In a recent post, I mentioned I read through a commentary of Genesis by Derek Kidner in the Tyndale OT series. It is copyright from 1967. The point in noting its older date, is that I was surprised (pleasantly) by some egalitarian or progressive thoughts on the opening chapters of Genesis.
In the introduction Kidner states, in regards to the Fall:
“The shattering of the harmony of man and wife, not by any mutual disagreement but by their agreeing together against God, proved at once how dependent it had been on His [God’s] unseen participation. Without Him, love would henceforth be imperfect, and marriage would gravitate towards the sub-personal relationship foreshadowed in the terms ‘desire’ and ‘rule.'”
Kidner goes on to say that the rest of Genesis confirms this tendency. “Polygamy is partly to blame for this, but polygamy is itself the symptom of an unbalanced view of marriage, which…
Complementarianism is a belief that limits the roles of a wife to those that won’t infringe on her husband as head ‘over’ her. As such, Complementarianism is a form of patriarchy, but, unlike full-blown Patriarchy, which has women subject to men in every area of society, this version is restricted to how it effects the spousal relationship. The basis for this belief is their interpretation of Biblical passages like Eph 5:23, 1 Cor 11:3, 1 Tim 2:11-15 and 1 Cor 14:34-35. (Click on the references for an Egalitarian/Mutualist view of these passages).
In a nutshell, Complementarian wives cannot take on any leadership roles in society where they are ‘over’ their husbands. And so, fueled by a common misconception that church leadership roles are hierarchical, despite Jesus commanding to the contrary (Matt 20:25-27), Complementarians restrict women in church roles too, in order to prevent them from violating their concept of male headship in the home. In fact, when it comes to church leadership, Complementarians are especially quick to implement this practice, believing that Paul was addressing the possible violation of this spousal headship structure in passages like 1 Tim 2:11-15 and 1 Cor 14:34-35.
HEAD – AUTHORITY OR SOURCE?
What is clear is that this belief hinges on the principle of hierarchical headship in the home. However, even though Ephesians 5:23 certainly does speak of the husband as head (Gk. kephale)of the wife, the biblical era meaning of ‘head’ (Gk. kephale) means source and not rank headship. Also, to note, is that the text says that ‘the husband is the head of (not over) the wife, even as Christ is the head of (not over) the church, which also fits with that era’s use of ‘head’ as source and not authority.
But, someone might ask, what of 1 Corinthians 11:3 that reads: But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
Here, the term “head”, from the Gk. kephale, is also to be understood as “source” or “origin”, without the idea of rank, and carrying the idea of chronology and not hierarchy.
To further substantiate this, the sequence in 1Cor 11:3 shows that hierarchy wasn’t the meaning. The sequence in the text is: Man – Christ, Wife – Husband, Christ – God
If hierarchy was the meaning, then it would have had this order: Wife – Husband, Man – Christ, Christ – God
Thirdly, hierarchical interpretation of this passage begs the question, is the ascended Christ, the Son of God, under God? As the Word, having been equal to God, He relinquished His equality for our salvation, but isn’t He restored to equality with God with ALL authority in heaven and earth? And, only at the end will He subject Himself to God again (see 1 Cor 15:28).
ORDER BY CHRONOLOGY ACCORDING TO ORIGIN/SOURCE
The source of every man is Christ (ADAM was made by Christ)
The source of the woman is the man (Eve came from Adam; also descriptive of that time when a husband was the main provider of physical resources and spiritual food which he could access more easily and from which she was often deprived access)
The source of Christ is God (Christ from God, Begotten of God, God became flesh to be the Christ)
Consider Cyril of Alexandria (5th century): “Thus we say that the kephale of every man is Christ, because he was made through Him and brought forward to birth…. And the kephale of woman is man, because she was taken from his flesh and has him as her source. Likewise, the kephale of Christ is God, because He is from Him according to nature.”
Furthermore, Eph 5:21 says ‘submitting yourselves one to another’, which clarifies that the male headship spoken of in Eph 5:23 must be understood within the context of mutual submission and not rank leadership, even if men had this kind of authority through state legislation or culturally. In fact, the term ‘submit’ in Eph 5:22 is not in the Greek, which clearly shows that wives were being directed to the same ‘submitting…one to another’ of Eph 5:21, and not another.
Even in the unlikely event that ‘head’ did mean rank headship in this passage, it should be seen as being descriptive of a husband in New Testament society, who automatically acquired legal authority over his household by virtue of his gender, but as prescriptive of how he ought to behave, given his position, for the sake of his wife and not primarily his own. Understood this way, Paul was being prescriptive within the confines of Roman society’s boundaries, just as he was with slave owners and slaves.
NO CHURCH HIERARCHY
Ironically, neither the meaning of source or rank for ‘head’ would preclude a wife from becoming an elder or pastor in a church and thereby interfere with the supposed spousal rank ‘headship’ principle, because there is no hierarchy in the Church where anyone is ranked ‘over’ another, except Jesus as Lord. That said, it is evident that the passages on Jesus being ‘head of’ His body also have to do with Him being the source rather than being about rank leadership, though it is clear from other contexts that He has this too.
SUBMIT TO HUSBAND
Also ironic is that if one takes a Mutualist (Egalitarian) or Complementarian view here and considers the likely scenario where a husband agrees or allows (depending on the view) his wife to be a pastor, elder, governor, or the country’s president, either by mutual consensus or authority over (again, depending on the view), then the outcome would be that she may, for Eph 5:23 says that it is to her husband that she is supposed to submit. And so, no church or any other man has the authority to stop her.
COMPLEX, BEYOND BELIEF
The Complementarian narrative centers around subordinate roles of a wife in relation to her husband, but the exact parameters for women in general, and each woman in particular, appears to be subject to the discretion and influence of male church leaders who claim Biblical authority for their exclusively male role and their varying interpretations. Furthermore, the application of their belief becomes so tricky, given their various interpretations, that it is hard to imagine that God would have given us something so difficult to pin down. Not to mention that the complexity of applying their belief increases and varies even more when we step out of the spousal relationship and consider leadership for single women or widows that don’t fall under these headship passages.
Q – Doesn’t the naming of Eve show that Adam had authority over her?
A – No, both male and female were created in the image of God and they were given shared authority to rule (Gen 1:28).
There is a Jewish tradition that the one who does the naming of another has authority over the one named. There is, however, no evidence that Adam had authority over the Woman when he called her ‘Woman’ and later named her ‘Eve’.
The two occasions where Adam ‘named’ the Woman were unlike the naming of the animals that God brought ‘to the man to see what he would call them.’
The first time that Adam saw the woman he exclaimed, ‘she shall be called Woman’. This was done out of a response to what he saw and out of his free will and NOT by God’s command, leading, or for God’s own interest (as with the animals).
The second time, when he names her ‘Eve’, it is after the Fall and so we cannot interpret anything from this with regard to God’s original intention that is seen in Gen 1:28.
Q – Doesn’t the Bible say that wives are to submit to their husbands as their ‘head’?
A – Yes and No. Yes, only if the term ‘head’ (Greek: kephale) is understood as ‘origin’ or ‘source’ without the meaning of rank. The Bible teaches mutual submission between spouses.
1 Corinthians 11:3 reads: ‘But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.’ Here, the term ‘head’, from the Greek kephale, is to be understood as ‘source’ or ‘origin’ without the idea of rank and has as its meaning the idea of chronology and not hierarchy. For more on 1 Cor 11:3.
Ephesians 5:22-24 reads: ‘Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.’
Firstly, it is key to note that just prior to these verses, verse 21 says: ‘…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.’ Secondly, being ‘head’ meant that husbands were to be the source (kephale) of love, care and provision for their wives as Christ is for the Church. It did not mean that they were to be their lords or have rank above their wives as Christ has over the Church.
Q – Can women be elders (leaders/pastors) in the church?
A – Yes, Paul says, ‘If anyone (Greek tis – a gender neutral term) wants to be an elder…’
In Christ we are restored to the equality at creation (Gen 1:28) and male rule that came about as a result of the Fall (Gen 3:16) is ended for those ‘in Christ’ where there is ‘neither male nor female’ (Gal 3:28). Both redeemed men and women are called ‘Sons of God’ and Christians are to regard ‘no man according to the flesh’.
Q – Doesn’t the Bible say that women are to ‘keep silent’ in church?
A – No. In fact it says just the opposite.
Paul was clearly exasperated that such an idea was proposed and responded with ‘What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?’ (See 1 Cor 14:34-36).
Also, Paul would be contradicting himself if he taught that women were to keep silent. Consider that he says in 1 Cor 14:26, ‘…when ye come together, EVERY ONE of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation…’ This would have been impossible for women if they had been commanded to ‘keep silent’ in church.
In the context of 1 Tim 2:12, where it says ‘…she (a woman/wife) is to remain quiet/silent’, the term ‘silent’ is better translated ‘in quietness/quietly’, which suggests refraining from bustle and chatter.
Sadly, the Church’s long embrace of Patriarchy (male leadership in society), as well as its current entanglement with Complementarianism (a newer watered down version of Patriarchy where the role of leadership in the home and church are designated to males), are a perpetuation of the Fall and its consequence, “HE (man) SHALL RULE OVER YOU (woman)”. As such, they have nothing to do with the New Covenant and the gender equality found in Christ.
To consider how this came about, here, in a nutshell, is an overview of mankind, male and female, their dominion and how they have related to one another in God’s timeline:
The foundation for male and female equality, being joint heirs with joint dominion is found in the very beginning, in Genesis 1:27-28:
So God created man in his own image… MALE AND FEMALE he created them … And God said to THEM,”…fill the earth and SUBDUE IT, and HAVE DOMINION over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:27-28).
Note: nothing is said of gender roles or rank, or roles with rank.
Inequality that exists through so-called male roles of leadership was not in God’s original plan, but is described in Genesis 3:16 as one of the consequences of the Fall.
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and HE SHALL RULE OVER YOU” (Gen 3:16).
History shows that man has certainly done this, even, and sometimes especially, by those in the church.
Note: male rank became the typical default.
Although He worked, and works with us in our brokenness of male dominance, inequality is not God’s original or ultimate plan. In the New Covenant, described in Acts 2:17-18 and Galatians 3:28, we find a restoration to the equality seen at creation:
And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy (Acts 2:17-18).
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).
Note: nothing is said here or anywhere in the New Testament of spousal rank or church roles with rank.
Male Dominance Preserved by Misinterpretation, Tradition and Man’s Fallen Nature
These doctrines of Patriarchy and Complementarianism come from misinterpreting God’s word and are perpetuated by having become unquestioned tradition for many. Of course, the fallen male nature to want to dominate also helps to entrench these traditions.
As a result of years of indoctrination and bad example, many in the Church have a veil of Patriarchy on their minds that causes them to misread texts like 1 Cor 14:34-35, 1 Tim 2:11-15, 1 Tim 3:1f, 1 Cor 11:3f and Eph 5:22f. Consequently, these texts are used to endorse behavior that is contrary to the Spirit, which is both sad and ironic, because Paul was often teaching against Patriarchy with those very texts.
For a look at those misused texts in context, click on these links:
In Part 1, I consider that Gender neutrality is evident in 1 Tim 3:1, indicating that from the outset God is open to both male and female elders. 1Tim 3:1 reads, “This is a true saying, If a man (Gk. tis – anyone) desire the office of a bishop, he (not in Gk.) desireth a good work.
However, even if Paul had only males in mind for elders when writing to Timothy, we need to keep in mind that Paul was not writing a manual, but a letter for an occasion and our interpretation of God’s word needs to keep this in mind. As such, we should consider that Paul was quite easily being descriptive of elders and deacons as males, for this was where the church was at socially, but that this was not necessarily being prescriptive for eternity.
This is obvious for us in our time on the issue of slavery, about which Paul also wrote on concerning slaves and slave-owners, and yet we do not take what he wrote as an endorsement of slavery. Also, we do not believe that his writing on slavery within the church requires it to be an eternally prescriptive element for church and society, though it is in the eternal word of God. Why? Because we have learned to interpret, sensitive to the context and not willy-nilly apply what we read.
So, just as slavery was not being endorsed by its inclusion in Paul’s writings, female eldership is not to be disallowed by its exclusion from his writings, if indeed it was excluded.
Remember, that in Christ we are restored to the equality at creation (Gen 1:28), male rule since the fall (Gen 3:16) is ended, and there is “neither male nor female”, we are all “Sons of God” and we regard “no man according to the flesh”. What reason then would God have to be gender exclusive when it comes to the role of eldership? None!