With the SBC currently battling the abuse scandals, the discussion and debate of complementarianism and egalitarianism is being brought up more and more frequently. In order for us to engage in these situations from a biblical worldview, we need to have a solid grasp of what the Bible says about these topics.
What is egalitarianism?
Egalitarianism is the view that God created both male and females equal in every way possible. They view men and women as complete equals not just in their standing before God, and in their value, but also in their roles in the home and church. Egalitarians also view the hierarchal roles as seen in complementarianism as sinful since the roles given in Genesis 3 were a result of the fall and have been eliminated in Christ. They also claim that the entire New Testament does not teach gender based roles but teaches mutual submission. Why do they make these claims? Is this what the Bible really teaches?
Genesis 1:26-28 “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So, God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
What is an egalitarian marriage?
Egalitarians are quick to point out that “suitable helper” or in Hebrew, Ezer Kenegdo, means a helper like the Holy Spirit, who is not inferior, and suitable references adequate and equal. This view also says that since Adam and Eve were both co-participants in the fall that the curse upon them was descriptive demonstrating the result of sin and not prescribing God’s original plan for men and women. Further, egalitarians claim that the New Testament only teaches mutual submission in marriage and that the entire New Testament is focusing on a radical social transformation.
Genesis 21:12 “But God said to Abraham, “Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called.”
1 Corinthians 7:3-5 “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
Ephesians 5:21 “Submitting to one another in the fear of God.”
Mark 10:6 “But from the beginning of creation, God ‘made them male and female.”
What is complementarianism?
Genesis 2:18 “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”
The NASB and the NIV use the phrase “suitable for him. The ESV chose the phrase “fit for him” while the HCSB chose the phrase “his complement.” When we look at the literal translation we see that the word means “contrasting” or “opposite.” God created men and women to fit together uniquely in a physical, spiritual, and emotional way.
1 Peter 3:1-7 “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.”
When we are discussing this difficult subject it is of vital importance that we come to an understanding on the definition of terms. Complementarianism does not mean that you support an abusive form of patriarchy. That is taking it to an extreme beyond Scripture whereby those that adhere to it claim that all women are to submit to all men and that the woman’s identity is in her husband. This is completely unbiblical.
Ephesians 5:21-33 “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and He is the savior of the body. Therefore, as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So, ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourished and cherished it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverences her husband.”
Complementarianism in the Bible
Complementarianism, according to what the Bible teaches says that a wife, who finds her identity in Christ, is to submit to her husband alone. Not to his whims and desires, but to his spiritual authority and leadership. The husband then is commanded to love her like Christ, who did the will of God, not seeking His own comfort. The husband is to lead like Christ, in the form of a servant. He is to seek his wife’s counsel and advice and to make decisions for the betterment of his family, even if it means at his own personal loss.
Men and women are equally valued by God
Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
How then are complementarians to view this passage? With proper Hermeneutics. We need to look at what the rest of the chapter is saying and not pull this verse out of context. Paul is discussing salvation – that we are justified by faith in Christ, not by doing good works. In this verse, Paul is teaching that it is our faith in Christ that saves us, not our gender, not our social status.
Complementarianism and egalitarianism differences explained
Many egalitarians are quick to call all biblical complementarianism “oppressive patriarchy.” However, we can see in scripture that the complementarian roles is extremely protective and supportive of women. Also we can look through history and see a major change in the way culture views and treats women when the gospel is brought to the area. India is a fantastic example: before the gospel, it was normal for the recently widowed woman to be burned along with her deceased husband. This practice became much less common after the introduction of the gospel to the area. The Bible is clear: men and women are both completely and totally equal in regards to their worth. Our role does not indicate our worth, nor does being equal in worth require each participant to be a clone of one another.
Romans 12:10 “Be kindly affectioned to one another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another.”
Submission is not a dirty word. Nor does it indicate a belittling of the wife, or a loss of identity and individuality. We are both created Imago Dei, in the image of God. We are to value each as equally built as the image of God, equal heirs to the Kingdom, equally cherished by God. But the passage in Romans 12 is not discussing function or roles. Just value.
Genesis 1:26-28 “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
We have to be equal in value and worth in order to work alongside one another in the great task God has set before us. Adam and Eve were commanded to work the land together. They both were given dominion over all that was created. They were both commanded to be fruitful and multiply. Jointly, they were told to raise up children to worship God. An army of God Worshippers. But in order to do this effectively, they had to each function slightly differently, but in a complementarian fashion. Working together in this way, creates a beautiful harmony that in and of itself sings praises to God.
The beauty of God’s design for marriage
Hupotasso is the word in Greek that means to submit. It is a military term that refers to rank oneself under. It is just a different position. It does not mean less in value. In order to function properly wives submit themselves in rank of function under their husbands – “as unto the Lord”, meaning in line with Scripture. She is not to submit to anything outside of the realm of Scripture, nor is he to ask her to. He is not to demand that she submit – that is outside if his realm of authority. Her submission is to be freely given.
1 Peter 3:1-9 “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.”
We can see that here in 1 Peter this family has a problem. The husband is in sin. The wife is commanded to submit to the Lord, not to her husband in his sin. There is no passage that supports submitting to sin or to abuse. The wife is to honor the Lord in her attitude, not in condoning sin or enabling sin. She isn’t to nag him, nor is she to try to play the role of the Holy Spirit and convict him. In this passage also we can see that the husband is commanded to live with his wife in an understanding way. He is to care for her, to lay down his life for her. He is called to be her protector. All of this must be done so that his prayers are not hindered.
God values the representation of marriage in how it is a living breathing example of salvation: the church loving and following Christ, and Christ giving Himself up for His Bride. This illustration is only seen in Complementarianism.
Ultimately, egalitarianism is a slippery eisgetical slope. When you start interpreting Scripture based on how you feel, and what it says to you, regardless of authorial intent you quickly divert away from the truth and authority of Scripture. It is because of this that many egalitarians also support homosexuality/transgenderism, women preachers, etc.
Men are desperately needed in the home just as women are desperately needed in the church in vital ways. But we were not designed to fulfill the roles and functions of one another. Submission does not equate an inferiority in worth or value. Rather, it glorifies the orderliness of God.
Above all, we need to make sure that we speak to our egalitarian brothers and sisters in Christ in a loving and respectful way. We can lovingly disagree with them on an issue and still consider them a brother or sister in Christ.