Dr. Bruce Ware Defines the Complementarian Position

There has been controversy for a while around a sermon given by Dr. Bruce Ware of Southern Seminary, past president of The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood who still remains on their council. The sermon was given in 2008 at Denton Bible Church, which was having a 3 week series on the complementarian position. Dr. Ware taught the 2nd sermon in the series and is very clear at the beginning that he is teaching the essence of complementarian thought. He specifically lists The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Dr. Wayne Grudem, and John Piper as holding the position he articulates in the sermon. Furthermore, the current president of The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood called this sermon at the time “one of the finest, most succinct presentations of the Complementarian point of view that I have ever heard.” Some might ask why this eight year old sermon by Dr. Ware continues to receive scrutiny, but since it was given by a former president of CBMW and lauded as one of the most succinct summations of complementarian thought ever given, the scrutiny in my opinion seems warranted. Lots of us have our ideas of what we think complementarian thought should be, but like it or not Dr. Ware presents what it actually IS. And since he is one of the guys who was most influential in its conception and promotion, we can believe that this is indeed what complementarianism was intended to be.

Dr. Ware’s remarks in the sermon were particularly scrutinized at the time after accusations that he taught that unsubmitted wives were the causes of their husband’s abuse of them. Kathryn Joyce of Religion Dispatches presented Ware’s words this way

Ware said that women victims of domestic violence were often to blame for their own abuse because they were failing to submit to their husbands’ authority. Men’s sin came in response to their wives’ lack of submission, becoming either abusive or passive: equal failures in the eyes of Ware and many complementarians, who see men who fail to “lead their families” with proper authority as morally deficient as those who rule with too heavy a hand.

According to Denny Burk, the current president of The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Dr. Ware strongly denies that interpretation of his remarks in the sermon. Denny quotes Dr. Ware on his blog:

“These words are his/her [the reporter’s] distorted interpretation of what I said.  I did not say these words and I reject altogether what this statement puts forth.”

I have listened to the sermon and never heard Dr. Ware explicitly blame wives for their own abuse. But I did hear him say that men’s sin comes in response to their wives’ lack of submission, which you will see in the transcript below. Denny believes that repeating this accusation is the sin of “bearing false witness” of Exodus 20:16. I certainly do not want to bear false witness or cast negatively upon someone’s character. I have never met Dr. Ware, but from talking with those who know him personally, he is a gentle man who is disturbed by such accusations of him because he feels they are the antithesis to his character and stance toward women.

On the flip side, I remember the somber warning of James 3:1, a warning I think about often for myself, one that sobers me as I write this very post.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

Christian teachers and preachers do not walk up to a microphone nonchalantly. They carry a sword, even if it is just the figurative sword of the Lord. That sword wields power and influence, and we are responsible for the words we say. I fear others going over my words with a fine tooth comb. But I wrote them, and if someone does examine them and finds true reason for concern or error, I have to deal with it head on. Otherwise, I have no business teaching, according to James. Stricter judgment isn’t unfair. It’s par for the course according to the Bible. It is normal. In the vernacular, James says that if you can’t handle such scrutiny, don’t teach.

Furthermore, scrutiny and criticism are not necessarily bad things. I have learned to filter my critics. Some people criticize my writing, but they and I are so far apart on basic shared beliefs that I don’t feel like I can glean anything positive from their criticism.  But others pass through my filter.  They love God and the Bible. We share common convictions over the inherent dignity of mankind made in God’s image.  When I receive pushback from such folks, I am wise to stop and consider it. I may not necessarily agree with all criticism, but when it is offered particularly by someone who shares my orthodox understanding of Scripture, it deserves some thought and reflection.

With all that said, I have listened to Dr. Ware’s sermon several times. I want to spend some time dissecting it, because he is straightforward with what the leaders of complementarian thought believe, and his articulation of it makes clear why so many who keep a conservative reading of gender feel dissonance with complementarianism as taught by CBMW.

Ware begins the sermon by saying that the primary disagreement between egalitarians and complementarians is over the timing of headship being implemented in creation. For egalitarians, according to Ware, headship and authority began only after the fall (Genesis 3:16) and were resolved through Christ’s salvation of us. There is no more exclusive male authority in the church or home in this case. Ware counters the egalitarian view by flipping it. He believes headship began before the fall and that a woman’s desire against that authority was a consequence of the fall. He uses the idea of Eternal Subordination of the Son (around the minute 51 mark) as the culminating point in proving headship between men and women at creation. He says, “The Trinity’s equality and distinctions of Person is mirrored in male/female equality and distinctions.” Dr. Ware is clear in this culminating point of his sermon that this dynamic in the Trinity extends into “eternity future,” using I Corinthians 15 as his source.

Christianity Today recently reported:

“CBMW maintains a neutral position in the Trinitarian debate. Its core beliefs—outlined in the 1987 Danvers Statement—do not delineate a position on this particular issue, said Denny Burk, who replaced Owen Strachan as the organization’s president in July.”

I just want to point out here that this statement in Christianity Today is actually not true unless it clearly delineates between what they did in the past and what they plan to do in the future. Dr. Ware’s sermon shows that in the past, CBMW has not maintained a neutral position in the Trinity debate. Dr. Ware presented ESS as the culminating point for headship being implemented before the fall in his important overview sermon on complementarianism. At least as late as 2008, CBMW leaders promoted ESS as foundational to their view of gender! A more accurate way to say this would be that CBMW now maintains a neutral position on ESS and plans in the future to be constrained primarily by the Danvers Statement, which does not focus on ESS. While CBMW definitely did promote ESS in the past, I think it is helpful that they are apparently no longer going to do so.

Now back to headship –

For my part, I believe both egalitarians and complementarians are adding to Scripture on headship to prove their positions. If it was this important to know exactly when headship began, God would have preserved in His eternal word an explicit statement on when exactly headship began. But what the Bible does explicitly state is that headship is in place NOW (I Corinthians 11, Ephesians 5). And that’s all any of us really need to know. We can speculate on the rest, but we irresponsibly handle Scripture when we are not clear that we are indeed speculating or inferring from Scripture. We are constrained by what Scripture does say, not by what it doesn’t.

Beyond the eternal subordination of the Son, there are 2 other big issues in Ware’s summary of complementarian thought and the beliefs of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that I want to discuss.

  1. Do women invite their abuse when they are unsubmitted to their husbands? Does complementarian doctrine lead to that view?
  2. Do women derive their status as image bearers through their husbands?

As to question number 1, Dr. Ware was originally criticized on his language around unsubmitted wives and their responding abusive husbands. Around the 8 minute mark of his message, Dr. Ware introduces the complementarian view.

The complementarian view holds rather that God created us as men and women with a design in which, yes, we are equal in essence, we both are fully human, male and female, equally image of God. And yet, God designed that there be an authority and submission relationship in that male/female structure.  So that God intended in creation for there to be male headship in the relationship between Adam and woman in the garden, and he had authority, he had ultimate responsibility.

What happens in sin is that that very wise and good plan of God, of male headship, is sought to be overturned — as women now (as sinners) want instead to have their way, instead of submitting to their husbands to do what they would like to do — and really seek to work to have their husbands fulfill their will, rather than serving them.

And the husbands on their part (because they’re sinners) now respond to that threat to their authority either by being abusive —which is, of course, one of the ways men can respond when their authority is challenged — or, more commonly, to become passive, acquiescing and simply not asserting the leadership they ought to as men in their homes and in churches.

What happens in Christ according to the complementarian view is that we are enabled by the Spirit once again to recover the created design of God where men love their wives as Christ loved the Church and wives submit to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ, this in the power of the Spirit. And in churches we recognize God’s design of their being proper male authority in those churches, and this is because God designed it that way and in Christ we are able once again by his power to see this lived out as it ought to be

So we have these 2 very different visions of how male/female relationships have been designed by God …

Later around minute 44, Dr. Ware articulates the woman’s curse, which in his opinion is that the woman will be “cursed in her God-ordained, God-designed created order,” in the major purpose for which she was fundamentally created, according to Ware, wife and mother. She will resist God’s created design and try to take control from her husband. The husband’s response according to Dr. Ware is that “he will have to rule.” Dr. Ware again gives the caveat that such abuse is horrible and sinful, but the language he uses explicitly indicates the husband’s abuse is a response to a cycle of resistance to authority that begins with the woman.

I’ll repeat that Dr. Ware strongly denies that he set up women as being responsible for their abuse. He sees domestic abuse as sinful and believes a man is singularly responsible for such sin. However, while he has corrected that interpretation of his words, he has never sought to correct the actual words that he used in this sermon. Frankly, I understand why many would believe from his specific words that he (and the rest of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) is teaching that an unsubmitted woman causes an abusive husband’s sin against her, which would be remedied if she were more submissive. I believe that many men heard his teaching over the years, either through this sermon or similar ideas expressed elsewhere among complementarian leaders and internalized that teaching to mean that a man’s abuse of his wife was often a response to her shrill, unsubmissive spirit in the home. I know for a fact that many women heard this teaching and believed that their husband’s anger or frustration against them was because they were not submissive enough. Dr. Ware preached at Mars Hill Church during my time there, and Mark Driscoll was influenced by how Dr. Ware and Dr. Wayne Grudem spoke of this. Intended or not, Ware’s teaching gave fertile soil for misogynist abusers who were looking for a way to justify their anger toward their girlfriend, wife, or mom.

To remedy this perception of Ware’s teaching, CBMW needs to do more than just say, “No, that’s not what we meant.” Because, frankly, when Dr. Ware used the word “respond,” he was by definition saying that the man acts in return or answer to something previously done by the wife. Dr. Ware does not say she is to blame, but his words imply that she is the first cause. I am glad to know that he does not personally see it this way. I hope CBMW will explicitly correct this and actively teach that the wife is not the first cause so that no mistaken interpretation of their beliefs can be made in the future.

Question number 2 concerns Ware’s teaching that a woman derives her status as image-bearer from the man rather than directly from God.  Around the 22 and 26 minute mark, Dr. Ware discusses the means of the woman’s creation out of man. He says, “Woman came from him indicating that she owes her existence to what he was first and by that establishes again male headship.” While both man and woman are fully made in the image of God, according to Dr. Ware “nevertheless the woman’s humanity as image of God is established as she comes from the man.” He clarifies that he is not saying that the woman is not made in the image of God, but he is saying that “her means of being image of God is as she is the glory of the man who is the image of God. She is image of God because she comes from [man] who is the image of God.” When I repeated this to an elder in my PCA church, he asked, “Well, what does he do with Genesis 1?” I couldn’t answer, but I was glad that my elders saw the same problem I did with Ware’s statement.

Dr. Ware says that this derived image from man is something that Paul himself teaches in I Corinthians 11:7 when he says that man ought not to have his head covered because “he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.” There are two problems with this from Scripture. First, it is REALLY interesting to note that Paul does not repeat the word image when he talks of the woman’s relationship to the man in I Cor. 11. Man is the image and glory of God, and woman is the glory of man. While Dr. Ware conflates image and glory, the Bible does not. Without doing a complete word study of the two here, suffice it to say that being the image of God and being the glory of God are two different things. Basically, image is something derived from another. Glory is something reflected back on another. Man derives his identity from God, and he reflects something back onto God. Woman, derives her identity from God, not man, but she also reflects something back onto her husband, particularly around the issue of headship that protects from sexual subjugation in the Corinthian culture, which I wrote about here.

Second, Dr. Ware doesn’t take into account that the Bible calls Eve the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20). Whatever Eve derived from Adam, every man after her derived something from her as well! As Paul says a few verses later in I Corinthians 11:11-12, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.” While mutually dependent on each other, neither man nor woman derived their image-bearing identity in God from each other. They reflect it out in relationship with each other, but they do not derive it from each other. That difference is pretty important.

In conclusion, Dr. Ware says that he denies any interpretation of his words that puts the blame for a husband’s abuse on the wife. I appreciate that clarification from him. The problem to me is not so much that he says that some men respond with sinful abuse to some women who are sinfully unsubmitted, because that probably does happen sometimes. The problem is that he sets that scenario up as foundational to complementarian thought. He says these sentences as the root problem between men and women from the fall in his basic introduction/overview of complementarian thought. When he could say anything about the complementarian position, this is how he sets up the root issue that the complementarian view addresses.

While such abuse does happen this way at times, Ware does not give equal weight to the more common aspect of chronic abuse, abuse that causes the abused to increasingly shut down trying to avoid abuse. Such attempts to avoid abuse never manage to fully do so because the abuse comes singularly from the abuser’s heart regardless of the abused’s actions. Dr. Ware doesn’t address this kind of abuse at all in his entire message, his summation of the complementarian position. This fuels the belief that complementarians don’t understand this category of abuse at all and that the complementarian position does not help address it at all, at points actually making it worse.


*Thanks to Barb Roberts at cryingoutforjustice.com for first drawing my attention to Dr. Ware’s sermon.  Barb has been a tireless voice calling for pastors and leaders to pay attention to the words they say and understand their unintended consequences for the women in their churches who are navigating abusive situations.

33 Responses to Dr. Bruce Ware Defines the Complementarian Position

  1. Valerie Hobbs September 1, 2016 at 12:28 am #

    Thanks so much, Wendy – what a great post. How many times have I heard, ‘That’s not what we meant’! And each time it boggles my mind. How is it that ‘what we mean’ has become all that matters to some people when it comes to language?

    First of all, even the Bible tells us, ‘For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.’ Words are a window to the heart. If Bruce Ware does not correct his language, what else can we assume but that his beliefs and his words match?

    Second, Bruce Ware does not have his own system of grammar and his own unique meaning for words that we all must learn and keep in mind whenever he speaks. When someone says ‘respond’, the audience recognizes that to mean an action that has been effected by a prior one. This is currently how this word functions! It is a reaction, as you point out. If Bruce Ware spoke about abuse in that way by accident or without thinking, if indeed he does not believe his own words, then I agree with you 100%. He should correct his language.

    ‘What he meant’ is invisible. His words are visible. Such things matter, particularly when it comes to abuse – must we keep saying it so many times?

    Thank you for taking this on.

  2. Wendy Small September 1, 2016 at 11:00 am #

    Thanks for your explanation on image and glory. It was very interesting. Your second point was eye opening for me as well.

  3. Lynn Betts September 3, 2016 at 5:22 am #

    Just one question for clarification on the “headship” section: are you saying gender “headship” applies in all male/female relationships (that is, beyond a marriage relationship, into all social, corporate, governmental, etc. scenarios)?

    I only recently came upon your blog, so I realize you may make this clear elsewhere.

    • Wendy September 3, 2016 at 8:33 am #

      Headship between man and woman is spoken only in the marriage relationship in Scripture. I also believe in male authority in the church, but the Bible doesn’t use head to describe that.

    • Lynn Betts September 3, 2016 at 9:18 am #

      Thanks. I thought so, but wanted to be sure.

  4. Barbara Roberts September 3, 2016 at 6:32 pm #

    Hi Wendy
    I agree with you that both comps and egals focus too much on the question of when male headship began — whether it began before or after the Fall.

    And I agree that both sides go beyond what is written in attempting to prove their position.

    I’d love to see a moratorium on debating the question of “when” headship began and attempting to make the answer to that question decisive for the overall debate. But both sides are so dug in to their trenches I doubt such a moratorium will ever happen.

    PS This is my third attempt at making a comment. My first two attempts didn’t work and I have no idea why. I’m properly signed in on my google account. Sigh.

    This time I am giving the email address I only use for my Google account. I wish blogger would accept comments from me when I give my barbara@notunderbondage.com email address. AARGH.

  5. Barbara Roberts September 3, 2016 at 6:48 pm #

    “Headship between man and woman is spoken only in the marriage relationship in Scripture. I also believe in male authority in the church, but the Bible doesn’t use head to describe that.”

    YES — well said, Wendy!

  6. Barbara Roberts September 3, 2016 at 7:04 pm #

    “While CBMW definitely did promote ESS in the past, I think it is helpful that they are apparently no longer going to do so.”

    I don’t share your optimism there, Wendy. I don’t believe that CBMW are not going to promote ESS any more. They have not been honest about how strongly they promoted it in the past, so why should we trust that they will be honest in saying they are not going to promote it in the future?

    • Wendy September 3, 2016 at 7:20 pm #

      I’m an eternal optimist. 🙂

      But new leadership combined with the great scrutiny around ESS gives them an opportunity to go in a different direction. I am hopeful that their big ship will slowly start to change course. The number one response in defense of ESS of late is for people to say that it isn’t really a big deal or emphasis to them. That signals to me that few are willing to die on the ESS hill and that they believe it is not worth losing readers/followers to continue to emphasize it.

  7. Alistair September 4, 2016 at 12:32 am #

    Hi Wendy,

    I confess I’ve followed this controversy with a fair bit of bewilderment. Perhaps it’s because I come from a different culture (though still Western) with totally different experiences, but I honestly cannot relate to the assumptions behind various positions.

    I hold to a form of ESS, and see the analogy between the Godhead and humanity as loosening many of the cultural restrictions you talk about and working against abuse. (I also don’t see one and only one analogy between the Godhead and humanity).

    I would claim patriarchy is an indisputable part of Christianity – without it we would not be saved – and I also agree with the need to look at examples like Deborah, Miriam, the wise woman who spoke with Joab, etc, to get a biblical view of how the genders relate and roles that women in particular take on.

    I believe that the restrictions in the NT are binding, and see the need to apply them with wisdom as opposed to as rules.

    I have got a lot out of CBMW, and have assumed that they were trying to work things out as they go as much as I have been. I haven’t taken their pronouncements as the final word.

    I agree with your interpretation of Genesis 3.

    I agree with Bruce Ware that the image of God in woman was derived from man (because woman was made from and for man), and don’t see that as incompatible with every woman being made in the image of God as an individual. Your question, and your elders (i.e. what does he do with Genesis 1?) does not seem to take into account a variety of different options.

    Most of all, when I read your critiques, I feel that I am being told if I believe this, I must also believe and enforce that. I find that very unfortunate and uncomfortable.

    Thanks for your time.

    • Wendy September 4, 2016 at 7:49 am #


      A couple of things:

      1. I don’t think it’s fair to call ESS as Dr. Ware teaches it an analogy. He is teaching it as essence for God and man. It’s not pictures; it’s who man/woman were created to be in his framing of it. That is a big difference.

      2. I’m glad we agree on Genesis 3. But that dismantles a lot of Ware’s teaching since he frames it entirely around Foh’s interpretation of Genesis 3.

      3. I don’t understand how you can support from the Bible woman’s derived image bearing through the man. Woman was made from man, but then man came from women. Paul specifically says this I think so we DON’T make that mistake.

      4. I understand your discomfort, and I admit that I want those who say they are complementarians to feel this. *I* feel it. Like it or not, the people who founded the term and most promote it believe these things, and those of us who want to identify with them need to understand exactly how the people who invented the word define it. Complementarian means something more and different than most who use the term think it means.

  8. Alistair September 6, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    Hi Wendy,

    Thanks for your always gracious replies.

    I’ve sat down a few times to reply, but always with too little time. In short, I would suggest again that we are working with different assumptions, perhaps based on our experiences, yours with Mark Driscoll chauvinism(?), mine with rampant egalitarianism. This means that, while I give authority and submission a less prominent place than Bruce Ware, I can accept most of what he taught in that sermon. In fact, I understand the traditional interpretation of Genesis 3 that you re-present to provide a much wider scope of understanding that includes and allows for his interpretation to be one example of the outcome of the curse. You yourself suggest this.

    I also don’t see a problem with the image of God in woman being both derived from man and being direct from God. If 1 Cor 11:11-12 cancels out verse 10, then why did Paul mention it in the first place? And why did he put “the image of God” in at all? Rather, I read it as analogous to the way that Jesus’ divinity and description as the image of God are both true – and I emphasise that as it is heresy to deny Christ’s full divinity, it is extremely serious to deny woman the full image of God. In fact, I tremble at the judgement stored up for those who mistreat women on that basis.

    I’ve also noticed that you state things as true that I am not on borad with, e.g. headship is only in marriage, headship will finish when Jesus returns. So, there are a number of assumptions you are working from that I am not on board with. I’m guessing the working would be found in Hannah Anderson’s book that I have not read. Is that right?

    Anyway, must go. Late for work. I appreciate your writing.

    • Wendy September 6, 2016 at 9:24 pm #

      Thanks, Alistair. I always appreciate your comments.

      I don’t think verses 11 and 12 cancel out I Cor. 10. I think they give commentary on it. They tighten it so that we understand what Paul did and did not mean. “The Bible is the best commentary on itself.”

      How do you summarize headship? I don’t think headship in general ends when Jesus returns, but I do think that headship between earthly husbands and wives does, since Jesus is the only bridegroom in heaven.

    • The Music Student September 17, 2016 at 8:08 pm #

      As I’ve read the exchange between Alistair and Wendy, I have been reminded of Jesus Christ. Christ frequently refers to himself in the Gospels as the Son of Man. Yet, physically, Christ was not the son of any human father. Rather, he was born of the seed of the woman, of the virgin Mary. Scripture’s meaning constantly infolds and doubles itself in ever increasing layers. Paul in I Corinthians 11, when he says “neither is the man without the woman” may be giving more than one idea. Not only is every man born of a woman, but God became man by being conceived in and born to a woman. In all of this discussion of pre and post fall relations and status between men and women, Genesis 1:26-28 is ignored – the fact that both male and female are of the kind called “man”, which alone of all created kinds was made in the image of God.

      Headship between married couples can only be for this life. If it was for all eternity, the Sadducees’ question to Christ would still stand – in slightly modified format, “in the resurrection, who will be her head, for all seven had her as a wife?” Christ’s answer only works if all earthly marriage ties are completely dissolved by death, something which Paul repeatedly asserts to be the case.

  9. Alistair September 7, 2016 at 6:05 am #

    I’m glad you appreciate my comments. Just in case, though, let me clarify that I am not Alastair Roberts, whose comments really are something to appreciate! (I think my comments would dent his reputation, actually). It can be confusing because our names are only one letter different and our surnames are very similar too. Where we shorten our names, you can tell us apart (other than by the length of comments and quality of thinking) in this way: I never refer to myself as ‘Al’ as Alastair does, but rather “Ali” (which confuses people about my gender!).

    As for headship, I don’t know that even now I would be able to summarise the concept to my satisfaction, but I do not believe it is limited only to marriage where gender is concerned. 1 Corinthians 11 sees headship as based on the order of creation and creation purposes of each gender, which themselves are not limited to the marriage relationship. I don’t think that the absence of the word “headship” in other biblical descriptions of relationships means it is absent.

    But neither do I believe the Bible teaches that every man is head of every woman. Rather, I believe that every man is meant to represent God (and except for Christ, fails miserably), and women are meant to be helpers through specific relationships to that end. That is how I read the lack of “every” in the second phrase of 1 Cor 11:3. The type and level of help depends on the specific relationship, and where there is no formally recognised relationship, there is no responsibility to help.

    Considering the real concern about abuse, I should add that the responsibility of a man as head in any relationship is to exemplify the Christian ways of relating that are required of every Christian. So, instead of lording it over, seeking to persuade; working toward one heart and mind; bearing burdens and exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit. That is why I believe comparisons with the Trinity are actually helpful, because we, as Christians in every relationship, are meant to be relating in love like the members of the Godhead (John 17:20-26).

    • Wendy September 7, 2016 at 6:30 am #

      Thanks for the clarification, Alistair, on the case of the 2 interesting commenters named Alistair.

      I appreciate your explanation of how you see headship. I’ll have to think on that more and comment later.

  10. Alistair September 10, 2016 at 12:03 am #

    I’ll look forward to it. Always up for refining.

  11. TulipGirl September 12, 2016 at 10:43 pm #

    Why do you think some of the ESS linked with complementarianism has been around for awhile (20-30 years), but has only recently become a focus?

    • Wendy September 12, 2016 at 10:46 pm #

      People have been concerned about it (in pockets) for years, but it takes time for a larger group to coalesce that understands the implications. I think the rise of social media has been a tool of sanctification for the church around this issue.

  12. The Music Student September 17, 2016 at 8:26 pm #

    I cannot agree that man is to represent God. Frankly, that smacks of Islam, where a woman can only hope to reach God through the medium of a husband, by which the case is made for marriage for every woman and thus the practice of polygamy. It is precisely that tendency of the human nature to regulate women to a place of less access to God which Paul addressed when he said there was neither male nor female in Christ. When each woman stands before God in that last day, she and she alone will have to answer for what she has done, no earthly man will be able to do it for her. There is only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, and he mediates for men and women alike.Yet again, in all the discussion about the roles of men and women, the fact that Christ deliberately broke the cultural mores of his time by speaking to women alone, by letting them touch him, by allowing them to sit with his disciples and listen to his teaching, and by having them be the first to witness the resurrection, is ignored. It is an interesting observation on human relations that the disciples weren’t willing to listen to the women who reported the resurrection and dismissed their observations as foolish, when in fact, the disciples were the ones whom Christ said were foolish (Luke 24:11 & 25). Christ treated women as free spiritual agents. Why do Christian men try to take that freedom away from their sisters in Christ?

    • Alistair September 24, 2016 at 5:53 pm #

      Hi Music Student.

      When I say “every man is meant to represent God”, I don’t at all mean men are to represent God to women, but represent God to creation. Men and women are to represent God to creation together, with man as head, woman as helper. There is no lesser access to God involved.

      Christ is the head of humanity – the head man of men and the head of women. Both men and women have direct access to God in Christ. This is one implication of the truth that headship is not purely between husband and wife.

      Sorry, I could go on, but I’m a bit short on time. I’m happy to clarify anything else I said if you’d like.


  13. Beth September 21, 2016 at 7:53 pm #

    We often use “women” and “wives” as interchangeable words, but they aren’t. One can be a woman and not a wife. Where do single women, especially never-married women, fit into these thoughts?

    • Lynn Betts September 28, 2016 at 2:30 pm #

      Well, Beth, it’s been a while and I’m sorry no one on the complementarian side has responded to your important question. I would be interested in hearing their explanation, also. Generally those who manage this blog provide clearer answers than many others, so I hope they find time.

      I lean toward egalitarian interpretations and applications of Scripture, so my response is pretty clear. Maybe a complementarian will yet respond.

    • Alistair September 28, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

      Beth and Lynn,

      I agree that is an important question. I believe my response to Lynn below covers my take. 🙂

    • Lynn Betts September 28, 2016 at 7:40 pm #

      Thanks, Alistair. I re-read what you wrote, and I may just be too dense to recognize an answer that’s in there. So give me some help.
      Some of the practical questions that arise are:
      For your Complementarianism (recognizing that there are various versions) where do adult single women fit, in business life, in civil life, in church, in immediate family, in extended family, in mixed gender social relationships, according to your view?
      Are adult single women always limited to being “helpers” to adult males and never “leaders?”
      What is the criteria for a male to move from being lead by a single woman to becoming her “leader?”
      How does one determine what behaviors and responsibilities count as “leadership?”
      How do the principles apply in the case of single mothers of male children?
      There are others, but these come to mind.
      Thanks for any clarification.

  14. Lynn Betts September 25, 2016 at 8:59 am #

    Alistair wrote:
    “…Men and women are to represent God to creation together, with man as head, woman as helper.” And: “….headship is not purely between husband and wife.”

    So, are you saying you believe that male “headship” is applicable in non-marital and non-church-leadership male/female relationships?! As in men in general serving as head to women in general?!

  15. Alistair September 26, 2016 at 6:19 am #

    Hi Lynn,
    I’m not saying that every woman submits to every man. As I mentioned above, I understand 1 Cor 11:3 to be saying there are specific relationships where a man is head of a woman.

    However, I don’t see that those relationships are restricted to marriage and church leadership. Instead, I see the headship of a male to be part of a broader understanding of headship that includes heads of tribes, rulers, and fathers. And, to be clear, I do not believe headship is to be “like the Gentiles”, but as Jesus said, taking the position of a servant, and as Paul wrote, working towards one mind and heart.

    All relationships that include headship require submission by both male and female except for marriage. Yet 1 Cor 11 grounds the headship of gender in the order of the creation of the first male and female, what they were created from, and why they were created. This indicates that headship between genders goes beyond only married women. 1 Tim 2 uses very similar reasons to restrict church leadership and teaching to qualified males (however you work that out in practice). So while not every man is head of every woman, there is a general sense in which headship applies generally to men such that women are not to be heads of men. Also, because biblically humans are not individuals only but part of a family, all women are in some relationship with a male head. And ultimately and above all, Christian women are in relationship with the head of all heads, the head man, Jesus Christ.

    Now this does not always work out how we think it would. Lydia, for example, is said in Acts to have had a household. I am happy to agree that there may have been male servants, even a nephew or son. That would put her in the position of being head of the household and so head over males. We could say that Lydia repented and changed after conversion, but I don’t think that’s the right answer. It seems that social position comes into play to modify the general principle. However, as far as my understanding goes from the rest of the Bible, if Lydia had a husband, or lived in her father’s house, or was living with her brother (again, caveats with the brother too), she would not be the head, but she would have authority over those males of a lower social standing.

    Long answer, I’m sorry. Even my wife has not bothered to read it all, so I won’t be offended if you don’t. But I hope it answers your question.

    • Lynn Betts September 26, 2016 at 8:27 am #

      Thank you for clarifying your understanding, Alistair.
      I think the position has critical holes theologically, logically, and practically, but thank you for explaining it. Others, online and in books, have explained alternative interpretations of the texts and principles involved better than I, and you’ve probably read them and rejected them, so I’ll leave the matter at “agreeing that we disagree.” Thanks, again, for explaining.

  16. Alistair September 26, 2016 at 3:34 pm #

    No worries, Lynn. I’d probably be more interested in the holes you posit than the alternative explanations. You are right that I’ve read a good number that I don’t think hold up, but I also know that I personally can be blind to difficulties with my own understanding until they are pointed out. So I’m open to critique.

    • Lynn Betts September 27, 2016 at 4:53 am #

      Greetings Alistair. Regarding Holes and Alternative explanations: it was not my intention to suggest that the two are independent. One person’s satisfying explanation/interpretation of a set of texts results in another person seeing Holes in that same view via their Alternative explanation/interpretation of the (mostly) same texts. With regard to gender, if you’ve looked at and rejected the various egalitarian (and hybrid) explanations of the relevant texts and historical backgrounds, then you would not likely see your view as having Holes, whereas they would/I do. You would, most likely, consider our case to have Holes, for the same reason.

      I was more interested that I properly understand your view than in rebutting it. For that I would refer you to those who have written in that vein. If you’re satisfied that you’ve dealt with the issues sufficiently, and are open to periodic review of your position (in the spirit of “always reforming”), then, for me, that’s all one can ask. I’m no polemicist, either by preference or temperament.

  17. Alistair September 27, 2016 at 4:37 pm #

    Ok Lynn. 🙂

  18. Walter September 28, 2016 at 3:59 pm #

    There appears to be some new controversy regarding the ESV’s updated translation of Genesis 3:16

    “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

    Denny Burk makes some comments about this here: http://www.dennyburk.com/four-quick-points-on-the-esvs-rendering-of-genesis-316/

    I think he makes a good case for why this translation is possible. Something else that doesn’t get a lot of attention regarding this verse is the Septuagint’s rendering in the Greek. The Septuagint uses a completely different word for “desire” in Genesis 3:16 and Song of Solomon 7:10. The Greek word used in Genesis 3:16 is “apostrophe” and means “to turn away from” whereas the word used in Song of Solomon is “epistrophe” which means to turn toward.

    In the end I agree with Denny Burk that the issue of complementarianism does not stand or fall based on one’s interpretation of Genesis 3:16, but I think there is a good case to be made from Genesis 3:16 that the curse involved both men and women inheriting ungodly demeanors toward one another as a result of the fall. This doesn’t make men or women inferior or more likely to sin, and it doesn’t justify the castigation of either men or women based on these tendancies. We should be ready to believe the best about Christian men that they are surrendering to God and crucifying their inate sinful desire to “rule over” their wives in a domineering fashion, and we should be ready to believe the best about Christian women that they are not aiming to take control in either their churches or their marriages.