No More Compromise with Gender Injustice

What I learned from MLK

In the USA we honor and remember Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  every year with a national holiday on the third Monday in January.  And rightly so. Dr. King may have been the greatest champion of social justice in the world in my lifetime.

We should learn from Dr. King, and not merely about racial injustice and the fight for equality in that area. We can also be inspired by his wisdom, courage, determination, and other qualities of his character that were gifts bestowed on him from God to lead that fight at that time. Because we all have our battle to fight.  It may be racial justice, like Dr. King. Or it may be something else, like gender equality.  We can learn from Dr. King no matter what our fight may be.

I have a friend  who writes for gender justice in the church.  Last week she wrote a piece that generated quite a bit of anger from several complementarians- Why Gender Equality in the Church is no Longer a “Secondary Issue”

In one “Christian Bloggers” group it immediately generated harsh pushback and complaints.  “How dare she claim egalitarianism is a primary issue! The creeds alone define what is primary! We can agree to disagree!”

Things became very heated against her. Despite being very gracious in her disagreement, this time someone couldn’t “agree to disagree.” She was ejected from the group and blocked so she couldn’t even read their comments. Meanwhile, the discussion continued about her in several places. They continued to rake her over the coals about how out of line she had been, unwilling to listen to reason, that she alone bore the responsibility for her own ejection, and good riddance anyway!

So were they right? Did she bring all this on herself? Should she have backed down and agreed to disagree about gender equality in the church? Should we keep on attending our complementarian churches, pay our tithes regardless of what happens, and say little or nothing when gender injustice is perpetuated?

Let’s ask Dr. King.

It was April, 1963. The segregationist police commissioner, “Bull” Connor, had sought and won an injunction from  a state court that forbade all demonstrations.  Dr. King refused, and led a protest, for which he was immediately jailed.

From that jail in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. King wrote the following:

~I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not . . . the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace, which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direction action.’ . . . Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. . . . We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.~
Letter from a Birmingham Jail


To apply Dr. King’s wisdom to the gender issue, we must reach the regrettable conclusion that the woman’s great stumbling block in her stride toward equality is not the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the Southern Baptist Convention, martin-luther-king-jrbut the egalitarian moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than justice; who prefers a negative peace, which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action,’ …

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. . . . We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.

Those words seem to this brother to be as applicable to gender equality now as they were to racial equality then. Being moderate in our approach to gender equality, going along to get along, may make us a bigger stumbling block than all those patriarchal organizations combined. Because it shows we’re willing to do something Dr. King was not- accept things as they are.



If Complementarianism is New, it Cannot be True

I’d like to offer some help to my brothers and sisters on the complementarian side of the church. While I completely disagree with your doctrine of gender hierarchy, it has come to my attention that some of you have put even less thought into this than I previously believed. By helping you rule out versions of your story that won’t work, we’ll save time and perhaps all of us can get on with the business of the Kingdom.

Let me explain.

When I wrote The Complementarian Emperor is Shamefully Underdressed, I asked the question,  the question, that sounds the death knell for hierarchical complementarianism:

“If Paul and Peter were teaching male headship as complementarians say, where did this doctrine come from?”Paul-prison2-300x224

Later in this post I will explain why the question will ultimately destroy hierarchichal complementarianism. But first, back to my story.

After posing the question, I went on:

“Logically there are only two options: they either started it as a new thing, or they got it from someplace else.”

I confess, I poo-pooed the first option. I didn’t take it seriously, and only mentioned it at all in order to cover all my rhetorical bases. After all, who would believe that Peter and Paul  were starting male headship as a brand new doctrine in the first century AD?  I didn’t think anybody would believe that.

Enter Truth in my Days, an online apologetics ministry.

Truth in my Days Director John Tors has written a blog piece criticizing my my reasoning. And he devotes 10 of his 31 paragraphs to prove that the Holy Spirit could have inspired the Biblical writers to introduce new doctrine whenever He wanted. And in fact, the Lord did introduce new doctrine throughout the Bible. As John mentioned in the comments, it’s called “progressive revelation.”

Well, yes. But I thought everyone already knew that. Seriously.

And I’m really sorry John devoted nearly a third of his blog post to state the obvious. No, scratch that- I’m not sorry. Because at the end of the day that’s just more proof that complementarians don’t have a very good answer for the question. But fear not, I’m here to help!

Yes, it is true. God could inspire the Biblical writers to introduce new doctrine at any time.1

But the Bible, verbally inspired by an all-knowing, all wise, all powerful God, should be expected to have a coherent message. And the way this brother sees it, a view that says male over female authority was newly introduced by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 makes the Bible message incoherent, and so-called “complementarianism”2 would become obviously untenable and very short-lived as a result.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this assessment. This is why all the top complementarians continually try to imagine that God introduced gender hierarchy in Genesis 1-2, because if it isn’t there, it doesn’t exist at all in the Old Testament, Gospels or Acts. Which would leave us with Paul introducing it as a brand-spanking new idea in 1 Corinthians 11:3, written in AD 55, some 22 years after the resurrection and the founding of the church. And that would raise far more questions than it answers. For example:

  • Complementarians teach that men are to be leaders, and women followers/helpers, and that any departure from this divine pattern is sin. If that is the case, why did God neglect telling this to mankind prior to AD 55?
  • It is said that Moses gave the Israelites 613 commandments, yet not one of them explains that leadership is God’s design for men, nor that respectful cooperation and deference to men is God’s design for women.  Did God not care whether the people of Israel followed this divine plan?
  • If God waited until Paul to reveal the truth of male headship, at what point in history did “female usurpation” become a sin? Was it an unwritten sin prior to AD 55? Did God hold people responsible for unwritten sins?
  • Complementarians teach that marriages consisting of male headship of husbands over wives are a type of Christ and the church to exemplify Gospel truth to the world, and that they are an essential witness to this truth. Why would God wait half a generation after Christ to introduce such an essential witness?
  • First century husbands already had complete authority and control over their wives and households. How is it that the Holy Spirit inspired Peter and Paul to inject into Christian doctrine a “new” concept that was already prevalent in the secular culture of ancient Greece and Rome?

For these reasons, it is unthinkable that the apostles introduced male over female authority as a new concept. If complementarianism is new, it cannot be true. And so the only hope for complementarianism is to “find” it in the creation.

Either way, the question leaves complementarians in an untenable position. Because if their answer implies in any way that it came from the Old Testament, the follow up question is: “Where in the Old Testament do we find that?”

Inevitably complementarians will turn to the New Testament chapters of First Corinthians 11 or First Timothy 2 to try to show the Old Testament basis for gender hierarchy. (As John Tors did.) But assuming what one wishes to prove and then using that assumption as evidence for the assumption is a logical fallacy known as circular reasoning. That doesn’t prove anything.

Or they will point to examples of patriarchy in the Old Testament. (As John Tors did. 3 ) But again, everyone already knows that patriarchy was prevalent in the days of the Old Testament. Genesis 3:16 tells us that from that day forward we can expect men to rule over women.

But where in the Old Testament does God give a commandment or precept that establishes male rule as His design or his perfect will? It’s not there. Anyplace. Again, they have no scripture that supports their understanding of Paul and Peter. Which brings us back once again to the question.

And so our patriarchal protagonists peck around Genesis 1 and 2, like hungry chickens scratching the bare ground for food, trying to find some way to make the case for God-established hierarchy in Eden. It simply must be there, because without it, their case will fold like a cheap lawnchair. And they know it.

Eventually, the question will bring down complementarianism, because sooner or later people will realize the scant Biblical evidence and circular reasoning complementarians use to make their case.

But in the short term they can use the chicken scratch hypotheses and faulty logic to contend that complementarianism is from of old. They have to. Because most of them realize that if complementarianism is new, it cannot be true.





  1. In my initial blog post, I made the statement: “Every important biblical concept begins with the foundations laid in the first few chapters of Genesis.” John apparently misread this to mean, “no new doctrines were introduced in the Bible after Genesis 2.”Of course that is absurd and I would never say that. But to disprove the point I never made, John lists 4 doctrines which came up after Genesis 2: the priesthood, the Messiah, the church, and Jesus. But the Messiah (and therefore Jesus) was introduced in Genesis 3, and the concept of the priesthood in Genesis 14. So three of the four follow perfectly with what I said. As for the church, the need for the church was built upon the foundations laid in Genesis 3.The fact that the church itself wasn’t introduced as a concept until a logical point in the Bible story shouldn’t be surprising. And THAT is the point- 1 Corinthians is NOT a logical point in the story for the introduction of male rule as God’s design. Something else was clearly happening there, and there are much more viable alternatives. (e.g. see Phillip Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ)
  2. The confusing term “complementarianism” is used today by gender hierarchalists as a kinder, gentler name for their movement, which from time immemorial was known as “patriarchy”. It was chosen as their new, euphemistic moniker in 1988, co-opting a word that egalitarians formerly used for themselves. (Link)
  3. In the comments section, in response to my point:  “You seem to have overlooked the tenth paragraph under “An Analysis of Hahn’s Argument,” in which I wrote, “a system of religious authority was instituted in the Mosaic law, a system in which authority was in the hands of the priests and Levites – and only men could serve.” To make this point more clear now, let me point out that the closest OT equivalent to church leaders were the priests and Levites, and they were all men. Only males of the tribe of Levi could serve, which meant that in the OT, religious authority was allowed only for qualified men, not women – the same as in the NT. So here is one clear “Old Testament reference” that I provided, and there are certainly other such references in the OT. The law, in fact, is suffused with this understanding (whether or not you consider them only “hints”). – John Tors



Gender in the American Church: Why the Racial Past Matters

I have to talk about slavery.

Of course, being from the USA, I automatically think of the slavery specific to my own country, when white landowners bought and sold black human beings like farm animals. In my own city there are horrifying reminders of our shameful racist history.

Sign in front of 209 First Street, Louisville, KY USA

Sign in front of 209 First Street, Louisville, KY USA – one of many such signs.

To many black Americans, even the mention of slavery triggers a visceral emotional reaction which many white Americans, not to mention those from other parts of the world,  fail to understand.

Some folks would rather not talk about it, and I understand that. But it’s been said that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and that’s surely true in some form or fashion.

And the fact is that we must talk about it. Because the parallels between the fight over human slavery in the church in the US, and the fight over women’s equality are strikingly obvious.

That’s why I was astounded by this 10 minute video on the Gospel Coalition blog of Justin Taylor.

Two Southern Baptist leaders discussed the issue of racial injustice in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention and why it matters today. They didn’t have to elaborate- it is well known and documented that the primary reason for the formation of the Southern Baptist denomination was their strong support for owning black slaves, and their contention that such slave-holding was fully vindicated and supported by God and the Bible.

That seems ludicrous today, of course. The two men, Dr. Russell Moore,  President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Matt Hall, VP for Academic Services at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary here in Louisville, Kentucky,  seemed humble and apologetic as they discussed the awful, racist past of the Southern Baptist denomination and what relevance that has for them today.

“Frankly, I think the number one reason is missiological,” said Hall. “If we are going to be serious about the Great Commission, in the United States and beyond, that we need to carefully and honestly think through where we’ve come from, and the things that have provided some impediments and some obstacles in our witness and our testimony in the culture.

Of course, slave-holding was that impediment to the gospel preached by Southern Baptists in the nineteenth century. And I believe the oppression of women is that today, and that the detrimental effects of that oppression to the witness and testimony of the Southern Baptists and other gender hierarchist Christian groups will increasingly become a stone around their necks that they cannot bear.

Some folks, perhaps even many good Southern Baptist ladies, may object to my use of the word “oppression” to describe the gender based hierachy of the SBC. I’m sure a good many of these ladies don’t feel at all oppressed.

But then again, as Dr. Moore himself lamented, many of them are living in marriages that are functionally egalitarian. These couples may pay “lip service” to the gender hierarchy preached from the pulpit on Sunday, but  like many couples, they’ve found that a dictatorship doesn’t feel Christlike and doesn’t work well in their marriage. Following Philippians 2:3 and Ephesians 5:21, they consider each other more important than themselves, and they choose to submit to one another. That won’t feel like oppression to most women, even if the man carries a trump card that is seldom, if ever, played.

But a benevolent dictator remains a dictator, and for many Southern Baptist women, oppression is exactly what it feels like… and what it is… in their marriage, and in their church.

To say that one people group has less power than another people group based solely that person’s identity is, by definition, oppression. It was true for race, and it is true for gender.

And I was astonished that these men could discuss the one and not think of the other.

White Baptists in the south were so certain that their pro-slavery/ pro-segregation interpretation of the Bible was correct, they split their denomination, separated themselves from fellow Baptists, and formed a new denomination that favored racial hierarchy, segregation, and slave holding: the Southern Baptist Convention.

“The things that haunt me most is that how many people just like me could have been so wrong for so long,” said Hall. “In the Southern Baptist Convention we cannot afford, missiologically, to not be honest about these things….and we have a generation of pastors…who.. wonderfully and encouragingly…have a vision for what the Gospel calls from us in terms of the inclusive nature of the Kingdom, in terms of racial and ethic diversity.”

But what about gender diversity, Matt? When your churches are led exclusively by male pastors, teachers, and elders, isn’t a fundamental aspect of diversity missing?

And of course, Southern Baptists believe the Bible teaches it should be that way, just as they formerly believed the Bible taught slavery was normal and good, a belief they now decry, shaking their heads and wondering how people just like them could be so wrong for so long.


You are oppressing women in your churches. You are denying pastorates to female seminary students, denying leadership roles to qualified women, holding back able leaders who want to advance the Kingdom of God.

And that is evil. Not as evil as the slavery of a human being, but evil nonetheless, and detrimental to God’s Kingdom.  And these men don’t see it.

I’m sure they mean well, and these things are done with the very best of intentions.
Just like Jim Crow.

“One of the things I try to teach people,” says Dr. Russell Moore, “is that no one sees himself or herself as a villain. In the narrative of someone’s own life one is always the hero, the protagonist. So there are very few people that actually believe themselves to be plotting to do evil. They think they are doing something good, which of course is consistent with what Scriptures tell us, ‘there is a way that seems right to a man, the end thereof is death,’ Jesus says they will put you out of the synagogues and think they are doing service to God….. so when you think about people in the past who held to some really obnoxious views of white supremacy, who used levers of power of government and of the community and of the church to oppress people on the basis of skin color and ethnicity… what did those people think they were doing? How did they see themselvs as actually doing right?”

Matt Hall agrees.

“The irony and the tragedy is, I think, that Southern Baptists, out of often good intentions, thought they knew the way things really were around them. But they were blind and oblivious, often, to the world that black men and women inhabited in the Jim Crow south. And often they would appeal to the Bible….”

Yes. That. The irony and tragedy of the blindness required to use the Bible to oppress other human beings, who God created to bear His image.

But an even greater irony and tragedy is that these men could have this discussion and miss the heartache of the women who have seminary degrees but who can’t find a church that will hire them, who are the most qualified people in their churches to sit on the church board, but who aren’t considered because of their gender, or the women who are slaves in their own homes.

These things go on in their churches today because of their gender hierarchal doctrine, and these men are blind and oblivious to them.

Hall continues in the video:

“It’s a sobering warning to those of us who often see through our own blinders, and we don’t often see the world around us as other people, even often our brothers and sisters in Christ experience it. And I think that’s one of the great calls of the Kingdom of Christ: to see the world as others experience it.”

“Over and over again foreign mission board workers would appeal to Southern Baptists saying, ‘Please, please, stop this. You’re impairing the work of the gospel.‘ And that is one of the most heartbreaking things about this whole story.”

What’s even more heartbreaking is that these spiritual descendants of those racist Baptists of the south,  contrite and humble as they are over the blindness of their ancestors, fail to see the parallels between the racial oppression of the SBC of old and the gender oppression of the SBC today, often citing the same passages as proof-texts.

Just as their forebears separated from their fellow Baptists over the slave issue, Dr. Moore has separated from other Bible-believing Christians over gender hierarchy.

And just as the racist past of the SBC hampered their evangelistic efforts, the gender hierarchy they teach in the present impedes their witness and testimony today. To some degree all Christians are tarred and our evangelistic work also slowed by this false doctrine.

I do pray fervently, that Dr. Moore’s words at the end of the video come to pass.

“I hope that in the year 2065 a historian looking back at Southern Baptist life will write a very different chapter about the next few years to come.”

Amen, Dr. Moore. Amen.


Why This Brother Fights for Women

My friend Jory Micah wrote something nice today on Facebook about a group of Christian men that have impacted her recently. I was very gratified to have been included on that list.

The thing we did that surprised her so much is that we supported her in her fight for gender equality in the church. She’s very honest about the fact that she didn’t expect that from men, and was hesitant to include us in her target audience. But she said our little group proved her wrong, and  she wrote of us:

I have a tremendous amount of respect for men who support gender equality in the Church and want to see women flourish in Church leadership. At one point I had a bad taste in my mouth concerning Christian men. I thought most of them wanted me to sit down, shut up, and submit. I thought that most Christian men were OK with condescending remarks such as “Women are equal in value, but not authority;” but you guys have changed my mind forever and I just want to honor the guys today and express my heartfelt gratitude for each of you!”

I completely understand why many men haven’t signed on to this endeavor. Many guys look on it as women’s ministry. It’s pretty easy to think that the women can do this for themselves, that us guys should just focus on men’s stuff and let the Lord work it all out.

Besides, someone might ask us for our “man card” if they suspect we’ve been pushing for women preachers and the like. “How about that nice floral arrangement on the piano, brother? Did you pick the flowers?”

The fact is that, despite the kind words of Jory and a few other like-minded sisters, my popularity hasn’t exactly soared since I took up this cause. And that’s OK with me, because I’m not doing it for popularity.

I’m doing it because I want to impact this world for Christ. I’m doing it because I take the Scriptures seriously, and I firmly believe that the hierarchical complementarian interpretation of Scripture is completely wrong and that by embracing it, good people are doing the very work of the devil in the church. My conviction of this truth grows stronger each day.

I’m doing this because our Lord Jesus told us-

The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” – Jesus, in Luke 10:2 NLT

While hierarchical complementarians tell us-

…some contemporary evangelical writers appeal to the ministries of women in the Scriptures to support the notion that there should be no limits on women’s roles in ministry today. They maintain that women and men should have equal access to every ministry function and that any limits on women derive from culture and tradition, not from the Bible, which they believe supports the full inclusion of women in any ministry. – Thomas Schriener in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, page 211

Jesus: “Pray… pray, pray beseech the Lord of the Harvest- send more workers into your harvest!!

Complementarians: “Limits! We believe in limiting a woman’s ministry. Don’t let them do too much! Don’t let them soar too high! It’s not proper! It’s not right!”

Fifty. Percent. Of the church.

Fifty. Percent. Of the church.

Fifty. Percent. Of the church.

And John Piper wants to handcuff them. Wayne Grudem wants to hold them back. Thomas Schreiner wants to limit their ministry.

Are you kidding me?

So let’s think….  what can This Brother do to make the biggest possible impact for the Kingdom of God? Make biscuits at the next Men’s Ministry monthly breakfast?

You decide. I’ll be busy doing what I have to do.

Standing Up for our Sisters at the Men’s Retreat

I love men’s ministry. I do. Men’s events, be they campouts, retreats, monthly breakfasts, you name it-  are important to the life of a church.  Many men don’t feel at home in the formal atmosphere of many church buildings, and so find it hard to relax and be real. A men’s event often puts guys together in a more relaxed and natural setting, which help bring down the walls that we put up. Men’s events promote camaraderie and true friendship, something many men lack.

On the other hand, men’s ministry has its drawbacks. Women bring many talents to the human mix, and one of them is that they tend to be a mitigating factor against some of the worst behavior of men. Our bad behaviors are well known: arrogance, bravado, posturing, feeling the need to prove our manhood and outperform the other guy. Unleashed and unchecked, our quest for manly honor among our peers can venture into the darkness.

As I’ve already noted, guys like John Piper define manhood by their degree of authority and leadership over women.

Putting that kind of poison in a room with men trying to “man up”  on one another is a recipe for ugliness. The easiest way in the world to score some “man points” with a lot of other men is to engage in some patriarchal bravado. Sadly, this is all too common at men’s events.

And the degree to which the errors of  hierarchical complementarian theology has permeated our church is a good indicator of how badly men will behave in reference to women at times when women aren’t present.

So I was extremely proud of my pastor at the last men’s retreat in his choice of inspirational video. He always picks several clips for the retreat to fire up the men, to encourage us to not be complacent, to go deeper in God, to fight the good fight of faith for our families and others around us. Often they are clips from action movies.  And that first night, his pick was this:

Leon knew he spoke up to the wrong guy, and at this point wanted out of the conversation. So we moved on for the time being. But that conversation opened the door for us to discuss it more fully after the retreat. And we did.

Full disclosure: I was ready for what came from Leon. I didn’t know who would be the bearer of the patriarchal spew on that retreat, but I knew it would come from somebody. It always does. So I made it a point of prayer before the retreat– that God would arm me and equip me to spot the patriarchal nonsense when I saw it, and give me the voice and the words to call it out effectively.

 Because here is the deal, guys: Left unchallenged, things like that enforce the patriarchal darkness left to us by the fall.

Would Leon leave the retreat feeling his misogyny confirmed? Or rather would he leave feeling it challenged? The answer to that question was up to me.

In the past we may have been content to let our sisters fend for themselves in matters like these. We’ve been thinking it’s not our fight. And that is why the church is still mired in patriarchal teaching 2000 years after Christ. Because if all our conversations are clean and pure whenever the sisters are around, there is nothing for them to discuss or oppose. If all the patriarchal speech is out of the sights and ears of the women, patriarchy continues to spread. And so it will be unless the men stand up for our sisters. And this is what we’ve got to do.

A complementarian friend of mine once prefaced a speech in a men’s breakfast, “I can’t say this everywhere but I can say it here in front of you guys,” before he spouted some misogynistic drivel. I let him get away with it that day, but never again. This is what we cannot allow to happen. Because this fight isn’t solely for our sisters to fight. It is ours to fight with them.

As Tauriel said,

It is our fight. “It will not end here. With every victory, this evil will grow! If your father has his way, we will do nothing. We will hide with in our walls, live our lives without light and let darkness descend. Are we not part of this world? Tell me, Mellon, when did we allow evil to become stronger than us?”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. — Romans 12:21


Ancient Bible Scholars Weigh in on the Meaning of the Word “Head”

Hierarchical complementarianism rests on two pillars, which they hammer relentlessly. The first pillar is that the gender hierarchy they espouse is part of God’s good design and His original intent in creation. Therefore we should not merely accept it, they say, but in fact, “we should be rejoicing” over this awesome aspect of creation.  As I showed in an earlier post, their scriptural support for that claim is worse than inadequate.   But when a doctrinal position that you really want to be true rests on only two points, you can’t afford to surrender one of them easily. And so they continue to beat the dead horse and pretend they have a viable scriptural argument.

Their second, and only remaining foundational point is that man is the “head” of woman, (as it clearly says in 1 Corinthians 11:3), and the husband is the “head” of the wife, (as it explicitly states in Ephesians 5:23)….

And so there you have it, ladies and gents! Close your Bibles please, we’re done for the day. Now on to the potluck!–Complementarian huckster

Eh…..not so fast, guys. This brother would like to take a closer at that. Tell me, what, exactly does “head” mean in those two passages?

Of course they bristle at that question, partly because “Man is the head of the woman” is their seven-word mantra which tends to be the “go-to” response to get them out of any theological jam relating to gender. Women preachers? “Man is the head of the woman.” Women elders? “Man is the head of the woman.” Should they serve communion? “Man is the head of the woman.” Equality in the home? “Man is the head of the woman.”

So don’t question the mantra, alright? Because everybody knows what “head” means!  Why…. it’s as plain as the nose on your face! The head of General Motors is the boss, right? He’s the one in charge, the one that calls the shots, the big kahuna!

Well, sure, that’s definitely true in English, in which the word “head” literally means the body part above your neck, and metaphorically can also mean leader/ruler/boss. But the New Testament wasn’t written in English- it was written in Greek. And we always have to keep the original language in mind when we read the Bible.

The big question is- does kephalé 1– the New Testament Greek word that literally means ‘head’- the body part above the neck- also metaphorically refer to leader/ruler/boss? In other words, if someone referred to the president of  GM as the kephalé of General Motors, would that make sense to the Greek speakers of the first century?  (Ignoring the fact that cars didn’t exist back then.)

Wayne Grudem of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood argues emphatically,  ‘YES- this word refers to authority, just like our English word!’ And many other scholars have strongly replied, ‘NO- it does NOT mean the same as our English word, and does NOT refer to leader/ruler/boss. Ever!’ And this debate between a bunch of very smart people has been going back and forth now for more than 30 years.

I won’t presume to place myself on the level of these Biblical scholars. I must admit that reading their exchanges can become confusing and wearisome. It can be difficult at times to know who has the better argument. Can’t it?

Hey, you know what would be great? It would be great if we could have the testimony of some ancient Greek scholars from around the time of Christ, to get their input on the meaning of kephalé, and whether they thought  the word carried an implication of leadership/ rulership/ or authority. That, my friends, would be awesome. Then we’d know for sure, wouldn’t we?

Well guess what? We have that! As crazy as it may sound,  The Lord, in His providence, has given us practically that very thing- a group of 70 linguists from right around the time of Christ who tackled this very question!

Their expert opinion on the meaning of kephalé is recorded for us in the Septuagintseptuaginta translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew language into Greek, the most popular language in the known world at the time. This translation was done approximately 250 years before Christ by a team of 70 translators.

The Septuagint was extremely popular in the early church. Not everyone in the world spoke Hebrew, or even Latin. But owing to the conquests of Alexander the Great, almost everyone spoke Greek. And the early church used Greek widely. Most early church documents are in Greek, as is all of the New Testament. So naturally the early church made much use of the Septuagint. In fact, the Septuagint was Paul’s Bible.

And the Septuagint gives us overwhelming testimony about whether “head” can mean leader, ruler, or boss in the Greek language of the New Testament.

Because as it turns out, the Old Testament Hebrew word for head, “rosh”,  is a very popular word, occurring 595 times in the Biblical text. And  our English word ‘head‘ is the perfect translation for ‘rosh.’   What do I mean by “the perfect translation”? Simply this: the word is an exact match in every sense in which it is used, both literally as a physical head,  and metaphorically as a leader.

We must not fail to appreciate the significance of this. Most words don’t have a single meaning, they have an “area” of meaning”. So, for instance, the word “trunk” can refer to the front of an elephant, the middle of a tree, the rear of a car, or the entirety of a suitcase. If someone is translating from English to Spanish, it can take four or more words to cover all the meanings of our word “trunk” because none of the Spanish words is a perfect match for our English word.

Finding the perfect word to use for a translation is often a challenge and frequently isn’t possible. When the perfect word is available- an exact match that carries the full range of meaning from one language to the next- a good translator will jump at the chance to use it. To do otherwise would be to strip the text of depth and meaning.

Of the 595 times ‘rosh’ occurs in the Old Testament, most of the time it refers to the physical body part, and our English Bibles correctly use the word “head”. At other times the Hebrew word ‘rosh’ refers to a leader or authority. This occurs 180 times in all, or about 30% of the time. And again, our Bibles normally use the word “head” in those cases since our English word, like the Hebrew word, carries both meanings. It is, in fact, the perfect translation of ‘rosh’ in this case.

But that’s Hebrew and English. The question at hand is Greek, and what Paul meant by the Greek word for head, kephalé. How did our 70 ancient Greek and Hebrew scholars translate ‘rosh’ into Greek when they had the chance? Did they believe ‘kephale’ was the perfect translation of ‘rosh’ when it referred to authority? No, they did not.

When we examine the Septuagint, we find that whenever rosh referred to a literal head, such as in Genesis 3:15, “You shall bruise his head,”- they used the standard Greek word for head, kephalé. However, in the 180 times that the Old Testament uses the word “rosh” to mean leader or ruler or boss, they avoided kephalé like the plague!2  

The Septuagint translators weren’t ones to paraphrase. In fact, some have complained they followed the Hebrew text too literally.3  Yet when ‘rosh’ meant head as a leader, they almost always switched to a different word, one that did mean leader, but did not carry the meaning of ‘head’- the body part.

Moreover, the handful of times that the Septuagint translators did use kephalé to imply authority are the first times in recorded history that the word  was used that way. And in almost every instance it was either a case that they were forced to use it by a tough translation choice, such as a head/ tail metaphor, or it is questionable as to whether authority was really implied at all.

Let’s think about that.

If kephalé carries the meaning “leader” in addition to the literal meaning “head”, then it is the perfect translation of ‘rosh’ in every sense it is used. And it would mean the Septuagint translators intentionally avoided using the perfect translation in favor of another word that only carried half the meaning! And not just once or twice or a dozen times, but  one hundred and seventy-one times.

This is a powerful indication that these 70 ancient linguists did not feel comfortable with using kephalé to express that meaning. If kephalé could mean authority to these guys, they wouldn’t have switched to another word that didn’t also mean “head”. It makes no sense that they would have done that.

So when we read “head” in the New Testament where the underlying word is kephalé, be it First Corinthians 11:3,  Ephesians 1:22, 4:15, 5:23, or Colossians 1:18, 2:10, 2:19, or anyplace else- in all of them we need to take the idea of authority off the table as a possible meaning. 4 The word simply did not mean that to Greek speaking people of Paul’s day.

So the second, and only remaining pillar of complementarianism, a hierarchical interpretation of the word head, only works if the word is taken out of its historical and linguistic context. Just like their allegations of male rule as part of God’s good creation, this pillar of complementarianism also falls completely flat when the evidence is examined.

So when you hear that seven-word mantra in conversation, “man is the head of the woman”, said with the intent to limit a woman’s ministry opportunities or diminish her authority in the home, they are misusing Scripture.  You can come back with a seven-word mantra of your own:

“Head in Greek did not mean authority!” 5
“Head in Greek did not mean leader!”

The 70 translators of the Septuagint tell us so.



1. Kephalé is pronounced keffa-LAY

2. The Septuagint translators use a different word approximately 171 times out of 180, or 95% of the time.  (Some people count 6 exceptions, some count 9, and some count 11. In any case, it’s a small number.) Good discussion on these exceptions are in articles by Michael W. Kruse, part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

3. Philip Payne- Man and Woman, One in Christ, footnotes 15-16 quoting Peter Walters: The Text of the Septuagint, and F.C. Conybear/ St George Stock: Grammar of Septuagint Greek.

4. In Ephesians 1:22 and Colossians 2:10 the idea of lordship/rulership seems an obvious fit. But we can’t give kephalé a meaning it didn’t have merely because it fits the sentence and our assumptions. The most prominent lexicon of ancient Greek is the Liddell Scott. In its entry it lists 25 metaphorical uses of the word kephalé, and none of them refers to authority. What does fit Ephesians 1:22 and Colossians 2:10 is the meaning “top” or “crown”. (See Payne, page 128)

5. In Matthew 10:25, 24:43, and Luke 12:39, 13:25, and 14:21, the expression “head of the house” does not use the Greek word for head, kephalé. Instead it uses a different word, oikodespótes.

6. Some translations have “head of the synagogue” in Matthew 9:18 and Luke 8:41. The Bible here does not use the Greek word for head, kephalé. Instead it uses a different word, archon.



Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ pp 119-121

Gordon D. Fee, First Corinthians pp 502-503

What about the Word “Head” in the New Testament? – Laurie Fasullo

Pascal’s Wager on Women in Ministry Leadership

Blaise Pascal, the renowned seventeenth century French mathematician, physicist, inventor, and philosopher, is perhaps best known for his Christian apologetic known as Pascal’s Wager.

blaiseStated simply: Whether you believe in God or not, you’re either right or wrong. Pascal’s Wager analyzes both the benefits of being correct and the consequences of being wrong about the existence of God.

Believers have little to lose if they are wrong about God, because they will simply die and be gone. But for the scoffing unbeliever to be wrong about God is unthinkably tragic. There is much to lose by one’s unbelief, according to Pascal.

In short: If you don’t believe in God, you’d better be right. Because if you are wrong there will quite literally be hell to pay.

Now, I don’t know how Blaise Pascal felt about women in church leadership, but let’s apply his thinking to the Egalitarian/ Complementarian debate. What is at stake?

To an Egalitarian, gender has nothing to do with whether a person is suited for church leadership, but rather that determination is made based on a person’s giftings. An Egalitarian is just as likely to appoint a woman to  Senior Pastor as they would be to appoint a man to that position if they believe she is the more gifted of the two.

Complementarians, on the other hand,  believe that gender is crucial to the mission. They believe that God has assigned specific roles for each gender to follow, and given gifts that correspond to their assigned roles.  A Complementarian would never appoint a woman as Senior Pastor, because they believe God has not equipped women for that role.

So in Pascal’s way of thinking, what are the risks that result from error these two positions?

If Egalitarians are wrong, there will be leaders who shouldn’t be leaders, pastors who shouldn’t be pastors, and Bible teachers who shouldn’t be teaching the Bible. In other words, things won’t be much different than they already are.

I really don’t desire to trivialize disobedience, but the fact is, if Egalitarians are making a mistake, it tends to be an honest one. So it’s not really a matter of disobedience at all, but one of error, if in fact Egalitarians are wrong. And from my perspective, I don’t see grave consequences in the error.  Yes- some men may lose leadership, pastoral, or teaching positions, but one would assume that these would be the men who demonstrate a lack of giftedness in those areas.

If Complementarians are wrong, there will be people that could have been leaders, pastors, and teachers, people who had giftings and /or a calling on their life to be these things, but who were limited, prevented, or barred from reaching their God-given potential. And if that’s the case, let’s just call it what it is: The work of the devil.

Of course, no Complementarian that I know would willingly participate in the devil’s work. The point of their strong stand for proper “gender roles” in the church (and the home) is obedience to God and the Bible. I believe they mean well.

But it is the particular work of the devil to oppose leadership in the church. It is his work to discourage leaders, to raise up opposition to their ministry, to place limits on what they can accomplish for the Lord, and if at all possible to stop them from ever becoming leaders in the first place. That is exactly what Complementarian theology does to women who aspire to be leaders in the church.

In short: If you believe in Complementarian theology, you’d better be right.