Freed to live through the death of another.

All-Male Eldership, Part 1: The Foundations

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Conclusion.
Purpose of this Paper

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 church of Jesus Christ and is based upon the perfect triune relationship of God, the relationship of Christ and his bride, and the relationship of Christ to humanity. This position, as it will be shown, can be argued (and indeed must be argued) entirely from Holy Writ and no other source.

Why Now?

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).

Our Stance

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 informed that man has been given authority over the animals, 1:26, 28) man is given the charge of naming all the animals that God has created. Once woman is created, the same process occurs again, as woman is brought by God to man, and man names her (2:22-23). Obviously, as has already been stated, she is one in nature with man (“bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh”) and every bit as much an image-bearer of God as man (1:27), and therefore is not to be equalled in value with animals. In fact, she, with Adam in 1:28ff is given the charge of ruling over the animals and all God’s creation. She is one with him and created from him, an image-bearer of God, but there is still a role distinction made, as man is pictured as the one to have authority over the woman.

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 Israel’s helper throughout the OT. However, the one who is helping, for that time is seen to put himself in subordination to the one primarily responsible for the task at hand. According to Genesis 2, however, Eve was not Adam’s helper on occasion, but was in fact created for the very purpose of being Adam’s helper. She would be Adam’s helper in the carrying out of the charge already given to Adam (2:15-17). Despite the purpose of being a helper to Adam and Adam being the one bearing primary responsibility for the carrying out of the charge given by God, Eve is still very much seen as Adam’s equal, and in no way inferior because of her role distinction. The Hebrew for “fit for him” is kenegdô, which renders the phrase “a help corresponding to him,” that is, “equal and adequate to himself” (2:18).

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 Eden (Gen. 2), and both (marriage before the curse and marriage after Christ’s work) are a picture of Christ and his bride (an eternal reality—not a picture from the culture of his day).

[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 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002). By and large this paper has been created as a summary of arguments put forward in this impressive volume. The thoughtful reader will want to study the original to delve into the arguments at a scholarly level.

[ii] That is not to say that the teleological end of all Christ’s work is a “return to Eden,” but it is to say that what was present in Eden was a right ordering of relationships. Ultimately, redemption in Christ brings much more than was ever promised or seen in Eden; thus the visions of the City of God in Revelation are much different and much better than anything experienced originally in Eden. Also, Jesus himself taught that in heaven there would be no marrying or giving in marriage (Matt. 22:29-33). Obviously, then, there is a different plan and order for humans post-resurrection. This does not nullify the point, however, that on earth, the authority relationship between a man and his wife was ordered before the fall and is confirmed after the work of redemption. Throughout Scripture and the entire movement of redemptive history, the husband-wife authority relationship is seen as very good.


  1. jshelley78

    do women in your church wear head coverings?

    (honestly, I’m not trying to be instigative here, just curious!)

  2. jshelley78

    oh wow…I just noticed the “part 1” part….I’ll wait for the completion to ask questions. 🙂 how many parts are there going to be?

  3. Julian Freeman

    Hehe, thanks for the continued challenging, James. If we don’t keep pushing each other, we’ll never ask the hard questions that need to be asked of our own positions. It is dialogue like this that I’ve had with some good friends who vehemently disagree with me which has pushed me to investigate this issue to the extent that I have.

    Yeah, this is just part 1 though. I’m mainly just posting a ‘position paper’ on this issue I wrote a little while ago as a response to some friends of mine (see comments above). So how many parts there will be depends largely on how many chunks I break that paper up into. This one will probably be the longest post of them all though.

    This first one is just laying the foundations in creation. We start to deal with some of the arguments from contested NT passages in the next section. 🙂

  4. Julian Freeman

    Sorry for blathering on, I just thought that the first question you asked probably deserves a response too, even though we’ll be getting there in this series of posts.

    I reject the notion that if we don’t follow through on every imperative in Scripture we’re being inconsistent to follow through on any.

    For example, one imperative in Scripture is to ‘bring my cloak and the parchments.’ That doesn’t make sense for us to take that as a direct command personally for so many reasons. No one would say that we should do that.

    When we see an imperative (a command) in Scripture, we need to think it through carefully… what was the context, what was the reason for the command? Sometimes it’s implied, sometimes it’s explicitly stated, other times we really have to think hard through the whole flow of thought to understand it.

    The head coverings issue is not parallel to the women-elders issue… but I do think that the head coverings thing does strengthen the complementarian position quite a bit. Here’s why:

    1. The head coverings were for while a woman is leading in prayer or prophesying.
    2. These were seen as authoritative roles.
    3. The head coverings were a symbol that although she is taking an authoritative role, she is not the authority-figure, but there remains an authority over her.
    4. The head coverings command is applicable to when you have women praying or prophesying.
    5. The actual form of the head coverings is secondary. What is being stressed is that the woman must not be seen to be taking the functionally authoritative role in the local church.

    There is much more that could be said, but I think that will hopefully suffice at least for now.

    Thanks again!

  5. jshelley78

    so…. you’re telling me the “Word of God” is really only truly understood through the process of analytical/contextual cultural, sociological and anthropological study?

  6. Julian Freeman

    Actually, quite the opposite.

    We hold that the Scriptures are more than able to interpret the Scriptures. Any person alone on an island left to themselves and the Bible could figure out from the text how to be saved, and live in a way that pleases God.

    No one would deny that some passages are clearer than others, but we hold to the principle that the essentials are stated clearly enough that they are able to interpret and guide us in the peripherals.

    Take the passage on head coverings for example.

    Here’s what’s clear:
    1. In specific situations in the local church, the women are to have a symbol of authority over them.
    2. In those same situations it would be inappropriate for men to have a symbol of authority over them.
    3. This distinction is rooted in universal, absolute, unchanging principles (namely, the intra-Trinitarian relationships [1 Cor 11.3] and the creation order and intended distinctions implied therein [1 Cor 11.8-12]).
    4. The principle, then, must be unchanging.

    Here’s what’s unclear:
    1. What the head coverings actually are.
    2. What Paul meant about shaving their heads.
    3. Who the angelous are (v.10).

    So what can we conclude by examining the text alone, without any cultural / sociological / anthropological analysis?

    Lots! All that we need, in fact, to govern our churches appropriately.
    1. Women, when praying or prophesying ought to have a symbol of authority over them, because authority roles in the church are reserved for men.
    2. That symbol of authority must be appropriate to the cultural context (it was head coverings for them, what is it for us?) so that the distinction is clear to all.
    3. That this distinction is quite important! It misrepresents our Trinitarian God, dishonours humanity, and ignores God’s purposes for the unique genders if we get this wrong!

    We need to let the text speak for itself within the larger frameworks of (1) the book, (2) the rest of Paul’s writings, (3) the rest of the NT, and, (4) the whole biblical redemptive-historical storyline. Let Scripture interpret Scripture.

  7. jshelley78

    but without the cultural analysis, we come up with something that is obviously a North American rendering:

    – the principles we apply to understanding the text always come from outside the text itself. (even if the text said, “Read Me This Way” we would still need to interpret what, exactly, “This Way” means.)

    – the presupposition that the Bible needs no external cultural understanding to be understood carries no more weight than the presupposition that the Bible needs to be understood in a deeply cultural context… except that individuals are extremely predisposed to disagreeing with someone of the opposite viewpoint.

    your friendly neighborhood devil’s advocate, 🙂

  8. GUNNY

    That’s a good and valid point on the nature of an imperative in Scripture as we attempt to delineate between that which is descriptive and that which is prescriptive.

    I would be one, however, who would advocate the prescriptive nature (Something the other tour guides won’t tell you) of the headcovering for a wife per 1 Cor 11, since nothing in the text gives one the indication that Paul’s rationale was tied to culture.

    In fact, it seems he wants the church to dictate culture instead. I realize that role the biblical context plays, but it’s interesting such a practice following from the biblical principle wasn’t really questioned until the 20th century.

    For those who don’t have the practice tied to the principle, I wonder what is their practice of the biblical principle that the wife must have a sign of authority on her head (1 Cor 11:10), if not a head covering.

    P.S. Good stuff on the male eldership action.

  9. Julian Freeman

    Gunny, thanks for joining the discussion! I appreciate many of the sentiments you expressed.

    I would question whether or not the practice of head covering is applicable outside the realm of ‘praying or prophesying.’ In the passage in question, Paul specifies in v.3 that he is admonishing the Corinthians to remember the authority structure which should be in place in the church because it definitely is in place within the Godhead.

    The issue, it would appear, is that women are taking on a role (praying or prophesying) which would visually militate against a proper understanding of husband-wife relationships. When this is the case, precautions must be taken to ensure that women are not seen as holding the authority, even while exercising an authoritative role by speaking in the church, and leading God’s people in worship.

    The principle, then, is that if you have women exercising spiritual gifts or leading the people in worship, it must be made manifestly evident to all (in the Corinthian church, that meant head coverings… I’m not certain that it needs to be that in all contexts) that they are not the actual authority figures, since the head of the wife is the husband, the head of the man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God.

    To dishonour her head (to usurp authority not rightly hers) is to ultimately dishonour the Triune God.

    Thanks again for sharing thoughts… they are appreciated!

  10. Sam

    Regarding points (1) & (8) – I don’t think the verses provided here, alone, prove your assertions: more exegesis in context please?

    Also, in (8) you say: “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”. Well, some argue that the state of submission is itself a fallen one, and that Galations 3:28 clarifies believers have been set free from it in Christ.

    I haven’t read any of Grudem’s books, though I’ve seen dubious quotes from one of them and not-very-sound advice on how to conduct systematic theology from another.

  11. Julian Freeman

    Sam, thanks for the thoughts. Please check out part 2 of this series for some thoughts on the text from Gal. 3:28.

    I’m sorry that your experiences with Wayne Grudem have been less than pleasant thus far. All I’ve read of his works are a few books on this issue and his Systematic Theology. I’m not a guy who typically likes systematic theology as a discipline, but I quite enjoyed Wayne’s work. It’s definitely worth giving a fair evaluation of your own from your own reading.

  12. GUNNY

    Julian wrote: “I would question whether or not the practice of head covering is applicable outside the realm of ‘praying or prophesying.'”

    I think that’s a very valid question. One would wonder if that means prayer as the one who speaks or the one who is merely joining in as one in the congregation as another prays.

    Honestly, I still have many questions, but I’m figuring that if the essence is “sign” of that which is signified, then there’s no harm in playing it safe in the context of a whole service.

    Of course, others would say that REALLY playing it safe would be always wearing the covering (i.e., inside, outside, upside down) since we are to pray without ceasing.

    I guess that would make me merely a neo-conservative than a full-fledged conservative with regard to the practice of the sign of authority on the head principle.

    ; – )

    Thanks for giving us some stuff upon which to think, JF.


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