’s allowed to wear, etc. I mean, I’m sure there are SOME, because every position has its extremes. But I’ve always heard comps teaching, on the other hand, that a husband should not misuse his deciding vote, and that if he is being a truly Christ-like leader he will take seriously his wife’s counsel, and put her desires before his own.

    As for your background, I’ve known several young women who have had the opposite journey. They started out comp, because they grew up in a conservative evangelical church and simply inherited it. But then they were introduced to egal and “converted”, as you say. But after reading a lot more material from both sides, they came to realize that the modern comp position is not simply traditionalism and that it has a strong Biblical basis, so they “converted” back. And of course I can think of at least 3 prominent comp writers who are female. In any case, I suppose my only point is that anecdotal evidence can only get you so far, and you probably shouldn’t place too much emphasis on your personal experience.

  • David Nilsen

    For anyone who is interested (and still reading this thread), here is an interesting article by S. M. Baugh, Professor of New Testament and Greek at Westminster Seminary California. Rather than focusing on the differences between men and women in the church, he focuses on all the “official” things that women CAN do in the church.