Response to a Complementarian View of Women

Bob Edwards

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Response-to-a-Complementarian-View-of-Women_The Junia Project Every few weeks we get a comment protesting that the claims we make about the complementarian view are not what most complementarians believe, even though most of the points we choose to refute are espoused publicly by prominent leaders of the movement. This has led us to think that perhaps many complementarians don’t know what the movement they are aligning with actually teaches. Today Bob addresses this by responding to statements made by the most senior leader in the movement.

I recently read a blog article written by Owen Strachan, the Executive Director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.[1]  I was so astounded by what I read that I decided to respond.  Here are some direct quotations from the article, along with my thoughts.

Strachan: “Men and women are different. To some readers, this is obvious. To an increasing number of people, however, these are fighting words.”

Response: Actually, I’ve never met anyone who disagrees that men and women are different.  It is the assumption that women must be subject to male authority that people find offensive.  They find it offensive not because they believe men and women are the same, but rather because the insistence on female “submission” to men is sexist.

Strachan: “Yet God made the man first, and he gives Adam a leadership role by asking him to exercise authority over the animals by naming them.”

Response: Assuming that the order of creation has anything to do with authority is exactly that, an assumption.  The Genesis account never explicitly equates order of creation with rank.  The apostle Paul addresses this in his first letter to the church in Corinth: “In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.  For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.  But everything comes from God” (1 Corinthians 11:11-12, NIV).

Regarding authority over the animals, in Genesis 1:26-28, it is clear that God gave all of humanity—male and female–authority over the animals.  Assuming that the man alone had this authority is not only an assumption, it is a contradiction of the biblical text. As for naming the animals, according to the text in Genesis, this took place before Eve was taken from Adam’s side.  To assume that one sex was given naming authority and that the other was not neglects the reality that all of humanity was bound up in one person at this point in the creation narrative (cf. Genesis 2:19-21). 

Strachan“Everything falls apart in the fall. Adam fails to lead and protect Eve. Eve is deceived by the serpent and assumes the role of leader (Gen 3:1-13). In short, the fall itself involves an inversion of God’s plans for men and women.”

Response: Nowhere does the Genesis account say that Eve assuming the role of leader caused the downfall of humanity.  Nor does it say that Adam abdicated his alleged authority.  These are simply more assumptions that are not supported by the biblical text.

In Genesis 3:11, God himself explains the reason for the fall: “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”  In Genesis 3:12 Adam answers, “I ate it.”  Similarly in Genesis 3:13, Eve says, “I ate.”

The Bible does not make any statements whatsoever about gender roles in these verses.  The cause of humanity’s fall into a sinful state was disobedience to God’s command. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul states this explicitly: Adam sinned by “breaking a command” (Romans 5:14, NIV).  There is absolutely no mention of an alleged failure to protect his wife, or an abdication of “male authority.”

In fact, such views on these passages can be found not in the Bible, but rather in commentaries from St. Augustine and John Calvin. Calvin, by his own admission, derived his theology from the writings of Augustine.[2]  Augustine, for his part, admitted making sense of the Bible through the eyes of Plato’s dualistic philosophy; this especially seems true with regard to Plato’s views on the “flesh” and “spirit.”[3]  Here is a sample of Augustine’s Platonic thinking:

When she was made of his rib, Adam said, “This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh….” Flesh, then, is put for woman, in the same manner that spirit is sometimes put for husband.  Wherefore? Because the one rules, the other is ruled; the one ought to command, the other to serve. For where the flesh commands and the spirit serves, the house is turned the wrong way. What can be worse than a house where the woman has the mastery over the man? But that house is rightly ordered where the man commands and the woman obeys. In like manner that man is rightly ordered where the spirit commands and the flesh serves.” (On John, Tractate 2, § 14)[4]

Unfortunately, Augustine failed to realize that the spirit is not “put for the husband” anywhere in the Genesis account.  He is reading the text through the lenses of his Platonic beliefs, and “seeing” something that simply isn’t there. Centuries later, John Calvin evidently read the same text through the eyes of St. Augustine’s work, and many “Calvinists” today read the text through the eyes of Calvin’s commentariesThe doctrine of male authority is a chain of erroneous assumption that has wrongly been confused with the word of God.

Not only are these assumptions erroneous, they are rooted in a culture of sexism.  I say this because St. Augustine was not only influenced by Plato’s dualism, he also had a very Roman understanding of relationships, particularly those that existed between men and women, masters and slaves:

It is the natural order among people that women serve their husbands…because the justice of this lies in (the principle that) the lesser serves the greater . . . This is the natural justice that the weaker brain serve the stronger. This therefore is the evident justice in the relationships between slaves and their masters, that they who excel in reason, excel in power (Questions on the Heptateuch, Book I, § 153).[5]

Augustine believed that men should rule women—and that masters should rule slaves—because it is “the natural order” that the “weaker brain serve the stronger.”  When anyone reads the Bible through the lens of St. Augustine’s theology, they are reading it through the eyes of 4th century Roman sexism.

Strachan: “To be a woman is to support, to nurture, and to strengthen men in order that they would flourish and fulfill their God-given role as leaders.”

Response: This statement literally defines “being a woman” solely in terms of supporting male leadership.  Perhaps some reflection on the meaning of the term androcentric would be helpful.  In any case, a woman has her own identity, in her own right, apart from any relationship she may or not have with a man.

When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he told them, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2, NIV).  With regard to its view of women, the complementarian perspective has dramatically failed to heed this command.

NOTES
[2] McGrath, A. (1990). A Life of John Calvin: A study in the shaping of Western culture.  Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd (p. 151).
Graphic credit: K. Hickman Gold Bug Design. All rights reserved.

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61 Comments

  • Someone from the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood spoke in the chapel services at my university today. I was so disappointed that all my fellow college students seemed so willing to believe such twisted ideas about our gender roles. I wanted to stand up and contradict him s many times in the service! Great to see some true perspective on this supposedly “Biblical” council.
    -Elise

    • I’m glad you like the article Elise. I used to hold complementarian beliefs. I grew up in a patriarchal home, and my first church was Fellowship Baptist. Overwhelming evidence compelled me to rethink my complementarian assumptions. There is plenty of evidence available to anyone with an open mind.

  • Bob, I can see from your blog everything you disliked about Owen’s article. I’m curious, was there anything you did like?

  • Matt and Tyler, thanks for some very interesting discussion. It is obvious that you both have a high view of scripture and are passionate about your interpretations. You’ve both made some good points. But I’m going to step in as moderator, as it is not our intention for the comments section to be a forum for general debate. If you want to continue your conversation please find another place to dialog about these broader topics. Of course, if you would like to engage more with Bob’s or Owen’s remarks that would be fine, but other comments will not be published. Thank you in advance for understanding!

  • Seems to me that there is always this subtle angle in complementarian arguments where they think egalitarians/feminists want female dominated households/societies. This angle seems to color so many of their writings. I don’t think they get that we think female dominated is just as inappropriate as male dominated. Its about equality, not who gets to be head hauncho. All that focus on power and authority seems to fly counter to the teaching of Jesus to not seek power and authority.

    • That’s often been my experience also. I think this is because they truly see relationships through the lenses of a hierarchical paradigm. What’s needed, in my view, is a new paradigm–one they are probably not familiar with.

  • And for what it’s worth, for those who say “That’s not really what complementarianism means,” I have heard all of these things repeated numerous times by calm, level-headed, well-meaning complementarians. The things you’ve described are not some fringe belief that fails to accurately depict the belief system.

  • As I see it, apart from the obvious sexist and interpretation problems, mostly Strachan (and many others) make serious logical errors–of the sort which make me wonder if I should bother to listen/read them. Strachan’s type of error (of logic) would never be seriously considered in a rigorous academic setting.

    • Good point Charity. Post hoc ergo proctor hoc and mind projection fallacy come to mind.

      • He seems to have managed to get a PhD, which tends to be a sign of consideration in a serious academic setting. Can we talk about the actual instances of the fallacies… how about Mr. Edwards’ genetic fallacy in the above article (since it comes from Augustine who was influenced by Plato, he must be wrong).

        • Stephen – Bob’s point wasn’t that because it comes from Plato it must be wrong. His point was that Strachan is reading things into scripture that simply aren’t there. Bob is simply showing where Strachan’s thoughts actually come from.
          Reading other people’s thoughts into scripture can be dangerous, especially when they claim something to be true that does not appear anywhere in the text.

          • Thanks Kate, yes I’m hoping to highlight that commentators make sense of the Bible through perceptual lenses that can affect the meaning they infer from the text. In the case of Calvin, Augustine etc., they are very clear about the philosophies that have influenced them. If we are unaware of our influences (and subsequent lenses), we can wrongly assume that there is never any difference between our inferences and the intended meaning of a biblical author.

            This blind-spot is what is sometimes referred to as the “mind projection fallacy.” More often, I think of it in terms of what is known as “top-down processing.” That might be worth “googling” for those who are interested. You may find articles on this in the field of psychology, especially the psychology of perception.

            For example, some may infer that there is a gender hierarchy in the creation account. This assumption may be based upon an association made between chronology and rank. It may also be based on an association made between naming and rank. These associations are not explicit in the text. They actually exist in the minds of some readers–generally those who have already internalized a gender-hierarchy as normative.

            The assumption that because Adam named animals, he had authority over them is an inference. The text explicitly states that Adam and Eve both had authority over the animals not because of the act of naming, but simply because this authority was given “them” by God. Attributing the imparting of authority to the act of naming is what is sometimes referred to as a post hoc ergo proctor hoc logical fallacy. That might also be fun to “google” for those interested.

            The spurious logic continues by saying that since naming animals was a sure sign of authority for Adam, naming Eve was also a clear indication of rank. The trouble is that naming, as we’ve seen, is not what granted Adam authority over the animals; Eve also had this authority (even though she was taken from Adam after the naming process) and Eve was obviously NOT an animal… The fact that some commentators fail to make this glaring distinction truly shocks me.

            Also, I wouldn’t take anything away from Owen Strachan’s formal education. I was simply thinking out loud about Charity’s insightful comment regarding logic errors. Unfortunately though, formal education often does not rid us of perceptual bias. In fact, sometimes our biases can be institutionally reinforced.

    • You are aware that Owen Strachan has a PhD, is a pastor, teaches at Boyce College and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as is the serving Executive director of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, aren’t you? Just thought you should know that before making sweeping claims (judgements) about his intellectual fortitude.

      • Even well-trained and experienced theologians sometimes get things wrong, of course, CBMW leaders included. In those areas, it might not be a lack of intellect; it may be just plain old fashioned error.

        Blessings,
        Tim

        • This is one of those cases in which we need a LIKE button!

        • I wish that a formal education made us incapable of bias, but sadly that’s not generally how the human mind works. There’s a great article on what cognitive psychology refers to as “top-down processing” here: http://home.gwu.edu/~droliver/TopDown/.

          This is one process that I think is often at work when people see things in the Bible that are truly not there. “Believing becomes seeing,” rather than the other way around.

          I’ll likely do a blog about that sometime :).

  • Strachan demonstrates once again that he simply cannot read the text in the Scripture we have without wearing his blue glasses, let alone know how to interpret it. It is true that it is a creation/origins text so that special rules of interpretation apply, but those involve NOT making assumptions beyond the text, not making assumptions willy nilly like he does.

  • Great post – If authority was to do with who came first, then surely all male evangelists would be under the authority of female evangelists as the first person to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection was a woman. Just a thought.

      • Some of the early “church fathers” equated rank with creation order and, of all things, being hairy. Clement of Alexandria said that a man’s beard was a clear sign of his superiority.

        If hairiness and creation order were clear signs of rank, I can think of many other animals that should be given authority over humanity. An androcentric reading of the Genesis account, however, seems selectively unaware of its own inconsistencies.

        • Bob, your later comment about ‘institutional reinforcement’ hits the nail on the head. It appears that many churches have settled for what was said historically, rather than continuing an honest investigation of Scripture. Not in order to undermine the authenticity of the Bible, but to hear with more clarity what God is saying and adjust our lives and mission accordingly.

  • When I read a string of propositions like Strachen’s above, I have to ask if this is a person who has studied the Word or merely studied words. thanks for helping us see where his words fall short of the Word, Bob.

    Cheers,
    Tim

    P.S. My take on what it means for women and men to be Biblical. It’s nothing like current teachings from CBMW.

    • Tim, thanks for sharing your post! This was my favorite line, “That’s my sole test for whether I am conforming to Biblical Manhood – am I growing in and conforming to the likeness of Christ?”
      Love it!

        • I agree Kate, well said Tim. Sadly a lot of today’s teaching on what is called “biblical” manhood and womanhood is more grounded in the work of patriarchal commentators than the Bible itself. I pray the church will be able to see that more clearly.

  • Strachan: “Everything falls apart in the fall. Adam fails to lead and protect Eve. Eve is deceived by the serpent and assumes the role of leader (Gen 3:1-13). In short, the fall itself involves an inversion of God’s plans for men and women.”

    How could this be, if neither the man nor the woman had a sin nature? The first sin was eating the fruit, not failing to lead/ usurping authority. Strachan here states a chronological impossibility.

    • I don’t know Mr. Strachan’s position on the question, though logical priority does not necessarily imply chronological priority. If we take the “eating of the fruit” as the whole transaction (which seems a better reading of the text, since Eve seems to have been listening to Satan and pointedly believing lies about God previous to eating the fruit) there is no issue of chronological priority concerning a sin nature and the fall.

      • Stephen – It is interesting to look at the passage and see that Adam and Eve were together during the whole thing. Both listened to the serpent, both seemed to buy into the serpent’s lies, and both ate the fruit, breaking the command God had given.

      • I disagree. There was only one law in existence that could have been broken: eating the fruit. There were no other laws, there were no other rules. You are committing the same error as Owen, reading the pre-fall text with a post-fall understanding.

      • Stephen- you’re committing the same error as Strachan. There was only one rule given by God, only one law in existence that could be broken- that of eating the fruit. All other laws and rules came after that.

    • Actually, the first sin really was failing to lead. Two reasons for this: One is that God pinpointed listening to Eve as the reason for Adam’s punishment, not eating the fruit. Two is that Paul delineates Adam as the one responsible for the “Fall” even though Eve ate first. Adam sinned twice: squandering leadership and eating the fruit.

      • “To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’”

        No mention of leadership in there. That is an Americanized addition to the idea conveyed there. It is just “because you listened to your wife”.If there were, say, 50 people in the garden, and a guy named Bob convinced another guy named Larry to eat the fruit, no one would ever equate it to “squandering” leadership. Especially if neither of the two involved were designated as “leaders.” We would say Larry listened to bad advice. This just shows how your personal feelings can pull an idea out of scriptures that aren’t there. You only see squandered leadership because you want to.

        • Such an important point, Matt. I’ve never understood this reading of leadership into the creation narratives. Thanks for that example!

          • That’s a great example Matt; I agree Gail. Adam was found guilty not of listening to a woman (how sexist is that??), but of listening to someone tell him to do the one thing God commanded him not to do: eat the fruit.

            It’s not who was talking and who was listening that was the problem. It’s what was being said, and how Adam chose to respond; at least that’s all the text explicitly tells us (in Genesis and again in Romans). Anything else is inference, and I think it says more about the reader’s mindset than it does about God’s word–and that really is the point of the article after all :).

        • Matt, the image you give of 50 people would indeed make the preposition “because you listened to your wife” pretty petty. There are at least two reasons why it isn’t petty. One because there weren’t 50 people, but even if there were this is an interaction between a husband and wife not two schmoes that are strangers in a garden.

          Two because God mentioned it. Sorry for making inferences but I am just assuming that if God gives it as a reason it must be a pretty big deal. If it was petty and insignificant that Adam listened to his wife why would God feel the need to mention it at all?

          It seems to me that it’s not just that Adam obeyed bad advice but that he shouldn’t have been obeying that person in the first place. Why not? (at this point you have to make inferences) I’d say it’s because Adam was made responsible over the woman just as the woman was made responsible over the garden along with Adam. If you can think of a better explanation that God thought it was a big deal that Adam listened to his wife I’d like to hear it.

          on a sidenote: I have not made assumptions that you are not being authentic or sincere with the reading of scriptures or that you are letting “your personal feelings pull an idea out of scriptures that aren’t there.” I am assuming that, like me, you are just trying to understand God’s word as best you can. Please give me the same courtesy.

          • Even if there were 50 people in the garden, they wouldn’t be strangers. How do we know God mentioned it because it is the reason? What if God is just mentioning it because it was what happened? There is a big AND in verse 17 that connects listening to his wife along with eating of the fruit. It in no way makes the point that Adam should have never listened to his wife. If Adam didn’t need to listen to his wife, then it was pointless to create her in the first place. He already had several animals around that he didn’t have to listen to. What is the point of a helper that you never have to listen to?

            There is nothing in the scriptures that says that Adam was responsible “over” the woman.

            The big problem here is that there were only two of them, so generalizing everything that happened to the whole human race is problematic at best because other people would have changed the dynamics of everything. That is why the whole “50 people” point is so important. How would adding other people change the interpretation? Would we still be kicked out of the garden if the true original sin was Adam listening to his wife, but it ended up being Bob and Larry eating of the fruit? Or would it have been just Bob and Larry kicked out? I think they all still would have been kicked out just for eating the fruit, regardless of who started it.

      • @Tyler: I’m surprised a Complementarian would so quickly abandon his “Blame the woman” doctrine which has been so useful to patriarchalists all these years. And I’m sure it fascinates my sisters, who have been blamed for the fall all their life, to learn that you believe Adam sinned first and thus was culpable for it all. Good stuff!

        If only it were true. But 1 Tim 2:13-14 says the woman sinned first.

        • Greg, I don’t understand why you would be surprised unless you assume everyone who holds a complementarian view inherently has a motive of oppressing women. Of the literature I’ve read nearly all complementarians hold the view that we fell through Adam. Never once have I heard of this “blame the woman” doctrine except in egalitarian caricatures of complementarianism. So I’m glad to hold this position because it is not a view regurgitated from some oppressive patriarchal church father but a view that I believe, by God’s grace, is biblically faithful.

          This is the verse you quoted:

          “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.”

          Maybe I am misreading this but I don’t see any reason to think Eve sinned first from this passage. Paul is simply referring to HOW she sinned: by deception. This makes sense considering the woman said “the serpent DECEIVED me and I ate” while Adam simply says “the woman GAVE me fruit and I ate”. The ways in which they come to sin are different.

          The passage that leads me to believe that we fell through Adam is found in Romans 5:12-21. Here are the specific verses.

          “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people”

          and here ” Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.” (Romans 5:14)

          and here ” But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (verse 15)

          and here “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man” (verse 17).

          From these verses it seems that Paul is pretty clearly saying that we all die and sin because of Adam through Adam.

          • @Tyler : I see Adam in Romans 5 to be representavie of both the man and the woman, as the word Adam is clearly used multiple times in Genesis 1-2.

            Because how can it be true that the man Adam was held accountable for a rule he hadn’t been given? The only rule he had been given up to the point of Gen 3:1 is to refrain from eating the fruit.

            The entire point of the world pre-fall was that it was an age of innocence. They didn’t have laws, their eyes weren’t open to good and evil.

            Tell me, Tyler: How many laws do you believe that Adam and Eve were required to follow prior to Gen 3:1? Can you name them and give support for your answer?

  • Bob Edwards: Thank you for this response to the opposing views on women! My understanding of my role as a female is that I, too, am created in the image of God; there is no greater or lesser image of God. I grew up in a strong complementarian family that traveled and ministered. When I married a new Christian, university trained, our marriage nearly ended on this “hill”. He didn’t understand why I was not contributing myself, my mind and thoughts to our relationship. For ten years I studied Scripture on this topic and have written a book. “Submission Is Not Silence” grew as my husband and I began to understand the equal, counterpart power of women. I did not know anything about the Junia Project or any other like it. Now I wonder what my thinking is, as compared to your understanding of Scripture. Are you willing to read my book and respond? Send an address to mail it to: email, below. The topic is vital. Thank you.

    • Hi Lizzie, I’m very glad to hear of your discoveries and growth. I would like to read your book, but I’m currently working on my second title, and then promised to read two other friends’ books. Can’t wait to get to them, but am up to my ears in research at the moment. Perhaps down the road I could read it. Please feel free to keep in touch here at the Junia Project and/or “friend” me on Facebook. Thank you for sharing your journey!

      • Thanks for responding. I understand.

        How encouraging that the topic is up for discussion!

  • Enjoyed the article! Thanks!

    I do have one question to throw at you, though, just because this is the text used to establish the idea of creation order determining authority. It’s an odd one even for Paul, because Paul knows full well the order of events in Genesis. Thoughts on this passage, since it’d be the first one in any rebuttal?

    “Therefore… I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
    A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

    ~I Timothy 2:9-15

    And really, I’m just asking. It’s an odd text to work with, especially since I don’t know anyone who thinks a woman’s salvation is dependent on her childbearing abilities.

    • And a doctrine is not built on a verse in the Bible, but by comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (I Co .2:13 ). So compare I Ti 2:9-15 with I Co. 14:26 “When you come together, every one of you (each or every, man, woman) has a Psalm, a doctrine . . . revelation . . .” etc. Or what about Proverbs 31 where a woman has such independence and her husband is only mentioned as raving about his wife!

    • kaci, we had a long discussion of this last year … you could probably go back and look for the post on that scripture. Lots of local 1st century culture bound up in the proper interpretation. Sorry I don’t have time to find it for you right now….

    • Kaci, I don’t think it’s going to be helpful to try and rehash the 1 Timothy 2 passage here. There are thousands of pages written on it, most of it supporting the interpretation that Paul was addressing a specific cultural issue and heretical teaching specific to Ephesus. One of the best resources on this passage is the 5 part series on the New Life website. Part 1 can be found here: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/1-timothy-212-in-context-1/. More in-depth treatment of Paul’s use of the creation narrative in his teaching is found in this article, also available on the Resources page. http://www.cbeinternational.org/files/u1/free-art/first-timothy-2-12.pdf. Hope that is helpful!

      • Another excellent resource is Richard and Catherine Kroeger’s book I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking I Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence. Absolutely fascinating.

  • Bob,
    Thank you SO much for taking the time to address each of Owen Strachan’s statements to unpack distortion of Biblical truth and empowering women to live in full freedom and full love in Christ.
    Stephanie

    • I’m thankful for the opportunity to share my thoughts, and I’m glad that they’re encouraging.

    • You’re very welcome, and thank you for the encouragement.

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