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?”
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.
- 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)
- 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)
- 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