Alayna, my girlfriend, and I have been discussing a wide variety of gender issues and often butting heads. So, we thought that it might be a good idea to work out our issues in writing and, hopefully, help the lot of you benefit from it. If you are not a Christian, or are strongly opposed to the complementarian viewpoint on Gender issues, then you may want to skip this article. While Alayna and I have our differences, we both generally agree with a broadly complementarian viewpoint on gender relations.
Creation and the Fall
Any position that claims to be truly Christian must begin with scripture and must be defined by scripture. As John Murray argued, marriage and gender relation both existed before the fall of Adam.* Genesis 1:26-27 makes it clear that men and women were created fully equal in worth and in Image Dei. However, Paul also points to the primacy of Adam as first created to argue for male headship and authority within the church (1 Corinthians 11, 1 Timothy 2). Thus, as the complimentarian position argues, we should interpret Genesis 1 and 2 to teach that while men and women are fully equal in worth and image, Adam was intended even before the fall to have authority over Eve, and the nature of this authority may be rightly compared to the relationship between Christ and the Father, in which Christ submits even though he is equal in divinity with the father. That is to say that the Pre-fall relationship between man and woman was intended to be a marital relationship, with the man in spiritual leadership, and the woman as a support and a guiding beacon.
Obviously, it is impossible to know if children would have been born apart from the fall, as no children were clearly in existence at the time of the fall. However, it is our belief that children born in a pre-fall state would have been under the authority of their parents (not just their fathers) until they reached maturity, at which time they would have entered into a marriage covenant with the appropriate partner. This describes a state of perfect unity between men and women in which every individual is either a child, or a member of a blissful marriage relationship (perfect world, remember). This also describes a state in which men love and lead their wives perfectly, women love and support their husbands perfectly, and all individuals exist in a state of perfect, sinless communion with God. This is what we believe the world would have been like had Adam and Eve not fallen into sin.
In the fall, we must further note, it is not Eve’s sin that causes the world to be cursed, but Adam’s. While Eve is initially deceived, and this is a part of Paul’s argument in 1 Timothy 2, and is cursed with a desire to usurp her husband’s authority and with pain in childbirth, it is Adam’s sin that engages the curse upon the world as a whole, and it is on Adam that the fault for the entrance of sin into the human lineage rests (Genesis 3, Exodus 34). Thus, the authority of the male is fallen and too easily prone to abuse, and the submission of the female is fallen and prone to usurp authority.** This fall also, we believe, created the state of rebelliousness in children, and the state of singleness in adults. As such, many attempts have been made to create unity between the sexes, and to establish both legitimate and illegitimate limits to male authority/requirements for female submission outside of marriage. These range from patriarchal authority, to specific gender roles, to egalitarian arguments for equality.
The Place of Roles
One of the means by which unity between the sexes has been attempted is the assigning of specific roles to each gender. Traditionally men are seen as the protectors and providers, and women as the homemakers and caretakers of family and children, with all that is included in each role. However, gender roles are specific to time and place. For instance, in Proverbs 31 the virtuous woman clearly both cares for children and works outside the home. Similarly, some women, such as Dorcas, Miriam, or Huldah held roles that might traditionally be considered ‘male.’ Dorcas was a business woman (as was Priscilla), Miriam was a prophetess and leader among the Israelites under Moses, and Huldah was a prophetess as well (2 Kings 22).
From these examples we must conclude that there is no room for an absolute concept of strict gender roles in a biblical conception of gender relations. Men are clearly not the only people allowed to work, serve in the military, etc, etc. However, we must in turn realize that men and women are each better suited to specific tasks (i.e. men tend to be stronger and better suited for military service, while women are obviously better suited to bear children). From the biblical evidence we may also conclude that all Christians are to be under some authority. This is made clear from Ephesians 5:21 and James 5:16 (Generally this is found in marital relationships, family relationships, close friendships with other believers, and within the church hierarchy). Further, we can conclude, from the creation account and from Paul’s messages to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11 and to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2, that the spiritual responsibility for leadership and sin was and is placed upon the male, and thus that church leadership should generally be male. This does not equate to a strict doctrine that women may never teach in a churches or Christian schools, hold secular positions of leadership, or exercise authority of any kind over men. Further, there is also the example of Deborah that shows us that when there is no man willing to take spiritual authority over a body (i.e. the failure of Barak in Judges 4) that a woman may be called upon to do so. However, it does require that the leadership of the church (especially the higher pastoral or eldership positions) and the leadership of the home be generally male.
This argument of course begs the question of what it means to be ‘under the authority.’ The term that Paul uses in Ephesians 5:21, that is then assumed in Ephesians 5:22, is hupostaso.*** However, this concept of authority does not denote an idea of blind obedience (which denotes a lack of responsible behavior on the part of the subject) or submission to abuse or neglect (both of which would negate legal authority in all of the above cases). Instead, it denotes a voluntary and helpful submission to a legitimate authority. The emphasis here must be 1) on the legitimate nature of the authority (which should also be a caring authority, though Christians are at times called to submit to non-caring authorities such as 1 Peter 3), and 2) on the willingness of the subject of authority to be of aid. Thus, this also does not mean that the subject of authority will not voice disagreement or concern, nor does it mean that the subject is bound to meet every whim the authority can imagine. While there are instances where choosing not to submit would be wrong, submission must always be a choice that is made out of free will. In relationships where women are forced into submission, neither gender gets to reap the benefits of loving leadership and cheerful submission, and instead experience a master/slave relationship (which is not what sane people normally desire). Also, being male is not enough to obtain respect and a position of leadership in the relationship, this is a very important point that we both agree on. In a fallen world male leadership must always be earned, it is not simply a given. The only instance where women are called to submit to men simply because they are men is found in the marital relationship. And even then, women can (or at least should be able to) choose their spouse which allows them to weed out men who are not exhibiting signs of loving leadership, and choose one who can. Again, this is a very important point. While there are arguments to support arranged marriage cultures, parents can choose bad mates just as single individuals can, and this deprives the individual of their freedom to choose.
The Nature of Justice
The Greek word dikiaosune (literally this word is translated ‘justice’ or ‘righteousness’) used both in Scripture and in classical philosophy might be best interpreted as meaning ‘rightly ordered.’ In Plato’s Republic dikiaosune is explained to mean ‘the right ordering of soul and society in line with the form of the good.’ However, Plato’s ‘good’ is vague at best. However, dikiaosune in scripture provides us with a better understanding of what it means to be rightly ordered. In scripture to be dikiaosune is to be rightly ordered in line with God’s person, the principles he established at creation, and his revealed law. This is why scripture can simultaneously command men to righteousness (i.e. right ordering under the revealed law of God) and call men righteous, but simultaneously declare that there is no one righteous (i.e. right ordering in line with God’s person and creation principles) in Psalm 51, Ecclesiastes, and Romans 3. Thus, when we speak of justice or righteousness, we must always speak of it in light of this concept of being ‘rightly ordered under God.’
Rights or Responsibilities
Nowhere in scripture is a concept of human rights openly presented or taught. In fact, the conception of human rights and rights focused speech descends from Thomas Hobbes’ argument that society is built on a social contract that ensures individuals specific rights against the state and against one another under the law, and that without this concept of specific rights society cannot function. However, at least in this last part, Hobbes was blatantly wrong as society functioned fairly well for at least 2700 years before he wrote. Thus, the modern focus on rights centered thought and speech engenders a selfish inwardness rather than a neighborly outwardness. Rights centered speech is not found in loving relationships. It is generally found in either inherently defensive speech (i.e. legal terminology or ‘I have a right to free speech that is being threatened’) that assumes an attack or in inherently aggressive speech (i.e. entitlement demands or ‘I have a right to an A regardless of what I submit – I can’t tell you how often I hear this) that makes specific, unjustified demands of others. In both cases, rights speech implies a dysfunctional relationship that either demands the protection of the law for one of more parties, or assumes the self-interested primacy of one or more parties with no care for others.
Thus, we should stand with scripture in pursuing a responsibility focused conception of life. Instead of basing arguments on the rights of one party to avoid injury or inconvenience, we must focus on the responsibilities of all men to show philedelphia (brotherly love, kindness, and affection) and of Christians especially to show agape (unconditional Love) to one another.
Both Alayna and I have contributed heavily to this position, and trust me, it took a while to get on the same page. I have no doubt that there will be plenty of people out there who disagree with our fundamental positions (i.e. belief in God, belief in a literal Adam and Eve, belief in a literal fall, belief in male leadership, etc, etc, etc). However, this exercise was largely to actually get us on the same page in the first place and only secondarily intended to be of benefit to any readers that might appreciate it. While we welcome comments on our position, please keep any points of disagreement civil and any criticisms constructive.
*While I approach this position from a Traducianist point of view and assume the Seminal Headship of Adam, Alayna isn’t sold on either of these theories. She holds to the same general view, but does not take a firm view on the origin of the soul or the manner in which natural sin is inherited/imputed to man.
**This presents one result of the fall, but certainly not the only or the most significant result.
***Literally to obey or be subject to. This word refers to submitting oneself to another party that has a legal authority over you. It is used of Christians in submission to government, of Christians in submission to one another and to Christ, or slaves and servants in submission to masters, and of wives in submission to husbands.