The purpose of this article is simple: It is my intention to lay out the foundational reasoning for why we believe what we do about the order of the male-female relationship. It is my conviction that the God-ordained roles assigned to men and women (within church and marriage) are clearly laid out in Scripture and are eternal principles which are beautiful when exemplified and always glorifying to the God who has created us exactly as he has.
Complementarians have no reason to be ashamed of these roles, but ought to proclaim them as divinely handed-down and very good in the eyes of God and men (Gen. 1:31). The complementarian position is not indefensible, nor is it academically insufficient or in anyway logically inferior. It is not old-fashioned, but has been the “holy” (1 Pet. 3:5) order of relationships for all time. It is the historically attested position of the
It never ceases to amaze me that in “evangelicalism” it seems that somehow, just by sheer volume of material and popular opinion, the egalitarian position has managed to shift the burden of proof back on the complementarians. That is bizarre. It would seem to me that the group clearly acting in opposition to quite perspicuous biblical commands would have the burden of proof on them. Still more odd is the fact that when complementarians simply respond by citing the same Scriptures over and over again in response to every new egalitarian argument, this is seen as a weakness. But wasn’t it our claim all along that our only backing for our position was Scripture? It’s a shame that egalitarians claim that same principle, yet in their argumentation show what they truly hold to be persuasive (see the appendix on “gullibility” in William J. Webb’s Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals, for example).
Man and woman were created as equals; both alike in the image of God, with the same worth, dignity and honour associated with this image. Though both maintain the same value, there have been complementary roles assigned to men and women within the realms of marriage and the governance of the body of believers. The man is to lovingly and sacrificially lead, love, protect and provide for his wife as Christ has loved his bride. The woman is to live out a quiet and gracious spirit in a life characterized by good works and chastity, all the while joyfully submitting to her husband’s authority. All women are not subject to all men, but wives are subject to their own husbands. Within the formal gathering together of the body of believers for worship, positions of authority are limited to males who meet many specific character quality tests.
Our Foundation: The Bible as Canon
God has inspired his Holy Word which is our authoritative rule in all matters of faith and practice throughout the centuries (2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:1-2; 2 Pet. 1:16-21).
While some passages of Scripture are more difficult to interpret than others (2 Pet. 3:14-18), this does not necessitate another authority or turning to outside sources. Even the difficult words and texts of Scripture can be understood as seen within the context, as interpreted from the original languages, and most importantly, with the help of God (2 Tim. 2:7). The Scriptures alone are sufficient (2 Tim. 3:10-17).
The Goodness of Creation Before Sin[i]
God created the world and all that is in it and declared it very good as it was (Gen. 1:31). As result of sin, all of creation was subjected to the curse of judgment which brought death to all (cf. Gen. 3), and distorted the relationships between men, women, and animals (Gen. 3:8-24). It may then be concluded that the order established in creation before the fall was entirely according to God’s design, not man’s, and that restoration in the order of all creation is what Christians should desire, though it can come about only through the removal of sin.[ii]
The Order of the Male-Female Relationship Prior to Sin
Male and female are created as equals; both are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27; 5:1-2).
The distinction in roles given for men and women are seen to be present before the fall. Therefore, they ought to be desired and preserved by all who seek to please God. This can be seen in no fewer than nine ways:
1) The Order. Adam was created before Eve in the biblical account (Gen. 2:7, 18-23). According to the NT, this is of utmost importance for the continuing governance of the male-female relationship (cf. 1 Tim. 2:12-13).
2) The Representation. Adam was given the role of representing the race as a whole. This is confirmed in the NT by the fact that even though Eve was the first to sin, we are told that we are all guilty because all sinned in Adam, not Eve (cf. 1 Cor. 15:22). Throughout the NT Christ is compared as the representative of his people with Adam, the representative of his people (1 Cor. 15:45-49; Rom. 5:12-21). Seeing as how it was Eve who first sinned and led Adam into sin, unless there was some reality of the headship of Adam already present, it should have been Eve listed in the NT as our representative.
3) The Naming of the Woman. There is a motif of naming that would have been easily observable to the original reader throughout the early chapters of Genesis. This is important to notice because in every single instance the one doing the naming has implicit authority over the one being named. In Genesis 1:5, 8, and 10, God is the one naming specifics of his creation. In chapter 2:19-20 (after the reader has already been
4) The Naming of the Human Race. When God created the human race (man and woman), he named them together, “Man” not “Woman” (Gen. 5:1-2; note the phrase “when they were created”—this was not a result of the fall, but most likely refers back to 1:26). “Adam” in the Hebrew is not a generic gender-neutral term to the Hebrew reader, who in the first four chapters has seen the same word used in 2:22, 23, 25; 3:8, 9, 12, and 20, (to cite a few examples; the word “Adam” has been used 13 times up to this point in Gen. 5 in this way) always to mean specifically “man” as opposed to “woman.” Of those 13 times, the word is used five times in those chapters as a proper name for Adam in distinction of Eve. Thus, in 5:1-2, the naming of the race “Man” with the same word is in effect saying, the woman shall take the man’s name; he is the representative head. God could well have given humanity a gender-neutral name, such as “humankind,” but he did not. With this perspective, knowing that God named them “Man” when they were created, this makes proper sense of 1:27 (“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”).
5) The Primary Accountability. After the sin of Eve and Adam, God came looking specifically for Adam to give account. Gen. 3:9 reads, “But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” In the Hebrew, “man”, “him”, and “you” are all singular. Even though Eve was the deceived, the first to sin, and the one to lead them into sin, God demanded that Adam give account. In Gen. 2:15-17, God gave the original command to Adam, and here God demands that Adam give account for the disobedience of his race. It is also significant that the Serpent spoke to Eve first, as if to invert the order God had decreed (Gen. 3:1).
6) The Purpose. According to the biblical account, Eve was created by God to be a helper for Adam. The term “helper” (Hebrew ’ezer) is not necessarily a term of subordination. In fact, it is quite often used of God himself as
7) The Conflict. The curse in no way introduced new roles for men and women, but rather, it simply perverted roles already established. Gen. 3:16 speaks of a woman’s “desire” being for/against her husband and of a husband “rul[ing]” over his wife as a result of the fall. The Hebrew formation of “desire for/against” (teshûqāh ’el) is used only here and in the following chapter (Gen. 4:7). The verses have incredible resemblances in structure and vocabulary and the latter is probably written with the purpose of recalling the former in the mind of the original reader. In both of these contexts, it seems that this construction means “an aggressive desire, perhaps a desire to conquer or rule over, or else an urge or impulse to oppose or act against.” The Hebrew word māshal (“rule”) is regular in the OT. It almost without exception implies rule by strength and force, often in an oppressive fashion. Thus, sin resulted in a perversion of the God-given roles of joyful “helping” and loving “providing for”. As a result of sin, woman would desire to usurp her husband’s authority (hate him for it) and the husband would rule the home and the world oppressively, in a harsh manner, by force of strength. Furthermore, the consequences meted out make all the more sense when put into this relational context. Woman would now have pain introduced to her area of responsibility (“in pain you shall bring forth children”), and man now has pain in his area of responsibility (“in pain you shall eat of [the ground] all the days of your life”). Thus we have pain introduced to the relationship between them (the conflict) and pain introduced in each of their areas of responsibility.
8) The Restoration. After the grand act of redemption and the re-ordering of things in Christ, we would expect to find the effects of the curse undone completely. And thus we do, affirms Paul: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Col. 3:18-19). This statement is a direct command to undo the impulses created in the fall (to oppose or to usurp and to rule harshly).
9) The Mystery. A “mystery” in the writings of Paul generally refers to something understood vaguely, if at all, in the OT, but has been made clear in Christ. Thus, he refers to marriage as a reflection of Christ and the Church. Paul does not look at the culture surrounding him to analogize marriage, but to the perfect order of things in the Garden (prior to the fall) to instruct his readers how to live in marriage now (in the NT). Paul quotes from Genesis 2 “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ (Gen. 2:24). This mystery is a profound one, but I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31-32). In other words, the relationship of husband and wife just described (Eph. 5:22-30) is a model of
[i] Excepting the section still to come, titled “Apostolic Proof Texts”, almost all of what follows is taken from thoughts expressed in Wayne Grudem, ed., Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood (
[ii] That is not to say that the teleological end of all Christ’s work is a “return to