Free Newsletters


« Ministry in the Moment | Main | The Art of Rebinding »

August 7, 2009

When We Can't Agree to Disagree

The idea that men and women are created differently, in ways that complement each other, sounds okay. But often, this “equal but different” thinking results in a hierarchy that can lead to distortions of truth, or even emotional and physical abuse.

For years, I thought that as with many theological side issues, sincere Christians can agree to disagree when it comes to gender roles. Some churches let women lead and teach the whole congregation, others interpret the Bible to say that women can only lead and teach other women, and in some cases, there are limits beyond even that. (I’ve heard of one church that doesn’t allow a woman to be the head of women’s ministries.)

I disagreed with this view, known as Complementarianism, but I figured, well, if that’s how they roll, then okay. But now, I’m starting to change my mind: often, it is not okay. Because if you take Complementarianism to the extreme, it becomes destructive.

Last week I received an e-mail linking to a news story that alleges that Saddleback Church in California counseled a woman to stay in an abusive marriage and also scolded her for “gossiping” about her marriage when she tried to ask for help (this story was all over Twitter and Facebook this week too). Saddleback (led by Purpose-Driven pastor Rick Warren) teaches Complementarianism—the wife must submit to her husband and that divorce in this instance is not an option.

For the record, Saddleback pastor Tom Holladay told GFL he could not reveal specifics of confidential pastoral counseling, but that Saddleback always counsel a woman (or man) in an abusive situation to leave and find a place of safety. They would, however, urge couples to get counseling and try to reconcile.

In the family, Complementarianism plays out like this: the man is the head of the household, and the ultimate authority. They cite Ephesians 5:22, which says that a wife must submit to her husband, and the husband should love his wife. The woman must submit to that authority, which comes with the man’s protection and provision. There are plenty of women who obviously want protection and provision.

They conclude that the husband is the head of the family. I cannot find a verse in scripture that says a man is supposed to be the head of the family. What the Bible says is that the relationship between a man and his wife is like a head and a body.

Egalitarians (the opposite of Complementarian) like myself see the head and body analogy is an illustration of the unity, or oneness that God intended in creation. A husband and wife need to be a team, like a head and a body. A body needs the head, the head needs the body. We cite the same biblical passage, but we look at the wider context, starting with verse 21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (emphasis mine). While someone (likely not a female translator) put a subhead right after verse 21, in the original text there were no subheads. So the next verses explain mutual submission—wives, submit to your husbands, and husbands, love your wives. Paul is talking about unity and oneness. He concludes his teaching with a reminder of the oneness theme, and mutual nature of submission: “each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Eph. 5:33).

In churches that embrace Complementarianism, women rarely have the right to exercise their leadership gifts fully. When a church says that the man has more authority, can use his gifts more freely, it communicates a value (intended or not) that men are of greater value. And so if a woman (who has less value) complains of abuse, it is easy in that system to discount what she says, or blame her. So in addition to being abused by her husband, the woman is also abused by her church.

Think that doesn’t happen? In 2008, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Bruce Ware said that when women, “as sinners” try to usurp their husband’s authority and “do what they would like to do,” their husbands--also as sinners--might “respond to that threat to their authority” by being abusive (

If marriage is understood as a hierarchy, then the person at the top of that structure can easily conclude that he has permission to do what is necessary to maintain power. We cannot simply say, “Well-intentioned Christians can agree to disagree” if those Christians argue that abuse is the husband’s prerogative, or worse, the wife’s fault. It is where we must stand up for true Christianity, which does not condone violence in any form, and which teaches mutual submission, not hierarchy.

[Editorial Note: The original post contained words claiming Ware blamed the abused for the abuse. We have since removed it as it was apparently an incorrect intrepretation and representation of his words. Dr. Ware disputed that this is what he intended in this quote and condemned abuse as a sinful response. GFL apologizes to Dr. Ware for this and hopes this further opens up dialogue on the issues of abuse in church and of the ramifications of our interpretations and our words. Blessings!]


My prayer is that eventually the entire Body of Christ will understand the TRUTH about submission! I am currently separated from my abusive (minister) husband who uses the passage in Ephesians and other Scriptures to dominate, intimidate, control and guilt me into submission to him (which is called spiritual abuse). I went to our head pastor and the woman who leads womens ministries - both viewed me as the problem and proceeded to tell me what my faults supposedly were (I was in un-forgiveness, had a hard heart and was walking in anger)! I was truly shocked! I have had to pull away from my church at this point and am in deep prayer with several of my friends who know and love both my husband and I. This wrong attitude and interpretation of the Scripture MUST be eradicated from the Body of Christ! I don't believe there is any room to "agree to disagree" on this particular subject! So many love to quote the verse that says, "God hates divorce" but how many have actually found that particular Scripture and read it in context? Read Malachi 2:16 (AMP) - "For the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I hate divorce and marital separation AND HIM WHO COVERS HIS GARMENT (HIS WIFE) with violence. Therefore keep a watch upon your spirit[that it may be controlled by My Spirit], that you deal not treacherously and faithlessly [with your marriage mate]." The context of that verse involves God's judgment! Husbands and wives are to submit to one another in ultimate submission to Christ! HE is the one who should be leading the marriage - LOVE and TRUTH need to guide the home, not force. Ultimately, as Christians, we must obey God and not man and if you are in an abusive marriage, the good news is: God has called you to peace and He loves you because you are His precious daughter! Sometimes separation is the catalyst for change - sometimes not. Sometimes divorce is the only way to freedom because the man chooses to harden his heart to the Holy Spirit. Abuse is NEVER okay with God!

I agree with you completely. Complementarianism, which would be more appropriately called, "Gender-Based Hierarchy in the Body of Christ" is not an acceptable "alternative" view for followers of Christ. You state, "If marriage is understood as a hierarchy, then the person at the top of that structure can easily conclude that he has permission to do what is necessary to maintain power." POWER is the key word in understanding the complementarian position.

Everything this position teaches is centered on maintaining men's power over women: physical, emotional, spiritual, and, if possible social power. The fact that society in the west has legally eliminated that social power means that the complementarian position works even harder to hold on to the other realms of power.

Yet it is hard to find any teaching in Scripture that validates, let alone commands, one believer to exercise power over another. Quite the contrary: Jesus instructed his followers NOT to be like the Gentile rulers who "lord it over" others (Mat. 20:25).

Complementarians are quick to argue (nowadays, at least) that men who abuse their wives are misusing their power. But the power itself is never called into question. In fact the male power view comes from a culture of patriarchy, a system God neither set up, commanded nor prescribed for God's children.

There are many more reasons in addition to abuse why the hierarchical view is unacceptable for followers of Jesus. It puts a male human mediator between a woman and God. It teaches women that God will somehow hold them less responsible for their actions than men. It values women less than men (despite all the "equal but separate" rhetoric. We know how well that worked!) Most importantly, it teaches that above all else, women's lives as believers are predetermined because they are women. Every other factor from calling to gifting to experience to training is of secondary importance next to her permanently unchangeable gender. Sociologists call this determinism, and it has been used historically to maintain slavery and a host of other social ills.

You are right, Keri, gender-based hierarchy is destructive, and not only to women but to the men who promote and practice it.


My husband has always seen him and I as equal in our marriage - thank God! For a time, I struggled with that thought, because all I knew was the traditional way of viewing men as the head. Over the past few year, I've come to know about (and feel) the love of our creator in a new way. All humans are made in his image - so why would they not be equal and/or why would one type of humans be 'under' the other?

At times, I had a hard time explaining myself to others,so thanks for these thoughts to help me more clearly voice my viewpoints when asked.

Thank you for your thoughts on this matter. I respect your input as a faithful servant of God.

I would have an initial question about some of what you stated. You said:

"Egalitarians like myself see the head and body analogy is an illustration of the unity, or oneness that God intended in creation. A husband and wife need to be a team, like a head and a body. A body needs the head, the head needs the body... Paul is talking about unity and oneness. He concludes his teaching with a reminder of the oneness theme, and mutual nature of submission: “each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Eph. 5:33)."

I shortened all of your quote to help fit this comment, but it can be read above.

The text you site says this: " 22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."

If head and body emphasize oneness/sameness/unity as you state, then Christ would be the same in authority as the church. The comparison is husband to wife as Christ to church. Head to body, husband to wife, Christ to church. I don't think that you would be suggesting that Christ and the church are equal in authority as would be the logical conclusion. Could you please offer me your thoughts on how this all fits together.

Obviously, it is hard to discuss all sides of these verses in a blog, but you have attempted to show a view based on some thoughts and I am curious how you and others would carry that argument based on those verses.

Thank you for your faithfulness to God, His Word, and your family. Gracefully, KG.

Dear Keri,

Whenever I hear stories of abusive relationship like the one you mentioned, my heart trembles and I can’t help but praying for our Lord to come again soon, so such evil against our fellow sisters can be ended forever! I too feel angry, and want justice done. Nevertheless, in my attempts to voice on this important subject in various occasions, I gradually noticed a couple of things that could potentially weaken our well intentioned messages:
1) Labeling and “fighting” against anyone labeled as the opposite. In fact, from my study on the subject “women in ministry” so far, I found that the term “complementarianism” has a very broad definition and people don’t necessarily mean the same thing when they call themselves by this label. For example, I think you will be delightfully surprised if you read Dr. C. L. Blomberg ‘s essay on “Women in Ministry” collected in the book Two Views on Women in Ministry (2nd ed., 2005), in which he provides a careful survey of OT and NT scriptures in support of women in ministries, including preaching. Yet he calls himself a “complementarianist”. Should we dismiss him or his writing just because of this label, we would be missing treasures that could better equip us to dialogue more effectively with those who misinterpret the Bible and devalue women in marriage and/or ministry.
2) Let our emotions get too much in the way for us to truthfully seeking to understand the Scripture. It indeed is almost impossible not to get emotional as so much is at stake when someone denies our identity and purpose as God so created and intended. Yet when we let our emotions get out of hand, we could potentially take scripture out of context to support our own opinion. For example, I would agree with KG that your interpretation of Eph 5 is indeed questionable. Just as some of the Christian men we are criticizing here, when we use the Scripture in partiality for our own agenda instead of the will of God, we become just like them and will potentially lose credibility in front of God and our fellow Christians.
With that in mind, perhaps what we need to question is not the “headship” of husband to wife but the nature of it. If we read on to Eph 5:25-30, I would say the real meaning of “headship” becomes pretty clear--“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Do you strive to be a good Christian husband? Then don’t worry about maintaining this humanly conceived notion of “authority”; rather, cherish and nourish your wife and love to the point to give yourself up for her. And you will be amazed as to how willingly your wife will submit to your leadership! Same thing for us wives, as long as it is not about anything against God’s will (being abusive is definitely against God’s will, when we are to love even our neighbor as ourselves, let alone husband or wife!), let’s make effort in the Spirit-given strength to submit our individualistic will and preference to our husbands’ and bring peace to the family!


I'm not following your final points of your post. You clearly understand that the husband is called to give himself up for his wife, yet you then turn around and say that women are "to submit our individualistic will and preference to our husband's and bring peace to the family."

So what about a man's individualistic will? And where did the man's "giving himself up" go? In your last sentence, you set the man in a position of power to which a woman must give in, whereas the verses you quoted teach that a man is to be in a position of servanthood to his wife, in which he "gives himself up" for what is best for her.

A peaceful family does not consist of a wife submitting her individualistic preferences to a husband's whims. A peaceful family consists of two responsible, mature adults, neither of them acting out of their individualistic wills, but both of them acting out of what is best for everyone in the family. And generally what is best for the family is for every family member to have the freedom to wholly submit to the call that God has placed on his, or on her, life.

Thank you for writing this, Keri! I'm glad that more and more people are no longer dismissing this issue as a matter of taste. I agree that gender equality, rather than hierarchy, is a biblical teaching.

KG, you asked Keri how her understanding of unity could be right since you think it would mean that Christ and the church are equal in authority, which is clearly not true. I think there are a couple of things that help explain why this is not a problem.

1. The head-body example is an illustration or a metaphor. Language uses these all the time to show how things are similar. One of the first rules for understanding a metaphor is that it does not apply exactly in all of its aspects. You have to look at the context to see which part of the metaphor the author is using to make his point.

Verse 23 says, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” Then verses 25-27 define what Christ did for the church: loved her, gave himself up for her, made her holy, washed her, made her radiant and without blemish.

Paul is clear: he is talking about loving and caring. The word “authority” is nowhere in the whole text. The only way to find it here is to assume beforehand that “head” stands for “boss, ruler or authority” and nothing else. But is that what it means?

In this verse, and in 1 Cor 11:3 and Col 1:18 the phrase “head of” is used to describe relationships: Christ is the head of the church, or the head of man, the husband is the head of his wife, God is the head of Christ. But Eph. 1:22 says, “And God placed all things under his [Christ’s] feet, and appointed him to be head OVER everything FOR the church, which is his body. . . .” See the difference? Here is a power or authority structure: Christ is head OVER all things FOR the church, not head over the church. It’s a different kind of relationship entirely.

2. In order to understand the idea of authority in marriage, we should look at the passage about marriage where Paul actually does use the word and explain the concept, in 1 Cor. 7. Alvera Mickelsen explains this very well in the July 30 issue of Arise published by CBE. You can subscribe here: Her article is excellent. I would quote it here but I’d be breaking copyright laws.

KG, I don’t know if Keri would have a different answer, but this is the reason why I think the answer to your question is no, there is no message here that the church and Christ are equal in authority: because the idea of authority isn’t even in the passage at all!

Yes, Keri, I agree wholeheartedly, and so does my husband. The wife is to put the husband before herself. The husband is to put the wife before himself. In fact, Paul commands believers to consider others more important than themselves and Jesus clearly teaches that a "leader" is one who gives up everything to SERVE another. Funny how these principles seem to go out the window with some men the minute they are married.

Complementarianism occurs when people look at the Bible throught the sin-filled lenses of the world. I've always found that complementarianism goes up when people ignore the Holy Spirit.

By the way, the verses in Ephesians are about love, not authority.

My Deacon has a great take on why God made men the spiritual heads of the house, he says "well if God didn't make'em, they'd never do it" (O:

THANK YOU! I have just finished an abusive 36-yr marriage to an ordained ministry leader. Until this last year, all the counsel I received was as you described. When my husband added unfaithfulness to the mix, I finally understood the truth you describe. When, after 9 months of couples' counseling, he still believed I was the problem, the Lord said to me "The reign of terror is over"(Ps 10:18 The Message),and I took the hardest stand of my life and ended my marriage, with the Lord's sad blessing.
How can we reach into the hidden suffering of so many of our sisters, so that healing and grace can be poured into their lives, and into the lives of husbands willing to change?

It is interesting to me that we believe Jesus Christ is God, equal in essence to the Father, but yet He submitted to the Him. Does that submission communicate "a value that the Father is of greater value" than the Son?

Dear Sue,

Thank you for the thoughtful response! And you are asking some real important questions for us to ponder further on the great challenge of being able to obey God’s will for husbands and wives according to the Scripture.

The truth and fact, as we all know, is that, although originally created in God’s image, we are all sinners, fall short of God’s glory, and have the strong tendency to be self-centered. Ideally, as you stated, when both my husband and I have individualistic will (desires), he would realized his problem and thus opt to satisfy mine in an effort to live up to his own godly standard for being a loving husband. Yet just like myself, he is still in the process of being sanctified and could fail (miserably) from time to time, not to mention that both of us could simply be misunderstanding the other (plus being judgmental) as finite beings. Therefore, if I insist that he live up to the biblical standard for a self-sacrificing husband, I could be hitting a stone wall at the very moment, and worse, he could cite his Bible just as well and insists on my perfect submission. Where do we go next? Often a dead end, in my personal experience, and someone has to turn around first, so that God’s grace could work us toward mutual confession and reconciliation.

My final point was just that--both husbands and wives should be reading the Bible for themselves, and we are not to hold our spouses against God’s will for them while underestimating and even letting go of our own mistakes and responsibilities. In other words, we are to submit to God’s will even when we have to suffer significant emotional distress to be the first to admit our own weakness and/or reexamine our own desire in light of God’s word.

The real amazing thing I found is that, whenever I was willing to eventually take up this challenge with Spirit-given strength (often after my argument with God in regards to the unfairness of the situation and what He wants from me), God has always been faithful to grant us grace, bringing my husband down to awareness and willingness to also fulfill his obligation for us to work toward a true reconciliation. I’m sure he has similar stories to share, in which I was the “stubborn-necked” one in the pair, and I am sure there will still be stories like down the road. But again, as long as we both (taking turn) strive to submit to God’s will with the Spirit-given strength, we regain the peace God promised to all who loves Him. Praise God!

Just like what you said, “A peaceful family consists of two responsible, mature adults, neither of them acting out of their individualistic wills, but both of them acting out of what is best for everyone in the family.” What a great way to put it, Sue, can’t agree with you more! And I’m sure God has called us into His Kingdom as teams of husband and wife for a wonderful purpose!

I think that Complementarianism is simply the traditional Christian view of the divinely-mandated authority of the husband over the wife, with all that this implies, including the position taken by the Baptist theologian you mention. As a liberal Christian--if there can be such a thing--I don't believe I have to take Scripture with complete literalness. My wife and I have what we regard, but which an evangelical Christian who understands the Bible literally would not so regard, as a Christian marriage. Using this column's terminology, we would be Egalitarians.

However, I do not believe that Egalitarianism has any Scriptural basis; it is a secular moral view that many Christians would like to be able to find in Scripture. It is not there.

Dear Keri,

I appreciate you voicing your concerns. I, too, despise abuse, and have several friends who have been in abusive relationships. However, I am concerned about your quote from Bruce Ware: you made him say exactly opposite what he was intending. In the link that contained the longer quote, Ware clearly calls abuse sinful. He lists it as an example of a husband's sinful response to a threat to his authority; when he says "can" he's not saying abuse is legitimate, but rather simply that it exists. I completely respect your difference of opinion with Ware on the roles of men and women in marriage, but please quote him accurately. I had him as a professor and know that he deplores abuse. Dr. Ware is one of the most humble, godly men I know. He loves his wife dearly and strives to help men treat their wives with honor and Christ-like love. Please don't slander his name by misrepresenting what he believes.

Great discussion. And I appreciated the comments defending my position--the verses about head and body are not about authority, but about love and care. Thank you, LMB.
And Jim, I'm glad you are an egalatarian in practice, but I must tell you, it does have a scriptural basis. just read through the comments on this post and you'll see it. You have to separate traditional interpretation from what the text actually says.
And IH, i did wonder about Dr. Ware's quote--what he meant by "can"--was he observing what does happen, or giving it his approval? i can see your point that he was not condoning it--however, in the text of that talk, I saw nothing where he said, 'abuse is wrong,' straight out. I wish he'd been more forthright. Not just because people like me might misinterpret his meaning, but because people who are prone to abuse might do so as well.
there are other Christian leaders who have said similar or worse things about domestic abuse, and plenty of churches who counsel women to "stay and pray" in abusive relationships. That's just wrong, no matter what you think the Bible says.

I really do feel this is a very unbalanced perspective in terms of complimentarism and its effects on leadership within the church.

The "likely not a female translator" statement made about verse 21 made me feel very annoyed. The same verse in the Amplified Bible translation reads the same and that translation was in large part done by a woman (not to mention the countless eyes that have translated the original text the same way and verified to the best of their abilities that you would also need to rebut).

I think the part about complimentarism that gets people so irate is when they equate their experience with it (done in the wrong way) as a revelation from the Lord. Its as if when it doesn't work out, 'I must have it wrong' so if we can back it up with scripture then (Egalitarianism) it must be right (correct, prefered way etc).

For sure, you must be a team in a marriage and their must be leadership in a marriage but to say that 2 can be leaders in a marriage or in the case of a woman to lead in the same men appointed positions of church settings is counter-scriptural (12 disciples, Paul, David etc etc) I have heard the cultural arguement for why men were prefered to deliver the gospel but Jesus shook so many people's persepectives, why not female leadership when he had the chance (e.g. choose a female disciple/s)? There has to be a reason for the lack of compulsion to speak on this but just his silence on this begs the question: was there anything wrong with men chosen as leaders?

The complimentarism view can go too extreme like you've said (a man leading women's ministry is just crazy) but done properly, complimentarism and women in leadership can be done within the church environment AND be fulfilling, not oppressive to women. Unfortunately you seem to have found quite a lot of times when it was not done properly.... a trend that I find increasingly concerning.

I agree with Jim - complementarianism is the traditional Christian view on womanhood and marriage and what you suggest is a secular moral view and not found in scripture.

I am so sorry for your experience of an abusive marriage and the wrongful counsel you received about, if I am understanding correctly, not separating for physical safety. Clearly, you should. Divorce can be another matter, but separation is a step one must take in physically harmful marriage situations.

That said, I believe that God had women's best interests at heart when He called us to submit to our husbands who are ideally God-fearing and godly men. The fact that husbands can be domineering and abusive! is absolutely devastating and sinful and not what God had intended. The question to pose may be, not whether what God said in scripture is right according to our point of view - setting ourselves as arbiter and judge over God, no! - but what in this situation makes godly submission by the wife and godly protection and love by the husband not work out. and the answer is - sin. the husband's sin, to be specific.

which begs the question, then, of how do we respond? as stated earlier, separation for purposes of physical safety are in order. from what you said in the article, it seems unclear, but I'm sure this would be the recommended course of action by Saddleback and other church counselors as well.

I just hate to have people misunderstand God's command for the wife's submission to the husband and women's submission in the church - something that is supposed to be beautiful and good - and call it outdated or a bad idea, when what we truly mean is that the sin of the husband - and all our sin - is what is so ugly.

The real purpose of this article is really looking for ways to label Rick Warren a false teacher. Please author go and talk to Rick Warren in person to get trhe real story instead of divisive article like this

Joshua (Australia)

Just because a position can be twisted to an evil end doesn't make it false.

I'm concerned about the tone of this article. What the author seems to be implying is that those who hold to a complementarian view should not be tolerated in the church because they purport a view that is dangerous to women. Regardless of where one stands on this issue, I think we can all agree that shutting down honest theological debate is very unhelpful. If we believe in the truth of God's Word, we should be willing to let that truth speak to us.

Further to the arguments made, it appears to me that they are largely based on selective anecdotal stories than on a solid exegesis of the Bible. While selective stories are certainly a powerful way to garner the reader's support and/or swing their view, they are not necessarily a good way to find the truth from Scripture. A proper exegesis of Ephesians 5 and 6 will demonstrate that these chapters are written in the context of a call to godly living with examples given of how to live in the state or role each was called. It is not a chapter given to the overarching themes of "love" or "mutual submission" (as defined by the author), These truths are inherent in the text, but they carry a different meaning than what the author implies. One should always keep in mind the greater context of what Paul was writing about as well, because this gives the proper framework for interpretation.

Finally, the author makes a sweeping statement at the end of her article which is very troubling. She states that "true Christianity" stands for mutual submission, not hierarchy. But in denying the God-given roles that God has instituted, she steps on some pretty important theological ground. What about sin's transmission (and the necessity of the virgin bith)? What about the roles of the persons of the Godhead? Such a radical view inevitably has soteriological implications which challenges the nature of the gospel itself.

Joshua: The real purpose of this is not to decry Rick Warren as a false teacher. What a silly statement! Keri (the author) DID interview a pastor at Saddleback. He couldn't comment specifically because of confidentiality. The post mentions this CLEARLY.

The "argument from the extreme" is disingenuous and easily knocked down. No follower of Christ should condone abuse. But putting aside for a moment whether complementarianism in its extreme leads to that abuse, I ask you to reflect on the ills an extreme egalitarianism might lead to and I think has led to, not just in the home but in the culture at large.

I don't think we're ever going to get THE answer on this one -- you can credibly argue from Scripture on both sides -- and yet that keeps us humbly seeking God. Personally, I think arrogance is a far greater danger than either complementarianism or egalitarianism.

What is the proper/biblical way to make a decision within a marriage when agreement can not be reached between husband and wife? Decisions like what church to attend or a child's education. AL

Wow, interesting dialogue.

On the issue of abuse, my flesh (not my spirit) thinks that men who abuse their wives should be taken out by a few men and horsewhipped severely. I admit, this may be an extreme application of Proverbs 22:15 but we're all works in progress. That being said, after reading more of the quote from Professor Bruce, I can't agree with the your interpretation of what he actually said. It also seems that this article has an overriding assumption of the utter sinfulness of men and the pure Garden of Eden innocence of women. Men are always the problem and women are just victims of an outdated patriarchal worldview (which apparently didn't exist during biblical times). If I didn't know any better, I would think this might have been written by a spokesperson for NOW.

When we interpret scripture, we always have to put ourselves (as best we can), in the times that they were written. The attitudes of society change constantly, but Scripture does not. God meant what He said. Unfortunately, the church too often rides the pendulum of society's attitudes instead of standing of God's Word.

On the issue of "headship", I think the portion of that scripture about men loving their wives "as Christ loved the church" should suffice to stamp out any notion of our superiority over women. But I can't help but wonder, What if Adam had exercised his "headship" over his wife in the Garden (Gen 3:6) and refused to disobey God. As we see, both "headship" and "submission" can become warped by our sinfulness when exercised outside of God's will.

This seems very bias article, no doubt written by a woman.
What about the husband who might be abused by the wife?
A husband who might have a melancholic / phlegmatic personality often
gives in to a wife that is choleric/sanguine.

It seems foreign to me that there's no "right" way to interpret these passages. I guess the Complementarianism can be simultaneously right and wrong. Seems contradictory.

Never mind,
I got it... Those Southern Baptists must not be interpreting scripture right...

... or maybe the authors interpretation is wrong...

Maybe right and wrong doesn't exist here.

Or the idea of coming to the full knowledge of the truth through your own personal interpretation of scripture is the problem.

That seems to sum up this discussion much better.

the one thing that frustrates me about this article is that it is equating the complementarian position to the "traditionalist" position. Complementarian is the balance between egalitarian and traditionalism, not traditionalism itself.

As a pastor and counselor, a lot of these issues come up, but true complimentarians would not deal with them in this way.

Ok, I just have to ask, Elizabeth, you mentioned: "the ills an extreme egalitarianism might lead to and I think has led to, not just in the home but in the culture at large." What sort of terrible things has egalitarianism led to? Just curious.
And re: husbands abused by wives--yes, I'm sure that happens. And it is a bad thing. But it happens less frequently, and you can't use scripture to excuse it. My point is not just to say that abuse occurs and it's bad, but to say that when abuse occurs and people use scripture to condone or excuse it, that's unconscionable.
I'm not saying women don't sin, but when they do sin, they shouldn't have to be abused for it.
As for Jesus' disciples, while he had male apostles, he had women among his larger group of followers--see Luke 8:1-3. he also allowed those same women to be the first to announce the resurrection--a huge honor. And women were leaders in the early church. Jesus help women up as examples.
I appreciate the discussion and everyone's willingness to wrestle with these issues!

The ministry that I have attended for the past twelve years teaches that submission is a gift. The husband cannot demand that the wife submit to him. She must choose to do so. I do believe the husband is to be the spiritual "head" of the wife and family. This means he is to be the covering, provison and protection and love his wife as Christ loves the church. God does hate divorce but I believe He also hates abuse. I think the only acceptions that can be made for divorce or separation are: adultery, abuse and abandonment. I would never advise anyone to remain in an abusive marriage.

The view held out by the author is her own personal view and I respect her for that but I feel being the head means the God given responsibility of the husband to take maximum care over his wife. To love,honor and cherish is the ideal. Not to lord over the wife.
In the same way the wife is to submit in love and remember it is always important to keep one self in the right spirit before the Lord. Your attitude counts not your words. Many a time it is self that tries to get even but let us see how the Lord looks at the issue. Christ first, spouse next, self last.
This can be practised only when the rule of Christ is there in the heart and in the home. May God help us.
Joe, India

If husbands truly "loved their wives" in the model of Christ, this would be a none issue. No person, man or woman, would object to submitting to a man exuding this type of love. That being said, as a man I find the scripture prescribing "mutual submission" as most consistent with other teachings.

Al, you ask,

What is the proper/biblical way to make a decision within a marriage when agreement can not be reached between husband and wife? Decisions like what church to attend or a child's education.

I believe a couple should devote themselves to prayer if they reach an impasse. I know Complementarians teach that the husband has tie breaking authority, but we don't find such privileges given them in the Bible. Maybe God allowed this to happen for them to grow closer to each other and to him, while they seek the right answer.

As far as I understand the text, Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3 and other often quoted passages, don't support the idea of husband-authority, but rather, mutual submission or esteeming each other as above oneself.
Selfless love and submission to the father is what carried Jesus to the cross. He didn't expect the church to follow before he died for her, did he? But this is not taught in the church, even when men are told that they hold similar authority over their wives as Christ holds over the church. Why grant them more power and decision making authority, and remove the responsibility to lead, as Christ did, by taking the first sacrificial steps?

The main problem I have with Complementarian doctrine is not the teaching that wives should submit to their husbands, but the teaching that the husband's role is that of Leader.

Gilbert Bilezekian's book "Beyond Sex Roles" has a great deal of scriptural research aimed at understanding the scriptural passage on "headship". My take on this is that our goal in the home and in the church is for UNITY. Wielding authority - by anyone - without sincere care for another or desire for unity is an issue of pride and cannot be called spiritual leadership whether you are a man or a woman.

Instead of fighting about who is and who is not allowed to have authority based on gender, we should perhaps look at character qualities and spiritual maturity, do you think?

Unless you're counting the phrase "slain from the creation of the world" (Rev 13:8), then the Bible teaches that Christ's call for his disciples to follow him came long BEFORE the cross. We just have the advantage of having the scripture to look back on and see the "it is finished" side of it.

The problem with the "headship" of men argument is ANY unchecked authority, whether in a marriage or not, is almost always bound to get twisted by our fallen nature. Human beings (men AND women), by and large, don't do a great job of submitting their own wills to God's will. That's why we men need the Holy Spirit to give us the power to give ourselves up for our wives. However, while mutual submission IS taught, that does not negate the fact that headship is also taught. A body without a head is a dead one and a body with a head that the body will not submit to is, at best, dysfunctional.

I have a question: what does Ephesians 5:21 mean: "Submit to one another out of reference for christ?"
Eph. 5:25 says "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;" the Greek word for "gave" is paradidomi, which means, according to Strong's concordance, "to surrender, to deliver over to another to keep, yield up, intrust, transmit." Both the husband and wife are called to try to put the other first. The bible teaches mutual submission.
As for who gets to "break the tie"--the bible says there's wisdom in an abundance of counselors. Pray, wait, ask others to speak into your life. The discipline of community is essential for good marriage--ie other couples, other people speaking into your life.

Not sure if this will be seen way down here in all this, but while you address some HUGE concerns that need addressing, there is an equally HUGE issue with your equating authority with value. Is the president more valuable than the citizens because he has a position of authority? Does having someone as a pastor of the church make them more valuable than those under him? Was Moses more valuable than the Israelites? Just because God gives someone authority (and I'm not saying women can't have it, e.g. Deborah walked in authority), that doesn't indicate ANYTHING about their value, and is a serious LIE of the enemy!!! We are dealing with the same God who dealt with the sons of Korah...He wasn't very ambiguous when the earth opened up and swallowed them. Authority does not justify sin, and the issue can get complicated, particularly in marriage but also in pastoral relationships...but equally important, and I feel a seriousness I cannot describe here, and I think I have the Spirit here, I feel confident in that: AUTHORITY DOES NOT EQUAL VALUE. This is a LIE. There are serious issues with carnality maintaining control, but the other serious issue is simply because God places someone in authority (e.g. Moses), your inference that that necessarily justifies any actions to maintain control is faulty, even if evidence points to people following that misinterpretation. A man of authority in the bible who serves as one prime example of this is David, particularly with Absalom as well as with Saul. We can't just reject authority and what the bible points to because it "makes us" feel less valuable. Do I get to buck the leadership of my pastor because he is now my "mediator" between me & God? Or because I feel "less than"? Shall I now tell my pastor, "You takes too much upon himself! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD's assembly?" There is profound misunderstanding here. Which is another word for deception.


I appreciate your concern about abuse which is legitimate. Sounds like the Saddleback folks take a prudent approach in terms of abuse and hopefully all Christians take Scripture seriously when it speaks against divorce except for adultery and disertion. Your initial premise is the faithful one: fine Christian people differ on the issue of women's roles just as we differ on many questions of non-essential doctrine and practice. Please do not write off traditionalists (Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelical traditionalists) who hold the view held historically by the church for 2 millennia. It's never justified to trash the views of other sisters/brothers just because some identified with that perspective do terrible things. If it's been a while I suggest you read a good church history book to give you some perspective. - Don Fortson, Ph.D. church history professor

I came from a church that really pushed the Complementarian view. The people in that church (a Reformed one - Reformed groups are really into complementarianism), never, ever mentioned Ephesians 5:21. But, it's in there and when properly read with the rest of the chapter shows that Paul is not saying that the husband is in authority over the wife (worldly view), but that both are to love and look out for each other.


When I read church history I am more than glad to see that many erroneous and some long held beliefs have come and gone.

Would anyone really want to have Inquisitorial trials back? No, I think about 700 years worth was more than sufficient. What about the Geneva Council with John Calvin burning "heretics" at the stake? How would we like that out on the church lawn after Sunday services this week?

Don't forget the Puritans and the Salem witch trials in the 1690's. The patriarchal beliefs that Puritans held in the community added further fuel to suspicion. Women, they believed, should be totally subservient to men, because by nature, a woman was more likely to enlist in the Devil's service than was a man, and women were considered lustful by nature. Courts convicted twenty-nine people of the capital felony of witchcraft. Nineteen were hanged. In 1695, Thomas Maule a noted Quaker, publicly criticized the handling of the trials by the Puritan leaders stating, "it were better that one hundred Witches should live, than that one person be put to death for a witch, which is not a Witch". For publishing this, Maule was imprisoned twelve months. Church error dies hard.

Neither am I for writing off traditionalists - But,I am for writing off traditions of the church that are just that - traditions that cannot be upheld by the Scriptures.

I am glad to have an opportunity to provide input. My husband is disabled / has been in a nursing home for years so essentially I have no "head." When I wanted to serve in my church as a music lead, I was not even considered because I was the wrong gender. It was very confusing and frustrating to have a God-given talent and desire to share what I thought God wanted me to do but was discouraged to do so in any leadership role at church.
I have since found another church that welcomes my music and encourages me. I pray for the women who struggle to find the right "place" at home and church in order to be all that God created them to be.

The crux of the argument used to advocate egalitarianism in favor of complementarianism is believing the Bible teaches mutual submission. It does not. It has also been argued that the concept of authority is not in Ephesians 5:23. It is.

Egalitarians argue that Ephesians 5:21 which says, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (ESV) teaches mutual submission. But the word “submitting” is the Greek “hupotasso”. It is always used, within the New Testament and other Greek literature, of submission to an authority. Thus, what Paul is telling the Ephesians (and by extension, us) is we are to be subject to rightful authorities. Verses 5:22-6:9 then give specific examples of the submission he was talking about: wives submit to husbands, children submit to parents, slaves (employees) submit to masters (employers).

Hupotasso indicates a one-directional submission to the one in authority. There are no examples of the above relationships that reverse the order Paul gives. Nowhere are husbands told to submit to their wives; nowhere are parents told to submit to their children; nowhere are masters (employers) told to submit to their slaves (employees).

Further, if Paul was trying to teach mutual submission he did a grave disservice to other churches he wrote letters to by not clearly stating such a doctrine. “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord” (Colossians 3:18-22 ESV). “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3-5 ESV).

Even Peter would be guilty of the same offense. “ Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives—when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:1-6 ESV).

It should also be noted that the Greek for “one another” in Ephesians 5:21 is “allelon”. This is a reciprocal pronoun that has two meanings. It can mean something like “everyone to everyone” as shown in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another (allelon)”. This means every Christian is to love every other Christian all the time. In contrast to this, however, “allelon” can mean “some to others” as 1 Corinthians 11:33 shows. “When you come together to eat, wait for one another (allelon)”. This means that those who are early are to wait for those who are late. It does not mean those who are late are to wait for those who are early. Here allelon means “some to others”; some are to wait for others. There is no mutual waiting.

The idea that authority is intended in these verses is further revealed by the use of the word “head”. This is the Greek “kephale”, which when applied to persons always means “person in authority”. Thus, the husband is the authority over his wife as Christ is the authority over the Church.

Nevertheless, because of the potential misuse of those with authority, Paul is quick to condition that authority by telling husbands to love their wives, for fathers to not provoke their children to anger, and for masters to give up threatening their slaves. This leaves no room for abuse or selfishness, both of which are very wrong and should not be tolerated.

Our modern culture has taken something beautiful, submission, and made it into an ugly word. Was Jesus’ submission to His parents (Luke 2:51) ugly; was Jesus’ submission to His Father will (John 6:38); was Mary’s submission to the will of the Father (Luke 1:38) ugly?

Submission to divinely ordained authority is not ugly. Submission to divinely ordained roles is not ugly. Is Jesus less God than the Father or the Holy Spirit? Of course, not. But it is obvious that Jesus plays a role that is unique to the Son, the Father plays a role unique for Him, and the Holy Spirit plays a role in the godhead unique to Him. And it is just as obvious the Trinity is a relationship based upon authority and submission. Therefore, since both men and women are created in God’s image it stands to reason our relationships would mirror that of the Trinity.

I will gladly submit my will to my Father’s will. By the grace of God I will daily submit my desires to the desires of my heavenly Husband (Jesus) that His name may be exalted and glorified. For this reason I was born.

Not TRUE Terry Brown.

Terry L. Brown wrote: "The idea that authority is intended in these verses is further revealed by the use of the word “head”. This is the Greek “kephale”, which when applied to persons always means “person in authority”." -THIS is a FALSE STATEMENT.

Not only with respect to flowing water was the head considered the place of beginning, but the well known Aristotle declared that the head was the source or beginning of life, with sperm being created in the head, traveling down the spinal cord, flowing into the genitals to procreate the human race. Ancient writers sometimes referred to sexual intercourse as “diminishing one’s head.” Artemidorus of Ephesus maintained that the head was the source of light and life for the whole body.

The myth of Athena springing from the head of Zeus is widely known in story form, mosaics, frescoes, and vase paintings. Ancient Orphic burials contained figurines of the soul reemerging into the world after remaining nine years under the bosom of Persephone, Queen of the dead. From the head of the goddess sprout new little heads, some surrounded by leaf buds as they grow to full reincarnation status. The use of the head as the source is undeniable.


Please cite your references (or some of them)for the examples you list above. Do they use the word "kephale" (head).

There is no Greek lexicon that lists "source" as a definition of "kephale" when used of persons.

So, even though the same verb is used in verse 21 and 22, submit, or hupotasso, it means different things? In two adjacent sentences (which, in the greek, were likely the same sentence)?
And if a husband were to love his wife as Christ loved the church, wouldn't that look a lot like humility, or submission (look at Philippians 2 for a clear picture of how christ loved the church--by humbling himself).
so submit to one another doesn't really mean submit to one another? but rather, one way submission? Seriously?
One of the examples Paul gives of submission is "husbands love your wives, give yourselves up for them"--what is giving yourself up but submission?
also, side note:
Kephale as "source" makes sense when you realize that in ancient Greece, people believed that a woman contributed no genetic material to a baby--it came from the man's "head" (as explained earlier). The woman's body was just an incubator--which meant a female baby came not from an egg and a sperm (not discovered until centuries later) but from just the man's head.
My question is, what does this look like in marriage today?

The definition of "source" for kephale is very well attested. Henry Petrina's Lexicon Dictionarium Graecolatinum of 1577 lists the following meanings: caput, vertex, summa pars, apex cerni, exorium, origo (source or origin), statura coporis.
Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria, wrote of Adam:
"Therefore of our race he became first head, which is source, and was of the earth and earthy. Since Christ was named the second Adam, he has been placed as head, which is source, of those who through him have been formed anew unto him unto immortality through sanctification in the spirit. Therefore he himself our source, which is head, has appeared as a human being. Yet he though God by nature, has himself a generating head, the heavenly Father, and he himself, though God according to his nature, yet being the Word, was begotten of Him. Because head means source, He establishes the truth for those who are wavering in their mind that man is the head of woman, for she was taken out of him. Therefore as God according to His nature, the one Christ and Son and Lord has as his head the heavenly Father, having himself become our head because he is of the same stock according to the flesh."
Here kephale is defined as "source" no less than four times in this paragraph. In his application of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:3, Cyril bases his argument upon this definition. Christ was begotten of the Father, who is His source, woman was drawn from man, who is her source.

In its 1968 supplement, the Liddell and Scott lexicon lists forty-eight separate English equivalents of figurative meanings of kephale. None of them implies leader, authority, first or supreme. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965, 10 volumes) has investigated biblical and contemporary extra-biblical writings and reported that the word kephale was used in the secular and religious Greek contemporary to Paul, with the meaning of source, origin, sustainer, and not of ruler.

The translation of Cyril of Alexandria remarks you quoted is that of Catherine Kroeger in her book: “The Classical Concept of Head as ‘Source’, from the appendix of Gretchen Hull’s book ‘Equal to Serve’, pages 267-268. You follow this quotation with Kroeger’s words: “In case you have lost count, kephale is ‘source’ (arche) no less than four times in this single paragraph.” What is not apparent from this quotation or Kroeger’s summation is that arche, which she translates as “source” could more readily be translated as “ruler”, “leader”, or “beginning”. Further, when arche is translated as “beginning” in the NT (Mark 1:1; John 1:1; 2:11; Hebrews 1:10 to name just a few) it has no nuance of “source”. I know of no lexicon that lists “source” as a definition of arche. Therefore, Cyril’s quotation when referencing “head” would read: “head, who is ruler” and “Because head means ruler”.

Further, Cyril was living during a period of time when the nature of the Trinity was being argued by those who believed Jesus was equal with the Father in substance (orthodox) and those who believed Jesus was a created being inferior to the Father (Arianism). Cyril believed Jesus was equal to the Father and is unlikely to have suggested the Father was the “source” of Jesus which could imply Jesus was created rather than the eternal Son within the Godhead.

Concerning the 1968 Supplement to the Liddell-Scott lexicon listing “source” as a definition of kephale, this definition is applied (in the plural) to the source of a river under the heading “Of things, extremity”. It speaks of the end points of the river. In the singular it is designates the mouth of the river. Kephale in the Ephesian 5 passage is singular. Therefore, if one were to translate Ephesians 5:23 - “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church” (NASU) – using this definition it would read: “For the husband is the mouth of the wife, as Christ also is the mouth of the church”. The mistake made by egalitarians here is applying a definition meant for a thing (river) to people.

Further, the newest edition to Liddell-Scott does not have this definition listed. The editor of Liddell-Scott, P.G.W. Glare, in response to a letter Wayne Grudem’s sent him regarding “source” as a definition for kephale said, “The supposed sense ‘source’ of course does not exist and it was at least unwise of Liddell and Scott to mention the word.”

Concerning the definition you site in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (copyright 1965) the updated version (copyright 1972-1989) says: “It will be seen that in secular usage kepahle is not employed for the head of a society. This is first found in the sphere of the Gk. OT.” The Greek OT is the Septuagint, the translation Paul and the early church would be most familiar with; and thus, contemporary with Paul. By then kephale had taken on the meaning “authority over”.

For those who don’t believe this is a watershed issue, read “What the TNIV Means for Evangelical Women” at

Terry Brown,

Are you aware that Liddel and Scott’s first edition was published in 1889? So we know that Grudem has not consulted with the authors. This is likely why he hasn't produced any of the supposed letters with the publishers, and why the present publishers are not concerned about explaining. Publishers really care mainly for sales. I think it is dishonest to change the words of books you did not write. All of this is coming from those who wish to deny the meaning of kephale.

To quote Grudem himself in RBMW Appendix:
"In fact, the most common word for ruler, the one that literally meant ruler, was archon. It is not at all surprising that in contexts where the Hebrew word for head meant ruler, it was frequently translated by archon. All I have claimed is that kephale could also mean ruler or authority in a metaphorical sense of head."

So, how does Grudem assume that kephale means authority? When only 5% of the time that rosh meant "leader" it was translated as kephale. The greater evidence is against the meaning of authority for kephale, and in favor of other meanings like "progenitor," "father," "prominent" or "representative."

"Hupotasso" is used to refer to one person in relation to another without always including the idea of one-directional submission to the other person’s authority.
Here are two examples:

1 Clement 38.1:

“So in our case let the whole body be saved in Christ Jesus, and let each man be subject to his neighbor, to the degree determined by his spiritual gift,”

2 Macc 13.23,

”[King Antiochus Eupator] got word that Philip, who had been left in charge of the government, had revolted in Antioch; he was dismayed, called in the Jews, yielded and swore to observe all their rights, settled with them and offered sacrifice, honored the sanctuary and showed generosity to the holy place.”

In the first example, Christians are to be subject to their neighbor, and in the second, the king is subject to his subjects.

I think you are being misguided by someone teaching less than the entire truth. Althought they are "popular" in Christian circles and among book publishers, this does not make them infallible.

I sense from some of your comments here that you may be falling prey to fear tactics. Mutual submission is not the marriage destroying bogey-man that many make it out to be. On the contrary, it is a much needed and effective barrier against the rampant spousal abuse which has gone on for too long.

To assume that husbands don’t have to submit to their wives would lead to the parallel conclusion that wives don’t have to love their husbands. I hope that you will prayerfully read everything you can on all aspects of these issues - it is not at all as clear-cut as Grudem and his fellows lead people to believe.


I agree wholeheartedly with your article. In light of the dangerous advice John Piper handed out on Aug. 19th saying, "I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, and she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church" - your article is very timely and much needed. I was appalled at Piper's "sage" advice - anyone who has worked with abused women knows this could get them killed and will only encourage further abuse.

How can they so misrepresent the beauty of the mutual love of "one-flesh" marriage relationships (like mine) turning them into a lord/servant relationship? Thereby actually creating power struggles instead of fostering loving cooperation.
Another big problem is that it shifts women’s focus from God to males. It makes marriage man centered. It's so wrong on so many levels.

Oneness is never about who is in charge. Marriage is about godly love, selfless giving, about mutual understanding and concern. It’s about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Those teaching hierarchy are doing far more damage than they imagine. Keep up the good work!


You said, “So, even though the same verb is used in verse 21 and 22, submit, or hupotasso, it means different things? In two adjacent sentences (which, in the greek, were likely the same sentence)?

“Hupotasso” does not mean two different things. That’s the point. It means ‘to arrange under” and when used in the context of human relationships always implies the sense of one being under the authority of another.

Hupotasso is not defined as love or considerate or humility in any lexicon that I am aware of. Certainly, as Christians we are to love one another, be considerate of one another, and be humble toward one another, husbands to wives, and wives to husbands, parents to children and children to parents, employees to employers and employers to employees, but that is not what Paul is talking about when he says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22 ESV) or “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph 6:1 ESV) or “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ” (Eph 6:5 ESV). He is talking about an authority/submission relationship.

God the Father loves God the Son (John 5:20), but the Father is not under the authority of the Son. Rather the Son is under the authority of the Father. "For I (Jesus) have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38 NASU). Does that make the Son less valuable, less important, less God? Absolutely, not!

I realize that the concept of authority can be repulsive. I believe that is primarily the result of our fallen human nature that expresses itself in willful pride. But I also believe it is because authority, unless restrained, can lead to abuse, which we have ample examples to use as illustrations. Nevertheless, authority is not evil and the abuse of authority should not be used as an excuse to rebel against divinely mandated relationships, relationships that are founded upon the Trinity itself.

You also said that “kephale” as “source” makes sense. But the problem is not whether “source” makes sense, something I’m not sure I agree with, but whether “kephale” means “source”. It does not. No lexicon gives source as a definition for “kephale” except the 1968 supplement to Liddell-Scott and even then it is referring to a thing – a river – not persons. And now with the latest supplement to Liddell-Scott – 1996 – not even it has “kephale” being defined as “source”.

How does it look in marriage? It looks like a husband taking responsibility to provide spiritually, emotionally, and economically for his family regardless of the cost to him. It looks like a husband on his knees asking the Father for the wisdom to know how to love his wife, the strength to overcome the difficulties that come with everyday life, and the courage to make decisions that honor the Lord. It looks like a wife who respects her husband and the responsibilities God has placed upon him. It looks like a wife who comes alongside her husband encouraging him and providing that precious feminine insight God has given her into problems and issues they face as husband and wife and as parents. It looks like two becoming one.


I beg to differ. In real life marriage just isn't always like the perfect scenario you describe. How could this possibly apply to the life of my friend whose Christian husband suffered a head injury in an auto accident that has left him in near vegetative state? She has no loving choice, but the one God has given her - to lead, protect and provide for her husband. My grandmother also walked a very similar road for the last 15 years of my grandfather's life as his mind and then body were overtaken by Alzheimer's. My brother-in-law developed bipolar disorder many years ago and so his wife has never had the luxury of depending upon her husband. On the contrary though, she has developed a wonderful dependence upon her Lord and Savior. Or what of my cousin whose husband was killed in Viet Nam and she raised two children on her own? I could go on, but I think you can see my point - marriage just isn't always like the perfect scenario you describe.

Even the most Christian of marriages between God loving spouses can and do encounter circumstances and tragedies beyond their control that render the husband unable to lead anyone. Besides the differences I've mentioned in a previous comment about the meanings of kephale, hupotasso, my perspective regarding husbands having the protector/provider leader role is not the same because of situations I've encountered in the lives of Christian friends and family members with disabilities, illness and aging who cannot fulfill that even if they wanted to.
If a "biblical role" can have even one small exception, then it cannot possibly be a command for every marriage.

My husband and I have enjoyed more than 30 years of a mutually submitting, loving, one-flesh marriage without the power struggles that complementarians deal with so much - as indicated by the amount of teaching and writing they are doing trying to regulate it. What those espousing hierarchy and patriarchy teach takes the focus off of God and places it on the "authority" and will of the husband.

One way submission produces women who are easily led around by a nose ring because they are only able to obtain their knowledge of Scripture from their men. So whatever the man says is there, is there.
Of course, the pastors want these men to only teach their women what they want to be taught. So they set up the hierarchy to ensure that the sheep remain in their pen, rather than under the watchful eye of the Good Shepherd. They proclaim that they can keep the sheep safe from wolves if only the sheep remain in the little defined walls of the pen. This sets the eyes of the sheep on fellow sheep (sometimes wolves) for protection, rather than the One who can truly protect us. Problem is these men are sinners, sheep, just like the rest of us (Hopefully, the ones you happen to be following are not wolves…, and you wake up one day in a cult.).

These hierarchy structures will not protect us. And to say that we need extra protection besides that which is afforded to us through our Good Shepherd is to say that God’s protection is somehow deficient.

The same can be said for the so-called leadership of a husband to his wife. Are we to assume that Christ is not enough? Can a mere man, a sinner who is unable to save himself, afford us women any spiritual protection? I would say no! It did not work for Adam and Eve - Adam had some lovely words for Eve when God confronted him, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me ..." How's that for protection?

Complementarian men (ie. Grudem, Piper, Ware) are raising their pet doctrine of ‘wives submit’ to the level of a sacrament like baptism or the Lord’s supper.
It is as though heaven and earth can stand up under pretty much any sin a man can dish toward his wife. But if a woman doesn’t submit, then the foundations of heaven and earth, Christianity, and the throne of God are shaken (not to mention the family). Because the ‘divine order’ (CBMW words) is not being followed.
It is as though the foundation of Christianity is not the Blood of Jesus shed for our sins, but rather the foundation is the Christian family. And the foundation of the family is dependent on whether a woman submits to her husband. (not whether a husband treats his wife right)

I know, I know. It appears as though I am exaggerating. But like you said, whatever the husband dishes out is little. A wife’s unwillingness to submit, though, is huge. Instead, look at the words of Jesus Himself, our Foundation, our Chief Cornerstone, the Author and Finisher of our faith. His words, the two greatest commandments (that sum up the ten), the Golden rule, and that little bit about, ‘if you would be great in God’s Kingdom, then learn to be servant of all.’ These words from the mouth of Jesus are good for the goose AND the gander toward the goose.

Then, if you like, build on the foundation with Paul’s words. With a foundation of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ this would cure a lot of marriage problems. Men, if they were honest with God and themselves, would have to ask, “Would I want to be treated the way I’m treating my wife right now?”


I'm truly glad you have a happy marriage. (And I'm not being sarcastic.)

I realize the description of what a complementarian marriage looks like is idealistic. But the fact that marriages aren't ideal doesn't invalidate the concept of divinely appointed roles within the home and church. I'm sure egalitarian marriages aren't ideal either.

The examples you gave of husbands being unable to lead because of injury, health, or death aren't exceptions to the authority/submission roles husbands and wives are called to. They are examples of living in a world where tragedy and sin are a reality.

But may I make a personal note? There seems to be a general air of hostility toward men in these posts. Are some men guilty of abuse of authority telling their wives they have to submit because they are the husband? Yes. Do some men verbally, emotionally, and/or physically abuse their wives? Yes. And, unfortunately, this is a reality even within the Body of Christ. It should not be tolerated. It should be confronted and stopped.Wives (women) are not pieces of property. They are human beings created in the image of God, precious in His sight. No man has the right to treat a woman as if she were inferior to him.

But I would suggest that the majority of men don't abuse authority or there wives.

Would it be fair of me to characterize the majority of women as having more in common with Jezebel than Mary? Of course, not. But if I were to simply listen to the news about women committing crimes that were once almost unthought of (female teachers raping underage teenage male students for instance) I could easily have my perception of women warped.

As for the legitimacy of an authority/submission paradigm: Does Jesus have authority over the Church? If so what does that authority consist of? Is the Church to submit to Jesus? If so what does that consist of? Does the heavenly Father have authority of the Son? Does the Son submit to the Father? Does the Son have authority over the Father? Does the Father submit to the Son?

On a more earthly level: Do parents have authority over their childern? Do childern have authority over the parents?

Submission is a gift the wife gives to her husband. It is never, never something a man has a right to beat his wife into giving. That is slavery and that is a gross sin.

I submit to my Lord Jesus because I choose to, not because He forces me to. And my submission is not offensive. I freely and gladly and with a joyful heart choose to follow Him, even when doing so requires me to die to self. That's not to say I don't sometimes say, "Yes, Lord" through the tears that life brings my way. But that's because primarily my submission to my Lord is not to make to happy, but to make me holy.

I don't always know the "Why" of life. But I do know the "Who". He is my heavenly Husband. His name is Jesus Christ whose name I proudly bear.

I wish each of you blessings from both your Lord and mine. May His will be done in all we think and say and do even if fulfilling His will requires us to die to ours.

What is the godly way for a husband to treat his wife? Should he take authority over her and make decisions for her by going against her will?
We know that Jesus is called the bridegroom of the church so we can learn from the way that Jesus acted towards his bride while he was here on earth. With Jesus as our ultimate example - before He was to die, Jesus "poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"
Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
"No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet."
Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."
"Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!"

Notice in this passage that not only did Jesus take the position of a servant, but he did not force himself on the disciples to make their decision for them. Peter balked at having his feet washed and Jesus did NOT take authority over Peter. Instead, Jesus explained to him that it was necessary to allow Jesus to do this act of service in order to have a share with him. It was then that Peter made the decision to allow Jesus to do his work and to serve him.

This illustrates how the bridegroom should treat his bride. It shows that although Jesus could have taken authority over the disciples, He did not do that - He allowed them to submit to his service. For the disciples submission was allowing the bridegroom to serve the bride and to give himself for his own Body. There was no forced submission and the servant-hood of Jesus was not for the benefit of the Groom, but for the benefit of the bride.

Why is this an example of God’s way? It is because if the bridegroom takes authority over his bride he violates her personhood. The submission that Jesus gave to the Father while he was here on the earth was an act of power not of weakness, an act of his own will not an act of one who had taken authority over him. Jesus does not violate our will but he woos us so that we will submit ourselves to his tender service.
Taking authority over another person is forced submission and it is NEVER advocated in Scripture.

It seems to me that one of the weakest areas of complementarianism is in the issue of an abusive husband. They seem to want to dance around the issues because after all the husband is the priest-king of the home according to their doctrine. That makes trying to “discipline” the husband a very touchy subject. How are they going to do that anyway? It is no wonder that most complementarian pastors will focus their advice with the wife and tell her to be more submissive. The subject of the king appears to be easier to counsel than the king himself. This is where the unbalanced nature of the comp argument shows up as weak and ineffective.

Intervention by the church almost always focuses on the wife’s submissiveness. This is the sad but true hypocracy in the complimentarian approach to abusive husbands. Although they recognize that the husband should be loving and sacrificial, they make the exercise of that love and sacrifice conditional on the wife’s submissiveness. This is in direct opposition to Paul’s instruction, which calls for the completely unconditional love and sacrifice that Christ exhibited. While acknowledging Paul’s words they simultaneously deny them! The truth of Ephesians 5 is that the husband is to love and sacrifice for his wife, putting her above himself, regardless of how she behaves. In fact, he is really supposed to ignore any and all bad behavior. By “ignore”, I mean he is to have an attitude like God’s in relation to our forgiven sin. She is to be seen as “washed clean” in his eyes. He is to consider a wife’s bad behavior as having never happened. He is to regard her as he does himself, reflecting the golden rule. The unconditional nature of the husband’s love, sacrifice, and regard for his wife permeates every verse of Ephesians 5:25-32.

Interesting article and comments.
I believe the term “biblical role” as applied to either husbands or wives is erroneous. There is no description of such roles in Scripture.
Nowhere does the Bible dictate that the husband should be the sole provider or protector for the family. In fact, the Bible describes several instances of provider/protector women. The proverbs 31 woman - the literal model for a godly wife - is a co-provider and protector of her family along with her husband and engages in a number of activities that “role” enthusiasts like to restrict to the husband. Such role promoters are in direct opposition to the teaching of Scripture!

On the flip side, there are several OT proverbs and NT admonitions which encourage and even demand nurturing behavior out of husbands. Any suggestion that the “role” of the wife is to be the sole nurturer is equally offensive.

There is simply no instance in biblical teaching where any of the “traditional” gender based “roles” are described. None. Not one. Such roles, and even their labels (e.g. “provider/protector”, “nurturer”,
“spiritual leader”, etc.) are completely man made and have no biblical support.

God designed marriage to be a one-flesh covenant where the activities of daily living, the management of the household, the raising of children, and all the other parameters of married life would be shared between the two participants. That doesn’t mean they each do an equal share of each task. Nor does it mean that there are never tasks exclusively carried out by one spouse (for example, my wife pays all the bills, I do all the barbequeing). The point is that each couple needs to figure out who is best at what and divide the labor along those lines. And/or care for their disabled or mentally unstable husband or wife.
I don’t make all the decisions in our family as many hierarchists say I should. My wife and I make decisions together. There are a few decision areas where either she or I am the unilateral decision maker. Those areas are not defined by our gender, but by our giftedness and experience.

God’s design never, ever, designates either spouse to unilaterally carry out any task. God, in His perfect wisdom, created a covenantal institution where two people function as “one-flesh”. God’s design for marriage benefits from the unique design of each individual while combining the power of those unique designs into an institution, a whole, that is greater than the sum of its two individual parts. Because of this design, godly marriage can stand the test of time, tragedy AND the winds of cultural changes and still thrive. Any designs that promote the idea that cultural paradigms or traditional arrangements constitute the ONLY valid “way” for a married couple to live are completely unbiblical. That includes any suggestion of unilateral gendered “roles”.

"There are plenty of women who obviously want protection and provision."


I think you nailed it down. This shows another one of the major flaws in the complementarian view - women looking to a man instead of God for their protection and provision. My Bible tells me that the Lord is my High Tower and my Provider. Period. Complementarians are creating a new religion based on "husbandship" rather than the LORDship of Jesus Christ!

My biggest issue is getting Complementarians to think outside the box - to help them with questions and a reasoning that they may never have thought through before. In the end they may still agree to disagree but I am confident that if they actual engage the argument and are exposed to the careful reasoning that has gone into the egalitarian side, the fruit of that effort will grow in time with those who truly love the Lord and want to stay true to God’s word. I do want them to see that they must not ignore some of God’s inspired words to hold onto a male-only form of service. I also believe that men are hurt when they are not allowed to listen to women teach God’s word. We have a perspective on scripture that can cause them to be more well-rounded in their view.

The views of some male-authoritarians defy God-given logical thinking.

I love that we're continuing this discussion, still making comments after a month and a half. Pat and Leisa, thanks for joining in the conversation, and your points are well-articulated. I've always noted that the "Proverbs 31 woman" is not a quiet, submissive housewife, but a working mother who provides for her family and leads in the marketplace.
My prayer is that the church would see that we are all (both men and women) called to follow Jesus and lead, as he does, not by powering up, but by serving others.

Terry Brown,
Is this what you meant to write? It doesn't make sense.
"The examples you gave of husbands being unable to lead because of injury, health, or death aren't exceptions to the authority/submission roles husbands and wives are called to. They are examples of living in a world where tragedy and sin are a reality."

We ALL presently live in a world where tragedy and sin ARE the reality. A husband who has lost his cognitive function cannot exercise "authority" over anyone. They don't even know what they are doing themselves.

A man who cannot recognize his wife (or anyone else), feed himself and rarely opens his eyes is incapable of exercising authority.

Logic and facts in reality are not un-Godly.

I, too, am glad the discussion is continuing and hope you don't mind my further questions for T. Brown. In so many discussions comps and hierarchialists just want to make statements and then run. They don't seem to want to answer many questions.

Terry Brown wrote: “Hupotasso” does not mean two different things. That’s the point. It means ‘to arrange under” and when used in the context of human relationships always implies the sense of one being under the authority of another."


"Hupotasso" IS used to refer to one person in relation to another WITHOUT always including the idea of one-directional submission to the other person’s authority.
I gave you a couple of examples, like this one -
1 Clement 38.1:

“So in our case let the whole body be saved in Christ Jesus, and let each man be subject to his neighbor, to the degree determined by his spiritual gift”

"Submit to one another out of reference for Christ, wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22) or “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph 6:1)
*Submit* and *obey* are two different words that mean two different things. Paul is not saying the same thing in these two passages.

Again, to quote Grudem himself in the RBMW Appendix:
"In fact, the most common word for ruler, the one that literally meant ruler, was archon. It is not at all surprising that in contexts where the Hebrew word for head meant ruler, it was frequently translated by archon."

How do you assume that kephale means authority when only 5% of the time that rosh meant "leader" it was translated as kephale?? The greater evidence is against the meaning of authority for kephale, and in favor of other meanings like "progenitor," "father," "prominent" or "representative."

Why do you want to place authority and obedience in these passages? It goes against Jesus' teaching about being servants to one another rather than seeking authority over one another.

"But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant." (Luke 22:26)
"He called the twelve and said to them, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." (Mark 9:35)

The two conditions of true greatness are humility and service. Not authority and service.

Terry Brown,

I'm beginning to think that you have skipped out on our discussion.

It is impossible for “head” to mean “lord, master, owner”. Jesus is both head and Master because he alone is God. No husband is to be in the position of master because we are to have only one master and that is Jesus Christ.
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other." Matthew 6:24
The word for master here is kurios and it means lord, master, owner.

"But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren." Matthew 23:8


I haven't skipped out. I will respond.


I started out very skeptical of egalitarian views and can understand why some struggle to see it that way after a life of being told--really both by the Church and, in subtler ways, by society--that the man should and needs to lead. But I agree now wholeheartedly that egalitarianism is the biblcial ideal... and also that complementarianism (and egalitarians DO believe that men and women complement each other in mysterious ways; this is just the term used)is so often deeply harmful even in churches where there is some attempt to call the men to have a servant-hearted approach to marriage.

Thanks for writing this!

All best,

Post a comment:

Verification (needed to reduce spam):


see more