Have you ever noticed that complementarians often manage to assume an air of superiority when they write and speak? Well I have. They seem to think their interpretation of the Bible is the Bible, that the Word of God is so clearly on their side of the gender issue that one must go to great lengths and keep one eye closed to miss the intended male over female hierarchy.
Perusing complementarian literature, it’s easy to find the likes of the following
“At the core of this topic lies the fundamental issue of biblical authority. If we write off, ignore, or distort the Bible’s teaching on gender roles, then we are bound to do so with everything the Bible teaches. Indeed, the Bible is so clear on male-female distinction…….. ….If we can wrest egalitarianism from the Bible, we can pervert it to say anything we wish.”1
I can think of few kind things to say about such nonsense. The best I can do is to assume well-meaning but misguided intentions and total blindness to the biblical bankruptcy of their own position. But it’s difficult to be that charitable.
These guys would have us believe that in all their alleged proof texts, Paul and Peter are teaching the same hierarchical complementarianism espoused by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, and that it came from the creation story. That last part is absolutely essential to their argument, that’s why they keep kicking what is obviously a dead horse.
Because if Paul and Peter are teaching gender hierarchy as the complementarian guys say, here’s the question: Where did they get it? Where did it come from? Logically there are only two options: they either started it as a new thing, or they got it from someplace else.
Obviously, they can’t have Paul and Peter initiating new doctrine that subjugates the women to the men. First of all, nobody would believe that, and more importantly, that doesn’t fit the teaching style of either apostle. The apostles were careful to build on the established foundation. But where is that foundation?
Jesus didn’t breath a word about gender hierarchy, but that’s not necessarily a big deal. Jesus didn’t address every possible topic because He didn’t need to. It’s fine that He didn’t mention it, as long as the foundation is laid elsewhere. But that is exactly where the gender hierarchists go embarrasingly astray.
The creation story is where they turn, naturally, and it ought to be there, right? If it’s God’s good plan and all like they say. Every important biblical concept begins with the foundations laid in the first few chapters of Genesis. And look at the many clear and unambiguous statements in Genesis 1-2!
God was the creator. 1:1, 2:4
Everything God created was originally good. 1:31
Mankind was created in the image and likeness of God. 1:26-27
God created marriage. 2:22-24 and blessed the sexual union of man and woman. 1:28
Men and women were told to fill the earth, subdue it, and rule over the animals. 1:28
Plants were given for mankind to eat. 1:29.
Etc, etc, etc.
Clear. Concise. Compelling.
And according to complementarians, this is also where God set up specific “gender roles” in which man would rule over woman in a hierarchical relationship with man as the leader/ initiator / responsible party and the woman as the submissive assistant and only one rung lower than the man on the authority ladder.
Ok, so how about a clear, unambiguous statement to that effect? Nope, sorry. No can do. Can’t help you there.
But what we DO have, are, according to Denny Burk, some “evidences” Or as Raymond Ortlund says, “A series of more or less obvious hints,”2
OK, so let me get this straight. You guys are telling me that God subjected one-half of the earth’s population to the other half at creation, an action that affected 100% of the people who ever lived, something more common, in fact, than marriage and sex, and yet God can’t spare a single sentence in the creation story to tell us this? Aren’t you the same guys who were just telling us a moment ago how clear the Bible is on this subject?
According to these self-proclaimed guardians of biblical truth, this gender hierarchy stuff is major doctrine. These guys consider it so essential that they made it a litmus test for membership acceptance into the Gospel Coalition. Piper ominously warns us that, “Egalitarianism must always lead to an eventual denial of the Gospel.”3 There’s that air of superiority again, with a little fear-mongering added for good measure.
Well I have a newsflash for you purveyors of the clear and obvious biblical truth of gender roles: You don’t establish major doctrine like that on “a series of more or less obvious hints.” You need an unequivocal statement of fact- especially in a foundational passage that is literally filled with such factual statements.
And you want to know the part that must cause them unbearable anguish? The clear and unambiguous statement they need is right there in Genesis 3:16, but they can’t use it because it’s clearly connected to the fallen condition of mankind, not the blissful state in Eden.4 So instead of finding their proof text, they are forced to admit that 3:16 describes a fallen state, and publicly lament that the fall left us with a perversion of God’s original blessed and wonderful design for male leadership.5
So supposedly God gave us a clear unequivocal statement when it comes to male rule as a curse, but when it comes to male rule as a blessing He beat around the bush.
Sorry guys, that’s shoddy exegesis and this brother isn’t buying it. And frankly, if what you’re teaching wasn’t so damaging to the church of Jesus, I’d laugh at the foolishness of what you consider a great argument. It’s ridiculous.
Well, Ok. The complementarian crowd came up empty in the creation story. Perhaps later? Moses, maybe in the 10 commandments, or some other law in the pentateuch? Surely God would have told Moses to put something about it in the law, since it’s such an important part of God’s wonderful plan, right? One would think. But no. Missed it there too.
Maybe Job? The Psalms? Song of Solomon? Isaiah? Those all sound like possibili……well…no, actually. Nothing. Not a word in the rest of the Old Testament about this major doctrine of joy.6
And then we get to Paul, and these complementarian dudes immediately see very clearly that he’s teaching gender hierarchy. Because there were some “more or less obvious hints” dropped 1500 years and 1070 chapters previously without a word about it in between. Gotcha.
Good grief! They have no scripture! They really don’t- because Paul and Peter can’t be teaching hierarchy if it’s not supported elsewhere, and neither the Old Testament nor Jesus teach gender hierarchy to support such an interpretation.
Complementarianism is bankrupt because it has no coherent biblical foundation. And yet they claim biblical superiority to the point of infallibity, cast aspersions on egalitarians, and incite fear in the church over abandoning their corrupt system.
This is why I find it difficult to be charitable in my judgment. By and large, these guys tend to be very bright and well educated. How can they be this obtuse?
- Preface to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 2006 edition (xi-xii)
- Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1991 edition, page 88
- Preface to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 2006 edition (xii)
- This was not always the case. For centuries patriarchal teachers used Gen 3:16 as their proof text, partly due to a faulty translation of the Latin Vulgate by Jerome. For a fascinating historical account, see Susanna Krizo’s book, When Dogmas Die, esp. Introduction and Chapter 1.
- Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1991 edition, page 410
- An exception is the ungodly Persian King Xerxes in Esther chapter 1- not the role model they wanted I am sure.
30 thoughts on “The Complementarian Emperor is Shamefully Underdressed”
Greg, this is outstanding. When comp folks go on about creation order as the basis for comp doctrine, I just scratch my head. All they’re saying is that the circumstantial evidence leads them to their conclusion. But it also reasonably leads to another conclusion: egal doctrine. They pretend it can’t but that’s all they can do, pretend.
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Haha! Greg, I have a list of possible post titles and one was pretty much this, so you beat me to it. Great job – I’m always baffled at the stock complementarians put into their theology of inference with regard to gender roles, and how quickly people buy it. I like Bob Edwards post on this aspect of creation: http://juniaproject.com/5-myths-adam-authority-eden/
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Thank you Gail! It’s a joy to do my part for the Kingdom. And I always love Bob Edward’s writing.
We used to attend Denton Bible Church. When Irving Bible Church agreed to allow women to preach, the pastor of DBC had this to say (which is right in line with what you write):
The Rev. Tom Nelson of Denton Bible Church said his friends in Irving are on “dangerous” ground.
“If the Bible is not true and authoritative on the roles of men and women, then maybe the Bible will not be finally true on premarital sex, the homosexual issue, adultery or any other moral issue,” he said. “I believe this issue is the carrier of a virus by which liberalism will enter the evangelical church.”
Mr. Nelson added that his church’s recent sermon series on the Bible and gender roles came in part because of Irving Bible Church’s conclusions about women and preaching.
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These guys just seem to have a mental block. I believe the Bible is true on everything. That’s why I need to write- so people like Rev. Tom Nelson can understand that.
Don’t worry, Rev. Nelson. We egals know the Bible is true and authoritative on the roles of men and women. We just believe that comps are adding to the Bible instead of believing the true teaching inside.
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Great job, Greg!
Another bit of evidence on the state of undress of Emperor Gender Roles is how he cannot actually make a list of Biblical gender roles. I once did a series of post in which I went right through the Danvers statement, looking for Biblical gender roles – it was all “gender roles are good and Godly and society will be in a dire state without it“, but they could not give list any actual Biblical gender roles. Part 1 of that series is here: https://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/smoke-and-mirrors-a-review-of-the-danvers-statement-part-1-the-rationale/
Another time I asked that anyone should give me my gender role as a single woman. I kept on, when comps engage me in gender role discussions, to link them to that question, where they could comment with my Biblical gender role. They never did.
The emperor is naked, whether you look at him from the side, front or back.
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The destructive power of willful ignorance is worth noticing and protecting oneself from. The absolute willfulness of the unBiblical claims of gender hierarchalists, and their unwillingness to listen to anything else (because it benefits some of them to do so), cannot be understated.
Good article Greg.
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“They have no scripture! They really don’t- because Paul and Peter can’t be teaching hierarchy if it’s not supported elsewhere, and neither the Old Testament nor Jesus teach gender hierarchy to support such an interpretation.”
This is true, Greg. I muse and wrestle a lot over the patriarchal practices in the Bible, church and society and have arrived at the same conclusion in your statement. However, I wouldn’t say ‘patriarchy’ wasn’t in Scripture, because Scripture seems to refer to it without defining it as a rule/commandment, etc.. So, I would rather see it as one of those issues in Scripture in which God ‘put up’ with mankind, even while giving them grace to grow into the truth. Kind of like the slavery thing. God never made a law that humans should enslave one another, but He gave laws about how one should treat one’s slaves. However, as mankind grew into understanding of God’s truth, we realized it was wrong to enslave another human being and gave it up.
I think where the Church or comps (and society) has/have gotten it wrong, is to assume God’s grace to be God’s or approval. It is the same way I view Apostles Paul and Peter’s references. They were prescribing humane terms for practices that were not necessarily godly, even while awaiting the fact that those practices will be eliminated/changed as spiritual maturity increases.
A complete grasp/understanding of Scripture doesn’t come in one generation, but generations add upon each other’s understanding and interpretations as we grow into God’s truth. In other words, I think it would be safer for all Christians to recognize portions of Scripture that depict human practices that received God’s grace *without attributing* God’s stamp of approval on those, and expect that such practices will *definitely* be changed as more people grow into His truth.
Overall, Greg, I appreciate all of you who make great efforts to call out such human practices that received God’s grace without receiving His approval. Now, if only we could get both sides (comps and egals) to dialogue, what a world of good that would do the Church, as some of these things would be corrected!
“They have no scripture!” – this was a new revelation for me in the last couple of weeks as I read Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I even looked up EVERY Old Testament reference they give just to be sure. I’m still stunned by it.
I wanted to ‘like’ your comment, but it required me to have a WP account, so I couldn’t. So here’s instead, 🙂 .
Goes to proves how important it is for us to read the Scriptures for ourselves.
Greg, I just read another post on CBE by Beata, the one in which she talked about a Catholic priest’s interview, and it struck me that that’s what complementarism is – human practices that over time have been substituted for God’s truths.
Practices=traditions; so human traditions are being substituted for Gospel truth (cf. Mark 7:8-9, 13).
This is a really good article – clear, concise and impacting. The underlying issues of the ‘exceptions’ all through the Bible should give anyone pause, however, it seems that with the Emperor’s new clothes go myopic and tunnel visioned doctrine.
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Great post, detailing their seemingly increasing divisiveness on the topic. Especially recently, where they have supplanted hierarchical complementarianism for the gospel and rewritten the history of the evangelical movement to suggest that it has always been the case.
I like that you termed them hierarchical complementarians – because I believe complementarianism is not a proper descriptor of theirs stance, as many egalitarian Christians believe in complementarity of men and women. Thus, “complementarian” doesn’t highlight their stance or differentiate them from egalitarian Christians. Their gender hierarchy is what sets them apart from other Christians, not their belief in complementarity of men and women (regardless of how often they suggest all egalitarians want all people to be genderless).
Thanks. I think it’s a major hassle to always specify “hierarchical complementarianism” but I completely agree with you that it’s a necessary distinction. If you follow the history on this I think it’s highly likely that they created this obsfucation intentionally.
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What is a good response to the hier comp argument that 1 Tim 2:13-14 tells us to interpret creation hierarchically?
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They’d be working backwards then, and they would have to assume that their complementary hierarchy was an Old Testament mystery that was revealed by the Holy Spirit through Paul in the New Testament. While that would be possible, it would require them to rewrite every comp/hierarchy book ever written, and would leave them open to the question of WHY God would do such a thing.
Second- there is a far simpler and more obvious way to interpret the creation argument in 1 Tim 2:11ff– the gnostic Ephesian heretics which Paul was addressing in this epistle believed that women were created first and were the source of spiritual knowlege (gnosis.) So Paul wasn’t introducing anything new here- he was correcting a particular error with basic Old Testament doctrine.
Great references for this are:
Bob Edwards: Let My People Go
Richard and Catherine Kroeger: I Suffer Not a Woman
Greg, thanks. Leaving some of this behind is a struggle, because for so long I thought that I must believe it or I didn’t believe in the Bible. Even though I now know that isn’t true, I still sometimes need confirmation.
Thank you for replying. I’m glad you found it helpful and your comment means a lot to me. This is exactly why I do this.
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Well this is just perfect. Thank you. And I guess these smart guys just have a problem with pride. It takes a humble man to see this truth. An 8th grade theologian can see that man’s rule over women in Genesis 3:16 is a result of the fall, not the original intention of our Father God.
Exactly, and that causes them a problem they must try to explain around. It’s especially galling that they suggest they have the only possible position from a scriptural standpoint when the fact is, Genesis 3:16 is a bigger problem for them than 1 Tim 2:12 is for us.
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