One of the more hotly debated topics within the church today is that of the role of women. Depending on what church background you come from, there are varying views within the discussion. But the two major views are summed up with the words complementarianism and egalitarianism.
I have summarised these 2 views before, but here they are again:
The Complementarian View
In the structure of the home, this theological viewpoint sees a mutual and complementary role existing between husband and wife, but the man still carries the lead, or ‘headship’, role. Within society in general, it is completely acceptable for women to hold jobs outside the home. In regards to roles within the church, women are normally allowed to function in ministry opportunities and other responsibilities. But, with reference to oversight and leadership, women are to be in submission to men. Thus, in this view, women can be given the freedom to lead such things as children’s ministries, women’s ministries, as well as serving in other ministry areas. But, and this is where we have varying views within a major view, it is possible that complementarians will either a) not allow women to teach men nor be in leadership or b) allow women to preach/teach with men in the context, but they are not to exercise authority in any main leadership role.
The Egalitarian View
Advocates of the egalitarian view do not believe men and women are identical in all matters, for there are definitely some differences between the two sexes (hence, why some might argue that they believe in complementary roles). But egalitarians believe that both sexes are capable of equal standing in both the home and the church. Specifically, within the church, women should be given complete freedom in expressing their gifts and callings in God, and this extends into leadership roles, even if that leadership role includes overseeing men.
As a side note, I use the words ‘capable of’ in the egalitarian explanation because I believe no one should inherently argue for leadership (male or female), as this is a God gifting, calling and anointing for service. One who believes leadership is their right will fail miserably (check out John 13:3-5).
If you haven’t guessed, I fall in line more with the egalitarian view, though, as I mentioned above, I could argue for complementarianism because men and women carry distinguishable differences simply through our physical creation, but also as we realise different people are given different callings, giftings and ministries by God.
One argument I regularly hear with regards to the more traditional view of complementarianism is that the creation order points to the reality that men are called to be leaders of women. Man was created first and, thus, man is given leadership and authority over woman. This comes about from considering passages like Genesis 1 and 2, plus 1 Corinthians 11:3f and 1 Timothy 2:8-15.
But one thing I believe can happen in our study of these passages is that we can easily read such a perspective into 1 Cor 11:3 and 1 Tim 2:8-15, and then turn back around and read those things into Gen 1-2. I don’t want to spend any great deal handling 1 Cor 11:3 or 1 Tim 2:8-15, as I have done that already in these two articles: article 1, article 2. But what I want to do is consider this idea of the ‘creation order’, at least as I understand it presented by complementarians.
Again, what is usually argued is that, because man was created before woman (thus establishing the ‘creation order’), men are inherently called to be the leaders both in the church and in the home. Women function in more of a support role.
But is such a ‘creation order’ established in Scripture?
Well, of course complementarians would argue it is. They would likely head to these two main passages I mentioned above:
3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God…8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (1 Cor 11:3, 8-11)
12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Tim 2:12-14)
A simple, straightforward reading of these passages must insist a complementarian view, right?
Well, as any crime scene investigator might remind us: Things are not always as they seem.
Oh, I do believe in the perspecuity, or clarity, of Scripture. I do believe that, in general, and especially with understanding the reality of salvation in Christ, the Scripture can be read by each and every person and that good news message comes across clearly (though the Spirit must be at work in drawing us to believe the good news we read and/or hear). But, there are plenty of passages that are not so as clear, but rather call for us to more deeply consider the history, language, culture, theological development, etc, of the day it was written. We must remember that Scripture was written for us, but not to us.
And this is shown true when we come across passages about a few different topics, not to mention those verses on women’s roles.
So, back to the two passages above. I believe what happens is that, we read the two Bible passages and we can, at times, jump to quick conclusions – women cannot teach, women cannot exercise authority, man is the head-authority of woman. Furthermore, without getting too involved in those two passages, again inviting you to read the two articles I have written previously (article 1, article 2), I believe we make wrong conclusions about a ‘creation order’ when making quick conclusions from those texts.
So, let’s go to the creation account(s) of Genesis 1 and 2. Is such a ‘creation order’ of male authority over women established? Remember, what is argued is that man was created first and, thus, this points to male leadership over woman.
I believe this argument fails on a few fronts.
1) Nowhere are we told that, because male was created first, male is therefore inherently in authority over female. Nowhere.
Ok, so someone wants to remind me of 1 Tim 2:12-14. But again, I believe we are reading something into the passage. You cannot read 1, 2 or 3 verses and establish something without digging a bit deeper.
What is going on is that Paul is addressing a specific context within a specific church in Ephesus, a church context that Timothy was overseeing. That specific situation probably has a lot of influence from the Diana-Artemis cult and its teaching that would have been rampant amongst the city. Also worth noting is the city of Ephesus housed a temple to the goddess Diana, this temple being one of the seven ancient wonders of the world.
You can see all the possibilities now opening when considering these things and what Paul would have been addressing. I’ve read a few different opinions from various theologians, but in the ever-debated passage of 1 Tim 2:8-15, I believe Paul is addressing some things with regards to false teaching about men and women, who was created first and some specifics about the entrance of sin into the world. And let’s not forget the somewhat weird words of vs15. Paul is definitely addressing something within that specific context of Ephesus.
I am not going to spend much more time hashing out the specifics. Again, I can only encourage you to read my article on 1 Tim 2:8-15.
But what about 1 Cor 11:3f? Well, let us not forget Paul’s own words within the same context:
11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.
Maybe a ‘creation order’ of inherent male leadership is not being established for the Corinthians. But read more here.
2) If we read Genesis 1 carefully, especially vs26-28, we see that this first account of creation tells us of simultaneous male-female creation.
Now, in vs26, when it says, ‘Let us create man in our image,’ this is not a male thing. Rather the word is the generic word for humanity. Hence how the end of vs27 emphasises this and vs28 speaks of them.
Of course, in the second account, we read of man’s creation first. But I point out the first account of Gen 1, which I believe establishes the record from the beginning. From a ‘God-perspective’, both are created simultaneously, if you will. But in the specific break down of Gen 2, we read of particulars.
So, if a complementarian wants to argue for a creation order from Gen 2, why forget that Gen 1 actually establishes a co-creation of male and female? I deal with other specifics in a few other articles I wrote on Gen 1 and 2 (here, here and here).
3) Finally, if we still want to emphasise the ‘creation order’ that man was created before woman and, thus, man has authority and leadership over women, then what do we do with the Genesis 1 creation account that tells us of things created before man and woman?
Remember, from that account, everything else was created before both male and female? Does that mean the sun and moon, vegetation, the seas, the beasts of the fields, etc, have authority over humans?
Now, I am sure many will be quick to remind me that only male and female are created in the image of God, thus showing their authority over the others. And I am good with that. All I want to do is point out that something being created before another does not inherently establish leadership and authority. I believe we are reading too much into the text.
Therefore, I believe the more complementarian argument of a ‘creation order’ does not establish the inherent leadership and authority of men over women. Of course, I think men are called to leadership, for I am a man. In my family, my wife actually looks to me as the ‘default’ leader. And I also serve as an elder-shepherd within my local congregation. But I do not believe that my maleness establishes either one of those. Rather, it has to do with the measure of calling, gifting and anointing to serve in our God-appointed roles. The creation order of God creating them both male and female in the beginning reminds us of this important foundation.