Genesis, Submission & Modern Wives

By Georgia Purdom. © Answers in Genesis. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Common Misconceptions

The verses most commonly quoted concerning the wife’s role in relation to the husband’s role are Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22).

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord (Col. 3:18).

Many women struggle with the concept of submission in marriage because they mistakenly equate being submissive with being inferior. From Genesis we know that men and women are equal in God’s eyes because everyone, regardless of gender, is made in God’s image. Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Eve was made from a rib from Adam’s side (Genesis 2:21), which also infers equality with Adam. I really enjoy the way the famous seventeenth–century Bible commentator, Matthew Henry, writes about Eve’s creation from Adam:

Not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.1

Galatians 3:28 also makes clear that both men and women are equal in their personal worth before God. Jesus Christ came to save all people who put their trust in Him, regardless of their gender, nationality, or place in society.

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.

Here’s another way to think about it. John 6:38 and many other passages throughout Scripture show Christ’s submission to God’s authority. If being submissive means being inferior, then Christ, in being submissive to the authority of God the Father, is inferior to God.

However, Scripture makes it clear that the Father and Jesus are both equally God. Jesus claims, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus and God the Father have different roles within the Trinity, but in their personhood they are equally God. Likewise, a wife and husband have different roles in marriage, but they are equally loved by God and equally bear His image.

Another common misconception is that the role of Adam as leader and Eve as helper was a result of the Fall and not part of God’s original created roles for husbands and wives. Many evangelical feminists, such as Rebecca Groothius, assert this blatant misreading of God’s Word.

In fact, there is no mention of either spouse ruling over the other—until after their fall into sin, when God declares to the woman that “he will rule over you” (3:16). This is stated by God not as a command, but as a consequence of their sin.2

However, a plain reading of God’s Word makes it clear that Adam’s original created role was to be a leader in the family and Eve’s original created role was to be a helper to her husband and family.

God created Adam first and gave him the authority to not only name the animals (which he and Eve were to have dominion over) but also to name his wife (he first called her woman [Genesis 2:23] before the Fall and then later Eve [Genesis 3:20] after the Fall). In Old Testament times, this was considered a sign of authority for the person doing the naming.

God signified that He was going to make a “helper comparable to him [Adam]” (Genesis 2:18). The role of helper would be understood as someone who helps the person doing the leading. Paul considered the order of creation of Adam and Eve significant and used it as a reason for insisting on male leadership in the church (1 Timothy 2:12–13). Paul affirms male headship in the home in 1 Corinthians 11:9 by reminding readers of Genesis 1, “Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.”

The original created roles of husband/leader and wife/helper can also be understood from the curse on Adam and Eve as a result of the Fall. God said to Eve:

I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule you. (Genesis 3:16)

What does it mean that Eve would “desire” her husband? The same grammatical construction is used in Genesis 4:7 when God says to Cain:

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.

God is saying to Cain that sin will want to rule him (“desire is for you”) but that Cain should rule over sin instead. Applied to Genesis 3:16, Eve will want to rule over Adam (“your desire shall be for your husband”) as a part of the curse. So, if the curse is that Eve would want to rule or lead Adam, then that must not have been Eve’s role before the Fall and she was originally created to be a helper not a leader. Otherwise, it’s not much of a curse—Eve originally led and she’s to keep on leading? In response to Eve’s wrong desire to lead, Adam would react sinfully by leading harshly instead of lovingly. Eve would desire to reverse roles of leader and helper, and Adam would react by wrongly distorting his leadership role.3

Another important support for the original created roles of husband/leader and wife/helper is found in the attribution of sin to Adam not to Eve. How many times have you heard someone say, “It was all the woman’s (meaning Eve) fault,” or, “We wouldn’t be in this mess (cursed world) if it weren’t for a woman”? I always cringe when I hear statements such as that because they are not biblical!

It is true that Eve was the first one to sin but whom did God question first after Adam and Eve sinned? Adam was questioned first because he was the leader of the family. To whom is sin attributed throughout all of Scripture? Adam (see 1 Corinthians 15:22, 15:45; Romans 5:15). Why? Because as the leader, Adam was responsible for his wife Eve; he shirked that responsibility by following her leading in disobedience to God and eating the forbidden fruit.

Interestingly, when God tells Adam and Eve His plan to redeem mankind (Genesis 3:15), He says the Redeemer will be “her Seed.” So, even though Eve was the first to sin, through her descendants would come mankind’s Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Sin is attributed to Adam (because of his leadership role), and so spreads to all people, men and women. Redemption comes through the offspring of Eve: the Messiah.

Scripture makes it clear, beginning in Genesis, that Adam was created to be the leader, and Eve was created to be the helper in the marriage relationship. Both men and women are equal before God as His image-bearers. But they have different roles in marriage, much like the differing roles yet equality within the Trinity.

Why Do Modern Wives Struggle with This Issue Today?

The number one reason is sin. Through Eve, all women bear the weight of the Curse in this specific area, so we will always struggle with this issue to some extent. The passages in Ephesians and Colossians instruct husbands and wives on their original created roles in marriage to bring restoration to marriage that has been marred by sin.

How many of you have seen the TV show Jon and Kate Plus Eight? I’m sure many of you have, and even if you haven’t, you’ve perhaps heard about it. The show is part of the reality TV genre depicting the life of a married couple, Jon and Kate, and their children comprised of a set of twins and a set of sextuplets. Jon and Kate decided to divorce in 2009, and there was a lot of speculation as to why they were having problems and made this decision. In an episode aired earlier that year, Jon and Kate discuss whether to continue the show for another season.

Kate: “I’m loving what we’re doing so we just have to figure it out.”

Jon: “Yeah it’s really difficult, for me, on my end.”

Kate: “And I’m very happy.”

Jon: “So there you go, there’s your conflict.”4

The conflict in and of itself is not bad, but how they are handling it is. Kate makes it clear (in this episode and others) that she wants to be the leader in the family and will not submit to Jon’s authority. Jon tends to be very passive and doesn’t take the leadership role. They have reversed their roles, and as a result they are miserable. Instead of seeking divorce, they need to read God’s Word and understand the cause of their problem and the solution.

Another reason women struggle today with submission to their husbands is the differences between the role of women in the workplace and in the home. More women today work outside the home than ever before, and often they are in male-dominated fields like science, engineering, and business.

I know the struggles these women face. I was the only woman in my class to complete a PhD. I was the only female biology professor at the Christian college where I taught. I am one of very few female creation scientists and the only one in the U.S. who I am aware of speaking and researching on creation full-time.

Women often feel that they have to work hard to be seen as equal to men in many professions. Women have achieved success and leadership roles. However, some of us tend to view life as a continuum and don’t separate our professional and personal lives like men do. The leadership mentality in the workplace tends to carry over into marriage and problems arise. Women (including myself) need to do a better job at recognizing and separating their roles in the workplace from their roles in the home.

Wifely submission is not an indication that women are inferior to men, nor is it a result of sin and the Fall. Instead, husbands and wives are equal as image-bearers of God with distinct roles in marriage as leaders (husbands) and helpers (wives). When we accept the authority of God’s Word and fulfill those roles, our marriages can thrive and—for those that need it—can be restored.

Notes

1 Matthew Henry, “Notes on Genesis 2:21–25,” Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. I, (Genesis to Deuteronomy).

2 Rebecca Groothuis, Good News For Women: A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1997), p. 123.

3 Some people interpret this passage differently.

4 Jon and Kate Plus Eight, “Family Outing,” Aired March 23, 2009 (Season 4, Episode 41).


Georgia Purdom specializes in cellular and molecular biology and has a PhD in Molecular Genetics from Ohio State University. Following graduation, Dr. Purdom served as a professor of biology for six years at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Ohio. She has published papers in several scientific journals as well as numerous lay-friendly and semi-technical articles in Answers magazine and on the AiG website. She is a regular speaker in the Creation Museum Speaker Series and has spoken at many AiG conferences.

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AndrewSuttles's picture

The woman is the Image of God insofar as she is the image of the man.

For a man indeed ought not to cover [his] head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.  (1 Cor 11:7-8). 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Actually the phrase is "the woman is the glory of the man" not "the woman is the image of the man." Genesis 1:27 clearly identifies both the male and female as "man" and as image bearers.

Ge 1:27  So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

So the imagio dei in woman is not in any sense derivative. The point of 1Cor.11 is authority.

handerson's picture

I'm both thrilled and frustrated to see this here because it brings up a lot of the comp/egal controversy that has been swirling around evangelicalism for the last couple of decades. Which, in my opinion, has only become an issue in fundamentalist circles via the conservative evangelical bridge. Having grown up in fundamentalism, I never encountered these issues (and the corresponding interpretations) before I was exposed to conservative evangelicalism simply because full-blown feminism wasn't in play in our churches and we didn't have to "respond" to it.

So I'm wondering how much of these arguments (which line up consistently with conservative complementarianism) are crafted in reaction to feminist evangelicalism and not so much a direct, careful reading of Scripture. Because ironically, the view of women and submission that I learned in fundamentalism--separated from the feminist controversy--was often much more affirming and empowering than what I'm running into in conservative evangelicalism. Has anyone else noticed this?

My specific concerns about the arguments put forward here include significant issues with eisegesis--things like authority being revealed by naming rights (Hagar named God in the wilderness!),  the eternal submission of the Son without corresponding emphasis on how the Father relates to the Son (the Father gives when the Son asks), dismissing the effects that the Fall had on human relationships, and failing to teach the mutual dependence that men have on women from I Cor. 11 ("For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.")

I am firmly convinced of headship, submission, and complementarity, but I'm really concerned about the rhetorical avenues that we're taking to get there. This trend to define gender roles in opposition to feminist positions instead of the careful reading of Scripture is dangerous. I was hoping we could avoid it in fundamentalism.

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There's no avoiding it, I'm afraid. Everything evangelical becomes an issue in the fundamentalist subset sooner or later... more sooner than later I think, given current trends. There's just so much more cross pollination, so to speak. In my experience, egalitarian ideas (including the feminist variety) have deeply penetrated the American psyche, and fundamentalism hasn't really shown immunity to it.

The fact that we've got the ugliest sort of male bigotry at one end hasn't protected us from having really goofy egalitarian thinking at the same time... to be logically inconsistent is human?

But it sounds to me like what you're reacting to is an emphasis, not really a set of arguments. What happens when we encounter a widespread and/or fast-growing error is that we have to emphasize certain things in reaction to it. Of course, there's always a temptation of overemphasis, and us traditional complementarians have to watch out for that. (It sets us up for a future generation that flushes the baby with the bathwater).

But if we look at the arguments themselves and isolate them from discomfort with emphasis, etc., how do they hold up?

The naming idea is not one I've heard before, and I'll admit to being skeptical of eternal submission in the Trinity (but at the same time, eternal sonship has to mean something as does eternal spiritship, if you will). But I don't think the thesis depends on these arguments.

Either way, they're worth exploring. It's entirely possible that naming was a vehicle for expressing authoritative-submission relationships except when a deity was involved. It wouldn't be the first time different rules applied to deities (whether false or True).

To me, what the Trinitarian argument speaks best to is our assumption that subordination is inherently demeaning. That idea is Purdom's main target I think... and it is an idea very much at the heart of what's wrong w/egalitarianism in general and feminism in particular.

handerson's picture

Aaron,

I know you've mentioned that you have (or are) teaching some classes on rhetoric and logic. So maybe you can answer this question for me since I don't have any formal experience in those fields.

If you shape a certain argument and leave out corresponding truths that are essential to understanding the argument, doesn't that affect the essence of the argument itself? Doesn't the very way these ideas are crafted have significant bearing on what's being communicated? 

I mean I agree that a lot of my concerns are about emphasis, but if complementarianism spends most of it's time reacting to feminism (which by definition concerns itself with women's issues) won't the subsequent conversation present an unbalanced understanding of gender and headship by default? For example, I don't see how you can talk about submission and authority without clearly defining what Christian understanding of authority is in the first place.

I guess for all the young and post-fundamentalists that are frustrated with their upbringings, I actually felt like this was an area that we did better than conservative evangelicals and I'm sadden to see that young fundamentalists, instead of being a moderating influence, are getting swept up in the conservative gender paradigm and leaving their biblical theology behind.

And to be fair, I have to admit that some of this is personal too--we've been intimately involved in this conservative evangelical comp paradigm and the conclusions that are being adopted from this kind of reasoning are difficult at best, and frightening at worst.

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

handerson wrote:
if complementarianism spends most of it's time reacting to feminism (which by definition concerns itself with women's issues) won't the subsequent conversation present an unbalanced understanding of gender and headship by default?

It all depends on where you're located in relation to the "emphasis." That is, if you're in a place where people are isolated from the error you're reacting to, then, in theory a focus on responding to that error could breed some confusion.

For example, if you have a ministry where people are already preoccupied with dietary concerns and drink nothing but water, preaching that is too focused on avoiding the danger of drunkenness could have some weird consequences. This crowd just doesn't need that.

Since egalitarianism is everywhere now I can't see how responding to that error could, in itself, be an emphasis problem. 

handerson wrote:
For example, I don't see how you can talk about submission and authority without clearly defining what Christian understanding of authority is in the first place.
This is another question entirely--not one of emphasis but one of clarity and completeness. If the treatment of the subject is shallow, that's a problem regardless of the circumstances. But even that problem is greatly mitigated if the teaching is accurate as far as it goes.

handerson wrote:
I guess for all the young and post-fundamentalists that are frustrated with their upbringings, I actually felt like this was an area that we did better than conservative evangelicals and I'm sadden to see that young fundamentalists, instead of being a moderating influence, are getting swept up in the conservative gender paradigm and leaving their biblical theology behind.
Here we're talking about yet another issue. We've got the issue of emphasis, the issue of completeness and this third one sounds like you have an issue with the accuracy of the teaching itself. What do you see as being incorrect in the "conservative gender paradigm"?

In short, the question of whether the actual claims themselves are biblically accurate is by far the most important question. Overemphasis and incompleteness are pretty minor problems if the truth is being taught.

Anne, about the whitbyforum links... 

Didn't have alot of time to dig into it, but my initial impression is that you're seeing classic over-contextualization there. The modern argument for doing away with hierarchical structures in home and church (along with lots of other things like prohibiting homosexuality) is to emphasize the initial audience of the portions of Scripture involved and argue that we shouldn't take that teaching to apply to us since our times are so different. The biggest problem with this reasoning is how do we know when the Bible is giving us something timeless and when it is giving us something specific to that ancient cultural setting?
Lots of conservatives smarter than me have wrestled with that question at great length. My conviction is that the burden of proof always falls on contextualizers to show why a teaching is no longer relevant and should be seen as bound to the ancient culture. I do not personally see any reason to think that God intended marriage to operate a certain way in ancient times and a different way today.

handerson's picture

Aaron,

Thanks for breaking my concerns into the relevant issues. You're right that there are several different issues in play, but like ingredients in a soup, they still interact and "flavor" each other.

Let me pursue this a bit more.

1) Overemphasis on reacting to feminism in conservative circles has lead conservatives to have a unbalanced view of gender and it's significance. Complementarianism has become primarily about a women's role in the home, the church, and society, not a truly complete teaching on gender. So you have churches where the women, who are good, loving, gentle, submissive, godly women, are being presented over and over again with the need to submit to men and it becomes almost impossible for them to think of themselves as whole human beings. They automatically default to gender identity. And yet, they really were doing pretty well--but now, in an attempt to avoid feminism (which never really was a significant issue in their context), they are overthinking, overanalyzing everything to determine if it would in ANY way usurp male headship. (I know of at least two situations close to me where men are leading the women's Bible study.)

I liken it to American's preoccupation with bottled water--we are a nation with a clean, reliable water source. You can safely drink out of tap faucets almost everywhere and yet we insist on individually bottled water consuming time and resources that should be invested where there is a legitimate lack of water availability.

 

2) Issue of clarity: I feel like we're missing the whole point of submission and headship. We are actually beginning to think and behave as if proper gender roles themselves will proclaim the Gospel, when the truth is that the Gospel informs gender--not the other way around. There are plenty of traditions and cultures that have male headship and female submission which are completely devoid of Christ.

What we MUST do then is clarify exactly what we mean, build the whole paradigm, before we jump to specific applications like submission and authority. So much of comp teaching completely skips love and grace and service and all the other elements that truly undergird Gospel relationships in favor of authority/submission paradigms. I completely believe in headship and submission but not as ends in and of themselves. 

3) Accuracy of teaching: Complementarianism is being reduced to proof-texting. Certain passages are highlighted and then the rest of Scripture is convoluted to fit the pre-conceived idea. For example, Gen 1-3 is commonly being handled (in this article, the issue of Adam naming) in a way that does not flow from a face value reading of the text (which leads you to an awe at the creative nature of God and the image of God is us) but in trying to tease out a gender paradigm and prove that this is someway the most essential thing about our humanity. And when was the last time that a comp handled Deborah without bashing her or Miriam or Phoebe or Abigail for that matter. The Scripture offers such robust teaching about gender, and I want it all.

I'm not saying that egals don't do the same thing. I'm just loosing confidence in the rhetoric that comps are employing and finding myself in no man's land as a result. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

handerson wrote:
Complementarianism has become primarily about a women's role in the home, the church, and society, not a truly complete teaching on gender.
I'm still struggling to see the problem here. Everything is incomplete... but if it's accurate, accurate is good. More completeness is a good long range goal. But if someone is teaching that "Jesus is not God," an effective response would be one that shows Jesus to be truly God. We might appreciate a complete Christology, but the deity portion deals with the problem.
But in this case, I'm not sure there is a whole lot more to teach about gender (from Scripture) that isn't in one or another a role issue.

handerson wrote:
godly women, are being presented over and over again with the need to submit to men and it becomes almost impossible for them to think of themselves as whole human beings.
 I'm not seeing how submission is at odds with wholeness. Or how focusing on the roles associated w/my gender reduces my humanity. I'm supposed to get up every day and embrace my calling to submit to God, submit to the powers that be, submit to my "boss" (in my teaching role, that would be the school board). I don't feel any tension at all between my humanness and my submissive roles or between my humanness and my maleness. These are just not at odds with one another.

handerson wrote:
they are overthinking, overanalyzing everything to determine if it would in ANY way usurp male headship. (I know of at least two situations close to me where men are leading the women's Bible study.)
The problem here is error, not emphasis. Titus teaches that women should teach women somewhere in the life of the church. But I don't actually know of any complentarians who are aganst women leading Bible studies with women. I don't think that's typical of the position.

On #2... I really don't know what you mean. I haven't seen any usurping or neglecting of the gospel from the complementarians I'm familiar with. Haven't really sensed that there's an underdeveloped paradigm either... Wayne Grudem, for example, has written an entire systematic theology. Have D A Carson and John Piper skipped over the gospel & jumped to headship and submission? We seem to be coming at this from very different experiences both of fundamentalism and of evangelical complementarians.

handerson wrote:
"3) Accuracy of teaching: Complementarianism is being reduced to proof-texting."
Proof texting is only a problem if the texts don't actually prove what they're being alleged to prove. So what we should do is examine them one at a time for the merits of the complementarian understanding. But, FWIW, the folks doing the work on this are not slouches.

I've personally never heard anyone handle Deborah with bashing... or Abigail either. Miriam... well, there are some real problems identified in the texts, as I recall. But I think these are all kind of distractions... the complementarian view doesn't depend on any particular analysis of Deborah, Abigail, Miriam or Ruth. It's built on much sturdier arguments.

On the whole, it's not clear to me what exactly you're objecting to in complementarianism itself. That some articulate it badly or misapply it I don't doubt. Every view on every major issue has its inept proponents, scattered weak arguments and occasional mishandlers.

But maybe where we're off track is on basic definitions. How are you defining "complentarianism"?  What are its essential attributes? Maybe we're not even really talking about the same thing.

handerson's picture

I guess maybe defining complementariamism is a sticky thing--like defining fundamentalism. A lot of the time it does come down to your individual experience--are you an IFB fundy, a BJU fundy, a Pensacola fundy, etc. So maybe I'm just getting distracted by people who use the word complementarian and then function in a way that is more patriarchal.

This blog post points out the practical difficulty of defining complementarianism: 

http://www.thatmom.com/2012/07/13/will-the-real-complementarian-please-stand-up-2/

I echo her concern in the last paragraph:

And here is my biggest concern about this label that no one really knows how to explain or apply in practical terms…..it is now being interlaced with the Gospel message. It is no longer just Doug Phillips who has declared that one must believe, teach, and live “biblical patriarchy” to be faithful to Christ. Now mainline pastors and conference speakers are telling us that the very Gospel itself is at risk if we don’t adhere to their particular brand of complementarianism, a term that even they cannot define. This sort of nebulous instruction and confusing rhetoric only sets people up for failure.

For what it's worth, I tend to agree with a Mary Kassian complementarianism. My understanding of self must start with shared human experience and then progresses to gender and then to specific applications for differing roles within that. I understand myself first and foremost as a human being made in the image of God who submits to Him first, then as a woman, then a wife and mother. Not a wife and mother first. Or even a woman first. 

Given this paradigm, I am primarily under the authority of Christ not my husband. (Meaning, my submission flows first and foremost from my relationship to Christ, not simply because my husband is a man and I am a woman but because I am a follower of Christ.) And my husband's leadership must flow from his humanity being under the authority of Christ not primarily  in authority over me because of his maleness.  Only once this foundation is established can you move onto meaningful and helpful discussion of submission within marriage. But if you don't clearly establish this first, you reduce submission and authority to gender, and people begin to see hierarchy, not as issuing from Christ, but from our own maleness and femaleness.  And by default, our gender comes to define our sense of identity instead of Christ. This is what I mean by innaccurate/incomplete teaching of gender and wholeness and submission. 

Thanks for taking the time to reply so thoroughly. These things can get lengthy and I don't want to drag out the conversation any more than you have time for. Smile

Don Johnson's picture

handerson wrote:

Given this paradigm, I am primarily under the authority of Christ not my husband. (Meaning, my submission flows first and foremost from my relationship to Christ, not simply because my husband is a man and I am a woman but because I am a follower of Christ.) And my husband's leadership must flow from his humanity being under the authority of Christ not primarily  in authority over me because of his maleness.  Only once this foundation is established can you move onto meaningful and helpful discussion of submission within marriage. But if you don't clearly establish this first, you reduce submission and authority to gender, and people begin to see hierarchy, not as issuing from Christ, but from our own maleness and femaleness.  And by default, our gender comes to define our sense of identity instead of Christ. This is what I mean by innaccurate/incomplete teaching of gender and wholeness and submission. 

So what about the person who isn't a Christian? Is an unsaved woman, regardless of her lack of submission to Christ, still under obligation to submit to her husband as her head or not? Are marital roles a pre-fall issue or not?

 

When you say:

handerson wrote:
Meaning, my submission flows first and foremost from my relationship to Christ, not simply because my husband is a man and I am a woman but because I am a follower of Christ.

it strikes me as ok if you mean by "my submission" something like "my acts of obedience" to the role God created for you because  your husband is a man and you are a woman. If you mean "my obligation to submit", then I think you are misstating the case. The obligation to submit doesn't flow from your relationship to Christ, it flows from the created order, according to the apostles.

Hope that makes some sense, I had an "overtime" week last week and am probably too exhausted to be coherent.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Yes, patriarchy is another thing entirely... though I think they have a couple of things right.

Have to agree that sometimes "complementarian" is claimed by teaching that doesn't fit it... or that is unlike mainstream complementarianism. I've seen patriarchists claim it and also seen evangelical feminists claim it (or at least folks who were much closer to EF than true complementarianism).

About how the authority and submission part works... to me, it's like anything else in a Christian's life when you compare it to the form it takes in an unbeliever's life.

Unbelievers ought to be good stewards of their property, practice the golden rule, embrace clean living, etc. because life is better that way (both in terms of typical results and in the logic of "what sort of world we want to live in").

For a believer, these choices are that and yet profoundly different, because it's now all about Christ. The self-interest angle is not evil. It's just spiritually useless for a person who is not rightly related to God. For a new creation in Christ, self-interest is slowly merged with service of Christ. Merged because we love Him, and one thing love does (maybe the thing) is make self and non-self indistinguishable in our catalog of concerns. I'm not saying it very well this AM, I think, but the gist is that to the degree I love Christ, what I want "for myself" is to please Him.

Anyway, replace stewardship, golden rule and clean living with submission to legitimate authority and all the same things apply. It's not special, really. 

The question of what relationships are inherently authoritative-submissive relationships is another one... and a complex one, seems to me.

We have clear revelation that these are authoritative-submissive relationships:

  1. Citizen to government (Rom. 13)
  2. Children to parents (Eph 6)
  3. Slaves to masters (Col 3:22)
  4. Learners to official teachers in the church (1 Tim. 2:12)
  5. Wives to husbands (Eph 5.22)

It's pretty clear even from #1, that once we've identified a legitimate authoritative-submissive relationship, we're only half way there because every one of these A-S relationships has boundaries, beyond which it is not legitimate/doesn't operate. For #1, we have Acts 5:29, and the boundary there is so broadly worded it applies in one or another to all the rest. When we get to #3 we instinctively recoil because we hate slavery but for now note that we have Eph. 6:9 directly addressing limits on that A-S relationship (and changing it a good bit relative to how slavery was generally understood in that day). 

#4 is worded oddly compared to the rest. Did that on purpose because the passage does not teach a "women submissive to men in the church" relationship. It teaches a submission to teachers then identifies that role as belonging to men in the church whenever men are included among the learners. Paul argues from the order of creation that the comprehensively authoritative teaching of the church is a role for men. The passage is controversial, but my understanding is that 1Tim2.11 is meant to clarify 2:12 not describe a different A-S relationship (all women in the church to all men in the church). It defines a "male teacher to both male and female learner" relationship.

Anyway, I think it helps a great deal to look at the A-S relationship of husband and wife in the context of other A-S relationships. They are all variations of the same thing.

handerson's picture

Don,

To clarify, the dynamic that I'm thinking of--how gender relates to Christ's authority and gender--is similar to the way my children sometimes interact.

When I give them a task and I leave the room, I leave my oldest child in charge and ask her to help her younger brother accomplish the job (cleaning up the room, making the bed etc.) Now, there is a reason I left her in charge and quite frankly it does have to do with her age and responsibility, etc, but if I hear her lording this over her brother ( e.g. "You have to listen to me because I'm the older one") than she's gotten it entirely wrong. He has to listen to her first and foremost because I invested her with authority. Yes, it was due in part to "created order" but her authority does not primarily come from her age. It comes because I gave it to her.

This is the distinction for me, if albeit subtle--men must be very careful not to appeal to their manhood first and foremost as the reason for their authority because even Paul himself makes the argument that every man saving Adam is dependent on a woman for his own life. No, he must appeal to God's invested authority and recognize that even that has limitations, and, I believe, one day will be obsolete.

Don Johnson's picture

Hi, thanks for the reply.

I think your illustration with the kids doesn't work because it isn't created order but birth order and consequent maturity that motivates you to delegate some authority to the older child. I get your point about limited authority, but I think that all complementarians I have read would tend to support limitations on authority. (That is, the main teachers of the point of view... followers on blogs, etc, might be a different matter.)

handerson wrote:

This is the distinction for me, if albeit subtle--men must be very careful not to appeal to their manhood first and foremost as the reason for their authority because even Paul himself makes the argument that every man saving Adam is dependent on a woman for his own life. No, he must appeal to God's invested authority and recognize that even that has limitations, and, I believe, one day will be obsolete.

Now, as to your last paragraph, quoted above, I think we are confusing some passages. The two main passage on wifely submission are Eph 5.22ff. and 1 Pt 3.1ff. In Ephesians, Paul uses a metaphor for wifely submission: "For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church" and the metaphor is stated as the reason for wifely submission. It is because the husband is the head of the wife. The wife is then called to submit "as the church is subject to Christ".

In Peter, the wife is called to be submissive to her husband  "In the same way" as saints have returned to submit to Christ: 1 Pt 2.25 (For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.) Peter goes on in the following verses (1 Pt 3.2-6) to describe how that submission is to take place, what it is to look like.

A couple of things to note: nowhere in these passages do the apostles appeal to creation order. Instead they appeal to metaphors as to the kind of attitude that needs to be adopted, "as the church to Christ", "in the same way the believer to Christ". If we are talking about wifely submission, then, we aren't so much taught why as how.

So at this point, I think I have less problem with your original statement (a few posts back) than I thought.

However, when it comes to order in the church (and perhaps by extension in society), the apostle does appeal to creation order as to the why (1 Cor 11.8-9, 1 Tim 2.11-13). Since this doctrine is based on pre-fall conditions, I don't see how you can say it will one day be obsolete. It is part of God's design of the universe. The idea of wifely submission will be obsolete because there is no giving of marriage in heaven, Jesus said. But it does not follow that God's created order is meaningless or non-enduring. A brief reflection about scenes in heaven in the book of Revelation makes me think that the people of God are still male-led (elders). I don't want to take the time to read through the whole book at the moment, so I'll leave it at that.

Finally, as to husbands demanding submission, I have always taught our men that their wive's submission is demanded of them by God, the verses weren't given to men for men to demand anything. They have their own problems as soon as we hit Eph 5.25ff. and 1 Pt 3.7. They need to get the beam out of their own eyes before they can demand anything.

Hope that helps some.

BTW, I am unsure of your first name and feel uncomfortable addressing you by your last name, hence my generic opening.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

handerson's picture

Thanks for such a thorough follow-up. I think we're close in our understandings, but I do have a couple additional questions, both out of curiosity and my own lack of knowledge.

1) Do you believe in male and female souls? This is something that I struggle with in determining what our spiritual state will be in eternity--if gender is primarily a biological issue, a material form, how does that affect our spiritual realities? I know we will have new bodies, but I'm wondering if there are any passages that relate to this issue. We can't escape Galatians that says "in Christ, there is neither male nor female." Don't entirely know myself, but I tend to understand headship as a function for this life (not simply because of the Fall, although that does complicate it), but as a structure that allows human flourishing in this reality. When that reality changes, does headship change? I think so.

2)I do believe that male authority is related to their physicality the same way my daughter's age and maturity play into my decision to leave her in charge. Headship is as much about men's responsibility to protect and provide for the weaker member of the species as it is about female submission to men. So in a lot of ways, yes the authority is derived from their physical manhood, but it is an authority to care for, not to rule over, women. (And yet it is still authority derived from Christ.) 

3)How exactly do you understand creation order? Is it about time, or significance, or what? What exactly does creation order communicate? I know the passages but I struggle to understand the deeper point. Especially since those passages also clearly teach man's dependency on woman for his existence. I get that woman was derived from man but I'm not sure the significance of that when it comes to headship. (Again, I accept the Biblical teaching but I'm trying to wrap my head around the reasoning.)

By the way, my name is Hannah. 

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I don't think there's much to reasonably disagree with in what Hannah's talking about in post 14.  I don't see the distinction between "created order" and delegated authority as amounting to much in itself (the vested/delegated authority is expressed in the created order), but she's right that the difference matters from the man's pt. of view.

Where it matters is that "I call the shots because I'm a man" is a different attitude from "I call the shots because the One in authority over me has given me that responsibility." Worlds apart. The latter recognizes (a) that authority is always a means to an end and it goes with responsibility and (b) that there is truly accountability for the use of authority.

I think it would be impossible to make the case from Scripture that the husband-wife authoritative-submissive relationship would continue in the eternal state. Jesus gives us reason to believe marriage itself is a non-eternal phenomenon.

At the same time, though, if we understand that there is no devaluing or demeaning or oppressing inherent in being under authority, there is no reason to object to there being authoritative-submissive relationships in eternity.

There will have to be some, if the passages referring to reigning with him mean anything (unless those passages are limited to Millennium or some other non-eternal aspect of the kingdom).

But this is too much to conclude...

Since this doctrine is based on pre-fall conditions, I don't see how you can say it will one day be obsolete. It is part of God's design of the universe.

We aren't told that even pre-Fall conditions in the creation are necessarily eternal. And it's also not obvious that Paul's creation-order argument means "created submissive-authoritative." He may well mean that the created order foreshadows the leadership of men in the church (and that Eve's being deceived foreshadows the teaching role of men in the church). It would be hard to prove that this is what Paul means but is equally hard to prove it is not what he means.

In any case, we're just speculating when we get into how relationships will work after the eschaton.

Don Johnson's picture

Hi Hannah,

I think there are some questions we just can't know the answer to. We don't have revelation on some points so it is best to leave our questions open.

In this discussion, I think we are talking about two things: 1) Male authority in church and home 2) Male headship in creation.

Male authority in church and home are derivatives of headship. I was thinking about the Ephesians passage after I made my last post and thought that there is a link between Paul's teaching in Eph 5.23 and his teachng in 1 Cor and 1 Tim on headship when he says "the husband is the head of the wife".

But when we talk about headship in general, we don't mean that every man is the authority of every woman, we mean something different. In the home, the husband is the authority because he is the head in the home. In the church the men are in authority/leadership because of headship also. But the authority aspect is limited to those two contexts, as far as I can recall.

Headship in general means men will lead in general. Female leadership is not the norm in most societies through history. That is because of the way God made men and women, I believe. Our egalitarian society is unusual in history and unlikely to ultimately succeed, in my opinion. Exceptions to male leadership (Deborah, Athaliah, etc) tend to prove the rule rather than to establish egalitarianism as a natural or biblical concept.

Now to your questions:

  1. Male/female souls - haven't thought about it much, I suppose you could infer an affirmative from some passages: "male and female created he them" - I think the Galatians passage clearly refers to individual salvation - within the body of Christ, human distinctions have no value, but they don't cease to exist. I am a Gentile, not a Jew, but a Christian, which, as far as my Christianity goes, my racial makeup has nothing to do with it. But I am still a Gentile.
  2. I think that I disagree on the physicality issue. As I see the passages, the male/female roles and authority relationships are rooted in creation order and the will of God, nothing else.
  3. Headship is a reflection of eternal truths in the trinity (1 Cor 11.3), a distinction in the notion of image and glory of God vs. glory of man (1 Cor 11.7) [not entirely sure all the meaning of this concept], the creation of woman out of the man rather than vice versa (1 Cor 11.8), the creation of the woman for the purpose of completing the man (1 Cor 11.9) and the fact that Adam was created first in time (1 Tim 2.13). An additional factor is the fall (1 Tim 2.14) but the fall is quite clearly not all there is to it.<

    The caution to the man in 1 Cor 11.11-12 is a check on male pride, which some of us are subject to, once in a while(!!!). But as such, it doesn't negate any of the factors Paul discusses as being related to headship.

    So... I understand headship to be much more than time, it is all about the significance of the other factors mentioned - Paul treats them as "signs" to us. At its most basic, I think it reflects the order in the Godhead and God intends to reflect it in creation. That's why non-sentient beings were also created "male and female", I believe, but that would be my speculation.

Ok, don't want to write an essay! So I'll stop there.

I think most of this is somewhat related to Aaron's points as well, so I'll not try to answer his comments. As he says, I don't think that anything we have said here is that far apart.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

handerson's picture

and I'll add one additional thought and then be done unless either of you disagree with it.

I encountered the idea recently that the significance of headship (as a general concept) needs to be tied more directly to Christ's headship--specifically His ability to represent and atone for the sins of mankind on the cross. The concern was that as much as headship does teach us about the Trinity, it's more essential that we understand it in terms of  our salvation. Here's the crux:  if headship began with Adam (humanly speaking), it is fulfilled in Christ. And that is why we mirror and model it through marriage.

FWIW

 

 

Don Johnson's picture

Personally, I am suspicious of theology that tries to relate everything to the cross. I can sort of see where this idea is coming from, but it really seems to me to be conflating two distinct doctrines, the Federal Headship of Christ and the Eternal Subordination of the Son.

Perhaps there might be a link, but??? At some point one wonders what is gained by trying to make the whole of theology "gospel-centric". I think it skews our understanding of the whole.

However, I think the idea would take us off on a different path.

I first studied these issues when I was preaching through 1 Corinthians, quite a few years ago and had to have an answer for 1 Cor 11. I discovered a whole world of theological discussion and read hundreds of pages in preparation for those messages.

The biggest thing I took away from that was the downgrade that seems to follow compromise in an egalitarian direction. You can see example after example among various proponents where the willingness to accept egalitarian theology is either a symptom or harbinger of worse errors to come.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

handerson's picture

This particular argument didn't come from a "gospel-centered" or egalitarian source. I too am suspicious of the (often) convoluted attempts to make everything "gospel-centered"--I have a running joke with my husband that if you put "gospel" in front of anything, conservatives will accept it blindly. (Gospel-centered potlucks, gospel-centered building programs, gospel-centered ipads, and the list goes on...)

No, what was at stake for me was giving a little more footing to something (gender dynamics) that can seem somewhat arbitrary. You yourself admitted that there's no specific reason why God would place men in position of headship over women, except that this was His design. And while I'm quite willing to accept that the hidden things belong to God, I also know that many of our core doctrines came from pressing into things that once were considered "unclear."

For me, it's not a matter of rushing to egalitarianism--I think we must be careful not to categorize new ways of looking at gender as automatically inconsistent with the old, and thus liberal. The reason this approach stuck in my mind was because it took all the pieces of the puzzle (both federal headship and headship in authority structure) and gave them a way to relate. I recognize that they are not necessarily the same thing, but I wanted to tease out the elements that both shared in order to gain a fuller understanding of headship as a general concept. Because if we don't understand what headship is in the first place, we can't understand how to apply in marriage, the church, or society.

Don Johnson's picture

I'll pose your question to some folks I know who are more knowledgeable on this subject than me, and get back to you.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Post title sounds like some kind of barber shop thing...

Oh well. I've read of several views of what headship means. Some of them are obviously trying way, way too hard to avoid simpler solutions. One argues that "head" is also the word for the source of a stream and therefore headship is about provision and nurturing, not authority. Several others that I don't remember now were similarly unconvincing because they all relied--one form or another--on a false disjunction. That is, they took aspects of headship and tried to say we have to choose between the aspect and the main idea: either-or.

My own view is that the headship concept is complex (in the nuances) but that authority is never absent from it and is probably the "main" idea. Still, Christ, the head of the church gives Himself to redeem her. And a reference to the husband's headship is in the same text (the Eph. 5 one). So there's a protection/provision idea there, clearly. It's just that this aspect doesn't in any way conflict with the simplest explanation: that a head makes decisions for its body. It's not either-or, but both-and.

(I think a similar weakness applies to the federal headship idea: they're over thinking it. It's simpler than that.)

Don Johnson's picture

Here are two articles on the Gk word for kephale, one a shorter discussion of the lexicons, the other a Wayne Grudem article from Trinity Journal that is pretty thorough. There really is no real good reason to make kephale mean 'source' anywhere in the NT, or anywhere in ancient literature, unless you have a feminist agenda.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Or Aaron, to avoid the barbershop thing, you could go with a medical aphorism, such as "When you hear hoofbeats, don't think zebras".

handerson's picture

I'm not sure how we moved to a discussion of kelaphe as source--that was never a concern in my mind. I readily accept that kelaphe is best understood as "head" in a physical sense, of ordering and directing the body. 

And yet, the head's authority exists for a reason, to fulfill a greater purpose. Because the head cannot exist without the body (anymore than the body without the head), the most important thing that the head accomplishes is the union and proper functioning of the body as a whole. 

So I agree that authority is an essential part of a proper understanding of headship but no more (or less) than recognizing that headship means providing for the protection and good of those under you. I guess what I'm getting at is this: won't we reach a better, fuller understanding of headship and submission if we include these other ideas (representation, protection, service) as much as the concept of authority?

This approach also explains why we have limitations on authority--if you are not using your authority for the intended purpose, you can legitimately be approached by those under your authority and in extreme cases, it can be revoked. (Divorce for abuse, unfaithfulness, loss of ordination for ministers, etc.)

Personally this fuller definition is essential to my embracing why a good, just, kind God would establish a hierarchical framework in the first place. The authority is in place in order to accomplish the end goal--loving relationship and the proper working of the body as a whole. Authority was never a goal in itself.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

... I don't think I can disagree with anything there.

Since the biblical view of authority is that it's something that arises from responsibility, and the responsibility is truly a service... the serving involved and headship and the authority involved in headship sort of disappear into eachother.

Mk 10:42–45  But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Don Johnson's picture

handerson wrote:

Hi Hannah

I'm not sure how we moved to a discussion of kelaphe as source--that was never a concern in my mind. I readily accept that kelaphe is best understood as "head" in a physical sense, of ordering and directing the body. 

I think we got there because Aaron mentioned it in his last post but one.

handerson wrote:

And yet, the head's authority exists for a reason, to fulfill a greater purpose. Because the head cannot exist without the body (anymore than the body without the head), the most important thing that the head accomplishes is the union and proper functioning of the body as a whole. 

Here I think you might be overstating the case a bit. Usually metaphors (like parables) are meant to convey one thing and one thing only. We are not meant to try to draw more implications from the metaphor than the author intended.

To test the way you are taking it -- "the head cannot exist without the body" -- let me ask one question. Can Christ exist without the Church?

The answer is obvious, correct? So is Christ the head of the Church or not? Well, yes he is. But the relationship between Christ and the Church is not like the relationship between a body and a head in every respect, only in some respects. I would argue that it is primarily or only in one respect.

Whatever way Christ is related to the Church as head, in the same way (and, as far as I can see, in no other way) the husband is the head of the wife.

I fully appreciate your concern that men not take their headship to an extreme beyond that which the Scripture gives them. But I think by pressing the metaphor the way you are doing causes you to lose sight of the main point the metaphor is meant to convey, at least to some extent.

handerson wrote:
Personally this fuller definition is essential to my embracing why a good, just, kind God would establish a hierarchical framework in the first place. The authority is in place in order to accomplish the end goal--loving relationship and the proper working of the body as a whole. Authority was never a goal in itself.

Do  you see a hierarchy as essentially "ungood" or "unkind"? "Unjust"? Just wondering why you are framing it that way. I agree that authority was never a goal in itself, but is the end goal of marriage "a loving relationship and the proper working of the body as a whole"? Or is it something else, like "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it"? Is the loving relationship and proper function of the relationship a means to the end or the end itself?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Anne Sokol's picture

i am generally complementarian, though, like many calvinists, i would have to explain personally what i mean by that. 

a few things i don't like about how complementarianism is sometimes presented or lived out: 

1. that marital status marks your usefulness or status in the church. I don't think it's everywhere, but there are churches where this is really a big issue--that a woman, for example, is more accepted when she is married. I remember reading someone's blog and she was thinking how she was longing to be married so she could feel more a part of the church. That's way sad. 

2. I think that the reality of what Paul was addressing in his letters is that being a wife and mother is the normal calling/role for women, just as being a husband/father is for men. It's not special or "high" in that sense. it's just the normal condition women will find themselves in. Our reaction to the feminist movement has blown that way, way out of proportion scripturally. 

3. i think that in different cultures, the level of felt hierarchy/submission in marriage can be vastly different. In a culture where women have few personal freedoms and are married off very young, maybe not even that educated, the hierarchy would probably be much more felt. in western cultures, in a normal marriage, i don't think the submission/hierarchy thing is very felt. In fact, the patriarchy camp is trying really hard to change their culture so women are more dependent, less educated and mobile so the hierarchy thing is more "real."

this also depends on the individuals. I know several men "called" to be missionaries, but their wives couldn't deal with it. So they're not missionaries. Where's the hierarchy there? Vitaliy, my husband, deals with this, too. We're planning on moving out to a village, but he's not going to do it if I drag my feet or can't handle it. Some of it is a choice to submit, maybe more to God's will than Vitaliys, but other parts of it is just who I am and my background. Can I hack living in a Ukrainian village? We'll see Biggrin I hope so.

I porbly have more thoughts, no surprize, but that's it 4 now.  

 

 

handerson's picture

I don't mean to denigrate authority as a negative thing, simply trying to emphasize that authority by itself is pointless.  So if we don't carefully articulate the goal of authority, it CAN make your submission seem pointless as well. This is what I meant by my need to see the bigger picture as a woman.

If God's glory is truly on display in male/female dynamics, then let it be on display in all of its grandeur from His wisdom to His love to His meekness and yes, even His authority. It's not that authority is not part of the equation but if we reduce it to this alone, we diminish the beauty of God Himself. 

And the reason that I believe that union and loving relationship is the goal of male/female hierarchy is because love is the goal of all of human existence. To love God, to love others. Christ said that love first and foremost is what marks us as his disciples--not hierarchy. This does not mean that hierarchy is obsolete but simply that hierarchy must be understood in terms of the greater goal--loving relationship. Hierarchy and authority serve the greater goal. 

 

handerson's picture

I completely agree with your about addressing men as fathers as strongly as we are addressing women as mothers. These are both holy occupations and it seems that we have emphasized one as an exclusive occupation while not the other.

And yes to your third point as well. In my marriage, I don't chafe or wrestle under hierarchy or submission--it's simply not a question most of the time. As I don't think it would be when two people are honestly seeking to love and sacrifice for one another as we are called to in Scripture. We've been in similar situations about having to make difficult decisions and at times, ones that I haven't agreed with. But I have always loved my husband and when something is significant to him, of course I submit to his leadership. (Although I do follow it with the caveat, that we both know that he is responsible for the decision however it turns out. Smile

I get frustrated when I see godly women--who by and large are doing a fantastic job--being pressured and burdened by strict patriarchal positions. These women are already sensitive to the Holy Spirit so when someone speaks in "God's name" and questions the details of how their home operates, they feel inordinate and unnecessary pressure. This is when husbands really need to stand up and protect their wives from this kind of manipulative influence. An ideal opportunity to exercise headship in my mind and a wonderful chance for a women to submit herself to her husband's leading, despite her emotions that may tell she is somehow not spiritual enough because of xyz behavior.

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